The other week, Mr. Pleasington wrote a very interesting column about art in the gaming industry. Specifically, he spoke about the sexual art in role playing games, and about how it was bothering him more and more as he got older.
Now, I’m probably more of a prude than most people, so it does me good to read that there are others who are bothered by these sorts of things. I pretty much agreed with everything this essay had to say, and thought that Mr. P. handled the topic in a way that was both thorough and thoughtful, without sounding preachy or condescending.
Reading this article, however, made me want to consider the other side of the coin. So, I decided to interject this EUOLogy into the current grouping I was doing (we’ll get back to the psychology of writers next week) so I could talk about the state of fantasy art in general. This isn’t really a rebuttal to Mr. P.’s essay, but more of a companion to it.
Some things are bad, Mr. P. However, there is hope. The fantasy novel market is a good example of what, perhaps, might be happening in the gaming book market.
Go look at the best-selling fantasy books on the shelves. How many scantily-clad, chain-mail-bikini-wearing women do you see? How many overly-muscled barbarians can you find standing over heaps of slaughtered foes do you see? I couldn’t find a single one. Even the WoTC book in the top hundred (the new Drizzt book) has a tasteful cover. TWG Editor’s note: He does mean in terms of sexually explicit material. The new Drizzt book (review forthcoming) has a really violent cover. ~SE
I can remember a day when I would bring fantasy books to school, and my teachers would frown at the buxom barmaids or scandalous women on the covers. I can remember when Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta were synonymous with fantasy art, and numerous books with their paintings on them were published. And, before my day, things were even worse. I’m talking specifically about the pulps, whose covers seemed to be an intentional contradiction to the clever, interesting stories they contained.
The industry has changed. The fantasy book world no longer has to rely on flashy, sensual pictures to try and sell its magazines and novels. I think that eventually, the editors realized the damage these covers were doing to their own sales. It was hard to take a book seriously, even when you published it, that had a naked woman caressing a tiger on the front. Perhaps we wouldn’t have to deal with as much literary snobbery right now if mentioning ‘Science Fiction’ didn’t bring to mind images of pulp-style buxom space-girls being ravaged by alien monsters.
Regardless, it seems like the fantasy novel world is coming to respect itself. In just the last two decades, the quality of book covers has improved drastically. Not only is the sexuality less glaring, the artistic values involved in the books has increased drastically. If I glance across the novels I’ve collected over the years, I can tell the late 80’s book from the early 2000’s book. I think the audience has grown up, and the publishers are less hesitant about the genre. This is a wonderful thing. It used to be that if a book weren’t done by Michael Whelan, you could expect its cover to be terrible. Nowadays, I find that most of the fantasy books I see have excellent art on the cover. My own experience with ELANTRIS has reaffirmed this.
So, Dr. P., I feel your frustration regarding the gaming industry. I knew it once with the novel industry. However, I see strides being made. I see the new 3.0/3.5 D&D books with their clever, ‘tome’ style cover art, and marvel at how much slicker, more professional, and more SELF-RESPECTING these are than the old ‘Half-naked men fighting dragons’ covers that TSR put out.
Perhaps the other companies will learn. Perhaps the gaming world will realize what the fantasy novel world did—that sensationalism undermines the genre’s legitimacy. It could happen.
They just have to take themselves, and their fans, seriously.