So, we all know we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover. Which is, of course, a lie – because why else would they have cover art but to attract and entice the would-be reader? And fantasy is perhaps the genre where covers matter most, have the greatest variety, and offer the most scope to delight and disgust.
There are a lot of classic Science Fiction covers out there, and I’d happily have framed copies of my favourites on my walls. However, as much as I like Chris Foss and co., there are an awful lot of books where the gorgeous spaceship on the cover really bears no resemblance to the ones inside, if there even are any. So, as enticing as they are, they don’t seem to me to have to do as particular a job as fantasy covers do.
And other genres do even less work, signifying genre and little else. Romance covers all look basically the same, though I’ve heard there’s some coded information in the particulars of pose and (un)dress. Crime fiction and thrillers just have to have a weapon or a body or a grainy scene (perhaps with crime tape). Chick lit has pastel colours and cutesy art, often with flowers or bows. And while I suppose you get a range in “literary” fiction, it’s often abstract or minimalist or just plain boring.
But fantasy covers…wow. Sure, some of them can be a bit cringe-worthy, especially from certain eras, and some of it can be a bit lacklustre, but on the whole there’s such huge variety of styles and approaches from so many talented artists, that it can turn the fantasy shelves into an art gallery of wonder.
For my taste, I’ve always preferred the evocative fantasy landscape to the character close-up or the more symbolic or abstract cover – with a few exceptions, of course. There are covers I love (and hate) from almost every era of fantasy right up to today. Without further ado, here are a few of my favourites.
I’d be remiss not to start with this modern master, an artist whose covers are about the only character-centred ones that I like. They have a wonderful dark beauty, and are abstract enough to somehow capture the emotion and atmosphere of a book as well as portray the characters irresistibly.
It’s now hard to separate his artwork from the books of two of my favourite authors – one of whom I probably would never have discovered if not for Swanland’s work. I can’t imagine any other artist on the cover of a Glen Cook fantasy now, which makes up for the pretty terrible covers Cook got in the 80s…
Another modern master, who seems to be everywhere these days (well, moreso in the US market), his distinct digital style capable of both abstract landscapes, vibrant action, or evocative character studies. He’s pretty much the “face” of modern fantasy right now, and I’m not complaining. (Check out this Tor.com article for more.)
I was going to make this about the 80s covers that I liked, and then I realised a lot of them were by the same artist. Taylor is evidently a master of the evocative landscape often with figures facing away from us, drawing us in. His use of colour is also much more to my taste than some of the more garish 80s/90s covers (looking at you, Darrell K Sweet!). Check out the full paintings which are even more spectacular.
Another 80s cover set which will, regardless of what else the artist did (and he did plenty), will put him amongst the greats, for me.
I can’t do a post on covers without including this one by Bruce Pennington, which immediately sold me the book (and therefore series, since it’s book two), and of which I now have two different sets…
And I also have a fondness for this 1960s craziness (artist unknown):
And there’s a lot more out there as well, some of which is elsewhere on this blog. I might have to do another one of these sometime…