Michael Whelan

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Michael Whelan
Michael Whelan - Lucca 2017.jpg
Whelan in 2017
Born (1950-06-29) June 29, 1950 (age 71)
Alma mater
Known forPainting, drawing
MovementFantasy art, surrealism
Websitewww.michaelwhelan.com Edit this at Wikidata

Michael Whelan (born June 29, 1950) is an American artist of imaginative realism. For more than 30 years, he worked as an illustrator, specializing in science fiction and fantasy cover art.[1] Since the mid-1990s, he has pursued a fine art career, selling non-commissioned paintings through galleries in the United States and through his website.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted Whelan in June 2009, the first living artist so honored.[2][3] According to his Hall of Fame citation[4]

Michael Whelan is one of the most important contemporary science fiction and fantasy artists, and certainly the most popular. His work was a dominant force in the transition of genre book covers away from the surrealism introduced in the 1950s and 1960s back to realism.

His paintings have appeared on the covers of more than 350 books and magazines, including many Stephen King novels, most of the Del Rey editions of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series, Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series, the Del Rey edition of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series, Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince and Dragon Star series, the Del Rey editions of H. P. Lovecraft's short story collections, the DAW editions of Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné books, numerous DAW editions of C. J. Cherryh's work, many of Robert A. Heinlein's novels including Friday and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, the Ace editions of H. Beam Piper's Fuzzy novels, and Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Otherland, and Shadowmarch series and Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive. Whelan provided covers and interior illustrations for Stephen King's The Gunslinger and The Dark Tower, the first and last of his Dark Tower books.[1]

Cover art by Michael Whelan has graced many music record albums including Demolition Hammer's Epidemic of Violence, The Jacksons' Victory; Sepultura's Beneath the Remains, Arise, Chaos A.D. and Roots; Soulfly's Dark Ages; Obituary's Cause of Death; and every album by the Elric-influenced metal band Cirith Ungol. He painted original works for the covers of Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell and The Very Best of Meat Loaf albums and several of his older paintings illustrate the liner notes of the former. Recently[when?], he painted the cover art for thrash metal band Evile's album Infected Nations.


Michael Whelan was born in Culver City, California, the son of William and Nancy Whelan. As a child, he had a nomadic existence, moving nearly every other year, as the family followed his father's career in the aerospace industry. So he attended eight elementary schools, three junior high schools and four high schools, and often lived for a summer in other locations. He grew up in Colorado, several cities along the California coast, and in New Mexico, near the White Sands Missile Range. Whelan's time near White Sands and Vandenberg Air Force Base proved a lasting influence; in a 2000 interview, he noted that "living near to missile launching sites and Air Force bases had an impact. It was always thrilling to watch them go up ... and sometimes blow up."[5]

By the time he was a sophomore in high school, his family had moved to Denver, Colorado. There he began formal training in art, taking summer classes at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. By his final year of high school, his family had moved again, to San Jose, California where he graduated from Oak Grove High School in 1968.

Whelan continued school as a pre-medical biology major at San Jose State University, initially. There he worked in the Anatomy and Physiology Department, gaining a first-hand knowledge of human anatomy. He says that his job "involved all sorts of tasks related to the anatomy department, such as preparing cadavers for the classes, stringing bones together to make complete skeletons, making models of body parts, some medical illustration, etc."[6] Some of his collegiate medical drawings appeared in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. However, he became disenchanted by the limited creative opportunities in medical illustration and changed his major to Art during the middle of his junior year.

After graduating from San Jose State University in 1973 with a BA in Painting (as a "President's Scholar"), Whelan studied briefly at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California for nine months from 1973 to 1974. In 1974, Whelan exhibited his work at the World Science Fiction Convention in Washington, D.C., where it was seen by Thomas Schlück, who first discovered his work and contracted to use it in European publications shortly afterwards. Donald A. Wollheim of DAW Books gave him his first American professional assignment—the cover painting and frontispiece drawing for Lin Carter's fantasy novel, The Enchantress of World's End (May 1975)[1]—after seeing his artwork in a set of slides Whelan submitted in August 1974.

Because he was already receiving offers for commissions, Whelan left the Art Center College of Design to pursue illustration full-time. In 1975, he moved to Connecticut to be near the New York City hub of the publishing industry. There he met Audrey Price, whom he later married.

Shortly after arriving on the East Coast he exhibited some of his student work in the Lunacon convention art show in New York, where it was seen by Harlan Ellison. Ellison obtained the first magazine assignment for him, illustrating Ellison's story "Croatoan" which appeared in Gallery magazine.[when?] At Lunacon Michael also met Rick Bryant, who subsequently introduced him to Neal Adams. Adams called the art director of Ace Books and paved the way for his first assignment at Ace. In 1975, Whelan painted the cover illustrations for ten books, eight from DAW and two Ace reprints of early Darkover novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley.[1]

Quick to take advantage of these opportunities, Whelan soon gained a reputation as a talented, imaginative, and dependable cover artist, working for science fiction and fantasy publishers such as DAW, Del Rey, and Ace. Whelan credits the 1978 publication of Anne McCaffrey's best-selling The White Dragon featuring his cover art as a turning point in his career.[7] The SF Hall of Fame agrees.[4]

Whelan won his first Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist in 1980 at the World Science Fiction Convention in Boston. He went on to win the next Hugos, and at the 50th Worldcon in 1992 was voted the best professional artist of the last 50 years. As of 2010, he has won fifteen Hugo Awards.[8]

When commissioned, Whelan made a practice of reading the entire book that he sought to illustrate, usually twice. "I try to let the book I'm illustrating determine the approach and subject matter," he stated.[6] Fantasist Michael Moorcock wrote of Whelan, "I am more than usually grateful for an artist who not only depicts him [Elric] as I imagine (and describe him) but who also manages to capture some of the appropriate atmosphere" (Wonderworks, p. 36). Science fiction writer Anne McCaffrey praised him, declaring, "Fortunate indeed is the author who has Michael Whelan for an illustrator" (Wonderworks, p. 55).

Whelan illustrated the cover for Meat Loaf's 1993 album Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell. He also provided several illustrations for the insert booklet, which were also used for the single releases such as "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)". Larger versions of his artwork were featured in the album's 2002 special edition release. He has since gone on to paint album cover artwork for many other recording artists, from Michael Jackson to Sepultura to Jonn Serrie.

In the early 1990s, Whelan devoted his time to personal visions and gallery works. In 1997, he held his first one-man art show at Tree's Place in Orleans, Massachusetts. Its success led to another in 1999 and his eventual semi-retirement from illustration.[9] Over the past two decades, many of Whelan's gallery pieces found their way into published projects, including the SPECTRUM art annuals.

Whelan has returned to illustrate several major book covers during his semi-retirement, including the last book of Stephen King's Dark Tower series and the final volume of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. In 2015, The Stephen King Companion: Four Decades of Fear from the Master of Horror, which feature Whelan's illustrations, was published by St. Martin's Press.

Whelan has two children, including Adrian Price-Whelan.[10]


Michael Whelan commemorative block in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame

Whelan's work has been widely honored both inside the science fiction and fantasy field and beyond. His honors and awards include:

  • Fifteen Hugo Awards, including:[8]
    • Thirteen for Best Professional Artist (1980–1986, 1988–1989, 1991–1992, 2000, and 2002)
    • One for Best Original Artwork for The Summer Queen (1992)
    • One for Best Nonfiction Book (Michael Whelan's Works of Wonder)
    • "SuperHugo" presented at the 50th Worldcon (1992) for Best Artist of the Last 50 Years (not considered an official Hugo award)
  • Three World Fantasy Awards for Best Artist (1981, 1982, & 1983),[8] the maximum number allowed under that award's rules
  • The readers of Locus magazine, the #1 professional and fan resource publication for the fantasy and science fiction genre, have awarded Whelan "Best Professional Artist" 31 times in their annual poll.[8][11][12][13]
  • Twelve Chesley Awards from the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists (ASFA)[8]
  • Guest of Honor at the Australian National SF Convention 1993
  • Allied Artists of America's Grumbacher Gold Medal (1994) for his painting, Climber
  • Society of Illustrators' Gold Medal (1997) for his digital painting, Crux Humanis
  • DESI "Award for Excellence" (Graphic Design: USA)
  • Washington Art Directors Merit Award
  • Member of the advisory board of Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame
  • Member of the advisory board for the Western Connecticut State University Master of Fine Arts program
  • Artist Guest of Honor at the 1998 World Science Fiction Convention in Baltimore
  • Award for Excellence, Communication Arts Annual
  • The SPECTRUM Gold Medal 1997, 2000
  • The SPECTRUM Lifetime Achievement Award 2004
  • Artist Guest of Honor at World SF Convention in Yokohama, Japan in August 2007
  • Inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, June 2009—the first living artist to have been inducted[2][4][14]
  • The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Solstice Award in 2011 for "his significant impact on the science fiction and fantasy landscape"[15][10]

Published art collections[edit]

  • Something in My Eye, (1997) Mark V. Ziesing (poster book), ISBN 0-929480-82-1
  • The Art of Michael Whelan: Scenes/Visions, (1993) Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-07447-4
  • Michael Whelan's Works of Wonder, (1988) Del Rey Books, ISBN 0-345-32679-2
  • Wonderworks: Science Fiction and Fantasy Art, (1979) Donning/Starblaze, ISBN 0-915442-74-4
  • Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art (1997) Penguin Group, Vincent Di Fate (author), ISBN 978-0-670-87252-7
  • The Biographical Dictionary of SF & Fantasy Artists, Robt. Weinberg, ed., 1988
  • Sorcerers – A Collection of Fantasy Art (1978), Bruce Jones and Armand Eisen editors, Catalog record for Title at the United States Library of Congress[dead link], ISBN 978-0-345-27626-1
  • Tomorrow And Beyond – Masterpieces of Science Fiction Art (1978), edited by Ian Summers ISBN 0-89480-055-8
  • SPECTRUM – The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art (1994) Underwood Books, edited by Cathy and Arnie Fenner, ISBN 0-88733-188-2
  • The Chesley Awards – A Retrospective (2003), by John Grant and Elizabeth Humphrey, with Pamela D. Scoville ISBN 1-904332-10-2
  • The Frank Collection (1999), Edited by Jane and Howard Frank, ISBN 1-85585-732-4
  • SPECTRUM 15 – The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art (2008) Underwood Books, edited by Cathy and Arnie Fenner, ISBN 1-59929-027-8



  1. ^ a b c d Michael Whelan at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "EMP". Archived from the original on August 14, 2009. Retrieved August 14, 2009.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) . Press release 2009(?). Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (empsfm.org). Archived August 14, 2009. Retrieved 2013-03-19.
  3. ^ Press Release: Michael Named 2009 Inductee to SF Hall of Fame Archived September 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine (2009-04-01). News & Events. Michael Whelan. Retrieved 2011-07-25.
  4. ^ a b c "Michael Whelan biography". Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.. Archived July 22, 2012. Retrieved 2013-03-20.
  5. ^ AudioBookCafe.com. Archived February 20, 2004, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b An interview with Michael Whelan Archived October 11, 2004, at the Wayback Machine (1997?). Maurizio Manzieri. Delos International. Address confirmed July 25, 2011.
  7. ^ FAQ: Illustration: Early Years Archived June 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Michael Whelan. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Whelan, Michael" Archived June 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Art Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  9. ^ "Michael Whelan in Conversation 1997". An interview with Michael Whelan.
  10. ^ a b "In-depth Biography" 2008-present. Michael Whelan.
  11. ^ "Locus Awards 2013" News & Events. Michael Whelan.
  12. ^ "2014 Locus Awards Winners" Locus Publications. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
  13. ^ "2016 Locus Awards Winners" Locus Publications.
  14. ^ "SF Hall of Fame" News & Events. Michael Whelan.
  15. ^ "Solstice Award" News & Events. Michael Whelan.


  • Locus, "Michael Whelan: Breathing Space", January 1993.
  • Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art, Vincent Di Fate (author), ISBN 978-0-670-87252-7
  • The Biographical Dictionary of SF & Fantasy Artists, Robt. Weinberg, ed., 1988
  • "Michael Whelan: Leap of Faith", by Karen Haber, Realms of Fantasy magazine, October 2001
  • The Christian Science Monitor, February 15, 1990
  • ARTFORUM International Magazine, September 1998 article, "Wonder Bred", by Bruce Wagner
  • Starlog, November 1985, "The 100 Most Important People in Science Fiction"
  • Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art, Vincent Di Fate (author), ISBN 978-0-670-87252-7
  • Chicago Sun-Times, October 1993
  • The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Edited by George Mann, ISBN 0-7867-0887-5
  • The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 1978, Consultant Editor: Robert Holdstock
  • The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1988), Edited by James Gunn, ISBN 0-670-81041-X
  • The Frank Collection (1999), Edited by Jane and Howard Frank, ISBN 1-85585-732-4
  • The Chesley Awards: A Retrospective (2003), by John Grant and Elizabeth Humphrey, with Pamela D. Scoville ISBN 1-904332-10-2

External links[edit]