(American, b. 1950)
“I have been interested in the imagery of fantasy since early childhood and all my artwork is, at its most fundamental level, about creating a ‘sense of wonder.’"
- Michael Whelan
The demand for Michael Whelan book covers dominated science fiction in the 1980s and helped boost book sales with his cover art alone. His style was a turning point from the surrealism of the 1960s and 1970s back to the classic fantasy illustration of earlier decades.
Whelan was exposed to science fiction books, magazines and movies at an early age by his father, who was an aerospace engineer and sci-fi fan. Whelan had a particular fascination with UFOs. His interest in science and art continued throughout elementary and high school and he eventually became a pre-med student. In a work study program at San Jose State University, he worked as an aid in the college’s Anatomy and Physiology Lab, did medical illustrations, created anatomical models and prepared cadavers for anatomy classes.
Whelan also continued his studies in art while in college. His art professors encouraged him to focus on illustration and change his major from pre-med to art, which he did and graduated with great distinction in 1973. After submitting artwork to the San Diego Comic Con and successfully selling all of his pieces there, he gained the confidence to send his art slides to DAW books, which gave Whelan his first commission to do a paperback cover.
During the mid 1970s Whelan worked for DAW Books, Marvel Comics and Ace Paperbacks. His covers quickly became popular with readers and fans due to his heroic images and bold use of color. His fantasy paintings for the paperback reissue of the Elric series by Michael Moorcock are considered among the finest work ever created within the swords-and-sorcery genre.
Whelan’s covers for the Del Rey reissue of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars (Barsoom) series met with great enthusiasm from fans in the late 1970s. The cover for The Mastermind of Mars from this series is featured in this exhibit.
When asked if he reads the books he illustrates, Whelan replied, “Yes, often 2 or 3 times, with the exception of a few that weren't written yet and had to be illustrated from a synopsis. I always thought it one of the perks of the business that I got to read the books before the public did!” As one of the world’s premiere fantasy and science fiction artists, Whelan has created works for renowned authors such as Issac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King.
Beyond the field of book illustration, Whelan also illustrated album covers for recording artists ranging from Meatloaf to Sepultura. Michael Jackson chose Whelan personally for The Jacksons’ “Victory” album cover because he reminded Jackson of a modern day Maxfield Parrish. To date Whelan has created over 350 book and album covers and continues to work on his own original art while living in Connecticut with his wife, Audrey Price.