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Discussing The Art Of The Box

Discussing The Art Of The Box

Join Graeme Mason and experts from the website Original Video Game Art as they discuss their favourite videogame art from Bitmap Books’ The Art Of The Box.

Ibrahim Faraj, founder
Sanford Hesler, chief curator
Dan Maresca, senior curator

Haunted House – Steve Hendricks

Graeme: “I cited this as one of those game covers that overpromised in an earlier blog – but that doesn’t mean I don’t love this superb piece of art from Steve Hendricks. The floating terror-stricken eyes are the main draw (despite their unfortunate placement), as is the expression on the woman. You can almost hear her thinking, ‘What the hell is that?!’ such is the beautiful depiction of fear. The eponymous baroque house sits below, a trapped figure ghosting past a window.”

Sanford: “Atari art needed to stimulate the imagination of would-be game buyers, and Hendricks’ composite image here perfectly sells the fright of the woman against not only the mansion itself but all that makes it creepy: a mysterious silhouette in the window, a spider, and a pair of disconcerting eyes. Separate palettes for the mansion and the woman help pack two scenes into one.”

Super Castlevania IV – Tom Dubois

Sanford: “Tom DuBois' Super Castlevania IV is a masterpiece. The composition, colours, detail, confidence and tone all show off DuBois’ total mastery as an artist. Add in the strength of the Castlevania franchise, and the painting is an instant classic. While DuBois’ bold, dynamic style is anything but subtle, his rendering of vampire hunter Simon Belmont in yellows and warmer flesh tones intentionally stands out to contrast the darker tone enemies, but only just so. The enemies pack exceptional detail and look, frankly, badass.”

Graeme: “DuBois has tried to pack in as many enemies as possible into one image, and each is beautifully painted. My favourite? The screeching Medusa, her vampiric teeth, bright red eyes and snapping snakes emanating pure hatred.”

The Last Ninja – Steinar Lund

Graeme: “The simplicity of this image is its strength. Steinar Lund could easily have painted an action-packed scene from the game, the ninja surrounded by goons or monsters. Instead, we got the two famous sweat-beaded eyes, carefully studying their prey. By shrouding the image in black, Lund perfectly encapsulates the stealthy nature of ninjas, their eyes likely the last thing the victim sees.”

Sanford says: “Steinar Lund's artwork for The Last Ninja is striking, minimalist, and powerful. The ninja's piercing eyes dominate the black background and create a sense of mystery and danger. His design masterfully blends suspense and encapsulates the stealth and intensity associated with ninjas, making it a memorable game cover.” 

Demon’s Crest – Julie Bell

Ibrahim: “The Demon's Crest artwork genuinely haunted me as a kid. The dark, fiery background and ominous atmosphere evoke a hellish landscape. Firebrand's fierce expression and muscular stance convey an intense sense of threat and urgency, while the scattered skulls reinforce the dread. Julie Bell brilliantly captures the dark, gothic essence of the game, making it both terrifying and captivating, which is why I keep going back to play it repeatedly.”

Graeme: “A devilish and muscular imp, pure evil and hatred in its eyes. I love how it clutches a skull as if to say: “You’re next”.

Beach Head II – Oliver Frey

Graeme: “The American box art for this sequel echoes the original, an imposing fort under attack from planes and soldiers. In the UK, however, we got this magnificent picture from Oli Frey, a veteran of military-themed comics from the War Picture Library. A tattered soldier lobs a grenade while shells spring from his machine gun. It’s not all glory, though: a pair of soldiers struggle in pain beneath the hero, the water, and indeed war itself, swallowing them up.”

Sanford: Beach Head II maintains a simple palette—almost entirely yellows, greens, and greys—but fills the image area with detail. Oliver Frey was beloved for his magazine cover art, and with its sense of action and despair, this image shows why.”

Ant Attack – David Rowe

Graeme: “Sandy White’s Ant Attack terrified me as a kid. I’ve always had a minor phobia of ants – stemmed from watching the movie Phase IV at a too-tender age – so the stippled walls of the city of Antescher were always likely to instil nightmares. And it all began with the game’s cover, painted by the hugely talented David Rowe. A petrified couple quiver in a courtyard, menaced by a giant ant. With one of its legs smashing the wall before it, they’re clearly far from safe…”

Sanford: “David Rowe's Ant Attack image is simple yet effective, capturing both the game's isometric perspective and the scale of the ants players face. It’s a strong composition and remains iconic.”

The Great Escape – Bob Wakelin

Graeme: “While The Great Escape’s cover is a little more action-packed than the game itself, it’s a powerful image, portraying the drama of a wartime prison camp escape. Various explosions and prisoners are shown in the background, but it’s the sinewy arms, reaching up the barbed wire, that demonstrate the desperation and determination of these brave POWs.”

Sanford: The Great Escape is an in-your-face piece showing Bob Wakelins’s versatility. The barbed wire in the foreground sets a grisly tone for the piece, while the custom typography for the title adds a contrasting brightness, almost like prison floodlights. Wakelin ensured nearly every title he worked on stood out, and The Great Escape is no exception.”

Spaceward Ho! – Mike Winterbauer

Graeme: “This turn-based sci-fi game has its roots in the westward expansion across America of the 19th century, and artist Mike Winterbauer characterises this theme with Spaceward Ho!’s cover. The space cowboy takes centre stage, his lasso improbably snaring a nearby planet. Spaceships battle above, signifying the chaotic nature of events, while tendrils of flame reach up from the star below. A pleasingly anachronistic and upbeat image from the pen of Mike Winterbauer.”

Sanford: Spaceward Ho! is ridiculous and awesome. How much cooler can you get than a cowboy riding a shark missile while roping a planet? It’s over-the-top but memorable because of it. One of Mike Winterbauer’s most fun box art outings.”

Burai Fighter – Frank Cirocco

Sanford: Burai Fighter is one that always catches my eye. Frank Cirocco’s style shines, and his clean execution makes for an extremely captivating image. I love the colours and how those choices immediately focus the viewer on the protagonist and the imposing scale of the dragon, complete with a body that not only surrounds the player but continues into the foreground. Decades later, Cirocco’s art still pops!”

Graeme: “There’s a hint of SEGA’s classic Space Harrier here as a lone flying spaceman takes on a spiralling alien dragon. As Sanford says, the sharp, fine lines and sense of scale make the image jump out.”

Real Bout Fatal Fury 2: The Newcomers – Shinkiro

Graeme: “I love this cover and that the artist goes out of their way to produce something different. The narrow city alleyway reflects the Real Bout theme as mists swirl behind Terry Bogard. Terry’s taken a hit from his opponent, but the blow doesn’t appear to have dimmed his determination. The fine detail in his shoes and jacket (colour matched too!) is superb, and the artist uses the low angle to pointedly show the lower leg and shoe of Bogard’s opponent, callously crushing his red and white baseball cap.”

Sanford: “Shinkiro has a great command of shading and lighting, giving this piece a realistic feel and a sense of drama in a still moment of the fight. While a leg in the foreground isn’t the most intuitive composition, it does draw the viewer’s eye to the hat and then up to its owner, angry and ready to continue. The background is detailed yet fades away, keeping all of the attention on the fighters and the tone of the face-off.”

Our thanks to the OVGA crew, who have a Facebook group to discuss videogame art.

To read all about these fantastic pieces of art and more, buy The Art Of The Box – the world’s finest publisher of premier-tier gaming books.

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