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!
Today I had the distinct pleasure of teaching Natalia Ilyin's Chasing the Perfect in the college-level Graphic Design History class I've been teaching as an adjunct. Teaching graphic design history has been a curious and illuminating throwback to my prior, "almost-famous" life as a graphic design critic (a long tale for another blog day).
As a scholar with a BFA in graphic design, an MA in English, a pending Ph.D. in Cultural Studies and a grad certificate in Women's Studies, I'm a pretty sloppy disciplinarian. Thus, I didn't bat an eyelash at putting a memoir as the capstone reading for my graphic design history syllabus. And thank god I didn't, because Chasing the Perfect was the perfect culmination to a long, trotting list of dead white Western men and the ever-so "important" designs they made.
Forgive my snideness--it's not that they weren't important, but moreso, as Ilyin might phrase it, "at what cost have they been made important?" Throughout the book, Ilyin maps the controlling, masculine tactics of modern design against her own ironically observed and amusingly described life events. Ilyin raises a simple question: Do you design out of fear, or do you design out of love? The moderns, to her, especially Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, designed out of fear, designed to build a utopia that would protect them from the horror and brutality they witnessed in WWI. What that wrought was an unsustainable belief that design could control the mess of life, and Ilyin tracks this tendency with witty aplomb through homes of the future, graphic design grad school, the empty offices of modernist furniture designers, and through her own psychic space--Ilyin's mental breakdown is given central space but isn't overloaded. It is written with the humor and clarity that only comes with mature distance and sincere self-observation. There's no victim here, just raw life.
One moment in the book, however, particularly held my interest. Near the end of the book, Ilyin discusses the fallacy of linear history--the impression we are given that graphic design began in the caves of France and has only marched forward on an unalterable course. Describing the art history staple of the slide lecture, she writes: "These slides link together the unlinked. They make the design past appear seamless, premeditated, a logical progression out of the caves and into the sunlight. It is as though [...] a celestial plan of progression is borne out in those slides, and that it was only a matter of time, say, until Futurism developed from all that had gone before. Which is not true. Which is picking up only one thread of a wide weave" (115).
My media studies brain perks up here--it's the practice of the slide lecture, the use of the carousel projector or power point presentation that presents a "seamless, premeditated, a logical progression" of all those images. In a wonderously clever turn, Ilyin's indites the foundation of art history teaching for misrepresenting history through its own mechanical/digital mode of presentation. As I asked my students "When I show you one slide, and then click to another slide, did you ever wonder what happened in that gap?"
I know I'm going to re-arrange the hell out of my syllabus for this class when I teach it again, but Chasing the Perfect isn't going anywhere. It's the perfect companion to Meggs, and I'm not sure I can imagine graphic design history without it.