The illustration above appeared on the cover of the first printing of Swords & Wizardry Complete (2010) and was created by Richard Sardinha in the same year. The title, 'Omar?', was, as far as I know, referred to in only one place--the artist's posting of it in his gallery on DeviantArt. (The S&W link takes you to a free version of the second edition with a different cover.)
An interesting and perhaps odd choice for OSR Friday, for at least three reasons:
- Sardinha is well-known for his work on various 'New School' games and related products including 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer, Magic: The Gathering and others.
- Some Old Schoolers were a bit negative on the piece (see the blog post and especially the comments here), as it replaced a painting by an OSR stalwart, Pete Mullen, on the previous 'Core' edition of the game and was in turn replaced by a painting by the beloved Errol Otis for the second edition of the 'Complete' rules set.
- Sardinha admits that the illustration was not painted but photoshopped (presumably not a very Old School method) from an original sketch.
Because it is associated with an OSR game. And I like it.
This is as good a place as any to spend a moment discussing what I'm up to with this series. The point is not to divide everything into immutable categories of Old School versus everything else, and thus to separate artistic works or artists into the good or approved versus the bad or ideologically-suspect. It's true that I have my aesthetic preferences, or rather--since I've given my opinion on the non-starter of relativism in previous posts--my opinions on aesthetic value. I do think role-playing games have devolved from what they once were (though with a bump in the positive direction from the contemporary OSR movement) and the artistic choices have certainly been a part of that. But it's not all--if you'll pardon the metaphor in a discussion of illustration--black and white. I'll leave that attitude to the other guys--you know, the ones who insist on always looking at things in terms of bad people versus good people. The misogynists, homophobes, Eurocentrists, Frazetta-ites, philatelists, or whomever else they want to focus their Two Minutes Hate against on any particular day of the week versus, well, themselves.
Also, I think it's interesting to consider as great a diversity of good art as possible--both in terms of era and style--especially if it will provoke useful thought or discussion.
Which doesn't of course mean that we can't occasionally have a bit of fun snarking at some of the bad art or the small and petty little orthodoxies that often tend to encourage or support it.
But let's look at the painting:
Who's Omar? He's the guy who was just picked off by the underwater snake, or whatever it is. His body (living? dead?) is entwined in that tentacle. I missed that at first. Just as the party missed it and perhaps will never discover it. Omar went home. You know how he was. He just wanted to return to the surface and bank his copper pieces. Coward.
Speaking of the surface, I thought originally that the illustration depicted an Asian sort of scene--a valley with those beautiful Chinese-like vertical hills. But of course it's a huge underground cavern with perhaps a shaft of light at the top. The artist describes the central city as a 'subterranean goblin ghost town'. I guess the remaining adventurers are about to find out what that means.
The color scheme and overall tone reminds me of some of the drawings for Call of Cthulhu. The guy in the forefront holding a torch almost looks like he's wearing an early 20th century pith helmet. Indeed, we learn that Sardinha has done a number of pieces with that sort of motif. Fittingly, he lives in Providence. Here's his interpretation of a rather thoughtful Great Old One:
Sardinha has diverse talents. He's also a sculptor and puppet maker, as well as having an interest in drawing dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. His website is fascinating--and intimidating, especially for a non-talented artist groupie like me.
I think the original illustration wonderfully captures the spirit of Swords & Wizardry, which is about as Old School, OSR or just plain cool as you can get.
We'll have more to show and say about Mullin and Otis in later posts...