John Dollar: Dark Sun’s Mystery Artist

In early 1995, Tom Baxa’s images for the Dark Sun setting were waning, and I can imagine at that time TSR needed to find illustrators that could fill the gap. There were quite a few that came and went all the way through 3.5e, though one illustrator seemed to have done quite a bit of work for the setting and then vanished: John Dollar.

TSR made an interesting choice with John Dollar, who’s illustrations were very similar to Baxa’s sharp style but with a mastery of shading that did well in a time of most interior art being in black and white. This gave Dollar’s illustrations the grit and hard edges one was accustomed to in Dark Sun but with a level of detail great enough to draw people into the images. Here are some images which help define Dollar’s style in the setting.

Thri-kreen of Athas Poster

There can be no greater accomplishment than completing a full poster for a book. John Dollar succeeds in doing so in the poster that accompanied the Thri-kreen of Athas supplement, published in April of 1995.

The fold-out poster that came with “Thri-kreen of Athas”.
Reimagining of the Mekillot

With the arrival of the Expanded and Revised 2e Dark Sun Campaign Setting in October of 1995 we find Dollar at work on the interior illustrations. One thing might catch the eye in the myriad of illustrations, and that is the re-envisioning of the mekillot. In a theme that is seen more in the later 3e tour of Dark Sun in Dragon and Dungeon Magzines, where artists typically base there work on Brom or Baxa’s ideas, Dollar changes the look of one of the fundamental creatures of the setting despite the creature’s description changing little from the original boxed set. For good or ill, Dollar went his own direction that was quite different from previous illustrations giving us something akin to a triceratops. To challenge what people expect visually takes moxie.

An argosy being pulled by two “mekillots”.
The Traveling Ssuran

This image (also in the Expanded and Revised 2e Dark Sun Campaign Setting) has three Sssuran traveling over (presumably) lava on the Scorched Plateau. I like how they appear neither good nor evil, just beings going about their business in a harsh world.

A group of Ssurran traveling on the Scorched Plateau.

Though not as well known as Brom or Baxa, Dollar’s work spanned quite a few Dark Sun books and magazine articles from April 1995 to October 1996:

  • Thri-kreen of Athas
  • Beyond the Prism Pentad
  • Dragon 221 (The Ecology of the Crystal Spider)
  • Dark Sun Campaign Setting, Expanded and Revised
  • Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs
  • Dragon 231 (Defilers and Preservers)
  • Dragon 234 (Artifacts of Athas)

After Dragon 234 however, John Dollar seems to have done something one doesn’t expect from freelance illustrators: He procured a full-time job, thereby passing the reins of Dark Sun illustration to others.

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