Ridiculous Weapons by Artists

Sunday , 5, February 2017 10 Comments

An annoyance of mine are illustrations of stupid weapons, generally for book covers. I enjoy reading history. I enjoy reading fantasy fiction with pre-gunpowder settings. Over the years, I think most frequent readers of fantasy fiction read non-fiction works on weapons and tactics from the days of cold steel.

The Osprey Men at Arms booklets especially with all those wonderful Angus McBride paintings educate you on weapons and armor. Over time, you know enough to call ox manure on some illustrations.

            Exhibit A: Frank Frazetta’s wife’s nephew, Ken Kelly. Kelly has done some fine faux-Frazetta paintings. Most people I know agree that his earlier work is his better work. Look at this. A shirtless guy holding a club that is a boulder supported by a stick. One would be hard pressed to drill a hole in a small boulder to hold the handle let alone in this make-believe time.

Not to mention your arm would get tired in a short period of time. The control would be horrible. There were some stone battle axes from the Corded Ware/Battle Axe cultures in Europe who may have been the progenitors of the Celts. We still don’t know if those stone axes were for showing or fighting. But a boulder on a stick? Come on!


Exhibit B: Ken Kelly again, this time for one of the Horseclans books. I have a problem with oversized axes. Ever split wood or even better use an axe to cut down a tree? Bigger is not better. Again the size issue.

Exhibit C: Now we move to Boris Vallejo, another artist from the same period as Ken Kelly. I don’t see any advantage to having an overly long handle. Notice the outward flare of the blade towards the bottom. That is not going to enhance cutting. In fact, you might get the bottom edge with the acute angle caught on something.

                Double-bladed axes are rare in European history. You don’t even see them much even in Asia. The Indians had some but they were not these huge, ridiculous figurative steroid blades. Your Viking axe was often not that big. The Irish took to the axe with a vengeance during the Viking wars and you never see huge two handed axes shown from the time. Yes, the Saxon huscarls did use the Dane axe at the Battle of Hastings. They were not double-bladed though.





I hate to bring in Rafael Kayanan. He was in the Robert E. Howard United Press Association at the time I was the Official Editor. I like his art but sometimes his weapons are, shall we say, heavy handed.

                I love the overall look of this drawing. The mood is great. What the hell is that weapon? It looks like a cross between a club and an axe. Again, you get into the whole balance of the weapon being off. Also, a good rule of thumb in life is if something is made to do multiple jobs, it will do most if not all poorly.

Last, another Kayanan piece with an outlandish spear. Again, a weapon that has the appearance of being off balance. A Classical Era Greek hoplite would probably say “What the hell is that?”

Rafael Kayanan knows his knife fighting. He has been a fight choreographer for some movies and T.V. shows.

I love cool weapons. There are plenty of them to be found in history. I know lots of this is artistic license. The end result looks hokey all too often.


  • Juan J. Gutierrez says:

    This reminds me of a video series by a YouTuber called Skallagrim, where he would criticize weapons in fantasy video games even going so far as to redesign the weapons. The practicality of the weapons in fantasy illustrations can be a product of the authors and art directors.

  • Heh. I don’t always step on it as hard as I should, but I provide a lot of reference images of historically accurate weapons and armor in my art direction, and have thrice emailed artists an image of my wife doing a martial arts move on me (once with me on a chair to simulate a 7′ tall minotaur) or attacking me with a real weapon to get the angles and stances right.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    I agree with your opinion of Angus McBride, he does great work. It has been a while since I used a double-bitted axe; one side is used for felling trees, while the other edge is thinner and sharper. That’s used to trim branches and cut back brush from the target tree. You don’t want anything getting in the way if that tree starts to fall in the wrong direction.

    I think you’re right about double-edged and 2-H axes. Most of the two-edged axes I’ve read about may have been ceremonial in nature, like the Cretan Labyrs. Even the two-handed axes used by fighters like the Swiss were halberds or pole-axes with 1 edge and a hook or spike on the other side.

    Do you plan on writing another post along the same lines about swords in Fantasy art? You might be able to get some input from people like Neal Durando, who have some experience swords.

    • Morgan says:

      If I can get some images of outlandish swords, I will do a post on swords. I found more axes and not much in the way of swords. Maybe I was looking at the wrong sources.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    Gah. Should read: “who have some experience with swords.”

    Sorry about that.

  • Brian Renninger says:

    All these guys are pikers in the absurd weapons department compared to the anime people. Two of my favorite Frazetta Conan’s also feature over-sized axes. But, they are still great. There must be an equation that predicts the point at which an artist’s other fine qualities outwiegh their ridiculously large depiction of weapons.



  • DanH says:

    Video games are bad about it too. Check out any Final Fantasy game for starters. The armour and weapons are ridiculous.

    I spent 15 years sparring and competition in period correct armour and weapons so this subject is a real pet peeve of mine.

  • Theodore Meyer says:

    The Doomfarers/Star Followers of Coramonde books by Brian Daley had the character of Angorman, with the two handed, double bladed “Red Pilgrim” battle axe. 6 foot shaft, dual crescent moon blades, spear point on top. Fantastic descriptions of the axe movements in battle. Red Pilgrim was a major plot point in the second book. Totally unrealistic from a historical setting, but so memorable. Actually saddens me that it’s not a workable design.

  • Rafael Kayanan says:

    Lol just saw this- To put things in perspective, I teach real world edged weapons and about 10 percent of that ever makes it into my illustration work. For myself, real weapons only apply to strict academic historically themed projects. I did those two samples for fun and have different scenarios in my imagination on how Conan ” borrowed” these. They may not even be for humans to weild. Others are salvaged weapons that he strapped and bound together while on the run. All good though – I respect the opinions of all and am glad REH fandom is still going strong! The positive enthusiasm of fans is always welcomed in my circle. Cheers!

    • Morgan says:

      Hi Rafael. Good to see you dropping by. Interesting that you keep your real world edged weapon knowledge and illustration apart with a little overlap.

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