The Golden Age of Fantasy Illustration

In his foreword to The Future of Fantasy Art, from general editors Aly Fell and Duddlebug, the great William Stout says that it “takes hindsight to recognize a Golden Age, usually long after that specific era has become history. We may be in the beginning of a Golden Age of fantasy art…” If the point of the compendium is to make this case, editors Aly Fell and Duddlebug have gone a long way towards doing so. The book is a treasure trove of fantastic images, the kind of work you want to spend hours pouring over, which can serve as either a great collection for the art enthusiast or, in my particular case, another good resource for an art director.

I spend a lot of time online on sites like ConceptArt.org, Gorilla Artfare, deviantART, as well as browsing individual artists portfolios and blogs, so I actually recognized a fair amount of the work in the book from previous encounters. And the book certainly has a a fair sampling of artists who would have to be in such a tome for the bold claims of the title to have any legitimacy. Expected masters and exciting newcomers like Scott Altman, Daren Bader, Brom, Emrah Elmasli, Donato Giancola, Don Maitz, Glen Orbik, David Palumbo, Dan Dos Santos, Jon Sullivan, Raymond Swanland, and Jason Chan all make appearances. (Emrah Elmasli is someone whose work I’ve been really admiring lately, and it was great to see him in the book. Although if the intent is to evoke sense of wonder, there are other images from Elmasli’s portfolio I wish had made the book instead of or in addition to the pieces chosen). I was delighted that compendium happened to have two of my three favorite Dan Dos Santos pieces (his covers for the novels Implied Spaces and Green). And there are pieces that I haven’t seen before (or don’t remember if I have), such as The Dragon Kytes of Baron V by Simon Dominic Brewer that are just fantastic, and evokes the kind of sensawunder that so many lament is seldom seen these days. (His piece, The Last Dragon, which shows two Victorian gentleman coming upon a deceased creature is also really interesting). Primrobb’s Threshold, by Matt Gaser, is another such piece. And Bjorn Hurri—wow. And I love Matt Wilson’s The Walk, cover for the RPG Iron Kingdoms Character Guide: Full-Metal Fantasy. Jon Sullivan’s Archwizard (as well as the cover). Donato Giancola’s Archer of the Roses. Don Maitz’s personal work, Six Paces Turn and Fire.

As well as images originally created for book covers, gaming materials (Magic the Gathering cards, etc…), and other commissioned pieces, there is a good deal of personal work in the compendium, some of it appearing here for the first time. In fact, given the number of links in the paragraph above (and the number of links I could have gone on to include), personal work may be a necessity to make such a book stand out in the internet age. While this enhances the value of the book—I especially like Larry MacDougall’s Proximity—the lack of biographical information for any of the artists combined with the amount of personal work makes it hard to get a sense for some of the less familiar individual artist’s place in the field. Not too much of a problem if you don’t mind racing off to Google, but it would have been nice to have a little bit of bio for each contributor. And when racing off to Google, one tends to get distracted…

Meanwhile, I’ve edited enough prose anthologies (nine to date) to know better than to jump to conclusions about TOCs. There are always people who don’t come through, people who say no, things that shift and move behind the scenes. Still, it would have been nice to see a few more artists in the book, people like World Fantasy Award-winning, six-time Hugo-nominated artist John Picacio, Hugo award-winning artist Stephan Martiniere, and multiple Chesley Award-winning artist Todd Lockwood. But, as I say, I know that a lot goes on behind the scenes in creating any book like this, so I will only say that I hope these masters of the craft will be included in the sequel I would very much like to learn is in the works. And should such a sequel materialize, then perhaps we could also see work from Volkan Baga, Simon Dominic, Eric Fortune, Lucas Graciano, Lars Grant-West, Chris McGrath, Sparth, Matt Stewart, Shelly Wan… well, you get the point. We really are in a golden age of fantasy illustration. And there is a wealth of art talent out there right now. This book is a fraction of it, as any such book will of necessity be. But it’s an enjoyable and beautiful fraction, and I’m glad to have it on my shelf.

So I’ll close on something that Fables author (and also artist) Bill Willingham said recently on the Borders blog, Babel Clash. He was talking about storytelling, not illustration, but really it’s the same thing, isn’t it?

There is no static division of ages. We are in a continuous Golden Age constantly sliding into the future with us, because we are getting better, doing more, telling new great stories (right along with the not-so-great, pretty good, not bad, so so, and crap). And here’s the best part, that makes the current age always the golden one: we don’t lose the old stuff. We can keep the best of the older ages with us. We always have more than we did before. And we are perfectly entitled to keep adding the new best to the old best and let the rest go. The bad doesn’t negate the good, has no power over it in fact. What we have now will eventually become the Silver Age and then Bronze, and so on, not through any devaluing, but just in relation to the new Golden Ages ahead of us. In general, we always get better, yes, by standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us, but that counts.


Lou Anders is the Chesley Award-winning Art Director of Pyr books. It’s been his privilege to have worked with many of the fine illustrators mentioned above. I’m pretty sure he also edits…

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