When people think about the core set of cards that came out a few years ago a couple key cards come to mind. Steward of Gondor, Test of Will, and Unexpected Courage are cards still frequently used today. Even when I first started building decks after buying random APs here and there I always found myself gravitating towards these staple cards. Among these valuable cards is none other than everyone’s favorite Grey Wizard… Gandalf.
I remember going through the cards after opening the Core Set and smiling when I got to this card. When I first became a Lord of the Rings fan I was reading the first book for sixth grade as well as anticipating the upcoming Fellowship of the Ring movie. I got to experience both worlds, and what I saw on the very mysterious internet at the time were pieces of art that came from a much older generation. It was this artwork that also adorned the cover of my Fellowship novel. What pleased me about this card is that it reminded me of that art. It reminded me of the kinds of paintings and sketches I would see as a kid before the film adaptations and video games took over. There’s no grittiness to the image, no blue/orange contrast that’s common in many films, and no photorealism that can sometimes be overused. Instead we get noticeable brush strokes and a warm pallet of colors. It’s an inviting image, and one straight out of a story book but not lacking in quality. It’s an image that can evoke nostalgia for some and for strictly film fans, still portray Gandalf in a believable way.
And while I mention the films, I’d like to direct attention towards the Lord of the Rings Animated Movie by Ralph Bakshi. I always enjoyed the movie and what it attempted to do back then. I particularly enjoyed the art style. There was something about the tone of the characters and backgrounds that I still don’t see all too often in this franchise. The imagery was pleasant, but sometimes dark and occasionally even both. It made the world of Middle Earth a bit… eerie I suppose. This isn’t too say that the Lord of the Rings HAS to have a creepy vibe to it but man does it work in those early parts of the story. Something isn’t right in the world, and despite all the green and yellow and happy faces everywhere, the shadow begins to grow. This is very apparent when you watch the animated movie. Right from the get go the Shire simply doesn’t look altogether pleasant. Something is just off. It makes things ever more frightening when the Hobbits leave the Shire and encounter a Nazgul for the first time. Where in the animated film it’s a scary scene, I would only call it a tense one in the PJ films.
Of course this is all subjective and I’d love to hear other takes on this discussion and the opinions on the tone in the early parts of PJs Fellowship. It could simply be the difference in the two mediums, or maybe now that I’m older as well, but I was never put off from the live action portrayal of this scene than I was with the animated one. It doesn’t mean that PJ doesn’t get his moment though. I get a similar feeling in PJs films when Gandalf is laying down some serious exposition one night at Frodo’s home. The bright green blades of grass and blue sky are gone and we are left with dark golds and browns and red and Gandalf’s pipe smoke filling the room. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the whole film trilogy.
That was a bit of a derail but I don’t know how else to get across how much I love this depiction of Gandalf by Lucas Graciano. I get that same strange feeling when I look at his depiction of Gandalf. It’s not an offputting photo by any means, but I wouldn’t call it completely positive either. The golds and the greens are definitely inviting. There is a bright light on Gandalf’s face. And yet when you look at him, he is lost in thought, his face expressionless. The rest of him is in the shade and all around him are branches that seem to creep in from nowhere. The Gandalf in this image knows something is up, and that’s what I love about this artwork. Like John Stanko, who’s depiction of Frodo I discussed in an earlier article, it’s a shame this game did not get to see more of what Lucas Graciano has to offer. All we get to enjoy from him are his depictions of Gandalf and thankfully Radagast as well. I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky that we received two very good depictions of two very important characters, even if Radagast is only portrayed indirectly through an event card. Even so, Lucas Graciano does a good job of using a style that harkens back to the older generation of Lord of the Rings artwork.
When I wrote this article I will admit I did not know who Mr. Graciano was. Unfortunately it is often difficult to remember the names of the myriad of illustrators that contribute to the various games we play. After I did some research it didn’t take me too long to find out that I had seen quite a bit of his work before. He has done work for Magic: The Gathering and D&D as well. The art he did for Tyrannical Devil (a M:TG card with the name changed to “Vexing Devil”) was one of my favorites when I started playing the game. Thankfully we can at least enjoy his art albeit in a different game since it seems he is still continuing to create art for M:TG. He maintains a blog as well as an etsy store where you can purchase some of his prints and if you’re into M:TG some of his proofs. Though you can’t purchase the Gandalf print from his store there is a pretty awesome portrayal of Thorin Oakenshield at the Battle of Five Armies at a very reasonable price. So I recommend you check it out!
What do you think of the Core Set Gandalf Art? Do you think that style has survived throughout the game’s life span or has it shifted in another direction and if so, are you happy with the change?
-The Secondhand Took
If you’d like to see the work of other artists be sure to check out my Art Page!