This year marks the 20th anniversary of Magic: the Gathering. Many of the game's earliest fans still look back fondly on the art that appeared on cards in those first few sets. While their work may not have been as polished as today's Magic art, those early artists had more freedom to experiment, creating images that were sometimes unexpected or downright weird.
Some of those early artists have banded together to contribute to a new art book, The Gathering: Reuniting Pioneering Artists of Magic. Three dozen artists who made Magic art in those early years are creating new pieces for the project, which will be available in softcover, hardcover, and numbered collector's edition formats. Some of the artists have re-envisioned classic Magic art, while some of them created entirely new fantasy art, with no connection to the game at all. Pictured above is artist Heather Hudson's updated take on Chains of Mephistopheles.
Artist Pete Venters, who has been working on the project, answered all our questions and even provided us with some some exclusive preview art.
Could you tell us how this project came together? What inspired it and who got the ball rolling?
Pete Venters: In the first couple of years following Magic's launch, as the game grew exponentially, we suddenly became the guys at the shows with the massive autograph lines. This was all kind of a shock, and those early artists formed a loose community built upon shared experiences and that rare feeling of riding some kind of juggernaut.
So, over the years, many of us had wondered if it'd be possible to get the 'band back together' for some kind of project. Last Summer, Jeff A. Menges and Bryon Wackwitz were having one of those "what-if?" conversations, when the subject of Magic's impending 20th anniversary came up. Jeff took the lead and used Facebook to get us all in one place to pitch the idea of an art book to us.
Jeff’s been the project leader ever since. He’s the man working to get the book laid out, printed and in the hands of the customers by our promised date of September 2013. I’m running the Facebook and Kickstarter pages. I’d heard how crazy these things get but it’s like ‘The Matrix’; you have to see it for yourself.
One example: There was one request for a reward tier for the actual hard drive that one of the digital pieces was created on, so they could own the closest thing to the original. We had to turn that guy down, but it certainly wins for thinking outside of the box!
Above: Dan Frazier, who painted all five original Moxen, puts them all onto one golden dragon.
What has Wizards of the Coast's involvement been? I know this is an independent project, but they're letting you use some of their trademarked logos. Anything beyond that?
Well, originally we wondered how we could do the art book without stepping on Wizards' copyright but then we just reached a point where we said, "Let's just run it past Wizards and see if they're good with this." They were. They've actually been remarkably supportive and all we had to do was ensure they had some oversight. After all, we're playing in their sandbox.
Above: An original piece by Ken Meyer Jr. called An Eye for an Eye.
Had any of the artists moved on or stopped making art professionally, or were otherwise difficult to track down?
Moved on? Certainly. I don't think a single one of these old-school Magic artists is a regular contributor to the game anymore. I think Mark Tedin and myself may have been the last regulars.
I don't now if any of them had stopped painting, but it certainly didn't stop them jumping back in the saddle. As for people difficult to track down, I think that award goes to Anson Maddocks, who had moved to another town, rarely uses email and the only phone number any of us had for him was an old one! We caught up with him by sheer luck.
Above: Julie Baroh revisits Clone in a very different style.
Are there any interesting stories behind each artist's choice of a piece to revisit?
Well, that's the core of the book for many of the artists. Why this card? Why this art? For some, it's a card that was a big deal when it was released, and all the associated memories that come with suddenly having the card everyone wants. Others, it's a favorite painting from the past, and occasionally, a painting they dearly wanted to redo - after all, if you find one of your weaker paintings ending up on one of the hotter cards, you're going to be signing that card a lot and regretting that art every time!
That’s not to say every one of the new pieces of art is related to a Magic card. Some of the artists’ ties to Magic are far enough in the past that they felt odd revisiting a Magic card. This handful of artists are producing work appropriate to their interests now.
Above: Mark Tedin re-imagines one of Magic's most controversial cards, Chaos Orb.
What kind of impact has Magic: the Gathering had on fantasy art in the last 20 years? I'm thinking about this both in terms of style and also the business of being a pro artist.
Prior to Magic, the amount of color work, especially paintings, in the hobby game industry was almost entirely limited to book and module covers. A lot of new painters found an outlet when suddenly there’s this product that needs six hundred or more paintings every year!
However, I don’t think there’s a way to view Magic’s effect in isolation. The last twenty years have brought us significantly cheaper color printing, a robust set of alternate methods of creating digital art and most importantly, the Internet. The latter has given any product a potentially worldwide pool of artistic talent and I suspect that breadth of cultural diversity and the instant feedback provided by any one of a score of established art forums has played a bigger role in the changing look of fantasy art than any single product, even Magic.
The same goes for being a pro artist. The competition is global now which is a great opportunity, dizzying in its scale, and thoroughly intimidating at times.
Above: The original Elder Dragon, Ed Beard Jr.'s Nicol Bolas.
What is it about early MtG art that makes people say, "I love early MtG art!"? What sets it apart from the art being made for the game today?
Its eclecticism. The early artists were drawn from all walks of life, many had never considered being fantasy artists, and I think that breadth of backgrounds brought some radically different approaches to the table. From the evocative watercolors of Drew Tucker to the refined Mucha-esque linework of Quinton Hoover, from the broad cartoonish works of Phil Foglio to the intricate textures and shapes of Richard Kane Ferguson.
Those earliest sets lacked the visual cohesion of modern Magic, but depending on who you talk to, that’s no bad thing. The sheer variety made individual pieces easy to pick out from across a card table.
Above: Pete Venters' Morrox, Demon Prince of Goblins, an original piece.
Wizards has released new versions of old cards with updated art from time to time. Have they expressed any interest in using any of these paintings on actual cards, or in Magic Online?
Wizards hasn't talked to us about using the art on cards. It's not out of the question but each individual artist would have their own comfort zone regarding that.