Mike Rayahwk LEGO Playthemes
Vladek Reforges his Sword
"Vladek Reforges his Sword" - digital, 2005
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006


The Knights Kingdom™ theme has always had a supporting line of children's books from Scholastic, but it wasn't until 2006 that I had the chance to do illustrations for the picture books in addition to my work on the LEGO products. The images on this page are from "Quest for the Tower" by Michael Anthony Steele. (You can find it here on Amazon.com or here on Barnesandnoble.com, according to your preference - I like the Barnes and Noble page because they're nice enough to list me in the credits.) This is the first of my picture books to be released; hopefully I'll get to show more images over the course of the year as additional books come out.

I've always thought that the evil Lord Vladek was by far the most dramatic and iconic character of the Knight's Kingdom universe, and I'm always trying to increase his screen presence. We didn't get quite as Vladek-centric a story for 2006 as we did in 2005, but he still gets plenty of chances to show that he's more than a match for any of the heroes. His crystal-ball vision is a callback to King Mathias' establishing shot from 2005, and his sword-forging action foreshadows the complementary abilities of the mysterious blacksmith who appears later in the book.

Vladek gets some capable goons this year in the nefarious characters of Dracus and Karzon. These two Rogue Knights help to even the odds a little bit from previous years, in which there were always five hero action figures ganging up on the single Vladek toy. That hardly seemed chivalrous!

Setting the Traps
"Setting the Traps" - digital, 2005
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006

Even with the odds evened up a bit, Karzon doesn't wait around for the heroes to meet him in fair combat - he sneaks out ahead of them to set up some nasty traps that'll soften them up for the villains' ambush.

One of the purposes of the Knights stories is to give each character a spotlight moment that shows off his unique talents and role. The spotlights were pretty easy in the first couple of years, since the target audience was still very young and so our characters were made very one-dimensional - Sir Santis was the super strong guy, Sir Jayko was the super fast guy, and so forth.

As the Knights fans get older, the characters are gradually getting a little more dimensional, and it's no longer as easy to show off their unique personalities in the one or two images allotted to each. With Karzon I think we pulled it off pretty well - he's sneaky, ruthless, and has no qualms about fighting dirty, as the heroes are about to find out when he sets off those traps.


Vladek's Ambush
"Vladek's Ambush " - digital, 2005
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006

A couple of pages later, the heroes are still trying to cut themselves free from the traps when Vladek springs his ambush. This is the big pitch-board shot for the theme, where I managed to pack all the characters and all the playsets into a single action-packed scene. My one regret is that I chose a pose for King Jayko that only showed his backside, which any theater manager will tell you is bad stage blocking.

Of course Vladek takes the opportunity to boast about his evil plans to reach the Tower long before the heroes have any chance to stop him. That kind of gloating monologue is an unbreakable super-villain tradition.


The Ancient Catapult
"The Ancient Catapult" - digital, 2005
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006

For the 2006 story, I was really hoping to make Vladek into some kind of sea pirate, but it wasn't meant to be. He does get this cool boat though, and I tried to work it into as many pages of the book as possible. The LEGO set of this boat is really a pretty cool and original little model, and I hope we see more sets along these lines in the future.

Of course the heroes attack the villains with a catapult, because Knight's Kingdom is all about catapults. Judging by the LEGO product line over the years, it looks like kids love catapults so much that it overrides every other design consideration; last year we were even mounting catapults on the horses. Vladek's ship has a catapult too, of course, although you can't see it from this angle.

You don't see Karzon in this scene because he's snuck off to set up yet another nasty surprise for the heroes a little bit later. Dracus is a solid thug, and Vladek's good for showboating around, but in the 2006 story there's no doubt that Karzon is the real workhorse of the badguy team.


The Gargoyles Spring to Life
"The Gargoyles Spring To Life" - digital, 2005
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006
Sir Kentis Outwits the Gargoyles
"Sir Kentis Outwits the Gargoyles" - digital, 2005
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006

This was a kind of a tricky sequence that ended up working out pretty well. Putting the illustrations for a Knights story together is a little like working out a puzzle: it's all about hitting a specific list of bullet points in as efficient a manner as possible. In this case we had most of the rest of the story in place, and were down to the last two points: we needed to show that the gargoyle heads can move and attack the heroes, and Sir Kentis still needed his two spotlight pages. The early brief for these two images boiled down to: "Page 1: The gargoyles come to life and prevent the heroes from crossing the bridge somehow. Page 2: Sir Kentis defeats them in some way that shows off his personality. We aren't sure how he manages this, but it has to look awesome."

The early descriptions for Sir Kentis mainly emphasized his "thoughtful" nature, so I came up with a couple of different concepts for how he might "thoughtfully" outwit the gargoyle heads. There was a footnote in his character profile that mentioned that he also studied martial arts, and as we developed the story further the focus of his character shifted more in that direction. Finally all the elements settled into place, and Sir Kentis pulls this very Rascus-like maneuver, setting his mace and shield aside to defeat the gargoyles with a broken flagpole and sheer force of ingenuity instead.


Watch Out!
"Watch out!" - digital, 2005
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006

Here's a nice hero shot of the goodguys as they enter the rear gates of the Tower: Sir Adric, Sir Kentis, and King Jayko.

The Mysterious Blacksmith
"The Mysterious Blacksmith" - digital, 2005
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006

Who is this mysterious blacksmith? Unlike Vladek, he uses his smithy skills for protection rather than attack, and forges King Jayko's broken pieces of the Shield of Ages back together.

The rack of weapons in the background are all gilded-up versions of standard LEGO minifigure weapons, as any LEGO fan will immediately recognize.

Dracus Breaches the Gates
"Dracus Breaches the Gates" - digital, 2005
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006

Classic LEGO stories almost always have a page or two showing heroes who manage to solve their problems by taking the pieces of an old model and reconstructing them into something new. Somehow, we never thought of incorporating this very LEGO moment into the Knights Kingdom stories of previous years. This year, we came upon it by accident
. We realized that, product-wise, Vladek has all these siege weapons with which to assault the Tower, but story-wise, we have no indication of how he might have brought them there.

In this case it becomes Dracus's spotlight moment, when he directs Vladek to use magic to rebuild the rubble of some outlying fortifications into siege machinery. It's not really the most successful spotlight, as far as those things go - it almost does more to highlight Vladek's powers than Dracus's battle skill - but he really is just a glorified thug in Vladek's service, much less of a lone wolf than Karzon, so him relying on Vladek's powers is appropriate enough.

In hindsight, it's kind of unusual that we decided to give the rebuilding power to the badguys, since normally we'd prefer that that kind of strong LEGO-associated action be used for heroic rather than villainous purposes.

Vladek is Defeated
"Vladek is Defeated" - digital, 2005
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006

Already unbeatable and more powerful than any hero, when Lord Vladek gains control of the mystic Orb he becomes a kind of invincible Super Vladek. Even with the reforged Shield of Ages, King Jayko can't hold out for long against Vladek's superpowered magic. But as always, with the help of his friends and the magical Heart of the Shield, Jayko is able to turn Vladek's evil powers against him to save the day.

Every year's story ends with a scene of the king rewarding his victorious knights. Here we see a return to the Morcian throne room from 2004's storyline, as well as some nice background cameos by the Knights Kingdom heroes of earlier years.

The Statue of Orlan
"The Statue of Orlan" - digital, 2005
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2006

In the comics for the LEGO playsets the identity of the blacksmith is left mysterious, but for the Scholastic book we put in this final shot for the expository epilogue. King Jayko stands on the balcony of Castle Morcia beside a statue of Orlan, First Knight of Morcia, and recognizes the familiar face of the blacksmith.

Mike Rayahwk
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