Offerings: The Art of Brom
(Paper Tiger, $29.95, hardback, 128 pages, Fall 2001.)
Buying a book of art by an illustrator whose work is so inexorably tied to the Gothic horror game genre is kind of like buying an album of music by Vangelis because you enjoyed Chariots of Fire. Even if you don't end up caring for what you've bought, the style of the work itself will at least remind you of the commission that attracted you to the artist in the first place.
If that's your reason for purchasing Offerings: The Art of Brom, then you're in for an exciting surprise.
Because, although the artist remains true throughout the book to the intense, Goth-art style that earned him early fame as an RPG illustrator, his subjects and themes take him beyond the gaming genre and into even deeper corners of dark fantasy.
And us with him.
The 108 full-colour paintings and illustrations presented within, along with several conceptual sketches, will lead your imagination far beyond the places to which a role-playing or card game could take it. Brom's art, in its highest form, serves to open the doors of darkness within the patron's own mind. Therefore, although Wizards of the Coast Inc. holds the copyrights to more than one-third of the illustrations in the book, Brom's creations should still be appreciated by more than just its core market of Goth gamers. His art will fascinate readers and art patrons everywhere who hold even the mildest curiosity about the dark side of the fantasy genre.
Offerings, Brom's second book for Paper Tiger (his first was Darkwerks, originally published by FPG and then republished in 2000 by Paper Tiger), is a trim 128 pages. Its intriguing layout features, on most page pairings, a full-page painting on the right leaf with its title and a related interpretive verse by the artist across the top of the left. (It should be noted that nowhere in the book does it specifically state that Brom wrote the verses. But since they're not attributed to anyone else, I assumed they came from the artist himself.) The centre of the left-hand page shows a smaller illustration with its title beneath. Almost as a bonus is a section in the back of character sketches for various game-company commissions, followed by the development of the cover art for the popular Diablo II video game. There is a two-page foreword by writer and art director Arnie Fenner, followed by an insightful poem (again, assumed to be written by the artist) titled "The Muse". All other enlightening text has been placed by the publisher on the dust jacket.
Not that this volume needs any. Brom's work certainly speaks for itself. I was most impressed by his TSR-commissioned, The Wreckage, an H.R. Giger-styled, lizard-like being emerging from a crashed vessel. Demon Tree almost overwhelms with its use of intense hues of orange, rust and brown. In wall-hanging size, this painting would be eye-attractive from anywhere in the room. Tank shows a military creature that would not be out of place in a Star Wars movie. And Rotten Man is reminiscent of Michael Whelan's horror style. Brom's matched set Sister Charity and Sister Compassion tiptoe into the realm of fetish art, though without the gore or nudity one would find in a work by a subgenre master such as Ric Frane. In fact, Brom's work in general demonstrates that an artist can be extremely effective in dark fantasy without the use of dripping blood or bare bodies.
I mentioned the other artists, in part, to set up my objection to a claim made on the dust jacket.
Of course, we're all aware that publishers will exaggerate the importance or value of the contents of their books on the dust jacket in order to maximize promotion. We all accept that. But occasionally, the hype goes beyond credibility. It has happened here.
Mr. Fenner wrote in his introduction that Brom "shyly ducks his head and stubs his toe on the carpet when he's complimented. It's not false modesty." That being the case, the artist must have been absolutely embarrassed to read on the dust jacket of Offerings that his "unique and powerful visions have redefined the face of fantasy". Didn't the anonymous writer forget to add the phrase, "within role-playing and card game art"? Certainly, Brom has introduced the ideas of Giger, Whelan and several other seminal Gothic-horror-influenced artists into the gaming realm and expanded upon them with his own powerful imagination. He has contributed mightily to a body of fantasy art that stretches from Goth warrior artists like Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo to sci-fantasy masters such as Bob Eggleton and Frank Kelly Freas. But "redefined the face of"? No. Too many others have trod similar paths before Brom set foot onto his. Even for as imaginative an artist as Brom is, that statement is just a little too bold to let pass.
Brom began his career as a working commercial illustrator at the age of twenty. In 1989, TSR hired him to illustrate what would become several of their most popular games (aided in that popularity, in no small measure, by Brom's artistry), including the enduringly popular Ravenloft and Dark Sun. He quickly rose to become one of the most recognizable illustrators in the genre. In 1993, Brom returned to the freelance market to create artwork for book covers, comic books, video and computer games and motion pictures, including Galaxy Quest, The Ghosts of Mars and Sleepy Hollow. (Brom and Tim Burton -- an ideal match!) He remains today a force in the commercial fantasy art market.
Offerings is a book to be devoured by all who possess a love of the fantastic, the bizarre and the macabre. It is a collection that will captivate you with each perusal. Lock one up for yourself right away!
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© Randy M Dannenfelser 9 March 2002