Picture Thursday 16: THe Endless Stair by Jack Fred

Cover art for The Endless Stair, Jack Fred

Old Dungeons and Dragons modules are a great source for interesting art. And while I haven’t been exposed to a lot of them, the cover of The Endless Stair by Ed Greenwood is easily my favorite. The art is by a fellow named Jack Fred, who I’d not heard of before, and who I can’t find any information about. If you know something, let me know so proper credit can be given!

I’ll be the first to admit that the ladies depicted here are stupidly sexualized. If it was just the magic user I could maybe give it a pass, but the thief on the left is simply preposterous. Normally I would pass on a piece of art that has this level of ‘cheesecake’ bullshit in it. But I just fucking love everything else about it.

First, the piece has that great “every-adventurer” thing going on. These characters are nobody you know, and yet they’re every character you’ve ever played. You can put yourself into their shoes instantly. Second, the two men are beautifully equipped. Their gear is mundane and worn. More brightly colored art with cleaner lines is never able to look quite so real as this. Plus you have to love the 1970s style hair.

I also love the poses. Even the women have pretty great poses here, but my favorite is the dark haired man in the center. He’s drawn midway through pulling his axe from his belt, and that’s something you so rarely see in fantasy art. It doesn’t look ‘cool,’ or ‘badass,’ and because of that it seems more real, and thus draws me into the scene all the more.

And on top of all that, there’s the environment. I’m a native of the pacific northwest of the U.S., and this is exactly what this area looks like. The trees and the mountains and the sky and the grass all evoke memories of camping trips I’ve taken. It’s glorious.

I do apologize for the quality of the image. The only ones I could find online were very low resolution, so I opted to scan my own copy of the module instead. Unfortunately it has some minor damage which obscures some of the art.

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13 thoughts on “Picture Thursday 16: THe Endless Stair by Jack Fred”

  1. See, I thought she might have been a barbarian or something! Look at how fuzzy that leotard is! :O But then I noticed it’s OD&D or something similar yeah? Did barbarians even exist outside of monsters back then? :p

    As an aside, I’m just rewatching Dumbo for background music and looked over to see what appeared to be a golem made entirely out of technicolour elephant heads. I’ll be the first to admit that’d scare me in a game. XD

    1. I almost said she might be a Barbarian, but I don’t know that Barbarian was an available class at the time. (Though I suppose this was 1987, so AD&D was out, and a bunch of supplements existed as well.)

      Regardless, her clothing is preposterous.

      1. It is pretty ridiculous yeah, though by and large not the worst example of stunningly bad wardrobe choices made by artists for women. :p

  2. Those stairs are really strange looking (not strange as in bad art, but strange weird).

    What are they fighting? Is it clear in the parts of the image that you didn’t scan?

    It has a texture somewhat reminiscent of Parkinson, which is a positive to me.

    The hair is tragic though.

    1. I forgot to mention the stairs! I love how very natural and real the rest of the painting looks, while the stairs are this bizarre anomaly in the middle of nowhere. Makes them seem all the more magical to me.

      This is the entire image. I always just assumed they were defending the stairs against an off-panel threat. Maybe that makes it a little goofy looking, but it never really bothered me.

      I’m not familiar with Parkinson, where can I find his/her work?

        1. Ah, yes. I recognize almost all of these pieces.

          You’re right, they’re fantastic. I particularly like the Necropolis piece and the 3 liches.

          I love me some liches.

  3. There was a barbarian class in Unearthed Arcana, which was released in 1985, and of course people had been playing Conan-alikes from before that too. Though barbarian should not really imply skimpy clothing. Northern European barbarians were probably heavily clothed. Not that I care much about historical accuracy.

    1. So I suppose it could easily have been a Barbarian. Though I don’t really think that makes her clothing any less ridiculous.

  4. Jack Fred was a fake name used by larry elmore, keith parkinson, Jeff easley and clyde caldwell. The endless stair is painted by keith parkinson but he used the name jack fred because its an awful piece and was rushed and had no time to paint it. This artwork is done in acrylic paint so it would dry fast. TSR artist were rushed to make covers for books and modules and these are the results so the artists felt it a hit on their reputations to put their names on artwork that was sub-par. Check out the module Thunderdelve Mountain XS2, its the same thing Larry Elmore painted this but hated it and refused to put his name on it so he used the now infamous name ” jack fred”. Larry elmore reveals this secret in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wViMmbGkCNo.


    1. That’s fascinating! Thank you. It’s a bit embarrassing to learn that I love a piece of art which even the artist was ashamed of.

      But fuck it, I still like it.

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