Danger: Here There Be Dragons (and Clever Children!)

Monday, October 13th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

paperbagPossibly the most rambunctious children’s author out there is Robert Munsch, whose characters drive bus loads of pigs to school, vanish beneath layers of permanent markers, and scream in the bath with sufficient volume to summon the police.

All of his (uniformly excellent) picture books employ elements of fantasy, but only once, to my knowledge, did he and his regular collaborator, illustrator Michael Martchenko, depart entirely our real and rational world long enough to include that nemesis of humanity: the green-scaled, fire-breathing dragon.

Yes, it’s The Paper Bag Princess, one of the best kids’ books I know, rife with hilarious prose, ebullient artwork, and the pluckiest heroine this side of Dorothy Gale. Who says girls can’t have adventures?

The plot is a model of efficiency. Princess Elizabeth lives in a castle, and she’s got riches and a boyfriend, Roland, whom she expects to marry. Curly blonde Roland sports a crown and a tennis racket, and just to be sure we get the idea, Martchenko adds a butterfly cloud of hearts around Elizabeth’s smitten head.

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Art of the Genre: Photographs from a Long Lost Lake Geneva

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Cartographer Dennis Kauth wants a piece of Larry Elmore's beautiful mind!

Cartographer Dennis Kauth wants a piece of Larry Elmore’s beautiful mind!

Over the past four years, I’ve struck up a friendship with Nick Parkinson, son of the late fantasy and D&D artist Keith Parkinson. We both live in San Diego and it is always nice to share thoughts on the sweeping industry of games as a whole.

One thing very few people understand who look into fantasy art is that the bulk of all artists DO NOT play RPGs.  Of the ‘Big Four’ for TSR (Elmore, Easley, Parkinson, and Caldwell), only Keith actually played Dungeons & Dragons.

Todd Lockwood was a D&D player until he started working at TSR in the late 1990s and he often speaks about how the ‘magic was gone’ once he started actually designing the game. That is a subject I’ll look at another day, however, although it is intriguing.

Anyway, I’m getting a bit off target here, so let me refocus. Nick and I had a conversation where I was looking to acquire a few old character sheets from ‘famous’ players for an io9 article a friend was writing and he said he’d just seen some of his father’s old sheets when he’d moved a few months before.

A week later, I didn’t get the character sheets, but he did send over a nice grouping of old TSR photographs and I was very interested to see the ‘process’ of how these great creators worked together to make some of the famous images we all know and love.

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Art of the Genre: Roger Dean, Asia, and Finding Myself in ’82

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

asia_alphafThere was a time back in my middle-school days when friends of mine were allowed to join those ‘record clubs’ that you could find in magazine ads. You might remember these deals, where you’d pay like a penny and get twelve cassette tapes if you promised to buy six at regular price over the next year. Now for an eleven-year-old, this was a pretty significant addition to a small tape collection, so imagine my chagrin when I’d see friends show up with all this new music and me still with such a modest collection.

It was during one of these bulk purchases that my best friend at the time, Jason, picked up a copy of Asia Alpha. Jason eventually moved away after 7th grade, but years later, we became roommates in college during our freshman and sophomore years in the dorm. During our time together, around 1990, I purchased an Asia collection (Then and Now) on disc and Jason asked what I’d purchased. When I told him, he replied ‘I don’t know that band’, and I was like, ‘What!? You owned Asia Alpha back in middle school!’ and he was like ‘I did?’ I guess the moral of that particular story is that when providing twelve tapes at once to an eleven-year-old, it might be more about the bragging rights and cool factor than the music.

Anyway, the prime reason I’d remembered he had the tape was that the album cover was so incredibly cool. It was far beyond anything I’d seen at the time and to this day I’m still pretty enchanted with it. Many years would pass before I discovered that the artist was Roger Dean, and that he’d been doing funky and incredible alternate fantasy images for more years than I’d been alive.

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Vintage Treasures: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Voyage of the Space Beagle by van Vogt, A. E. Mission Interplanetary-small The Voyage of the Space Beagle 1963-small

And now we move to one of the great SF classics of the Golden Age: A. E. van Vogt’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle, the tale of an intrepid crew of space explorers and their adventures on distant and deadly worlds, frequently cited as an obvious influence on both Star Trek and Alien.

But first, a few words about A. E. van Vogt, one of the greatest and most prolific writers of SF’s Golden Age, whom we haven’t discussed much at Black Gate (probably because he didn’t write a lot of fantasy). I read his classic novel Slan (1946) at an early age, and it had a big impact on me, pulpy and simplistic as it was. Van Vogt wrote nearly 40 SF novels between 1946 and 1985 — including the classics The World of Null-A (1948), The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951), and The War against the Rull (1959) — and published two dozen short story collections. He received the 14th Grand Master Award by The Science Fiction Writers of America in 1995.

Van Vogt has taken something of a beating from modern critics for his pulpy style and rather sloppy plotting, but he had many ardent fans, including Philip K. Dick, who said:

There was in van Vogt’s writing a mysterious quality, and this was especially true in The World of Null A. All the parts of that book did not add up; all the ingredients did not make a coherency. Now some people are put off by that. They think that’s sloppy and wrong, but the thing that fascinated me so much was that this resembled reality more than anybody else’s writing inside or outside science fiction.

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Beautiful Women, Alien Landscapes, and Santa Claus: An Ed Emshwiller Gallery

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Science Fiction Quarterly February 1957 Ed Emshwiller-smallEd Emshwiller was one of the greatest cover artists our genre has ever known. He painted hundreds of covers for many SF digests and paperbacks, primarily Galaxy, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the Ace Double line, starting in 1951 and continuing through the late 70s. His covers were filled with beautifully detailed alien settings, sultry and mysterious women, strange technology, and eye-catching fashions — frequently all at once, as in the cover of the February 1957 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly at left (click for bigger version).

The Geeky Nefherder blog has posted a gorgeous gallery of 75 Emsh cover paintings, including some of his very best work. Many of the images are available in high-resolution (click each one to see the high-res pic).

Warning: You could easily waste a lot of time on this site (I know I did).

The gallery includes cover art from Space Stories, Galaxy, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Fantastic Story, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Startling Stories, Planet Stories, Astounding Science Fiction, Infinity, The Original Science Fiction Stories,  Future Science Fiction, Venture, Science Fiction Quarterly, Super-Science Fiction, IF, and Amazing Stories — as well as classic covers for Andre Norton’s Daybreak — 2250, Galactic Derelict, and Star Born, Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time, Frank Belknap Long’s Space Station #1, Murray Leinster’s The Black Galaxy, Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet, John Brunner’s Threshold of Eternity, and many others.

Even if you’re already an Emsh fan, you’re sure to appreciate having so much great art by the master together in one place. And if you’re not, this site will make you one.

See the complete gallery here. (And thanks to Charlie Jane Anders at io9 for the tip!)

Vintage Treasures: Cemetery World by Clifford D. Simak

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Analog Cemetery World-small Cemetery World-small Cemetery World 1976-small

Clifford D. Simak practically introduced me to science fiction.

This was, as you may have guessed, a while back. A cold spring day in 1976, if I recall correctly. I was too sick to go to school, and my friend John MacMaster brought me two novels to read while I recuperated. I was already an avid reader, a huge fan of Scholastic books like The Case of the Marble Monster, and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. But the books John brought me weren’t like those. They were adult novels and they were unlike anything I’d ever read before. Most of the details of that long ago school semester have long since faded, but I remember those two books vividly: they were Ox by Piers Anthony and Shakespeare’s Planet by Clifford D. Simak.

Piers Anthony, of course, was a fine choice to introduce an eleven-year old to science fiction. But Simak was inspired. If I had the opportunity to introduce young readers to SF and fantasy today, I think I might still choose the novels and stories of Clifford D. Simak. His deceptively simple adventure tales were wrapped up in some of the most imaginative settings — and featured some of the most delightfully quirky characters — of any SF writer of the era.

In the years since, I’ve gotten much more acquainted with the work of Clifford D. Simak. I believe his Hugo Award-winning novelette “The Big Front Yard” may well be the finest science fiction story of the 20th Century — it’s certainly in the running, anyway. His classic City (1952) is probably his most acclaimed work, but Way Station, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1964, is perhaps best remembered today.

Simak produced a total of 29 novels and 19 short story collections, and even after all these years I’ve read only a fraction of them. He’s the writer I return to when I find myself frustrated, or when other authors disappoint. I returned to him this week, and while my hand hovered over several other enticing choices, including The Werewolf Principle and The Goblin Reservation, ultimately it was Cemetery World that proved irresistible.

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Walter Booth: Pioneer of British Science Fiction Film

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

A fearsome foe in The Magic Sword (1901)

A fearsome foe in The Magic Sword (1901)

Last week, I talked about the Spanish master of silent film, Segundo de Chomón. This week, I’d like to talk about another early genre filmmaker who has also been all but forgotten.

Walter R. Booth was an English stage magician who teamed up with film pioneer Robert W. Paul, who was making and screening films as early as 1896 at London’s Egyptian Hall, where Booth did his magic act. In 1899, Booth and Paul co-founded Paul’s Animatograph Works, a production house that specialized in trick films using Paul’s technical know-how and Booth’s skill at magic and illusion. These short films wowed audiences with special effects such as animation, split screen, jump cuts, superimposition, multiple exposures, and stop motion animation.

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Art of the Genre: The Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings of All Time

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Sorry Wayne, you aren't making this list

Sorry Wayne, you aren’t making this list

I’ve spent 30+ years looking at RPG artwork and I’ve yet to get tired of doing so. Sure, there are days when I wonder how the fantasy art world went to hell, but those are few and far between, as there are enough great new artists that still manage to inspire me in the mix of things [yeah Cynthia Sheppard I’m talking to you].

Nonetheless, I did begin thinking about well-aged TSR art this past month when James and I started digging in the nostalgia mines of old boxed sets. It prompted me to consider just what a ‘Top 10 list of TSR cover artwork’ would look like.

And to be clear, I wasn’t thinking about D&D in particular, but simply TSR catalogue stuff, which of course puts any artwork post WotC acquisition out of the picture. It does, however, allow for the additional inclusion of other games, although as I comprised this list I found it nearly impossible to include them. D&D, as it should be, dominated the RPG landscape from the mid-1970s, and thus is the bag of holding that any role-player will go back to again and again.

There are so many ‘things’ that could go into the making of this list, but for today I’m going to go with my gut. If I had feelings for it, it gets considered. If I know a lot of people owned it, it gets considered. Other than that, I don’t really have much to lean on other than the fact that this is what I do. I deal in old art. I buy it, I sell it, I broker it, I contract for it, I agent for its creators, and as you can see here, I blog about it. My only regret is that I wish it paid more, but since when does living your dream always to come with luxury?

That said, one name found on most RPG art lists these days won’t appear here because he came too late, and frankly, his greatest recognizable cover was done not for TSR, or WotC, but for Paizo. Yes, this means no Wayne Reynolds, but that is how this list is going to roll, so without further introduction, I give you my personal list of ‘Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings.’

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The Art of Jim Pavelec

Friday, September 12th, 2014 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

SONY DSCJim Pavelec is an award-winning freelance illustrator in the tabletop gaming and comic book industry and has over 15 years of professional experience. I was first introduced to him by our mutual friend E.E. Knight more than a decade ago, and put him in touch with John O’Neill, who hired him to illustrate several issues of Black Gate magazine. He has worked on properties such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, Eerie Comics, and many more. He is also co-founder of the artist’s rights website ArtPACT.

The other day I decided to sit down with him and talk about his work and the life of a professional artist. Click to enlarge any of the accompanying illustrations.

What was your first big professional break?

My first paying gig was on a card game called Galactic Empires. Its pay was royalty based (which is something I’d like to see reinstituted in the illustration world), and didn’t amount to very much, but it was a good experience overall. At that time, hardly anyone did any promotion online, so getting work published was a little more valuable in terms of getting your work in front of the eyes of other art directors.

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Segundo de Chomón: Forgotten Fantasist of Silent Film

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Voyage to Jupiter, 1909.

Voyage to Jupiter, 1909.

Fantasy, science fiction, and horror themes have been in the movies since almost the beginning. During the first few experimental years, movies consisted of simple scenes such as a man sneezing or a train pulling into the station, but soon that novelty wore off and audiences wanted stories. Since the medium itself seemed almost magical, directors began to experiment with the fantastic in order to tell gripping tales.

Most film buffs know of Georges Méliès and his 1902 Trip to the Moon, generally considered the first science fiction film. Méliès started out as a stage magician so it’s not surprising he added an element of the fantastic in his pioneering movies. Other early filmmakers such as Auguste and Louis Lumière and Thomas Edison tended to film realistic subjects or historical/adventure stories, although Edison did make a version of Frankenstein in 1910.

Lost amid these famous names is a man who did as much for the development of fantastic film as any of them. The Spanish director Segundo de Chomón pioneered many early special effects techniques and worked on some two hundred films. Having spent much of his career in France and Italy, he’s been claimed by no country and thus has fallen through the cracks of history.

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