Answer: So many that I managed to sneak links to 34 of them into this essay, and that isn’t even 1/4 of them. Get your clicking finger ready and read on.
I must be terrible at Telling Time, because it is impossible to believe that over 20 years ago I did my first Illustration for Magic: The Gathering. (If you have been living under a rock for years or in Solitary Confinement and don’t know what M:TG is, it is a collectable trading card game, TCG or CCG.)
I did my first painting for Magic: The Gathering in 1995. And if someone had claimed M:TG would still be going this strong, in 2018, well, even the most Eager Cadet would’ve thought they were in Fervent Denial.
But in fact, the game is still going strong. So strong, that by the count at http://www.gatherer.wizards.com I’ve illustrated 143 cards. And this week we just launched a website specifically for my M:TG centric work.
Check it out at https://www.scottmfischermtgstore.com/
Certainly, as an artist who has illustrated many things that have come and gone and are remembered as a Fleeting Image in people’s minds, I wouldn’t have believed I would be writing a blog post about its relevance today. (Anyone remember the TCG called Mythos? If not, good, because that has some of my worst art ever- but was also one of my first jobs ever. Refrain from googling it. No really, stop it. I kid you not, it was so bad I had to Incinerate most of the paintings.)
TCG’s were my first big break into illustration. After Magic hit it big, there were card games for every genre you can think of. It was a wild time where you could show up at a con with a mediocre portfolio, and walk out booked up for a few months. Though if I am being honest, working for most of those companies was more like Diabolic Servitude than I’d hoped. They paid very little, and often didn’t have the money pay you when you finished the work. And though I illustrated for no less than 10 different collectable card games, Magic: the Gathering was, and obviously still is, the Imposing Soverign that rules them all.
I actually played the game before I illustrated for it. I believe I tapped my first mana when ‘The Dark’ expansion came out. I was fresh out of Art School and every weekend my friends and I would meet at the pizza joint in Springfield VA, and play or trade ‘cardboard crack’ like we were sitting at some high stakes Bargaining Table in a dark and dangerous medieval Tavern. Naturally, being a long time gamer who was also an artist, Magic was a perfect fit for me. And like many players I meet today, it was the art that first got my attention. Names like Drew Tucker, Mark Tedin, and Quinton Hoover filled my inspiration folder. Heck I think Melissa Benson’s Shivan Dragon is seared in my brain forever. It became my Burning Wish to illustrate for Wizards of the Coast (who produces the game).
I got my first introduction to a WOTC Art Director at NYCC in 1994. Now, your main goal when meeting an Art Director for the first time is to not act like some sort of Pariah or Malignant Growth they can’t get rid of. Rather, be cool, try to come off more like a Graceful Adept. After all, you want this person help Nourish your artistic soul, and they are the Supreme Judge of your qualifications for the game. Play your cards wrong, and you may as well summon the Grave Digger because you are tapped out before you even got started. I had the right attitude, and my work was solid, but not quite ready for prime time. It wasn’t easy, but the challenge of working Wizard’s became my Righteous Cause. I wanted to hit them like an Awe Strike out of the gate, but it took patience and a Careful Study of the sort of work they needed to see from me. I took a hard look at my portfolio, and after Culling the Weak images like some sick game of Attrition, and being persistent, but not annoying in mailing them art samples (once a month for 6 months), I finally got the call. My Balancing Act had paid off, I hung up the phone that day having my first MTG commission of 4 cards.
They started me slow but I was so inspired to finally be in the big-game (literally) that I feel I had a Rampant Growth in ability. WOTC must have noticed, as they used my first card ever, Warping Wurm in their advertisement for the Mirage expansion. And the card commissions started rolling in like Rising Waters after that. At times painting up to 10 cards per set.
My experiences working for Magic: The Gathering were fantastic. What young artist wouldn’t want to make their living painting cool sh*t, and traveling the world to sign autographs! (Though we all knew the game was the real star. LOL) And the fans… wow, I’ve illustrated many things from Novels, to Children’s Books, to Comics, but I have yet to meet as dedicated and supportive a bunch as MTG players.
…But if I am being honest, having work in Magic: The Gathering isn’t all roses. And the issue I speak of has nothing to do with the game, or WOTC. It has everything to do with an Artist’s self esteem. You see… to Complicate things, though I was proud of all the work I did for Magic The Gathering- back when I did it, you have to remember some of these paintings are 23 years old, and aren’t… um… up to snuff, compared to what I can produce today. But because the game has had such a long shelf life, those artworks are still in circulation. Hell, the great Escape Artist, Houdini couldn’t evade the Circle of Despair that hangs over me when I see those cards. They are a Pox with no vaccine. (Please, I beg you, don’t click on those last two links. My wife won’t even look at the Circle of Despair.) But as a MTG artist, you have to face them on a regular bases, a Pure Reflection of your insecurities. And if you are really UN-lucky, your bad art got on a good card… and you have to sign it in groups of four, over and over and over like some sort of Sickening Dream you will never wake from. I would rather die a Death of 1000 Stings than sign a particular card again. (Ok that was a bit dramatic, but I really wanted to get that last link in there as I am still quite fond of that card.)
And that, my friends, is my Last Word.
(My thanks to https://magic.wizards.com/en for making this article so much easier to write than it would have been!)