Interview with Artist Anson Maddocks
- Christian Tobehn
Anson Maddocks is one of Magic's very first and most iconic illustrators, and a big fan favorite to this day. He is responsible for some of the creepiest and most bizarre Magic artwork of all time, including Serendib Efreet, Maze of Ith, Animate Dead, and Frankenstein's Monster.
I was very happy about the very nice contact with Brenda Maddocks who covered my questions with Mr. Maddocks.
Dr. Exhume: Mr. Maddocks, please tell me about how you came to illustrating.
Anson Maddocks: I grew up in Sitka, Alaska, where I taught myself how to draw along with my friend Mark Tedin. I actually wanted to be a biologist as a kid and so I was already paying a lot of attention to nature and how living things were constructed. Fairly early on I realized that, through drawing, I could rearrange how things were put together, and that in combination with my interest in science fiction had me drawing all kinds of crazy things. When I left Sitka to go to college in Fairbanks I was taking premed courses but ran out of money. I then moved to Seattle to attend Cornish College of the Arts and was still funding my own education at that point, so I was taking whatever work I could find. I was painting leather jackets, doing work for the Seattle Weekly, creating installations, and murals in night clubs, anything I could do to make money. I eventually became so busy with illustration work that I dropped out of Cornish altogether.
Dr. Exhume: You illustrated Magic cards since Alpha and Arabian Nights. How did you get involved with the game?
Anson Maddocks: I was studying Graphic Design at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle — because they did not yet have an Illustration Program and figured this would be the next closest thing. Anyway, that was when a fellow student and friend, Andi Ruso, introduced me to Jesper Myrfors, who was also attending Cornish. Jesper was the Art Director for a small game company called Wizards of the Coast and said if I could give him a sample of my illustration style that he may be able to give me some work. I drew a creature from the description he gave me and apparently Jesper liked what he saw and offered me my first assignment, which was illustrating for a player's guide book for the role playing game, Talislanta. And so I was already doing work for Wizards of the Coast before Magic: The Gathering was even created.
Anson Maddocks: It would be extremely difficult for me to single out a favorite, but there are a few which I have always been more happy with: Cyclopean Tomb comes to mind … and maybe Demonic Torment and Spinal Villain.
Dr. Exhume: Is there an artwork you regret these days?
Fortunately, back then, because of the deadlines, it was hard for me to be picky about the work I was turning in. I had to get them done quickly and move on to the next. I was never very happy about the art for Pyrotechnics or Lifetap. But, then again, if you consider how long ago it was that these artworks were created, then perhaps you can find it understandable that I might find something I would now do differently with nearly every piece! It's been over 25 years … If my skills haven't grown or developed over that amount of time, then something is probably wrong.
Dr. Exhume: Was there a Magic card that another artist did which you wanted to do?Anson Maddocks: No, not really...Well, unless you count all of the Power 9's!
Dr. Exhume: You did a couple of Minotaurs in Homelands plus the iconic Hurloon Minotaur. Was there a specific connection to them?
Anson Maddocks: Not particularly. At least not any more so than any other creature I have created. I think because Hurloon Minotaur was chosen to be the first flagship image for the game, it became sort of similar to typecasting for actors.
Dr. Exhume: Your style is very unique and recognizable. Some pieces like Demonic Torment or Blood Lust for example are quite bizarre — and I mean this in the most positive way. How did you develop that?
Anson Maddocks: I am always striving to come up with an image which the viewer would be unlikely to have arrived at on their own. I feel that this is one of my primary responsibilities as an artist; to show others something they may not have considered otherwise. While working on the Alpha edition, I had no idea what the borders were going to look like, no back story, no feel for color types or anything at all like that. I just knew that they had to be visually readable, like the iconic graphic of a face card from a poker deck, and then adding to that the rendering of the characters and creatures. We also had no idea at the time that there were going to be additional sets and expansions, so when I did the art for Sengir Vampire I thought I was doing the art for the only vampire in the game. In fact, the assignment was called "Vampire" and Sengir was added to the card title afterward.
Dr. Exhume: Can you name your biggest influence?
Anson Maddocks: This isn't something I can narrow down to a single thing. Every life experience has been an influence, every teacher I have had, every friend I've had, every artist I have ever been exposed to whether I liked their work or not has been an influence. It's very difficult to quantify their impact on me to say one was more important than another … But if I absolutely had to pick one, then I would say Nature has been the biggest influence; observing how things are put together, how systems work together or even oppose each other, the movements of an animal, the geology of a rock formation; all of these things combined have had a very big impact on me. My own curiosity would have had me on this path regardless of what it had to work with.
Anson Maddocks: This question almost defeats the purpose of what I hope to deliver with my art; which is leaving out some of the information about what is in my head so that the viewer has to fill in some of the details for themselves. This is how I then get to enjoy my art; by hearing others' interpretations of it. I love when it's something unexpected.
Dr. Exhume: What are you currently working on besides the hilariously good alterations you do? I saw the Llanowar Elvis on Facebook and it's insane!
Anson Maddocks: Lately most of my days are spent doing commission-based work — mostly acrylic paintings and card alters, like the one referred to. I try to keep a balance between the tiny detailed work required for card alters with that of larger paintings, so I don't shrivel up too quickly! For my own personal pursuits I have been working on a series of very large sculptures and I am now remodeling my studio, doubling its size, so that I will be able to do some podcast and live video content. Brenda says I have to clean up my studio first though!
Dr. Exhume: Thanks a lot, Mr. Maddocks and Mrs. Maddocks, for the very nice contact!
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