Monday, June 16, 2008

Artwork in Mongoose Traveller

A thread over on RPGnet got me to thinking about Traveller art. The original three Little Black Books that formed the core of the Classic Traveller rules didn't have any art. They had a few diagrams to show movement in space, and that was it. Most of the early Traveller art was found in the adventures and the Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society, the magazine for the game.

Now, in today's market you can't put out an RPG book without art. It just isn't done. Even indie games attempt to put some sort of artwork in their books. Mongoose Traveller is no exception. The art in MT is passable, but not exceptional. It is also very reminiscent of the early Traveller art. The earliest art was dominated by the line drawings of William H. Keith. He drew images that evoked alien landscapes but populated with fairly conservative looking men. The result was something of the same effect achieved by the "used feel" of Star Wars. A universe that felt real. Keith was not a great artist, but he was a passable technician that could pull off semi-realistic images that inspired the imagination.

On the other end of the stylistic spectrum from Keith was Donna Barr. Barr had a very cartoonish style with minimal landscapes. Whereas Keith's characters all had the same look and little personality, Barr's characters were all about personality. I hated her work at first, because I wanted the feeling that I was seeing a real alien place like I got from Keith's work. Later, I came to appreciate Barr's humor and character and eventually came to consider her the best of the early Traveller artists (which also included Paul Jaquays, Liz Danforth, and Paul Deitrick, among others).

The art in Mongoose Traveller appears to be trying to capture some of the same feelings. The book has a mix of artists that roughly fall along the same stylistic spectrum defined by Keith and Barr. Unfortunately, the artists that are more like Keith don't have his attention to detail in the landscape and equipment, but the artist they have who draws more like Barr seems to have a great deal of potential. They are also getting a lot of criticism from reviewers who seem to be looking for more realism and less character, which just serves to reinforce the comparison with Barr in my mind as I remember my own initial reactions to Barr's artwork were similar.

For the record, I think this artist is Robin Everett-McGuirl, but it's difficult to tell for sure as whoever it is uses a stylized signature.


Donna Barr said...

Bwa ha ha.... my evil alien plan to expand the artistic and literary horizons of the readers of locked genre is WORKING. I will infiltrate all your brains.... Resistance is useless.

Fulminata said...

Well your scheming certainly helped in my case. I think the turning point came with the Traveller Adventure where you and the other artists were all drawing the same characters. They were all good drawings, but only yours gave a real sense of personality.

When I was working in a comic shop a few years later I discovered Desert Peach and Stinz, and liked them a lot, but I doubt I would have picked them up in the first place if I hadn't recognized your work from Traveller.

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