Vorthos Personified: Mike Linnemann

Posted in Serious Fun on September 1, 2015

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

Welcome to Vorthos Week! When I think "Vorthos," I think Mike Linnemann. Mike has been waving the Vorthos flag at GatheringMagic for a long time, and is the image of a Vorthos for many of us who have been reading his work all along. Mike is mostly focused on the art aspect of Vorthos, but he also has his fingers in a variety of projects any Vorthos would love. I thought I would use this week to introduce Mike and his projects to those of you who aren't aware of what he brings to the Magic community.

Mike, tell us a little about yourself? I understand you're from Wisconsin? Big Badgers fan?  

I'm a Minnesotan, living in Minneapolis. I have a standing invite to anyone laid over or visiting my city to get ahold of me, and I'd like to think I live my life by being accessible to friendly people. Magic is a bit like that—and as we travel to locations we're not familiar with, you could likely find a place to stay and a free tour guide via Twitter or another social medium!

I work for the University of Minnesota Foundation, which means I feel pretty confident that I know how to throw a solid Magic charity event each summer. (If folks ever need help organizing one, hit me up on Twitter!) I write for GatheringMagic.com weekly, create some news stories when they pop up, and a host podcast called SnackTime. The best part is the taste.

I'm married with three dachshunds, a former collegiate runner like artist Ryan Pancoast, and I've been getting into craft breweries as of late—sans the hipster mustache part. I like petting dogs, most patriotic American things, and eating copious amounts of grilled meat in the summer. 

I play Infect in Modern, a gross Melira, Sylvok Outcast combo deck or a fair Uril, the Miststalker deck in Commander, and I'm a card-carrying member of the "I hate dredge" club.

When did you get into Magic?

I began in 1996 or 1997, with fellow Boy Scouts who played Magic when it was raining. Since we were rural and internet wasn't universally had, that would mean Fourth Edition was the first set I played with.

What came first, love of Magic or love of art?

Love of art at the age of two. I was in a medieval armory museum and thought it was the coolest thing ever. 

When I look at card art, what amazes me is how the artists are able to balance detail and an understanding that most people who see the art will only see it at the size of a Magic card. Was there something in particular that drew you to Magic art? 

I grew up in Germany as a little kid. My upbringing was Sesamstraße, not Sesame Street, and Grimm's macabre fairy tales, not Reading Rainbow. Basically, I grew up in Innistrad's Kessig, complete with werewolves and the subsequent art traditions—fairy tales and illuminated manuscripts were just precursors to Magic's art. All those tropes and familiar things you see come from somewhere, after all.

Gavony Township | Art by Peter Mohrbacher

Do you have a current favorite Magic artist? All-time favorite artist?

I have been consistently impressed with Cynthia Sheppard's honed skill and subtle storytelling as of late. Donato Giancola is arguably Magic's best artist, and I will not hesitate to argue with people about it.

How did you get started writing for GatheringMagic? 

I recall talking with ManaNation.com's then-editor, Trick Jarret, about pitching some articles to blogs and sites, and he forwarded me to their normal submission page. I pitched to him and a few other sites; the response was strong and I've been there since.

You wrote flavor text for a while. How did you get involved in that? What was challenging for you in writing flavor text? Do you have a favorite card? 

Writing about Vorthos things outside of DailyMTG on a more regular basis was pretty uncommon, so I got to know the Creative Director at the time, Brady Dommermuth, because, well, I was one of the few people writing on flavor. I asked him if I could give it a try. He sent me a test and I had my hand at writing.

I was utterly terrible at it. You see, there are more than one type of Vorthos out there. It's a misscategorization that all Vorthoses like the storyline or all of them soak up flavor text like a Walking Sponge. I was in graduate school at the time, gearing up to get married and considering a move out to Seattle for a potential shot at the big time, so I had to throw my hat into the ring. To be honest, I really didn't enjoy it all that much because of how voluminous it was. It really is a difficult grind to constantly be creative, hundreds of times, in a short amount of time.

I wrote the name and flavor for Remember the Fallen, and was pretty proud about writing that. I felt there were certainly ways to expand on the Planeswalker idea in flavor text, and Planeswalkers as historians was absolutely something I wanted to push. You see, Planeswalkers used to be (in the early novels) very antagonistic and incredibly violent when they encountered each other. They stole artifacts and, like in real-life games, battles ended quickly! I felt that too simplistic—Planeswalkers should be more wary of each other, anxious to learn of the news of New Phyrexia, or what Innistrad is up to, or in this case, that the great Venser is no longer available to call upon or seek truth from. Being an Eagle Scout myself, I thought of them as hikers exploring a vast wilderness. Sometimes you meet hikers who are terrible humans, and other times you meet colleagues and friends. 

What is the Alpha Art Project? What made you start the Alpha Art Project?

The Alpha Art Project is a catalogue raisonné. It's an academic project to find all the remaining Alpha paintings for usage in future scholarship and art exhibitions. I started in about four years ago with a few pieces, and I could write a book about the stories themselves.

Collectors can be fully anonymous, as all art has some shaky provenance that cannot be proven regarding who bought the piece or how it was acquired. I have no financial interest in the project, and Josh Krause, the webmaster of OriginalMagicArt.com who also has launched Vintage Artist Constructed, has allowed me to keep a permanent space on his site. We now work to find the remaining pieces.[1]

For those who follow you on Twitter (@VorthosMike), your love of dogs is well-known. Have you ever met a dog you wouldn't pet?

Surely such a travesty has never occurred.

Mike’s Wein’s | From left: Toblerone, Milk Dud, and Phillip Jenkins

Is there a single card art you love over all others?

Archivist by Donato Giancola. It's one of his early masterpieces hidden in a core set. I felt so strongly about it, I bought it.

Archivist | Art by Donato Giancola

How many pieces of card art do you currently have in your collection?

That's a common misconception. People think I carry many of them but I actually don't. I buy a lot of art for people at conventions and Grand Prix events, and then send it to them after the event. I actually keep a Google document of art that I know people are looking for. I've probably connected 20 or 30 people with major works they've been searching for. 

I only have twelve pieces of Magic art, if that makes sense.

Why has Magic art seen a rise in prominence in the past few years?

When art gets more awards, visibility rises. When people see art in more exhibitions or in more showcases, its value rises. Art exhibitions don't sell art, art gallery shows do. So, when you show off your art a lot, it gains a lot of viewers and people then want it. As Magic's art has been leveling up with greater expectations and more diverse characters, and Jeremy Jarvis keeps leveling up himself, it's no wonder Magic's physical paintings are transcending from illustration to fantasy art. Any illustrative art that is so strong, such a major work, can be referred to by the fine art term "Imaginative Realism," and artists like Rebecca Guay or Donato Giancola easily come to mind under that category.

Normally, someone like Donato is promoted up out of Magic because he's getting commissions by princes and celebrities, but somehow Wizards' art directors have been able to keep some marquee talent like Volkan Baga and Cynthia Sheppard around to make cards. When you keep award-winning artists, of course the original market will respond in tow.

Also, there is a life cycle of emergent art on the market. People who played when they were teenagers in the 1990s now have expendable income. With the recession fully behind us, the art market is utterly booming. With no real comparable of media to "own" other than cards and art, those with the capacity are buying in deep because they can't play Magic every day anymore, but a Vorthos can stay and feel connected to the game by putting artwork on the wall.

You and Ant Tessitore make up the Vorthos podcast called Snacktime. How did that get started? Do you have a few set topics you hope to discuss, or is this something you'd like to keep going indefinitely?

Snacktime started with Ant pestering me. Honestly, I don't really like podcasts. I find them impersonal. I like art and paintings, it's the reason I would rather visit a museum than see a print or view the image online. It's not real. Though, I did realize that some pieces of content were too difficult to showcase in an article and needed to be done. Vorthos folk are generally very collaborative and community-minded.

I don't want to do the series indefinitely. I want Ant to be working at Wizards, which will be the terminus of the project. Once that happens, as I figure it's a "when" considering how talented he is, I'll slowly stockpile Vorthos topics again and find another medium through which I can get the word out on a few difficult concepts. 

I understand the art for Pharika, God of Affliction recently won a Chesley Award. What is a Chesley Award, and does this change things for Magic artists?

The Chesley Awards are awarded during the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) weekend to artists and those who worked with artists for the year. Initially called the ASFA Awards, they were renamed the Chesleys after the death of Chesley Bonestell in 1986. The awards are chosen from the entire Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists. 

Awards are always validating and great for print sales! Eric Deschamps, after being accepted into Spectrum (an annual book of great art), put the Jace Worldwake Fat Pack image on his business cards. It's incredibly important to be recognized with art awards; they catapult your career onward and upward.

Pharika, God of Affliction | Art by Peter Mohrbacher

Cosplay appears to be the one major area of Magic Vorthosiness that you haven't jumped into. Any plans for the future? What would be a likely option for you? If money were no object, what would you choose? 

Cosplay is silly underutilized, and not for the reason people think. Most people, including adult casual players, don't have time to make a Christine Sprankle-level cosplay. They like the idea, but it just isn't going to happen. Guild t-shirts are one way people can participate in cosplay, but they won't say that's what it is. If Wizards wanted to make a million dollars overnight, they could make a Jace Beleren zip-up hooded sweatshirt with his markings on it. It's cosplay-lite, which is a huge market that really gets very little attention. I think as cosplay gains traction from the bottom of our community up—via live drawing sessions with artists, or cosplay contests at conventions—the interest will be created in time.

I could probably pull off an Ashiok pretty easily. I don't mind body paint and I could probably get back into more core body workouts for it.

If money were no object, I'd make three versions of Karn transitioning from golem to Planeswalker to Phyrexianized Father of Machines.

You are currently one of the Master Chefs in GatheringMagic's Ironroot Chef competition. How did this get started? I understand you are undefeated against all challengers? 

This began with the Community Cup doing a mini challenge in the past. Ant and I discussed with Adam Styborski, our editor at GatheringMagic, how we could go huge with this and just went to it! It doesn't matter if the first version isn't as polished. Encouraging people will emerge amongst the trolls and help you refine a really stellar idea.

Oh, Ant beat me on week one. Though I argue I was set up! The secret ingredient was a flavor text-focused card for us to compete over. That's like if there were a competition between Lebron James and Marshawn Lynch, and it ended up being a dunking contest. There will be a rematch eventually.

As for other people, I swing for the fences. I'm not going to hold back, and have some pretty absurd lists of concepts to dive into for the next few challengers who step to this.

I want to thank Mike for giving me the chance to pick his brain about all things Vorthos and for taking the time to share his passions. There are so many ways to enjoy this game beyond slinging the cards! Check out his articles every Wednesday and the Snacktime podcast, which can all be found on GatheringMagic. And if you have anything to add to the Alpha Art Project, Mike would love to hear from you.

Finally, keep an eye on my Twitter feed; Mike's undefeated IronRoot Chef streak will be coming to an end very soon!

Bruce Richard


[1]Would you like to see the Alpha Art Project at Magic's 25th anniversary? Mike and I would love to hear what you have to say. Contact either of us on Twitter or through my email.

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