10 Science Fiction Illustrators You Should Know

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We’ve been big fans of Swedish illustrator, animator, and graphic designer Kilian Eng for some time. Eng’s science fiction-inspired artworks are architectural, elegant, and punctuated with electrifying colors. They also channel the iconic illustrators from the past — especially French legend Moebius. It’s no wonder the artist’s monograph Object 5 has been out of print, but publisher Floating World Comics has reissued the book as a European album hardcover with 16 new pages of art. Eng’s style has us nostalgic for some of the sci-fi illustration greats we love. Here are ten you should know.

Virgil Finlay

We featured the work of the prolific Finlay in 2011:

Virgil Finlay is a legend in fantasy, sci-fi, and horror realms (he was also a big fan of the genre) for his incredibly detailed and near obsessive style that combined stippling and scratchboard techniques reminiscent of French artist Gustave Doré. Even master of the Old Ones, H.P. Lovecraft, sang Finlay’s praises. There was an inky depth, richness, and texture in his work that was unlike any other during his time.

Paul Lehr

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America writes of Lehr and his strange and dreamy illustrations:

Lehr was the true embodiment of Sf “art” and not just “illustration” as his incomparable work allowed the viewer to return for multiple times and walk away having been told a new story each instance. Lehr’s work was prominent in the l960s with classic covers to Bantam’s early SF line. One painting was selected by then-editor Fredrik Pohl who liked it so much, he found a book for it. In the l970s Lehr’s work grew into more commercial venues with movie posters and such. It was at this time, his work for the covers of ANALOG got him several Hugo Nominations for Best Professional Artist. Sadly, he never won any.

Frank Kelly Freas

You might recognize the work of the “dean of science fiction artists” Frank Kelly Freas from the cover of Queen’s 1977 album News of the World. A ten-time Hugo Awards winner (the science fiction Oscars, basically), Freas’ art graced the covers of major genre publications, including Weird Tales (his first gig), Astounding Science Fiction, and MAD Magazine. Freas stands out from the crowd for his painterly style.

Wayne Barlowe

Fans of Hellboy, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Avatar, and Pacific Rim know Wayne Barlowe’s creature designs. The New York-born illustrator is the son of famed natural history artists Sy and Dorothea Barlowe, so the science fiction-fixated Brarlowe can render anatomy like nobody’s business — allowing him to create stunning alien figures that seem believable.

Bob Pepper

Visit the website of artist and designer John Coulthart for more on the trippy, Technicolor illustrations of Bob Pepper.

Pepper’s work not only decorates one of the recognizable record sleeves of the late Sixties, he was working shortly afterwards as an illustrator on the celebrated series of fantasy reprints edited by Lin Carter for Ballantine books. Pepper’s connections with Elektra Records also saw him provide sleeve art for some of the eclectic releases on their Nonesuch label.

Wally Wood

A major influence on the science fiction underground, Wally Wood is perhaps best known for his controversial, orgiastic poster of Disney characters engaged in sex, drugs, and bad behavior, first published in the iconic counterculture magazine The Realist (edited and published by Paul Krassner). It became one of the most pirated artworks in pop culture history, though Wood evaded the lawyers of the Mouse House somehow. The pioneering cartoonist is also remembered for his EC Comics covers and artwork featuring ‘50s heroes, vampy space vixens, and bizarre aliens.

Moebius

The documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, the popularity of apocalyptic cinema, and the rise of pop culture-inspired poster art have helped bring new audiences to the work of French artist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius. The influential illustrator worked with cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky on an unproduced adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. The due later created the beloved Incal comic book series. He contributed designs to sci-fi gems like Alien, Tron, and The Fifth Element. Writer Jean-Michel Charlier teamed up with Moebius for a Western tale, starring an antihero in the main role (unusual for the time), Blueberry. “He’s a unique talent endowed with an extraordinary visionary imagination that’s constantly renewed and never vulgar. Moebius disturbs and consoles,” director Federico Fellini once said of the artist. “He has the ability to transport us into unknown worlds where we encounter unsettling characters. My admiration for him is total. I consider him a great artist, as great as Picasso and Matisse.”

H. R. Giger

The science fiction community said goodbye to a legend when H. R. Giger passed away in May last year. His biomechanical style was terrifying and sometimes sexy, featuring writhing female alien bodies and surreal creatures. Most audiences remember him for his design contributions to Ridley Scott’s Alien (the creature itself, the “Space Jockey,” and more), but Giger also created work for musicians like Deborah Harry (the album cover for KooKoo).

Frank Frazetta

Frank Frazetta is known for paintings of buxom women and impossibly muscled men (the kind of thing you’ve probably seen airbrushed on a van before), but the artist did it all: movie posters (What’s New Pussycat?), movies (he worked extensively on Ralph Bakshi’s Fire and Ice), book covers (including some of the Conan series), magazines (Creepy, Eerie, and he painted Ringo Starr for MAD), and album covers (for Herman’s Hermits, Dust, and others).

Richard M. Powers

If Picasso, Yves Tanguy, and Arshile Gorky were possessed by the spirit of science fiction, their paintings might look something like this. C. Jerry Kutner writes:

Where most sci-fi cover art in the early ’50s consisted of dryly literal representations of spaceships and other hardware (the “techno-realist” school), or else tentacled aliens, hard-bodied space heroes, and their curvaceous female companions (the “pulp” school), Powers’ innovative covers emphasized atmosphere and mood, utilizing the fine arts techniques of surrealism, abstraction, and collage to explore the inner landscape of the human imagination. Psychedelic before its time and astonishing in its variety, it was through Powers’ visionary work, according to The Science Fiction Encyclopedia, that “the packaging of SF could be said to have come of age.