I reached out to Marie Magny after seeing her art on Goldberry, River-Daughter. This is a column specifically about queer rep and culture in Magic, but fat liberation is a cause I strongly believe that LGBTQ+ people should stand with in solidarity, and one that’s close to my heart personally. I think Goldberry, River-Daughter is a big step forward for Magic, and I was thrilled to get to talk to Marie about the card, what it meant to her, and her work in general.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Congratulations on Goldberry, River-Daughter! Could you tell me about your process for this card? How did you go from the brief to the final art?

I treated it like all the other cards I paint, but there were some specific things to watch out for. We receive the brief, and the brief is always like, we have the mana colors, which we have to take into account because each color is a specific mood for the card. We have the setting,  where the action is going on, you know, and we have a quick description of the character and the name, and if it’s a legendary or rare creature, that kind of thing.

I read everything very, very carefully, a few times, and since this was a Tolkien character, like she already exists, I tried to compile everything that can inform the art, especially, for example, for her outfits, like how Tolkien describes her with this super long golden hair and the skirts, the colors. And her general vibe.

It’s a long research before I actually begin to sketch. I try to gather reference about the lighting, other paintings that I like that have the vibe I want to achieve with this particular painting. Here, the MTG team said they wanted something really magical, something very ethereal, so I really tried to keep that vibe going on. And also for this one they mentioned in the brief she has to be a plus-sized woman, so I knew I wanted to collaborate with a friend of mine on this, because she’s a plus-size model and all her work is about beauty, nature and pagan themes. She’s the real life Goldberry.

I asked her if I could reference her photo work for the vibe of the card, the way she styles her hair and stuff like that, because she is used to all the fantasy costuming. I tried to have her likeness for Goldberry, to thank her for all the beautiful inspiration she gave me.

After all that research is done, I can finally start sketching. Usually I sketch one to three black and white sketches that I send my art director, and he chooses one and he comes back with notes, like how to make it better, how to make the visual match the game play. Also the vision of the narrative team is very important, especially for this one, because we wanted to have something that feels Lord of the Rings, and not so much Magic: the Gathering. It has a special flavor, if you know what I mean.

There was also back-and-forth between Magic the Gathering and the Tolkien estate for the choice of the thumbnails, and even the color rough I did after the thumbnail sketch.

And once the color rough is done, I can begin to actually paint and render things, make everything look pretty and realistic.

Marie’s art from Goldberry, River-Daughter, the main subject of this interview. Goldberry is a fat white woman with long blonde hair. She wears a pale green dress, and has water lilies in her hair, and different flowers and vines acting as a belt and a scarf. She almost seems to glow, and she looks down in wonrder at the water beneath her feet, which glows with magic. One knee sticks out through the slit in her dress, revealing her leg and thigh.

Goldberry, River-Daughter, by Marie Magny

Do you work with models a lot?

Yes and no. Sometimes I’m a bit shy, so it’s hard to reach out to someone and say, “Hey, I want you to model for me.” But there are a lot of resources, people taking photos for artists like me, with beautiful poses and stuff. I purchase that a lot. But when I have a specific requirement for the brief, I try to find someone who fits the description, because it’s easier, and you know your depiction will be more genuine; you don’t project things onto the model. But most of the time I try to make do with photos. I use 3D models too.

I know from the internet reaction, and from talking to people in my life, that the art on this card meant a lot to fat and plus-size women. They don’t always get to see images of beautiful women who look like them. Is that something you were thinking about while you made the card? How do you feel about those reactions to it?

First, I think it was a very beautiful coincidence that I had this brief, because, making her plus-size was not my decision at the end of the day, it’s in the brief. When I read it, it clicked with me that I’ve never seen my body represented in such a way, in a high fantasy setting.

I was like, “Hmm. This art has the potential to mean a lot for people like me.” It’s a big responsibility. So I tried my best to treat the subject with love and care, and I really wanted the card to be as pretty as possible, because, as you said, often when we see plus-size characters, we are the heavy one, the clumsy one, the funny one. But we are not really the beautiful, ethereal being. So yeah, it’s meant a lot for me personally, and I tried to translate it into art, and I was hoping people like me would love the card, too and see themselves as beautiful as they are, you know?

The positive reaction really warmed my heart. I was hoping for it, but seeing it in real time–I have no words. It was incredible. And I just hope there will be more art like that for people to see themselves in in the future.

Are there fat characters that have meant a lot to you?

You know, this is a tricky question. When I read your list of questions, this is the one I had to do some research on. Growing up, I can say no, because there was no representation, ever. Even in Tolkien–I’m a big fan, and I love Arwen and Galadriel, but I never identified as them, because I felt I was not beautiful and elegant like them. They were a model I could never reach, you know?

But recently I happened to see some characters I really liked, that I wished I grew up with. For example, I don’t know if you saw the She-Ra remake recently? I love Glimmer. She’s not fat per se, but she is plus-size, and she is so strong and beautiful and brave, and also Spinnerella, I think, is her name.

Yes! I love both of those characters. Glimmer in particular is great because she doesn’t have a stereotypical body. She’s boyish and a little big, and it’s a body that a real person would have that you don’t see in media very often. 

Yes! I like that she’s a bit boyish, but she’s still pink, you know? She owns it. Her powers are glitters everywhere, and she’s the Moon Princess. She’s everything.

Have you seen any negative reactions to the card?

I saw some, and it’s a bit difficult, because the critiques are not on the aesthetic of the art, or the skill. They are on the body shape of the character, and I share the same. So every mean thing they say, I kind of take it personally, too. Also, I represented my friend on the card–I don’t want her to see that!

I think they are a very loud minority, because most of the people on the main threads on Reddit and Twitter are just happy–or neutral, you know? They’re like, Oh, that’s cool, and they move on. So I try to not think too much about it. You read one, you’re sad. And then you’re like, “Oh, I can’t change people just with one painting.”

I think sometimes the negative can stay with you more than the positive.

Yeah, and that’s so sad. Sometimes, you’re like, “Oh, I don’t have the time to answer all the positive reactions and people,” but you’re almost ready to answer one negative reaction. “Oh, my God! I don’t have the time to answer so many gentle people, and I want to fight with this 15-year old who is super negative.”

Another reaction I saw online was people saying “Wow, she’s so sexy.”

Yeah. That’s a double-edged sword, because I’m happy that people think someone looking like Goldberry is sexy and beautiful. And on the same side, I’m like “Oh, you’re objectifying a bit.” Like, she is not only a body.

I notice that every time I paint a woman on a Magic card that is a little bit revealing, it’s always the same. Women are always objectified on the cards when they show a little bit of cleavage, or here it was the thigh. You have to consider, my AD talked me down, because at first she had more revealing clothes. He was like, “Oh, maybe we can cover a bit because it’s a bit too sexy.” I was like “Oh, okay, no problem.”

But yeah. I don’t mind it, because it’s not coming from a bad place, you know. But it makes you think.

Stepping back from Goldberry, tell me a little about your career. How did you end up working on Magic cards? 

I’ve been working in the game industry since 2016, after my studies, and I’ve always been a fan of Magic: the Gathering. Magic illustrations were the first fantasy illustration I stumbled upon when I was a young teen, and I always wanted to paint for them. It was a dream. But I thought that my portfolio was not good enough to apply yet, so I did a bunch of stuff before [working on Magic]. I was a concept artist; I worked for Ubisoft and for Riot Games.

One day I received an email from the art director, Ovidio Cartagena. He wanted to try me for one illustration for MTG Arena in China. Sometimes the art is of a sensitive subject so they have to change the art for the Chinese public, so I did one, it was Thought Distortion. It went well! So he asked me for another one, and after the second one I began to work on actual printed Magic cards. Since then, I try to take at least one card per set. I can’t take a lot more because I’m illustrating for another game, and I don’t have a lot of time left. But I always take Magic cards, even if it’s on my free time. I love it so much!

Do you play a lot?

I used to play with my brother. When I receive the contributor package, we open the cards and we do some drafts. But I’m not a very regular player.

That’s fun! Do you have a favorite card you’ve done, other than Goldberry?

I have several, but I think my most favorite is still Blood Hypnotist. It was my first vampire for Magic: The Gathering, and vampires are my favorite fantasy creature. I love them because I love Gothic themes. I’m more of a dark fantasy illustrator, so this checked all the boxes.I loved designing her, I love the action, like she’s playing with her food. And the wedding is so cool with all  the blood petals. I still love the art. Is it perfect? I could do better now, I think, but it’s close to my heart.

Marie’s art on Blood Hypnotist. A woman with elaborately-styled hair and a beautiful dress, with glowing pink eyes, lounges on a sofa. Her hands are stained with the blood of a young person sitting at her feet, looking dazed, his own eyes glowing like hers.

Blood Hypnotist by Marie Magny

Do you have that feeling a lot, like you could do better now?

Yeah, especially for the Lord of the Ring set, because we did the illustration 2 years ago. Even with Goldberry, I was like, “Oh, my God! I made this mistake,” or “this could flow better,” or “I could render it better.” But it’s too late. Sometimes I edit my art a bit before posting on my portfolio, especially if I sell prints. Because of the deadline, sometimes you don’t have the time to finish it as much as you want.

With Magic, your art is released so long after you finished it that you have all the time in the world to look at your mistakes. I feel like every artist feels the same, honestly!

You mentioned your website, so that’s a great transition: where can people see your work?

I’m pretty active on Twitter, where I post portfolio things, but there’s also little sketches I would do, like fanarts of my favorite anime or something, but I also have an ArtStation with more professional work and a portfolio. My prints are on INPRNT because I saw a lot of Magic artists using that shop. I think the quality is good, from some people who have ordered.

I know that people can’t buy Goldberry prints, or any prints from Tales of Middle-earth. 

Oh, yeah, I have a lot of messages about it! It’s a bit ironic, because, to be frank, I don’t sell a lot of prints, but this is my most popular card so far, and I can’t sell any prints!

What’s coming up next for you?

For MTG, I’m really excited about the Wilds of Eldraine set. I can’t wait to share the stuff I painted for that set. Because it’s like a fairy tale, I love it. And I saw the art bible for it and all the concepts, and the art will be amazing on this set. I can’t wait to see other artists work!

Other than that, I am currently working on League of Legends, So I update splash arts really regularly on that. That’s it!

Thank you so much to Marie for sitting down with me – this conversation was a real pleasure! Check out her work and make sure to check out her friend Alice, the real-life Goldberry!

Dora Rogers (she/her) is a writer, game designer, and heart-eyes lesbo from Montreal. She is one half of Gal Pal Games, and you can find her solo TTRPG and interactive fiction projects on itch.io. Follow her in all the places, or catch her on Arena playing questionable Vorthos decks in Standard.

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