Friday, May 6, 2011

Give Me B&W Art

Today, over at Grognardia, James asked a very interesting question:

What are your feelings about the increase in the illustrations per page we see in a lot of contemporary gamebooks? Do you like it? Do you view it as essential? And, most importantly from my perspective, has this increase affected your feelings about games and game products that don't include as much artwork as you might see in, say, a WotC or Paizo offering?

I find it interesting because, when it comes to my gaming products, I much prefer B&W art over the elaborate art offered up by the likes of WotC and Paizo. One could argue that this is because I am an old fart who came into the hobby with that often amateurish art of the 70s and I am doing nothing other than indulging in nostalgia. While there might be some truth to this, I don't believe it is a fair assessment of my own feelings on the matter.

At the root of my feelings is the idea of freedom and participation. While there are exceptions, overwhelmingly B&W art is suggestive while full color art is authoritative.

B&W art invites me to participate in it by purposely leaving out details (color) and gives me the freedom to fill in the details. Indeed, the most endearing, enduring and evocative art in the hobby for me is all B&W. The art that has inspired is B&W. The art that has affected the way I imagine my worlds and specific aspects of it are B&W.

Full color art (4C) fills in all those details for me. It doesn't invite my participation at all — especially the high-detail 4C art of WotC and Paizo. They authoritatively state: "This is what this looks like. Period." I am not invited to the party. I am actively being discouraged from Doing It Myself. Though there are examples of 4C art out there that are endearing, enduring and evocative (Erol Otis immediately comes to mind), overwhelmingly, 4C art is absent from my imagination when I go about this hobby because its authoritative nature leaves no room for my participation.

Thus, if you want to invite me to the table, give me some B&W art and leave the 4C at the door.


  1. Huh... I'd never thought about that before, but you described well how I feel. Although I will also say that the full-color art in AD&D 2E didn't bother me as much.

    I think this might have to do with the fact that the 2E art didn't feel like it corresponded to any nearby text--in other words, there wasn't a 4C picture of a wizard blasting magic missile next to that spell entry. As such, the full color artwork in 2E felt like _art_, not illustration of game content.

  2. I'd go a step further and state that minimal B&W art is suggestive, while too many pictures (relevant or not) is simply hiding something or filling a page count.

    Moldvay Basic is sparsely illustrated, just enough to punctuate the text, not replace it. I find the art direction in more current materials poor by comparison: splotchy pics that perforce tell me what to think (because the text is either too small to read or it's obscured by some ridiculous parchment texture background that's supposed to make me believe the RPG book I'm reading is actually an ancient tome).

  3. You've hit on points made, in different contexts, by such luminaries as Marshall McLuhan and Scott McCloud.

    in brief - absence of provided detail leaves more room for viewer participation. It's why Peanuts feels more "real" than Mary Worth despite its much more abstract representational style.

  4. Agreed. The B&W tend to draw me into the world, while the color illustrations do the reverse.

  5. Back in the day,
    I used colored pencils to
    make the black and white illustrations
    my own