But it's true: I couldn't stand Erol Otus' work. From my first taste of it - the illustration on the front cover of Moldvay Basic Dungeons & Dragons boxed set - I disliked it. (Although I think it was the interior illustration of the party divvying up treasure that really turned me off.) It wasn't like I thought to myself: Hmmm - I don't like this. On the contrary, it was a purely subconscious reaction. On some lower level, my brain simply had a very negative reaction to Otus' highly stylized characterizations.
And I think I know now why that was. You see, to my teenaged mind, the more realistic the artist's depiction, the better. I mean, how better to bring a fantasy world to life than to make it look like life? To that end, I believed that Larry Elmore's fantasy work was the height of fantasy illustration.
Well, They say that as we grow older, so too do we grow wiser. (I don't totally agree with the veracity this axiom, but let's run with it.) Insofar as appreciating Otus' distinctive style, I'd have to say that I have indeed grown wiser. I now realize that making the fantastic look real is not, nor should it be, the fantasy artist's ultimate goal. In fact, in our day and age, I believe that it's far easier to depict the fantastic in terms of our modern, cynical perspective than it is to preserve its strangeness - much less extol its phantasmagorical elements. As I grow older still (a strange effect that seems to be neither slowing nor halting) I find myself realizing more and more just how challenging it can be to keep fantasy, well, fantastic.
But somehow, Otus did it. Through a style that - regardless how you feel about his work - was all his own, Otus showed us a world of true fantasy. Not a world of fantasy seen through a modern lens, but a world of fantasy seen on its own terms. Otus' Dungeons & Dragons illustrations, prolific as they were, depicted a fantasy world that was fantastic. As I grow older - and, hopefully, wiser - I've come to appreciate this work in ways I could never have predicted two-and-a-half decades ago. And Otus continues to do it: I'm glad to see his artwork still gracing our hobby to this day, and hope to see much more of it in days to come.
Nope, I never much cared for Erol Otus' work; but now I love it.
Oh, and so as not to exit this post without providing you with a little eye candy, here is a trio of Otus' pieces that I really love (as published by TSR in 1980's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Rogues Gallery):
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