Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Mighty Marvel Method

I'm on record as not being a big fan of Bill Willingham's art because I've always found it too "comic book-y" for my tastes. I realize I'm in the minority in holding this opinion, as most people have great fondness for Willingham's art. On some level, I suppose it's because I've never actually been a huge fan of comic books. I've read some over the years and enjoyed them and, even now, I occasionaly pick up collections or graphic novels that people recommend to me. But I'm not deeply versed in comics lore nor did I collect them as a kid.

Until recently, I never felt as if I were missing out on anything. Based on comments made in various places, I'm realizing that Marvel comics from the late 60s and early 70s were a significant influence on the early hobby. For example, it was once noted that Brian Blume was a fan of Doctor Strange and that the psionics system presented in Eldritch Wizardry may have been an attempt to introduce a Doctor Strange-like magic system into OD&D. Likewise, Ken St. Andre, creator of Tunnels & Trolls, stated in a 1983 interview that "my conception of the T&T world was based on The Lord of The Rings as it would have been done by Marvel Comics in 1974."

The good folks at the Acaeum, who are the real experts when it comes to the history of the hobby, have noticed some more overt Marvel connections to the early hobby in the form of Greg Bell's artwork for OD&D, a piece of which can be seen on the upper right hand side of my blog. Take a look at these comparisons between Marvel comics and Bell's illustrations:

Does anyone else have any examples of Marvel comics influences over the early hobby, not just in terms of artwork -- though that's useful too -- but in terms of ideas and concepts? I can't shake the feeling now that there are many more out there than we realize.

30 comments:

  1. Very interesting. Thing is those examples don't appear to be just influences! It appears from the examples that they were copied almost entirely. That makes for an interesting discussion.

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  2. Well, well, well ... that is very interesting. I guess originality is truly the art of concealing one's sources!

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  3. I remember in the sixth grade, my teacher had a "reading area" in her room that included a few comic books. That's the first place I remember seeing an ad for D&D and becoming interested the game ...

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  4. The front-interior booklet cover art of the 1981 collected D1-2 (drawn by Willingham) includes homages to various Marvel characters (Captain America's shield, Magneto's helmet, Spiderman's mask, etc.).

    Allan.

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  5. I suppose we should be grateful this early art was done before Rob Liefield became a big hit in comics huh?

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  6. Wow! That's really stunning.

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  7. There was a great issue of X-men back when (or maybe it was Spider Man w/the X-men?) where Manhattan was transformed into a Lankhmar-esque fantasy city.

    Though that's probably a better example of D&D's influence on Marvel than the other way around...;-)

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  8. From my understanding, Gary (and/or Brian) was pretty pissed when he/they realized how closely Greg Bell was ripping off images from Marvel comics, which was why they re-did the cover art for the D&D box and Vol. I for the 4th+ printings. I don't know that there's anything illegal or morally objectionable about what Bell did -- it seems pretty clear he re-drew the images himself, using the originals as models, rather than copying or tracing over them -- but it must have been embarrassing nonetheless and, having just gotten slapped down by the ERB estate for Warriors of Mars, they presumably weren't in the mood to take any chances.

    P.S. The "new" Vol. I cover is almost certainly by David Sutherland, is the new box cover as well? He's the only additionally credited artist in the later printings (he's also clearly responsible for the added "treasure hoard" illo at the top of Vol. I, p. 7) and while the central wizard figure doesn't look much like his later style, the two goblins at the lower left and right sort of do. Can anybody out there state definitively either that this piece is by DCS or, if not, who it is? TIA.

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  9. Like Grim above, I was exposed to D&D through comic books. Long before I knew anyone who actually played the game, I was fascinated with the ads for the Greyhawk campaign setting in the back of my comics.

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  10. All this time, I thought it was Mike Bell who did the art.

    I had a feeling the art from OD&D was loosely based on some sort of fantasy book covers, but I had no idea it was comic books! In a way, it makes sense with how comic books use elements of magic and science fantasy to tell fantastic stories. I often encounter issues or even whole series that have little in common with D&D (like the X-MEN), but have the sort of people, things and places that can be used as fodder for D&D, without it feeling like a total hack-job.

    One of the things that caught my eye was the Fight On! guy's breastplate. The general outline looks convincing, but all the lines that make-up the plating looked vary odd. Who know it was based on a holster? :P

    The art maybe plagiarized and sloppy, but I still like it. This was done in a time when TSR had not professional talent to work with, and had to settle on anyone they can get. Ultimately, everything is inspired from something - quit often many things! I just take the imitation as some form of flattery - hell, that is what drives the retro-clone movement. ;)

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  11. I've been looking at that blogger image ever since I first visited this blog, and it struck me as familiar and comic-booky, but I could never place it. Now I know!

    There was a great issue of X-men back when (or maybe it was Spider Man w/the X-men?) where Manhattan was transformed into a Lankhmar-esque fantasy city.That's Uncanny X-Men #188-191, in which an ancient sorcerer transforms Mahanttan into a realm more to his liking. The sorcerer? Kulan Gath, former apprentice of Thoth-Amon, and enemy of Conan...

    What comes around, and all that.

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  12. That's "Manhattan", obviously. Jeepers.

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  13. I didn't know about that one with the cultists being from Dr. Strange. For what it's worth, that drawing along with the sorcerer on p. 5 of BLACKMOOR are my two favorite OD&D drawings.

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  14. Al & Kelvin, that was the first issues of a comic book I ever bought. Great stuff.

    James, I think you'll find some comic book artists often cribbing off each other from time to time to varying degrees. I think there was one guy recently who went too far and found it difficult finding work as a result. I can't remember his name though.

    Bill Willingham and Jeff Dee went on to write and draw their own comics at one stage in the eighties, "Elementals" and "Villains & Vigilantes" respectively.

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  15. Yeah, swiping, as it's called, occurs between comic artists, and depending on the nature of the swipe and the artists. Nowadays, certain comic artists swipe from magazine covers, for instance.

    (I also find it ironic that Kulan Gath is now most famous as an X-Men villain, yet Marvel doesn't own the character and can't use him without permission from Conan properties.).

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  16. IIRC, Jeff Dee actually studied at the Joe Kubert school, and has cited both Kubert and Gil Kane (whose influence you can really chart in Dee's TSR art) as influences.

    Lord Hobie

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  17. Get yourself a copy of Warriors & Warlocks, the sword and sorcery comic book supplement to Green Ronin's ever-so-ass-kickin' Superhero RPG Mutants & Masterminds.

    In the introduction and first chapter a interesting telling of the history of Fantasy Comic Books makes numerous connections between the four color world of spandex demigods and the superhuman world of Dungeons & Dragons.

    Personally, it was an interest in comic books that got me to try D&D, when in 1977 a friend said, "Its like playing in a comic book. You create a hero, fight villains and save people".

    Oh and I love Bill Willingham! Got pretty much everything he ever did.

    AD
    Barking Alien

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  18. Yes! Comic books, I've been meaning to do a post on how much comic books influences my games. My dad got me into comics when I was really young and I've read tons of them. I think we might have the biggest collection on the island as far as I know.

    Also I recommend everyone check out Fables. Bill Willingham is the artist and it is an excellent excellent series being one of the most consistently well done comics in the last decade. The storyline is deep featuring huge cast of characters based on fairy tales brought into the real world.

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  19. Beyond just the art...

    The 1960's Silver Age comics were direct descendants of the same Weird Tales pulp adventures that much of the fantasy literature that inspired D&D was.

    The Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery titles especially by Marvel, from their big movie monster beginnings in the late fifties to their respective Dr. Strange and Thor features beginning in the mid-sixties, would seem to be pretty obvious influences on D&D. If not on Gary and Dave, certainly many of the other artists, authors, and players.

    If, I recall, the only comics Gary ever mentioned as influences were the 1950's EC horror comics. Which were great.

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  20. Whether folks realize it or not, if you came of age in the 70's and 80's you're a part of the Marvel Generation.

    It's sadly taken a half dozen or so blockbuster movies like X-Men, Spider Man and Iron Man for that to sink into the mainstream.

    Comics, conan and Mack Bolen were always my biggest influences and it doesn't surprise me that they were influential with folks who were a part of D&D's early days as creators.

    It's an inescapable part of modern pop culture.

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  21. I definitely remember seeing endless ads for the Mentzer Basic Set (and later AD&D 2e) in X-Men and FF. One of the first things that sparked my interest, truth be told.

    One thing I've noticed is how much the Wilderlands reads like if Jack Kirby and Stan Lee wrote a D&D campaign. The larger-than-life four-color influence is pervasive throughout.

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  22. Mmmm. I like Willingham (probably my favorite after Tramp and Otus), and find Jeff Dee to be way too comic-ish for my tastes.

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  23. The front-interior booklet cover art of the 1981 collected D1-2 (drawn by Willingham) includes homages to various Marvel characters (Captain America's shield, Magneto's helmet, Spiderman's mask, etc.).

    I made a post about that very topic some months ago.

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  24. Get yourself a copy of Warriors & Warlocks, the sword and sorcery comic book supplement to Green Ronin's ever-so-ass-kickin' Superhero RPG Mutants & Masterminds.

    I intend to do just that once I have the opportunity.

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  25. The 1960's Silver Age comics were direct descendants of the same Weird Tales pulp adventures that much of the fantasy literature that inspired D&D was.

    A very astute point.

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  26. One thing I've noticed is how much the Wilderlands reads like if Jack Kirby and Stan Lee wrote a D&D campaign. The larger-than-life four-color influence is pervasive throughout.

    There's definitely something to this. What a wonderful way of phrasing it.

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  27. You could argue that the guys are Marvel were the first ones to write about "first level superheroes" -- that is, heroes who still had one foot in the mundane world, had to worry about money, and didn't feel like they were guaranteed success just by virtue of wearing spandex.

    It's probably a case of parallel development or of some common cause, but old Marvel comics share with OD&D a fascination with the origins of heroes, the process by which ordinary people become extraordinary. There's a stark contrast between this style and, say, god-like DC superheroes or Games About Awesomeness like Exalted and Feng Shui.

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  28. Artwork on Doctor Strange comics in the 70's tended to be ahead of it's time. Marvel's "pop art" mentality of that time, mixed with asian mysticism, made for a great eye-popping look. It has been much copied over the decades.

    At the same time, many of Doc's spells seemed influenced by basic D&D spells (shield, dimension door, etc).

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  29. I din't know any of dis.

    And now, I flip back through all my old RPG stuff, back in the days of mimeograph and typewriter typeface, and look at the art, and think, "Oh, wau. This is a Gene Day steal... this is a Romita... this is a Ditko..."

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