I've been working up an article on Sierra On-Line for journal submission, which has had me combing through all manner of archival documents from my summer trip to the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. The Strong holds the Ken and Roberta Williams Collection, which was just donated last fall (talk about good timing!). The collection includes alot of what you would expect--dozens of game boxes, packaging and promotional materials, a full run of Sierra's company magazine InterAction, newspaper clippings--and lots of great novelties that I admittedly found very personally touching--the name plaque from Ken's office door, Roberta's handwritten game design notes, Steve Wozniak's early 80s fan letter to Ken, a treasure trove of annual reports, and even some original art. The Collection included the original painting that became the cover of On-Line's second adventure game, the late 1980 release The Wizard and the Princess. I remember that I snapped a couple quick photos of it, including one of the signature, and promptly forgot about it until a few days ago. (I really, really wanted to put up the picture I snapped of the signature, but the Strong's reproduction waiver prohibits me from distributing it in such a way. Sorry, folks, you'll just have to take my word for it.)
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Paul E. Stinson's artwork on the 1982 black box Wizard and the Princess packaging. Image from www.sierragamers.com
The Wizard and the Princess was first released in 1980, but the art is from the black box repackaging that was done for all the games in the series of Hi-Res Adventures (which must have happened in 1982, which is the date marked next to the signature). 
Not being particularly handy at reading artist signatures, I emailed the photo to my good friend and colleague Jaleen Grove, a boss illustration historian in the Art History Department at Stony Brook, and asked for a little help. Jaleen, being a real whiz with this sort of thing, got back to me right away, with a name and a website: Paul E. Stinson

Going through his galleries, it seems that his most recent work maintains some fantasy motifs (along with alot of sci-fi, intrigue and lite bodice-rippers), mostly executed through photomontage and what looks like some use of 3D rendering software. Scouring the internet, I came across some other images; it seems Stinson did a good number of book covers, including the cover of Jerry Weissman's The Zodiac Killer (for some reason this has the most image hits if you Google image search Stinson's name). 
Stinson's more interesting work includes alot of sci-fi book and magazine covers, and his inclusion in the rather badass 1979 "Heroic Fantasy" calendar. You can also find a few Ebay auctions featuring his work.
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Cover art from Pillars of Salt, by Barbara Paul.
Comparing this other work to the Sierra cover, the sci-fi covers have a much richer attention to tone and volume, and a rather fascinating dislocation of space; The Wizard and the Princess cover feels a bit underworked by contrast. 

It's worth noting that no where in the documentation for The Wizard and the Princess is Stinson's name mentioned. It's also hard to say if he illustrated the other black box Hi-Res releases--there's plausible stylistic similarity in the covers to Mystery House, Cranston Manor, Mission Asteroid, and Time Zone (Ulysses was clearly not done by Stinson), but I'm not versed enough in illustration analysis to say with any certainty. Some of the full-color multi-page Sierra ads I've found in 1982 issues of Softalk also utilize the artwork from these black box covers. As Raiford Guins notes in his forthcoming book Game After, most illustrators of game box art and arcade cabinetry toiled in total obscurity, despite the profound mark their work has left on our memories. This little digression through the realm of illustration history also re-affirms how much work there is to do in game history on things "beyond the game" as I like to say. 

Unfortunately, the email address listed on Stinson's website is defunct. If anyone knows anything more about Stinson, or anyone who work on illustration and cover art at Sierra On-Line, please drop me a note!
 


Comments

01/10/2013 16:00

Thanks for your contribution to illustration history! I knew little of Stinson or his work. This despite our having had, I now know, the original artwork for Zodiac Killer, about 20 years ago. It must have been unidentified, as to artist or book title, as I have no database record of it as Stinson's work. I'll eventually track it down, but at present, those old records are in storage.

It would be interesting to know if the Williams Collection documents the amount Stinson was paid for the Wizard and Princess art. It would likely be low enough to corroborate Raiford's contention of "total obscurity" and to be honest, the artwork is technically pretty mediocre. The Zodiac Killer cover has better graphic impact, though that crosshairs idea is swiped from Mitchell Hooks's book covers in the 1970s.

This happens a lot in illustration history: much of the pulp magazine cover art done in the 1920s-30s, comic book and trading-card art before the 1980s paid very little and was done by artists just starting out. Nevertheless, it seems to gather a nostalgic or even numinous quality for the early devotees of those genres.

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Laine Nooney
01/10/2013 17:32

Great questions, Roger! I'm so happy you decided to poke your head in. I'm really happy to add a layer to the world of illustration history, and I think it's a riot that you had the Zodiac Killer art in your very midst!

I've had a few conversations with Ken's brother, John Williams, who ran Sierra's marketing in the early years (he was 19 years old hiring teenagers and burnt out hippies up in the redwoods of Coarsegold CA for $300 a pop!). But they must have spent a but more money on the rebranding, because Stinson already had a decent career by '82 (the Pillars of Salt cover was '79). I'm glad you said it was mediocre, because I felt that way too, but don't believe I have the same chops to say so! My guess is that Sierra couldn't pay much, and in this case, they got what they paid for.

John mentioned that Stinson was commissioned through Barry Friedman and Creative Associates, which is as about as generic a pair of names as you can get, so Googling has gotten me no where. I could share the original painting with you, if you're interested. Has Illustration House ever moved early computer game art?

xo! -N

Reply
Roger Reed
01/25/2013 18:35

I doubt we've had much video or computer game art, but then again, sometimes all we have is a name or title written on the back of the art, and we might assume it's a paperback novel title, when it might be something else. It takes time to do the research (at least it did pre-Google), and we still have a closet full of art that isn't identified.

I say I doubt it however, in that there simply wasn't all that much produced, in the 1980s I mean, was there? You could probably catalogue it all, I could write about how bad, er, how great it is, and we could find a publisher for such a fan book! Meanwhile, I'd love to see the painting.

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01/11/2013 12:29

My suggestion would be to contact the publishers of some of the book covers he illustrated as they might have up to date contact information. The owners of this site might also have contact details (assuming this is the same artist): http://www.artworksillustration.com/portfolio%20paulstinson.htm

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