Friday, April 6, 2012

Obscure Art Friday: Fangorn in the Fiend Folio

Fangorn illustration from page 98 of the Fiend Folio (TSR, 1981)

     The Fiend Folio has a full-page illustration of two adventurers facing off against a dragon sitting on a pile of treasure on page 98. The artwork is by Fangorn (the signature is in white on an urn to the right), also known as Chris Baker, who later illustrated the UK covers of the Redwall series. My theory is this illustration was drawn with the intention of being a cover for the UK printing of the Holmes Basic Set. While the perspective is different, note the similarity in the elements of the composition: dragon sitting on a pile of gold facing off against two adventurers, one a wizard, one a warrior; torch light source; archway and columns. There's even room at the top of this picture for a "Dungeons & Dragons" title.

     There's supporting evidence for this. While the actual cover of the UK printing has a picture by John Blanche (with similar dragon/treasure/wizard/warrior/archway elements) all of the interior illustrations are by Fangorn. And while a few are original compositions, many are re-drawings of the original art by David C. Sutherland III (DCSIII). See this page on the Zenopus Archives website for to see the re-drawing of the picture in my blog header. That page links back to a Dragonsfoot thread where ifearyeti provides some juxtapositions of the images from the US/UK rulebooks (pg 1 of the thread) and greyharp (Dave of There's Dungeons Down Under) provides clear scans of all of the Fangorn illustrations (pg 2 of the thread). The re-drawn art is all from the first printing of the rulebook (1977) and includes the orc battle (title page), lizard warrior (pg 3), three dwarves (pg 25), purple worm battle (pg 31), treasure chest (pg 33), sword (pg 35), crystal ball/skull (pg 37) and skeleton battle (pg 44).

     Now take a look another look at treasure chest and crystal ball/skull illustrations:

     If these look familiar to you, and you've never seen the UK printing of the Holmes rulebook, it's because they were merged together and used at the bottom of the Treasure Type table in the Fiend Folio on page 99, facing the dragon picture posted above. I've pasted together the Fiend Folio picture with David Sutherland's originals for a comparison:

Click on this picture for a larger view
     My theory is that Fangorn re-did the cover of the Holmes Basic Set in addition to the many interior illustrations, but for whatever reason the Blanche version was used instead. The Fangorn picture doesn't look like it was colored (like the Sutherland original), but neither is the Blanche version (see link above). When Don Turnbull of TSR UK was preparing the Fiend Folio he decided to include the unused art, along with the merged treasure art.


  1. Awesome post, Zenopus. A reasonable theory. I always liked that pic in the FF. It does have the look of a cover about it.

  2. I love this picture. It really captures dragon for me.

  3. Very nice sleuthing, Zach! The UK Basic D&D book is one I don't own. How does it compare to Holmes Basic, in general?


  4. Very interesting! It's a pity we didn't see more of Fangorn's work, outside of the FF and the UK version of Holmes' Basic.

  5. Nice overview. I recently wrote a piece on how Fangorns FF Dragon relates to other TSR and TSR UK artwork, which you might find interesting.