Friday, 2 May 2014

Angus McBride Ate My Hamster

When people talk about fantasy artists they often forget Angus McBride. That's what you get for not working on D&D, Fighting Fantasy or Warhammer, I suppose. It's a shame, because his work is simply beautiful. Expressive, detailed, dynamic, and gorgeously composed, but also strangely human and sympathetic - almost tender. Look at little Merry hidden away in the picture of Eowyn and the Witch-King, a tiny little figure who performs for us the role that all the halfings do in Tolkien's work - humanising what is taking place before us. Look the way the orc at the front-and-centre in the picture under that seems almost frantic, like he's being bustled along by the others a little too quickly for his liking; he's suddenly not quite as enthusiastic as he was a few moments ago. Look at the simple stark purity of Gandalf facing off against probable doom as the Witch-King approaches the gate, or the look of brute despair on the troll's face as he stumbles through the door in the Moria scene. This was a thoughtful artist - a man who knew how to tell a story with a single image.










It's surely no accident that he was also a great illustrator of historical scenes, mostly in the picture books about the Roman era that I used to read as a kid; he had to make those scenes come alive, and the skills were perfectly transferable to fantasy illustration. His historical stuff often has a surprisingly hard edge to it - he didn't shy away from the ugly side of history. It's exciting, but he didn't lose sight of the fact that everybody in his pictures is a person. It's an interesting contradiction: the pictures are thrilling but at the same time you feel sympathy for the people in them. It takes a special kind of skill to achieve that.






15 comments:

  1. Im convinced he used the great Paul Newman as the model for Aragorn in the MERP roleplaying game.

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    1. I know exactly the picture you mean.

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  2. Angus: LotR qua Warhammer. Hildebrandts: LotR qua Dragonlance. (yes, anachronism and probably reverse causality acknowledged)

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  3. Angus McBride's work was, is, and will always remain the way I see medieval fantasy looking. Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons I so detest D&D. It's about as medieval looking and feeling as my smartphone.

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    1. Ha ha, I fully agree.

      Honestly I'm surprised as the contents of the original post. In my circle of gaming friends, nobody "forgets" Angus McBide; he's actually considered as one of the most influential ones. That's probably because we mostly come from a wargaming background and we're very familiar with the Osprey books.

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    2. Yes. I meant in RPG circles - he didn't do stuff for D&D so he doesn't get cited as one of the big artists.

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  4. Osprey did a collection of his work but I regret that I don't have the Middle Earth one. That was some fantastic stuff. Loved his Rolemaster covers as well.

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    1. Yes, I found some stuff on Amazon. Might have to order it.

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  5. He's technique is has a masterful simplicity to it too, which I'm finding I try to emulate more in my own these days. He made a point of trying to get character interaction and storytelling across in every image. I think that's what elevates a lot his Osprey work from basic, informative illustration to individual works of art.

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    1. Exactly. The pictures spur your imagination: what happens next?

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  6. I've always thought that he's one of relatively few illustrators to base his orcs on what Tolkien actually wrote, rather than through a D&D/RPG filter. McBride's orcs are short, squat, broad, long-armed and crook-legged - compare and contrast with many other interpretations (not least those of the New Line films).

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  7. One of the great masters. I know he was 76 when he died, but I still felt the loss deeply, as if he had died too soon, like when Keith Parkinson passed away. As you and others in the comments have pointed out, he was so good at conveying both humanity and a sense of story, all in a single image. It's no mistake that my Google+ profile features one of his illustrations as my banner:

    https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-CgRy3Rc1cnA/UY8eyVXRyBI/AAAAAAAACwc/Up7jlIO8X8A/s762-fcrop64=1,20442f5bdf4ccfff/angusmcbridevikings.jpg

    But I think my favorite image of his has to be this one; it encapsulates everything that's great about his style:

    http://www.fotosimagenes.org/imagenes/niall-de-los-nueve-rehenes-3.jpg

    (Too bad there's not a higher-res version online, though...)

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    1. Yeah, it's the way the kids are involved too - it's the attention to detail. There's another picture of his that I really like, of norsemen fighting off an attack by Native Americans in Newfoundland. In amongst the fight there is a woman, a housewife, reaching for a sword to join in the battle. It's that understanding of the wider context that elevates his stuff above the norm.

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  8. I did a quick throw away post on fightingfantasist about Angus McBride and, if Blogger isn't telling me lies, it's actually been the most popular post I've ever written. That surprised me as well. Every week my hit stats have his name in there as search strings that have led people to the blog.

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  9. Huh, I didn't know his name, but looking at the pictures you posted and some others I found with a search it looks like he rather heavily influenced my picture of the medieval and ancient worlds as well.

    Thanks for pointing him out.

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