I wasn’t expecting my copy of The Gathering: Reuniting Pioneering Artists of Magic: The Gathering for at least a couple of weeks. The Kickstarter notifications had recently gone out, and with the polar cold tightly gripping the Northeast, I presumed I’d have to wait a bit before I’d be allowed to thumb through it.
Imagine my surprise when a copy arrived on my porch, along with a request from the incomparable Jeff Menges asking if I wouldn’t “take a look for the Kobolds!” Boy, I’m glad he thought of me. He generously included a promo pack of four oversized sketch cards. These are very nice—4 inches by 6 inches for all backers of $30 or more—and I’ll have to decide the best way to maintain them. After leisurely flipping through a jinn, nightmare, angel, and wizard, I eagerly shredded the rest of the packaging and pulled free my serendipitous prize.
The book itself is a softcover, 8 inches by 9 inches, with a large portion sporting a gloss. It’s not flashy, but the palette of colors in the center and the graphics are reminiscent of the old Magic: The Gathering boxes and logo. As a result, just about anyone looking at this who has played the game for any significant period of time is going to immediately recognize the subtle nod. It’s not flashy; they saved that for the inside.
Walking through this book is a beautiful trip down Memory Lane for any long-time Magic player, and it’s a great education for those unfamiliar with the artwork of many of the iconic cards from the early releases. Forty-one artists contributed, including familiar names from RPG circles like Dennis Detwiller and Kaja and Phil Foglio. Each artist has a short written piece, a spot image of one of the artist’s original cards, and then a full or three-quarter page image, reimagining either that card or another of the artist’s portfolio, sometimes presenting a piece altogether unrelated. The anecdotes are often personal, detailing how the artist was solicited for cards or how they took a chance on this raw, new upstart of a company, or the company took a chance on them; other pieces reveal aspects of the artist’s creative process, and one is even a poignant vignette tied to the new artwork. Truly, the centerpiece of each two-page spread is, as it should be, the new piece of art.
And wow, those second glances are gorgeous. “Dark Ritual,” “Chains of Mephistophles,” “Black Knight,” “Clone,” and “Spirit Link,” all particularly grabbed me. The images are amazing, often very complex and providing a small window into an intriguing story. One thing has become quite clear in the intervening twenty years—these artists know how to use a picture to tell a story worth far more than a thousand words.
Following the artists is a collection of sketches—a collection of the study pieces created by many of the contributors as they prepared the larger artworks. Frankly, many of these are absolutely breathtaking, too, like Ed Beard, Jr’s “A Good Book,” Liz Danforth’s “Frost and Fire,” or Pete Venters’ “Demon Prince of Goblins.” Overall, I have to say, I couldn’t be happier with the results of this Kickstarter, and I think the rest of the world would be wise to grab their copy as soon as possible.
Jeff Menges, the ringleader and cat-herd on this project, has gotten Magic’s creator, Richard Garfield, to pen the foreword, and the original art director, Jesper Myrfors, to write an afterword. Dedicated to one of the recently deceased artists, there’s a warning there; we are lucky to have this opportunity to recognize the wonderful artistic legacy of the game, and thank whatever powers you prefer that Jeff took the time to capture the thoughts and handiwork of its first artists, the Old Guard.
Truly, this is a great piece, and it’s one I plan on taking to Gen Con and other conventions to get signed over the years. It’s a gorgeous testament to the early artists of the game, and I highly recommend you pick it up. You can find Full Steam Press on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/FullSteamPress), where they indicate they’ll begin taking “after press” orders for this book sometime later this month. They currently appear to be battling the terrible hydra of the fulfillment process, and so I would anticipate that date to slip until after their intended appearance at New Orleans Comic Con, February 7-9. If you’re lucky enough to be in that area or have someone going, I urge you to acquire this book.