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Behind The ‘Monstrous Manual’: PART 8

June 26, 2024

Creepy-Crawlies

I am sad to say our trip down Monstrous Manual Memory Lane is nearing its end but don’t fret, we still have a few more monsters to cover: Giant creepy crawlers that are iconic Dungeons & Dragons monsters, like…

ILLUSTRATION #3: Ankheg

The giant subterranean invertebrate known as the Ankheg (ANN-kegg) made its colorful debut in issue #5 of Dragon magazine in March 1977 and, like the Remorhaz (REM-hor-RAZ), was first visualized by legendary TSR artist, Erol Otus (who also provided these pronunciations).

Sixteen-year-old Otus not only rendered this first illustration, he wrote up the details as well! I wanted to know more about the Ankheg’s origin, so I called him up and we chatted about it further.

“The inspiration for the aesthetic of the monster came from this rubber creature I owned,” he said. That creature was but one of the many rubber “scary” toys that were commonly found in gumball vending machines and dime stores in the 1960s and 70s.

As a longtime collector of these weird creepy-crawlers, Otus realized many of them were the perfect scale to use as monsters with his gaming miniatures.  In fact, a companion to his rubber Ankheg inspired yet another legacy D&D monster.

“Although [TSR veteran] Rob Kuntz created the Remorhaz, it was based on my drawing,” he said, “which, like the Ankheg, was inspired from one of my rubber jigglers.”

That is so cool! Get it? ’cause the Remorhaz is an ice worm and it…nevermind.

Fast forward to 1993, Project Coordinator and DiTerlizzi Director, Tim Beach, was paging through my ’92 sketchbook, hunting for potential images to be used in the Monstrous Manual. He thought my Ankheg sketches were, “Really good.”

The creature’s head design was initially inspired by that underground bug muncher, the Ant Lion, but I decided on the more robust, wasp-like head in the end. As you can see, the sketch on the far left (marked with the blue “X”) became the basis for the final art.

This was among the first batch of finished pieces that I sent up to TSR and displayed the same naturalism that I strove for in the Troglodyte and Locathah.

When I look back on this art, I am reminded of the cabinet graphics for one of my favorite classic 80s arcade games, Centipede. I was not consciously pulling from that iconic art for this piece, but I can see it there, in the mix.

ILLUSTRATION #10: Beetle, Giant

Speaking of giant insects, this Volkswagen-sized Beetle (see how I did that?) started out as an ink drawing alongside the Ankheg in my ’92 sketchbook.

I used reference from an amazing book on beetles that I’d borrowed from the local library (that’s what you did before Google) to make color laser copies from (also, no color printer in your home office), ultimately using this beautiful Rhinoceros beetle from Venezuela for my pose.

There is also a bit of influence from the comic book legend, Jean Giraud (aka Möebius), in the execution of the final piece, specifically from his Arzach series. I would return to Moebius for inspiration after I completed the Monstrous Manual for the Dark Sun adventures I illustrated afterwards.

ILLUSTRATION #24: Carrion Crawler

This famous dungeon scavenger made its debut in the early years of the game back in 1975’s Greyhawk supplement.

I’ve read that this first illustration is attributed to Dave Arneson. When I corresponded with Tim Kask about the origins of D&D monsters inspired from Chinasaurs, he stated that the Carrion Crawler and Purple Worm (coming up next) also came from toys, but I have yet to find exact matches. Though, like Erol Otus’ Ankheg and Remorhaz, there are plenty of rubber wiggler toys released in the 1960s that would easily fit the bill.

I had not drawn the Carrion Crawler in my ’92 sketchbook so the below was done in February of ’93 (along with a Kilmoulis that almost made it into the book).

Tim had notes: “I like the sketch, but it looks too much like a larva of some kind. (Interesting question: what does it become after it pupates?) extend the body, and put legs along more of its length. I like the general look of the body and head, though…

I was never 100% satisfied with this illustration. Looking back, I should have given it different legs, perhaps more like a velvet worm, but I didn’t have that clarity or the time to redraw it. I still had a horde of monsters to render like…

ILLUSTRATION #294: Worm, Purple

“These huge and hungry monsters lurk nearly everywhere just beneath the surface of the land.”
–Gary Gygax, 1974

Speaking of worms, another monster from the earliest edition of the game is the gigantic Purple Worm. I do not know if Gygax was inspired by the enormous sandworms of Frank Herbert’s 1965 classic sci-fi novel, Dune, but I sure was when I sketched these suckers in the fall of 1992.

Tim sent reference samples that I, sadly, no longer possess. However, he confirmed that they were photographs of a lamprey’s mouth.  You can see how integral his reference was when I finalized the design. Shai-Hulud!

ILLUSTRATIONS #91: Ettercap

Old fat spider spinning in a tree!
Old fat spider can’t see me!
Attercop! Attercop!
Won’t you stop,
Stop your spinning and look for me?

–from The Hobbit, 1937

The Attercop Ettercap made its D&D debut in the Games Workshop-created Fiend Folio, published in 1979. The late Russ Nicholson illustrated that version, but it was Daniel R. Horne’s wonderful rendition in the Monstrous Compendium Volume II that inspired me:

My ’92 sketchbook had a few Ettercap doodles, which Tim responded to: “Your sketches have potential; play down the ‘beer belly’ and exaggerated features.”

With that art direction in mind, I created a more finished drawing:

Tim liked this revision, saying: “Great. Definitely the best Ettercap we’ve ever seen. A design on the stomach is good, too.” That design, and overall coloration in the final piece, was taken from an Ant-Mimic spider, found in my trusty Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects & Spiders.

The response from Tim was so positive that I simply laser-copied the pencil drawing onto a sheet of paper and colored it. TSR received the artwork for the Ettercap late in February ’93. Tim replied: “Really, really, very excellent. He looks very nasty; someone else also commented that ‘it finally looks like something to be frightened of’.”

That was exciting news but not all my interpretations of classic D&D monsters would go over so well…

ILLUSTRATION #226: Otyugh

The Dianoga of D&D is a foul beast known as the Otyugh. As far as I know there has been no definitive story on the inspiration for this stalk-eyed trash eater; however, the timing of Star Wars’ phenomenal release in May of 1977 perfectly aligns with this creature’s debut in the Monster Manual, published later that year.

I had a sketch of an Otyugh in my ’92 sketchbook, on the page with the Minotaur.

Tim noted, “See the original picture of the otyugh for the placement of the eyestalk.” …which somehow, I got wrong:

Tim was NOT having it: “No. As stated in the original art order, ‘generally speaking, now is not the time to develop new takes on old creatures; stick with the standard appearance where possible; this applies even more stringently to the ‘classic’ AD&D monsters’ and ‘see the original picture of the otyughs for the placement of the eyestalk.’ Put the eyestalk, with three eyes, on the top of the creature. I’ll go for the rest of the new look for the critter, and we really like the slimy look and the flies nearby. It would be nice to thicken the frontmost tentacle too, but that’s optional.”

Whoa. Okay, Tim. You could have simply said, “Put the eyestalk, with three eyes, on the top of the creature.” Honestly, I wasn’t trying to redesign this critter. I just did not completely understand Otyugh anatomy. Sheesh!

ILLUSTRATION #239: Rakshasa

“All Rakshasas wear human clothing of the highest quality”
–Monstrous Manual, page 299

This entry should really be with the other mythological creatures but I’ve saved it as my last little story. Why? Because it perfectly captures my life in 1993.

I mentioned at the beginning that I don’t keep journals, but I do keep sketchbooks that chronicle creative periods of my life and 1992 was certainly one of those periods.

As well as preparing my samples for TSR, I often journaled in the form of “freeform” drawing–surreal, dreamlike imagery that blurred together to form bizarre, Hieronymous Bosch-inspired pictures. Here’s one of me taking in Pablo Picasso‘s work:

Reappearing motifs would occur in these pieces: the ocean, objects and people suspended by strings, and various iterations of myself (and friends) as mythical creatures or animals:

Aside from the Mad Hatter’s hat, the clothing here is accurate. In my attempt to be an “eccentric artist” I often wore odd combinations of clothing and jewelry purchased from thrift stores and whatever I could afford at the local mall. Surely, by now, you can see where I am going with this.

This illustration is a fantastical reflection of fashion back then, a snapshot of the early 90s–from the popular M.C. Hammer-style harem pants (that I assure you, I did not own…though many did) to the plum-colored jacket you may have noticed in my art school photo.

As seen in this catalog page (from Oaktree Menswear), this was the fashion of the day. A style that twenty-something-Tony coveted, but could not afford, so it is envisioned here in my drawing of the Rakshasa.

I no longer own this original artwork, but when I look at it I smile because it takes me right back to that time in my life. A time when it seemed that, at last, a door of opportunity opened before me. And if one dream could come true, could others? Did I dare chase more? You bet your lucky 20-sided dice I did.

NEXT: PART 9: TD, Monster machine
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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.