Monday, 8 April 2019

Caverns of the Snow Witch: That Gary Ward and Edward Crosby Look

Caverns of the Snow Witch is in my memory as probably the most enjoyable Fighting Fantasy book. This is so even though I probably haven't looked at the content in, what, getting on for 25 years?

It might be because even after all this time, the art from that book lingers in my mind as being something special and different: as though a Japanese woodblock printer and Russ Nicholson had a lovechild - I can't think of any fantasy art that is quite like it. Take a look at these and tell me that the static nature of these pieces isn't more than made up for by the stark evocativeness of their style:








This is my favourite of the lot. The composition on this piece is stunning:




The illustrators, unbelievably, never did any Fighting Fantasy illos again, and I don't think I have seen either of their work elsewhere. Gary Ward and Edward Crosby, wherever you are - you did a grand job on this one.

18 comments:

  1. Yup, they're great.

    There's an odd piece of cross-game fertilisation, too, in the picture of the frozen orc (third from the bottom above). It's clearly based on the trooper from Harboth's Black Mountain Boys, the Citadel/Warhammer Regiment of Renown (you can see him on the left here: http://leadadventureforum.com/index.php?topic=77384.msg978057#msg978057). The similarities in the face, tunic, mail and leggings are too great for it to be a coincidence.

    What's odd is that the Black Mountain trooper became the standard look for Citadel/GW orcs thereafter. The earlier ones are much more varied, with downward-pointing fangs, walrus tusks, elongated jaws and other distinctive looks. But thereafter, the grinning face with upward-turned nose and upward-pointing tusks becomes standard.

    The Caverns of the Snow Witch illustration may just be coincident with the shift at Citadel, but it does, oddly, seem to provide the 'coronation' of that particular orcish look.

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    1. Interesting. I've often wondered where the up-turned-fang orc look came from.

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    2. I feel a little sad that the original Warlock of Firetop Mountain FF orcs - who look more goblin-ish - disappeared and were superseded by Warhammer style orcs.

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  2. It's my favourite Fighting Fantasy book, in part because of the clever way it's structured; it's a rare case of an adventure that explores what happens after the hero defeats the final boss.

    (I say "clever" but it's expanded from a shorter adventure published in magazine, and Ian Livingstone has just bolted a small, direct sequel on to the end, but he could have just stuck a bunch of filler in the main dungeon.)

    The other thing that makes it my favourite is the art. The FF series had some great art, but even by those standards the work in this one is superb.

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    1. I don't remember all that much about the plot but next time I visit my Mum I'll see if it's still lurking somewhere in her loft.

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  3. To my eleven years old self, Caverns of Snow Witch was the only Fighting Fantasy book to fill me with a sense of dread. The countdown of the life-wasting curse you receive after killing the Snow Witch was a stroke of evil genius: not only would the adventure refuse to end where it was supposed to, the quest only became more tense and desperate as it turned personal. Getting slowly eaten away by the curse seemed much more real and threatening than going down in man-to-goblin combat... and this is in a gamebook which went out of its way to portray its goblins as sadistic, malicious monsters.

    The artwork is very particular, yeah - damn ugly. A friend of mine had an enlarged, lovingly hand-coloured photocopy of that lantern-bearing ghoul on his bedroom door as a "Parents keep out" sign.

    And an Easter egg: the moustached mask in the last picture is mid-80s Ian Livingstone himself!

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  4. Love the book. The FF aesthetic in general is probably the defining one when it comes to fantasy for me.

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    1. Me too, just because it was so important in my formative years.

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  5. Love that giant face with a lantern image. I saw it wrong initially and it looked like someone holding up a lantern to see a giant face on the wall (T1 style). I like that better than just a creepy face that can't see in the dark.

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    1. I used to be terrified of that piece when I was a kid.

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  6. Great art. Did not encounter Fighting Fantasy at all when I was a kid despite spending a lot of time in game shops and in the fantasy section of my middle school library. Though the Wikipedia link says they were published here.

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    1. I believe they are still published though with different art.

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    2. The series is being republished -- with some new entries too -- and the reprints do have new art, which is not a patch on the original.

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  7. It appears Edward Crosby has a blog at http://edwardcrosbydesign.blogspot.com/?m=1 but it hasn't been updated in a decade, which is a shame. There's an old post where he says a few words about the Caverns art but no other fantasy projects from what I can tell.

    I wonder if someone could get him to do a few pieces for an OSR book if the price was right.

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    1. Yeah, there are some other dead links on that blog. Shame!

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  8. For some reason this was one of the few FF books that I never played (of the earlier fantasy ones that is), don't know why. But they reused a bunch of the art in Out of the Pit, and some in Titan too I think, that style is so memorable I can picture all of them. I remember the big-face lantern-man really creeping me out as a kid

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  9. I loved the art, but I'd already played the first half in Warlock magazine so the 'second act' felt very noticeably tacked on.

    I think this was the first (only?) sexy villainess in a Fighting Fantasy book!

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