Monday, November 22, 2010

The Ballantine/Del Rey Paperback Covers of Ralph McQuarrie: A Checklist (1976-1987)

by John Scoleri
Ralph McQuarrie already had a varied career as a technical illustrator at Boeing and a movie poster artist (including The Legend of Boggy Creek and several others for producer Charles B. Pierce) when George Lucas hired him to do the illustrations for Star Wars that would change his life forever.
Among the many things Ralph's contributions to Star Wars led to, there is one frequently overlooked tangent—an entire line of science-fiction book cover illustrations for Ballantine/Del Rey. Long before I began work on The Art of Ralph McQuarrie (Dreams and Visions Press, 2007), I had already assembled a complete collection of his paperback book covers. Little did I know at the time (and unlike many contemporary book cover artists who rely solely on art directors) Ralph read every book he painted a cover for.

It all began in the summer of 1976, as Del Rey prepared to release the tie-in to Star Wars (six months before the film’s theatrical release). Judy Lynn Del Rey hired Ralph to provide the painting for that cover, having previously described seeing his Star Wars production paintings (which were also offered as a portfolio from Ballantine) as “seeing money.”

Based on that one cover (which was replaced on all subsequent printings of the novelization by the more familiar John Berkey artwork) Ralph began a long and fruitful relationship with Ballantine/Del Rey, the complete* results of which are documented below in chronological order of publication.

December 1976

Star Wars by George Lucas (Written by Alan Dean Foster).
Ralph’s concepts for the cover all included dynamic logos and type design, much more interesting than the plain yellow type ultimately used. Despite the fact that the characters had been realized on film by the time this painting was completed, Ralph chose to utilize an amalgam of his early concepts and the final character designs for the cover.

February 1978

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster
Ralph’s first hardcover jacket artwork for this sequel novel to Star Wars is one of his most famous Star Wars images not created for the films. Also used on the paperback released in April of 1978.

The Web of the Chozen by Jack L. Chalker
In an early issue of Locus before the book was published, author Chalker expressed his excitement that the artist who had worked on Star Wars was painting the cover to his next novel.

June 1978

The Best of Jack Williamson
While the fourth book released, this was the second painting Ralph completed for Del Rey. He used his wife Joan as the reference for the robot holding the groceries. The original painting was given to George Lucas as a gift.

July 1978

The World is Round by Tony Rothman
A favorite image of Ralph's Star Wars fans as it resembles a number of his early character costume sketches, however the true inspiration for the headgear featured was Flash Gordon, one of the few examples of science-fiction Ralph was fond of as a boy.

November 1982

The Jedi Master’s Quizbook by Rusty Miller
Ralph’s famous painting of Yoda was initially commissioned for a children’s book. Ralph took great pains to make a colorful piece featuring Yoda surrounded by his friends on Dagobah. When the art director decided the image would be ‘too scary’ for kids, the project was scrapped. The image was issued as a sticker for members of the Star Wars fan club before being used as the cover for this book of Star Wars questions assembled by a 11 year-old fan.

November 1983

The War for Eternity by Christopher Rowley
While commonly seen as resembling Ralph’s early concept for Chewbacca., Ralph's cat was the model for the creature on this cover. Ralph went on to paint covers for three of Rowley's books.

June 1985

Walk the Moons Road by Jim Aikin
Ralph worked through nearly a half dozen different concepts before arriving at the dancing creature for this cover.

July 1985

The Black Ship by Christopher Rowley
This is one of Ralph’s favorites of all his paintings.

August 1985

Red Flame Burning by Ward Hawkins
Ralph's original concept did not include the human character, which was added at the behest of the art director. This is the first of four covers Ralph would paint of Ward Hawkins books.

October 1985

Starquake by Robert L. Forward
The only other hardcover jacket artwork Ralph painted for Del Rey, also used on the paperback issued in September 1986.

Sword of Fire by Ward Hawkins
Ralph incorporated a great level of detail in the scenic background of this image, which was unfortunately obscured by the title.

December 1985

With Fate Conspire by Mike Shupp
Ralph only painted the cover for the first volume in this series.

January 1986

Sinister Barrier by Eric Frank Russell
A rare instance where the book in question was not a paperback original. Ralph used a friend for the photo reference for this painting.

July 1986

Blaze of Wrath by Ward Hawkins
Ralph enjoyed painting the lizard people from Hawkins' books.

November 1986

The Genesis Quest by Donald Moffitt
This is the first of two paintings Ralph did for Moffitt's books.

December 1986

Second Genesis by Donald Moffitt
The art director at Ballantine did not like this particular illustration, likening it to a "lunch box painting."

April 1987

Copernick’s Rebellion by Leo A. Frankowski

May 1987

Torch of Fear by Ward Hawkins

July 1987

Golden Sunlands by Christopher Rowley
Another very popular image as it is so evocative of Ralph's earlier Star Wars work.

August 1987

The Stone Arrow by Richard Herley
A departure in theme as well as size, this book featured Ralph’s first wraparound cover art, as would the remaining two book covers he painted for Ballantine, all part of Herley's Pagan's Trilogy.

October 1987

The Flint Lord by Richard Herley

December 1987

The Earth Goddess by Richard Herley

The Lost Del Rey Art of Ralph McQuarrie

During the making of The Empire Strikes Back, Ralph worked on numerous concepts for the cover of the novelization for that film. His final concept was a reformatting of his famous production painting of Luke Skywalker exiting his downed Snowspeeder. Unfortunately, Del Rey went with the Gone With the Wind style poster art instead.

Star Wars fans may remember the L. Neil Smith series of Lando Calrissian novels released in the early 80s. While Ralph did not provide the final cover art for those books, we recently uncovered his original concepts for the first book in the series, Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu. It's hard to believe that Del Rey went a different direction than using Ralph McQuarrie for a Star Wars book cover.

Following his work for Ballantine/Del Rey, Ralph went on to provide book illustrations for other companies, including Byron Preiss Multimedia, as well as having some of his movie poster artwork re-purposed on paperback book covers. If there's interest, I will cover those in a future article.

*It’s worth noting that the cover to Alexis Gilliland’s novel The End of the Empire, while credited to Ralph McQuarrie on the copyright page of the book, is not his painting (as evidenced by the presence of the actual artists signature on the cover). Unfortunately, if you search internet listings for Ralph's work you will often find this book included based on the incorrect attribution.


Campbell said...

I'm always interested in seeing more lost gems from McQuarrie's career. Bring 'em on!

I like the concepts for those Lando books. I wish Ralph could have developed them- especially the right one with him sitting.

Anonymous said...

You've done a fine job on this entry. I've truly enjoyed perusing the covers of these semi-obscure titles, some of which almost seem to offer a glimpse into an alternate Star Wars universe. Very cool. I've bookmarked this page for artistic inspiration!

Anonymous said...

So very sad to hear he passed away yesterday.
His work was iconic