Tuesday, March 22, 2011

“R is for Roslof”

When I learned that Jim Roslof was ailing, I sat down to write him a card. I had never met the man, but he was one of the cadre of old school artists Joseph Goodman wrangled together to contribute artwork to The Dungeon Alphabet. I’m certain that for Mr. Roslof this was just another illustration gig, one no different from the many he had done over the years. For me, however, the fact that this artist, one who was responsible for so many iconic illustrations in TSR’s heyday, was participating in my first professional book was mind staggering. I had never been able to express my appreciation directly and I wanted to do so before it was too late.

The card that I sent Jim and his wife, Laura, was not one of condolences or best wishes in times of trouble, but a simple “Thank You” card. In it, I expressed the heartfelt joy and boundless wonder that Jim’s work had engendered in me over the years as well as my sincere gratitude that his work graced the pages of the Alphabet. Unfortunately, from what I’ve read, it is highly likely that Jim had already slipped into unconsciousness before my card made it to Wisconsin, so I fear he never got a chance to read my words. I can only hope that they were of some small condolence for Laura Roslof and that the card was just a drop in a torrent of well-wishes, support, and thanks.

There has been a bevy of remembrances and tributes to Mr. Roslof over the last few days—and he deserves all of them. His contributions to the hobby are immense, even if he didn’t receive the recognition that other TSR artists from that era commanded. And although glory may have eluded him, so many of his pieces helped define D&D and the fantasy roleplaying experience that it is almost impossible for gamers who got their start in the late 70s and early 80s to separate those images from their own memories.

From what I’ve read recently, Jim wasn’t only responsible for ushering in the next wave of influential fantasy artists at TSR, men with names like Holloway, Elmore, Caldwell, and Easley. He was also a great boss by some accounts. Jim Holloway said he was the best boss he ever had and shared this picture he took of Roslof during his tenure as art director:

How could you not love and respect working for a boss like that?

When I got my author’s copies of The Dungeon Alphabet, I had a brief moment of déjà vu as I flipped the pages. Seeing Roslof’s work inside the book took me back to my youth and I remembered the sense of wonder I experienced then while leafing through a new module and seeing his awesome illustrations waiting for me. I could almost taste the Red Hots candies and the Snapple Crystal Cola.

Jim’s art had a way of expressing both the "otherness" of a world populated by monsters and magic as well as the sense that his subjects were not heroes, but hard-working regular Joes looking for that one big score. He often took us into the middle of the action, his subjects portrayed in media res, leaving it up to the observer to determine what led to the image he was now witnessing and to conjecture on what would happen next. This mixture is why I particularly love his piece for “I is for Inscriptions” from The Dungeon Alphabet.

As a bibliophibian, archivist, and writer, words are important to me. They play a pivotal role in any game I run, often possessing great power and hidden secrets. I use inscriptions, books, sigils, and signs with great frequency, and having Jim do an illustration that could easily have come out of one of my own games was immensely cool. That it also depicts his usual mixture of the odd and the ordinary was utterly wonderful. Correct or not, I will always consider this piece to be my own, personal Roslof work. I only wish he could have known how much it touched me.

I could keep saying it year after year and it would never be enough. Nevertheless, I’ll say it again: Thank you, Jim, for everything. I’m sorry I couldn’t have said it to you in person, but thank you especially for “I is for Inscriptions,” my very own piece of your incredible magic.


limpey said...

He looks like one of his own characters! Perhaps he is not 'haggard' enough or looking over his shoulder with fear, but Roslof looks like a Roslof!

Roger the GS said...

Great memorial, Michael.

Matt said...

I can honestly say that no illustrations in your book delighted me as much as Roslof's - I think he was my favorite artist from that period of TSR. Great blog post about a hell of a guy.

ckutalik said...

When I bought my copy of the Alphabet I had no idea that Roslof had contributed to it. Thumbing through it when it came in the mail I randomly turned to that page and had a "whoa" moment. He will definitely be missed.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Thanks for sharing your memories. The best tribute the man can have is to have people talking about how he and his art touched their lives.

Mike Kriskey said...

I'm not a gamer. I read this blog for nostalgia's sake, because I did love D&D thirty years ago. I never thought I'd ever comment, but these are the illustrations that helped me fall in love with the game so many years ago.

Thank you, Mr. Roslof.