“I’m Sitting Here With A Check For $140,000”: An Interview With Ed Beard, Magic Artist

If you’ve played Magic, you’ve seen Ed Beard’s artwork. He’s been around since Legends, illustrating famous cards like the Elder Dragon Legends, Plow Under, Avalanche Riders, 7th and 8th Edition’s Birds of Paradise, and everyone’s favorite toothy win condition, Psychatog. Ed shares his memories on the beginning of Magic (he thought it would flop), his favorite piece, his thoughts on having his artwork on a card that’s dominating three formats, and an artist’s take on Mirrodin’s new look and 8th Edition!

If you’ve played Magic, you’ve seen Ed Beard’s artwork. He’s been around since Legends, illustrating famous cards like the Elder Dragon Legends, Plow Under, Avalanche Riders, 7th and 8th Edition’s Birds of Paradise – more on them in a bit – and everyone’s favorite toothy win condition, Psychatog.

But Magic is not the whole of Ed Beard’s career; Ed’s also done work for Dragon Magazine, Inquest, and many H.P. Lovecraft-related products; he’s well-respected in his field, and enthusiastic about his art. You can see his work at his website, www.destiniproductionsinc.com.

As for us, we found him at his booth at GenCon, talking to everyone who stopped by his booth, spouting opinions in a New York accent – and so we took the opportunity to ask him about Magic, his art, and what he thought of Magic today.

Ferrett: So how did you become involved with Magic?

Ed: Ten years ago, I was at GenCon 93 and Jesper Myrfors approached me. I had a booth, just like this, and he asked me if I would be interested in drawing for this new card game idea.

I thought it was gonna flop and I said no.

I said to Jesper, I said,”How much is your fee? He said the fee is $50, and we’ll pay you fifty shares in the company. Now, I had been successful; I’d been in the industry for fifteen years and had a good living, but I had just experienced a massive loss of cash from a company that had given me the same deal and gone bankrupt. So I had just chased a company down I had lost $26,900 to, and I wasn’t about to take any more calculated risks. So I said,”The fee is just not substantial enough to work for you.”

And then, about six months later, Alpha hits the stands, is a huge success, and I receive a phone call asking me if I would reconsider. And of course, at that point I had heard about it, and I said,”Why yes, I think I can reconsider! Are you still offering the same fee?” And he said,”No! We’re now offering $100 a piece!”

That was still a lot less than the $3,000 I could get for cover art, but that was still significant because of the shares. And I agreed to work as long as the shares held out; he said that shouldn’t be a problem. So I received the assignment – they were doing Legends. When Alpha came out, they were already on Legends; that’s how far ahead they were. At that point, I said that’s great, and I did the artwork.

I got the contract and it did not have shares.

I called up. I said,”What happened to the shares? I got a royalty instead of shares!” He said,”Yes. Last week, Wizards decided to terminate any future profit sharing with the artists.” So I said to him,”That’s okay. Royalties? Sounds like it’ll be a success.” So I finished the pieces, and up until Ice Age, I continued to make very good money.

The royalties were maybe $1000 a card. Fallen Empires contributed to that.

Then, Hasbro engaged in talks of buying Wizards. When they purchased Wizards, they were responsible to pay and/or buy out all of the artists’ shares… And each share of Wizards was roughly valued at $140. Which meant that if you had done an Alpha artwork and taking the fifty shares, well…

Melissa Benson, a good friend of mine, called me up and said,”Eddy. You remember when you decided not to work for Wizards that first time? I’m sitting here with a check for $140,000. Just thought I’d letcha know.”

After that, I look and I think to myself,”Would I have done anything different?” No… But timing was not in my favor that day. I was one of only two artists that got cut off from shares.

But I am, ten years later, the only freelance artist that has ever worked since the beginning, who is still consistently doing work for Magic. I’ve survived four different art directors. I’m still here.

Ferrett: So what’s your favorite piece for Magic, and why?

Ed: *Sighs* I don’t have one. I can’t even begin to get into that. I don’t have a favorite card because certain paintings – the subject matter – present different artistic challenges. And when I accomplish one, like Fylgja from Ice Age – that piece was an example of a beautiful landscape, something I did not do often. It was enjoyable to do, and less beastly and fantastical. So I like the serenity of that piece.

On the other hand, when I look at what I liked in the area of creatures, dragons and things like that, I would say my most recent works are the most challenging. Subject matter-wise, there could be five or six pieces in each category that are equally good – my best creatures, my best landscapes, my best human-based work….

Ferrett: Here at the booth, you have two anti-Psychatog pieces; your Onslaught Block Shock piece, which shows a Tog being electrocuted, and over here on the side you have a print of a Juzam Djinn punching out a Tog. Is Tog your least favorite piece?

Ed: That Shock is my worst artistically, aesthetically, and least-balanced piece. Why? Because I had one day to complete it! It was a last-minute job, and I got a last-minute call from Dana Knutson. It was a Friday, I had to have it done Saturday to be FedExed, so whatever I had to do on an extreme rush. When I look at Shock, I know that structurally it’s a mess. It’s not a balanced a painting.

Whereas my Psychatog… It’s like Cookie Monster going on steroids! It’s a basketball with teeth! My Psychatog is an example of taking a cartoonish figure and bringing it into a three-dimensional, realistically-rendered piece. Tog, actually, is very well-rendered. Every single tooth has highlights and shadows, the eyes are bloodshot, down to the veins. It’s very meticulously done. It’s just a very goofy-looking picture.

Ferrett: So how do you feel about one of your cards being such an overwhelmingly powerful card?

Ed: It’s literally winning in all three formats. So here’s my thought: From an artists’ point of view, I wish that one of my other, more sophisticated fantasy painting, like Mages’ Guile – now, that’s one of my favorite figure pieces. It’s well-balanced, it has perfect symmetry, and nice glow and lighting effects. And it would have been wonderful if that card had had the mechanics of Tog. It would have been nice instead of signing a thousand Togs, I would be signing a thousand Guiles. But I’m not, ’cause that card is not that playable.

We wish that our best art was on the best cards. But it just doesn’t turn out to be that way; over the years, I have been told by art directors that due to the necessity of the way Magic is played, you need to have weak cards. So when that had had happened in the past that hey, if we’re gonna have a weak card, we’ve gotta at least have strong artwork. So they commission strong and complex artwork on weak cards. I’ve got quite a big body of weak playable cards that have some of my best, really coolest, artwork, and they’re just not playable.

Ferrett: Like what?

Ed: Ghastly Remains. That is a killer cool card. Look! There’s a little head coming off the top, and another one out of his back, and there are fingers crawling down from his shoulders…. The more you look, you’re gonna see more mutations. It’s a really bizarre piece. But it’s not all that playable of a card.

Ferrett: There are some artists’ guidelines about Mirrodin, which has a very sci-fi tone; there’s a lot of metal and cyborg stuff. How do you feel about that?

Ed: There’s no denying it does not have a classic fantasy look that early Magic had. But my position has always been that I supply a service to any company I work for. If the director calls me and says,”We need this and we need it done this way,” my job is to fulfill that need. My job is not to question the reasons why a style is going in one direction or another.

So I don’t think much except to say that I have drawn for sci-fi magazines like Science Fiction Age, I’ve painted spaceships, I’ve painted alien creatures, so the fact that the imaging is starting to look less medieval… Well, if that’s what they think the new players of Magic want, my job is to paint it and make it look good.

Ferrett: So what art do you like?

Ed: I’m a fan favorite of Renaissance art. My interests have always been in medieval high fantasy.

Ferrett: So what do you think of the 8th Edition layout?

Ed: I haven’t seen it in person; I only saw in the Tenth Anniversary preview. That said…

*Sighs* It’s kind of an open-ended question, isn’t it? I have students that bring in the old cards, the new cards, and all sorts of other card games. I understand the necessity for it being readable and clear, which Magic isn’t always compared to the other CCGs. But going from what it was to what it is… It’s a pretty big transition.

It doesn’t look as fantasy-based as the old look. It just doesn’t have the feel. I would say it’s closer to a contemporary bordering. To me, it’s definitely moved away from the fantasy-based, gothic design, which I would say the first set definitely had.

Ferrett: Do you have any words for our readers?

Ed: It’s really great to know that StarCityGames is working on keeping the art on focus in the product, allowing the consumers and the fans of Magic to get in-depth info on the art and to pay more attention to it, as it certainly does represent 50% of the product.

Editor’s Note:

The day after I conducted the interview, Ed approached me at the StarCityGames booth and told me about a very strange situation: Apparently, if you compare the 7th Edition Birds of Paradise to the 8th Edition (which we don’t have a card scan of yet, sadly), you’ll notice that the tips of the wings have been blackened, as has the beak. It’s changed the colors significantly, and Ed says that several fans have asked him about it.

He’d like you all to know that he did not change the 8th Edition artwork; Wizards did it without his knowledge. The big question is, has any other 8th Edition artwork been altered… And why?