It seems like few artists can refuse the call of Magic: The Gathering, especially if they are more fantasy- or science fiction-oriented. At Magic Untapped we only managed to talk with a fraction of them through interviews because there has been so many from which to choose. But considering that the game of Magic has been bringing in great art since 1993, they have also managed to get some historic artists in there as well.
And that brings us to Frank Kelly Freas.
If we had to do an entire article on Freas in detail, it might expand into a book. If we needed to crank out a quick podcast, it would take several episodes. So let's just give a quick recap.
Freas was one of the premier science fiction illustrators of the 1950s and 60s. You know all those old paperback and magazine covers with art that promised way more than they can deliver inside? Yeah, Freas was one of those guys. After a stint as the main artist with Mad Magazine as well as some side hustles making official logos for NASA and painting album covers for Queen, Freas, by the 1990s, had become one of the premier sci-fi artists of his time. So much so that he racked up a record-setting 11 Hugo awards along the way.
So, wait, where does the Magic collectible card game come in? Well, in 1999, the expansion Mercadian Masques came out. The set was interesting because it had a bit more of an ethreal feel to it, and thus artists were chosen to kind of keep up that feeling.
And so, if you want to give your set a king of old-time early cold war science fiction/fantasy feel, who do you call? Well, Kelly was free. He was in his late 70s by this point and mostly retired, but he was free (well, availability-wise).
After all, the shine on that list of artists looks all the better and can maybe help convince some people to do special guest works later on. Many a bed and breakfast in New England still get enough business from George Washington having slept there, after all.
However, those two would be the only two card arts Freas would do for Magic as the artist passed away in 2005. Getting Freas on board to illustrate a couple of Magic cards, though, is yet another example of WotC wanting to go all in on quality when they can to pretty good effect.