Today we interview Sorcery: Contested Realm Artist, Jeff Menges. Jeff is an artist who requires no introduction, with decades of professional experience in the industry; but I will offer one anyway with some personal perspective from the impact that his artwork has had on my life.
Growing up as a kid in the '90s, I have fond memories of playing Magic the Gathering (MTG) with my closest neighborhood friends. The Sorcery: Contested Realm project has re-energized those deeply nostalgic ties to childhood memories. Never would I have imagined that some 2+ decades later I would have the opportunity to connect with artists, such as Jeff, who produced much of the iconic artwork that now serves like a time capsule to recapture some of those precious moments early in my life.
Since hearing of the game, and in recent weeks while researching the artists for these interview series, I have had a great time going through my childhood collection and re-discovering these iconic cards with a renewed appreciation for the fantastic artwork and the profound accomplishments these artists have achieved over the years. I have included below a few images from my personal collection that I have saved and cherished all these years.
With all of that said, it is a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to present the exclusive reveal of Jeff's "True Allegiance" card at the end of this interview!
Art Fan Pro Tip: This is an 'immersive' interview. Take the time to click the links to discover more information about references throughout the piece!
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Anson Maddocks stated in a recent interview that many artists slated to do work for alpha mtg dropped out because they were wary of the risk in royalty-based compensation before the game was a success. What gave you the conviction to take on that work for alpha mtg?
Jeff Menges: It wasn't so much about conviction, as it was opportunity. Artists that may have been scared off in the beginning, were those with better opportunities. It did feel risky. In `92 when I was first asked to be part of MTG— It was not easy to land color work. There were plenty of black and white art assignments, but color was difficult to break into. I recall thinking that doing a bunch of these would pay my rent, and give me small paintings to sell. Seemed worth a try.
[Jeff was one of the original artists to work on Magic the Gathering in 1992, and contributed 15 artworks for MTG's Alpha set that released in Aug 1993. Perhaps his most famous card from the set is Swords to Plowshares; the iconic white creature removal card.]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: You also described in a recent interview with the Concepts & Legends YouTube channel that you recognize the value in getting in on the ground floor of a new project and producing some of the original art. Was this one of the major motivating factors to take on the Sorcery project?
Jeff Menges: Not really. It can be a boon, but it also means taking a risk. Erik was clearly a fan of some of the look of early MTG, he wanted that vibe in this product. I am a traditional painter—He wanted only traditional works. He was serious about taking his time and doing it right. Every angle he threw at me, I found appealing. Other than the long gestation period, it's been great working on it so far. I believe that will (in the end) make it a better game.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: The economics of being an artist require that you efficiently budget your time with consideration for potential ROI with finite time to produce work (eg high value opportunities with less quantity vs perhaps lower priced work such as alters and artist proofs with higher quantity). So the fact that you have done 15+ pieces for Sorcery seems to indicate that you felt it was a worthy investment of considerable time and you see opportunity for the game. What gives you this confidence in the game’s prospects, and do you see any parallels to your mtg experience?
Jeff Menges: There are basic parallels. It's a fantasy card game; there has to be. Erik's creative direction has been open to the artist's individual vision, it's been wonderful to work that way, those opportunities are far and few in between. Yes, the assignments have been fun, but actually have been spaced out over 3 1/2 years— Near 20 pieces sounds like a lot, but it's averaged about 6 per year; a nice pace, without totally stifling the rest of my workload.
[See the end of the article for a full art gallery of many of Jeff's works for Sorcery]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: You have described how it was evident very early on into MTG’s release that the game was a big success. I have noticed that you have brought your Sorcery artwork to show appearances (most recently the IX2021, where Drew Tucker and Margaret Organ-Kean had their work on display as well). What was the response like from fans at the show?
Jeff Menges: I brought SCR paintings to IX, because they are the bulk of my "new" painting output in the last few years. Response has been great. The fans that talk to me about it, are very happy to see something new with that traditional feel. There's a lot of excitement building around it.
[From left to right in the images you see Jeff Menges, Drew Tucker, and Margaret Organ-Kean at IX 2021. All 3 featured their Sorcery artwork at the event. In Jeff's image, you can see he displayed Tragedy Worrywart, Pact with the Devil, Healers, Hills, and Pilgrim]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: “Monster Hunter” is one of your Sorcery pieces that really
stood out to me. Can you provide some insight into how you came up with the art concept for this one and some of the choices in the composition such as the scene setting and the expression on the warrior’s face, etc.
It took me a moment to see the “lurking minion”, and I love that!
Jeff Menges: Thanks, I really like that one as well. As far back as it was... It's hard to recall my approach. But I was setting a scene, and dressing a character with all the elements required— A heavy sword, a hammer/axe, and a crossbow as well. It would not be a cheerful job, tracking down monsters where they dwell. Dirty, dangerous, and messy.
[In the Sorcery: Contested Realm Fan Page Group on Facebook I mentioned that the
monster lurking in the ruins reminded me of an old mtg card that I couldn't quite put my finger on, so I ran a poll with various fan-contributed options and we had fun trying to guess. Jeff's response was fascinating. He stated that the monster figure is a silhouette so that it contains an unknown for the viewer to interpret as they wish. He added that the horns and humanoid figure added to this affect, as did its hidden and shadowy figure to provide the element of a 'hunt'.
Jeff further explained that he had done
his card "Pact with the devil" before this
painting. It is a scene with a demon emerging from the ground. Jeff explained that he had drawn a different kind of demon originally, with a head that had something of the look of an animal skull with wide, sweeping horns. Erik wanted a more traditional interpretation of the Devil, so this was changed. Jeff added that he really liked the earlier design, and perhaps this may have been in the back of his mind when roughing in the mysterious figure that appears in "Monster Hunter".]
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: It feels like painting druids has become a bit of a staple of yours, dating back to your iconic piece “Citanul Druid” from the MTG Antiquities set (one of your earliest works for mtg). Can you tell us more about your Mordric Druids piece for Sorcery? Being a big mtg fan and collector himself, I am curious if Erik specifically targeted this one for you. And also if you can share anything about the meaning of the circle patterns in the stones and the walkway; and anything else you’d like to share about the piece.
Jeff Menges: Yes, I was happy to have that one. One thing about Druidism, is that unlike "wizards" or "magi", it is uniquely tied to a single belief system; Celtic, in this case. So there is a bit of an unspoken guideline as to what makes that type of sorcerer appear as a Druid. Spiral patterns are used extensively in early Celtic design, I incorporated them as a decorative element in the stonework to speak to that. Making it a sunset time of day is a bit of a different approach from the usual forest greens—to help differentiate it from Druid scenes I've done in the past.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: One of the interesting aspects of Sorcery game design is the “mirrored pairs” concept, with two cards having related mechanics. Doug Kovac’s “Doomsday Prophet” and your “Tragedy Worrywart” are an example. You’ve mentioned that Doug is an old colleague of yours; how do you know Doug and have you worked on projects together in the past? Can you give some insight into the artistic direction you received for this from Erik, and if you even collaborated directly with Doug to work out the concept?
Jeff Menges: I know Doug from doing art shows with him, mostly in the latter `90s. We have a piece of his hanging in our house. I was aware that the Worrywart had a partner, but my direction and the one Doug took were totally separate, at least from my understanding. I did not know Doug was doing the other card, until I saw it on the fb page.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Are there one or two additional pieces that you have done for Sorcery that you are particularly fond of? Please explain a bit about why you are partial to those.
Jeff Menges: I'm certainly fond of "Blizzard"— It is one piece I've decided will stay with me for a while. I loved painting the layers of snowy forest, it feels like my environment for half the year.
Felbog Frog Men surprised me; when my wife made a plea to keep that one on the wall.
Monster Hunter and Mordric Druids were early favorites as well.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: How can fans support you and connect with you to purchase original paintings, artist proofs, prints, or other merchandise? You also seem to be fairly active with appearances; can we look forward to seeing you at IX2022 or other events in 2022?
Jeff Menges: Some of the original pieces have already found homes, by one means or another. The long development period of this game (I've been involved nearly 3 and half years now) made it near impossible to wait until the game's release. About half of my paintings, and almost all the sketches (final sketches) will be available after the actual release of the product. Any associated prints, proofs or merch will depend on the success of individual images after release. (Though any of the images will be offered at least as a digital print).
My convention schedule is slowly filling up for 2022. Among the larger shows, I'll be at Origins in Columbus Ohio, this summer, for the first time in over a decade, and yes— I'll be back at IX in October. A full list of appearances for this convention season will be posted on my webpage shortly.
Mike @ Collector Arthouse: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share with fans?
Jeff Menges: Working on this product has been a real pleasure, and I can't wait to see what it will do when it gets out there, and how it might grow. New releases? Tournament play? Who knows. Thanks for the chat. JAM
And now for the greatly anticipated exclusive reveal of "True Allegiance" (originally called "Oath of Fealty" in the development phase of the Sorcery: Contested Realm TCG). A big thanks to Jeff Menges for sharing his pencil sketch for us fans to enjoy!
Mike Servati @ Collector Arthouse and Collector Arthouse on Facebook, signing off...