The Prismatic Art Collection: A Nice Concept

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So about a year ago a Kickstarter project was funded around the idea of commissioning artwork for fantasy purposes that would be completely in the public domain. The goal of the project was also built around the desire to commission a group of diverse artists who would depict “fantasy heroes from diverse backgrounds”.

Though not explicitly stated on the Kickstarter, one can fairly summarize this interpretation to mean ethnic individuals from outside the Euro-centric male depicted norm of most fantasy artwork. The actual choice of wording for the project went as follows: “In geek culture there are plenty of Lukes, but not enough Landos or Leias.”

It was an intriguing idea, one put forth by a fellow blogger and role-player Tracy Hurley, who set up the Kickstarter for the mission which managed to garner 120% of its targeted capital of $5,000. And so a year later with the project fully funded I was curious how much of the artwork posted to the online repository for the project met this goal of an inclusive, and free, set of differing fantasy heroes.

Now fully funded and realized, the Kickstarter project has become an actual end product taking up residence at the website Prismatic Art Collection. As of the date of this posting, May 24, 2013, the collection includes close to a hundred pieces by 35 artists that range from black and white to full color. The renderings include rough, hand-drawn sketches, linear comic style artwork and anime-esque images.

Artist: Kaitlynn Peavlerbr
“Najal” © 2012 Kaitlynn Peavler, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license:

The artwork overall appears well done and at least to my untrained eyes, fit for personal projects and commercial ones. The bulk of the items are black and white solo line drawings depicting characters, creatures and monsters. From a pure numbers perspective the site has a total of 88 images available as of the date of this post. Now, being a mechanics minded Gamer, I decided to take a look at the break-down of this number in terms of the stated goals of the project, chiefly that blurb about “more Landos or Leias”.

From a pure raw tally of the number of pictures with certain subjects I came up with the following stats:

  1. 88 Total Images
  2. 39 Images where Women are included as the subject matter
  3. 22 Images where Women are the sole subject (included in the 39 above)
  4. 10 (or so) Images where ‘Ethnic’ Women were included as the subject matter (included in the 39 above)
  5. 5 (or so) Images where ‘Ethnic’ Men were included as the subject matter (intersects with some of the 39 above)

Given the fact that a number of the images were rough sketches that looked to be of Draft quality, there were some of these I had difficulty discerning features that could conceivable be considered ‘ethnic’ so I went by clothing more than anything else. But just looking at these numbers it seems, to my untrained eye that the numbers are somewhat, or perhaps greatly, disappointing.

One of the roughly half-dozen renderings of an apparent ‘ethnic’ male in fantasy clothing.
Artist: Jenna Fowler
“Gustav” © 2012 Jenna Fowler Attribution-ShareAlike license

For a project set up to be fulfilled by and depicting diverse individuals, the final tally by my personal assessment yields less than half of the images are renderings of female or ‘ethnic’ persons. So what started out as a project where the usual majority of icons were expected to be replaced by truly different depictions ended up looking very much like the traditional fantasy landscape.

I mention this Kickstarter not to point out its apparent short-comings but because it echoes other sentiments I myself and others have had about the renderings within the role-playing fantasy genre. Namely the under representation of images from a diverse background. Which is why this Kickstarter seemed so promising. What is also highly disappointing is the fact that the depictions were done by a group of apparently diverse artists, which seems to beg the question, why didn’t they themselves choose to render a more eclectic vision of fantasy individuals.

This topic really came to the forefront of my gaming thoughts recently because of the chance to participate in a Dark Sun Campaign I have coming up. In designing a character for this setting I was looking into pictures to use as a profile for the Templar character I wished to build. The setting of the Dark Sun world has a distinctive Middle Eastern and African feel and I was searching for characters with this look but done in a fantasy style. I did not find many.

One place I expected to find such images was through Paizo, a company that looks to be very expansive in its depictions of adventurers but they too seemed to have a stock variety of certain male characters along with a few ‘ethnic’ female characters. When it came to varied tonal males there were however, perhaps even unfortunately, an abundance of non-human decidedly savage and, distinctively less than heroic depictions I could have chosen from with the appropriate attire; orcs, bugbears, drow, goliaths, but few say, Abbasid-like warriors. Even Paizo’s iconic Monk who I had for a long time assumed might fit a Middle Eastern affectation on closer inspection seemed less ‘ethnic’ than I had originally thought.

The indeterminable Monk of Pathfinder.
Image Copyright:
Paizo Publishing LLC

It is fairly easy to agree with the fact that fantasy depictions should model the source material as much as possible. Given the emphasis on its Tolkien-esque Western European roots, fantasy settings are very narrowly focused on the particular cultures they choose to render.

But given the fact that a setting like Dark Sun has become popular which itself is based loosely on Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series, which itself spawned so many tropes of role-playing vernacular (the ubiquitous Vancian magic), which in turn is set in a desert-like world of the future, one would think that there would be much more variety in iconic hero depictions to match the fantastic settings they inhabit.

Unfortunately even when presented with the opportunity to take on these shortcomings of the genre, the fact that a project with the stated goal of expanding these depictions still falls short, to my untrained eye it really only means that the opportunity to realize these lofty goals still exists for newcomers to the scene; pioneers or Pathfinders if you will. And while I was thrilled at the idea of the Kickstarters original game-plan, its execution still leaves room out there for individuals willing to take on this idea anew.

So if you’ve got some time, a bare minimum of artistic talent, why not pick up a pen, pencil or stylus, let your imagination run wild and colorful and try your hand at depicting some Landos and Leias of your own.

Oh yeah, and Game Forth.

  • A female blogger with their own perspective on inclusivity in the genre.
  • A trans-gendered v-logger with their own perspective on inclusivity in the genre.

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