If I asked someone what their favorite piece of Magic Art was I imagine most would say the art of this card or that card. I think it would surprise most to know that probably my favorite piece of Magic Art isn’t on a card at all. Magic Art is more than just the art on the cards; it’s any piece of art commissioned by Wizards of the Coast and done in the setting of Magic: The Gathering.
The most famous pieces of art for Magic: The Gathering are undoubtedly on cards, but concept art, promotional art, illustrations for books and even comic art have been done in the 25 years since Magic’s release at Gencon in 1993. Several fans of the game don’t know that Magic has an extensive history with comic books, but take a look below and you can see most of the Magic comics I own in a photo; and that’s not even most of them.
These were Magic: The Gathering's first foray into comic books and some of the earliest stories fans of the game got the chance to read. Novels were written starting in 1994, but they were not telling the story of the cards, they just took place in the same setting. The comics above are the first attempt to tell the stories behind the cards themselves. Starting in 1995 through to 1996 Armada published more than 30 comics for Magic: The Gathering; that might not seem like a lot but at the time for a card game tie that was a good amount of comics.
In the early 1990s digital coloring in comic books was becoming more and more popular. Armada which was working under Valiant Comics still did all their coloring traditionally. More artists than I can list here easily worked on these series. Eric Hope was the colorist for the Ice Age comic and recently posted several of his pages up for sale on Ebay. In the art below we can see the first depictions of several characters and events that were only referenced previously on cards. Tevesh Szat, Leshrac, Lim-Dul, Freyalise, Chromium Rhuell, The World Spell that ended the Ice Age; all seen for the first time on the page of a comic book.
There wouldn’t be a Magic: The Gathering comic book done again for over a decade until in 1998 the story of the Tempest set called Gerrard’s Quest. Published by Dark Horse, these 4 issues go into a story that wasn’t even covered in the books or cards at all; like the sacking of Crovax’s estate by Morinfen and Gallowbraid or how Sisay recruited Gerrard for the Weatherlight. Pencils were done by Pop Mahn and the covers by artist Mark Harrison.
More than a decade would pass again before Magic would do another comic. In 2010 Wizards of the Coast published 2 compilations of webcomics dealing with storylines centered around planeswalkers called Path of the Planeswalkers. You can still read it for free on Magic’s website, and there are some great articles on the creation of these comics. Stories were done by multiple artists, but several of which are prominent Magic: The Gathering artists, like Christopher Moeller, Izzy, Dave Dorman, and Dan Scott.
In 2013 Wizards partnered with IDW to publish 4 series of comics across 17 issues centered around the story of Dack Fayden who was created specifically for the comic series. Dack would go on to eventually be printed on a card in the Conspiracy set, but before that he only existed in comic form. The story followed the thief/planeswalker Dack as he planeswalked between several planes. While the interior illustrations were all done by Martin Coccolo, there was a cover for every issue done by artists that were printed on promo cards that came with the comics.
Wizards took another 4 year break before partnering with IDW to publish another comic book following the character Chandra. While by the same publisher it is not connected to the previous comic series from IDW. So far only 1 issue has released as of the time of this article, but 4 are planned. The pencils are by Harvey Tolibao, with colors by Ken Lashley and Siya Oum; there is even an alternative cover by Victor Adame Minguez.
Now I have never seen them personally, but there is even some Magic: The Gathering Mangas. In 2000 Magic- Urza & Mishra was published going into the story of the Brother’s War between Urza and his brother Mishra. 10 years later in 2010 Purifying Fire was published as a Manga in the magazine Dengeki-Maoh.
At the beginning of the article I mentioned that my favorite piece of Magic art is not from a card. I have had a love for comic books since I was five and I got a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a reward for being good during my aunts wedding; I got to roll out the aisle runner. Comics were my intro to a world of art and drawing that would be with me for the rest of my life. Then upon finding out that the game I loved had comics books I went and I looked for every copy I could find. Soon I found these two and they would cement one artist as a personal favorite of mine. The Homelands and Serra Angel comics are both illustrated by Rebecca Guay; I enjoyed the stories and loved the art. Homelands was my first time really seeing that there was a story behind the legendary cards I collected; Baron Sengir and Grandmother Sengir, two prominent “evil” characters from the early days of Magic, were both in the story and there was Serra of Serra Angel fame.
My favorite Magic painting comes from the back cover of the Homelands comic. Below we see Serra and Feroz in an intimate scene with Taysir, Sandruu, and Baron Sengir as looming ephemeral figures above them. I love the tension as we see the sense that something isn’t quite serene with the held sword and the ghostly figures. But one of the things I love is the reference to J.W. Waterhouses 1896 painting Hylas and the Nymphs. The placement of the figures, the pond with lillies are all reminiscent of Waterhouse’s painting. The character of Feroz also died before his time like Hylas, though he dies to a fire elemental, not water nymphs.
Magic art has such a rich history. The paintings for Magic are some of the best fantasy paintings in the world. As I said before the most famous works of art for the game are on the cards but there is an incredible amount of Magic art out there that never appears on a card. From Magic’s early days visual storytelling has been built into its DNA and what better medium for that than comics, where the written word and pictures exist together?