Back in the early ’90s, it was pleasure to be working at Wizards of the Coast while Magic: The Gathering was being developed. One of the unexpected delights of that project was the art. We knew we were exploring new frontiers of game design with Richard Garfield’s marvelous invention, but it also turned out that under the insightful art direction of Jesper Myrfors, we ended up publishing fantasy art that was dramatically different from the traditional fantasy art the world had seen from the masters. Perhaps because we couldn’t afford artists like Larry Elmore and the Hildebrandt brothers, we went to artists no one had heard of, young art students just up the street at Seattle’s Cornish College of Arts.
The art that came in was bold, edgy, and irreverent. Some of it was questionable. And, yes, some of it was traditional, too. We loved it. Perhaps most representative of this difference from fantasy tradition was Anson Maddocks’s interpretation of Llanowar Elves. With a pink Mohawk, an eye patch with a chin strap, a shaved part of his head sporting a tattoo, and an angry sneer, this was not a Tolkien elf. These days, that’s hardly enough to cause discussion, but in 1993 this was radical.
Marn Elves were inspired by what’s implied by this art—that the elves have truly gone native. Of course, we needed to work only from the inspiration in order to design our own culture and the specifics of our look, not just for legal reasons but also because it’s so much fun to do so. Basically, the key elements are colorful hair styles, tattoos, and, continuing this approach along its natural trajectory, piercings and other body alteration art—plant grafts, perhaps?
And heck, since it’s a fantasy world, what if these tattoos and grafts grant magical abilities? What if they’re poisonous or addictive? Well, I’m getting dangerously close to spoiler territory, so we’ll just leave it at this for now!
Peter D. Adkison
December 5, 2015