Wednesday 18 March 2009

Sorcery! Art, or Griminess Beats Awesomeness

When it comes to fantasy art I'm a fan of the delicate, the weird, and especially the grimy. Recent fantasy art, with its 'dungeonpunk' themes, beautiful people, and constant obsession with awesomeness and bad-assness, rather bores me. Each to their own, these things are completely subjective and blah blah, but paging through my Sorcery! books after yesterday's post got me thinking about how much I love the work of people like John Blanche, whose slightly creepy, waif-like, ugly creations are one of the best things about the series. His pictures strike just the right note of gloominess and exoticism, with nary a hint of kewlness in sight, and they build up an atmosphere of foreboding strangeness that suits the story perfectly. A few favourites:

Who is this guy, what is all that crap on the shelves behind him and where does it all come from? I love how this picture hints at a world beyond the game itself: you're not important, just another adventurer, really; he buys and sells men like you every day before breakfast, and to be frank he'd rather you leave him alone to smoke his pipe in peace.

Cultists in the desert, doing...something. What are they up to? Obviously a nefarious activity of some kind, but are you brave enough to try to find out what? Again, hints at a world of activity going on outside of the 'plot'; all you are is a passer-by, barely worth registering, and everybody else is getting on with their own lives, regardless of the success or otherwise of your little 'quest'.

Take a look at this guy. He's just sitting in his hole, trying to stay out of the sun, charming his snakes. So why does he seem so oddly menacing?

Flying Fish in the Old World have teeth, and smile joyously as they contemplate sinking them into your flesh...


  1. I'd quibble with the use of the word "ugly" here. I'd say that, if a picture looks better, that automatically makes it less ugly--even if the people or things being displayed in it are actually uglier things. I think the pictures of airbrushed standard-issue big-tit leia-bikini trollslayers you see so much of these days are ugly, even if the babes depicted therein are not.

    But that's just words. Anyway, you're right, John Blanche sure has his moments. I think it has a lot to do with his art--and other grimy art--having some relation to the way medieval and other historical woodcuts and paintings actually look--or at least having some relation to the medieval mindset that produced them. You can imagine that Blanche might share some DNA with Breughel.

  2. Love those books, love that art, and love the feel they created together. Excellent stuff, and thanks for posting it.

  3. I also love the art. It has an incredible amount of character to it. Did Blanche work on the 1st Edition Fiend Folio too?

  4. Zak: That's an interesting point about ugliness. I suppose I don't see ugliness as a bad quality, especially in fantasy art, and that it's possible for a piece of art to be both excellent and ugly. But it's all semantics really. We definitely agree on the big-tit leia-bikini trollslayer tyepes.

    I think there's a commonality between Blanche and Breughel in wanting to show life warts and all. I've always preferred art that does that, but each to his own.

    Trollsmyth: Always good to know there are other Sorcery! fans out there.

    Fitzerman: I think he did. He's probably one of the most prolific British fantasy illustrators of the last 30 years - he did a heck of a lot of Games Workshop stuff (White Dwarf illos, Warhammer and Warhammer 40k) and plenty of Fighting Fantasy too. So it wouldn't surprise me if he did some of the Fiend Folio. To be honest I haven't read that book in years.

  5. I'm looking at my copy of the Fiend Folio, and unless he worked under a pseudonym, no he didn't. Though there's certainly a feel that's similar to his work in the book.

    Illustrations by:
    Chris Baker,
    Jeff Dee,
    Albie Fiore,
    Alan Hunter,
    Russ Nicholson,
    Erol Otus,
    Jim Roslof,
    David C. Sutherland III,
    Bill Willingham,
    Polly Wilson,
    Tony Yates.

    Cover by Emmanuel.

  6. @Trollsmyth: "there's certainly a feel that's similar to [Blanche's] work in the [Fiend Folio]."

    Mostly down to Russ Nicholson and his gnarled, mottled humanoids I think. His art really gives that book its distinctive flavor.

  7. Oh I completely love this style of fantasy art. Is this the same guy who did a lot of the stuff in WHFRP and the movie Wizards? I used to have an art book by him but it's years and miles away...

  8. K. Bailey: I think it is. Blanche definitely did a lot of art for Games Workshop games and White Dwarf.

  9. All hail our patron saint John Blanche