The post below originally appeared on this blog in September, 2013. I'm reposting it here in the spirit of Anne's post about formative influences on the DIY & Dragons blog.
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We are, of course, the sum of our experiences. When it comes to how we view fantasy, we are each a crucible in which our influences are made molten and then shaped into something new. Our early influences are at the core of our imaginative alloy.
I’ve been tracing the early fantasy visuals I was exposed to and attempting to unravel where each fits into how I imagine.
How do you judge what was an important early influence? This is my (undoubtedly shoddy) rubric: if you look at it now, you still feel a visceral reaction to the possibilities it hints at.
Below are the early influences I still find wonderful, and what I think they taught me emphasized in bold type.As near as I can tell, the run of the "I...Vampire!" story in The House of Mystery comic was my first exposure to a lurid gothic aesthetic. I still find the cover pictures to the left, with its suave-but-dangerous vampire supping on blood amidst a veritable field of guttering candles to be absolutely enthralling. It was likely this same cover the started my lifelong interest in all things gothic. Whatever I learned from that is about commitment and following a muse wherever it will lead you. Get obsessed, and stay obsessed.
My first D&D book wasn’t a game book at all. Instead, it was The Forest of Enchantment AD&D storybook I bought from the school book sale in elementary school. This scene of ren faire bards and druids vs. sword & sorcery warriors and wizards set an important tone: in fantasy, anything can be mixed. Do not bat an eye; do not cry about maintaining a narrow "milieu!"
We didn’t get the paper at my house when I was a kid, but when I was at my grandparents’ house I would try to piece together the narrative of Prince Valiant comics from whatever Sunday papers they had forgotten to throw out. There would be gaps in the story, of course, but that didn’t make my interest in it wane at all. I still believe that it is okay to have "gaps" in your game’s story.
The mini-story books that came with the first bunch of He-Man toys were also terribly captivating. The cartoon was a massive, sanitized disappointment after the weird sword & sorcery aesthetic these comics deployed. It seemed like the creative team didn’t feel the need to check their weirder impulses: a skull-faced would-be conqueror? A barbarian on a giant green tiger? A space cop entering the fray? Yes, yes, and yes. Let weirdness be your permission slip.
Speaking of He-Man, I could spend all day looking at this decal for the dungeon of Castle Grayskull and wondering what each of those beasts entailed. The monsters you see are only half the story; there are also the monsters you never see fully–those are the ones that stay with you.
A friend of my mother's gave me a tarot deck illustrated by David Palladini one year for my birthday. I still have it, although at this point the cards are worse for wear and one of them is marred by a strange purple stain that I can only assume is some sort of eldritch infestation. And yet, these strangely pale denizens of a time shrouded in mists and all the mystic trappings of post-New Age aeonizing still compels me. Incorporating resonant symbols is a useful shorthand.