Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Sensory Deprivation

As I said in my original post about Sensory Deprivation, the image of someone with their eyes and mouth sewn shut is hardly a new idea.  For proof of this fact, I was pointed to another image by writer, Magic player, and sometimes reader of this blog, John Dale Beety.

©Wizards of the Coast
The image above is that of a card from a game once known as "Jyhad," but which changed its name (for what I think are obvious reasons) to "Vampire: the Eternal Struggle." 

What strikes one off the bat is that the name of the card is exactly the same.  So is the concept behind the image.  If you look at the bottom of the card, you'll notice that it has a copyright of 1995, and that the copyright is held by none other than Wizards of the Coast, the company which produces "Magic: The Gathering" (for which I produced the aforementioned Sensory Deprivation image).

©Wizards of the Coast
So.  You've got the same company.  The same name.  And the same concept.  Naturally, what Mr. Beety wanted to know was whether or not there was a connection.  Was this some weird callback to a game from sixteen years ago?  Did the fine folks at Wizards gravitate toward the sketch for this image for some meta reason?

As much as the answer "yes" might make for a good story, I'm afraid that the answer is no.  I went ahead and spoke to the art director, Jeremy Jarvis, regarding this image and he assures me that there was no conscious attempt at referencing the old image.  Nor was he aware of anyone working on the team (writers, concepters, etc.) who had also worked on Jyhad/Vampire.  It's also worth noting that the working title of the image wasn't even "Sensory Deprivation" to begin with, it was "Dead Senses."  Not a far stretch, but I think it further proof of there being no intended reference.

Of course, all this begs the follow up question of whether or not I was the one attempting the reference.  Again, the answer is no.  I've never played Jyhad/Vampire.  In fact, I've only seen cards from the game a few times.  And I hadn't seen this one until Mr. Beety sent me an image.

Why, then, are the two so similar?  Well, personally, I think it's mostly due to tropes.

I have no idea what Richard Thomas' art order looked like nor do I have any idea what his art director was looking for in the image.  Still, I think it's clear that both Richard and I were likely batting in the same ballpark.  The entire game he was working on was based on the tropes of horror, and that is what the Innistrad expansion set (which my Sensory Deprivation is part of) happens to be about, as well.  In fact, Innistrad is a virtual checklist of horror tropes.  Everything from werewolves, Frankenstein monsters, zombies and even the mobs of angry villagers are accounted for.  And the moment you have a bunch of these concepts at play, with all the stitched beasts and medieval torture that buttresses such things, I think it was only a matter of time before someone broached this idea — especially because the concept works so well with the game mechanics and also because the idea itself is not fictional, which in turn perhaps makes it all the more horrifying.

Given all that, I think it's pretty safe to say that Richard Thomas and I were not only shooting for the same kind of Gothic atmosphere common in such horror tropes, but we were likely both trying to find the most horrifying way of depicting what is clearly the same concept. 

Despite all this, there are some key differences that I think are obvious, but worth noting.  Whereas I stopped at the sewn eyes and mouth, Richard pushed the idea even further with sewn ears and nostrils.  If I'm honest, I got really hung up on the visceral tugging of the mouth and eyelids and just never took the next leap.  Part of me wishes I'd thought to.  Also, my image has more of a mid-struggle approach, whereas Mr. Thomas' image leaves one with quite a different vibe.  There's still struggle — the tension is clear as day — but with everything so sewn shut completely, there's an air of finality, of futility, which depending on the kind of person you are may be even more disturbing.

What strikes me about all this is just how similar the pieces ended up being in palette and composition.  The fleshtones are a little pallid with hints of pink, the hair in both is fairly dark — even the backgrounds have a bluish hue!  Also similar is the scale.  We both went for closeups of the face for a good, clear shot.  These similarities can't just be coincidence, can they?

I'm betting they're not.  I looked at the idea of someone in such a condition and figured that they wouldn't get out much.  Hence the pallor.  The pinkish bits are born of the blush of frustration and tension.  And I chose blue for the background because it sits well and because it would offer up opportunities to pull that color into the face in fun (for me) ways.  Composition was mostly due to a factoring in of reduction.  I had to make sure that everything read clearly when shrunk down.  It's entirely possible that Richard Thomas' decisions were made in a similar fashion for similar reasons.  Or, it could be that we've both seen the same image at some point — be it from a movie or an old painting somewhere — that stepped forward subconsciously to help guide the reins.

Either that or Richard Thomas and I are the same person.

We're not the same person.


  1. This was an awesome story :) I love hearing fun job stories like this.

  2. Mike,

    Thanks! Most of the gigs I get are more run of the mill. This one got weirder as time went on. What will likely be even weirder is where the painting will eventually end up.


  3. I don't know how much of a gamer you are Steven but at least you can say the mechanics are completely different, dropping a creatures stats as oppose to a straight prevent it from doing anything.

    I wonder if Wizards, much in the same vein Blizzard does, do reference their own work or are possibly thinking about it in future sets. I know they do inside magic but referencing different titles. You might have planted a seed in Jeremy's mind, or watered one that was already there.

  4. Kade,

    Sure I could say all that, but it's hardly anything to do with my own choices. Differentiation in mechanics helps to set the cards apart, but it does little to push the art apart.

    As per your speculation, I think it's more that Jeremy is a horror aficionado. I remember in college walking through the local video stores with him and asking him if he'd seen any given horror title. I never once stumped him. He'd seen them all and could give me a synopsis on each. Knowing his own sensibilities, I think I just hit something that resonated with him. If there was a seed in his mind, I suspect it had little to do with any previous Wizards game, but rather the fevered visions of a man who is armed with almost total recall.

    When he tells me that he'd never seen the Jyhad card and that there was never any reference intended or accidental, I tend to believe him. Though, admittedly it's possible that there was a cabal at work here. A cabal of which he was not a part.



I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.