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The Curious Case of Deathgaunts

A recent, strange coincidence leads to an exploration of art, branding, and why we love our OOP CCGs.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to revive knowledge about the 40K CCG. A lot of my research involves fruitlessly plumbing the depths of Google for any morsel of information I can find. About a month ago, however, a serendipitous incident occurred: I stumbled across the online art gallery of one Luke Peterschmidt, game designer and co-creator of the 40K CCG.

What’s even stranger? He began posting original 40K CCG art for sale that same day! 

After a couple days and some friendly message exchanges, I had purchased two pieces from his gallery. If you’re a 40K CCG fan or even a Games Workshop fan, definitely check out his remaining works: Luke Peterschmidt’s Comic Art Fans Gallery

One of the pieces that I picked up was Deathgaunts by Llyn Hunter. Llyn Hunter is an artist who produced illustrations for the Warlord and L5R CCGs, and whose animation credits also include Darkwing Duck, Animaniacs, and Curious George: Llyn Hunter’s Patreon

In person, it is a very striking and bold piece, with vivid colours and motion wrapped in an expressive comic art style.

It was strange, however, that I couldn’t recognize this art on any 40K CCG card I had seen. I had to do a double-take when I finally spotted it:

See what I mean? It looked…different. Another artist had edited the original, giving the Guardsmen different clothes, adding a different background, and changing the overall colour scheme.

I recently wrote to Llyn (graciously taking the time to reply), who explained that she had no idea it had happened, but could understand why the change was made. The assumption was that art directors will make changes to artwork when the colour palette doesn’t suit the card frame, or if the artwork doesn’t adhere closely enough to worldbuilding design. 

In the case of Llyn’s Deathgaunts artwork, it could be argued that the colour scheme is too bright for a piece set in the 40K universe, or that it matched too closely to the light-coloured Tyranid card frame. 

I think it’s a shame, however. The edited Deathgaunts artwork looks so muddled to me, like a carbon copy of the typical 40K grimdark art without any of its intensity. Llyn’s original art feels so alive. I can’t stop looking at it.

Llyn had this to add:

In my opinion it’s the gamer’s view that counts. You folks play with them, collect them, and spend time with them.  When I create an image for a card, I’m hoping that what I do makes the experience more interesting for you. If the image adds to the fun of the game, then I’ve done my job.

-Llyn Hunter

If you’re familiar with the 40K CCG, then you may also have noticed that its artwork is no stranger to Photoshop. The art direction was very liberal with editing artwork, even repurposing miniature photos and Forge World mockups.

Re-coloured artwork from the 3rd Edition Eldar Codex. Yes, I’m old.

I think there are two reasons for this level of hands-on editing:

  1. Bandwidth issues. I can only imagine that commissioning dozens of new art pieces for a card game would be a herculean task. Using existing art assets (of which there are tons in the Games Workshop IP) would likely save tons of time and effort.
  2. Brand consistency. It would make sense to repurpose existing Games Workshop assets not only to lighten the workload, but also to cater to 40K tabletop players who will recognize some of the units. And, as GW fans are aware, the company is very protective of how the 40K universe is portrayed, so I imagine there would be some authority exerted there to maintain brand consistency.

Which brings us back to Deathgaunts. How many cases are there of similar artwork in other card games being “rebranded”, with the original illustrations never seeing the light of day? On that note, how many of the hundreds of 40K CCG illustrations are still accessible today? It’s been almost 20 years since this game was released. How will this art be preserved? As a 40K fan, can you say you’ve seen any of these?

This is the reason I started writing the blog. It’s not just about resurfacing some of the beautiful artwork that risks being forgotten as years go by. Like you and other OOP CCG aficionados, it’s about recapturing the excitement of a bygone time, and preserving the memories of the games that came with it.

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