In my continuing series on art that inspires my D&D games, I come to another force in the metal cover art world: Karmazid. While the previous piece in this series focused on Adam Burke and his invoking of folk horror, German artist Karmazid invokes a wider range of horror with a distinct focus on devastation. If I had my way, Curse of Strahd would be illustrated by him. Karmazid is often compared to early 20ths century Irish artist, Harry Clark, whose illustrations of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories I cannot recommend enough.
I am not able to pinpoint my first encounter with Karmazid’s work. But it was around when I first starting enjoying Purson, Blood Ceremony, and Atlantean Kodex; all whom he has done fantastic work for. What put the final condemnation to being an absolute fan of Karmazid’s work was through the Italian band, Kröwnn, and a piece for them depicting, my favorite fantasy character, Elric. This accompanied their track “The Melnibonean.” In fact, he has recently revisited the subject of Elric, much to my joy. And I am such a fan of Karmazid, my first tattoo is based off his artwork.
This illustration has a story of revelation, one of my favorite means to deliver horror. A swamp, a human figure with a sense of uncertainty, a hag-like figure holding what looks to be a will-o’-the-wisp dangling from a string, while beholding drowned and decaying figures in the bog; all these tell a story while setting a tone.
This captures much of the the tone in Toell’s Bed while the group was in charge of the Barony of Meeserva. The locals had strange, folk customs that included a pact with the local hags, known as the Bog Seed Coven. Deals and pacts were made with the witches of the woods, either out of desperation or to hedge bets. That anxiety is what I take from the eyes of the human figure above. And much like the inhuman figure, the hags were welcoming, enchanting, never threatening in action; but the malevolent nature was always just out of view of the characters, much like the arm in cloak above. Knowing that a doom has befallen others because of these hags, yet still holding onto being able to persevere and not become another victim of the swamp; that is what the tone I strove for.
This piece was done for the riveting doom metal band, Uzala, as one of their shirts (still have mine). Specifically, it reflects this song “Countess,” an ode to Elizabeth Báthory. This was one of the first Karmazid pieces I ever encountered and I was smitten. Obviously this notion of a murderous countess is a classic trope, but this image brought more to that. The various demonic figures certainly invoke maleficence, yet what called my attention were two elements: the blade on the tongue and the pregnant belly. Now it is unclear if the blade is cutting the figure’s tongue or if it is delivering blood to her mouth. Such ambiguity goes a long ways in terms of horror. However, the pregnancy of the figure it where I really ran wild with imagination.
This illustration inspired one of the major antagonists of Toell’s Bed, Gräfin Uvala. I wanted a land ruled by a murderous noble, but that was hidden in doing so, fully believing they were doing it for the betterment of their land. So what of the child to be born? That is where it got interesting with Uvala’s son with Graf Sulev, Jakob. I though, what if her child was deceased, but the subjects of landgraf they ruled were so invested in their heir that Uvala was not willing to let the child’s death be known publicly? What ends would she go to get him back? Would she deal with infernal forces? Would she sacrifice the security of her husband’s position and the people he is sworn to protect? She sure did, both her and the Sulev served as fantastic villains over the course of the campaign.
Just think, all that from one illustration.
A heroic piece, the mounted armored figure driving a great sword into a classic demonic figure; upon initial encounter that is the story. Here is where I diverge, the standout of the demon’s eye and the panic it invokes makes it far more human than the rider. The rider’s face is gaunt, with soulless eyes while his mount reveals in a grotesque and contorted snarl. Examining the lines, of both figures too reveals a reversal of roles, with the rider’s armor, cloak, and positioning being at harsh angels while the goat-headed panic stricken demon has much smoother lines.
I am a sucker for a story of a fallen hero without redemption.
One of Karmazid’s latest covers is a complex scene of classic swords and sorcery. Not sure what to write about this one. I love the female figure’s design and how the serpent is mangled around the scene. Is the serpent slain? Is it under the figure’s control? An overwhelming sense of danger is evoked in me.
This was straight up scene in my group’s play through of Curse of Strahd. Lake Zarovich is one of the largest features of the Barovian landscape. Undead and secrets abound, exploration of it was dangerous. The sudden pull of the dead claimed by the lake threatened us numerous times. The panic upon the face of the figure above is one I can imagine happening over and over again beneath the waters of Lake Zarovich.
What do you think of Karmazid’s work? Getting your creative juices brewing? Let me know on Twitter @ OnlyPlayWizards