Isn’t interior art weird? No seriously: other than the cover and maybe character sheets, players of traditionally structured RPGs just have no reason at all to go looking through a rulebook. All that art, all that very expensive art, has an audience of 1.5: the owner who is 99% of the time also the facilitator, and a half-vote for the collector/reader for whom buying and browsing is the entirety of the exercise.
So today’s thesis: 90% of interior art is terrible. Often beautiful and misleading in equal parts. It’s almost worse that it’s often so beautiful.
Gosh I’d love to see a breakdown sometime of budget spends on interior art. I know when I was writing for Target Games, they were spending like 10-15x on art than what they were spending on me. And my stuff was on literally every page. Maybe this is writer damage but the but they’re just wooords resentments have a long and deep history.
So back to the interior art question! It’s not only weird because the audience is everyone except the players, but it’s extra-weird when it becomes the art’s job to convey information to the GM. Like uh… Coriolis, right? It has this Arabian Nights-in-Space type aesthetic but it’s nearly impossible to express that in words. There are some words about it. But seeing a souk filled with space-people is great, just great.
I was never a huge fan of the Tim Bradstreet work in the Vampire and other WoD games. Such beautiful work. So totally shallow. If I looked at nothing but the Bradstreet, I’d assume the game was about goth fashion, striking poses, looking awesome. Those things are all great! But they also directly contradict the words themselves telling us that this is a storytelling game about personal horror. Not once piece comes to mind, in all my years of being a yuuuge WoD fanperson, where my understanding of the game, the world, or its themes were expanded by looking at the art.
The same could definitely be said for the breathtaking, gorgeous work of Paul Bonner in the various Mutant Chronicles books: you can’t help but get pumped looking at the art. Not once will you ever understand that Mutant Chronicles was a moody noir game of hidden evil and caricatured corporate excess. No wonder nobody really ran the game that way.
I guess I don’t really have a favorite. The interior work for Undying is pretty great: very little pose-striking, lots of gross predators being gross. Apocalypse World’s art is mood setting but it also walks right up to the Bradstreet line (although in fairness “being cool” is more explicitly part of AW’s stated brief). Dungeons and Dragons has probably created the biggest collection of interior art, yeah? Mostly it’s aspirational — like the cover of the Red Box — where ain’t no way your level 3 fighter is taking a swing at a red dragon. Mood-setting and quite misleading. Not sure who’d play the game where a housecat takes out a young wizard out on her first adventure.
Attached: Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Pollice Verso, one of my all time favorite pieces of art-as-storytelling and I just happened to get to see it in person at the Phoenix Art Museum this weekend.