By John Blanche & Ian Miller (Games Workshop)
I haven’t covered an actual art book in an age, so let’s look at a little known gem sorely in need of a new edition featuring the grotesquely beautiful art of painter and illustrator Ian Miller (The City, The Luck in the Head, Green Dog Trumpet) and designer, model-maker and illustrator John Blanche.
Both eclectic individualists found a spiritual home and an outlet for their fantastic fantasy imaginings at role-playing, book and comics publisher Games Workshop/Black Library, and their painterly endeavours happily led to the stunning celebration of the macabre and mind-bending melange of modern myth realisation under review today.
The legendary entertainment firm began by importing American product at the beginning of the Dungeons and Dragons craze in the 1980s before quickly moving on to creating their own material. Soon they were expanding into prose and pictorial fiction too, supported by some frankly astounding illustration material on their game packaging, periodical publications (White Dwarf, Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, Warhammer 40,000, Inferno and others) as well as sequences of original material novels in the fantasy, horror and science fiction genres.
This stunning oversized (29 x 21.8 x 1.5cm) hardback coffee-table tome was released in 1989 and offers a mesmerising selection of paintings and drawing from two uniquely inspired creators, beginning, after a Foreword by fantasy illustration giant Patrick Woodroffe, with John Blanche.
Eventually becoming Games Workshop’s Art Director, Blanche got his first big break after meeting Roger Dean, subsequently going on to develop a dark, punk-inspired painstakingly classical illustration style, usually working smaller than published size and having his work “blown up”, not reduced, for printing.
This compulsive chronicle combines, intersperses and interweaves the art with creator commentary, personal memories, insights and creative secrets as well as evocative literary quotes and snatches of poetry to enhance the images and, after Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, plunges into a welter of nearly 80 paintings and drawings over 62 pages, crammed with amazons, warriors, aliens, barbarians, fairy princes, eldritch post-apocalyptic demons and all the attendant genre icons beloved by generations of imaginers.
The affable maven of menace macabre discusses his unforgettable work such as ‘Ice Unicorn’, ‘War Boss’, ‘Good King Otto’, ‘Amazonia Gothique’ and ‘McDeath’ plus devoting much time to the infinitesimal discipline of building and painting miniatures – many of which have their own scarily impressive, ironically, mordantly funny section here.
The second half of the book is devoted to Ian Miller’s bleakly complex, convoluted classicist Dürer, Bosch and Druillet inspired futurisms which, before his association with Games Workshop, were best seen illustrating Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast stories as well as in films such as Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards and Coolworld.
His concluding half of the graphic gallery – 68 pages in all – combines quotes from Treasure Island, children’s nonsense rhymes, an intimate biography and disquieting slogans and snatches of prose with sketches, drawings, pen-and-ink studies and more than 100 paintings and less conventional images, displaying the artist’s signature brain-blasting architecture, eye-shredding monsters, blasted trees, isolated warriors and chaos knights.
Also on show are notional comic-strip sequences and works with such evocative if non-defining titles as ‘Death in the Rocking Horse Factory’, ‘Udder Woman, Killer of Cows’, ‘Angel Butcher’, ‘Hollywood Gothic’ and ‘Those Sent to that Dark Place’, all guaranteed to subtly engender unease and worse…
With the fantasy genre in full revival mode thanks to the likes of movies like The Hobbit and TV shows like Game of Thrones and Da Vinci’s Demons, there’s never been a better time to revisit this book or even further explore the lost marvels of a superb cadre of forgotten artists. So if you need to escape this ghastly world of humdrum terrors for a brief moment – and don’t we all? – seek out this Bestiary of the Bizarre and let yourself go…
© 1989 GW Books. © John Blanche & Ian Miller. All rights reserved.