Russ Nicholsons ORCS is how threadbare, downtrodden, grumpy and human they are. Their bulbous noses and pointy ears give them a fairytale and aged appearance that perfectly suits Russ complex ornate and grungy visual style. Russ's drawing there reminds me of these two disheveled denizens of Oil Drum Lane.
You dirty old Orc!
Ian McCaig Deathtrap Dungeon FF7. Here the ORC becomes much more muscular than Nicholsons and Barters skinny, gangly freaks. The viceral form of Ians drawing is really quite outstanding, there's no wonder he is one of the most sought after concept artists and illustrators. A violent, action Gladatorial figure, wearing a wide "championship belt", ranking him up against boxers and wrestlers alike. It is the first, but by no means the last time we see the ORC topknot. In fact this haircut comes to be something of a signature device of the Fighting Fantasy ORC. It could be a Hindu Shika, a Manchu queue or perhaps displaying various Arabian influences. It does also remind me of the Elf warriors in Ralph Bakshis seminal 1977 fantasy animation Wizards, designed by the mighty pen of Mike Ploog although the creatures concerned are not identified as ORCs.
It may be significant that both Balthus Dire and the GARK as drawn by Russ Nicholson in FF3 The Citadel of Chaos also sport the same hair style, suggesting it's something of a cultural rather than racial motif in Allansia.
Thanks to Kelvin Green for notign that I'd originally missed this one...
Les Edwards original cover for 1984s FF#8 Caverns of the Snow Witch (incidentally, available as an art print from Les site) very much in line with what Ian McCaig had set out in Deathtrap Dungeon, with topknot, small pointy nose and athletic physique.This ORC however, is kitted out with piecemeal leather and studded armour, and some natty tiger-skin pants. Similar to original Warlock of Firetop Mountain that has a different depiction of Zagor on the cover than the internal art, the internal depiction of the ORC doesn't quite follow the same vision...
Castle of Lost Souls solo adventure in White Dwarf, but as far as I know nothing else in the fantasy genre.
Ward & Crosby give their ORC a decidedly simian look, possibly following the work of Frank Frazetta in his Lord of the Rings portfolio 1975 but with further exaggerations - the low cranium, deep eye-sockets, sunken cheeks, no nose, extended maxilla (upper jaw) and tusks. As far as I know this is the first ever depiction of an ORC with this specific set of facial features, but it won't be the last. This look would go on to dominate the portrayal of ORCS in popular culture throughout the 80's and 90s, Citadel Miniatures mid 80s Orcs (sculpted by Kevin Adams) the Space Orks in the Waargh The Ork supplements for Warhammer 40k, and subsequently picked up by Blizzard in their Warcraft games.
1983 AD&D plastic toy range, Half-Orcs are MAN-ORCs in Fighting Fantasy parlance.
HALF-ORCs? one may well ask half ORC and half-WHAT? whilst usually it means "half-human" in Fighting Fantasy it could be anything, and in this case TROLL!
"Orc Charge" by Chris Achilleos - however it's publication in Out of the Pit (1985) identifies the subject matter as DORAGAR - the long haired, spiky armoured crossbreeds betwixt TROLL and ORC, so not a depiction of ORCS proper, and deserve an enquiry all of their own, whence they come from and how deviating their depictions are. It proved popular with Games Workshop who later used it twice.
The front cover of the Ravening Hordes (1987) supplement for Warhammer Fantasy Battle 2nd Edition (by far the greatest edition of Warhammer ever). Interestingly DORAGAR don't appear in Warhammerland at all, and we assume they are intended to be Orcs, despite their dissimilarity with the designs of Warhamer Orcs, not least because they're not bright green.
|White Dwarf 85. Still not ORCS tho.|
As well as the front cover of Games Workshops Roleplaying Monthly: White Dwarf #78. Art prints are available from from Chris web site I've yet to determine whether this piece was commissioned for Out of the Pit specifically as a depiction of the DORAGAR, and later renamed as "Orc Charge" to make the it more attractive for subsequent licensing, or whether Chris originally planned it as a depiction of ORCs and Marc Gascoigne or someone else involved at Puffin picked it out to illustrate the DORAGAR. Either way, according to Out of the Pit, these are emphatically not the ORCS we were looking for...
And speaking of Games Workshop, the very next incarnation of the actual Fighting Fantasy ORC is 1986 Citadel Miniatures range of 60mm Fighting Fantasy toy soldiers. Pretty much eschewing both the features of the Fighting Fantasy ORC and the contemporary ranges of Citadel Miniatures Orcs which also tended to be quite wiry. Instead we have large, hulkng, muscular beasts, slightly reminiscent of the exaggerated musculature of the He-Man action figures popular at the time, which, when painted green, give the impression of the Incredible Hulk with a monkey head, which can only be a good thing!
|via the wonderful Fantasy Toy Soliders Blog|
The 60mm Citadel ORCs can also be seen as drawn by Dave Andrews in an advert for the range in the 1986 Citadel Journal, alongside SKELETONS, GOBLINS and OGRES. Dave brings his characteristic bold graphic look to the models. The whole range can be seen on the Fantasy Toy Soliders Blog and well worth a look. Facially, if not physically these ORCs do carry forward many of the features of the Ward & Crosby Orc, and while the Simian-Hulk look does recur in ORCs in other places, it's a long while before it returns to Fighting Fantasy.
By strange coincidence Titan signals a bit of a quite period for the humble ORC. Fighting Fantasy as a series foregoes the traditional Dungeon / Wilderness fantasy gaming setting and wanders off into more exotic locales, outer-space, under water, the mystic east and beyond for several books...
But then, the ORCs return, as do we... to Baron Sukumvits Deathtrap Dungeon in the long awaited sequel, FF21 Trial of the Champions. Here Brian Williams gives us two muscular, furry panted fellows - shades of Barry Windsor-Smiths design for Marvel comics Conan the Barbarian but Brian also takes the ORC back to Ian McCaigs rendition in Deathtrap Dungeon, with matching topknots, creating consistency with the pre-simian image of the Orc.
One of these more exotic types turns up next...
AD&D Barbed Devils along side a more traditional vision of the ORCS...
Alan Langfords, FF24 Creature of Havoc, whose ORC commander strikes an impressive pose. Upright, very human stance and proportions, somewhat reminiscent of the Treens from Dan Dare. It's the only instance of an ORC in Fighting Fantasy that has this very upright humanoid stance and proportions. We also get to see one of Langfords classic horned, heavily armoured Lizardmen at the back, which Alan introduced way back in FF7 Island of the Lizard King (1984).
Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd Edition and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition), and indeed many of these motifs, especially the squarish jutting lower jaw can be seen to go back to Citadel Miniatures Fantasy Tribe range of Orcs and their Ral Partha forebears.
This style of ORC will return, but before that we have a detour into the world of the weird. Take a deep breath, because these ORCS are far from normal...
Liger whilst it's good to see the animal-pelt headdress remains from Paul Mullers original, it's a shame the leopard print kilt seems to have vanished.
FF34 Stealer of Souls brings us yet more ORC goodness from the pen of Russ Nicholson. It seems he has adopted the simian faces, rather than the Russ's signature wrappings and heavy ornamentation. Its a convergence of styles that is going to stay around for a while.
Then, Chris Achilleos returns with his cover for The Trolltooth Wars (1989) entitled "Orc Hero" Again, this piece can be purchaed from Chriss website as an Art Print. It features a bodybuilder-esque ORC fighting a SKELETON. The Orc has a scimitar and a curved knife - popular weapon choices.
Ploobian Orc genus, with it's genetic heritage in Chinese folklore, Disney movies and Star Wars. Moving swiftly on, without getting too side-tracked...
FF 54 The Legend of Zagor (1993) by Martin McKenna. This ORC is having a tasty rat, whilst sat down. There's a lot of sitting around if you're an ORC in Fighting Fantasy land....
Ian McCaig's Casket of Souls! (1987) both Legend of Zagor and Casket of Souls are set in Ian Livingstones world of Amarillia rather than the traditional Titan where most Fighting Fantasy is set.But nonthless, the bald, snub-nosed, wide-mouthed ORC is very much in evidence.
Mortiis or Mug Mecklebones from Ridley Scott's 1985 movie Legend. However I think what we're really looking at is the influence of Weta's 2001-3 adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
|ORCS in Peter Jacksons adaptation of The Lord of the Rings|
Gavin Mitchell's forthcoming comic-book adaptation of Steve Jacksons Fighting Fantasy Novel The Trolltooth Wars. The HELLHOUND handler is a HILL GOBLIN and the large, hulking creature in the background is supposed to be an ORC (if I'm not mistaken, it could be a green OGRE) who appears very much in the Simian-Hulk vein that can be seen in the Fighting Fantasy 60mm figures, and is recognizably following last seasons World of Warcraft and Warhammer ORC imagery. I say "last seasons", as the ORCs in the Warcraft movie seem to not be green any more, and Warhammer got blown up or something.
The representation of the ORC in Fighting Fantasy never really rests or settles. Each artist brings their own predilections, influences and ideas of what an ORC may be like, and the world of Titan embraces it. Occasionally the artists follow the populist design of the times, occasionally they strike out on their own, occasionally they build upon previous Fighting Fantasy imagery and occasionally they completely reinvent it. Unlike the videogames and movies of today Fighting Fantasy didn't have a team of concept artists sit down and define the look of everything, instead Fighting Fantasy grew, piece by piece, ORC by ORC. Many of the illustrations are classic, ORC-defining pieces of imagery in their own right. There are distinct trends, recurring motifs and patterns in the design, suggesting deviating genetic branches, loops and whorls and subcultures of ORC.
We could try to fit the changes in the ORC to historical templates - exotic cultural motifs such as the top-knot giving way to more generic bestial features, or a degeneration from meerly grumpy ner-do-wells to foot-soldiers of evil, yet none of these stories really hold true. While any die-hard Fighting Fantasy fan may have their favorite rendition of these ubiquitous antagonists, it is seemingly fitting for a book series that is essentially about branching narratives, that there seems to be no linearity in the historical narrative of the Fighting Fantasy ORC. Indeed it returns us to a precodified view of monsters, where goblins, hobgoblins, fae, giants, elves and orcneas weren't strictly delineated groups as Gary Gygax proposed in his Monster Manual but instead sifting folkloric symbols for supernatural experiences and ideas that defy strict categorisation.
In pulling together this history, it has been hard to draw a line between it and other representations of ORCs - many of the artists who drew for Fighting Fantasy also had connections to Games Workshop and Citadel Miniatures, Russ Nicholson having supplied illustrations that served as designs for many of their earliest ranges, Paul Bonner, Ian Miller, John Sibbick and David Gallagher would all provide artwork for Games Workshop as concept art or based on their miniature designs (many features of which directly echo Tom Meiers earlier "Giant Goblin" designs for Ral Partha), which, when we consider that the first ever fantasy miniature produced was an ORC ME1 Man-orc with Sword from Minifigs Mythical Earth range, sculpted by Dick Higgs in 1972 it seems not unreasonable to extend the circle of enquiry ever further.
|Minifigs Man-orc with Sword|
And when we consider Fighting Fantasy's inaugral visualiser Russ Nicholson was active in Tolkien fandom (providing illustrations for the Anduril zine back in 1975) and the near universal availability of Tolkien imagery, we inevitably find the tangled roots of the Fighting Fantasy ORC claw us back to the dark origins of the modern ORC to be found in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the artwork inspired by it.
Nontheless, what Fighting Fantasy did was to encapsulate the ORC (and arguably many other fantasy archetypes) for a time and space, a time when for many kids, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (which, after all, has sold two million copies) or Deathtrap Dungeon (topping the childrens best-seller list) encapsulated the ORC ZEITGEIST, create it's own, unique take on the monster and thrust him into unsuspecting homes, schools, libraries and imaginations where he had never trod before.