Smugglivus Smugglivus Guest Blogger

Smugglivus 2013 Guest Blogger: Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Review on Gender Parity and Cover Art

Welcome to Smugglivus 2013! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2013, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2014.

Who: Agent provocateur Justin Landon, the brilliant guy behind Staffer’s Book Review (one of our fave SFF blogs), and co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2012.

Staffer's Book Reviews

Welcome, Justin!

Gender parity is a hot topic. Have you noticed?

The women over at Lady Business have done a tremendous job, along with our very own Book Smugglers, Foz Meadows, and a host of activist writers, bringing gender discrimination to the forefront. The fact remains we have far more men represented in certain venues than we ought to given the general 50/50 nature of the gendered world. But, it seems like it’s getting better if for no other reason than we’re talking about it.

So much focus has been on talking about authors that it’s easy to overlook the fact that they aren’t the only contributors to a final form novel. You’ve got the editor, the publicist, the publisher itself, and the cover artist. The first three, interesting enough, are often women. I have no data to support that, but anecdotally there’s a large percentage of women in those positions. The latter, cover artist, does not seem to possess that same equality.

Pisces by Julie DIllon

Pisces by Julie Dillon

My inquiry on the subject began when I ran a piece on my own blog about one of my favorite artists, Richard Anderson. A few weeks later, I ran a similar piece on Jeffrey Alan Love. Given the predisposition of the blogging community to focus more on male writers than female, something I’ve tried to change, I felt compelled to do the same with art. Where to begin? Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of many women in the science fiction and fantasy illustration scene outside of the estimable Julie Dillon.

A typical first stop in situations like this is to check the Hugo list. Considering the only female artist I knew was the recently Hugo nominated Julie Dillon, that’s exactly what I did. Turns out Dillon was the first professional female artist to be nominated for a Hugo in 27 years. Read that again. In fact, Rowena Morrill in 1986 was the previous torch holder for “The Last Woman to Be Nominated.” Morrill was nominated several times previous to 1986, along with Val Lakey Lindahn. Sixty years of Hugo Awards and we’re talking about three female nominees. Ever.

Forbidden Fragrance by Rowena Morrill

Forbidden Fragrance by Rowena Morrill

I feel like the kid, Squints, from the movie The Sandlot.


Well, we know all about those Hugos, don’t we? Bunch of misogynists! Surely the Chesley Awards would be better. And they are, slightly. Over the last ten years the Chesley’s nominated a woman for best hardcover illustration four times, three of which were Kinuko Y. Craft. A woman has not won in that time span. (For complainers of sample size, I just couldn’t lay my hands on the history further back than 2002). They did recognize the great Julie Bell for Lifetime Achievement though in 2007, so maybe things are looking up.


A Passion for the Future by Julie Bell

Perhaps looking backward wasn’t the right answer, as gender parity is a more recent conversation (tongue in cheek), I decided to order a copy of Spectrum 20. Spectrum is an annual volume that looks at the year’s best fantastic art. Inclusion in its pages is decided by a panel of judges. This year that panel included Tim Bruckner, Irene Gallo, Tim Kirk, Mark A. Nelson, and Michael R. Whelan. The book opens with a list of Spectrum Grand Master Award winners. Nineteen in total. This year’s winner is Brom. The last and only woman to win the award on her own? The aforementioned Kinuko Y. Craft. (Diane Dillon won it as part of the Leo and Diane Dillon team.) Not off to a good start. I started looking through the different categories of art in the book and here is what I found:

Advertising: 2.5 of 20 (the half being Zelda Devon w/Kurt Huggins for “Trash Ball”)

Book: 8 of 86

Comics: 5 of 46

Concept: 1 of 27

Editorial: 4 of 26 (two of the four are the same artist)

Institutional: 15 of 79 (some repeated artists)

Unpublished: 33 of 168 (some repeated artists)

Roughly 15% of the images in the book were drawn by women. Even in the “Unpublished” category, where it seems we should be approaching a more manageable ratio due to the fact that no one has paid for the work, we still see less than two female artists for every ten illustrations. In short, what the fuck is doing on here?

Perhaps Spectrum 20, the Hugo Award, and the Chesley Award were something of anomalies. Maybe, like fiction, we spend too much time honoring men, while women toil in the background with exceptional work that goes unrecognized. With that in mind, I started pinging my contacts to get some data straight from the source. How many women are working in cover illustration in SF&F?

Cybelle's Secret

Cybelle’s Secret by Kinuko Y. Craft

My first call was legendary Tor Art Director, Irene Gallo. From September 2013 to August 2014 in the Tor hardcover and trade list, 90 titles had commissioned illustration (or photo-illustration). 7 were done by women., which does a tremendous amount of original illustration for its short fiction, uses female artists 21% of the time. My next stop was Lee Harris with Angry Robot who offered 5 female artists out of 26 titles in 2013, or roughly 25%. Lou Anders with Pyr indicated they worked with two female artists this year. Other publishers were contacted, but were unable to generate the data.

While my survey is hardly comprehensive or statistically significant, it raises some very disturbing patterns that demand further exploration.

Gallo offered the right question in our email exchange, “There are at least as many young women in art schools and workshops. Usually more, in fact. Why do so few remain ten years later?” I would amend the question to add, do fewer women remain in the field or is it merely that women in science fiction and fantasy illustration struggle to find work in book publishing? And if so, in either case, why? Like Gallo, I don’t know the answers, but let’s throw out some possible ones.

Women illustrators don’t have a style that suits commercial genre book covers.

I struggle with this one. I’ll admit, women like Victo NgaiLili Ibrahim, and Kali Ciesemier do perhaps have a style that precludes them from easily matching to what I might refer to as marketable SF&F. Their styles are unique and odd and amazing, but not necessarily classic in a Frank Frazetta or Michael Whelan kind of fashion. Of course, Jeffery Alan Love’s work isn’t exactly standard. Nor is what Joey Hi-Fi does. Not to mention Will Staehle’s odd designs.

Order of Deacons by Karla Ortiz

The Order of Deacons by Karla Ortiz

Meanwhile, Karla OrtizLindsey LookLauren Saint-OngeWinona NelsonCynthia SheppardNicole CardiffCharlie BowaterElena/HellsternElsa KroeseAlectorFencerDiane Özdamar, and Melanie Delon, to name a few, seem to fit very neatly in the commercial mold. Ortiz’s style, for example, reminds me quite a bit of Jason Chan. Winona Nelson has something of Dan dos Santos in her work. Of course that’s selling both Ortiz and Nelson short. They have their own beautiful style, as do all of the women I mention here. They’re all doing the kind of art that’s absolutely in the mold of the most prolific male artists, particularly in reference to cover illustration.

It’s possible that most of the women are incredibly difficult to work with, have no time to answer publishings’ phone calls, or simply refuse to leave empty space for type setting. It’s possible like it’s possible George R.R. Martin will release a book next year. In other words, I’m not convinced. What’s definitely not possible is that these women aren’t capable of doing commercial SF&F work. That’s just bullshit.

Vicious by Victo Ngai

Vicious by Victo Ngai

In fact, Ngai was commissioned by Tor this year for Vicious. Ibrahim worked with 47 North for the The Palace Job. Ortiz produced The Order of Deacons for the Science Fiction Book Club. Women are finding work in the field, but at a frequency that prompts the tired phrase, ‘the exception that proves the rule.’

Women are more likely to take their art to other fields, or not be freelance, or whatever else.

This is the fake geek girl argument if I ever saw one. You want me to believe that women make up the majority of the genre readership, have a huge presence on the editorial staffs of publishers everywhere, and generally let their geek flag fly in large numbers, but most of the geek artists don’t want to work in the space? Uh huh. I’m not buying it. This is the platitude we use so we don’t feel bad about ourselves.

Drama Queen by Melanie Delon

Drama Queen by Melanie Delon

Genre fiction is inherently conservative due to investment in series, making the status quo extremely attractive.

Ding. Ding. Ding. Or at least this is much closer to the mark. Notice that I struck out a part of the assumption. Series investment is just another piece of cover (pun intended). Women aren’t working in the field because Art Directors and Editorial Directors have a mission statement—sell books. Publishing goes with proven commodities. They gravitate toward what they knows they can sell. John HarrisKekai KotakiLarry RostantMichael KomarckJohn Picasio, and all the rest, have proven time and again that they can resonate with the demographic SF&F publishers have targeted for a generation.

Lauren Saint-Onge

Lauren Saint-Onge

But, I would argue that generation, that paradigm, is changing. Not merely by the measure that we’re demanding a more representative field be offered an opportunity, but also that we’re demanding more progressive work. We don’t just want to read the another installment of David Weber. We want the eye opening and mind blowing Ancillary Justice from Ann Leckie. We don’t want another Terry Goodkind regurgitating all the things we’ve heard a million times. We want Elizabeth Bear with her haunting prose and powerful characterizations.

I say we, but I mean me. Call it wishful thinking. Publishing might change their patterns if we give them time. Odds are if we don’t make noise no one will notice and business as usual will continue. It’s not good enough for me. It’s not good enough for my daughter. And I don’t think it’s not good enough for you.

Prove me right.

It’s definitely not good enough for us, either. Thanks, Justin, for the eye-opening post!

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  • Paul Weimer
    December 13, 2013 at 8:20 am

    I do think that it is the conservatism that keeps women artists from blossoming as much as male artists when it comes to cover art.

    It’s a microcosm of genre literature, and even more focused, since there are fewer artists than writers, and so the “skew” gets magnified.

    And, as you say, cover art seems to get short shrift to begin with…

  • BetteRose Ryan
    December 13, 2013 at 8:31 am

    This is a wonderful piece. I loved the artwork! At the last WorldCon I attended, I was constantly drawn to the work of Rowena. She does fantastic work.

    (Will be passing on the link to this to friends!)

  • Steven M. Long
    December 13, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Really nice piece, thanks for putting it together! As well as the interesting analysis, you’ve now given me at least an hour of poring through it to look at some great artists’ work!

  • mahendra singh
    December 13, 2013 at 9:28 am

    It seems that your underlying argument is really not about women at all but about the mindset of the vast majority of NA publishers, editors and ADs … they clamour loudly for The Next Big Thing and they spout endless blather about being open to Fresh Ideas but god help the illustrator whose style/conceptualization doesn’t look fashionable, ie., like everyone else.

    The eternal dilemma of the illustrator: look different and starve, look like everyone else and die of comfortable boredom. To hack or not to hack?

    This goes beyond sexism (and illustration has always been far more progressive than most other professions) … this is about herd mentality.

  • Justin
    December 13, 2013 at 10:18 am


    The argument is two fold, yes. But, there a lot of “unconventional” male illustrators getting a lot of work. I mention a few of them in the article. And lots of women doing “conventional” work who aren’t.

  • mahendra singh
    December 13, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Hi, Justin, All the samples shown are of the highest technical calibre, certainly. And they are all perfectly suited for moving this particular genre of books off shelves and into readers’ hands.

    But the only ones which push the straitjacket of genre expectations (for me at least) are the Ngai and the Delon.

    The ADs/editors behind those two deserve full marks. And the marketing wallahs, probably.

  • Margaret Organ-Kean
    December 13, 2013 at 10:38 am

    I’ve been interested in this question for the last 15 years. I think there are at least two and perhaps three more factors.

    One is that women artists in general receive less support for their work from their families and from society.

    The other is that our culture teaches women not to put themselves forward. So, many women will send a portfolio into a publishing house once, but if they are rejected, will not send again. Ever.

    The third one, about which I’m less sure, is mentorship. I think this is important, and I think the women have less access to this type of relationship.

  • Irene Gallo
    December 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

    I’ll just add two (well, three) of my absolute favorites to the list of women doing great things in sff illustration today.

    Anna and Elena Balubusso:

    And Wesley Allsbrook:

  • Justin
    December 13, 2013 at 11:04 am


    I definitely heard the “women don’t self promote as much/well” from some people in the community. I didn’t include it because I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it in those terms, but I’m glad you brought it up. Whether it’s true or not, it’s definitely something that is believed.

  • mahendra singh
    December 13, 2013 at 11:06 am

    The Allsbrook is really good … quality line-work on SF/F covers or interiors is getting rare … I think it’s quite eye-catching and thus makes excellent marketing sense.

    Are women SF illustrators less aggressive in marketing themselves? Would make a great subject for an informal survey/article. Do SF ADs get as many submissions from women as men? Inquiring minds want to know!

  • Foz Meadows
    December 13, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Great piece! I’ll admit, to my own shame, that cover art isn’t something I’ve thought much about in terms of gender parity until very recently – specifically, until the recent World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, where, in addition to all the other abysmal statistics about racial and gender representation on panels, a friend pointed out to me that:

    1. There were only two (or possibly three) women being showcased in the art gallery; and

    2. Every single nominee for cover art in the Gemmell Awards was male (to say nothing of virtually every other category; I think, again, there was only one woman nominated).

    And if just the raw statistics hadn’t been enough to convince me that here was yet another problem area in SFF, my own experience in the art gallery quickly put paid to that.

    Having bid (successfully, as it turned out) on a couple of pieces, I was there on the final night, when the auction was ending. I was on my own, but didn’t want to leave until I knew if I’d won my pieces, and so was left to circle the venue. Which, frankly, wasn’t that interesting: though there were one or two incredible artists on display, the predominant trend was seemingly portraits of scantily clad pulp vixens with prominent cleavage and come-hither smiles, which, no matter how technically well-executed, are not exactly my cup of tea.

    In my circling, I happened to pass by one such exhibition of works by a Prominent Artist, and stayed to lurk – out of sheer gawkerish curiosity, I’ll admit – when I noticed that a certain Famous Author was buying a painting. I hung back, wanting to see what the Famous Author would choose, and found my eye caught by a piece I hadn’t noticed before. In amongst all the semi-naked women, space prostitutes (really) and vampire maidens, there was an arresting image of two young women; one was sitting at the base of a winged statue, watching as the other floated up into space. Not only was it the only piece on offer devoid of female objectification, it was the only one that seemed to be telling a story – and a story, what’s more, that I was interested in hearing. Though it was far too expensive for me to buy, I stayed there, staring at it, for a good fifteen minutes, the Famous Author forgotten: I felt absolutely certain there was a story to the anomalous picture, and wanted to ask the Prominent Artist what it was.

    Obviously, though, I didn’t want to interrupt his sale. Instead, I waited some more, off to the side, until the Prominent Artist’s business with the Famous Author was concluded. When the Famous Author had left and the Artist was speaking casually with some other people, I waited for a break in the conversation, approached, and called him by name.

    Without fully turning his head, he held up a hand to me and said, “Not yet.”

    A bit taken aback, but not wanting to intrude, I stepped aside and waited some more. The Prominent Artist kept talking. After five minutes or so, he ended the conversation and walked away, leaving me stumped. But I figured, OK, maybe he needs the bathroom, maybe he’s getting a drink – he doesn’t know me, there’s no reason I should be a priority. Sure enough, he eventually came back, only to start a new conversation with someone else. More minutes passed, and finally he turned to me, saying, “You wanted something?”

    I stepped forward. I pointed out the painting that had caught my eye, and asked him what the story behind it was. He looked faintly disappointed, but started to tell me how the statue was actually based on a real statue elsewhere in Brighton – did I know Brighton, he asked? I said no, and he opened his mouth to tell me more –

    – or at least, he might’ve done. What actually happened was, a young man called out his name, much as I’d done fifteen minutes earlier. But instead of holding up a hand, the Prominent Artist turned away from me to greet the newcomer. For a split second, I thought he must recognise the speaker, but no: the young man instantly introduced himself, and launched straight into a spiel about how much he loved the Prominent Artist’s work, particularly his work on a particular game, and coincidentally, HE worked in gaming, too!

    And then the Prominent Artist completely turned his back to me. We’d been in the middle of a conversation I’d waited basically half an hour to have – in the middle of a fucking sentence, in fact – but apparently, I just wasn’t interesting enough. I waited for another minute or so, but he never so much as looked at me again, let alone spoke to me. So I left, feeling utterly snubbed and humiliated.

    Several hours later, as I was walking through the hotel, I happened to pass the same young man as he was talking to someone else. Rather ironically, he was once more talking about the Prominent Artist’s work on a certain game, but this time, in far less complimentary tones. “It’s OK,” he said casually, “but X is way better.”

    Long story short: if that’s the usual level of boys’ club fraternising that goes on between SFFnal cover artists to give legups and get jobs, then no fucking WONDER talented women are being locked out.

    (I should say, though, that the male artist whose work I did actually buy was lovely, thanking me profusely, making time to talk both to me and to the other people who viewed his exhibit. But yeah: otherwise, not the best experience I’v ever had at a con.)

  • Irene Gallo
    December 13, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Marketing and self promotion is a tricky thing….I think it is a factor but only in some cases, obviously. (And trust me, I’ve met plenty of men that have been terrible self-promoters as well.)

    In one of the emails I sent Justin I said something like, there are a lot of little factors that don’t comfortably explain the lack of parity. I can point to individual cases were the excuses we AD’s give ourselves are true…but in the end it does all sound like a lot of excuses.

  • David Palumbo
    December 13, 2013 at 11:38 am

    I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the Spectrum data. For this purpose the book may carry certain flaws, though it probably is the most accurate current census of the field in many ways and has been for 20 years. Studying those numbers and comparing them year-by-year since 1993 would possibly reveal some interesting info and context. I’d disregard the Hugo and Chesley as metrics because their nomination and voting systems (worldcon attendees for Hugos and ASFA members for Chesleys) don’t properly speak for the industry as a whole. I don’t mean that as a knock at the awards or those honored by them, just they they don’t give as broad a picture as Spectrum, a contest that received over 6000 entries last year which were presented without artist name or info attached to a jury of industry professionals.

    The theory that ADs are not hiring women as much as men out of risk aversion is a bit problematic (or maybe just simplistic) to me simply because I feel that your data from Spectrum 20 may actually be a good read on the industry and that the available labor pool is heavily weighted male. And those who suggest that there is a large untapped pool of female talent just trying to get a toehold are absolutely correct, but that doesn’t mean that the equally large (and likely larger, based on the gender balance of portfolio reviews I’ve given) group of male talent trying to break in is going to just evaporate. Though the field is extremely supportive, the level of competition is extremely high.

    I do believe that the balance is changing slowly and your Spectrum 20 breakdown “feels” about right to me (which is why I’m curious to see data compared for all 20 years). Those numbers may be sad, but I think they show a significant improvement over even just a few years ago. I have a different theory why the change is taking so long and it is a theory based on my own experience as an illustrator. Momentum is a part of your conclusion. The publishers go to the artists who have delivered in the past, and that is absolutely true. I don’t believe that the publishers care now nor cared much 15 years ago if the artists were male or female, but there is such a momentum of male illustration going back through the history of commercial art that for many decades women were an anomaly at best in the industry. With such an established pattern, any change to the balance will be slow because new artists don’t equally replace the veterans on a one to one basis, but rather the pool has been getting bigger.

    I know it may seem lazy or corny to credit “the internet” with the gender shift gaining traction, but I do feel that to be the case. Not because publishers were pressured or fans demanded, but because it demonstrated possibility. It allowed young scattered aspiring artists to find and support and teach each other. It democratizes and demystifies so that young women might feel more confident to pursue SF/F illustration which has long been seen as a boys club. And it allows for more gender blind promotion and networking in such cases than discrimination may be a factor, which I believe are very very few (at least in the past 10 years, which is the limit of my first hand experience). In other words, I feel the change is happening not from the top down but the bottom up. In my experience, this business is generally a meritocracy where good work gets rewarded. I feel personally that we are seeing more women starting to emerge because more young women are finding the tools and support online to pursue what might have been intimidating (as said, a boys club) prior.

    Generally speaking, school is woefully inadequate for preparing anybody to be a freelance illustrator. Traditional education might set the foundation in place, but there are years of learning and development which need to happen beyond that. These days, most of that is happening online in a much more gender neutral environment. Any illustrator can tell you that it takes many years to develop the skills required for this job, and it is exciting to now be seeing many female artists of tremendous ability establishing themselves in the field. A fair number of them are people who I remember being active participants on peer-support online illustration forums and sites some years back. And like the feedback loop that is a male dominated industry sending a discouraging message to interested females and therefore producing only more male workers, the emergence of new female talents will inspire more would-be female artists that it is a viable career choice and slowly slowly slowly introduce a more balanced gender ratio.

    So, I don’t know, that’s probably a lot of rambling non-sense, but as a person working in this industry and as a person with many female artists among my friends and family, those are my thoughts. I see improvement happening.

  • David Palumbo
    December 13, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Foz Meadows: that guys shitty attitude is not at all representative of the field in my opinion. Unfortunately there are always going to be jerks in the mix, but most of the artists at the shows I attend are very generous with their fans and eachother and would never be so rude. I don’t really know the World Fantasy crowd, but art specific shows like Illuxcon and Spectrum are very friendly and supportive

  • Estara Swanberg
    December 13, 2013 at 11:52 am

    My personal theory is that publishers who actually are women (at the top level) are more likely to work with female cover artists, too – viz my discovering female written sf&f in the 80s while following the trail of Jody Lee covers to various female authors and specifically to DAW – which since that time has been run by Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert.

    And because it’s a propos, Andrea Höst (whose follow-up to Champion of the Rose is out!!!) made me aware on Goodreads that Julie Dillon had a huge entry on her tumblr with female illustrators examples (I’m just said she hadn’t included Jody Lee at the time, who is one of my favourites). Lee still does covers for Lackey and West books (both female authors!) for DAW regularly.
    She has a blog for her crafting (she sells lampwork on Etsy) and her current covers and art here.

  • Irene Gallo
    December 13, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Dave brings up an interesting point with the internets, and Spectrum actually. (Disclaimer: until recently I was on the board of Spectrum and am an outspoken fan.)

    I came into the business at the tail end of conventions being the center of the sff book illustration world. The art shows at cons were a “who’s who” of cover artists. At this point, very very few full-time cover artists go to the conventions unless they are the invited guest. There are many reasons for this but a big one is, with the start of Spectrum and then the internet, an art director has a much wider pool of artists to work with — across fields (working with concept artists, editorial artists, etc.) and across regions.

    (This is getting off topic but it’s also a reason that fewer artists can make a living in one field. They need to diversify their client base more than ever.)

    I think is has effected a change for the positive but it’s a bit of a behemoth trying to correct course. Although I do have which I am grateful for. It’s smaller and more nimble, it lets me experiment a lot more than I can on regular book covers. And I think repeated viewings of a greater verity of artist and styles has let me expand on our covers a bit…If a bit too slowly.

  • Estara Swanberg
    December 13, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    @Irene: Your art posts and Jo Walton’s book reviews are most of the reason why I regularly check – oh and Emily Asher-Perrin’s blog posts.

  • mahendra singh
    December 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    It is becoming unusual now for publishers to comp any PR expenses to artists, even on books that are selling well. Going to cons is expensive and does it generate more work for us? Hard to tell anymore.

    The internet has certainly changed things but there has also been a profound shift in acceptable business practices.

  • Irene Gallo
    December 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Just because I don’t think she’s been mentioned yet..

    Yuko Shimizu
    She’s done a few of our Cory Doctorow covers and some other projects, but the bulk of her “genre” work in comics — namely covers for THE UNWRITTEN. And she just did a Cat Valente cover that has me very jealous it’s not one of ours!

  • Jared
    December 13, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    I’m wondering if some of this also has to do with genre snobbery?

    Flipping through the (wonderful) artists you’ve shared, and following links to a few more, there do seem to be more female artists in YA, urban fantasy and steampunk – genres that are normally snubbed by traditional SF/F awards and the (declining) (reactionary) ‘core genre’ fans.

  • Athena Andreadis
    December 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    There are also artists based beyond the US/UK and many do “core/traditional” sensawunda SF. One example is Eleni Tsami, who did the stupendous cover for The Other Half of the Sky.

  • Adrienne
    December 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Just another bit of praise for Kinuko Craft. She’s been a genre illustrator for 40+ years, and she is the ONLY illustrator whose covers will cause me to buy a book without knowing anything else about it. She does the covers for all of Patricia McKillip’s books, among others.

  • Rachel E Holmen
    December 13, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Spectrum isn’t as impartial as you might think. *Somebody* — artist, art director, or agent — must submit the piece, AND pay a fee. When I worked at Marion Zimmerman Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, I kept wondering why none of our fine illustrations were selected. Didn’t realize I had to submit them for consideration.

  • Justin
    December 13, 2013 at 4:25 pm


    I’m not sure genre snobbery is the right word…. over reliance on ultra-realistic hard lined illustration? That I buy. There’s little doubt that we go more in for Wizards of the Coast style covers than say, the US HC and TP cover of Polansky’s LOW TOWN.

  • Irene Gallo
    December 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm


    I do think style is an interesting question in all of this. I actually find that current fads are moving away from realistic _painting_. The Whelan-esque work. (Admitting that Whelan, himself is fad-proof.) At least in books, less so in games.

    Today you see a lot of photo-illustration (among my favorites, Larry Rostant, Cliff Nielsen, and such) or going the other direction and being more abstract and painterly (the Kekia’s, Anderson’s, and Ortiz’s.) Perhaps our ability to use actual photos and sampling in sff art is starting to rub away an uncanny-valley gap?

  • Justin
    December 13, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    That’s interesting Irene. We’re also seeing Lauren P. at Orbit, and I’m sure others, doing a LOT more with photography and (so it seems) doing in house design work in conjunction with raw photography, as opposed to letting someone like Rostant do the whole thing.

    Let’s say the trend you describe is real. Are we willing to go fully into more abstraction though with say Nguyen or Ngai or merely a more ‘fuzzy’ work like what we see with Anderson and Kekai? We really haven’t seen the Joey HiFi kind of work on very many hugely successful titles. More in the midlist range.

  • Andrea K
    December 13, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    If you look through the compilation of Julie Dillon’s linked by Estara above, one thing that stands out immensely is the minimal sexualisation of women, the lack of male gaze. How much of an influence this has had on choices and popularity is, of course, impossible to quantify. The post of mine Estara linked (The Artistic Superiority of Tits Out) serves only to point a finger at that difference. One of things that I could not find when writing that post was a gender breakdown of the Hugo voting population. I know the Hugos have had female voters from the beginning, but I don’t know the over time breakdown.

    One thing I would like to see for the coming Hugo vote, and which I’ve been making vague motions toward by starting a Tumblr where I can collect them (all of two pictures there at the moment) is to have some kind of compilation of the art that is eligible for the year, in a particular category.

    I think it would help immensely to have more guidance on what is eligible I did not know until I started looking that only pictures that are published that year make an artist eligible – if they haven’t had something published that year, they’re not eligible – so obviously compiling what has been published in a particular year would make a huge difference. And what if the artist had personal art that they ‘released’ in previous years, that’s been later picked up by a professional publication?

    Also, the category an artist is eligible for depends on whether the publisher is small press or ‘professional’. You’ll see that the pics of Julie’s I’ve put up are the covers she’s done for me – I’m self-published, but it seems very strange to me to categories Julie’s art as ‘fan art’ just because of who commissioned it.

  • Irene Galli
    December 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm


    Generally speaking, for Big Commercial SFF, I don’t see it going very stylized in the way I think you mean. More impressionistic at times but still implying a “real” space. Or iconic like the GRR Mstton books.

    Personally speaking, though, you can see much of my own tastes on I’d love to see novels explode out more. I like the realist stuff, I just wish we had more verity. But again, maybe seeing work like Ngai’s over and over (on blogs like this ) may make people more comfortable with it in the long run. I was shocked and excited when the editor for Vicious asked for her by name. And the Balbusso cover for Hild is drop-dead gorgeous. Still neither of those are touted as “the next TolkienMartinJordan” epic series of epicness.”

    The Charlene Harris covers are interesting outliers, though. There must be others…

  • David Palumbo
    December 13, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Rachel E Holmen – that is true, and being a contest judged by humans it will invariably be subjective, but these issues are also gender neutral. After twenty years, however, I think it is pretty well understood amongst artists that they must submit to be included. Especially in recent years since they do so much promotion and awareness online around the submission deadline.

    The fact that you can submit your own work is actually what makes it more representative in my opinion. There is no committee creating a short list to vote from as is the case with the other awards mentioned.

  • Michelle
    December 13, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Just wanted to add that I think Jody Lee’s covers are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen.

  • Nicole Cardiff
    December 14, 2013 at 1:08 am

    Just thought I’d say I was flattered to be mentioned and yep, I’ve more or less thrown in the towel on getting cover work with big publishers. It’s a lot easier to get five different indie gigs to contract me for work, make them happy, and get paid, than it is to endeavor to market myself to a big organization for whom I’m the hundredth email they’ve gotten that day. (I’d also point out that my non-SF/F contracts often pay better, so although I love illustrating the fun stuff, paying bills tends to win out.) Other people may have completely different experiences, but those are mine.

  • Estara Swanberg
    December 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    @Michelle: Glad to have been able to spread the joy ^^ – I especially love her Jo Walton covers and the covers for Michelle West’s The Broken Crown and The Hidden City. And some of the Valdemar ones, especially the Oath books. I wish she’d offer some of those as big posters – the detail work would come across much better to my older eyes.

  • Estara Swanberg
    December 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Oops – I meant Jo Clayton covers – she’s never done a Jo Walton cover that I know of.

  • Carrie80
    December 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Thanks for the interesting article and beautiful illustrations. Another artist I enjoy who hasn’t been mentioned yet is Kathleen Jennings. She has done a few Small Beer Press covers and has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award.

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality)
    December 16, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Carrie80 – I love Kathleen Jennings’ work. She’s also done the cover and interior art for Catherynne M. Valente’s collection “The Bread We Eat In Dreams”, due out from Subterranean Press soon.

  • Kate
    December 16, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    How on earth is Galen Dara not mentioned in this post? She won the Hugo for Best Fan Artist this year (which, by the way, doesn’t mean she does “fan art” – it just means she did not yet fit their criteria for “professional,” so maybe give that whole category a closer look), and won the Art Show Director’s Choice at Orycon in 2011. She’s the art director for Dagan Books, her work appears in publications like Lightspeed and Apex. If you’re looking for the future of fantasy art, look here:

  • Aidan Moher
    December 18, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I just want to leave a shout out to one of my favourite artists: Rebecca Guay. She’s responsible for some of the most beautiful and iconic Magic: The Gathering cards of all time.

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