Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Master of D&D Art

Jeff Rients has been going all posting pictures crazy over the last few days, focusing on Bill Willingham. It's got me inspired to put up some of my favourites. Now that generation - Willingham, Roslof, Otus, Trampier - were much before my time, but I was lucky enough to get into the hobby during a period when (to my mind) the greatest D&D artist ever was at work: Tony DiTerlizzi. His pictures in the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual were a huge factor in what attracted me to the game; I can still remember paging through that book and gazing at those pictures enrapt, racing through all the possibilities. (Well, I skipped over most of the Jeff Butler stuff...)

So, a few favourites from the Master:

This is the Best Gnoll Picture Ever, in my opinion. The iconic Gnoll, if you like; the Platonic Ideal Gnoll to which all other Gnolls aspire. I love the ragged cloak, the hyena-like hunching stature and the understated nature of the piece - he isn't about to murder somebody; he looks more like he's standing on a hilltop, surveying his territory and mulling over what a Gnoll chief might do next with so many acres of fine real estate.

I love the seething rage on this werewolf's face. He looks desperate to kill, tear and destroy. Like he's just finished ripping somebody's throat out with his bare hands, and found that instead of being sated, all he can think about is his next victim. As with the Gnoll, he's also understated - unlike the ripped, cut, body-builder werewolves of later D&D and Werewolf: The Apocalypse, this guy is skinny and truly wolf-like - with terrible hunger. He feels more like the werewolf in Prince Caspian: "Where I bite, I hold till I die, and even after death they must cut out my mouthful from my enemy's body and bury it with me..."

You don't get much better than this medusa. I love how she wavers on the line of sexiness and ugliness: She's like an imitation of beauty which hasn't quite made it. I'm sure that's intentional on DiTerlizzi's part. Again, it's also a study in understatedness. The picture isn't trying to look awesome; just communicate a mood, which it does admirably.

And this is probably my all time favourite. The Troll to end all Trolls. Communicates ravenous hunger, wiry strength, disdainful cruelty and alien savagery all at once. I love it.


  1. I do love this artist, he's one of my favorites as well, however, the odd thing is that my old lady and I were just talking about the picture of the medusa: we both hate it. I guess for me, medusa will always be the one from the movie "Clash of the Titans". She is suppose to be so ugly that merely looking at her was enough to turn one into stone. This medusa looks more like a wallflower then a creature of evil might and a guardian of the profane.

    Knit picking aside, I simply loved everything else that this artist did, his lines are both gorgeous and grotesque, and more often then not, right on so that a DM simply has to describe the picture to the players for them to be able to see it in their heads. As soon as I saw that gnoll, a giant smile stretched across my face. As odd as it sounds, that is probably my fav picture in the whole MM.

  2. Ripper x: Taste is such a strange thing! The reason I love that medusa is that she's so different to the one in Clash of the Titans. ;)

    But yeah, the gnoll is just great. In fact all DiTerlizzi's evil humanoids were brilliant - I love the bugbear, orc, kobold, hobgoblin and ogre pics especially. My only regret is that he didn't do all the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual artwork.

  3. DiTerlizzi was kind enough to sign 4 copies of the Magic: the Gathering card "Goblin Matron" for me:

    A great piece, and a nice antidote to the usual flavor of MtG art.

    Unfortunately, I no longer have those cards, as I had to sell MtG cards to pay rent for a while a few years back.

  4. Great stuff! DiTerlizzi is one of the reasons the 2nd ed Monstrous Manual is one of the best critter books ever put out by TSR.

  5. Scott: No way. So glad I'm not in the "selling stuff to pay rent" position these days...

  6. Tony DiTerlizzi is one of my favorite artists as well and one of the few truly great illustrators to emerge during the artistic desert that was 2e. He's also a great guy. My daughter sent him a fan letter and he replied with a very nice letter and custom illustration of a unicorn for her. For that alone, he'll always be tops in my books.

  7. James: I subscribe to his blog, which means I often get to see the great stuff he does for his young fans. Everything he does comes across with real warmth.

    In fact I even think that's true of his D&D illustrations. This is entirely subjective, but I get a rather cold vibe from much later D&D art - it feels quite clinical and functional in tone. DiTerlizzi's pictures, though, have a real rough-and-ready charm to them, even those of the evil creatures. His artwork makes me want to go off on an adventure.

  8. All his various lizard and fish creatures are great. They really capture what a humanoid derived from such forms might look like.

  9. DiTerlizzi Made Planescape for me. He downright owned it. It's nice to see that with Spiderwick and his present work that he's getting his share of notice. Not to mention I do think his work is even better than it was in the D&D days.

  10. Zweihander: Yep, I'm with you on that. I love everything about Planescape, but much as I like Monte and Zeb Cook's ideas and writing, it's DiTerlizzi who really made it what it was.

  11. A-f'ing-men. By far my favorite 2e-era artist.

    That gnoll picture does it for me as well, although I've always had a nitpick with how thin the shaft of that poleaxe is. I mean, I know that was a quirk of his style, but that just seemed to be taking it too far.

    But I'm not trying to bash the pic! Let's just say that thanks solely to that illustration (and somewhat also to an "Ecology of the Gnoll" article in Dragon) every D&D campaign I ran for about 10 years had some sort of gnoll kingdom.

    Oh, and DiTerlizzi's hobgoblin illustration made sure I always had an expansionist empire of those baddies around too.

  12. Sir Larkins: I love that slightly ethereal, fragile quality to DiTerlizzi's pics, which is why I don't mind the pole arm - but I can see why that's not to everyone's taste.

    I love that Gnoll, but perhaps my favourite humanoid by him is the little-known Tasloi picture. Similar to you, every campaign I run always includes Tasloi at some point, and it's all down to DiTerlizzi's illustration.

  13. The gnoll's design is awesome, but it always irked me that he seemed to be wearing a Mawashi. I think the illustration would be a little easier to take seriously if he had pants or a kilt or a different loincloth. In fact, much as I love his style, DiTerlezzi's gnoll's outfit never looked quite like what I imagine a gnoll wearing. I tend to imagine more hide or leather. Though I won't deny that I love that illustration to death. Really the 2e Monstrous Manual was a work of art.