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Artist and games magazine legend Oliver Frey dies aged 74

Oliver Frey and the cover of Crash magazine issue 1
(Image credit: Newsfield/Crash Online)

A generation of 80s kids is in mourning today at the news that Oliver Frey – visual artist, illustrator and one of the main figures behind some of the biggest gaming magazines of the 1980s – has died at the age of 74.

Oli was one of the founders of Crash magazine in 1983, which quickly seized the imaginations of UK gamers, thanks in no small part to his stunning cover illustrations, painted by hand in the days long before Photoshop CC

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For a while in the mid-to-late 80s, the historic market town of Ludlow, where Crash (opens in new tab) publisher Newsfield was based, acquired a super-cool cachet as far as gamers were concerned. Quite a few of of my friends and colleagues got their first breaks in publishing at Newsfield or were featured in its magazines, and Future (the home of Creative Bloq) was originally founded in 1985 after Chris Anderson, the original editor of Crash's sister title Zzap! 64 (opens in new tab), left Newsfield to launch his own magazine.

It's hard to overestimate the extent to which Oli's artwork helped Newsfield mags like Crash and Zzap! 64 become runaway market leaders back in the day. His personality ran all the way through the pages – I particularly loved his little doodles that could be found in the margins of Zzap! 64 – and made these mags a must-have for anyone with a love of games. But it was definitely his cover artwork that stood out, and at his peak he must have been painting covers for five or six magazines every single month.

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Oliver Frey was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1948. His family moved to Britain in 1956, and it was here that he first discovered comics and was inspired to become an artist. His family later moved back to Switzerland, but after doing his national service in the Swiss Army and dropping out of Berne University, Oli returned to Britain to study at the London Film School, where he supported himself working as a freelance comic artist.

In the 1970s and 1980s Oli worked in comics, drawing British classic Dan Dare as well as creating a 30s-syle comic book illustration for the 1978 Superman movie, and he was also well-known (under the pen name Zack) as a prolific creator and publisher of gay erotic art in titles such as HIM Magazine and Man-to-Man Magazine.

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It was, however, the launch of Crash in 1983 that made Oli a household name, at least as far gamers were concerned. An absolute whizz with an airbrush, he nevertheless kept up with technological developments and was an early beta tester for Photoshop in 1990, and while he never lost his love of painting by hand, he soon integrated Photoshop into his workflow as a tool for finishing his paintings and illustrations.

And beyond his own work, he inspired countless budding artists along the way; the letters pages of Newsfield magazines were always home to artwork sent in by readers, and many artists and designers working today were originally inspired by Oli Frey's punchy and eye-catching imagery.

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Oli is survived by his partner and Newsfield co-founder, Roger Keane. He'll be sadly missed.

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Jim McCauley is a writer, performer and cat-wrangler who started writing professionally way back in 1995 on PC Format magazine, and has been covering technology-related subjects ever since, whether it's hardware, software or videogames. A chance call in 2005 led to Jim taking charge of Computer Arts' website and developing an interest in the world of graphic design, and eventually led to a move over to the freshly-launched Creative Bloq in 2012. Jim now works as a freelance writer for sites including Creative Bloq, T3 and PetsRadar, specialising in design, technology, wellness and cats, while doing the occasional pantomime and street performance in Bath and designing posters for a local drama group on the side.