In my last post I took a look at SF cover art, and how the fashion in covers changes over the decades. As with fashion in clothing or hairstyles, you can make a pretty accurate guess about time periods and genres just from a book’s cover. Whether you’re influenced in your purchases by that cover is a personal thing. In the spirit of leaving no stone unturned, today I’m looking at Fantasy cover art.
Since I’m a writer and not an art critic, I avoided discussing the work of any particular SF artist – I was looking at how covers change, not how an artist evolves. However, I don’t think we can talk about Fantasy cover art without at least a brief look at Frank Frazetta. In a way, his covers are the perfect example of what I’m talking about. When you look at a Frazetta cover, you know what time period, and what genre you’re looking at.
[Click the images for bigger versions.]
You’re likely familiar already with the examples I show you here. The Death Dealer is probably my favorite of all his work, and I have jig-saw puzzles of both that one and The Silver Warrior. These, along with The Princess of Mars, are typical Frazetta, distinguished by their darkness, by the nudity of the characters portrayed, and by the attention to anatomic detail (occasionally exaggerated) which extends even to the Death Dealer’s horse, and the lizard in the Mars cover.
Many people were influenced by Frazetta’s work, but in my opinion, no one comes near the master.
As I mentioned in my last post, in order to compare cover art over a few decades, it’s necessary to use books that have been around that long. Here’s a couple from Michael Moorcock.
The first example from The Jewel in the Skull was the earliest I could find, though I don’t think it’s the actual first cover. You can see that it’s a stylized drawing in the new wave mode. The second is the action pose that became popular later in the century. It’s still a drawing, but more classic comics than new wave. The final example is from 2015, and while it does seem to be an action pose, it feels completely different, as the figure is almost emblematic.
We see a similar evolution with The Queen of Swords, though frankly I’d be hard pressed to be certain which of the first two examples is actually first. One definitely has that 60’s psychedelic feel, and the other seems to be more new wave. The final one, however, is very obviously from 2015. No people, and, at first glance, not even any swords.
I’ll cap this off as I did my SF post, with one of my favorite writers, Roger Zelazny. Likely his best known work is the Amber series, and there are dozens of different covers for the first in the series, Nine Princes in Amber. I’m only going to show you four of them, however.
The first one is, I think, the earliest of these particular examples, and contrary to what we’ve seen in other cases, I think this is the best. It’s a little Camelotish, if you see what I mean, but it’s a great image for the novel. The second is more along the lines of what we would see in Barbara Hambly’s or Randell Garrett’s work in the 1980-90’s, if slightly better drawn. It interests me because it’s the only one of these that emphasizes Amber rather than the Prince. The third is recognizable as what I’m calling “man in cloak,” an image we’ve been seeing a lot of in the 2000’s. The fourth is from 2015 and is, sadly, the worst. Maybe they were going for a retro feel, but really. Cartoonish, and misleading.
I wanted to end with Fritz Leiber, another of my favourite authors, but his Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories have gone through so many collections and versions that I got a headache just looking at the art. Besides, whatever we might think about the outside of a book, it’s the inside that counts.
Oh yeah, lest we think fashion is the only thing that affects cover art, have a look at BG editor John O’Neill’s recent A Tale of Two Covers. Apparently geography can also play a role.
Violette Malan is the author of the Dhulyn and Parno series of sword and sorcery adventures (now available in omnibus editions), as well as the Mirror Lands series of primary world fantasies. As VM Escalada, she writes the upcoming Faraman Prophecy series. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @VioletteMalan.