More thoughts on artists who ought to illustrate your next indie RPG product

Rereading my last post on this topic, I realize that it comes across as too bitchy and negative. I ought to remind myself that the ‘art’ in RPG books usually really ought to be termed ‘illustration.’ It’s not there to ‘change my life’ or give the viewer the equivalent of an aesthetic orgasm; it’s there to illustrate.

My last post coincided with some discussion of Grognardia’s picture of a woman and a man in plate armor about to open a door in a ruin, including some related posts like here and here. I think the kiltedyaksman nailed it (wow, that sounded perverse). But his post reminded me on why I love the art from the late 70s era RPG products — it had an energy I find lacking in other ‘fantasy art.’ Opinions, being like assholes, means that everyone has one, etc., so take mine with a grain of salt. But I guess I would like to urge indie producers who are looking for art to find someone they enjoy working with and try turning them loose. No one is going to get rich off of this stuff, so we might as well have some fun with it.

As good or better is for people who don’t think of themselves as “artists” to give it a try. Back in the 70s, I heard that someone published a zine that had drawings of guitar finger tabs of three different guitar chords. It said, “Here are three chords. Now go form a band.” From that attitude, a lot of music came. I’m sure a lot of it wasn’t something I would care to listen to more than once — but some of it was great. And maybe indie rpg publishing (or the OSR) could be less about “mastery” or being slick and more about doing for ourselves. That would make this the best Christmas ever.

I think one of ther happy accidents of my own youthful enthusiasm for fantasy art is the fact that Gygax couldn’t afford the artists he wanted for TSR products because they cost too much… so he had to ‘make do’ with the likes of more ‘downmarket’ artists like Otus, Trampier, Wham and Sutherland while the ‘real’ fantasy artists made a lot more money painting Tolkien calendars and Star Wars posters. When I heard Gygax say he preferred Larry Elmore to all of the artists who illustrated the TSR books I had grown up with and loved, I thought, “What the fuck, Gary?!?” I guess Gary has the right to like whatever Gary likes — I can’t take that away from him (and hope I wouldn’t try) — but I wouldn’t have devoured The AD&D Monster Manual if it had been illustrated by the people Gary actually wanted but couldn’t afford. The slicker art of that era just didn’t light my fire. All these years later I still love that picture of the Rakasha (sp?) in a smoking jacket firing up a bowl (with a tiny Wham critter on his desk) by Trampier from the original Monster Manual. Or the Remorhaz drawing from the same book. Or the giants. Or any of the demons/devils. Great stuff.

At the time that I got into the D&D stuff, I remember liking David Sutherland’s drawings a lot less than Trampier’s. They were often rushed-looking and poses looked awkward. Since then, I’ve found a lot more to love in his work, especially the black and white work.

So, some other artists who I think deserve admiration, accolades, attention, etc.:

J. Bingham, who has been working quietly and without a lot of “my-own-horn-tooting” on various indie published things — see his work at Ostensible Cat. His recent work has been blowing me away and inspiring me to try to push my own hatch line work.

Someone I know only as ‘Human Mollusk.’ I don’t know if he has done any RPG work, but he would do great monster illustrations; I just know it.

The freaky, psychotic imaginings of art by Carl, who did a very evocative drawing of the ‘Stonehell’ dungeons’ Ogre Gateway. He hasn’t updated his page in forever; I hope he is still drawing.

Mark Allen, who I think did the drawing of the knight and the woman for Dwimmermount. I wish I could afford copies of all of the stuff he has been doing for Arduin, but my wallet is really light these days.

Jaybird, Glad and ATOM of Three Headed Troll Artworks. I see more artwork from Andy “Atom” Taylor than the other two, mostly because I think he posts more in places where I happen to see it.

Michael Bukowski
hasn’t done any RPG work as far as I know, but look at his work and try to tell me that he shouldn’t, huh?

Aos is pretty dismissive of his own talents, but I think his work has a raw vitality and whimsy that should not be underestimated. He has been posting some kick ass maps lately and I love the way he mixes up the genres… people wearing gasmasks and jockstraps carrying AK-47s and swords while riding kangaroos. Plus he is just always making shit up and posting it — that counts for a lot.

edit: add Jason of Underground Ink, who has apparently done a bit of work for Fight On! and similar. Cool stuff! Slash! Pow!

edit more: Dennis Dread’s “The Battle for Art!” Heavy metal!

Theo Ellsworth “Thought Cloud Factory News.” The name alone begs you take a peek, but you will stay for the art.

There are lots more… people have posted their own favorites in the responses to the last post.

8 Comments on “More thoughts on artists who ought to illustrate your next indie RPG product”

  1. Several of the Human Mollusk's illustrations are in the original publication of my module, “Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer” in Fight On #4.

  2. Limpey says:

    Geoff — that is so cool! I will have to contribute more to Fight On! so I can get free issues — my budget has taken a big hit recently.

    Another artist I would want to add is 'Fat Cotton.' Someone else mentioned him in the comments of yesterday's post. I've been following his blog for a while now and really enjoy his sensibility.

  3. Brendan says:

    That's a sweet collection of links.

  4. Kesher's art in Fight On really jumps out at me. It has a fevered look that seems to be right out of an opium-soaked volume of French Symbolist poetry.

  5. BlUsKrEEm says:

    I'm a big fan of Andy “ATOM” Taylor.

  6. Stef, thatnks for the mention. There's a lot of guys out there doing some great stuff. It's really bringing back a kick ass DIY vibe to the scene. It is a lot of fun.

  7. Hey, Human Mollusk here.
    Just stumbled over this post… pleased to hear you like my stuff!
    Yes, I've done plenty of RPG-related art – some of it can be seen on my homepage:

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