Some hipster-y Instagrams of adjunct-object feelings. I have no idea why there is a red plastic box of salt in the adjunct kitchen.
This post will be adding some more details and some of my own aesthetic analysis to my last post, Illustration in Video Game History. I've been extraordinary lucky to have caught the attention of Roberta Williams' brother-in-law, John Williams (Ken Williams' brother). John managed most of Sierra On-Line's marketing, especially in the very early days when the whole enterprise was basically under his charge. He watched my Provost Talk, felt that my analysis resonated with him, and has been kindly letting me pick his brain about Sierra, particularly their marketing.
Following up on some questions illustration dealer and historian Robert Reed has asked in the comments section of the last blog, about how much Sierra paid for these illustrations: According to John, the very earliest stuff was (roughly guessing 1980-1982) was done for around $100 a pop (about 40 bucks today), and mostly composed by local high schoolers and rouge Coarsegold hippies (see examples of some early 1981 On-Line ads below).
The Stinson piece, however (see my last post) which is from 1984 and part of the black box releases of the Hi-Res Adventure series, was commissioned at about $800-1000, according to John Williams. Inflation calculators tell me this about about the equivalent of $2000 - $2400 then, or $300 – $380 now--which sounds about right, although low, for the quality of the work, but perhaps Roger Reed will correct me on this? These prices were inclusive of full license to reproduce the work on boxes, ads, promotion, etc. John Williams has also informed me that Stinson also did the artwork for the computer arcade-style game Marauder (1982), and possibly Ultima I and II (1983 and 1982, respectively, see explanation below), as well as some of On-Line's competitors.
My assessment of these covers is formally speculative, I'm not an expert at these matters, but do have a BFA in graphic design that helps inform my readings. So, it's a fact that Ultima I and II had the same artist—the castle from the Ultima I box is actually just from the back of the Ultima II box (see back and front of Ultima II box here). Sierra's Ultima I came a year AFTER the Ultima II release, because it was simply an Atari 8-bit port of the game, which had been originally published in 1981 for the Apple II by California Pacific Computer Co.
I struggle to decide whether Stinson was also the artist on the Ultima games. Marauder's main figure has a similar ¾ posture to the figure in Ultima II, and the helmets and guns strongly share stylistic qualities. However, the Marauder figure's pose is much more awkward (as are those of The Wizard and the Princess). Very stiff, physiologically improbable, and the detail in the clothing is overworked. By contrast, the foreshortening of the left thigh in Ultima II shows a good degree of competence with drawing human anatomy--whereas Marauder and W&P seem to purposefully avoid the more natural poses that would require foreshortening of the legs. Yet again, the foreshortening of the gun arm in Marauder is much stronger than the over-cocked arm in Ultima II. I'm not sure how to read that a-genital winged troll/orc thing—part of what might be tripping me up is a difference in materials used, as I realize now that I can't tell if these covers are brush painted or airbrushed.
The castle on the back of the Ultima II cover seems telling to me. While very structurally similar to that of The Wizard and the Princess--with its tropey fantasy illustration standards of turrets, flagpoles, jagged stone walkway and the balancing presence of a spherical object in the sky (the wizard's blast in W&P, a moon in Ultima II)--the Ultima II castle is much more convincingly rendered, the atmospherics more smooth, and the outline of the castle against the sky less jarring. Given that The Wizard and the Princess cover was painted in 1984, and the Ultima II cover designed in 1982, I'd actually argue that what Stinson did was a riff on the work of whoever did the Ultima II cover (or maybe he was just paid a ton more; Ultima II was a HUGE deal, and Richard Garriot demanded invested, professional packaging and marketing--which I guess shows you what the standard was in the early 1980s). Was Stinson just cheaply copying his previous Ultima work for The Wizard and the Princess?
Would love feedback from what others think who are versed in these matters—I'm always in the mood to refine my aesthetic detective skills! I'd also be interested to know, from players, if these settings actually represented real locales in any of these games (was there a castle far away on a stone walkway? a swamp?) With all my writing, I've not yet gotten around to playing The Wizard and the Princess--although I know, at least, to LOOK at rocks and watch out for scorpions :)
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.)
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.
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!