Welcome back to Arting Around! This week I interview one of my personal Magic artist heroes, Jesper Myrfors. He was the original art director for Magic (from Alpha thru The Dark) as well as set director for The Dark. His style is incredibly varied (look at Elves of the Deep Shadow, Living Lands, and Cosmic Horror to see three very different artistic styles he’s worked with). All in all, the flavor of the game is very much Jesper’s doing. I was so stoked to interview him. Please pardon my fanboyishness. It’s extremely gratifying to share this with you all.


Interview with Jesper Myrfors

Matt Jones: I’ve been limiting these to three questions but man oh man it’s hard to keep it to three questions with THE Jesper Myrfors. You, Drew Tucker, and Jeff Miracola have had such a huge impact on my life. Your illustrations for Magic cards for Cosmic Horror, Bayou, Island Fish Jasconius, Ironroot Treefolk, jeez, I could just keep typing names of awesome cards you’ve illustrated, they were partially responsible for me deciding to double down on drawing and painting, eventually go to art school, and live the art-life I live today. It’s actually unbelievable how many of your early Magic illustrations I have memorized. I don’t actually know where to begin. I mean, PESTILENCE! That illustration shows up in my dreams, man. Anyway, can you talk a little bit about The Dark? Twin Peaks, The X-Files, the Resident Evil video games, and The Dark were the four horsemen of my youth. Not until Innistrad did I again fall in love with a Magic set the way I fell in love with The Dark. Where’d the set come from? What ideas were you guys and gals throwing around? Do you have any concept art from The Dark that I can share with our readers?

Jesper Myrfors: I will get to this much more in depth this evening, once I’m done painting for the day, but you certainly don’t have to limit your questions to three. I am happy to answer as many questions as you care to ask.

MJ: Oh awesome! Man, I’d love to see what you’re working on now!

JM: Well here’s one I just finished, a re-imagining of Living Lands.

Living Landsm

MJ: Good lord. Amazing.

JM: The Dark was conceived as an opportunity to do the kind of artwork I really wanted to do at the time. I also saw that based on the current schedule there would be a hole in the release schedule and that if I came in with a finished set there was a good chance they would accept it. It worked. On a greater level The Dark was a commentary on the evils of organized religion.

I never got into Twin Peaks, I think I saw maybe three episodes. So I really don’t have an opinion on it.

X-Files is one of my all-time favorite TV shows! I’m super excited about the new episodes. I was a huge fan of The Night Stalker as a kid, X-Files really is the modern equivalent.

I loved the first few Resident Evil games and played them often, but as technology and game play evolved, Resident Evil did not seem to follow. I do most gaming on PC now and there are many, many games that are not only better than RE but easier to control. It was great for its time, but it cannot compete with Dead Island or Dying Light as a fun zombie game. Also the story is needlessly convoluted. Imagine for a moment you had to use the bathroom in the Raccoon City Police Dept. Sure, to get the key find a gem and place it in the statue’s left eye, then take the note that drops out and find a patch of moonlight in order to read the password. With that password go to…too late…pissed my pants.

I tried paying some of the newer RE games on the PC but the control schemes were just to frustrating to deal with, and I do not like using a game controller, it’s why I switched to PC.

MJ: Yeah RE was a pain in the ass. RE:4 on the Wii solved a lot of the control and gameplay problems of previous RE games (I didn’t play the PS3 or Xbox versions). Being able to move through space by waving one’s hands was really nice. The point and shoot action of the Wii mote was especially good in RE:4 as one’s gut instinct was turn and fire 90% of the time stemming from the brilliant horror pacing of the story. About a year ago Destiny came out, an FPSMMORPG (first person shooter massively multiplayer online role playing game), and I have barely touched other games since. The gameplay is so fluid and intuitive. The world is so convincing and so beautiful. The plot is hinted at but never thoroughly explained. A lot of Destiny players complain about a lack of very specific answers and clarity for the characters, classes, and events of Destiny’s narrative, but I love it. I love that the writers set up a world and didn’t tell us what everything is, what everything means, why things are the way they are. It feels intentional and feels like they left a lot of the story untold so the players can fill it in with our own ideas. This brings us closer to the game because we are part of the story telling in communal and individual ways. The Dark felt this way to me as a kid (as did Fallen Empires, honestly, I feel that set in my bones). There are goblins and orcs and really scary looking cards (Amnesiamtg_card, Scavenger Folk, etc.) that set a tone but no overpowering story line like current sets have. There’s space in The Dark (and all early Magic: The Gathering sets) for the players to create their own stories from the artifacts, creatures, and spells depicted on the cards. We could tie it all together locally. I miss that. I’m not that interested in the interactions of the planeswalkers and much more interested in what the hell Goblins of the Flarg are up to (and where they got their cool armor). So, this isn’t so much a question as a rambling about how much I miss the freedom and flavor of the original Magic: The Gathering sets. Was this set up intentional on you and your team’s part? Any thing to add to my rambling, from your perspective as the maker?

Another question, that I think about re: you more than any other Magic artist, what’s the reasoning behind your many different styles of painting? How do you come to have such varied style? I find it totally impressive that Living Lands, Sisters of the Flame, Season of the Witch, Witch Hunter, Wormwood Treefolk, Thallid, Land Equilibrium, and Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore, are all painted by the same artist, you! When I was in art school I took a lot of shit for making many different styles of work (sometimes I still do!) but was never satisfied with being one kind of artist (even today some people’ve said “oh yeah, you’re the guy who paints space” to me, and I smile and nod). Can you talk about your various styles, why you have them, what the benefits are in working this way, and anything else you can think of related to this topic? It’s inspiring to me.


JM: You absolutely nailed it. Originally our goal was to give artists as much freedom as possible. My thinking was that if I had 25 or so really creative people working for on this, why not use their input? They would certainly come up with things that would never occur to me and thereby make the world a richer place. That changed when the company wanted an “ownable” intellectual property as well as cutting artist pay by 1000s of percent.I painted in different styles because I could. I love to experiment and to try new things. I was right out of art school and was still very much finding my voice. I still like to try new things whenever I can. I believe the moment an artist stops trying to grow, they die as an artist. Then it becomes work. I have so many influences artistically but I really wanted to establish my own look, I would hate for someone to say that my work looks like someone elses. At one time I was listed as online as “The worst artist in MTG, but at the same time Elves of Deep Shadow was voted the best illustration in the game. (Which I don’t agree with btw, there were way better pieces.) But I really did like the fact that people were that torn.  At least they had an opinion.monsters

MJ: It’s great that you make a line of affordable original works for fans! I did (and am still doing) a project where I get Magic artists to draw an ogre or other monster on the back of a proof. When I get enough of them (probably 20 so far) I’ll write an article with all the images in it. It’s cool to have a small bit of penciled creativity from the people who inspired me when so young (and continue to do so). Magic came at just the right time in my life and expanded my imaginative world already going full speed from comics like Spawn, Venom, Wonderman, and all the fantasy movies I watched relentlessly (Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Willow, the Evil Dead films, etc.). It means a lot to be able to hold an original pencil drawing, a literal piece of inspiration from the source itself.

“I painted in different styles because I could.” is a great line. Actually, your entire response could be put into a “How to be an artist” primer handed out to everyone entering art school. Anyone interested in becoming an artist should read and re-read this tremendous response. My buddy Kadar and I were labeled “the worst painters of the new century” by Charlie Finch in an Artnet article from ten years ago. We continue to show and sell our work. Kadar’s becoming quite famous. I’ve had people tell me incredibly beautiful personal stories in response to one of my usually quite abstract paintings. Feelings they’ve had, memories, dreams, experiences on hallucinogenics, quite amazing. All from one of the two worst painters of the new century, so I get the “worst Magic artist/favorite Magic artist thing. For me, as a kid, and me now as an adult who makes a living from his art, your words on style and growth are amongst the most important I’ve ever read in regards to living the art life.

So, this last question is a kind of hedge, because we’ve come to the third question of three, and I want to invite you to keep this dialogue going over time, maybe another three questions in a month or so, because I just can’t end it here and still have so many questions for you! I was looking at your Facebook page and saw that Alcor’s Tomb sold and that you had two remaining original Magic paintings left. Witch Hunter is one of them. It’s a special painting in my memory. I only played a little of The Dark, enough to whet my appetite, and really came to know this illustration from Chronicles, as my friends and I bought a lot of those packs in the summer of 1995. If I had a $3k I’d snap buy this painting. It always scared me in a good way. I read your description of the image which included “The view from the painting is of people being burned alive inside their home. That was not common knowledge until now, they (Wizards) thought it would be too controversial if it came out what the painting was really of.” And it was confirmed that this is one of the most intensely horrifying Magic cards of all time. That which is not seen is incredibly powerful and scary. Well done! Can you share another unknown Magic art story with us?

JM:  I would be happy to continue answering questions. I am still a bit taken aback that I have had an influence on people. I grew up admiring so many artists and writers, they were my heroes. The fact that I seem to have transitioned without realizing it to a point where people think that way of my work is very…amazing to me.  I still feel like a bit of a fraud, as I am far away from my own goals artistically, but I guess that’s the feeling that keeps artists going.Another inside story? Hmm.A bunch of us decided to take a drive to the peninsula to go to Fort Wordon, a 19th century coastal military fort that looks like a dwarven fortress. Amy Weber was there, as was my girlfriend at the time (Kristin Bishop) who painted the War Elephant card for Arabian Nights. Most of the fort is charming and peaceful feeling but there are two parts that are just scary. Really scary. One is an underground room that has been burned out so everything is black, blacker than you can imagine, it’s very unsettling. But another area is an underground bunker one can only get to by climbing down a rusty ladder. It’s the only way in or out, once in the bunker is quite big and has one long main corridor covered in satanic graffiti. All the doors down the hall have been partially smashed and hang broken from their rusty hinges. The entire place has a real “Get Out!” vibe. Anyway, at the base of that ladder I snapped a quick photo of Sandra and forgot about it. Later I was looking for some good lighting reference for hair and I remembered the photo, so I started a painting using it for reference. Before I knew it I had painted “The Fallen”. It was not the painting I set out to paint, but that’s what came out. It freaked me out a bit how easily it was created, almost as if it created itself. Given the bad mojo of the place I took the reference I always wondered if there was something more to this piece than I want to admit. For the record it looks nothing like Sandra, Sandra is very attractive, the fallen is an abomination. The artwork as always made me feel uneasy, and this is from someone who loves to paint creepy stuff.

Damn. That was thrilling for me.

Getting inside stories is the best. Being told secret and hidden meanings behind these illustrations I’ve loved since I was 13 years old? Also the best. I look forward to continuing the conversation with Jesper about his life and work soon!

Check back next week for an interview with Tomasz Jedruszek (of Inquisition of Kozilek and Timely Reinforcements fame).

Matt Jones (born on at the beginning of the 8th decade of the 2oth century) is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Matt’s played Magic since Revised. Lately Matt’s game has become more about hanging out with friends and shooting the shit and less about competitive tournament play. He writes the weekly Arting Around column on Hipsters of the Coast, interviewing Magic illustrators and occasionally adding his thoughts on the art of various cards and sets. You can see Matt’s artwork on his website.

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