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Behind The ‘Monstrous Manual’: PART 2

May 31, 2024

Humanoids

“The fact is that I have read so much mythology, folklore, fairytales, and authored fiction with monsters and all manner of strange folk and creatures that it is hard to pin down exactly where a good number of the AD&D monsters got their inspiration.”
–Gary Gygax, 2007

In Part 1 of ‘Behind The Monstrous Manual’, I spoke about my coveted 1992 Dungeons & Dragons sketchbook that was sent to game designer and project coordinator, Tim Beach, which impressed him so much that he assigned me 100 illustrations for TSR’s first ever, color edition of the Monster Manual. Wowza!

Here are a couple of notes from Tim, back in February ’93, right before I began final art:

“Stay serious. This will be the standing reference source, hopefully for a number of years, so these have to be ‘the’ definitive monster pictures. For instance, when you exaggerate the features on a particular monster, it often ends up more comical than menacing, and we want to avoid that in this product.”

Tim was right about this edition being a reference source for years to come. Seven years to be exact, when the new owners of D&D (Wizards of the Coast) published their updated, 3rd edition rulebooks…but that’s another story.

In the meantime, I was exploring the level of finish I could achieve with each image, given the time constraints, by determining whether I’d ink each piece or go with a softer pencil drawing before adding color.

Tim responded: “Coloring a pencil sketch is OK, but don’t go overboard with it. The others (meaning the other illustrations by the additional contributing artists) will be inked, and we don’t want to give a lot more detail to all of yours than all the others have.”

I adhered to his first point but completely disregarded the latter half. Detail is EXACTLY what I wanted. It made the monsters less generic and more real in my imagination. Sorry, Tim. I was all in. Above and beyond.

ILLUSTRATION #133 316: Goblin

“More often than not, they will attempt to arrange an ambush of their foes.”
Monstrous Manual, p. 163

My earliest 1980s memories of playing D&D involved an encounter with goblins. They are common stock bogeys in fairy tales, folklore and myth–including J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic, The Hobbit–much of which inspired the creation of the game in the early 1970s. I LOVED David A. Trampier‘s rendition in the 1977 Monster Manual, so much so that I copied it in 1982 at the tender age of eleven. Even then, I was into fonts and hand-lettering on ancient scrolls.

My 1992 sketchbook was chock full of goblins but Tim opted for one of my kobold illustrations from Dragon Mountain instead. I couldn’t understand why. I mean, look at this guy:

At some point, we must have discussed me taking a stab at the goblin illustration instead of using the Dragon Mountain kobold. Notes from Tim on February 25th, say: “Goblin looks good. Could be tinged a bit more inhuman, maybe some more orange in the face.” …which I clearly did in the final illustration.

*You’re going to see numbers written on all the original artwork. The upper left corner is the illustration number (notice that here it has been changed). This coordinates with the art order: a list, in running order, of all pieces of artwork in the book. The lower right number is the scaled reproduction size for the graphic designer to use when laying out the book (likely done using QuarkXPress, a popular desktop publishing software at the time). So, this image would be reproduced at 26%, about a quarter of the size of the original.

When the book was finally released, the entry for “Goblin” was a reproduction of artwork I’d done of a Dragon Mountain kobold, used as a cardboard mini. Huh. I never understood why the Great Goblin Swap of 1993 had occurred and if Tim had explained it to me, I’ve surely forgotten. It has baffled me ever since.

So I called him. No, seriously. Like yesterday.

After a quick catch up and some laughs, we were right back in sync, talking monsters and D&D. I explained this series of articles and asked if I could tap him from time to time to answer questions or elaborate on certain moments while we created this seminal book. Heartily, he agreed. When I posed the question about the goblin swap, he explained that the pug-nosed faces of the Dragon Mountain kobolds showed how D&D goblins were related to pug-nosed hobgoblins.

Oh. That makes sense.

“But,” he added, “The art from the mini that we ultimately used was supposed to be reproduced small, to give a sense of scale. Instead, (art director) Peggy (Cooper) enlarged the image which made it seem unfinished; not at the same artistic level as the other illustrations you provided.”

According the Tim’s notes from 1993, my color sketch of the kobold Captain of the Guard, done in preparation for Dragon Mountain and pasted in my sketchbook, was meant to be used as the final illustration. But, somehow, this piece was not sent up to TSR. Here then, is what Tim wanted for the goblin entry in the Monstrous Manual:

Mystery solved. Tim added that he did appreciate the effort I’d put into the other goblin illustration, which is why he added it to the Index…along with my rendition of the Minotaur. More on him later…

ILLUSTRATION #172: Kobold

And, speaking of kobolds, I’ve loved these little dog-lizards since I first rolled a twenty-sided dice.

You may have noticed in the above sketches that one of the kobolds was holding a stick with a scorpion tied to the end, an idea that would persist in the final illustration.

This rat/dog-inspired design was established during my work on Dragon Mountain as seen in these rejected sketches here:

…and here’s another early take:

I cannot recall how I came to the Scorpion-on-a-Stick weapon but it delights me to no end to hear that Dungeon Masters still use it when playing kobolds to this day.

ILLUSTRATION #152: Hobgoblin

Hobgoblins, like all of these classic humanoids, were present in D&D from the earliest inception of the game.

Using Tim’s reasoning, the Dragon Mountain kobold/goblin does look like a distant relative to my illustration of the D&D hobgoblin, which have always reminded me of Tolkien’s orcs from his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The above was a sample illustration of the hobgoblin included in my submission to TSR in 1992. I’d previously thought it was based on a Ral Partha miniature but realized it is directly inspired by the late Jim Holloway’s depiction from the Monstrous Compendium. (The mini is likely based on his drawing.)

Tim liked my hobgoblin ink drawing, “…but maybe a more serious helmet. Your staff meeting sketch on page 24 is quite good; I’ve always thought hobgoblins were the best organized, most militaristic of the humanoids.” Below is that sketch, done during a staff meeting at the South Florida branch of the MacArthur Foundation, where I worked as a graphic designer. It must have been a really exciting meeting.

Around this time, I’d rewatched Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind with my younger brother.  The brawny, burly stature of the Tolmekian soldiers inspired the general shape of my hobgoblin.

There is also a hint of comic book legend Arthur Adams in the rendering style of the hob’s face. Keep in mind, this artwork was created during the early 1990s–one of the most successful and volatile eras in comic book history. Not only had I studied under Will Eisner after graduating art school, my brother and I were big comic book fans and attended many local conventions.

In fact, while in art school, I worked diligently to put together sample pages to submit to comic book publishers…but I never did. When I think back on it now, I am grateful TSR took a chance with me instead.

ILLUSTRATION #225: Orc

The depiction of D&D orcs has evolved and changed over the various iterations of the game. I grew up with David Sutherland’s illustration in the original Monster Manual.

His influence, along with the orcs in the 1980 Rankin & Bass production of Return of the King, can be seen in my sketches from 1992:

Tim approved the head design and I went from there. You’ll notice this fella doesn’t have much armor and his neglected sword is rusty and nicked. (Contrast that with the hobgoblin.)

Tim had a couple of notes on this piece that would be typical of the stylistic choices I’d struggle with throughout this project: Firstly, I often resorted to adding a jutting underbite on many of my humanoids (See the goblin, hobgoblin and the troll) of which he warned, “don’t go overboard”. (Surprise: I did.) Second, because I was enamored with the fairy tale art of Brian Froud and Arthur Rackham, I very rarely drew monsters with toned muscle mass; instead, preferring them scrawny and sinewy. If you look close, you see paint on the orc’s biceps and triceps. Tim had asked me to enlarge his upper arm to make it more proportionate to the rest of his body.

Speaking of reviewing the finished artwork, you may wonder how this was accomplished in a decade before scanners were a mere $100 and the internet was in its infancy? Again, time was not on my side and sending artwork back and forth via FedEx was costly. Instead, I’d have color laser copies made of the completed art and send it off in batches. Tim would approve, make changes or reject pieces and we continued working this way until the entire project was completed. At that point, I packed up all the original artwork and shipped it to TSR. But, like I said, this was a marathon and I had a long way yet to go…

NEXT: Part 3: More Humanoids!
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Never Abandon Imagination Tony DiTerlizzi: Never abandon imagination.

Imagination is a world of possibility that exists within each of us. It is what makes us uniquely human. It is our creative fingerprint that touches and influences the world around us. Imagination is essential to art and science; to innovation and prosperity. It gives us hope, calls us to action and leads to change.

Whether it’s fairies, dragons, robots or aliens, all of my children’s book characters are siblings born of my imagination – an imagination strengthened through years of encouragement from family, teachers and friends. While so many others abandoned it during their transition from childhood to adulthood, I fiercely held onto mine, hoping for a day when I could share it to inspire the next generation of dreamers. Innovators. World changers.

Imagination empowers us to envision and create a reality of what could be. We must hold it dear, foster it and never abandon it.