The AD&D 2nd edition Monstrous Manual is one of the high points of 2nd edition, a fact that has been rightfully championed by noisms both on his blog and at RPG.net. It's nearly a perfect monster book, and it could have been even better.
But what if it had been entirely illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi? Wishful thinking?
It almost happened.
Over the last couple days, thanks to the work of a colleague, Ari Berk, Central Michigan University has been hosting "Imagining the Fantastic," and Tony is one of the guests. The talks, art, and panel discussions have been fantastic, and Ari really pulled it off with this one. It's a rare opportunity to have artists of such caliber visiting mid-Michigan. It's been especially great because it has been relatively small event. Big for Mt. Pleasant, certainly, and a success on all counts. But still much smaller than the usual conventions you might find these folks at, allowing just about anyone to have real conversations with the guests.
Thanks to this, I had a chance to meet Tony, and he was a friendly, engaging guy who was a pleasure to talk to, and who seemed genuinely pleased when I asked him if he had any favorite illustrations from the Monstrous Manual. He didn't say, but instead told me the story of his involvement with it. After working on Dragon Mountain, his first job with TSR, he was invited to be involved with the Monstrous Manual and asked which creatures or creature types he'd be interested in working on. He'd responded by submitting a variety of things and telling them to let him know what they'd like him to do, based on his samples. And to his surprise, TSR asked him to illustrate the full book.
Unfortunately, at the time, they also wanted it with such a short deadline that he couldn't possibly have done it. Instead, he only was able to do certain creature types, and other artists worked on the rest of the monsters. If you've ever looked at your Monstrous Manual and thought, as I have, "Why isn't this whole book illustrated by DiTerlizzi?", now you know. To TSR's credit, they recognized the genius of asking him to do the whole book. Unfortunately, deadlines and publication schedules got in the way. It's still a fantastic book, but damn, that is a "might have been" for the ages.