Monday, May 16, 2011

Forgotten Gaming Art

Something I've noticed, while poring over old issues of Dragon, is how art from other TSR publications was re-used in their pages, particularly after about 1981 or so. It's a trend I noticed elsewhere in TSR's catalog, too, and I began to wonder what, if anything, it might tell us about what was going on inside the company at that time.

I'll leave such speculations to the future, because I have something more interesting to share, namely a piece of art by Erol Otus that appeared on the cover of an early issue of Polyhedron, the RPGA's newsletter. I was actually a member of the RPGA, though I never participated in any of its tournaments or other events. I joined primarily to get access to Polyhedron, which wasn't sold in stores and often contained some interesting gaming-related material, like the extensive interview with James Ward that appeared in issue #3.
Those early issues are also interesting for their art, like the Erol Otus piece above. There are lots of illustrations in them that you've probably never seen, because, so far as I know, it was original to Polyhedron and never re-used. You'll find pieces by, among others, Darlene, Jeff Dee, Dave LaForce, Steven Sullivan, Bill Willingham, Tom Wham, and even Greg Bell, who did most of the illustrations in the LBBs.

Eventually, I noticed that Polyhedron had fewer and fewer original pieces of art, making do more often with hand-me-downs from other TSR publications. Again, I am sure we can speculate as to why this was so and what this says about TSR and the RPGA at that time. (It's a situation that eventually changed, as I understand it, though I had long since cancelled my membership by then). For me, though, what's most remarkable is that, even after 30+ years in this hobby, there are still tons of treasures from the early days unknown to me and, I suspect, a great many other gamers of similar vintage.

13 comments:

  1. The art in the early issues of Polyhedron is due to Frank Mentzer, who wrote on DF: "For the first issues I did everything, including layout. We needed art to break up the text a little, and I got access to the reusable art from the olden days (all the way back to the original 3LBB!). Once the RPGA got rolling and proved its worth, we got permission to requisition some original new art now and then, and most of the technical tasks were turned over to the separate Layout group in the Production department"

    http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=35588&p=958722

    So I think the change you noticed is due to the change from being produced by Mentzer to the "Production Dept". There's even a picture by Frank's father, JF Mentzer, in issue #3 that you show above.

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  2. Wow, that's a great piece by Otus that I had never seen before. Thanks for sharing. :)

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  3. For the first issues I did everything, including layout. We needed art to break up the text a little, and I got access to the reusable art from the olden days (all the way back to the original 3LBB!).

    It's interesting that what Mentzer calls "reusable art" is stuff I've never seen before. Now, maybe it did appear somewhere else beforehand, but, if so, it must be somewhere pretty obscure. From my perspective, it looks to me as if Polyhedron had more -- and original -- art in its early issues compared to its later ones.

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  4. Both my favorite Otus piece, and my favorite Gamma World art. Love it.

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  5. That may be the most action shown in any Otus piece, ever! Awesome!

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  6. Kesher: It's more action packed than Otus's drawing of the fight at the urinals from Alma Mater! HERE!
    Another great bit of art I had never seen before... thanks for sharing it!

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  7. Hmmm... I'm going to have to dig out my old Polys to have a look at the art.

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  8. Always loved Otus. That's a wonderful piece of work, and one I've never seen before either. I like the use of high-contrast black and white areas, and the details of the cycad/palm trees, the bootlaces, and the wiry fur of the poor stabbed beastie. Thanks!

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  9. One of my favorite parts is the high tension/cell/whatever tower in the background. Aside from the laser gun on the savage humanoid's belt, it's one of the few clues that you're looking at a post-apocalyptic scene.

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  10. "It's interesting that what Mentzer calls "reusable art" is stuff I've never seen before. Now, maybe it did appear somewhere else beforehand, but, if so, it must be somewhere pretty obscure."

    I agree - I haven't seen it most of it elsewhere either. Perhaps some was stuff he found in the files that hadn't actually been used in a published product.

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  11. Yes, the hand-me-downs were disappointing but what gave them life was the articles themselves. Sometimes, they were even superior to the articles in Dragon as they were sort of the next layer of the onion. Dragon, like all gaming magazines, was there to sell more copies of the game and provide an indirect subsidy through advertising revenue.

    Poly was the insiders guide or the spoilers that all gamers love to read about. I am always fascinated by the inner history of a game (as in Designers Notes) and Poly always had those gems/diamonds strewn in the rough.

    Then it became more and more devoted just to servicing the industry as an adjunct to what the industry wanted - and that is when they lost me as a reader

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  12. Then it became more and more devoted just to servicing the industry as an adjunct to what the industry wanted - and that is when they lost me as a reader.

    Very well said. That nicely sums up my own feelings.

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  13. My table-top RPG claim to fame: as a schoolkid, I named the magazine in a write-in contest, back in the day. Won, I think, a membership and a free module: I don't recall which.

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