Tuesday, February 25, 2014

February Artfest: Best Dungeons and Dragons Cover of All Time?

Player's Handbook Cover by David Trampier
Yesterday I talked about David Trampier's Player's Handbook cover and how it wasn't my favorite cover from Dungeons and Dragons products. Not surprisingly this got a bit of traffic as I had people telling me that Dave's illustration was superior to just about anything else that came before or since. 

Poppycock. 

While Trampier's cover has become iconic, it's just as likely that this status is the result of its place as the original cover for the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook as is it for its originality and evocative nature. If we examine the covers for each of the hardback books from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons it quickly becomes apparent that not only was David's cover not the best among the group, but that it wasn't even in the top five (I'd cover later editions of the game, but the point will be proven shortly so there's no need).

Original DMG Cover by David C. Sutherland III

DMG Cover Redux by Jeff Easley[1]
Deities and Demigods Cover by Erol Otus
Legends and Lore Cover by Jeff Easley
Fiend Folio Cover by Emmanuel

Monster Manual II Cover by Jeff Easley
Oriental Adventures Cover by Jeff Easley
Monster Manual Cover by Jeff Easley
Monster Manual Cover by David C. Sutherland III
Greyhawk Adventures Cover by Jeff Easley
Manual of the Planes by Jeff Easley

Dragonlance Cover by Jeff Easley
Wilderness Survival Guide Cover by Jeff Easley

Dungeoneer's Survival Guide Cover by Jeff Easley
Unearthed Arcana Cover by Jeff Easley
Out of the AD&D covers I personally am torn between the original DMG cover by David C. Sutherland III and the Wilderness Survival Guide by Jeff Easley. 

The DMG painting is like a glimpse into the possibilities of the Dungeons and Dragons game. You have the fanciful city in the background that mixes elements from Medieval Europe, Mezzo-America, and the Middle East. The wild, red sea with its frothing waves crashing against the jagged shore and the flaming horizon sends me reeling with the possibilities of what could be going on in this world we're seeing. It's the sort of cover that launches a thousand campaigns and keeps you traveling back to look at it for inspiration, and a prime example as to why David Sutherland should be higher rated as an artist.

Original DMG Cover by David C. Sutherland III
My other favorite, the Wilderness Survival Guide possess all the elements to a great game of Dungeons and Dragons. A treasure guarded by a vile monster, a damsel in distress (sometimes the maiden in need of rescue isn't a woman at all, but a idiot Bard who should have died when he was used to check for traps on the way up the top of the mountain), and the Heroes are on the way. Unlike Trampier's cover the adventure isn't behind the party, but in front of them - that's the way things should be. We shouldn't be looking at the aftermath of the adventure but at the potential for where things are going and what they will be in the future.


Wilderness Survival Guide Cover by Jeff Easley




Your thoughts?


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[1] While the cover is credited to Donald Sutherland III in my copy the signature on the painting is clearly Jeff Easley's. My guess is that mine holds a misprint when crediting the cover illustration.

20 comments:

  1. Tramp's PHB is the most iconic of the bunch for sure. I think in general his characters have the best expressions. His range on Wormy shows this. For me however, if I want someone to do a D&D cover my #1 choice is Erol Otus. Too cartoony for some but his stuff is so unlike anyone else's that you know you're seeing a D&D book when you see the art.

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    1. I like Otus too, but after doing this little project of mine for the last month I've come to the conclusion that Jeff Easley is the man I'd like to do my book. There's something in the way that he paints that I just find amazing.

      He really is something special.

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  2. For me, the original DMG is the best, then the DDG. the 2e DMG cover is growing on me. 1e PHB & MM I like mainly from pure nostalgia. The PHB is just so familiar. The UA cover might have been better for it. The MM is just _barely_ better than what I could have drawn in 1980, at the age of 8. :) Didn't care much for the later MM covers though, except Fiend Folio.

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    1. I really like both DMG versions.

      "The MM is just _barely_ better than what I could have drawn in 1980, at the age of 8."

      I feel like there's a poster in there.

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    2. I feel like a challenge should be issued to all the eight-year-olds, calling on them to recreate this cover for us.

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    3. That would actually be a pretty cool art challenge to launch across America. Now if only we could get a rich sponsor to make it viable . . .

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  3. I like Tamp's PHB cover the best. I'm not sure why. I just like it!

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    1. Nothing wrong with liking what you like, I just don't think it's the best cover to ever grace a D&D book.

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    1. That's me, all kinds of flowery and shit. 'Cause I'm classy.

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  5. I love the Dungeoneer's survival guide by J. Easly. That's my favorite cover of all time. As a painter I think Easly is a consummate technician. For Black and white illustrations I really dig Otus, so much style.

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    1. Oh, the DSG is fantastic. I don't know if you read the post I wrote about it or not, but Jeff actually posted a version of the painting without the text messing it up. You should totally check it out, it's even better when you can just enjoy it as he originally painted it.

      http://dyverscampaign.blogspot.com/2014/02/february-art-fest-jeff-easley-2.html

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  6. Dunno if it's the best AD&D book cover, but the Otus painting for Deities & Demigods is my favorite illustration.

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    1. Dude, Otus is the bomb. Hands down, and he's only gotten better with age.

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  7. Oh, and the DMG and Fiend Folio are also in my top three.

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  8. I feel you, to a degree, on Sutherland. He is highly underrated - but, I would say that is more due to his ideas and the fact that he presented armor and weapons as the tools they are rather than useless flowery things (such as Elmore, who is one of the worse offenders, does). His technique, though, left a lot to be desired. I mean, really, that first MM cover was just terrible.

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  9. Out of those listed above I would have to go with Easley's DMG Redux. The robed figure is welcoming you to his world. Is it good? Is it evil? Will you survive? I imagine that is how many DM's see themselves.

    I also have always really loved Easley's Monster Manual II. That guy is about to be clobbered something good by that giant. I can almost hear the sound of that shield splintering seconds later.

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    1. I love the DMG Redux too. Thing is a work of beauty.

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