Tuesday 20 July 2010

Giant Shadows: John Blanche in Moria

'Moria! Moria! Wonder of the Northern world! 
Too deep we delved there, and woke the nameless fear. 
Long have its vast mansions lain empty since the children of Durin fled.
But now we spoke of it again with longing, and yet with dread'
JRR. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Click to enlarge. The graphic composition, the clashing of white space, stippling and contrast between the fine linework and heavy black creates an almost dizzying, slightly disorientated sense of... weirdness, that makes these illustrations looks as dynamic and innovative today as they did way back in 1983 (White Dwarf #38). Perhaps even more so, when we consider that this is a depiction of the Khazad-dûm, the Mines of Moria. Now that the naturalistic visions of Alan Lee, via Peter Jackson have stamped their tone seemingly indelibly on the works of the Professor, the frenzied, dynamic ink of John Blanche seems even more astounding.

Whilst there are no ear-rings, shoulder-spikes or bondage-armour, the spikey ornate gothic sword handle, the punk hair-do on the twisted fairytale grimace of the fiery Balrog (?) and the eastern styling on the armour of the skinny alien lizard men and sinister brooding goblin. we can see many of the trademark stylings that John Blanche will continue carve-out through his carrer.

Blanches illustrations for Steve Jacksons Sorcery series are easily the pinnacle of his black and white work, although his drawings for the Citadel Compedium  and 1st/2ndWarhammer have their own highpoints. The Sorcery Spell-book is a wondrous compilation of amusing and black and white fantastical drawings, with all the elements: oriental exoticism rubbing shoulders with creatures straight out of a grubby medieval fairy-story, with the familiar thin-line and heavy black contrasts,  entertaining details that Blanche excels in (the postage-stamp portraits in the illustration above are of Fighting Fantasy creators Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson).

Blanche's work, for me, epitomises the 80s dungeon-punk aesthetic - it is sketchy, graphic, teeming with incidental scribbley detail and great swathes of black ink, whilst managing to conjure a world both exotic and familiar, always tinged with hysteria and brooding menace.


  1. A post about John Blanche's colour work was one of the first things I ever blogged about


    Still the post that seems to get the most click throughs from Google searches - a lot of Blanchitsu fans out there!

  2. One of muy favourites artists ever.
    His work at White Dwarf, the early editions of Warhammer, Fighting Fantasy (Sorcery), etc. I found his work in a lot of fantasy stuff that marked my fantasy experience.

    Some day I will have one of his original pieces of art (dreams are dreams :)

  3. @Coopdevil - nice post, and you make some very good observations about Blanche's work. Blanche should really get his website together.

    @Mabden - good luck hunting down the original artwork - if you do manage to find any black and white ones you don't want do let me know I'd be interested!