Orbit Books’ Guide to Fantasy Art

The hyper-talented folks over at Orbit Books have once again undertaken their yearly survey of recurring elements in fantasy cover art, comparing the covers of the bestselling fantasy novels of 2009 with those of the previous year. Last week, the Orbit team released a series of charts revealing the results of this year’s survey. The charts are spectacular, and the shifts in various trends are both intriguing and kind of hilarious. For example, Figure 1.1: Trends in Fantasy Cover Art uncovers a shocking lack of unicorns, a puzzling increase in mysterious hooded figures, and a highly encouraging new “Non-distressed damsels” category.

In keeping with the decline of the damsel and the ascendancy of the empowered, ass-kicking heroine, Figure 1.2: Changing Fashion in Urban Fantasy shows a shift toward more aggressive gear and attitude. Figure 1.3 details Color Trends in the North American Dragon—because let’s face it: when it comes to fantasy art, you can never have enough dragons. And finally, Figure 1.4: Word Frequency in Fantasy Titles 2009 examines both the content and the style of the year’s most popular titles (it was apparently a good year for fans of BloodDeathDragonShadowMagic, and maybe not such a banner year for fans of widely varying typography).

Do yourself a favor and go check out the commentary and discussion on each of these amazing charts, and hats off to art director Lauren Panepinto and the Orbit team for putting all of these current trends in perspective. Next year, I’m secretly hoping that every cover will feature a hooded, sexy, badass lady-dragon piloting a magic dirigible, but that might just be me…


Bridget McGovern read a lot of Peter S. Beagle as a kid, and is perhaps overly concerned by the disappearance of the unicorns as a consequence.

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