Voodoo Forest (2022)

John Blanche is an absolute legend. As an artist and art director, he essentially steered the rudder of Warhammer and, through it, British fantasy art, for decades. Among a pile of important work, my favorite is probably his illustrations for the four-volume Sorcery! gamebook series by Steve Jackson.

I’m not sure how the Hollow Press edition of Voodoo Forest (2022) got on my radar, but it did (and thank goodness, because through it I found Vermis). The first version appeared in 2015 and was the product of a decade of work. This edition includes additional plates and was resequenced. The back matter says it’s the project’s definitive form.

It’s impressive! There are 46 full-page illustrations, each accompanied by a second, smaller one, and one 2-page spread. In a lot of ways, Blanche’s style seems unchanged, which is a curious thing for an artist with a career spanning multiple decades (compare to Ian Miller, who has had a number of stylistic periods). It’s strange to see his work without any direct references to the worlds of Warhammer. There are subtle, perhaps reflexive visual references, like the way the demon woman’s claw hands resemble the canon Slaaneshi demonette, or how all the secondary illustrations depict a variety of folk carrying banners. Those banners serve as cryptic titles. Many are quotes from Macbeth. I assume many others reference other works, but I haven’t quite figured them out. The doomed atmosphere of the Scottish play sort of overrides all other associations for me (though there is very little in the visuals that would make me think of Shakespeare, though there is one man in a kilt).

Taken as a whole, the thing is unsettling, a sort of dream or nightmare landscape that clearly conforms to some organizing principal, but the logic of which remains obscure. There is not much gore or violence, but violence seems imminent in nearly all the plates. I would not want to explore this particular forest, but I am glad to have it on my shelf.

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