Unlike many old school gamers, I am not ashamed to admit that I like the Drow -- but that's because I remember what they were before Drizzt and his imitators came along, turning the dark elves into a culture of angsty Elric wannabes. When I first encountered the Drow, I found the idea of evil elves to be a powerful one, perhaps because, though my superficial reading of Tolkien, I always associated elves with goodness and light. The notion of evil and subterranean elves is probably more consonant with folklore about fairy creatures than are Tolkien's creations, but, for whatever reason, it seemed literally perverse to me and so I found myself at once repulsed and fascinated by the Drow.
But that was a long time ago and the Drow have "evolved" over the years so as to be, in my opinion, quite different than the original Gygaxian conception of them. I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at the G, D, and Q modules and see how the Drow were illustrated in order to see what insights, if any, one might glean from the artwork.
This is the first time the Drow are illustrated, in module G3, by Dave Sutherland. What's interesting is that piece doesn't make it clear that the Drow have black skin, unlike the piece below.
This second piece shows the Drow armed with many of the race's archetypal accoutrements, including their magic bucklers and hand crossbows, which were the height of "cool" when I was a kid. Notice the helmet the Drow on the left is wearing. It reminds me a bit of the helm we often see Elric wearing in many illustrations of the doomed emperor of Melniboné, so perhaps the "corruption" started early.
Here's a fairly unimpressive Dave LaForce illustration of a female Drow. She definitely doesn't have the "dangerous and sexy" vibe that a lot of female Drow illustrations have nowadays.
This is the famous Bill Willingham piece I discussed previously.
There's a female Drow captive in the background of this piece. It's admittedly hard to see her, since she's upstaged by Blonde Sonja in the front.
Once again, we see some not-obviously dark-skinned Drow, this time demonstrating the use of the atlatl, another signature weapon of the dark elves.
Erol Otus gives us one of the iconic images of the Drow, complete with tentacle rod.
Here's another piece that I presume is of a Drow from context, but it's admittedly hard to tell from the illustration itself, as she doesn't have black skin.
Here's Belgos, the Drow vampire and his succubus girlfriend from Vault of the Drow. They're quite the pair, don't you think?
And here's a Drow, possibly Lolth herself, hanging out with a Type II and Type III demon. This is also the first appearance of the spiderweb bikini that would eventually become a standard element of female Drow illustrations. This last piece is by Erol Otus.
As you can see, there's a definite development in the way the Drow are portrayed, with the earliest illustrations lacking the "seductive" qualities you see in the later ones. Like all good villains, the Drow pretty quickly became objects of admiration by many gamers and you can see this in the way they are portrayed in artwork. I find that a pity, since it's now hard to use the Drow as I did in my youth, before most gamers had internalized the "dangerous but desirable" interpretation of the race. In retrospect, I suppose the only thing that's truly remarkable to me is that Drizzt is a male Drow. Looking at these illustrations, one would have expected the first good-aligned Drow to be female. Perhaps gamers aren't so predictable after all!