On Anne McCaffrey and the Dragonriders of Pern series

Picturing Pern

By Michael Whelan

In the thirty-six years since I painted The White Dragon, I’ve done more book cover illustrations than I can count. For each book cover commission that was completed, there were anywhere from two to twenty-five concept sketches (or “comps” as they are known in the trade). These are small renderings of potential approaches to a particular cover painting, done for the art department and marketing people at a publisher so they can have a hand in selecting which approach would best serve the sale of the book. Sometimes, too, it would often happen that a book was so engaging that I couldn’t decide on just one scene to single out for the cover. In such cases, I would do several comps and leave the decision up to the publisher and author.

When I became acquainted with SF conventions and fantasy and science fiction fandom, I was gratified to learn that there were collectors eager to own some of these preliminary pieces when they were available, and so most of my old comps have disappeared into private collections. Also, in the early years of my career, I neglected to document many of them, so my personal archive of these preliminary works is regretfully less complete than I would like. Still, I did manage to photograph or scan enough of them to provide a peek into the alternative ideas behind my works for Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels.

My approach to creating concept sketches has always been dictated by my subjective feelings about the book  …

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