“Stranger Things” Season 4 raised its own bar with Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), the alarmingly unforgiving Oz of the Upside Down. Loosely based on the “Dungeons & Dragons” character of the same name, the fleshy trauma demon epitomizes nightmare fuel in its current form, but senior concept illustrator Michael Maher, Jr. went through many, many iterations of the character before settling on the one we know today.
Posted on Instagram as well as his website, Maher Jr.’s mockups took inspiration from a variety of sources, from horror classics like “Hellraiser” and “A Nightmare of Elm Street” to prehistoric fish and gangrene. It’s a beautiful multiverse of Vecnas; one sports a cloak, another an asymmetrical tentacle, and another full body-plated spiked armor. Even closer variations feature distinct differences that would have made for a very different villain. So much of Vecna is in his sunken but very present eyes, so it’s surprising to see versions of the character with more beady peepers, or eye sockets covered up by lines of flesh. One iteration features just dots for eyes with a scraggly smile, which skews closer to Ditto than Vecna. Even Maher, Jr. admits in his notes, “not sure what I was thinking here…”
Any of these Vecnas would have been a sensational series villain, but Maher, Jr.’s collection stands as a beautiful look into just how wide-ranging the development process can be. You never quite know where you’ll land, but it’s going to be awesome either way.