Art of the Genre

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.

Written by Scott Taylor — January 10, 2014

Comments

Gregory Guldensupp:

Thank you for an amazing and well written piece. You place the notice where it needs to be, on the art directors, not the artist. It seems all to often that once someone gets famous or, G_d Forbid, successful, much of the world turns on him or her. I do not know Wayne, but he sounds like a wonderful person and good and dedicated crafter of work in which he deserves to be proud. May he continue to make art, his way, for as long as he desires.

January 10 2014 at 12:01 PM

Patrick Halverson:

I am surprised to learn there is a negative current about Wayne (I’ve never seen it, must not surf enough). I love Wayne’s art, and love(d) how prevalent it was in D&D 3.x and Pathfinder. He is one of all-time favorite fantasy artists, and couldn’t wait to snap up the art book that came out a few months ago.

January 10 2014 at 01:01 PM

Jeff Easley:

I think Wayne does terrific work. Nobody is everybody’s cup of tea, I know this all too well. Naysayers are always very vocal, and I suspect Wayne’s detractors are a tiny minority of the gaming community. Just my 2 cents….

January 10 2014 at 02:01 PM

Brian Berg:

For sure, everyone has their own tastes. Wayne woudn’t be doing what he does if he didn’t represent the vast majority of today’s consumers. No matter how he draws, the man has talent. He also apparently drinks four of my favorite beers…

January 10 2014 at 02:01 PM

Lloyd M:

I might be stepping in it, but I have always liked the stylized work he did, even if I wasn’t aware of it until recently.
I’m not crazy about the later D&D versions in mechanics, but I do like the art.

January 10 2014 at 05:01 PM

Hector:

generally, I like his work. There are some pieces I havent been all in with, but thats the thing; you just cant please everyone all the time anyway.

Anyone who hates an artist for doing his thing is looking for a reason to hate. If Wayne runs over my dog, sure, Ill hate him, but not for his work. Thats just silly.

January 10 2014 at 07:01 PM

Wayne Reynolds:

Thanks for your staunch defence of my artwork against personal/abusive comments that you feel lack objectivity. Consider yourself hugged from across the Pond.
A great and wise man once said; “If you’re waiting for universal approval, you’ll be waiting a very long time”. I miss Dumbledore.

January 11 2014 at 06:01 AM

Pete Venters:

I didn’t even know this was an issue. I love his work and I’m still as insanely jealous of the wild dynamism he imbues his characters with as I was when I first saw his art over a decade ago.

January 18 2014 at 03:01 PM

Josh:

It’s all Brom’s fault. (I say this with tongue planted firmly in cheek)

Wayne Reynolds is the victim of a semi-unfortunate trend that started back when Brom was given the keys to Dark Sun and dominated the art design for the entire world. And so we have it for not just 4E bu Pathfinder! And because Mr. Reynolds has dominated so much of the print RPG work, he’s getting nailed by the backlash.

Of course, this started before Brom; Clyde Caldwell was like this with Dragonlance (people forget just how much work he did on it because of Larry Elmore’s iconic covers for the novels, but the majority of the work on the line and the designs were Caldwell).

Not Wayne Reynolds’ fault. He’s a fine artist doing really good work. It’s not his fault that either art directors prefer a unified look for a line or think that readers do. (and maybe a majority of readers do! Look at it this way: you can always count on the quality from a Wayne Reynolds or a Brom. They’re really good!)

I will say, I liked having different artists and differing styles. I suspect it may have inspired many artists to see what others were doing on a line.

but damn, I think the Wayne Reynolds hatin’ is pretty silly.

February 25 2014 at 02:02 PM

Scott:

Josh, totally, although Caldwell had not only Elmore, but Easley and all the AD&D core books, as well as Parkinson to deal with, so that made his impact easier to take. As for Brom, he certainly dominated Dark Sun, but not much else in the way of TSR brands, and certainly did some covers for other iconic lines like Deadlands, but his impact was never so over the top that everyone wanted to draw like him [save R.K. Post] because all ADs only accepted works that looked like Wayne Reynolds. There was still plenty of artistic market variance in the 90s when Brom was at his RPG height.

February 25 2014 at 02:02 PM

Joseph Frederic:

I think Wayne does great work. I remain a fan of Frazetta, Brom and Whelan also. If we saw work of their caliber in a larger part of the game books I would buy still more of them. A lot of haters on the internet, gamers not least of all unfortunately. Everyone is a critic these days. With the proliferation of media there comes fierce competition but also opportunities for exposure. I hope the next gen of game artists keep the faith and work from the heart. Those that turn pro should hold true to their passions and let the work speak for itself. That is my amateur opinion anyway.

April 28 2014 at 10:04 PM

C. Wessel:

Wayne is very talented. I have been fortunate to purchase some of his original sketches that he did for some 3.5 D&D commissions. His process is really cool. He’ll sketch a piece after being given an idea of what is wanted. After he submits it, they may ask for some changes and so he’ll draw the piece again with the revisions. (I was able to get several of his “before revision” pieces). Then, once the final sketch is approved he paints right on top of his sketch.

May 13 2014 at 03:05 PM

Scott:

C. Wessel: You are correct of course, and damn if I wouldn’t love to get some of those ‘hard’ sketches he does before he paints over them. His pencils are really brilliant if you ever get a chance to nab one before he paints over it!

May 15 2014 at 12:05 AM

Sam S.:

I, like apparently many others, was actually unaware of the venomous hate that Wayne gets thrown. I really love his work, not just with D&D and Pathfinder, but also what I’ve seen of his that gets used in Magic: The Gathering. He’s right up there with Todd Lockwood, both in terms of art quality and those I consider to be my favorite artists. The kind of textures that Wayne puts into all of his work is astounding; there are times when I’ve had to touch the book cover to make sure that it’s not popping out at me.

Seriously, he’s a great artist, he’s an honest artist, and he sure as Hell doesn’t deserve such poisonous words. You’re a deluded fool if you think otherwise.

July 28 2015 at 02:07 PM

Shawn Oliver:

I found this article just today, though it’s a few years old. I’d just like to say that I have met Wayne personally (I actually took the beer picture you used at a the bottom of your very well written article the first time I met him), and he’s a very nice and down-to-earth fellow. I asked him his opinion on people who comment anonymously on the internet about the “sexism” in his artwork (I can only assume such trolls have never heard of Vallejo, Royo, etc., not to mention innumerable comics artists) and he had a very interesting answer. He said that maybe some of his feminine characters wore (paraphrasing here) somewhat revealing attire, but they were also “…kicking ass and cutting through demons like sh**” (not paraphrased :). I must say, I have to agree. Many of Elmore’s scantily-clad young ladies were just victims. Rock on, Wayne!

October 01 2015 at 08:10 PM

OLIVIER CANAL:

Hello,
I am very surprised that people have been criticized as harshly drawings Wayne Reynolds. For me his drawings illustrative of the D & D universe are by far the best, I find that they really reflect the spirit of D & D and is always very fair in rendering dynamic scenes and characters and I play this game since 1984. for me it is really the best and I found an original drawing to buy I do not let him pass.

November 05 2016 at 04:11 PM

Trevor Comeau:

Reynolds has been my favorite fantasy artist since I first saw his stuff. The amount of little details he works into every character and creature he depicts is amazing and his style stands apart from the rest as a result.

May 10 2017 at 11:05 PM

Matthew Seibel:

I’ve seen the anti-Wayne hate on a variety of mainly OSR forums & I just read another old blog post putting Wayne on blast. But her issue was the cleavage & scantly clad lady magic users. Wayne is one of my favorite fantasy artists & has inspired my setting creations for years. I first saw Wayne’s work in ICE Role Master books back in the day.

May 28 2017 at 07:05 PM

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