Whenever the subject of old school D&D art is mentioned, certain names will inevitably pop up: such as Erol Otus, Dave Trampier, Jeff Dee, and Larry Elmore - some of the greater and most celebrated early artists of the TSR stable. But among the greater number of artists, including those no less recognisable, but for whom the ages haven't preserved in as high regard, there are other names which are perhaps less celebrated. And today I'm thinking of the late, great Dave C Sutherland III, who died this day in 2005.
You've seen Sutherland's art if you've seen anything from the early days of RPGs, including Holmes Basic D&D and its companion 1st Edition AD&D - hell, Sutherland's art to me is 1st Edition AD&D, good and bad.
It's unfair that Sutherland's work suffers the lot it has, while those of his
immediate peers have over time accrued comparatively greater glory; and
yet maybe it's because Sutherlands work sits so readily alongside the
likes of Dave Trampier's and Erol Otus, that comparison damns him.
Sutherland's art has been called a lot of things; naive, 'aspirational',
amateurish, goofy, and just ugly. The website Something Awful in its one-time series WTFDnD? lumped his work in the
Monster Manual alongside other, earlier D&D Holmes era art, "Outsider
art" - a deeply unflattering term. Sutherland's art is what it is - varied and variable, but I would say that when on form he truly held his head high.
Just as Trampier had the Players Manual cover with its demonic stone idol and adventurers, and Otus Deities and Demigods, Sutherland produced the Dungeon Master's Guide and, for his sins, the Monster Manual. Though the latter has aquired a sort of kitsch following with its busy, garish and literal layout, there's nothing wrong with the cover of the DMG; the efreet depicted on
it looks appropriately saturnine and dramatic, and his interior full
page piece 'A Paladin in Hell' is a recognisable classic. Sutherland's box art for Holmes edition Basic D&D presents a shortform imagining of a D&D game conclusion, featuring a Fighter, a Wizard, a Dragon and its hoard. Sutherland was a
literalist, if nothing else.