This is part of an ongoing series that reviews and attempts to deconstruct common tropes in the Blizzard Fanart Gallery. This is not a critique of the choices of individual artists, but a look at the choices Blizzard and those artists have made. For reasons of time/expendiency I am limiting this series to what is currently in the Blizzard Fan Art Gallery, but please feel free to share your favourites from elsewhere in the comments. Just please try to make sure they are credited properly and on the theme of the post.
Sylvanas is an amazing character. She is both a protagonist for the Undead, and sly antagonist for the living. In Cataclysm she will make some unpopular decisions, and she is one of the few major lore characters to undergo multiple redesigns in World of Warcraft (as well as between games.) She is a heroine and villainess, depending on your faction, and is characterised as a military genius, in contrast to Tyrande’s spiritual (and practical) leadership, and Jaina’s arcane power. She was both the first of the Banshees, and the originator of the Dark Rangers, a class that meshes necromatic and hunter powers.
There are a lot of ‘night elf hunters‘ that share some of her costuming as well, but I am trying to be somewhat selective as Sylvanas wasn’t a Kaldorei. Also there is some amazing Sylvanas art out there that isn’t in the US Gallery, as ever PLEASE share those links in the comments.
- Dark Rose of the Forsaken by Kendrick Lim 22/11/04
- Queen of the Undead by Yongyan Fu 01/06/05
- Forsaken by bbzsy 20/06/07
- Lament of the Highbourne by Jiao Qiao 25/07/07
- Memory by Jeremy Sun 17/07/08
- The Banshee Queen by Ann Siri Skrolsvik 04/12/08
- The Gift for Lantana by Jeremy Sun 14/01/09
- Sylvanas Sings by Rob Carlos 29/04/09
- Sylvanas by Seth Banner 29/04/09
- Rise of a Dark Ranger by Stephanie Chan 29/04/09
- Sylvanas Fallen by Sacha Diener 07/05/09
- Sylvanas by Twoz 15/06/09
- Sylvanas by Kanas Hsueh 14/10/09
- Sylvanas Windrunner by sashow dan 14/10/09
- Cataclysm by chang yawei 14/10/09
- Battle For The Undercity by Chang Liu 02/12/09
- Champion of the Undercity by Sara Forlenza 27/01/10
- Dark Lady by hujianing 24/03/10
- Sylvanas Windrunner by jiguo liu 7/07/10
- Sylvanas Windrunner by Eduardo Caria Mosena 22/07/10
Now, the artists get a bit of a pass on this, as Sylvanas isn’t an ordinary undead. When she was initially ‘raised’ she was a non-corporeal Banshee. Plus, Blizzard themselves have depicted her in-game as a rather smooth and sinuous elf, so I can’t blame the artists for continuing that theme. It does annoy me somewhat, as Sylvanas was brutally murdered and tortured even before her soul was subjugated. There are a few pieces that pick up on her status as a former corpse – Sylvanas Sings (Carlos) and Champion of the Undercity (Forlenza), but many many more that focus on her smooth skin and her strangely perky boobs. I wasn’t aware that being interred in a tomb maintained the integrity of the water within one’s boobs. Or resulted in one walking around with a vacant (dead, hah) stare and lips slightly parted all the time. Silly me.
Sylvanas is mainly presented as a figure to be looked at, rather than a character actively emoting or acting. In some ways this makes the Eduardo Caria Mosena piece all the more stunning. She is wearing the modern Sylvanas costume, and while the womanly curves are ‘there’, they aren’t the focus of this action shot. For all that her face is impassive, my eye is drawn to it by the actions of the rest of her body. Stunning piece of work. However most of the Sylvanas art has her passively standing and staring at the audience, or sticking her bum and boobs out. For example, Dark Lady has her supposedly marching at the head of an army, but her clothing is skimpier than usual and the pose she is in emphasises her hips. In Battle for the Undercity, her whole spose is just plain weird.
Many poses seem to centre around one urm being held up, either to present the iconic necklace, or just…erm…just because.
I will note, however, that ‘passive poses’ are a mainstay of Fanart in general, perhaps because static bodies are easier to draw well than active ones. There are a great many passive male characters as well, but the proportions of passive/active are less telling than that of the women.
As you can see, the amount of Sylvanas art increased exponentially after she was madeover in game, with both a more curvacious body, and a more revealing outfit. Previously she had been depicted in the full coverage of a black robe. Unsurprisingly, artists like to draw pretty things, and they also like to have a firm idea of what Blizzard wants the character to look like. (Although oddly enough there is more Abomination art than there is art of Jaina Proudmoore.) The change in the makeover also changes the colour scheme of Sylvanas art, from blues and blacks to reds, purples and even pinks.
‘Character’ art is less popular in the Fanart Gallery in general, and an observation I had was that generally Arthas, Illidan and Kael’thas lead the way in general character art, with Sylvanas the only woman receiving a significant number of published submissions. I’ve even found some art that may be of her before she was killed (showing the ranger gear and the crow). The makeover cannot be the only factor in this significant difference – Sylvanas is the only prominent woman leadership with no real male ‘rival. Tyrande is opposite Fandrel and Malfurion, and Jaina Proudmoore is overshadowed somewhat by Varian. Sylvanas is also the only significant woman in the Horde leadership at this time, and her character is now divorced from ideas of sex and romantic relationships. Where Jaina and Tyrande are associated romantically with a number of men (both in lore and in fandom), Sylvanas is pretty much ‘free’ from all that by virtue of being dead AND a military genius.
Below is a sketch by Metzen, which is very telling when you consider the evolution of Sylvanas’ appearance in the game. Below we see her with a Kaldorei facial tattoo, even though I believe she was highborn. Her face shows marks of obvious repairs in the original conception of her character. In the name of expediency they use an un-scarred model for her now, which they are able to ‘port’ to other major female lore characters that they can get away with showing in a bikini. She goes from physically damaged to physically on show.
She’s a warrior, a leader, and above all she is World of Warcraft’s survivor. I won’t reveal any Cataclysm stuff, but her story continues in that theme. I don’t see much of the power of her character or her past in much of the fan art, which is what makes Sylvanas Sings and and the Mosena piece so damn powerful. If you want to do something different with her, show her as a leader, as woman of violence and drive. Show her in action, either with her magic or her abilities as a Dark Ranger.