For the original French version click here.
Melissa, you were one of the very first Magic the Gathering illustrators, and many cards you worked on (such as the early Shivan Dragon or Nightmare) since then managed to achieve legendary status among players all around the world. How did you get to work for Wizards of the Coast? Did you ever have the chance to meet Richard Garfield in person?
Legendary? I didn't know that.
When I was just starting out, I sent query letters to every company that I thought could use my art. Wizards of the Coast was still Garfield Games at the time and Jesper was the Art Director. He called and told me that a new game was going to be done that my art would be wonderful in it. When they were ready to commission art he called.
Yes I have met Richard Garfield. Red socks and all. It was at one of the Gen-Cons in Milwaukee.
Back in the good old days of Alpha, did WotC have an accurate idea (if any) of what every illustration was supposed to look like? Were you given any guidelines, or were you totally free to draw characters and creatures the way you wanted?
When Magic first started, Jesper called each artist with a list of cards. No descriptions. We were totally free to come up with whatever the title suggested to us. Jesper knew that each artist would have a unique vision and that was encouraged. We did a sketch, faxed it in and he would say yes or no. The only guidelines we had were for the deadline and for size. Approximately 6 x 7 inches. It was a small scanner then.
Back then, did you expect the game to meet such a success and last for so long? Did working for MtG help giving more visibility to your art? Would you say it significantly boosted your career as an artist?
I had no idea that Magic would be the phenomenon that it has become. If I had, I would have taken many more cards! I remember that I turned down the Lord of the Pit and the Pearled Unicorn among others. Did it give me more visibility? Well, you tell me I'm a legend so I guess I'd have to say yes.
We read in the FAQ's on your website that you don't play MtG. Did you nevertheless give it a try or read the rules? How deep is your knowledge of Magic background, the Multiverse? (For instance, do you know what a planeswalker is or where Shiv is located?)
No, I never did learn it. When I tried, the kids were going way too fast for me to pick up. I did read the little rule book but didn't get much out of it. From what I can tell, Magic seems to be a combination of the card games "War" and "Go Fish". I know what a Planeswalker is because I read the book that used my Lord of Atlantis, Cat Warriors, and Holy Armor images, but that's about as deep as my knowledge goes.
Most recent MtG cards are now illustrated with digital paintings (and digital VS traditional is still one of the hottest debate among art-oriented Magic players) Would you say the use of computer tools is now a requirement for a fantasy artist in this day and age? What is your personal opinion about this evolution?
Digital art is digital art and nothing more. It isn't fine art. It is design technique. Anyone with a good sense of design and who is computer savvy can do it. Scan, drag, drop, add effects, done. Look at the cards now. They all look the same, as though they were done by one person. The extreme variety of artistic styles was a huge reason for Magic's success. You could pick out Quinton Hoover from Drew Tucker with ease. For me there is no difference between digital art and the first airbrush paintings. They're flashy, but they get boring quickly. You can sell the sizzle, but if the steak doesn't taste good you feel ripped off. That's the way I feel about the vast majority of digital art out there. It's good for advertisements or anywhere you want that big hit of "WOW". But the collector should be given more substance. The collector deserves a great tasting steak.
Fantasy art is often all about body-building barbarian warriors wielding blood-stained battleaxes and saving half-naked elvish bimbos from the fangs of evil demonic monsters. Do you think that female artists may be able to introduce more subtility and poetry in these testosterone-flooded universes? Are they key to attracting more girls in our mostly-male fantasy world? (Could drawing more unicorns and pegasi really be the only way to achieve this goal?)
Well, first let me say that female artists can also do blood-stained barbarians. My 'Arathi Berserker comes to mind. As for subtlety and poetry, that's something you're born with. It isn't the exclusive realm of women. You can either bring it or you can't. But I do understand what you're saying and yes, more female artists will alter the mix. However, simply having women artists "take" on the barbarian/bimbo scenario will not attract girls to the world. What needs to change is the half-naked elvish bimbo. What is needed is a woman's idea of an over the top female, just as Conan is over the top character for boys. What is needed is female characters who use magic, cunning, and guile as well as being physically appealing. Give them the same motivators of revenge, honor, and greed. It's just the approach to those motivators that's different.
What are your main sources of inspiration? Are there any painters that have particularly influenced your work?
The main source would have to be nature and natural forms. The colors and patterns in nature are so diverse and convey emotion like nothing else.
OK, on to influential artists. Let's see... There are quite a few... Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema for marble technique, certainly. Alphonse Mucha for grace. Roy Krenkel for action. It depends on what I'm trying to convey to the viewer. The list goes on and on...
Did you try other artistic means of expression (photography, sculpture, writing...)?
If I were any good at sculpture, I'd do that. I'm also a fairly poor photographer. I do digital art for many commercial applications. I never said digital art was evil and I never said I couldn't do it. It has its place and this is it.
What are your next projects? Do you plan to work with WotC again sometime?
I have so many irons in so many fires... There are several commissions on the board, tarot card decks, greeting cards, lots of stuff. As to WotC, I email the current Art Director over there every now and then for work, but they never get back to me. Small wonder when you see the "look3 that they prefer now. My art doesn't really fit. I would be willing to do more Magic card art but unless the fans start asking for me I don't see that happening. Especially when they have my cards redone by new artists.
Melissa, thanks a lot for your time. We wish you the best and hope to see your art again on MtG cards!
Thank you for the opportunity to keep in touch with my fans,
Plus de Melissa Benson sur son site : http://www.melissabenson.com/
Une interview de Melissa Benson réalisé pour le magazine le Duelist : http://www.melissabenson.com/duelist_interview.html