Dragon #159: The art of Spelljammer

Dragon Magazine Jim Holloway Spelljammer TSR

The cover piece of Dragon Magazine #159 is actually called ‘The Privateer’, but to me and my old DM Mark, it will always be known as ‘What’s a clever captain to do?’ which is the bio write-up of the cover design that appears on page 4.

That tag line has been the inspiration for pretty much everything I’ve ever done in the AD&D Spelljammer setting because no matter what I encounter, I always first ask myself that question, and trust me it makes EVERYTHING more palpably fun!

[Special Note: I played a version of Spelljammer last summer and the entire campaign both myself and my players would exclaim ‘Space makes everything cooler!’ whenever we encountered something.  I mean, it’s true, just add the word ‘space’ to any standard D&D stuff and it becomes infinitely more awesome.  I mean sure, we’ve all faced goblins, but Space Goblins!  Now those are something I want to see!]

So today, in my continuing series, I look back at the artwork of Dragon #159, a magazine dedicated to, as you might have guessed, SPELLJAMMER!

There are some pretty interesting articles in this issue, including deep space exploration with ‘Beyond the Sky Itself’, a visit to and Arcane shipyard in ‘Rough Time on Refuge’ [by Ed Greenwood], new magic items for the setting in ‘Bazaar of the Bizarre’, and ‘Voidjammers!’ in which you take your ship into the Astral Plane. 

Also, a Spelljammer bestiary supplement has art by Tom Baxa, which is about the right time for his entry in TSR. 

But let’s get back to that cover.  Produced by artist Robin Wood, the power of the image isn’t in the skill of the artist, which by Dragon cover standards is sub-par, but instead by the direction the artist took in ‘telling the tale’ of the piece.  Reminiscent of Ferris Bueller, this is perhaps the only Dragon cover to ever include the reader.  Here, the half-elven captain is actually turned back ‘toward camera’ so that he is intrinsically asking you the question ‘What’s a clever captain to do?’  That, and not the overall style, is what makes this piece so special, and I can certainly see why it was chosen.

Inside, the art is fairly standard stuff, with a bit of work by Roger Raupp, the aforementioned Tom Baxa, and a couple of nice pieces by artists John Blumen [the color sky ship] and Martin Cannon [the dreaming girl].

There is also a good deal of comic art to be found in the back, with Steve Sullivan’s comic opus ‘Robinson’s War’ drawn by John M. Hebert.

However, tucked into all this goodness is another gem, this one on the article ‘Pulling a “Con” Job’.  Artist Jim Holloway brilliantly takes apart the TSR staff in an article dedicated to running a convention of all things!  I’ve included this two page Holloway spread to see just how many TSR staffers can be found doing insane things.  Truly, Holloway at his satirical best! 

In all, and because of my love of Spelljammer, I’m going to give this issue high marks as I think it does an admirable job.

Artist Rating: 3.5 [out of 5]

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  • Silverblade on

    Spelljammer though did motivate me to learn 3D art so I could rebuild those damn amazing ships ;)


  • Scott on

    Silverblade, couldn’t agree more!

  • Silverblade on

    aye, ADORED that cover ;)
    My fave though is the “Belgoi Enchanter” by Brom as the artwork is magnificent, but this one sets off Spelljammer perfectly :)

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