Jagged Visions Part 1….The poisoned pen of Ian Miller


Terror Of the Lichemaster.

Terror Of the Lichemaster.

This is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing (albeit occasional) series exploring some classic (and in my opinion) under appreciated vintage fantasy artwork. The stuff that sunk its filthy claws into the meat of our imaginations and dragged us from the brightly lit path of adolescence and into the murky depths of the hobby. I’m certain the other members of the crew are going to chime in with their favorites so you can expect a myriad selection of different tastes, interpretations and ideas.

Try and cast your mind back to your earliest memories of all this Warhammer shit. I’ll wager that one of the first things you can recall was a particular piece of artwork, maybe a book cover, a poster or a gamebox package drawing that captured your attention. Some image that still lingers in your thoughts.. that fascinated, inspired or terrified you. Certainly for me, back then the artwork was the gateway. It was the forbidden door left slightly ajar, the seductive whisper that beckoned you come a little closer, slyly dared you to take a look inside…..

I was around eight year years old when Ian Miller ruined my childhood. At that point I had already devoured all the Choose Your Own Adventure books like a bowl-cut crested locust and was starting to explore the Fighting Fantasy series of books via the Puffin Book Club at my primary school. The Fighting Fantasy books were deliciously dark, and with titles like Forest Of Doom and Warlock Of Firetop Mountain there was no way a precocious little devil like myself could say no.

House Of Hell was the tenth in the series so by the time it showed up I was already a FF veteran despite my tender years. My travels had taken me from the the Craggen Heights to the treacherous depths Darkwood Forest to the murderous alleys of that other ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy,’ Port Blacksand. I’d survived’em all and come out the other side a far more wiley dungeoneer.

The Battle Of the Hornburg

The Battle Of the Hornburg

Anyway House Of Hell turned up and all that went flying out of the window. See it transpired that HOH was NOT a fantasy style novel set in the comfortably familiar realm of Allansia, no mate, it was a HORROR game book set in a contemporary background. And therein lies the problem, at seven years of age I did not like horror stuff at all. See a year or two prior, my sister had pushed me face first through a glass door, jagged shards of glass tore my stomach open, pierced my hand and went through my eyelid (still got the scars). It was a right bloody screaming mess to be honest, claret everywhere. Two things amongst all that carnage that I remember with crystal clarity was the cat strolling into the kitchen through the puddle of blood and walking it all over the house and secondly that The Devil Rides Out was showing on the telly. I have a distinct recollection of my mother vainly trying to hold the gash in my torso together with her hands, while I thrashed around screaming, as the scene where the cultists actually summon the Devil was taking place in the background. From that point onward horror movies and associated imagery became synonymous with the most harrowing event of my young life up to that point.  But, I digress…..

House Of Hell. Sweet dreams are not made of this.

House Of Hell. Sweet dreams are not made of this.

I remember the book arriving at school and my yelps of horrified excitement as I clapped eyes for the first time upon the grotesque imagery on the front cover, drawing the attention of the other kids in my class who gathered around to inspect my purchase. Most of those squares were still messing with The BFG or Matilda and simply could not comprehend the gateway to the esoteric opening before me like the Lament Configuration Box. I could not pull my eyes away from that bizarre cover. The weird demonic twisted tree and Satanic character in the foreground, the strange choice of colours, the rolling mist and that horrible looking house in the background. The whole thing oozed menace. I can remember that I hated even touching it, as if some of the residue of eldritch evil would somehow rub off onto me and contaminate my flesh and claim my soul. I left it in my desk at school for days before plucking up the courage to take it home. When I got it home I insisted on placing it face down to obscure the cover so that the devil- thing on the front cover wouldn’t get me while I was sleeping. That was my first exposure to the grotesque imagination of Ian Miller.

All the single ladies, all the single ladies etc etc

All the single ladies, all the single ladies

Some years later on the cusp of of my teens I encountered Ian Miller for a second time. Terror Of The Lichemaster was an expansion campaign for second edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle which is what we were playing in school at the time. External artwork came courtesy of Lone Wolf artist Gary Chalk but it was the nightmarish piece presented at the top of the page that captured my horrified attention. Go click on it, go on.. LOOK AT IT MATE. It’s horribly compelling no? More of those weird twisted trees and ghastly gothic towns, the bilious moon hanging low in the sky and  a seething parade of mad eyed undead lunatics bowling right through the middle of it. The character of the Lichemaster himself troubled me deeply. He dressed in the style of a puritan Witch Hunter but you can tell by the company he keeps and the state of him that he’s evil. Could not get my head around it at all. I remember NOTHING of the campaign itself but that spectral image haunted me for years and set the dominating tone for WHFB and WHFR for me right there and then. Sure, the Tolkien influences have always been one of the overwhelming flavours of the Warhammer World but Millers artwork injected a disturbing dose of grotesque gothic madness into the mythos. The Empire now seemed a corrupt and tainted place, more akin to the fog wreathed villages of Hammer’s Bavaria or the shuttered paranoia of sinister England as depicted in folk horror films like The Witch Finder General or Blood On Satans Claw.

Ian’s work continues to crop up in all sorts of places. That distinctive, almost festering style is immediately recognisable. In later years I discovered he’d illustrated a version of Mervyn Peakes Gormenghast novels and published a book with the patron saint of Warhammer art John Blanche entitled Ratspike. His art graced the covers of the weird fiction I was starting to drift towards, William Hope Hodgsons ‘House On the Borderland’ and various Lovecraft Collections.  If memory serves me correctly Bradford’s finest purveyors of twisted doomcore, Ironside, even used one of his images on their Damn Your Blooded Eyes 7″.

Decades on since my first encounter, the inherent wrongness of Millers insidious images, despite their skilled execution, troubles me still. As I’ve gotten older my appreciation for Millers ability to unnerve and unsettle and his truly disturbing imagination, has continued to grow. I had always hoped that I’d have been able to convince him to paint the cover of a Rot In Hell record while I was involved with the band. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

But still, whenever I catch a glimpse of his distinct style, or my eyes linger on one of his old paintings, those memories and feelings of stark childhood terror writhe in the pit of my stomach like some awful wet, black, coiled thing momentarily stirring from it’s wicked slumber. And I can’t say that I mind at all…..

A Wicked House

A Wicked House

10 thoughts on “Jagged Visions Part 1….The poisoned pen of Ian Miller

  1. I’m sure you are already familiar with his art book Green Dog Trumpet. If not, I highly recommend grabbing a copy.

  2. One of the old Warhammer images that always got me stoked was Adrian Smith’s Kweethul Gristlegut out of the Lost and The Damned supplement. Always thought the Realms of Chaos books had so many awesome tattoo ideas.

    Les Edwards’ Croglin Vampire out of the Call of Cthulhu RPG always gave me the creeps.

  3. Thanks for reading chaps. Will look out for GDT Chris, thank you.

    Ben, Yep big fan of Les Edwards along with Gary Chalk, Chris Achilleos,Russ Nichols etc. So much mood in those old pieces. Absolutely fantastic.
    Expect continued exploration of this subject!!

  4. This was a great article mate and a really good description about something that I’m sure every wargammer can relate to. Loved the passion and the detail.

    Fair play!

  5. Nice article. Although he only did a handful, whenever i got a new FF book that had Miller’s distinctive artwork on the cover I knew i was in for a treat. His art graced the covers of the two best (imo) books in the entire series, House of Hell and Creature of Havoc. Good stuff.

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  8. I’m half pissing myself laughing at the horrific events that surround your relationship with HOH and nodding emphatically. I had a similar relationship with a collection of Puffin classic horror children’s books, Frankenstein was particularly harrowing! I’ve recently bought the art book based off your series of articles and it really is a great collection of his work. war hammer stuff aside, his ‘Waspeye’ and commission work is amazing.

  9. I’m really sorry I fucked up your childhood. Your lucky you didn’t have the rabbits to contend with. That’s nightmare territory for real.
    I might well have done the rot in hell cover if you had asked.
    “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” 

    Friedrich Nietzsche
    Ian Miller

  10. Ian Miller’s covers are legend. I love what he does and I have prints made and I sell them for him. Gormenghast images and many others. Look me up.

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