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Art of the Genre: The Dreaming Work of Travis Hanson

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

poster2final2My suggestion, assuming my AotG followers ever listen to me, is to go here and do what you must.  Seriously, find some change in your pocket and put it somewhere that is worthy.  I find I can’t help but support incredible artists, especially those willing to tell a beautiful story for children and adults alike.  So hurry and add this to your ‘what I did in 2014 that was worth something’ list.

Ok, now that you’ve made the world a better place, I’ll do the same by talking a bit about the art of Travis Hanson.

Trav, as he’s known to me, decided he wanted to do a comic, but he didn’t have any place to put it.  Luckily for him, and so many creative people, the Internet gave him the opportunity to share his talent and vision, for free, with people across the globe.  Thus, a few years back, The Bean was born.  Fast forward to now and you’ve got Fifteen Chapters and 579 comic pages of incredible fantasy adventure all at your fingertips for ZERO dollars and ZERO cents!

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Art of the Genre: I.C.E.’s Middle-Earth Roleplaying Part Four: The Maps

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

MIddle-EarthHave you ever designed a campaign and thought to yourself, ‘Damn, this is so good, I should build a company on it?’ Well, certainly you aren’t the only one, and dozens of game companies have been born from folk’s home brew campaigns, but it wasn’t until very recently that I realized that I.C.E.’s Middle-Earth Role-Playing was born of the same ilk.

Now before you all go running off to Twitter about Tolkien being a RPG nerd, you have to have the full understanding of what I’m talking about. First and foremost, Tolkien WAS NOT a gamer, but that didn’t mean that his world wasn’t ripe for table-top role-players to want to explore in the mid to late 1970s.

One case in particular came out of the University of Virginia in 1977, when then student Pete Fenlon decided he wanted to create a role-playing game around Tolkien’s world for some friends on campus.

My first question upon finding this out was, ‘Why didn’t you just play D&D?’ and Pete’s answer was simple: D&D simply wasn’t Tolkien. As an avid camper and backpacker, as well as a member of the SCA, Fenlon understood way too much about Tolkien to throw a campaign into a world of negative integer armor classes and D20 to-hit charts.

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The Waterloo Panorama: An Epic Example of Military Art

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Marshal Ney leading his troops.

Marshal Ney leading his troops.

The Napoleonic era has always fascinated me for its visuals — the massive armies, the colorful costumes, and the sweeping scope of some of the battles. These terrible conflicts produced some of the finest military art in European history and I discovered a remarkable example of it when I visited Waterloo, Belgium, last week.

Preserved on the battlefield is a rare example of a panorama. A popular form of entertainment in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these large paintings are now rare. They were usually of epic scenes such as battles or Biblical stories or famous cities, and would be placed on the inside of round buildings to provide a 360 degree viewing experience. Others were set up on stage and unrolled like a scroll in front of the audience, each part relating a sequence of the story.

The Waterloo panorama is set in a round building and is 110 meters long and 14 meters high. It was painted by Louis Dumoulin and his assistants in 1912, just as those newfangled moving pictures were beginning to make panoramas obsolete.

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Art of the Genre: David Trampier, 1954 – 2014

Friday, March 28th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

1509880_10153982624460584_2120060224_nToday is a day of mourning for those gamers who were brought into the industry during the ‘great launch’ of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 1978. That year the AD&D Player’s Handbook hit the market, and nothing in the life of role-playing would ever be the same again. One reason, and certainly one of the most recognizable not named Gygax, was the cover art by David Trampier. On Monday, March 24th, Mr. Trampier passed away in southern Illinois at the age of 59.

That age in itself is a tragedy, but one that can only be further exacerbated by what could have been for a man many gamers considered the great white whale of RPG fantasy artwork.

More words than can easily be counted have been written about Trampier over the years, most hypothesis and some truths, but in the end all we know now is that he is gone.

As an adept in the industry of RPG artwork, I’ve made it my life’s calling to track down bygone artists. But Trampier was never one of them. Sure, I’ve spoken in depth to his relations, and even as late as last August had a lengthy conversation with a group of RPG power brokers on the best course of action to approach him, including old friends on a road trip and private detectives, but in the end Trampier was even too far removed for me, and honestly I can’t say whether that now makes me happy or sad.

What I do know it that in the late 1980s, during his run with the Wormy comic for TSR’s Dragon magazine, Trampier suddenly went off the grid.  At the time, he’d have been only 34 years of age, and smack in the middle of his prime as an artist. Now, 25 years later, he is gone, and not a single shred of artwork was produced by his hand over the course of those intervening years.

Now that brings me profound sadness.

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The Art of Shamanism

Thursday, March 27th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Shaman’s costume and drum, next to a photo of a sacred tree.

The eastern Spanish city of Valencia is rich in museums. Besides the usual archaeology, history, and military museums, there are quirky ones like the Toy Soldier Museum and the one true Holy Grail at Valencia Cathedral. There are also several art museums and galleries. While visiting last year, I came across an exhibition on shamanism at the Valencian Museum of Enlightenment and Modernity.

Titled “Between the Worlds: Shamanism in the Villages of Siberia,” the exhibition brought together more than two-hundred objects on loan from The Russian Museum of Ethnography. Most were collected around the turn of the last century, before the Communist Revolution led to a national effort to stamp out shamanistic practices.

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The Gargoyles of St. Wulfram’s

Monday, March 17th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

DSC00165_2Of all the freakish critters in the original hardback Monster Manual, the one that always made the most intuitive sense to me was the gargoyle. Having seen perhaps more than my share of gargoyles by the time I entered the role-playing realms, I already knew them to be fierce, frightening, toothy, amply clawed, and sometimes winged. It stood to reason that they’d be crafty, pernicious opponents.

What made no sense was why the D&D variety weren’t made of stone, as nearly all true (read: real) gargoyles surely are. To this day, I still have no explanation for that decision on the part of the Monster Manual’s creators, Mssrs. Gygax, et al. They certainly had no intrinsic objection to stone beasties: consider the stone golem or that durable tri-form oddity, the xorn.

In order to better address this incongruity, I have abandoned my regular offices deep in Black Gate’s vast Indiana Compound and taken up residence at Harlaxton Manor, an out-of-the-way 1830s edifice set in the rolling hills of England’s Lincolnshire. Is it haunted? Probably. Not only did one of its previous owners conduct regular séances in the cozier of the two libraries, but the manor has been used in several eccentric movies, including The Ruling Class (1972) and the truly execrable remake of The Haunting (1999).

Are there gargoyles? Yes. But only two.

Luckily, just down the road, in the struggling industrial town of Grantham, an astonishment of gargoyles awaits on the walls of St. Wulfram’s, a mid-sized Anglican church that dates back to the 1200s at least.

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Art of the Genre: The Halflings of Jeff Dee

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Does this Halfling have a cape or a shield on his back? I always wanted it to be a shield.

Does this Halfling have a cape or a shield on his back? I always wanted it to be a shield.

I was playing Keep on the Borderlands this past week, certainly one of my all-time favorite modules, and as I flipped through it I came across a Jeff Dee illustration that had a Halfling in the background.  As two weeks ago I’d done a piece here on BG called ‘The Top 40 RPG Artists of the Past 40 Years’ AND had left Jeff off that list, I couldn’t help but stare at the image and wonder why I had done so.

Certainly people in the OSR had raised a big fuss about Jeff’s lack of ‘love’ on my part, and for good reason.  He could have arguably made the list, depending on how you viewed the industry as a whole.  Add such a view to the fact that Jeff has been a tireless game designer, player, and advocate for the industry of RPGs since I was in grade school, then he could almost be grandfathered in just for trying so hard.  I guess it would be like a Lifetime Achievement Oscar or something.

Whatever the case, I sat there looking at this great little Halfling and couldn’t shake the feeling that of all the artists to ever do these little guys, Jeff was hands-down the best in my opinion, and here are the reasons why.

One: Jeff is a gamer, and as such, he has an inherent connection to how gamers see themselves, and with that, how gamers see their characters.  Certainly, the thought of a Halfling is appealing because of Tolkien, but not necessarily the thought of Bilbo Baggins.  Sure, we all love Bilbo, but do we love the Rankin/Bass version as a representation of our player characters?  I doubt it.

Two: Jeff drew from a comic book style and therefore his lean lines for humans and elves spilled over directly to Halflings.  Gone were the pot-bellied and cheery pipe-smokers, who were in turn replaced by ‘little men’ with ripped chests, chiseled faces, and weapons and armor that looked incredibly formidable.

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Lust, Women, and the Devil: Seven Decades of Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife

Saturday, February 15th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Conjure Wife-small There are a lot of fascinating things you can learn about 20th Century America — and America today — by being a compulsive paperback collector. Seriously. It’s like being a Cultural Anthropologist.

Let’s take a look at Fritz Leiber’s first novel, Conjure Wife. In fact, it’s a near perfect example. The book has been reprinted around a dozen times by roughly as many publishers over the last 70 years, and each time the cover art and marketing copy tells you as much about society as they do about the book. More, even.

First, it helps to know a little about the novel. Conjure Wife was written in 1943; it’s a supernatural horror novel that imagines that witchcraft is an ancient secret shared by most women. Our protagonist Norman Saylor, a professor at a small town college, accidentally discovers that his wife Tansy is a witch. When he convinces her to abandon the mysterious art, the couple rapidly find their luck changing for the worse. Turns out that Tansy’s various charms were the only thing protecting them from an intricate web of curses and counter-spells cast by the women around them.

I always thought that was a fascinating premise. If it seems familiar, it’s because the story has filtered into public consciousness since 1943 — it’s been filmed at least three times: the Lon Chaney, Jr. feature Weird Woman (1944), the Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson collaboration Burn, Witch, Burn! (1962), and Lana Turner’s final film, Witches’ Brew (1980). Of course, the concept of a community of witches and warlocks living secretly among us has gradually become a popular fantasy trope — used in Jimmy Stewart’s 1958 fantasy Bell, Book and Candle, just for example, as well as the 1964 to 1972 TV series Bewitched, and even the Harry Potter novels.

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Art of the Genre: The Top 10 RPG Artists of the Past 40 Years

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Artist Cynthia Sheppard from Lamentations doesn't make the list but who does?

Artist Cynthia Sheppard from Lamentations doesn’t make the list but who does?

The office here at Black Gate L.A. has never been quiet, it just isn’t who we are. But with the addition of new blogger James Maliszewski to the mix, it is downright loud. This change was made all the more punctuated today by the fact that our southern California drought was broken with a series of showers. As I didn’t want to get damp, I was forced to close the windows to my corner office, which usually provide some calming background noise from the crashing waves and calling gulls on Redondo Beach. Now closed in, and facing a deadline, I had to fight against the sound of a debate between Maliszewski and Ryan Harvey on who would best portray adventuring party characters in a film version of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Honestly, I would have cast our resilient secretary, Kandi, for the lead as she often times dyes her hair red when the mood strikes, but these two ‘A list’ diehards had no interest in my two cents. Therefore, I read over an email once more from our intrepid editor, John O’Neill, which I’d received the Friday before.

Taylor, I’m not paying you six figures to get a tan, so write me some numbers-generating copy!

Nice… Always the charmer that one.

Nonetheless, I flipped on my computer with my sexy desktop background of our very own Sue Granquist lounging around in her ‘Goth Chick’ black, white, and buckled finery and then bumped over to Microsoft Word. What to write? Well, how about a ‘Top 10’, since those seem to always create a buzz and get people to click down after the break.

Considering the Lamentations of the Flame Princess argument, and the just-passed 40th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, I decided on the ‘Top 10 RPG Artists of All-Time.” Yep, I think I’m qualified to take that one on, but just to discourage my own favoritism, I decided on a way to judge the list outside my own nostalgic mind. Now sure, the below rules have some level of interpretation on my end, but I do believe they hold water for overall impact on the industry.

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The Lost Art of Bruce Pennington

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Bruce Pennington The Shadow of the Torturer-small

A few weeks ago, while discussing the cover of the Panther edition of Fritz Leiber’s Night Monsters, I mentioned that I’m a huge Bruce Pennington fan. Bruce was very kind to me when I called him out of the blue in 2007, hoping to buy the rights to two of his paintings to use as covers for Black Gate. Once he’d had a chance to see the magazine for himself, and determined that I was simply a fan with a very limited budget, Bruce was extraordinarily gracious, agreeing to my modest offer without a murmur of complaint, and inviting me to look through his vast portfolio and select the covers I wanted.

Well, this was like being a kid in a candy store. I already knew that I wanted to use his extraordinary painting of an armored horseman, one of the finest pieces of sword & sorcery art I’d ever seen. It was originally published on the Panther edition of Lin Carter’s anthology Flashing Swords 2.

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