Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Gary Chalk

I first discovered the art of Gary Chalk in the classic Lone Wolf gamebook Fire On The Water and was immediately smitten. He has a very unique style which is immediately recognisable and I believe what I really love about his art is that, despite the stylization and occasional less-than-perfect proportions, it has a strong element of verisimilitude. Chalk clearly thinks very hard about the small details and so the costume, architecture, heraldry and panoply of war are all excellent and create a strong impression that the world in which his art is set is a real place. They all work and can be believed in. It manages to be grounded in reality and still be a world of magic and impossible creatures.

It's telling that once he stopped illustrating Lone Wolf I lost all interest in the series. Replacement artist Brian Williams is pretty damn good (I loved his work on The Riddling Reaver and Trial of Champions for example) but he wasn't how I saw Magnamund, the world of Lone Wolf. It was clearly how Joe Dever saw Magnamund, Williams being his original choice to illustrate Flight From The Dark, but not for me. In fact, standing in WHSmiths Wolverhampton, armed with a birthday book voucher and primed to buy the next book in the series I couldn't and put The Cauldron of Fear back on the shelf and didn't buy another for about three years. Even now, I'd have loved to have seen how Chalk would have penned the illos for the later books.

I've long suspected that Chalk was a influence upon the WFRP world (which I distinguish from the Warhammer Battle world as they were never quite the same place, being tweaked for their individual games) becoming a Renaissance culture and not merely a late medieval one. He did a lot of illustrations in early Dwarf (such as the classic AD&D Irillian campaign) and the original version of Talisman all in his style of slightly later costume and accoutrements than the usual cod-middle ages that everyone else except Blanche was doing.

Like Russ Nicholson's work there is a large chunk of the gaming section of my brain that is firmly wedded to the idea that RPGs Look Like This.


  1. I loved his illos for Talisman - his friar/monk and dwarf illos loom large in my imagination.

  2. I quite agree. Chalk's art was evocative and weird in the same-but-different way as the perhaps more famous Nicholson and Blanche.

  3. He's always been my favorite fantasy artist.

  4. I always liked the clear lines and clever use of negative space in Gary Chalk's stuff, even before I knew the terms or theory of why.


    I loved Nicholson, Miller and Blanche - same as we all do - but their profusely detailed work was obviously way beyond my teenaged self's ability to imitate. Gary's stuff *seemed* more approachable, like it would be easier to mimic and learn from. In terms of Brit fantasy artists Gary Chalk was like the easygoing older mate who was tacitly inviting you have a go at what he was doing.


    It turns out that Chalkean simplicity != easy. A lesson beyond price.

  5. It's well worth getting an old copy of Fantasy Warlord just for the illustrations all by Chalk. I also quite like the game. If you can find the two issues of red giant there is naturally more of his stuff in there too. Including the beginings of a Ad&D fantasy campaign that has the same feel as the Irillian campaign.


  6. Always been a big fan, since the days of Talisman. Fantasy Warlord has a lot of reprinted stuff from Lone Wolf and elsewhere, but it is a great compilation. If you haven't already found http://www.projectaon.org/ they've got all the Lone Wolf books done up in HTML, with Gary's images, and a couple of PDFs including the Lone Wolf colouring book, which is solid Chalk.

  7. Chris - Yeah, that takes me back as now that you mention I remember a class room of kids (well, the lads mainly) copying out gamebook pictures in art and yes the Chalk ones did seem easiest to copy. Negative space? Well that one sent me off to Wikipedia and yes you're entirely correct.

    Zhu - That poster book is awesome, just crying for the usual Gary Chalk approach of washes of thinned paint.

  8. I considered buying a copy of Fantasy Warlord on eBay recently. Not because I needed a new set of miniatures rules - the ones I do have are filled with his BritFantasy pantheonic rival, John Blanche. But because Gary Chalk is the first name listed.

    Maybe I'll have to have another eBay scour after payday...

    [word verification: obsesses]

  9. Fantasy Warlord is well worth getting for the art, it also has a lot of lovely 80s Citadel and other manufacturer figures painted in an 80s style before the modern White Dwarf style took over and told everybody that their Warhammer units had to be built from figures that looked the same with uniform colour schemes.

    We did play it 3 or 4 times (it was remaindered in the mid 90s at a local discount bookshop) but it suffers from a pet hate of mine with some wargames rules - combat outcomes are expressed as a two or three digit figure with each round 100 being a casualty and each fraction being a percentile chance of another - such that 80 means 80% chance of 1 casualty, 130 means 1 and a 30% chance of a second, 280 means 2 and an 80% chance of a third and so on.

    Trouble is on every game we played we would find a set of results like 190 against 210 would occur where there is nothing in it (a very even looking result), but one side can never, ever tip the balance no matter what happens. So it drifted out of favour quite quickly and we went back to WFB3 before rebasing everything for Hordes of the Things.

  10. "the classic AD&D Irillian campaign"

    Ah yes, good memories! :D