What Do I Mean By “Best”?
To me, the best Dragon covers tell a story. It’s not just a wyrm breathing fire, an armored knight on dragon-back or even the artwork alone. There has to be something interesting going on inside the painting.
Of course, to qualify for this list it has to feature an actual dragon in some official sense of that concept. No dragonspawn, no dragonkin, no Draconians!
Why Just The 80s?
- A lot of the covers from the 1970s are kind of amateurish.
- A lot of covers in the 1990s are cheesy, cornball glam-fantasy plastered by Cosmo-tier, impulse copy. So…
From 1980 to 1989, counting the “Best Of” issues, there were around 47 Dragon covers with some kind of a dragon on them.
From those nearly four dozen covers I pick 25 to move into the finals before I chose the ten I’ve prepared for you here. What I’m saying is… it was a lot of work.
First, A Few Honorable Mentions
The First Dragon On Dragon: #1 (July 1976), Bill Hannan
That dragon isn’t going anywhere with those wings. What’s with his eyes? Jaundice?
Anyway, like my old boss used to say “Don’t let best get in the way of better.”
The Dumb Cover: #142 (February 1989), Fred Fields
A great cover. But wait a minute… how is that barbarian dude walking across a dragon’s snout and not noticing it? In that direction? At this time of year? In this hemisphere?
It makes absolutely no sense. I guess that would be another rule: “Don’t be dumb.”
We’ve Been Here Before: #53 (September 1981), Clyde Caldwell
This near-perfect cover was already featured in my Women Of Dragon Magazine article from a few months ago.
The Illusionist class is certainly something I miss from 1st edition. What an oddball character type… but nevermind… here we go…
The Best 1980s Dragon Covers With Dragons
Mobile device? Click the images for a close-up.
10. #72 (April 1983), Clyde Caldwell
This looks like an illustration straight off the cover of an Adventures Of Lone Wolf book.
I’m not sure how well that scale mail is going to go against the acid breath of that black dragon. But it sure does look great.
9. #49 (May 1981), Tim Hildebrandt
Tim Hildebrandt not just took the cover of #49 but also had a 12-page insert that exclusively featured his artwork.
This is not a normal dragon here; what is the size of that thing? How many hit dice? 400?
8. #74 (July 1983), Jim Halloway
This art isn’t great but it makes me very nostalgic for some of the illustrations in the 1st edition books. Looks like these fighters are screwed going up against this relatively small gold dragon. Dude’s got his flail caught in that thing’s mouth!
7. #52 (August 1981), Boris Vallejo
I guess I broke my own rules, didn’t I? But then again, Dragon magazine breaks D&D rules all the time, about everything. I have no idea what this creature even is — a Gossamer Dragon? Sounds good to me.
Is that sexy nymph its owner? Its mother? Is she The Mother of Dragons?
Notice the endless Matrix-like Egg Fields in the background. A really incredible painting by possibly the top fantasy artist of all time.
6. #58 (February 1982), Clyde Caldwell
This is one of those classic Gone Venturin’ motifs, where everyone is looking into the middle distance and thinking “East for The Beast!”
OK, so there is not much going on here in terms of action but it just looks great.
It’s got this nice pretty lady in the foreground in scale mail with shield and dagger. What is she? If she is a fighter then where is her big weapon? Maybe that is her sword and the angle is just weird because… look at the size of that scabbard!
See? Dragon covers! No rules!
Maybe elvish fighter/magic user?
Then you have her little gnome buddy on his giant lizard thing. He’s ready to go. Lizard thing don’t look too happy though.
In the background is a spooky-looking castle that is so full of monsters and baddies that they don’t even need a gate on the entrance.
Plus there is a tiny black dragon.
For more Caldwell art read Rolling Nostalgic: Artist Spotlight on CLYDE CALDWELL
5. #65 (September 1982), Caldwell Again!
What is it with this Caldwell guy and all the scale mail?
4. #111 (July 1986), Denis Beauvais
This is just a beautiful cover. But again, where are the rules? A black dragon is shooting purple lightning out of her hands? A white dragon with a green, glowing fire-fist?
3. #92 (December 1984), Denis Beauvais
I really can’t believe this is the same artist as #4 on this list. This looks like something out of the first regular D&D boxed set. It has an almost anime feel to it. I love this style.
The motif is also great: Gandalf on another collapsing bridge, a damsel in distress and a centaur! That’s a half-man, half-horse for you 2nd Edition Pathfinder players.
2. #97 (May 1985), Robin Wood
What a gorgeous cover. The detail is exquisite. The color is rich. And the scene itself is so intriguing. It reminds me of a Rennasaince painting by one of the masters.
Notice where the artist’s name is.
1. #143 (March 1989), Denis Beauvais
This is pure badassery. Just some stick jockey in his F-16 taking down red dragons and all that that entails. Fly casual!
His call sign is “Slayer” and he’s already bagged some tails.
Again, it’s a Dragon cover… so @#$% the rules!
Now my day is complete. If you have different Dragon covers with dragons on them in your top ten let me know below.
And of course, If you’ve got any other ideas for top ten Dragon covers (or anything else you’d like to see at Rolling Nostalgic) please let me know in the comments below or over on the Film Goblin Facebook page.