Tuesday, June 30, 2020

On the passing of classic D&D artist Jim Holloway

Will you dare his tomb? You will,
 because Jim Holloway pointed the way.

A big name in fantasy role-playing/Dungeons and Dragons art passed away yesterday—Jim Holloway.

Jim was not my favorite D&D artist of all time—I might have to go with Bill Willingham or Erol Otus—but he was one of the 5-6 most iconic and prolific of the silver or “commercial” age of TSR, circa 1981 and on.

It’s hard to pick my favorite Holloway illustration but I might have to go with the cover for I3, Pharaoh (1982). It’s not typical of Holloway’s work—there isn’t the glorious confusion of twisted faces and tangled bodies fighting on some underground battlefield or tavern floor, or any hint of the humor that defined so much of his illustration for the likes of Dragon magazine. But there is in it a deep call to adventure, a mystery and a majesty in the figure of Amun-Re that caused me to play this module over and over in my youth, along with the rest of the Desert of Desolation series.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance and impact of fantasy art in the 1970s-80s. In this pre-internet era, when computer games were fun and beginning to get immersive but limited by crude green-screen graphics, artists like Jim Holloway were gateways to wonder. They provided the visual representation of the words of Gary Gygax, Tom Moldvay, Frank Mentzer, David Cook, Tracy and Laura Hickman, and others. Holloway’s detailed style was such that you could look at one of his illustrations and conceive an entire adventure around it, or at least a pivotal boss-battle. His artwork was, as this nice post on Black Gate demonstrates, how D&D was actually played at the game table—with laughs, and fumbles, and great ideas like tripping stone giants with a 50 foot rope. The look of characters whose players used charisma as a “dump stat”—mighty of frame but with buck teeth and bad breath.

This old school era of weirdness and unbridled creativity is slipping into the past, day by day. Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Tom Moldvay, David Trampier, David Sutherland III, and others, have all passed away. Add Holloway to that roll call of heroes of the imagination. RIP.

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