p. 226-227--copyright © by Wizards of the Coast LLC from Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History, published by Ten Speed Press

Exclusive first look: The comprehensive visual history of Dungeons & Dragons

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Jul 16, 2018

Demogorgon. Mind Flayer. These Dungeons & Dragons terms have been thrown out by the characters on Stranger Things to put the otherworldly happenings of Hawkins, Indiana, onto a more understandable plane of existence. Humanity's first instinct when confronted with the unknown is to contextualize it into something the mind can understand.

Sure, Netflix has turned these monsters into iconic, household names, but you probably didn't know that the Demogorgon and Mind Flayer were first conceptualized by small-town teenagers who, before sitting down to finish their homework, would do some cheap artwork for D&D creators Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the early '70s.

This is just one of the fascinating revelations about the tabletop role-playing game's history, laid out in the upcoming book Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History, by Mike Witwer, Sam Witwer, Jon Peterson, and Kyle Newman.

"It was really a set of local people, some relatives, they were doing these pieces of art," Mike Witwer told SYFY WIRE during a conference call with all four writers. "Nobody knew what a Mind Flayer looked like or [what] a Beholder looked like. Gary had described them in various places, and somebody was tasked with doing the first Mind Flayer or the first Beholder. These are exciting things, and again, these were not professional artists, they were usually whoever was available around. So it was really, really gratifying to be able to discover these things, and really give some credit to some of these early artists, and a couple really come to mind: Greg Bell, Kenan Powell, Tracey Lesh. A few people that really laid the foundation for this game before it really kind of was a game, before it was a thing. That was hugely gratifying."

We've got an exclusive look at the evolution of these monsters, as portrayed in the book:

p. 226-227--copyright © by Wizards of the Coast LLC from Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History, published by Ten Speed Press

 

Images copyright © by Wizards of the Coast LLC from Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History, published by Ten Speed Press, 2018

p. 56-57--copyright © by Wizards of the Coast LLC from Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History,  published by Ten Speed Press

 

Images copyright © by Wizards of the Coast LLC from Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History, published by Ten Speed Press, 2018

Between all four authors, you've got a lifetime's worth of nerd cred. Mike and Jon are RPG historians and authors, while Kyle directed the 2009 film Fanboys and Sam provided the voices of Darth Maul and Emperor Palpatine on Star Wars: Rebels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. He even reprised the role of Maul for that insane cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story. There's also the fact that they're HUGE fans of Dungeons & Dragons

In particular, Peterson, who is a collector of D&D artifacts, proved to be invaluable in tracking down certain pieces of artwork that could be photographed and included in the book.

"I went to Ian Livingstone’s home in London, the guy who founded Games Workshop," he said. "Games Workshop worked with TSR on the Fiend Folio, and he has the Fiend Folio painting in his house. I was able to photograph it there and get it into the book from that. Those kinds of experiences for me were just the icing on this very delicious cake."

Fans of the game know this is a big deal, as Livingstone's company earned the exclusive rights to distribute Gygax and Arneson's products in Britain when D&D was still owned by TSR. Nowadays it's a subsidiary of Wizards of the Coast, which acquired the company in the late 1990s.

p. 416-417--copyright © by Wizards of the Coast LLC from Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History, published by Ten Speed Press

 

Images copyright © by Wizards of the Coast LLC from Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History, published by Ten Speed Press, 2018

Even with the amazing records kept by Wizards, things got a bit harder when the team went further back to find treasures from the TSR days, an era before computers and meticulous recordkeeping. Nevertheless, they didn't let that deter them, and their determination ended up paying off, sometimes at the very last minute, when the publisher (Ten Speed) was trying to close the window on adding new content. 

"Much like Hammond in Jurassic Park, we spared no expense," said Sam Witwer. "We were feeling pretty confident that this was a good product before we got all of the Holy Grail items, but then we got all the Holy Grail items we were looking for and suddenly we became very cocky. Jon Peterson is the Indiana Jones of D&D history. He braved many traps. He chose wisely when he could have chosen poorly. Moreover, when the Ark was opened, Jon did not look at it, he kept his eyes shut. We have top men working on this right now… top men."

And just to make things even sweeter, they got none other than mega Hollywood star Joe Manganiello to write the book's foreword. While he plays super macho and badass characters on the big screen, the actor is also a huge D&D player in his spare time. 

"He has that persona as ‘The Jock,’ but at the same time, you sit and talk to him and he loves sports, but he also lives for Dungeons & Dragons," said Newman. "His office is littered with it, his wine cellar’s been turned into the Gary Gygax Memorial Dungeon. He just can’t get enough Dungeons & Dragons, it’s a seven-day-a-week passion for him. It’s not like ‘Oh, it’s my Saturday hobby.’ Like all day, every day Joe is about sending me links, text chains. He lives and breathes for D&D... it’s great to have somebody who’s an unexpected spokesperson of the brand. He’s just a friend of the book."

Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History will hit shelves October 23 in a number of different editions, including a "Standard" version and a "Special Edition" that is exclusive to Barnes & Noble. 

The writers will also be hitting up SDCC and Gen Con; their schedules can be viewed below:

Thursday, July 19, 1:00pm - 3:00pm

BAIT 920, 5th Ave., San Diego

Join Joe Manganiello manning the cash registers at the launch of Death Saves.

Friday, July 20, 8:00pm - 9:00pm

SDCC, Room 32AB

Art & Arcana: The Visual History of Dungeons & Dragons

When it comes to the history of Dungeons & Dragons, the truth is often stranger than fiction. The author team will discuss the evolution of the game's visuals from home-brew doodles to some of the greatest and most iconic art in the fantasy genre. Panelists include Kyle Newman (Fanboys; Barely Lethal), Jon Peterson (Playing at the World), and Michael Witwer (Empire of Imagination).

Saturday, July 21, 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm

BAIT 920, 5th Ave., San Diego

Join the authors at BAIT as part of the SDCC D&D takeover.

Sunday July 22, 11:00am - 12:00pm

SDCC, Room 28DE

An Author's Guide to D&D

Author Kyle Newman joins some of today's most popular authors of science fiction and fantasy to talk about how the game of the imagination inspired their own writing.

Friday, August 3, 4:00 pm- 5:00 pm

GenCon, Lucas Oil : Mtg Rm 3

Art & Arcana: The Visual History of Dungeons & Dragons

Join the authors as they discuss the evolution of the game’s visuals. Panelists include Sam Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Michael Witwer.

Friday, August 3, 5:00 pm- 6:00 pm

GenCon, ICC : Exhibit Hall : Autograph Area

D&D - Art & Arcana: A Visual History Book Signing

Join the authors, as they display advance copies of the book and sign Gen Con-exclusive book plates and posters, free to those who can show they have pre-ordered online. Pre-orders will also be available on-site, so don't miss this chance to get these collectible book plates and posters signed by all four authors! Free page samples will also be available, so feel free to pick one up and chat with the authors.

Saturday, August 4, 1:00 pm -2:00 pm

GenCon, ICC : Exhibit Hall : Autograph Area

D&D - Art & Arcana: A Visual History Book Signing

Join the authors as they display advance copies of the book and sign Gen Con-exclusive book plates and posters, free to those who can show they have pre-ordered online. Pre-orders will also be available on-site, so don't miss this chance to get these collectible book plates and posters signed by all four authors! Free page samples will also be available, so feel free to pick one up and chat with the authors.

Continue on to the media gallery for your exclusive first look at the book!