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Behind The ‘Monstrous Manual’: PART 9

July 2, 2024

TD, Monster Machine

Welcome back to a deep dive of my experience working on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monstrous Manual. As I mentioned at the start, I finished illustrating the Dragon Mountain boxed set adventure on February 1st, 1993 and began immediately on the Monstrous Manual the following day.

All 100 pieces were due on March 23rd and completed in less than two months. According to this journal entry in my sketchbook, I finished right on time:

I was exhausted but excited. It had been a seven-week marathon of sketching, revising, phone calls, faxes, FedEx and finishing–all completed at the kitchen table of my childhood home, the same table I’d copied pictures from Dave Trampier, David Sutherland and Erol Otus a decade earlier. Talk about a surreal moment.

It had been a glorious experience and I was ready for more. As luck would have it, Project Coordinator and Expert Cat Herder, Tim Beach, rang me up with just that: MORE monsters were needed!

It turned out that he’d forgotten to assign me the “plant people”: the Myconid, Shambling Mound, Treant and Vegepygmy in my original art order! So, during the last week of March 1993, I scrambled to finish these pieces, along with a few others…

ILLUSTRATION #234: Plant, Intelligent

“[Regarding the inspiration behind the Shambling Mound] Strictly from ‘The Heap‘ in Airboy Comics, of which I was a great fan.”
–Gary Gygax, 2007

The Shambling Mound made its debut in the 3rd issue of The Strategic Review in fall of 1975, described by Gygax as, “…a heap of rotting vegetation.”

Early depictions certainly drew from The Heap comic character and, likely, Marvel Comics’ Man-Thing; however, my 1992 rendition kept true to Gygax’s original description:

Although mine drew inspiration from a different “heap of rotting vegetation”…

For fun, I posed him looking over his shoulder, à la the famous 1967 Bigfoot film footage, as if he’s shambling back to his swampy domain. This was among the last pieces I completed for the Monstrous Manual…

…and it would be another of my designs that would be later molded in metal (perfectly captured by sculptor, Dave Summers).

In all, six of my illustrations were the basis for official D&D minis that year.

Regarding the other “plant people” entires, I don’t recall rendering them and I’ve no known sketches either, which leads me to think that they were each drawn on a single sheet of paper, faxed to Tim, discussed over the phone, then completed. After all, it was crunch time.

As well, there were a couple of redos that Tim requested, which happens on big projects like this when many artists are contributing: personal life interferes and artists can no longer meet the deadline, or the piece isn’t quite what the game designers were hoping for, or the requirement for the illustration has changed due to a shift in the content its meant to accompany.

Remember, while all this artwork is being finished, the text is being revised and copyedited. On top of that, the pages are being laid out and typeset by the designer (back then, this was done in QuarkXPress). In fact, the Monstrous Manual used a keyline process, which meant areas of each page were designated to print in color (the art) while others where set to print only in black (the text). This kept printing costs down. Nowadays the entire page would be printed in color. All this production continues right up to the moment the book is sent off to the printer. Like I said, a marathon.

Monstrous Redos and A Lost Gremlin

There were several illustrations Tim wasn’t 100% happy with and he wanted options. These images were the Minotaur, Ettin, Leprechaun and Harpy. I’ve mentioned what became of the Minotaur and Ettin already. As for the Leprechaun, there are no sketches nor do I have any memory of creating it, so I suspect the process was the same as the “plant people”. The harpy was a bit of a different story.

There was an ink drawing in my ’92 sketchbook, based on the metal miniature by Ral Partha. Later sketches push the nose/beak idea but it never made it past this point.

Tim’s memory on this is fuzzy, but the reasoning for a redo may have been that the harpy had been classified as “bird-folk” (coming up) or a “mythical monster”. Since I had rendered some of the other mythical monsters (like the Medusa, Cyclops and Minotaur) the change was in order to retain an artistic continuity; however, on top of this reclassification, Tim was also dealing with the same PG-13/no-nudity issues that we faced with the nymph. In the end, he ran with what he had in hand (a solid illustration by Jeff Butler), and my harpy never made it past the sketch phase…but others did and one little troublemaker was even finished…

ILLUSTRATION #168: Gremlin, Mite

Amidst various sketches of elves in my ’92 sketchbook, there was a drawing of a Jermlaine that Tim thought, “… is a really good Mite, which can also be used in this [the Jermlaine] illustration.”

Both the Jermlaine and Mite are variations of the D&D version of a gremlin–small mischievous troublemakers–that made their first appearance in 1981’s Fiend Folio. The Jermlaine was completed before my deadline and sent up with the bulk of the art.

I think the plan was to push the Mite at the end of my art order to finish if time permitted. I did finish it and sent it up, along with those last-minute pieces.

*This is a low-res scan of the original from 1998 before it was sold off, so the colors are approximate.

Like I said, there is editing and reorganization happening to the book’s layout and text, all while art is being produced. As he’d done with other similar monster-types, Tim folded several of the “mischievous critters” under the entry for Gremlin. You see, on their own, none were fleshed out enough to warrant their own page and separate entry. But this rearranging of the entries made for a lot of text and not a lot of space for art. Sadly, the Mite would be cut from the book.

There was yet another illustration that would never see print as well…or maybe it did, we just didn’t have the right means to see it.

ILLUSTRATION #166: Invisible Stalker

Always a funster, Tim (along with Monstrous Manual editor Doug Stewart) signed a blank sheet of paper as the art for the Invisible Stalker (a classic D&D monster present since the game’s debut) and added it to the stack of completed artwork before handing it over to art director Peggy Cooper for scanning. Coincidentally, I’d sent over a piece when I shipped up my art for the book. It remains in Tim’s collection to this day.

I hear the Ral Partha miniature of this one came out great but didn’t sell well. I wonder why?

But Wait, There’s More!

After delivering the last stragglers to TSR, Tim and I continued having conversations about the possibility of having me redo a few other images, too. Some of the “bird-folk” illustrations that were turned in were not as evocative as he’d hoped. I got to work immediately, completing sketches and ink drawings for both the Kenku and Aarakocra:

…which Tim liked but ultimately did not go with, as the Art department was close to finishing the book and preparing it for print. Yet, the conversations continued and there was talk of me taking a stab at some other monsters as well:

I cannot recall if the above were sketched because Tim had asked or (more likely) because my enthusiasm compelled me to do them. These next ones; however, certainly made it past the sketch stage. Like the Kenku, they’re inked and ready for color:

But, in the end, time ran out. All these drawings were filed away, never to appear in print.

By the end of March 1993, my work on the AD&D Monstrous Manual was completed.

Phew!

But Wait, You Didn’t Talk About The…

Yes, there were plenty of other monsters I illustrated that were not covered in this blog series, in particular; the Lycanthropes. This is due to several factors: I don’t have any recollection of creating the artwork, I don’t own the original artwork (or decent laser copies) and/or I don’t have a lot of sketches and process for them. You see, for every interesting behind-the-scenes story of how I came to draw a Displacer Beast there’s a Giant Centipede that was simply completed so I could move on and make that deadline.

However, here are scans of sketches for a few that I did not discuss.

Those Little “td” Initials in the Artwork

I love when a longtime fan shares that they first came to know my work through the illustrations I’d done for the Monstrous Manual. Often I am told that many enjoyed, “…looking for those little ‘td’ initials next to the art.”

Part of the impetus for this series of posts was newly discovered correspondence from Tim during the time that we worked on this book (above). It provided weekly interactions where sketches were given feedback and final art was revised and approved. It also helped me piece together a timeline of when the art was completed.

A fascinating detail that became quite apparent was how my initials evolved each week as I finished batches of art.

As mentioned earlier, at the end of each week I would head to the local copy shop to have a set of color laser copies made and send them up to Tim for feedback. When I rearranged my artwork in a chronological order it was interesting to see my initials transform from a hand drawn font to a genuine signature. The graphic above tracks my confidence growing week-by-week as an artist.

I won’t bore you with a detailed timeline (though if you are curious, you can take a look at it here). Either way, now, when you page through the old Monstrous Manual you can note the style in my initials and approximate when I rendered your favorite monster.

One Last Thing

If you were to page through my contract, you might say that the business-end of this job wasn’t worth it. As a work for hire, all rights of the artwork (except for prints) were owned by TSR and I was paid $70 per illustration. That’s about $150 today. You may be thinking, if I was just starting out now would I still take this job? Unequivocally, the answer would be YES.

This high-profile project gave me so much more than money: it built my confidence as an artist, taught me how to truly collaborate and work with an editor, and invited me in to become a part of a legacy that I held dear. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing (except keep a better archive of the artwork).

The thing is, I grew past this and became an artist who went on to successfully create new stories of my own. This experience, back in good ol’ 1993, was a building block in the foundation of my career. I’ll elaborate more on that in the final post of ‘Behind the Monstrous Manual’.

Next: Part 10: After the Monstrous Manual

 

 

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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.