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all art by erol otus

There were a lot of things that scared the polyester pants off parents back in the Reagan era, and Dungeons & Dragons was right up there with heavy metal and hardcore punk—in fact, they probably were all part of the same horrible conspiracy, right?

Punk had people like Raymond Pettibon and Shawn Kerri, drawing flyers and album covers that put kids one step closer to getting grounded, and Dungeons and Dragons had a guy named Erol Otus, who could draw a tentacle monster getting mangled (or mangling someone else) with enthusiasm like no one else.

Otus’ style is an idiosyncratic riff on Jack Kirby comics and the books in the occult section of the local library, the kind of awesome thing that happens when someone takes an opportunity—in this case, “Erol, do you wanna draw some monsters and wizards for these books we’re doing?”—and runs off the edge of the planet with it.

His work is all over early D&D and associated products, including 1982’s apparently banned Alma Mater, which was a role-playing game set in high school where (as pictured above) you could stab or get stabbed after a seriously disgusting lunch break. And his hack-and-slash-and-zap aesthetic lives on with guys like Ben Marra, who’s really doing a lot to keep space barbarians in the public eye.

The best site I’ve found for celebrating the tentacular spectaculars of Otus’ career is of course the Erol Otus Shrine, which is full of classics and obscurities both. One day, I could totally see an Otus revival that puts his vintage work on new album covers and t-shirts. (And probably tattoos.) But for now, you gotta go digging in some little-explored places for it—which is kinda perfect.