I often try to remember when I first got my hands on a copy of Fiend Folio. Truly, I have no recollection of that day, although I’m sure it was in some made gaming binge rush to outpace my DM Mark on how many core books we had. Whatever the case, it was mostly an afterthought to my gaming days, and honestly, like Erol Otus’s work at the time, I wasn’t really a fan of the art.
Later, however, once I’d aged, actually studied art beyond the passing fancy, and had the beginning stages of nostalgia for the bygone days of my youth, I began to appreciate the Fiend Folio more and more.
Today, it is one of my all-time favorite AD&D products because, unlike the Wisconsin brand of D&D, it had a feel both foreign and home-spun, using European art talents as well as TSR staffers. In my opinion, the overall collective artwork in the Fiend Folio surpasses anything TSR had ever created to this point, and yes, it doesn’t even include a piece by Trampier.
I firmly believe there are others who would agree, assuming they take a deep enough look. I know that there have been many comments on my posts concerning Otus where people indicated they hated him as a kid and yet love him now. The same can be said for the work of Russ Nicholson, and there is little doubt that Nicholson is a much better true artist than Otus ever was or is.
So today, in this ongoing thread, I’ll be taking a look at the beginnings of the Fiend Folio and what it was designer Don Turnnbull was trying to do with it in Cambridge circa 1979.
First and foremost, we’ve got to show some love for the Githyanki on the cover. Many folks out there wrongly attribute this painting to the aforementioned Nicholson, probably because he did the bulk of the interiors and we never really get to see his color work, but in reality it was created by the artist Emanuel.
When I recently did my Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings article for Black Gate, I mentioned that although I included Otus’s Deities and Demigods, that as a piece of artwork I enjoyed Emanuel’s wrap cover better. It truly is a strong piece of acrylic wonder, with crisp lines, comic aspects, and vibrant colors. Many times I’ve felt spirited away while viewing it, and no matter what, I still get a smile on my face when I take it off the shelf.
Inside, a monstrous adventure awaits, as Nicholson’s representation of an inviting Forlarren beckons us forward.
As stated, Nicholson gets the lion share of duties in this volume, but right off the bat we are greeted with the small lines of Jeff Dee as he shows us a downed giant, felled by the hand of a human fighter. It is a great piece, and although it might have been an unused image from Against the Giants, who cares, this is a fantastic intro.
This volume also gave us something we didn’t see much of in the initial Monster Manual, and that is a full page b/w spread [only the giant spider being done in such a fashion], first done by Emmanuel and then by Alan Hunter [who’ve I’ve included here]. Hunter’s odd piece concerning the Crabmen actually looks more like a 1950s monster movie poster than fantasy art, but still, it is an interesting take nonetheless.
In all, the book starts off with a bang, and I’m once again enjoying my journey through it.