Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Ian Miller - an introduction

Ian Miller is one of the most prolific, successful and widely-published illustrators of the late 20th century. In my mind his oeuvre sits beside that of the amazing John Blanche as, perhaps, a cackling two-headed crow might sit beside a robotic floating skull. They have both contributed heavily to illustrative aspect of RPG and tabletop games and were teamed briefly in their dual-monograph Ratspike.

Miller was born in 1946 but the post-war austerity of his childhood was eased by his mother's involvement in theatre. Her dressing-up box was an endless source of entertainment. As a child he would draw scenes populated by Apaches, Egyptians and so forth, which culminated in him going on to study at Central St Martin's School of Art (arguably Britain's foremost art college). His trademark style of tightly woven, mesh-like pen-and-ink lines evokes memories of the great engravers like Durer while the stark tones hark back to German Expressionism.

His body of work is huge and has been a defining voice in late 20th century science fiction and fantasy visual culture. It is now impossible to think of Gormenghast without remembering Miller's depictions of the rotting edifice or to read Lovecraft and not see his bulbous, amorphous, vegetable forms. It was Miller who was key to defining the bleak aspects of Warhammer 40,000. While some of the illustrations in the original Rogue Trader rulebook are straight out of the pages of a happy-go-lucky 80s sci-fi comic, Miller's plates for the tome are populated with broken, sallow-faced infantrymen, half-starved and shivering from shell shock. In the two original Realm of Chaos bibles (which were a landmark in quality and volume) Miller's contribution stands proud. His illustrations are rightly given pride-of-place opening chapters and they nail the surreal, terrifying and demoniac world that is described. His rendering of the Chaos icons are canon and still used to this day.

I shall leave you with a small selection of Miller's work. This post is the first in a series on Miller and in the future I will write more about his publications, examine specific works and tell you about the severed leg wrapped in string he gave me.


  1. I've alway thought his work amazing and right up there with my other favourite artist of the time, Patrick Woodroffe. Certainly the period he was at GW was their Golden Age, and he pushed the company (and John Blanche's illustration, IMO) to new levels of professionalism.

    I saw a pre-Raphaelites drawing exhibition the other day and it made me ponder that it's quite sad that these 'fantasy' artists are only known as 'illustrators' in the modern age. In fact Miller, Blanche, Woodroffe et al are all in the same league as earlier illustrators who we think of as 'artists' with important places in the history of art. Certainly their technical skills are as good, and they are certainly far more imaginative than the medieval pastiches of the pre-Raphaelites.

    Perhaps this will change over time and one day their work will be studied and appreciated in art schools and the wider public as much as the 'classics'.

  2. Miller's Gormenghast castles and demonic trees have always stuck in my mind. It would be very cool to see him render some modern 40k stuff, since Space Marines have changed so much since he last drew them.

  3. He certainly wouldn't fit in with GW anymore, where they teach their young illustrators to draw in the 'Games Workshop style' (so I've heard). Gah!

    Miller has always been a total individual as an artist/illustrator, which seems to be becoming more and more rare these days.

  4. Great post, and a fine tribute to an exceptional artist. I first saw Ian's work in David Day's "Tolkien Bestiary", and loved it then. I always thought that his work echoes back a lot to Durer - which made it such a perfect fit with the early days of WFRP.

  5. Hi All - glad this has inspired. I think your comment about the Pre-Raphaelites is interesting Peter. I think most would agree that Art history is a construction. Furthermore any 'ranking' tells us more about ourselves than the works involved. However, I think Illustration and fine art are separate (and equally worthy) disciplines. As fine artists, the PRs were operating in a world of patronage and were very concerned with rejecting the constraints of Neo Classical Mannerism. Miller is an astounding illustrator operating as a commercial artist and capable of turning out the most inspired visualisations. Apples and pears. Or, in the case of Rossetti and Miller, pomegranates and broken, screaming rocking horses. ;-)

  6. i can assure mr head that no coaching of style or rendering techniques ever happen with GW artists - discussions between miself the artists and our IP manager will be entered into regarding content and drama - close proximity of work stations and an evolving organic inspiration from one artist to another is strong but not imposed - ians work would grace any GW product if we still used freelance illustrators ....

  7. Thanks for that clarification sir, and I'm sorry to have passed on that bit of unconfirmed gossip. Still, apart from your own excellent work, and Mr Miller's, fantasy and scifi art in general does seem to be far more 'generic' than it used to be, and it's no longer easy to tell the difference between artists, even to some extent in the wider illustration world.

    I was discussing this with a friend the other day as we recalled how vivid even the early AD&D illustrations were (Sutherland, Trampier etc), mostly because their slightly naive styles left holes for our imaginations to fill in, as it were. Modern game illustration is usually so slick that a lot of the character seems to have leaked away, IMHO.

  8. its absolutely a different beast these days and like other aspects of the genre its finding common levels of communication - artists have a visual language these days that just did not exist 30 years ago - then there was far more poor art and weak ideas as well which artists are aware of and do not wish to visit - so a natural process of this means that a certain level of visual exploration does not exist any more - a big part of this process for GW is the fact that our product offer both in terms of our backgrounds and miniatures has grown and solidified which sometimes seems to limit artistic expression - but not so - we do work a year or two ahead of release but you will see with releases from last summer a fresher and more expansive fantastical content in gw art let alone the sculpting ........

  9. You'll have to forgive me a bit John; I was there right at the start of GW (I have every issue of White Dwarf up to about 280) and nostalgia tends to give me 'blood-tinted glasses' somewhat about ye olde days of the company before the world-dominating empire of today. There was a lot of poor art in those days, I agree, but there were truly exceptional fantasy artists that rose out of the mire and stamped their individuality on young brains - yourself, Miller, Woodroffe, Dean, Matthews, - just look at the variety of styles in that small selection. The fact that we don't see this variety of styles these days is telling I think, and I for one have never been crazy about common levels of communication - I prefer the mavericks and the outsiders (as I'm sure you do), but I understand that doesn't always equate with the bottom line!

    In any case, all is, as you say, a different beast. That was then and this is now.

    Glad to hear that GW is still experimenting and creating though. I was never a player of the tabletop games, but to my left as I write is a complete collection of all the 'bookcase' box and 'big' box board and skirmish-level games you folks released from Valley of the Four Winds to the re-released Space Hulk, and I prize them greatly!