Interview with Artist Jeff A. Menges

Jeff A. Menges illustrated Magic cards from the very beginning of the game. He made it to the hall of fame of Magic artists with only 54 pieces. His work appeared on cards in Alpha, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark, Ice Age, Alliances, Fallen Empires, and Homelands.

Mister Menges is not only a master at painting landscapes, especially winter landscapes — he also had a couple of very exquisite recommendations. Let's find out more about his career!

Dr. Exhume: Mr. Menges, please tell us how you came to illustrating.

Jeff A. Menges: My interest in illustration has always been about imagining what I was reading. The better the writing, the more imaginative the place, the more I enjoyed creating the visuals to go with it. In the late `70s — eeesh… — I was reading lots of sword and sorcery fiction, and the scenes they put in my head gave me all the material I needed to work from. To this day, if I don't read, I have a more difficult time generating the imagery to go along with it.

Dr. Exhume: You illustrated Magic artworks since the very first set, Alpha. How did you get involved in Magic: The Gathering?

Jeff A. Menges: My earliest published works were in the role-playing industry. I saw it as a stepping-stone to getting book cover work. When Wizards was first publishing, I was doing work for role-playing games. When Magic came along, the first people they asked about doing cards were many of the artists they were already working with on their role-playing products. I was one of them.

Dr. Exhume: Do you have a special relationship to a certain artwork you painted? Is there a piece you regret these days?

Jeff A. Menges: There are some that I hold dear, and others I would love a chance to redo. It is also important to understand that the work on that first set … was all about taking a risk. No one knew if the game would do anything. So a lot of it was done with great …. economy. But some pieces still feel like old friends, and I am immensely proud to be a part of the group that started such a phenomenon. The card I am most connected to is probably Citanul Druid from Antiquities.

citanul druid

Dr. Exhume: Is there a colleague you admire, whether new or old, inside or outside of Magic?

Jeff A. Menges: It's a wonderful community to be a part of. There is a lot of support among the artists, and I call many of them friends. The list of those I admire would be long, and for many different reasons. Mark Poole and I were doing the convention circuit together before Wizards was on the scene, and his work has grown immensely since those days. Ryan Pancoast is a more recent contributor, whose work really captures a lot of the feel I strive for in my imagery. Outside of Magic, most of the artists I look at are a century gone — favorites include: W. J. Aylward, Noel Nisbet, Herbert Paus, Mead Schaeffer. Look a few of those names up.

[I did and was stunned by the art of Maed Schaeffer. Thanks, Mr. Menges!]

The Count of Monte Cristo by Maed Schaeffer, 1928
The Count of Monte Cristo by Maed Schaeffer, 1928

Dr. Exhume: Many Magic enthusiasts are still obsessed with classics like Black Knight and Moat. How do you explain that?

Jeff A. Menges: It's mostly about nostalgia, and the card. Maybe the image made them think it was cool when they first saw it, but it was winning with it that made it dear. Both things make a real mark. No one told me the art for Bazaar was amazing, until Dredge became a thing. Now, it has huge fans.

bazaar of baghdad

Dr. Exhume: I always loved the way you painted grey and white textures on stones (Wolverine Pack and Consecrate Land) and rags (Bog Wraith and Zombie Master), but my undisputed favorites among your portfolio are the icy landscapes (Thawing Glaciers, Kjeldoran Outpost, Iceberg, Ice Floe, War Mammoth). How would you describe your style?

Jeff A. Menges: I love drawing winterscapes. Ice Age and Alliances were so much fun for me. I just moved to Vermont, and I'm expecting lots of inspiration outside my windows this winter. I put snow in the original set, because living in the north, snow was just part of the scenery for a good part of the year. It's not always summer. My style is more impressionist than most — I'm never trying to hide that a piece is a painting, but trying to use that to my advantage, to tell a better story.

kjeldoran outpost war mammoth thawing glaciers

Dr. Exhume: What are you currently working on?

Jeff A. Menges: My table is full of lots of private commissions these days, and for the last eighteen months I've been working on a new game product, with more new work in it than I have done in ages. I am very much looking forward to having new images out there. This winter, I will be turning to some of my own projects again … Thanks for asking! Best to you and your readers.

Dr. Exhume: Thank you very much!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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D-aggressive-B(20.11.2020 10:58)

Master of the Hunt is just majestic. Yeah, there's probably a big nostalgia component, but before there were better options, this and Gaea's Cradle was just a bands-with-others bomb that was very fun to attack and block with. And the great art made it even better. I always imagined him to be in the same woods as black knight.

ctobehn(20.11.2020 12:08)

D-aggressive-B Agree on Master of the Hunt.

Who wins? I think the Black Knight is going for the draw haha

testthewest(19.11.2020 18:12)

Funny, but starting with 4th ed and some Revised, his artwork was the most typical for me, when I imaginged MTG and I didn't even realize the artist, till this article showed me.
Black Knight, Swords to Plowshares, Bog Wraith. This style was MTG for me - simple and classic, believable, but still magical. It is exactly what is missing these days in MTG art.
I hope one fine day he gets to paint a few more cards illustrations for our game!

ctobehn(20.11.2020 12:05)

Testthewest true! Those mentioned cards are blueprints of what Magic used to be. Thanks!

zappazap(18.11.2020 21:43)(Edited: 18.11.2020 21:45)

Such a great read! Jeff Menges is one of the greatest MTG artists, and my personal favorite is his Firestorm Phoenix. The way that the phoenix fills the whole sky with flames is amazing, and it's always placed at my desktop for me to view at!

ctobehn(19.11.2020 06:31)

Zappazap Thanks! That's a wonderful painting and I love the true appreciation! Great!

Groningen1966(18.11.2020 07:53)

Great article, fun to read. The Outpost is also one of my favourites.

ctobehn(18.11.2020 14:24)

Groningen1966 Thank you! Yes, the Outpost and the Glaciers are timeless! Classics!