Friday, March 26, 2010

Emirikol the Chaotic and Trampier the Mysterious


I always loved the artwork in the Players Handbook, Monster Manual, and DM Guide back in the day, but the artists themselves were never much on my mind. It wasn’t until my involvement in the blogging community that I started reading about them in places like Grognordia and finding new appreciation for them.

I was looking through the Players Handbook and DM Guide the other day prepping for the next game, and had to stop and gaze on the rendering of the mysterious Emirikol The Chaotic. This page always intrigued me since I was a kid. A bearded, not-so-nice looking gent gallops down the street while shooting what is probably a magic missile at a man, while another lies burning on the cobbles outside a tavern. Not only did he look like a cool character, but the street and buildings of the picture themselves were so well done, they forever became how I envisioned the slightly claustrophobic streets of my own main city.

David A. Trampier, who often signed his work as “DAT” or “Tramp,” drew people, monsters, and places in a sort of classical, realistic style, but they still captured the essence of D&D. Often they were the first time iconic monsters in D&D had been depicted. Rakshasa, Catoblepas, the Fire Giant, Werereats, etc. To me, I see his work and say “that is for sure an artist who played the game.” I didn’t know until this week that he was also the creator of “Wormy,” that great cartoon from the old Dragon mags that featured the point of view of a dragon and other denizens of a dungeon, who almost all seemed to have East Coast personalities (an Imp who lives in Wormy’s cave called him “Woimy”).

Not only did he do the most iconic D&D image, that of the Players Handbook idol cover (and famously used as the title image over at Grognardia), but he also did a ton of the best images from Gamma World. He touched so many things in gaming, and his visuals determined how I pictured things in game terms in many ways.

What really blew me away when I researched Trampier a bit this week was that he quit his D&D artwork, and also his work on Wormy in the middle of a storyline, and went off to be a cab driver in a small Illinois town. He was actually still getting checks for his work, but they were returned to TSR and they just assumed he had died. Can you imagine? His photo eventually showed up in 2002 in a local university newspaper, and many of his fans recognized his name and even tried to contact him. He apparently rejected the attention from fans, and politely asked them not to write or call him. Wow.

His work was so good, and Wormy so popular and it is hard to envision somebody just stopping. I’m sure the money was not huge (with tips a cabby could probably make more money than niche artists in the early 80’s), but there had to be other reasons he was “done with the game.” Did he really dislike the people he had to deal with in the business? Did the dorky fans scare him off? He could probably drive a cab and do his art, unless he is one of those poor souls who really go for the cab money and work 15 hour shifts 7 days a week.

D.A.T. has full old school cred and would no doubt get some real props if he were to pop up as an interview on Grognardia or something, but given his history, it seems he is destined to go down as yet another mysterious figure in a field that is full of them.

19 comments:

  1. The story of Tramp's departure from the gaming world is a sad and mysterious one, born at least partially out of his frustrations with TSR at the time. He had aspirations of doing more than just illustrations (he designed Titan, which Avalon Hill published, for example), but he was never given the opportunity. There's undoubtedly more to it than that, of course; however, his treatment by and at TSR would seem to have been a big part of it.

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  2. http://www.retroist.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/trampier.jpg

    Hmm, kinda looks like Emirikol...

    Ciao!

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  3. Here's a link to the cab article:

    http://newshound.de.siu.edu/online/stories/storyReader$1382

    Ciao!

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  4. Dude found Jesus is what I heard.

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  5. Interesting, never knew about Trampier disavowing himself from the game, like you I'm left wondering what happened.
    I was never a big Wormy fan, but I loved his illustrations. To me he was perhaps the best of that old guard of artists in evoking what D&D meant to me, Emirikol the Chaotic is one of my favorite images from the game.

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  6. Hmm, kinda looks like Emirikol...

    That's no coincidence. I can't recall who it was that said this -- possibly Gary before he died -- but Tramp apparently used his own face as his primary model for most of his illustrations of men. If you look at the PHB cover, for example, you'll see that they're almost all variations on the same face, namely his own.

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  7. Jeff, that makes so much sense. Cannot believe I didn't even consider that.
    Grendal/James: damned if he doesn't! Wow. Now that I think of it, that page towards the back of PHB with the three adventurers smiling into the treasure chest has a guy that looks like him I think. Wow, this is just icing on the cake. So awesome.

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  8. Wow. I always wondered what happened to Wormy. That comic completely changed how I DM'd. I went from seeing the monsters as things to denizens with motivations.

    Wormy flaming those blue ball demon things was for me one of the best fantasy images ever.

    When my friends and I discovered other alignments passed Lawful/Chaotic Good is was because of Emirikol. One part of our group started up a mercenary/robber band called "The Chaotic Riders" to emulate Emirikol. The other part-one that I was in ran a Ranger based group trying to track them down and bring them to Justice. An AD&D version of cops and robbers. That summer playing was one of the best series of games of my childhood. And it was all because of this one illustration.

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  9. I always liked that particular picture, but I'm perpetually disconcerted by the fact that I always remember is as have more city visible in the background above the rooftops, so when I look at the real picture, it seems somehow incomplete...

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  10. Rob: No doubt a million chaotic characters were inspired by Emirikol. As for the demon balls, I have had those show up in games a time or two. Once the players got frustrated with trying to figure one out, and broke it. I jumped with joy. I think I had it be something like an 8 dice, 2d6 damage flyer - with magic weapons needed to hit, natch.
    Jarrah: Yeah, my city would for sure have some taller building in the distance. But I love things like that second story covered bridge that goes over the street in the back. You can imagine charcters fighting in there, and jumping down to the street.

    One thing I really love I should mention is the subtle dynamics there. I always assumed Emirik came out of the inn, flamed the guy on the ground, jumped on his horse - but a guard with a crossbow is waiting. So he spoun around in the other direction while magic missiling the dude. The guys coming out of the inn look like they may just be in time to get an attack off on Emirikol. It's all those things that give you assumptions that really bring this to life, for me anyway.

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  11. I always get sad when I hear of Trampier's departure from the gaming world. Of the old school artists, he was always my favorite. Sigh... I have have known other people who have turned from the hobby so sharply... selling books and severing social ties. Sometimes it was for religion. Other times it was for politics. Whatever the cause, it always seemed like a such radical change. It's a bit frightening when people change that much in such a short time.

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  12. I asked Someone Who Probably Knew at GaryCon II this past weekend, and in addition to the cab-driver-in-Carbondale story, he told me something I hadn't known. I don't think this was particularly in confidence, but even so I'm going to elide the names.

    Trampier was married to the sister of a well-known game designer, and the marriage ended badly. As a result, he felt like the whole industry was tainted and broke off all ties to it.

    Which seems a bit extreme--especially 25 or 30 years later--but on the other hand, who among us hasn't severed a lot of social ties in the aftermath of a bad breakup? It at least sort of made his decision make sense to me, although for it to persist for that long is a bit surprising to me.

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  13. Oh, another thing. At the Gary Shrine at GaryCon II, the DMG behind his screen was open to the page with Emirkol.

    Which is also the page with the Wandering Harlot subtable, of which I am, unsurprisingly to those of you who have seen my work in Fight On! #7, excessively, inordinately, perhaps unwholesomely fond.

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  14. Adam, thanks so much for the info. Why did I have a feeling a woman might have been involved? It's why I moved on from many scenes.

    Amazing about Gary Con. I am going next year no doubt.

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  15. I'll second what Adam has heard. I'll add something that could be totally off the wall but based on what I've heard from guys that knew him, sounds logical, and that is that the poor guy might have developed a mental illness. His behavior the last couple of decades has really made little sense otherwise. I've had someone that knew him back in the day mention this in conversation but I assume he didn't have a bit of proof and it could be just trying to explain the unexplainable.

    What is really sad is that with the old school renaissance we are going through, artists like Erol Otus, Jeff Dee, Jim Holloway, Jim Roslof and others have had comebacks and are getting a lot of deserved admiration from fans. We are trying to get Dave "Diesel" LaForce to NTRPG Con this year or next(he's probably my all time favorite cartographer). Anyway too bad he's not more accessible now and can't experience the deserved praise he would receive from fans.

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  16. Trampier was married to the sister of a well-known game designer, and the marriage ended badly. As a result, he felt like the whole industry was tainted and broke off all ties to it.

    Yes, Dave was married to Tom Wham's sister. If the end of his marriage coincided with his disappearance from the gaming scene, that certainly would explain a lot, although I suspect that it wasn't just a single thing that drove him away but rather a collection of them.

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  17. Back when I lived in Carbondale there was always a rumor that Gary used to come down and play at the SIU (Southern Illinois University) game club back in the mid 80's. Maybe not as far fetched then as I thought.

    That Daily Egyptian article was the last anyone heard of him, I had heard that because of it some people tried to contact him and got a "leave me alone" for a response.

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  18. Trampier was 20th Century America's answer to Dürer and Doré. His works have the timeless quality of old woodcuts.

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  19. I love readding, and thanks for your artical. ........................................

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