Saturday, April 30, 2011

Further Thoughts on the Monster Manual II

Although I savaged the general state of the artwork of the Monster Manual II in my previous post, I should make it clear that I also believe that there is plenty of decent to good artwork, especially by Harry Quinn and Dave Sutherland(!), but the overwhelming amount of Jim Holloway artwork reminds me of what HR Geiger said about how babies are singly cute, but become sinister in large numbers. And frankly, and I'm sure this has come it in interviews, they appear to be a rush job.

Jim Holloway may not be my favorite of the TSR alumni, but he is a fine artist, and I think his work is great for being a combination of the Dave Sutherland and Tom Wham traditions, but I do find his artwork tiresome when a book or module uses him for almost all of the illustrations. One thing I do love about his work is that it often, albeit in a humorous light, presents adventurers getting beat the heck down! such as the Bowler illustration on page 21 of the MM II.

Another thing that strikes me about the artwork of the MM II compared to that of the Monster Manual and especially the Fiend Folio, is that it lacks the lush density of artwork in those two volumes (and this is a criticism that could be levelled at contemporary works such as the Swords & Wizardry Monster Book; Malevolent and Benign; and Monsters of Myth, completely understandable albeit due to budgetary concerns); I'm not transported to fantasy worlds while paging through this cold, stiff, barren volume. As an "imagination is king!" zealot I should be above whining about sparse artwork, but it's glaring in comaprison with it's two older siblings.

As far as the contents of the Monster Manual II go, frankly I think there a butt-load of great monsters contained in it's pages. I think a lot of them lacked "traction" due to the severity of their presentation, but check out the Transposer (pg. 121). A low-intelligence, featureless, "vaguely humanoid" creature with limbs that end in horny-ridged "sucker like members" that uses inherent illusory abilities to appear human and entice prey to melee; when it hits it sets up some sort of sympathetic field between it and it's target that causes damage inflicted upon it to instead heal the Transposer while also damaging the attacker.
It's like some sort of nightmare fuel invented by Telcanter; imagine how awesome the illustration would be for this thing if it was in the Fiend Folio. I imagine that they're some sort of synthetic or alien predators that blend in with and lurk within the fringes of human society as beggars and outcasts, that become hot babes in dark alleyways to prey upon lone drunks. Can they impersonate specific people? When trained and controlled by an villainous genius I would say yes!

Never mind that the Monster Manual II has the Froghemoth!


  1. I imagine a sort of two parter Nicholson illustration with some idiot going towards the hot babe you spoke of, and then the next illustration is a full page picture with the illusion half dispelled and the creature throttling the dumb bastard.

  2. I agree with both of your great posts on this topic: I like the MMII but find most of its artwork (modrons aside) to be fairly lackluster.