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Friday, March 22, 2013

Obscure Art Friday: Sphere of Doom by Greg Bell

Sphere of Doom by Greg Bell - original (left) and published (right) versions

I haven't written an art column in a while, but I saw the original work above this week, thanks to a post on the Acaeum, and wanted to share it. The published version isn't obscure - it's the cover of the Greyhawk Supplement (1975) and one of my favorites by early TSR artist Greg Bell - but the original artwork certainly is. As you can see, the original was altered for publication: the beholder was moved to the right, and lowered, and the words "SPHERE OF DOOM" were removed.

This image is via Diesel, a former TSR artist who contributed to one Holmes Basic product - the module B2 Keep on the Borderlands. The caption in the frame reads: "Cover to the first DUNGEONS & DRAGONS booklet "Greyhawk". Greg was one of the first artists for D&D. Believe it or not I recovered this from the garbage can along with many other illustrations from the first books. 1977". (Two errors here: it's the first supplement, not the first D&D book, and the artwork must be from 1975 or earlier, not 1977). As reported on the neogrognard blog in 2011, some of this other art included: "a large chunk from Deities and Demigods ... the cover to The Dragon #2, Steve Bissette illos for an earth elemental and a bullywug toy, Spelljammer originals, and Dragonlance maps".

As posted on Grognardia in 2012, Bell's warrior was modeled (some call it swiped) on a figure from Dax the Damned, a recurring series in Eerie horror comic magazine. Given the DIY/fanzine level of production of the early D&D books, I find this type of use to be on par with Gygax's appropriation of Tolkien elements (elves, dwarves, orcs etc).

And now Diesel is apparently creating his own version of this scene for the D&D Documentary Kickstarter. A sneak peak of the work in progress was posted here a few months ago:

Diesel's Sphere of Doom - Work in Progress


  1. Even Jack "King" Kirby swiped from time to time

    1. That's right. I read that post when you first put it up. Hard to blame Bell when Kirby did it, too. :)

  2. I got a photo of Mr. LaForce's finished version at GaryCon.

  3. I never much cared for the cover, thinking that the beholder looked not only sleepy but also ineffectual concerning the scene/conflict.
    What's interesting to me is that seeing Bell's original composition actually makes the beholder seem threatening.
    -Eric (machfront)