A Farewell to Russ Nicholson

It’s been a few days, and right now the loss has not hit me yet, the pain a weak thrum. I wish I was a more cogent writer, and better at being in touch with my grief, so I could do him justice.

Instead, you have me.

Russ Nicholson died. He left behind his closed ones, an incredible amount of great art, and many fans that love his work in a way that is, frankly, unique. Russ was a cornerstone of old D&D aesthetic. He gave us his vision, and managed to draw absolutely iconic illustrations that we remember forty years later. And those were not cover pieces for some important handbook: they were interior black and white art for the most absolutely ridiculous b-side monster manual ever made, the Fiend Folio. Russ made some wonky gripplies into absolute icons: without him the Fiend Folio Brigade would have been largely forgotten. Instead, we are still utterly terrified about a flying tentacled brain with a parrot beak.

What made Russ art special? Sheer emotions. Russ had a way to transmute ink into feelings. His drawings made me feel emotions, mostly fear, in a way that few of his colleagues manage. Russ might have not been the most representationally skilled artist that made D&D what it is: Russ, however, made us dream.

My experience with Russ, and possibly the best thing I can say about him, is how approachable and keen to pick up new work he was. Even from absolute nobodies, like an Italian weirdo self-publishing from their bedroom in Glasgow, the city he was born in. And this made me feel a bit more legitimate at a time when I probably needed it. I’m so happy that I managed to work with him.

I want to end this post with a small silly anecdote, a levity, because I’d rather remember those that left us in mirth rather than in sadness. For Macchiato Monsters I hired about twenty illustrators to do coffee art. I suggested themes, but let them pick the subjects, because I love to be surprised by artists running wild. Russ pitches: dragon, naiads, troll. Dragon and troll arrive, and were great. Naiads took a while more. I end up writing him the dreadful “No big deal, but Dragonmeet is coming and I need to go to press next week” email because I really really wanted those naiads in the book.

And he delivers, and my jaw drops.

Do you know about naiads? Gods of rivers and lakes, they tend to not wear many clothes, largely because ancient Greek myths be like that. I ponder whether I should print it.

Russ answers: “Damn. My wife said cover up… too many tits… Sorry!”


They broke the mold after they made him. And he’s gone.

Aw. Fuck, it hurts now.

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