Monday, September 3, 2012

More Greg Bell Swipes

It's pretty widely known at this stage that OD&D artist, Greg Bell -- who, amusingly, shares his name with one of my childhood gaming buddies -- "borrowed" a lot of his illustrations from Marvel comics from the late '60s and early '70s. I even wrote a post about this way back in 2009. While I understand that "swiping" (as it is known) is a controversial in comics circles, I'm not much bothered by it in the case of Bell's OD&D pieces, perhaps because it only further emphasizes just how amateurish the 1974 game and its initial supplements were. Rather than finding these swipes annoying, I find them strangely charming.

Consequently, when reader Ake Rosenius pointed out several more to me that I'd not seen before, I had to share them with others. My apologies if anyone has already seen these, but they are completely new to me.
First up, here's a side by side comparison of an illustration of Nick Fury and the barbarian appearing in Volume 1 of OD&D. This isn't the first time Bell sought inspiration in an image of the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. The famous "Fight On!" warrior at the end of Volume 3 is also swiped from a drawing of Fury.
Take a look at the warrior in the bottom lefthand panel of an episode of Esteban Maroto's Dax the Damned, which was first published in 1972 but reprinted a couple of times between then and the release of Supplement I.
From the same comic comes this illustration of the wizard in the bottom panel. Bell used this piece as a model for his own depiction of a wizard in Supplement II.

I've never been a big comics reader, so I'd never have noticed these swipes if they hadn't been pointed to me. As more and more people delve into this, I've begun to wonder whether any of Bell's illustrations in OD&D and its supplements is wholly original and without an antecedent in prior art. Again, I say this not in condemnation of Bell, whose work, I think, is a big part of what makes OD&D the game it is. If I might wax philosophical for a moment, I might even go so far as to say that Bell's swipes are an artistic reflection of OD&D itself, which swiped of ideas from earlier books, movies, and comics in creating the fantasy goulash that would eventually colonize the world's imagination.

10 comments:

  1. It was a simpler, more innocent time. Can you imagine the fire-frothing hellstorm if someone tried this with Marvels' IP nowadays?

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  2. I ever think they were fan art from a friend or some loyal player, who was obviosly inspired by old comic books. However, I like this art because it shows the D&D poor (economically speaking) origins.

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  3. I wonder if he didn't just trace them. Tracing paper, over the comic, draw in your own weapon (or trace it elsewhere), done. I don't have them to compare, but I remember a friend used to do character portraits that way - trace a guy from the books and then change stuff a bit.

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  4. Who says they needed to be absolutely original - he probably taught himself to draw using comic-books.

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  5. Thanks for the further info on Bell sources. Soon we'll be able to construct a Greg Bell Appendix N of comic books. To me personally I see his use of comic book art as similar to Gygax's use of Tolkien races in D&D.

    I was just wondering about the Greyhawk cover the other day. I think it may be my favorite Bell. The beholder looks more charming than menacing, and almost looks like it's conversing with the warrior.

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  6. Back during the d20 boom/glut, Avalanche Press put out a ton of products with racy covers, almost all of which were heavily based on photos from Playboy. Background was different, they had (some) clothes on in strategic spots, but you could easily recognize the models, much less the actual photos..

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  7. Hell, i think most of the comics from the early and mid nineties ripped each other off on a monthly basis. How many of all the booming Image artists back then had their own super team with clones of established hero types of dc or marvel? I'd say all of em

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  8. I'm disgusted by the lack of condemnation for these examples of blatant plagiarism.

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  9. As a kid, I learned how to draw from coping the style off of comic books. They were there, and it was a great way to learn the human form. Its not that bad, as he mostly copied the poses, and did good work to convey the general themes of the game. And yeah, I have always found his work to be charming.

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  10. It seems obvious to me that this is not just 'being inspired by', this fellow has just been copying drawings 1:1, tracing seems perfectly plausible. Every illustrator uses reference, but this is blatant copying, and the guy clearly can't draw, because the hair on the barbarian is very poorly done, and everything else is a copy of the comic persona. So the one thing he did have to draw is poorly done.
    And poor origins... I hear ya, I played RuneQuest and DragonQuest back in the 70, 80 and illustrations were poor as well. But this I find rather shocking.

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