My pal Jeff

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screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-11-13-19-amI’m in Canada, again, sooner than I thought.

I’m traveling to see my pal Jeff.

Jeff is my hero.

Jeff is dying.

Jeff has a rare, wretched form of brain cancer, Glioblastoma Multiform. He’s been fighting it with courage, humour and strength, for more than two years. Saying “he’s been an inspiration” is like remarking of the Golden Gate Bridge “it crosses water.”

Jeff has the same cancer that hit Gord Downie, lead singer of the Tragically Hip. Due to Jeff’s condition, he was given tickets to the band’s last show – Here’s an interview he did with the CBC, the day after the concert. (Please do give it a listen: Jeff’s own words tell everything you need to know of his character.)

Three weeks ago, the day before Jeff was set to come down to FanExpo in Toronto, to visit a few pals who were at the con, his doctors told him his cancer had metastasized, and spread through his body.

“I have months left to live,” Jeff wrote, on his Facebook page. “I’m going to die soon.”

So I’m in Canada. Because I don’t want to go to my friend’s funeral. I want to see my friend.

Nor do I wish to eulogize Jeff. I want my pal to know what he means to me, and countless others, right now:

Courage, humour, and strength.


Jeff’s two-years-plus battle with one of the most vicious forms of cancer out there has literally changed my life. I’ve never known anyone to demonstrate such character in the face of overwhelming odds. I’ve never seen the human spirit so defiant.

Rage against the dying of the light? Jeff kicked its goddamn ass.

But both before and beyond the courage, strength and humour, there’s that simple, all-important word, “friendship.”

I’m no great correspondent, and Jeff and I fell out of touch, for a bit, as we moved in different circles, once he left the tabletop industry (our great loss, by the way). These last couple of years, for obvious reasons, we touched base more often. It was as if we’d never been apart – just one more testament to Jeff’s warmth and character.

Many of Jeff’s friends – and he has many – are traveling to see him, because of these and so many other qualities that simply make him one of the Best People Around.

I was particularly lucky: I got to work with Jeff, to see him in action. Jeff was the the graphic designer for one of the Dork Tower collections.

I’m working on a new collection, at the moment, and I’d hoped Jeff might be able to put his deft touch on this one, or perhaps another down the line.

For obvious reasons, now, that’s wishful thinking.

But I did get a couple of pages laid out, and was able to shoot them off to Jeff, for his artistic approval:




I’m traveling to see my pal Jeff.

He’s my hero.

I love you, Jeff.




Dorkstock 2016: I never knew there was this much game in the entire galaxy

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Dorkstock2016(colorMedium)Gaming registration opened at Gamehole Con, last week, and the Dorkstock track of events has been finalized. I honestly can’t believe it all looks so awesome, and huge thanks have to go to Dorkstock coordinator Frances Moritz, Dork Storm Press Business Manager Alex Aulisi, a whole SLEW of Steve Jackson games MiBs (John “Shadowcat” Ickes taking the lead), and, of course, everyone over at Gamehole Con – my pal Alex Kammer in particular!

So without any further ado, here’s what will be on tap for Dorkstock 2016!

Hope to see you there!

DORKSTOCK 2016: Gamehole Con edition!

FRIDAY 12 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE A) STEVE JACKSON DICE GAMES (Steve Jackson Games MIBs) (DORKSTOCK) – No board, no cards – just dice! Cthulhu Dice! Mars Attacks! Chupacabra! These fast games are all about portable fun.

FRIDAY 2 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE A) MUNCHKIN FU Guest Artist Edition (Steve Jackson Games MIBs) – How do YOU Fu? Karate-kick off Dorkstock with the latest MUNCHKIN game illustrated by John Kovalic,  and level up! Win a signed copy of the latest Munchkin madness, and other swag!

FRIDAY 4 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE A) MUNCHKIN LEGENDS (Steve Jackson Games MIBs) – You’ll defeat mythic monsters and grab fabled magic items! Don the Death Mask and Achilles’ Heels. Wield Thor’s Hammer . . . or maybe the Magic Bassoon. Start by slaughtering the Heebie-Jeebies and Johnny Zucchiniseed, and work your way up to the Kraken . . .

FRIDAY 6 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE A) CHEZ GEEK TOURNEY (Steve Jackson Games MIBs)  – Can you out-slack your roommates? Prove it in this official Steve Jackson Games tournament! Prizes galore – if your character has enough Free Time!

FRIDAY 8 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE A) DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS 5TH EDITION: THE WARHAMSTERING (Scott “Igor” Olman)  – A Warhamster game DM’ed by Scott Olman, who Dork Tower’s “Igor” was based on? How crazy can things get? It’s low-level adventure but high-level madness in this scenario set in the lands of Aurora!

FRIDAY 10 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE A)  CASH ‘n GUNS (DORKSTOCK) – The heist went well! The loot is in the basement! But so is the rest of your gang, who all want a share of it. It’s the last scene of “Reservoir Dogs” in hilarious, frenetic, and easy-to-digest party game form!

FRIDAY 10 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE B) ZOMBIE DICE AND OTHER DICEY PASTIMES (Steve Jackson Games MIBs) – It’s some late-night bones-rollin’, with Zombie Dice, Cthulhu Dice, Chupacabra Dice and more!


SATURDAY 10 am (DORKSTOCK TABLE A) OFFICIAL MUNCHKIN TOURNEY (Steve Jackson Games MIBs) –Kill the Monsters! Steal the Treasure! Stab your buddy! WIN THE TOURNEY! This is an official Steve Jackson Games Munchkin tournament! Do you have what it takes to level up?

SATURDAY NOON (DORKSTOCK TABLE A) DOUBLE FEATURE DIRECTOR’S CUT (Alex Aulisi)  – A movie game that’s actually a *game*?  Unheard of! Double Feature doesn’t have a thing to do with trivia, which made it a hit! Play this hilarious, easy-to-learn game with some of its original creators!

SATURDAY 2 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE A) THE IGOR BAR BAKE-OFF! (DORKSTOCK) – It’s a Dorkstock tradition! The sweet, sweet taste-off, as people pit their Igor Bars for sugary dominance! Enter your own (recipe at, or stop by and try some! Be prepared for the sugar rush!

SATURDAY 2 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE B) GARDEN GNOMES & PROTOTYPES! (DORKSTOCK) – So, Munchkin lovers … you like games about diminutive creatures that backstab friends and make your blood pressure skyrocket? The Madison-based co-designers of DOUBLE FEATURE will be demonstrating their trick-taking card game, THOSE PESKY GARDEN GNOMES, as well as unpublished prototypes such as PENGUIN PUSH and SMITE CLUB. If you like cutthroat games about the small and cantankerous, have we got a side quest for you!

SATURDAY 4 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE A) DORK TOWER: THE BOARDGAME (Steve Jackson Games MIBs)  – Welcome to the land of Aurora, where John Kovalic’s beloved characters take their OWN characters for adventure, in this classic Stave Jackson Games boardgame!

SATURDAY 4 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE B) CHEZ CTHULHU (Steve Jackson Games MIBs) – Chez Cthulhu brings the horror of Lovecraft’s Mythos right into your apartment . . . as if the leftovers from the Pizza with Absolutely Everything weren’t bad enough. Invite people over to your room . . . and sacrifice them!

SATURDAY 6 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE B) JOHN KOVALIC DREW THESE TOO… (DORKSTOCK) – My Dwarves Fly!  Camden!  And other games that John has drawn outside of his prolific Munchkin habits.

SATURDAY 8 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE B) CASH & GUNS (DORKSTOCK) The heist went well! The loot is in the basement! But so is the rest of your gang, who all want a share of it. It’s the last scene of “Reservoir Dogs” in hilarious, frenetic, and easy-to-digest party game form! Run by the game’s artist, John Kovalic

SATURDAY 10 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE A) CHEZ FREAK (Steve Jackson Games MIBs) – Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Men and Women… Chez Geek for 18+ only.

SATURDAY 10 pm (DORKSTOCK TABLE B) KOBOLDS ATE MY BABY MIDNIGHT (ALMOST) MASSACRE (Scott “Igor” Olman) – ALL HAIL KING TORG! It’s Eat or be eaten as the Kobolds try and satisfy the King’s belly in this fast and furious beer and pretzels roleplaying game!


SUNDAY 10 am (DORKSTOCK TABLE A) OUT OF THE BOX RIP (John Kovalic)  – Play some of the greatest party games to come out of Madison’s Out Of the Box Publishing! It was far more than just Apples to Apples, you know!

SUNDAY 10 am (DORKSTOCK TABLE B) MUNCHKIN OZ (DORKSTOCK) – L. Frank Baum’s Oz books have been favorites of children and their parents ever since the books were published over a century ago. Create your own adventure with Munchkin Oz!

SUNDAY Noon (DORKSTOCK TABLE A)  CASH ‘n GUNS (John Kovalic) – The heist went well! The loot is in the basement! But so is the rest of your gang, who all want a share of it. It’s the last scene of “Reservoir Dogs” in hilarious, frenetic, and easy-to-digest party game form! Run by the game’s artist, John Kovalic

SUNDAY Noon (DORKSTOCK TABLE B)  CHEZ GREEK (Steve Jackson Games MIBs)  – It’s the hit Chez Geek, moved to a frat house. (Or sorority. Or both.) Pick your major. (Botany? Babes? Beer?) Tap a keg or two. Party hard, and try not to think about Finals Week.

SUNDAY 2 PM (DORKSTOCK TABLE A)  WARHAMSTER RALLY (DORKSTOCK) –  Choose one of the characters and race around the track on your Warhamster.

SUNDAY 2 PM (DORKSTOCK TABLE B)  TOON: MUNCHKIN (Steve Jackson Games MIBs)  – Adventurers have tried to dispose of Seymour the Dragon for years, only to come back beaten and badly Boggled. Will your hardy band do better?  When Munchkin meets Toon all Heck breaks loose.


Registration is now open, over at the Gamehole Con home page, and you can check out all the games they have in store for you at their event listings.

And, oh, yeah...this lil" guy"s gonna be available there, too! Bullettes FTW!
And, oh, yeah…this lil’ guy I designed is gonna be available at Gamehole Con, too! Plushie Bullettes FTW!

See you soon!

– John


Biking occurred. So did Barns.

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(1) THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU everyone! Holy cats, you all totally busted our Insane Charity Bike Ride record, and the Army of Dorkness raised more than $17,000 for the Fair Share coalition’s Partner Shares program! That’s going to help a whole heck of a lot of low-income families get good food, to say nothing of the farmers it supports!


(2) Just to reinforce how important you guys are to this wonderful local charity, the Army of Dorkness accounted for just about 40% of the donations to Bike the Barns. Way to go, you wonderful people, you!



(3) The ride (this past Sunday) went well. Here are some pics (or it didn’t happen).

Sunday morning! Ready and rarin’ to go!


Stop One: they were serving jalapeño tamales for the mid-morning snack!
Stop One: they were serving jalapeño tamales for the mid-morning snack!




The lunch stop was lighter on the jalapeños.
The lunch stop was lighter on the jalapeños.


Let there be music!
Let there be music!


The last hill was very, very mean! Very.
The last hill was very, very mean. Very.


Not my best look...but I made it to the top without having to walk my bike!
Not my best look…but I made it to the top without having to walk my bike!




Hey, let"s see what they"re serving as a snack for the end of the...oh. Oh, dear...
Hey, let’s see what they’re serving as a snack for the end of the…oh. Oh, dear…


Me being interviewed at the end of the ride.
Me, being interviewed at the end of the ride.


(4) I think I just managed to squeeze in enough training to do the ride without too many aches and pains. The last hill was awful, bit it was a glorious ride and a glorious day, and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Anyway, you can’t get those magnificent downhills without peddling the up-hills, first. Well, OK. You can, if you get a lift, I suppose. Ummm…nevermind.


(5) SURPRIE SURPRISE! The 2016 Insane Bike Ride Charity Postcard is DONE, and off to the printers! There’s still a chance to get some swag, you know – pop over to my Bike the Barns 2016 pledge page (though I’m not sure when they’ll take it offline, so hurry, if you’d like to help a great charity, and also get THIS collectible brute I mean “beaut”!)



(6) THANK YOUS! (“No, thank YOUSE!”): these charity rides wouldn’t be the success they are, without the help of a ton of great folks. First off, Steve Jackson Games, for supporting the ride with swag, bookmarks, and great patience (and also for the duck and tentacles. They are, frankly, monsters). Also to  Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Steve Jackson, and a whole slew of wondrous limerick writers. None of the swag would get printed up or sent out, most likely, without the help of Business Manager Alex Aulisi, and Fulfillment Guru Extraordinaire David Michael. And having my wife (the Lovely and Talented Judith) and Daughter (Age 7) be there for me, at the end of the ride, is always the greatest support I could wish for.

Now to get that swag finished, and start planning for next year!

Oh, yeah. Almost forgot:

I hate that duck.

– John


There Once Was an Author named Rothfuss…and Gaiman…and Jackson…

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 11.06.33 AM It’s an understatement to say I’m ridiculously grateful for the many, many folks who are generous with their time and donations, helping make my now-annual Insane Charity Bike Ride meet its fundraising goals.

Prime example – Neil Gaiman wrote an utterly delightful limerick,  just for supporters.

Last year I illustrated it, and backers received it as a mini-print. Here it is, by the way (Neil’s wit is too wonderful not to share with the world):

(Click on the image to see the full horizontal print layout). (No, really. Do. It’s better that way).

This year, the Neil Gaiman limerick will be included in the downloadable coloring book that’s available with any donation to Insane Charity Bike Ride 2016!

But it gets better! patrothfuss__large

Pat Rotfuss has written three limericks to help the ride, and I’ll be illustrating at least one of them, which will be made into another mini-print, and sent to all backers of the 2016 ride at the $20 or greater level!

The Pat Rothfuss mini-print will also be included in the coloring book, so all supporters will receive it! But if you back the ride at the $50 level or higher, your mini-prints will be signed by Pat himself! (Also me, which is possibly a little less exciting. But…PAT!)

Here are Pat’s limericks. Again, they are just too good not to share:

There once was a man from Wisconsin

Who rode with a duck on his head
Though it gave some folk pause
It was for the good good cause
Of getting folk their daily bread

There once was a man from Wisconsin
Unnaturally attached to a duck
In this world full of woe
It’s nice quite nice to know
That people out there give a buck.

A cartoonist explained his desire.
The people online understood.
With their friend John Kovalic
The geeks did all frolic
And together they did a great good.

UnknownNot gonna lie – it’s definitely some kind of magic, having folks like Neil and Pat helping you out, alongside with many, many more.

And there are lots more limericks I haven’t even gotten to, yet. Like this gem, from Steve Jackson (of Steve Jackson Games fame – you know: Ogre; Munchkin; GURPS; Illuminati: etc, etc, etc.) himself:

I went on a bike ride bucolic
With John “Mister Duck Hat” Kovalic.
Reaching ludicrous speed
to help people in need
as the duck and the muskrat did frolic.

Am I mostly pleased that nobody rhymed “Kovalic” with “Alcoholic”? POSSIBLY.

But that said, who knows? If we hit $20,000, maybe I’ll illustrate all three of Pat’s limericks, and include them in the coloring book, along with Neil and Steve’s, and others.

Main point, anyway, there’s only a week left before I get on a bike and start peddling a very long, very hilly bike route for a very worthy charity.

Every little bit really does help – even if it’s only spreading the word!

As I tweeted out the other day…

– John