Search This Blog

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pig Faced Orcs and Other Changes

Nowadays, if you ask someone what an orc looks like, you're likely to get a picture that looks something like this....

...or perhaps like this....
...or perhaps even like this...

Wasn't like that for me. When I became interested in fantasy literature and gaming, back in the seventies, there was some conflict about orcs. First time I ever saw an orc, it looked like this:

...the illustration in the first edition AD&D Monster Manual.

Now, I'd read Lord of the Rings, and Orcs got quite a rap in that series. Man, orcs were just flat out mean, ugly, unpleasant, and lethal, if you let them be. They had names like Ugluk and Gorbag, and would eat your hobbits for breakfast if Saruman didn't want them alive. THESE creatures, though... WTF? These weren't scary monsters, these were confused looking pig people... or perhaps the sapient evolved descendants of Dino from The Flintstones. THESE could not be orcs. What DID orcs look like?

When Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings movie came out, I went to go see it. Sure, they'd have to show orcs in there, wouldn't they? Well, as it turned out... not exactly.

As animated over live action footage... well... they did manage scary pretty well. But you couldn't see what they looked like for beans. They vaguely looked like badly animated guys in battered renfair gear with glowing eyes added in postproduction. What the hell DID an orc look like? At one point, I had the opportunity to buy some 25mm orc miniatures. I looked forward to painting them up and seeing what they looked like. I wish I had some pictures of those figures, because they were so badly sculpted, that once I had them painted... well... I STILL wasn't sure what an Orc looked like...
The Brothers Hildebrandt did some terrific Lord of the Rings art for a series of calendars back in the seventies. This was their first painting with orcs in it. I was still not satisfied. If these were orcs, they were Disney orcs. Where could I find something MEAN and SCARY, durnit?

Games Workshop, in England, was one of the first outfits to give me a REAL clue as to what an orc looked like, as seen above. They were green, had long pointy ears, tended to baldness, and had big lantern jaws and tusks. Well, it was a start...

It took the Dungeons and Dragons people thirty years before they decided what an orc looked like. Perhaps to avoid conflict with Games Workshop, D&D orcs are gray, and somewhat hairier than GW's. They're certainly scary, for all that they're pretty much cannon fodder and walking XP packages for players.
It took the Warcraft people, Blizzard Entertainment, to really flesh out the orc, though. Warcraft orcs are green, tusked, and remarkably scary. On the other hand, by the time Warcraft III and World of Warcraft came out, they weren't that bad -- they were, in fact, a deeply spiritual, shamanic-nature kind of folk, and had only been psychotic bloodthirsty villains due to being corrupted by demons. Sigh.

Blizzard had ushered in the PC orc... in both senses of the word; both player character and politically correct.

I mean, I know things are going to change. The game, the fantasy, all of it, is a muse for a lot of people, and there's going to be evolution in how our monsters and villains are presented.
But there are some permutations I could have gone without...


  1. The Bakshi Orc pic is actually not taken from an orc. It's a ring-wraith!

  2. i like Bakshi's orcs most of all
    they look evil, degenerated - no doubt much closer to the book than these mainstream battle toads