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Trends in Fantasy Cover Art


Tolerant Ent
Validated User
Orbit have put up a couple of not-very-serious posts about trends in fantasy cover art in the US market, that I thought might be of interest to OM.

Part 1:
Orbit said:

1) We have concrete evidence that the big three fantasy cover clichés (“castles”, “glowy magic”, and “swords”) are in decline. The 50% reduction in castles can only mean one thing.

2) The number of dragons on covers held steady this year. The dragon population seems to be in perfect balance – but we can’t tell if that’s because new dragons are being born to replace old ones, or if last year’s dragons are just really healthy.

3) This year we didn’t spot a single unicorn (though it’s possible a unicorn was hidden under one of the hoods.) To all unicorn-lovers out there, don’t lose heart. Unicorns are rare – like double rainbows — so a year without them will only make their inevitable reappearance that much more magical. In the meantime, there’s always [Robot Unicorn Attack].

We also introduced a few new categories this year.

1) Hooded figures: Not as many hooded figures as you might imagine, but early indications suggest that this category might explode in 2010.

2) Smoke/fog/mist: Smoke and mist are sometimes mistaken for “glowy magic”, so to ensure that “glowy magic” is accurately tracked, we introduced this category to weed out non-magical atmospheric disturbances.

3) Non-distressed damsels: We added this category because we were finding that most of the damsels gracing fantasy covers didn’t seem particularly distressed at all, and we wanted to show that. But “damsel” is too old-fashioned a term to contain the multitude of women that dominate fantasy covers. So next year we expect to retire the whole “damsel” category and replace it with categories that reflect the rise of the urban fantasy heroines – who were so numerous, various, and bad-ass we had to give them their own chart (coming later this week.)

4) Zeppelins and Dirigibles: We added this category to track the rise of steampunk and Victorian fantasy. We briefly considered “brass-goggles” and “gears” but airships seemed to be the most reliable indicators of this trend. Plus, they can be spotted at a great distance.
Part 2:
Orbit said:

Some key observations:

1) Abs are in: Fantasy’s heroines are spending less time at the tattoo parlor and more time at the gym, as toned midriffs overtook tattoos as the favored accessory.

2) Stilettos are out: We observed a steep decline in stilettos in 2009, which just proves that fantasy readers can suspend their disbelief only so far. Romantic encounters between vampires, werewolves, elves, and humans are totally plausible, but believing that a professional demon-hunter would wear stilettos to kick demon ass isn’t. In another symptom of the same trend, corsets seems to be in decline. But fear not — cleavage, even if encased in pseudo-military tactical gear, isn’t going anywhere.

3) Compact Weaponry: It makes sense that our urban heroines would find it easier to maneuver through modern cities inconspicuously with small firearms and knives rather than bows and arrows strapped to their backs.

4) More ready-for-action, less ready-for-“action”: Fighting stances over sexy posturing all the way.
I don't know if there's another chart coming, showing trends in male representation on fantasy covers, say. It's my impression that goatees are trending, but I don't browse fantasy much.

Yo! Master

RPGnet Member
Validated User

P.S. Not sure if the fact that they don't track tentacles to be a good or bad thing.


Implacable Mustelid
RPGnet Member
Validated User
From the article said:
Although we have no actual proof of this, our best scientific hypothesis is that dragons, being just a fantastical mashup of a lizard and a dinosaur, tend to most frequently follow actual reptilian coloring… BORING.
Where are the coral-snake-patterned dragons, or Gila-monster dragons? (Well, apart from Darrell Sweet's portfolio....)

What would a dragon need protective camouflage for?
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