Monday, September 20, 2010

David Trampier, Ambiguity And Implied Narrative

If you want to read a really good article on David Trampier's art, you can find it here.

The term "Implied Narrative" has been adopted to describe Trampier's style, a style of which I am very fond. I must admit that most every piece of D&D art that I have viewed, since becoming acquainted with Trampier's artwork, has been judged against his narrative approach.

Several months ago I mentioned the early black and white artwork of Todd Lockwood. The early Lockwood illustrations also capture a narrative ambiguity which I find compelling.

Viewing Lockwood's illustration of Orcus, I found myself asking: Is Orcus sleeping or drooling? Why is has this woman been brought to his throne? What happens next? The great strength of Tramp, and other artists like Lockwood, is not just that the scenes they depicted were filled with action, drama or suspense.

Like my favorite art, I prefer implied narrative in my role-playing games as well. To quote from Only A Game:

"Implied Narrative: this is another category of [game] narrative where, like The Sims, there really is no writer-defined narrative per se, but the stories emerge from a dynamic play environment."

No writer-defined (or Dungeon Master defined) narrative. I think this is the key (or what we imagine to be the key) to the appeal of Trampier's artwork, and the appeal of old-school gaming. The lack of agenda on the part of the Dungeon Master when it comes to what story will be told.

Like a good Dungeon Master, Tramp wasn't necessarily rooting for the good guys. Heck, we don't even know that characters in his illustrations, or the player characters in our games, are the good guys! That is up to the players themselves, or the art-viewers, to decide.

Just like the ending to their story is up to the players.

10 comments:

Scott said...

I've always loved that Orcus piece. Never knew who did it.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

The same Todd Lockwood who, years later, returned to illustrating for D&D, and ended up defining the look of 3E...

Trey said...

I think Frazetta does implied narrrative well, too. Though I think he's probably been an inspiration to hoards of competent but stagey artists, his work has a richness beyond the "prettiness" factor.

Sean Robson said...

Artists like Trampier and, of course, Frazetta, were adept at capturing a snapshot in media res. Their depictions imply a story in progress with a history that compels us to wonder what will happen next.

You never get this with staged "photo-op" pictures - they don't have the same sense of capturing a moment of a story, but instead are like a family portrait that tells you nothing of the past.

bliss_infinte said...

'Implied Narrative' - a perfect description of, not only Trampier's art but a lot of what is considered 'old school'. Nice post.

Roger the GS said...

The early 20C fantasy Sidney Sime, as I've recently posted, also had oodles of implied narrative. So much so that Lord Dunsany wrote nearly half a book of short stories retrograde from Sime's dense illustrations.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I credit your Sime article (which had me googling his artwork) for the above post.

Greg said...

My only critique of the older D&D art is that there is sometimes gratuitous nudity. I don't have a personal problem with it, but I feel it limits the potential audience for no good reason. As someone who plans to introduce their children to RPGs early, I notice these things more and more as my eldest starts to ask more questions about what she sees.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Greg said...
My only critique of the older D&D art is that there is sometimes gratuitous nudity.

Yes, you're right. Some of the OD&D art materials do have topless females.

Scallop Skulled Skald said...

DAT was the closest thing the late 20th Century had to a Durer or a Dore (sorry about the lack of umlaut or accent mark). It's a shame he can't be coaxed out of self-imposed exile.