Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Willingham by request

Back when I posted a couple of cool pics by James Roslof some readers expressed interest in seeing some old Bill Willingham D&D art. Here's what a quick flip-through of the ol' game collection produced. First up, some color Willingham art that appeared in the AD&D Monster Cards set.

Next, two pieces from module L1, The Secret of Bone Hill.

In module X1, The Isle of Dread, Willingham depicts some of the new monsters that appear therein.

(I love the way that phanaton on the right is taking one right in the kisser.)

(Is it just me, or is the dude in the cape checking out Red Sonja's ass?)

Now let's look at some of Willingham's interior illos for the '81 D&D Basic set. I often rave about Erol Otus's contributions to this book, but several other great artists did great work in it, too.

Man, I love this illo.

I find this troglodyte to be much more menacing than its counterparts in the original Monster Manual.

The stats for pixies and rust monsters appear on the same page. I love how this piece neatly sums up the anything-can-happen spirit of the game. "Crap! Tinkerbell and the armadillo monster have teamed up to kick our ass!"

And here's Willingham's work on the '81 Expert Set.

Those three adventurers are awesome. I don't know who owns the hands in the foreground but these Expert level PCs are going to ruin his day. The shaven-headed MU seems to be about to cast two different spells at once (check out the different special effects surrounding his hands). And that guy's eyebrows are beyond belief. His eyebrows are more badass than some whole characters. Because of this illo as a kid I sometimes wondered if some elves had ram's horns growing from their temples. How awesome would that be? And that dwarf has the same wicked eyebrow look. Notice he has no beard but sports a supersweet moustachio. And I like how he's sorta casually holding that blade. Like next round he's just going to saunter over to Mister Hands and coolly shiv him.

Again with the overwrought eyebrows.

I really dig this basilisk. The smooth skin, the slinking pose, and the huge blank eyes kinda creep me out.

That the 3E iconics got their own line of novels but this guy didn't is a crime. Hell, that mustache should have its own action figure line!

Finally, some vampiric shenanigans from the back cover of module A4, In the Dungeon of the Slavelords.

If I was a vampire, I wouldn't dress in a way that exposed my left breast. I wouldn't want to give people with wooden stakes any ideas. You know what I'm saying?


  1. Thank you a whole bunch. That really takes me back in a great way. I like how I can notice the distinctness of his works. Back then, even though I was a little kid, I could tell the difference between an Otus, a Willingham, and a Dee. Now everything tends to look like WAR's work, even when it isn't.

    And another thing! The pic of the ray is beautiful and makes me long for the days when artists still directly colored their art in pastels, paints, or pencils. I can't really knock great coloring through skilled Photoshop and tablet use, but you can see and feel the difference.

  2. Oh!

    I've always loved his stuff. Thanks!

  3. Oh thank you! I had forgotten about these great illustrations, but you brought the memories back!

    Gods, I *LOVED* the Isle of Dread and I recall very fondly that picture of the barbarian in Kitty From Hell ambush (that's what I called it back in the day...) That module was so cool. I wish I had a copy of it, it would rock some serious butt these days.

    The ... erm... 'attributes' of Red Sonja... yea... another fond memory of a boy going thru puberty. heh.

    Thanks for the great memories!

  4. Anonymous9:53 AM

    "(Is it just me, or is the dude in the cape checking out Red Sonja's ass?)"

    I know I was when the Expert set first came out. Though the dragon breathing on the elve's shield is probably my favorite of his - I rmember thinking "what's that dwarf up to?"


  5. @ chgowiz:
    "I wish I had a copy of X1, it would rock some serious butt these days."

    Are you in the States? Then you're in luck, 'cos you can't hardly spit in eBay's direction without finding a copy, on the cheap. Get yourself one!

    Also: I freakin' love phanatons. they need a write up (as a PC race?) for Mutant Future.

  6. I remember thinking "what's that dwarf up to?"

    I always thought he was looking for just the right spot to whack the dragon with his warhammer.

  7. It takes a real artist to make an ixitxachitl look cool (and a real geek to be able to spell it without looking it up, and then touch type it).

  8. In honor of tha color piece from L1, I'm totally gonna write up a spell called Arcane Cleavage.

    GM: "Okay, wizardress -- your action?"

    PLAYER 1: "I cast Arcane Cleavage. I hold my hands out in front like this, and intone, Giganto Gazongas!"

    PLAYER 2: "Creeps me out when you do that, Ralph."

  9. Great post! Thanks for recognizing this guy.

  10. Ah, Willingham :) Nothing but love, love, love for Willingham.

  11. Allow me to be the lone dissenter and say that, while those illustrations do indeed conjure up many fond memories for me, I consider Willingham to be the thin end of the wedge that ultimately paved the way for Elmore, Parkinson, and Caldwell. I find Willingham's art to be too "comic book-ish" for my liking, but then that's not really a surprise.

  12. Great post. Willingham had some of my favorite illos in the B/X books and early modules.

    My favorite pic of his, though, is fairly innocuous, but I really loved how he made those giant killer bees look all kinda furry in the Basic (or was it Expert?) book...like gigantic bumblebees.

  13. Anonymous2:08 PM

    "I always thought he was looking for just the right spot to whack the dragon with his warhammer."

    Really? I thought he was on the dragon's side for some reason and that he was watching the woman trying to whack him.


  14. Anonymous2:57 PM

    I have to admit my 13-year-old self was mesmerized by Red's attributes too.

    What catches my eye now, though, is that, unlike in most other illos, in Willingham you've got women rushing to the rescue of (or pwning) men.

  15. Man, nice article as usual, Jeff. Some of those images really brought things back for me. As stated, the Red Sonja chick..holy geesh...when I was a dweeby little teen I used to stare at that little drawing for hours! ha!!

  16. X1 was one of my favorite adventures. My Lawful fighter firebombed the Phanatons with burning oil, but I freakin' loved those little critters. Willingham's art was part of their appeal. Great post!

  17. By the way, for those interested in what Willingham has been up to recently, there's an interview from last year here:


    He (very) briefly mentions his stint at TSR.

  18. Anonymous12:32 PM

    mark said...

    What catches my eye now, though, is that, unlike in most other illos, in Willingham you've got women rushing to the rescue of (or pwning) men.

    Ever read Willingham's Elementals or Ironwood comic books? Yeah, he's all about women with power.

    Thanks for the pics, Jeff. I never owned the Basic or Expert sets with the Otus covers, so I've never seen some of this art. I do love Willingham's work, though I don't really have a "favorite" among the old school D&D artists.


  19. My favorite Willingham appears at the front of Palace of the Silver Princess. A centauress with spear is gesturing towards a ruined castle in the distance, clearly having led the warrior on horseback beside her to the place. Lots of story in that pic.

    - Brian

  20. Anonymous1:42 PM

    I loved the valkryie he did for Fiend Folio. So much so I had him do this at a Dallas Fantasy Fair

  21. I have the Monster Cards from the top of the post in a box of D&D stuff. I've never found a good use for them other than looking at them every few years. I think the Spectre has a really strange-looking head...not sure what's going on there.

    Great stuff! Thanks for posting!