Art of the Genre: The Usual Suspects
You all know I’m a total art geek, right? I mean, that should be plainly obvious simply by the titles of the blogs I write. To me, the nature of art is tied into my DNA, and although I don’t practice it myself, I certainly find untold joy in the viewing.
I’ve written before about my early years and the influence fantasy art had on me during those times. Without book covers, I’d simply have never begun reading, and therefore my choice of profession would have changed from writer to ornamental iron retailer. Certainly selling, installing, and designing ornamental iron isn’t a bad profession, and there is money in it if the markets are right, but I can’t help but feel a sadness when I consider the joyless toll such a career would have taken on me.
So, instead of being financially secure and responsible, I’ve somehow found myself in L.A. as a writer, editor, and jack-of-all-traders literary amalgamation. All this, because of art, and more particularly the art of old school TSR’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
If the above is the keystone to my existence, then I fervently hold to it as all that is meaningful in my professional life. That said, I find the 1980s, in particular, an untold inspirational period, no matter how silly our clothing choice may have been during that decade.
During the rise of TSR as a company, something I would say lasted less than the full span of the 80s, they were not only the publishers of countless role-playing games, but also took on the standard publishing world with the creation of the Dragonlance novel series.
Now there is little doubt that Dragonlance broke the mold on what was acceptable, and its white-hot bloom of success propelled TSR into mass market paperbacks like no company before them. They used preconceived gaming worlds as the launching pad for dozens of author’s careers in lines like Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Darksun, Spelljammer, Star Frontiers, Birthright, and many, many more.
Using a style that resembled their successful AD&D module covers, TSR created a novel template that had a frame of color surrounding their art. It was a brilliant move of cross marketing, and before the end of the decade nearly every other publishing house in the world had mimicked the look at least once.
These framed covers also held the artwork of the most famous collective group of artists ever held under a single studio’s roof. Art by oil masters Jeff Easley, Larry Elmore, Keith Parkinson, and Clyde Caldwell were backed by the acrylic and line art of Jim Holloway, Tim Truman, and Harry Quinn to not only make novels literary but also visual adventures.
Again, stealing from their AD&D modules, their books carried some rather nifty interior illustrations to complete the process that in a way helped the reader become even more anxious to turn the next page and see what lurked therein.
It’s no wonder why I lament the loss of this period as flagging sales, a changed art department, and an evolving retail marketplace stripped the power of TSR from bookshelves. Just yesterday I entered a Barnes & Noble to find that the always full shelving unit, deep with TSR/WotC licensed novels, nonexistent for the first time in my memory. Only a scattered few R.A. Salvatore Drizzt novels and a collection a Weis & Hickman Dragonlance remained, under the author instead of by book genre.
That marked me with a profound sadness, and yet a part of it was kept in check by my own quest for the rekindling of an Adventure Fantasy market through Art of the Genre. In fact, I’ve gone so far as to attempt something never before done in the history of Adventure Fantasy and Gaming combined, that being to include original art by Easley, Elmore, and Holloway with a never before published piece from Keith Parkinson [1958-2005] that will be inked and finished by his former ‘pit’ neighbor and best friend Tim Truman.
Indeed, that puts FIVE of the TSR greats in the same volume, a feat that no game or book has ever been held to, other than a collected omnibus of art.
As an art fan, gamer, avid reader, and writer, I cannot fully explain what this means to me; but I hope it in some way speaks to you as well. You come here each week looking for nostalgic, interesting, and up-to-date news on fantasy art, so I hope this kind of project carries weight.
If you love books from this era, are a gamer, or just like to help out those who dream of things unheard of, then I hope you’ll have a look at what I’m doing on Kickstarter and find a way to help us hit our bonus goals so these artists can be included.
I know that I always wanted to be wealthy and important enough to be a patron of the arts. How incredible would it be to be that person who wrote a million dollar check so a dozen artists, dancers, poets, or musicians could attend college and advance the realm of the creative without burden? Now, through the Kickstarter platform, ANYONE can be a patron of the arts, and I believe that to be the true key to its success.
Anyway, this is my tribute to great art, the 1980s, a lost generation of books, and one artist in particular who was taken from us much too young in life. It’s a monstrous endeavor, but one I’ve spent a decade somehow navigating my way into a possibility.
I truly hope you’ll join me in this remembrance, and that you can help nurture the flame of a small retro-renaissance in the publishing world.
If you like what you read in Art of the Genre, you can listen to me talk about publishing and my current venture with great artists of the fantasy field or even come say hello on Facebook here. And here’s a view of my current Kickstarter:
I can’t believe the TSR novel section was empty at a Barnes & Noble. The section at mine just added another four feet. Admittedly there were a few years there where it was nearly wiped out by Manga, but still…
Besides the novels their turning out just started to get really good again, and that goes for the cover art as well. I loved the art for Richard Lee Byer’s “The Haunted Lands” trilogy, done by Greg Ruth. Their the only predominately bright Forgotten realms covers I own.
But, I agree that the art in the 80’s and into the 90’s at TSR really helped to define what gaming should look like, even to this day, and respect should be paid.
Thank you for for the thoughtful article and for pursuing your project. I wish you the best of luck. We live in an era where most information is readily available and free, and unfortunately, most people consider art, literature, and music to be part of the free benefits of the internet. Where does that leave the artist, author, and musician? Perhaps Kickstarter can encourage the trend of getting some compensation into the hands of those who create.
Darangrissom: I was surprised by the lack of devotion to the various WotC universes as well, especially considering how well most of their writers write. Heck, Black Library [Warhammer] had a larger section than Wizards.
GusG: Thanks for the support, now if we an only spread the word and get this project into the next levels!
Man that Kieth Parkinson Raistlin/Fistandantilus cover is one of my favorite. I used to have it as a computer wallpaper and i would stare at it all the time. The best dragonlance image that represents the struggle between the two characters.
Oh and my barnes and noble TSR/WOTC section seems to be growing as well. Although it seems like warhammer novels have just as much of a presence.
Glenn: Yep, Parkinson was a master, of that there is no question, and his work on my new book is going to be off the hook!
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