Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Big Game Wednesday - The Hand That Was a Face

I'm going to put off discussing you-know-what until next week, in honor of Relaunch Week, and instead would like to mention another facet of Champions that is long gone and never mentioned: Mark Williams.

Who's Mark Williams? Well, he was the guy who drew about 80% of the illustrations for Hero Games from the time they started until mid-1984, including that cover you're seeing on the right there. Just like the illustrations of Dave Sutherland III and Dave Trampier gave AD&D its particular flavor, Mark Williams's illustrations gave Champions a lot of its particular personality.

I'll be honest. I hated Williams's artwork at first. I thought it was clumsy and amateurish, and it was a big part of why I didn't buy Champions the first few times I looked at the books in the game store.

And it really was clumsy and amateurish. His figures were stiff, his anatomy was all over the place, and his inking was really uneven--sometimes solid, but other times depending on liberal amounts of zip-a-tone to cover for deficiencies in the drawing. Part of it was limitations to his abilities and part of it may simply have been the workload. In the 2nd Edition Champions rulebook above, he had 25 illustrations. For books like Enemies, he illustrated every single villain.

But over time, I grew to like his art. I don't know whether he really got that much better or I just got used to his quirks and became more forgiving as I grew to like the game his illustrations accompanied.

Part of it was that he never took himself too seriously. Many of his illustrations displayed a kooky sense of humor, like this illustration from Champions II.

And frankly, he did improve a lot. His work certainly became a lot more ambitious. For Champions II, released in 1982, not only did he do most of the interior illustrations, but he also did a full color wraparound cover. That same year, he painted the color cover for Espionage, a Champions spin-off game that became the first step toward establishing Hero as a universal system.

Yes, the figures are still stiff and clumsy, and the layout could use some work, but the execution of this cover showed an artist growing by leaps and bounds over his previous work. Not only was he improving technically, but he seemed fearless in attempting to illustrate anything he was asked to.

And then in 1983, Hero came out with a magazine, the Adventurer's Club.

That's a solid piece of work. It's not perfect, by any means, but the blacks define the figure well, and I really like the iconic nature of the costume design. Not only was Williams the artistic face of the company, but the Super-Hype article in that first issue also mentioned that Williams was writing the first supplement to the upcoming Justice, Inc. game, an adventure featuring Nazis and zeppelins titled Horror in the Sky. I was really looking forward to that one.

But something happened between this issue and mid-1984. Hero was bringing in other artists to help with the workload, and Williams's work slowly disappeared from the products. He did some more work for Adventurer's Club. He drew the cover to Champions III in early 1984, and split the interior illustrations with Mike Witherby.

But in mid-1984, his work suddenly disappeared. He had a few illustrations in Justice Inc., including a hilarious cover to the Campaign Book featuring cameos from a bunch of different characters from movies and pulps. He pencilled the cover to the third edition of Champions, which Witherby inked, but aside from a couple of reprinted illustrations from the original Champions rulebook, the interior art was all by Mike Witherby and Denis Loubet (this is not a complaint--I love Loubet's work).

And after that, nothing. The first supplement to Justice Inc. was released, and it was Trail of the Gold Spike by Aaron Allston. Williams's Horror in the Sky never saw the light of day.

I always wondered what happened to him, but never seemed to have good enough search-fu to find anything definitive. Turns out (according to this page), he moved to L.A. (right after I left) and got into special effects. Worked on "Aliens," among other things. Sadly, he died in 1998, but I'm glad to see that his move away from Hero was a move up, not just a move out.

But I still wish they had released Horror in the Sky.

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