TBT: Paperback Covers of the 70s and 80s

28 Jul , 2016  


This gorgeous artwork, featuring Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and the Dwarves in the nest of the great eagle, Gwaihir, graced the cover of my first copy of “The Hobbit.”

This morning when I woke and ignited my iPhone, I was greeted by this post from Neil Gaiman, in which he describes the process by which he was able to convince renowned fantasy artist Robert McGinnis to illustrate upcoming paperback reprints of Gaiman’s most popular works.

Gaiman writes eloquently about the magical qualities inherent in those paperback covers of yesteryear, with their vivid colors highlighting magnificent, otherworldly vistas, and those imaginative interpretations of creatures.  His words evoked splendid memories of wandering through the Fantasy/Science Fiction sections of a local newsstand or Waldenbooks.  The covers were the hook.  And they played a greater part than I knew in my choice of reads in those days.

Darrell K. Sweet's cover art for "Ogre, Ogre," one of the myriad novels in Piers Anthony's "Xanth" series.

Darrell K. Sweet’s cover art for “Ogre, Ogre,” one of the myriad novels in Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series.

One of those artists was Hugo Award-winner Darrell K. Sweet, who I was sad to learn this morning died five years ago.  His work led directly to me picking up the likes of the Xanth novels by Piers Anthony, and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson.  Perhaps most importantly, his work graced the cover of my very first copy of The Hobbit.  And, of course, everyone will remember his remarkable covers for the “Wheel of Time” series.

Another favorite is Michael Whelan, who is alive and well and still working, and was recently inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.  His cover for the Elric novel, “Sailor on the Seas of Fate” was always a favorite, and his cover for the 1979 release of  “A Princess of Mars” clearly informed some of the design for the woefully-underappreciated “John Carter” film.

Michael Whelan's cover to Anne McCaffrey's "Dragonquest," the second novel in her first "Dragonriders of Pern" series.

Michael Whelan’s cover to Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonquest,” the second novel in her first “Dragonriders of Pern” series.

“The Dragonriders of Pern” had already been recommended to me by a friend with excellent taste in fantasy, and when I saw the paperbacks of that trilogy in a small bookstore in Taylorville, Illinois, I was so smitten by the covers that I immediately conned my parents into buying me all three.

(Incidentally, Whelan offers these and more of his works as fine art prints on his website.  Click the link on his name above.  The browsing of the site alone is worth your time, even if you’re not into ordering.)

But the book the I read and re-read in my teens more times than any other was “Ariel,” byariel_old Stephen R. Boyett.  Set in a modern Earth in which an event called The Change renders the likes gunpowder and electricity inert while simultaneously giving rise to magic and the existence of magical creatures, this book held my attention for at least a dozen reads.  The cover promised something interesting.  Barclay Shaw‘s illustration of a young man and his unicorn familiar on a tall-masted ship sailing into New York Harbor promised just the sort of adventure that a teenaged D&D junkie splitting his time between the real world and the fantasy world would hearken to.  It was my first post-apocalyptic experience, and the first book I read in which wielders of magic and swords spoke in the same manner as myself and my friends.


There might just be enough room on a school bus for all of the cover artists I’ve admired over the years.  But there certainly isn’t enough room in this blog.  But I’m always eager to learn of talent that I’ve yet to recognize.  If any of you have any favorites, please list them in the comments below.

, , , , , , , , , , ,

By  -    
When he was a child, Terry Smith's mother bought him a toy castle, a mountain of Legos, and a book about wizards. His father dragged him to movies like Star Wars, Excalibur, and Tron. In the face of such blatant indoctrination, he never stood a chance. Since those days, he has traveled the world (mostly via the internet) in search of a broader understanding of geek culture, in hopes that such an understanding will result in an unprecedented worldwide unity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *