There is always a vast wealth of behind the scenes stuff going on in each and every Dragon Magazine. Seriously, if you take a look at the inner workings of Dragon, much like layers of sedimentation on an archaeological dig, you’ll find a wealth of information about the industry as a whole.
Dragon #285 is a perfect example of this. Published by Wizards of the Coast in July of 2001, it is a time-capsule of a dying era of art in the RPG industry.
Art Directed by Peter Whitley, this magazine shows just what art was becoming before the full advent of Photoshop and Corel Painter circa 2003. In this issue, we see the full color art brought into the mainstream by Wizards with D&D 3.0 and certainly reflective of their success with Magic the Gathering for the decade of the 1990s, but it is still ‘real’.
Where digital art has seemingly flattened the diversity of the market today, in 2001 the art of is anathema to what we find in WotC or Paizo circa 2013. Why? Because the artwork within is done in with real, tactile, and oddly whimsical styling that has no unified cohesion. To me, this is a great boon for the magazine, as well as for the artistic directing chops of Whitley, so I can’t help but feel just how much has been lost over the past decade of ‘development’ on the fronts of fantasy RPG art.
That said, in this time period Wizards was not yet owned by Hasbro, and still had some of the integrity and honest love of the market in which it was birthed, so it is rather easy to see why this issue still sticks out as a great example of diversity.
Add to that the presence of none other than Dave Gross as Editor-in-Chief who is now an astonishing good full-time fiction writer for various licensed worlds, and most notably Paizo, you get a firsthand glimpse of the evolution of a gaming editor’s career, but also the roots from which he was born.
Coupled with Dave is my good friend Piece Watters who is the Circulation Director. Piece, in this evolution is now in charge of promoting Paizo products and helping turn that particular RPG house into an incredibly successful company in its own right.
And don’t forget the contributing editors of Phil Foglio, Ed Greenwood, and Skip Williams! With these folks adding content and creative help, why wouldn’t this issue be a success?
As for content, the focus is around Halflings, and carries a rather T&A Halfling thief cover done by artist Larry Elmore. Now I’ve always been a fan of Elmore’s work with Kender, but I have to say this Halfling thief comes off a bit forced and over-the-top to me as I just never saw Haflings in such a fashion.
James Jacobs, of Paizo fame, writes a nice article called ‘Walk & Riddle: The Secret Life of Haflings’, but I’m even more taken with artist Dennis Cramer’s artwork from the piece. Cramer does an incredible watercolor that I’ve included here, and I truly wish I could see more from him in products today.
Artist Mike Dutton also contributes to a Monte Cook article called ‘Four in Darkness: A Guide to Elemental Evil’. Both Monte’s words and Dutton’s art are worthy, although Dutton does tend to bleed too much on his edging for my tastes, but the texture is still engaging. If I’m making the call here, I’d say he was using colored pencil! I mean really, oil, watercolor, and colored pencil in a single product? That would NEVER happen today on any product in the RPG field.
I also have to mention that there was still fiction in Dragon at this time, and they landed Ben Bova who did a story titled ‘Enchantment’ which is a wonderful tale of Orion vs Morgan LeFay and incredibly illustrated by Terese Nielsen.
In all, this is a fine issue, both for art and content, and although I can obviously nitpick, there is no doubt that the reality is it’s still a great addition to the art of gaming.
Artistic Rating: 4 [out of 5]