It was with shock and sadness that we marked the passing of Darrell K. Sweet this week. While I usually focus this blog on fan artists, this seemed like a good opportunity to spend some time looking at Sweet's work.
Sweet was an extraordinarily prolific artist. In his hey-day, he was the go-to guy for fantasy illustration. His book covers have been a part of my life, even before the Wheel of Time. His style was distinctive and eye catching. When he was a guest at Dragon*Con 2005, he told us that he considered his covers to be "billboards" for the books and wanted them to be visible from across a bookstore. Tor commissioning Sweet for The Wheel of Time was a mark of how much they wanted it to succeed, much as it was that they asked Michael Whelan to do the cover for Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings last year.
We've all taken our share of cracks at "Romance Novel Rand" on this cover, but one of the things we overlook is the sense of grand scale this painting evokes. Sweet used lots of big, bold brush strokes on this one. There's a lot of movement and lurid colors used to bring a sense of the wreckage after Dumai's Wells. Sure, there's some weird details like the random Draghkar flying overhead, but the overall tone fits the book pretty well.
This is probably my favorite of all Sweet's covers. Put your inner fanboy away and ignore the Trollocs-are-just-dudes-with-horned-helmets for a minute. This perfectly matches how I picture Rhuidean. And this depiction of Mat has become iconic, repeated endlessly across fanart. Sweet was spot on here.
For most of us, this was our first encounter with The Wheel of Time. For me, it was seeing this book cover on the kitchen counter when I was in the sixth grade. My mom is also a fantasy fan and bought the first three books for me, thinking it was the complete series. Ha ha. Anyway, this cover drew us in and made us open that book. Who is this woman on a horse? And what's up with that samurai looking dude? Read and find out.
So, what's up with all the hate? Why do we bag on Sweet's art so much? (And believe me, I've made my share of cracks too.) There's a couple reasons, I think. The first and biggest, I think, is that this is the Internet. Internet people love to hate things. I don't know why. But complaining about things on the Internet is just a thing. We all do it. Second, as the fantasy market matured, Sweet's lurid, outsized style became dated. A more realistic style became popular, Sweet got older, and his work started to slip. Put all these together, and you get a climate where it seems like Sweet is the guy we love to hate.
But consider this: Despite all the bashing, Sweet was still considered one of the top illustrators up until his death. Brandon Sanderson posted an excellent essay about his influence on illustration. He was nominated for a Hugo award in 1983, he was scheduled to be the Artist Guest of Honor for the upcoming WorldCon in 2013, and was nominated for a lifetime achievement award this year by the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists. These are not small honors.
If you'd like to look at more Darrell Sweet's art, we have a complete gallery of his Wheel of Time covers here. He also did some of the cards for the WoT CCG ten years ago. And you can see more of his art on his official website (along with his son, artist Darrell R. Sweet). He did lots of Western art, which is displayed there.
Thank you for your work, Darrell. May the last embrace of the Mother welcome you home.
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