"I think the book has something for everyone," co-author Michael Witwer said, "anyone who is interested in fantasy art or pop art."
Be careful when you crack the cover of “Dungeons & Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History.” It may take a while to come back out of it.
The newly released tome — weighing in at 5 pounds — will take any fan of the fantasy role-playing game deep into its history, accompanied by 700 pieces of artwork from each edition of the game’s core books: decades of magazines and never-before-seen sketches, large-format canvases and drafts from the game’s designers and artists.
“It’s a time machine,” said Michael Witwer, one of the book’s four authors. “These are the pieces of art and visuals of our childhood.”
But you don’t have to play D & D to appreciate the illustrations — and the dark and twisted backgrounds — of creatures such as “Mindflayer” and Orcs.
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“I think the book has something for everyone,” Witwer said, “anyone who is interested in fantasy art or pop art.”
To celebrate the launch, Town Hall is hosting a panel discussion on Tuesday, Oct. 30, featuring Witwer and two of his fellow authors, Kyle Newman and Jon Peterson. They will be joined by the creators of the game’s fifth edition, Jeremy Crawford and Chris Perkins from Wizards of the Coast, the Renton-based home of the game. The panel will be moderated by Greg Tito, host of the “Dragon Talk” podcast. (The event will be streamed on YouTube).
And, in the spirit of Halloween and the D & D aesthetic, audience members are encouraged to dress in costume for the event. (They will be entered in a raffle to win a prize package provided by Wizards of the Coast.)
Witwer — who also wrote 2015’s “Empire of the Imagination,” about D & D creator Gary Gygax — is eager to share the book with fans because he is one.
“We wanted to write the book we wanted to buy,” he said. “And as fans, this was a complete labor of love among the whole author team.”
They were given access to the archives of Wizards of the Coast and the personal compilations of top collectors. They also had conversations with the designers and illustrators who created the characters, concepts and visuals that have defined the game since it started in 1974.
“There are dozens of things that blew our minds, and it wasn’t just things from Wizards of the Coast,” Witwer said. “It was an archaeology process. It was finding rare pieces that had gone to the four winds. We found them in private collections and it was this incredible process of discovery.
“Every time you looked under one rock, there were three rocks below that.”
Witwer remembered seeing the original painting of what would become the first Monster Manual, before text and spine. (“It gave us chills.”)
He was speaking from the Bay Area, where he and the team just finished presenting the book to fans at Google and Pixar.
“It’s thrilling,” he said.” And that’s something that’s pretty neat about this game. So many people who grew up playing it grew up to be creators, masters of the information age. Game designers, directors, animators, actors. It’s pretty far-reaching.”
Indeed, since it started, D & D has become the most iconic gaming franchise in the world, with more than 40 million fans in its history, and almost 15 million active players.
“These events will take you back to those glorious times of playing in your past, or more recently,” Witwer said. “The energy is going to be maxed out. But the star of the show is Dungeons & Dragons and the people who are writing it. They are the ones responsible for the future of this game.”