Art of the Genre: Roger Dean, Asia, and Finding Myself in ’82

Art of the Genre: Roger Dean, Asia, and Finding Myself in ’82

asia_alphafThere was a time back in my middle-school days when friends of mine were allowed to join those ‘record clubs’ that you could find in magazine ads. You might remember these deals, where you’d pay like a penny and get twelve cassette tapes if you promised to buy six at regular price over the next year. Now for an eleven-year-old, this was a pretty significant addition to a small tape collection, so imagine my chagrin when I’d see friends show up with all this new music and me still with such a modest collection.

It was during one of these bulk purchases that my best friend at the time, Jason, picked up a copy of Asia Alpha. Jason eventually moved away after 7th grade, but years later, we became roommates in college during our freshman and sophomore years in the dorm. During our time together, around 1990, I purchased an Asia collection (Then and Now) on disc and Jason asked what I’d purchased. When I told him, he replied ‘I don’t know that band’, and I was like, ‘What!? You owned Asia Alpha back in middle school!’ and he was like ‘I did?’ I guess the moral of that particular story is that when providing twelve tapes at once to an eleven-year-old, it might be more about the bragging rights and cool factor than the music.

Anyway, the prime reason I’d remembered he had the tape was that the album cover was so incredibly cool. It was far beyond anything I’d seen at the time and to this day I’m still pretty enchanted with it. Many years would pass before I discovered that the artist was Roger Dean, and that he’d been doing funky and incredible alternate fantasy images for more years than I’d been alive.

51Z8+bzGUQLDean is a product of Ashford, England, where he was born in 1944. His art career started in the late 1960s when he did his first album cover for The Gun’s album Gun in 1968. Although his work continued to gain popularity, it probably wasn’t until he did the cover for the Yes album Fragile that his artwork really hit the mainstream.

cover_5514191182009Although certainly a fantasy painter, Dean himself considers his work to be more about landscapes and design. That may be true, but the reality to me is that his landscapes are all so alien and otherworldly that therefore they should be classified as science fiction and fantasy. And it was for that reason that I was so captivated by his work when I first saw it on Asia Alpha.

That particular album work on Asia, along with his Yes art, shows just how important an artist can be to a series. Much like a successful writer’s work might be covered by the same artist (Jordan/Sweet, Moorcock/Whelan, Howard/Frazetta, Salvatore/Lockwood), Dean’s work helped establish a viable and easily distinguishable brand for these bands.

Having gone back over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy all the Dean album covers in some form, either from the album itself or in print form. Each cover is both distinct and emotionally charged, with a kind of humanistic wanderlust that just begs to be explored further. That, in my mind’s eye, is the beauty of all landscapes, be they inspired by Earth or some alien dream.

asia_ariaSome might argue that Dean’s work is past its prime and that it reflects too much of the 1970s, but I’d say that is perhaps its greatest compliment. It is rare that a piece of artwork, or an artist, has so thoroughly dominated a time period that it gets forever attached to him or her. Dean managed this in grand fashion, and thanks to several bands, and my friend Jason, I’ve had the pleasure of being inspired by the work as it bleeds over into my gaming table for thirty years.

If you like what you read in Art of the Genre, you can listen to me talk about publishing, and my current venture with great artists of the fantasy field, or even come say hello on Facebook here. And my current RPG Art Blog can be found here.

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Joe H.

Fine. I’ll listen to Asia again. [runs off to Spotify]

James McGlothlin

I owned one of the Asia cassettes back in the day. I have several Asia songs on my iTunes. One of the things that I enjoy besides the Asia music is seeing the artwork on the screen when an Asia song comes up. I think it’s still stunning.

I was in a Half Price Books last year and was able to pick up a couple of brand new Roger Dean coffee table books on the cheap. All of the Asia and Yes art was within–a great find!

Michael G

No other title did this for me more than Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe. Dean’s artwork there captured the ethereal nature of the music quite well but also sent this Dungeon Master off in search of ways to incorporate the floating islands into his campaign — either through alternate planes of existence or magical lands that were much different than their neighboring countries.


A lot of the art was wrap-around on the LPs, and the full image wasn’t there on many cassette and CD covers.

I’d really like to find those art books, too. Asia’s still one of my favorite bands, so I usually have the Asia, Alpha, Astra and Aqua albums on my iPod.

One of the more recent pop culture reference to the Dean artwork was on Venture Bros. The albums and their artwork were cited by Rusty (aka Doc Venture) as one of his inspirations, and that his son Dean was was named for Roger Dean. He even makes Dean listen to the albums.


Dean got me INTO “Progressive Rock”.
Well, part of it was I’d listened to it in tie dyed diapers… But the adults who played it now only -kinda- remember the “Folk” stuff. While I love Phil Ochs, Baez, Donovan it was like being a child again after years of liking Dean’s art going “Okay, I’ll buy the CD and see if it’s for once as good as the cover…” heh, love it when there’s the exception to “You can’t judge … by its cover”!

Jeff Stehman

Dean got me into Uriah Heep. How could I not at least try The Magician’s Birthday. (Plus the red/blue cover has a lot of illusionary movement.) I believe he also did the cover on Demons and Wizards, but it’s not his best work.

What I really love is his architecture.

Aonghus Fallon

There are two Roger Dean posters that stick in my mind, maybe because as a twelve-year-old boy I had to decide which one could go up on my wall – there wasn’t room for two! It was a toss-up between ‘Greenslade’ and ‘Bedside Manners Are Extra’ with ‘Bedside Manners Are Extra’ winning by a nose.

Nick Ozment

Yep, Dean helped get me, too, into prog rock: I wanted to hear the aural soundscapes that expressed (or were expressed by) those landscapes! I most love his Yes covers, with those “smooth lines and bulbous molds . . . so incredibly organic and beautiful.”

Another cover that fired my young imagination was PeterLloyd’s for the Kansas album Point of Know Return — what a trippy visual that is, with the sailing ship going over the world’s edge into some vast Unknown…

Jeff Stehman

Point of Know Return had a good cover, but I preferred the cover of Leftoverture. It had a scroll! With words!

Aonghus Fallon

It would be pretty cool, ST – what better way of establishing your credentials as a DM, than with a screen which features some mysterious, many-armed god as its centrepiece?


Another thing I wouldn’t mind as a poster or GM screen was the paper sleeve from inside the dust jacket of the Led Zeppelin album with “Stairway to Heaven’s” lyrics and that B&W art on it.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x