Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Fiend Folio. Still wrong after all these years.


The Fiend Folio : Tome of Creatures Malevolent and Benign for first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons is one of the greatest monster books ever, mostly for its weirdness and the uniqueness of its imaginative constructions. With creatures designed by Ian Livingstone, Albie Fiore, Jes Goodwin (yes, that Jes Goodwin), Lewis Pulsipher, Charlie Stross (yes that Chalie Stross) and a whole host of others.

And then there is also the fantastic artwork. The majority produced by Russ Nicholson, Alan Hunter, Polly Willson, Chris Baker who would have all been familiar to readers of White Dwarf  in the late 70s and early 80s for illustrating the original Fiend Factory articles and D&D scenarios the book was based on, as well as the designs for Citadels Fiend Factory miniatures which were, in turn, based on the original magazine artwork, and cancelled due to TSR's ownership and licensing of the D&D to Grenadier.

So what is wrong about the Fiend Folio?


Fiend Folio P.60

A dramatic stand-off between lizardmen and a warrior-hero amidst the ruins of an ancient temple. The deft pen and ink work evoking a sun-baked hazy landscape. Vaguely mezomerican styling, great cyclopean columns, and of course a massive looming horned skull. The visual rhythm created by the angles of the lizardman and warriors swords animates the scene, creating tension with the almost graphic-time-line way the 3 lizardmen approach. It evokes a Howardian narrative, and feels very much like a tabletop skirmish game.

The artwork is obviously (to my eye)  by Tony Ackland - it even has his signature TA monogram at the bottom left.  In fact I'd go as far as to say Tony Ackland is the master of evoking the fantasy tabletop in illustration, in that the artwork reflects actual gaming experience rather than being just fantasy art that supports a setting or theme. The hero has taken higher ground not for a symbolic pose to make the hero the dominating center of the image as Frazetta may have him, but for purely tactical reasons (+1 to Hit). The 'movement' of the Lizardmen suggests a turn-based mechanic, here, then here, then here. The figures are standing on the flat, not crawling up or perched on the scenery, much more like an actual miniatures game than cinematics.  Another example of Tony's artwork at Privates Eternal paying attention to the solid block ranking of troops, which is what units in wargames actually look like, but rarely how they are portrayed in gaming art.

The wrongness is that the Fiend Folio credits it's illustrators on the title page, but shamefully misses Tony Acklands name.

Wrong!

There is no need to repeat the story of the Fiend Folios creation and delayed production here as it is well documented, but  I imagine the omission or confusion may well have been a simple editorial mix-up, that when the art assets were collated and sent over from GW to TSR for production, Tony got left off the credits. This seems an especially sloppy oversight as the Fiend Folio takes great pains to correctly credit the written contributions.

The Fiend Folio credits page also lists Tony Yates as a contributor, and try as I might, I can't single out a piece that bears his signature style, which is recognisable from his work in Laserburn, Reaper and many other classic fantasy and sci-fi games of the era - and having mentioned it to him some time ago, he can't quite put his finger on it either. It's possible at some point there was a simple mix-up of Tonys. I can't quite spot Albie Fiore's artwork either, but I'm only familiar with his drawings through maps, floorplans and cartoon strips which he produced under his pseudonym Taupi, so may be ascribing to Polly Wilson more than her fair share of credits of the unsigned or unmonogrammed pieces.

Nonetheless I think the Lizardman-ziggurat fight is a great piece of gaming art and it's about time Tony Ackland got the recognition he deserves for it, and Wizards of the Coast at least update their digital edition of the Fiend Folio to rectify a 35 year old omission.

16 comments:

  1. It's odd; I've always assumed that image was by Peter Andrew Jones, even though there's no reason at all for me to think so, given that PAJ isn't credited in the book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PAJ and TAs pencilwork are quite similar in places, so I don't think it was too bad an assumption. Their monograms are quite different tho!

      Delete
  2. Love this analysis. Also, the oversized horned Skull on top of the column has that "He-Man" feel that you described in the "Otherhammer" post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers. There's a definite Swords and Sorcery vibe opposed (?) to the Late Medieval-Fantasy and Baroque excesses of Newhammer. The FF piece sits seamlessly well alongside Tonys work in WFB1. Also see CJ3 for Tony revisiting the scene. They are also also a bit reminicent of JBs Blister Pack art C-series here + here.

      WFR85 / Otherhammer. The characters are typically much lower-level than the MotU, but they definitely hire same architect.

      Delete
    2. The thing that always strikes me about that early Oldhammer art is how all the characters have a gangly/rangy/stringy long-limmed look about them, as opposed to later art of the 90s and beyond where everyone is a walking wall of muscle and/or massive armour. I believe these art styles were also reflected in the miniatures too.

      Delete
    3. Maybe it's the Schwarzenegger Effect (that's a great airport novel title!); all of our heroes seemed to get bulkier and more meaty at some point in the late 80's.

      Delete
    4. Possibly an Elric Effect (it's a sequel) of more wiry heroes running against the normalised hypermasculinity of the superheroic physique, which resurfaced as fantasy gaming moved away from 1970s counter-cultural values towards mainstream culural-conservative ones.

      Delete
  3. The skull pillar reminds me very much of the Asgard sacrificial tree figure...another great Swords and Sorcery model.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good call! Is that a Tony Ackland sculpt, do you know?

      I think what I like best about the skull in the drawing is the unadorned column in the background implies that the skull was an addition after the temple had fallen, building a second-use history of the site.

      Delete
    2. Possibly, Zhu. But also possible the other column also head an original skull which toppled off by the time of the drawing.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, could be Douglas. I think the difference in weathering on the stones suggests the skull is newer, and I can't see any visual evidence for a second gunman on the grassy knoll / skull on the cyclopean column.

      Delete
    4. Except the skull engraving on the base of the fallen pillar in the foreground shows it is a familiar icon with the inhabitants of this temple. But in any case, I love how we're discussing the architectural history of a non-existing world, based entirely on one illustration.

      Delete
    5. Extrapolating the psychoarcheogeography of imaginary places. The skull on the front column has a very different proportions and stylisation to the one on the top of the cyclopean column (also horns), which suggests to me they aren't by the same makers.

      So I'm going to tentatively propose a theory (i.e.completely make something up). The ziggurat (?) and columns were built by Civilisation Y, as a tomb for a powerful undead king. Civ.Y fell (legend has it, due to something called "Yexit") earthquakes, plagues, floods and whatnot made some of the columns fall over. Treasure hunters from Civ.X came, found the tomb and marked it with a skull device on the column to warn others of the evil contained within and then got wiped out. Later Civ.Z - the lizardmen discovered the site and began to worship the undead as a deity, and hoisted up a skull totem to the top of the column. An adventurer from Civ.X hearing rumours of the earlier lost expedition, sets off to find the lost treasure and here we are...

      Delete
    6. Love it! Pretty certain if Brexit had happened back in the early 80s, there would have been a Lustria-based WHFB2E scenario entitled "Yexit" and almost EXACTLY as you propose above.

      But, would the Lizardmen create a religious icon based on the proportions of a horned primate skull? They might fear such an object if it were to pre-exist, but surely would not craft it themselves? Do they not regard warm-blooded creatures as inferior and unworthy of either worship or replication in art? Maybe another Civ. Z erected the skull capital, and THEY were wiped out by the Lizardmen.

      Also, I agree about the skull at the base of the pillar not fitting the style of the capital -- t'was just a thought.

      Delete
    7. Undead aren't warm-blooded either, perhaps thats why the Lizardmen like them (although AD&D / WFB2 reptilian Troglodytes live in deep underground caves so are likely to be warm-blooded, not having the sun to warm them, so anything is possible).

      Lizardmen worshipping a horned vampire monkey god, then taking over a liche-tomb as a shrine makes perfect sense to me, echoes of cargo cults. Although adding another unseen faction - as in your Civ.Z(ombie) horned-ape death-cult then Civ.L the lizard-men faction is nice too.

      Now someone just needs to write it all up as a D&D / Otherhammer scenario, perhaps "Lost Shrine of the Horned Ape".

      Delete
    8. Speaking of Reptilian Troglodytes, I meant to say that the artwork reminded me of a piece Les Edwards created for the 2011 Gollancz publication: "Conan's Brethren", featuring the non-Conan tales of Robert E. Howard.

      Here is the artwork:

      http://www.stephenjoneseditor.com/covers/conansbros-front-go.jpg

      I believe the image (though this is only my guesswork) is a loose interpretation of the Bran Mak Morn adventure, "Worms of the Earth" -- which features a race of humans which, after aeons of living under the ground, have degenerated into something resembling quasi-reptilian troglodytes. Only, in this image, they appear to be above ground and making use of an open air temple space.

      Delete