Thursday, November 15, 2007

Martin McKenna

I first became aware of Martin’s pen and ink work as a teenager reading the original Jackson and Livingstone Fighting Fantasy adventure gamebooks when they first came out in the 1980s. I think the specific gamebook in question was probably ‘Daggers of Darkness’. I was immediately blown away by the detail and liveliness of his illustrations. Only later was I to discover that Martin was only about seventeen or eighteen years old himself when he received that commission, making his achievement all the more incredible.

As he continued to illustrate other FF gamebooks – such as ‘Vault of the Vampire’, ‘Dead of Night’, ‘Legend of the Shadow Warriors’, ‘Moonrunner’, ‘Return to Firetop Mountain’ and ‘Revenge of the Vampire’ – I also became aware of his work for Games Workshop and their Warhammer role-playing games in particular.

When I was fortunate enough to receive my first Fighting Fantasy commission, ‘Spellbreaker’, it was mentioned that I could request the artist I would like to illustrate the book and the editors would see if that person was available. I immediately asked for Martin, and I wrote the illustration brief for that book accordingly, with him in mind. However, in the end it was Alan Langford who illustrated ‘Spellbreaker’ (having already covered such classics as ‘Island of the Lizard King’ and ‘Battleblade Warrior’). I continued to request Martin for my books until my wish was granted. Not only did he produce all of the internal black and white illos for ‘Curse of the Mummy’, he also painted the cover. Incredible as it seems now, this was his first cover for the FF range and a fantastic piece of work it was too.

Since the FF series re-launch under the Wizard Books imprint, Martin has produced covers for a large number of the re-issued adventures, including ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’, ‘Forest of Doom’, ‘City of Thieves’, ‘Island of the Lizard King’, ‘Legend of Zagor’, ‘Eye of the Dragon’ and many more. It was as a result of the re-issue that I was eventually lucky enough to have Martin work on ‘Spellbreaker’ after all, when he produced the cover for the updated Wizard version.

When my own ‘Bloodbones’ finally saw the light of day, after a lengthy ten years’ gestation, I was thrilled to discover that Martin had been asked to produce the cover for that too. Having realised ‘Curse of the Mummy’ in coloured ink washes, he was now working digitally in Photoshop. The finished result was fantastic and I present it here in all its glory to be savoured by you all.

In time, of course, I was commissioned to write the first truly new FF gamebook since Puffin’s run of 59 adventures (and additional FF publications) came to an end in the mid 1990s. I was delighted that Martin was back on cover duties and also on internals. His style has altered slightly over time but I feel that his work is still unmistakeably his own. The illustrations he turned in for ‘Howl of the Werewolf’ are, I feel, among his very best, suitably grim and gothic, and enhanced by the fact that they have all been created digitally (despite what first impressions might suggest), allowing him to implement a scraperboard style, whereby he can effectively draw in white on top of black.

In the long run, Martin McKenna has had as big an impact on the look of the Fighting Fantasy range as, say, Russ Nicholson or Iain McCaig, and continues to do so to day. Naturally he has gone on to bigger and better things, including working in television and as a concept artist for computer games companies. You can see more extensive portfolios of his work at, the CG Society and, of course, on his own website.
All images are copyright © Martin McKenna, 2007, used with permission, all rights reserved.


Blogger Mataeus said...

Yup, McKenna is my all time fave FF illustrator. I'm a big fan of Tony Hugh's work as well, but this guy just says "FF" to me. Great to see the pics up here without any obstruction from text and print :D

November 16, 2007 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger ouf said...

Martin Mckenna is my favourite illustrator for all gamebooks. I'm french, and I'm very sad that our editor doesn't like to translate these kinds of books, and everytime there is a new gamebook publish, we have to wait and wait a long time. That's why I will translate on my own bloodbones and howl of the werewolf after I buy it. Whatever, thanf you for your blog, I really like it. Thank you one more time.

December 11, 2007 at 12:25 PM  

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