People need to start giving Wayne Reynolds a break
I don’t get it, I really don’t… Somewhere along the way RPG artist Wayne Reynolds became the whipping boy for everything that ever went wrong with RPG artwork, and frankly that is completely unfair and moronic.
No matter the forum, any mention of Wayne Reynolds will inevitably bring up phrases like ‘Wayne Reynolds caused the failure of D&D’ or ‘I loathe Wayne Reynolds’ or ‘Wayne Reynolds makes me sick’, or my personal favorite ‘Wayne Reynolds is an absolute disgrace!’. I posted an article this week concerning the art for the D&D 3.0 Players Handbook, in which Wayne doesn’t even appear, and someone commented ‘I blame Wayne Reynolds!’ and then later in the thread there was this beauty, ‘A pox upon Wayne Reynolds pencil box. Looking at pretty much anything Pathfinder and his works infest it. That alone is a reason not to buy the books/modules.’ Again, Wayne didn’t even contribute art to the book, nor was the article about Pathfinder!
Why all the vitriol? I can only assume because Wayne Reynolds is the easy target. Wayne Reynolds provides a name to a movement, even if at the core it isn’t his movement at all. But before we get into that, let me first speak a bit about Wayne himself.
Wayne is English, and is funny, and self-deprecating, and works incredibly hard at his craft every day. He’s a role-player, a guy who gets in a game once every two weeks no matter what his schedule looks like, and he’s loved D&D since his was a kid, much like most gamers. He loves Larry Elmore, he loves a good pint with his friends when the day ends, and he always has a ready smile for a friend even when calling them a cheeky bastard.
On top of all this, Wayne Reynolds is a traditionalist. Now let me repeat that, Wayne Reynolds is a traditionalist. Wayne Reynolds has never done a stitch of digital art in his life. He sketches in pencil and covers his sketches with acrylic. I ask you right now, name me an RPG artist today who works 100% traditionally and actually gets RPG cover work in 2014. Still thinking? Just as I suspected! But because of his extreme popularity, art directors will still work with him and deal with the loadstone that is traditional media, so in essence he is the last of a dying breed, and yet old school gamers would burn him at a cross for being a heretic and purveyor of all things ‘new’.
It simply amazes me. If there is one person OSGers shouldn’t be hating it is Wayne Reynolds because he is everything that they actually love, an artist who rolls dice, ala Keith Parkinson, and one who still holds true to the traditional ideas of the quickly dwindling fantasy art industry, meaning the use of real paint while also having a deep love and appreciation for his predecessors!
Yes, yes, I can hear you screaming and I know where you are going before you even take a step. ‘Wayne Reynolds changed the RPG industry to a bunch of WoW clone crap!’ Oh, I weep for the ignorant masses!
In the famous words of Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, ‘Well, allow me to retort’.
First and foremost, Wayne Reynolds is absolutely not a fan [I’m putting this mildly] of anime artwork, so much so I actually saw him politely refuse to look at an anime artists portfolio because he said he ‘had no business looking at something he couldn’t be objectively honest about’. His work is not anime, nor is it WoW generated. He first appeared in the industry during that advent of Wizards of the Coasts D&D 3.0 reboot, four years before the release of WoW, and I contend that the artwork from D&D 3.0 has much less to do with anime than TSR artist Jeff Dee’s seemingly canon work in AD&D that was ripping off Leiji Matsumoto and his Japanese space opera work of the 1970s, but somehow that is all good with OSRers.
Wayne Reynolds simply created his own style. He didn’t clone Easley, Elmore or any traditionalist that he loved, but went out and found a way of drawing and painting that worked for him. Is it ‘over-armored’, sometimes, is it ‘sexist’, sometimes as well, but no more than anything else in this male-centric industry and far less than Elmore, Caldwell, or even Parkinson, or god forbid Frazetta or Boris. Are his face shapes less than 100% humanly accurate? Sure, but again, that is his divergence, not his link to anime, just a part of his imagination that wants to create things outside the hard reality of a Fred Fields type studio replica. It is a style, and you’ll find no Big Eyes & Small Mouths about it!
Now I get that you might not like that style, but that shouldn’t be a knock on Wayne personally [as many attacks are]. Wayne hit a cord with this artwork, and he shouldn’t be blamed for that. Just because art directors at Wizards of the Coast kept giving him work for D&D 3.0 supplements and then decided that he’d be perfect to help launch Eberron, then jumped on his mounting sales figures to give him the cover keys to D&D 4.0, and finally had him anointed by Paizo to champion their Pathfinder brand are not reasons to be blamed on Wayne Reynolds.
If you want to blame anyone, here are some art director names for you: Dawn Murin [D&D 3.0], Robert Raper [Eberron], Sarah E. Robinson [Pathfinder], and Kate Irwin [D&D 4.0] or you could even go so far as to direct your vitriol at Jon Schindehette the former D&D Senior Creative Director of WotC or Erik Mona the Publisher for Paizo, but at no point should you blame Wayne Reynolds for being a popular artist who actually made money in a business notorious for short-changing freelance artists and keeping them in near poverty. Or if you really want to go out on a limb, blame Blizzard Online Entertainment Art Director Jeremy Cranford and the 20 million WoW players that dominated the mid to late 2000s that RPG companies wanted to cater to!
Simply put, Wayne seemingly became too popular in the RPG field, and somehow got a chance to define the top two games in the industry at the same time. That seems to have caused him these problems, but when did success become a bad thing? If you hate anyone, hate the art directors! They are the collective reason that the industry changed, not Wayne Reynolds. And don’t hate Wayne Reynolds because everything seems to now look like Wayne Reynolds! Hate the artists who couldn’t find work unless they mimicked Wayne, or again the art directors who wouldn’t hire someone unless their art looked like Wayne Reynolds!
I promise you Wayne isn’t out there leading a legion of Wayne clones to decorate all your favorite gaming universes. He is simply sitting at his easel, yes a real easel, every damn day trying to do the best artwork he can, which is to represent gamers as their characters would actually look with all that crap you put on your character sheets! Give the man a break, he justly deserves it, and go find another place to spit your poison, assuredly I’ve given you enough names above to do so.