Michael Whelan is one of my favorite artists I didn’t realize I had. I think the first thing of his I fell in love with was Lovecraft’s Nightmare, the diptych of paintings that, in slices, fronted the Dell editions of their Lovecraft collections in the 90s. Deliciously unsettling. Then it was his Elric paintings, my favorite of which is on the cover of the fourth edition of the Stormbringer RPG. But I don’t honestly think I realized it was the same guy who painted them. I do now, of course, but I routinely find another book cover that I have loved forever only to realize, once again, it is the work of Michael Whelan. Case in point, that skeleton faced slasher, who fronted the cover of GURPS Horror.

Oh, I should note, this is Wonderworks (1979) and collects what we’d now refer to as Whelan’s earliest work (Lovecraft’s Nightmare was still a couple years off at this point). A lot of it is obviously for paperback covers and I get this delightfully penned in feeling from a lot of it, which is a big contrast to his later stuff, which I think is often characterized by endless vistas and landscapes of monstrous scale compared the human figures in them. There is a charm to the intimacy of these compositions.

The other thing about Whelan is that his technique is pretty uncanny. He really only got started in 1974, so this body of work represents just five short years, if that. You can see some improvement in his approach to pose and anatomy over that time, and he definitely grows in confidence, but his fundamentals are amazing from the start. It is almost annoying how good he is.
I don’t think Whelan’s had a really serious collection since the late 90s? Someone should rectify that, stat.

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