Dragon Magazine published eight issues in its second year of publication. It was running two issues every three months throughout the period, and would go (mostly) monthly just as its second year ended.

Artistically, Dragon’s second year largely matched what had come before. About half of the cover art was being used to highlight Dragon’s fiction, suggesting that Tim Kask was considering the short stories an important element of the magazine’s possible success. Beyond that, editor Kask was quickly developing a bullpen of cover artists that he’d return to again and again.

The Dragon #7: Elrohir (June 1977)

The Dragon was bimonthly over its first year, so the seventh issue marked the magazine’s one-year anniversary. To celebrate that, TSR ran a new cover with a dragon, probably referring back to Bill Hannan’s famous beastie on the cover of The Dragon #1 (June 1976). This time around it’s a reddish dragon, and he seems to be sitting at the bottom of an oubliette, gnawing on an adventurer’s bones.

The appearance of an anniversary dragon would be the start of a long-standing tradition, where Dragon’s June issues regularly featured dragons on their covers and dragons in their contents — though it would only be with Dragon #146 (June 1989) that dragons began to dominate every June cover, up through Dragon #356 (June 2007), the last printed anniversary issue.

One of the most interesting elements of the cover is a strange horizontal line across it, with the sunlight colored slightly differently above it and below it. Our best speculation is that the original artwork was done in two parts, on two different boards or pieces of paper. Without Photoshop, it couldn’t be accurately stitched together.

So why would that be the case? More speculation here, but one artist suggested that the the painting originally consisted of just the bottom portion, which looks like it could have been colored on a landscaped paper, and that when it was accepted for use on Dragon, it needed to be expanded to fit the cover size, hence the second board.

The cover is credited to Elrohir, who appears elsewhere as “Elladan Elrohir”, which is obviously a pseudonym, as that’s the name of the twin sons of Elrond and Celebrían in Lord of the RingsDragon later called it a “nom-de-brush” when they revealed the artist as Ken Rahman. Elrohir’s attractively textured artwork can be found on a number of early covers in the industry, including Boot Hill 2e (1979).

Ken, and his brother Glenn, came into the RPG industry through wargames: first Risk (1959), then Tactics II (1958), then Rise and Decline of the Third Reich (1974). While Ken was making his first forays into roleplaying artwork, the brothers were also working on their first gaming design, a fantasy wargame called “Your Excellency”, notable for its monarch-personalities. The whole story of that fantasy wargame is a tale for a another day, as it would eventually become Divine Right and be the source of another Rahman cover, for The Dragon #34 (February 1980).

The Dragon #8: Bill Hannan (July 1977)

In its second year, The Dragon had its first return visit from a cover artist: Tim Kask’s art teacher, Bill Hannan (here incorrectly credited as “Hannon”). One can suspect that he was an easy source for covers since he was so local to editor Kask.

Like Hannan’s previous artwork, this one looks like a line drawing that was colored in, but the pastels or paints used here allow for some sophisticated shading, with most of the color-blocked elements appearing in two or three shades as a result.

The cover, depicting a wizard with a miniature hybrid animal might seem somewhat strange as a D&D image, but that’s because, like many early Dragon covers, it’s related to a story within: “The Finzer Family” by Harry Fischer. A line drawing on page 17 shows the critter again. That’s a “hippogryf”, which Andrew Finzer somewhat unexpectedly pulls out of a hat during a magic show. The story continues into The Dragon #9, where page 11 shows another color piece featuring Andrew and the gryf.

The appearance of a story by Harry Fischer must have been somewhat of a coup. The Dragon had already run fiction by Gardener Fox and Morno, but an appearance by the co-creator of the sword & sorcery pair Fafhrd & Gray Mouser suggested that The Dragon was already on its way up — though the appearance here was likely connected to TSR’s publication of the Lankhmar (1976) game the year before.

Could Fritz Leiber himself be far behind?

The Dragon #9: Bill Hannan (September 1977)

Tim Kask’s decision to go out to Hannan again for his third cover, on The Dragon #9, supports the hypothesis that it was easy for Kask to get a new piece from Hannan when the magazine really needed something, especially something to fit a particular article or bit of news.

This was The Dragon’s second science fiction cover, following the planet on The Dragon #3 (October 1976), but this one feels more explicitly adventuresome, as it depicts a science-fiction warrior with some sort of laser gun connected to a power pack. However, there’s nothing within the issue to suggest the reason for a science-fiction cover. So why did it appear?

Tim Kask’s editorial in this issue notes that he’d just returned from Origins ’77, which is the convention where GDW released Traveller (1977). Moreso, the new science-fiction roleplaying contained a “laser carbine” and a “laser rifle” which have a system of cable and power pack exactly as depicted in this cover. That makes it likely that the cover to The Dragon #9 was a tribute to what would quickly become the industry’s second-biggest RPG.

The Dragon #10: John Sullivan (October 1977)

The cover to the tenth issue of The Dragon is an unusually bright burst of colors that suggests a multimedia creation, possibly combining ink, water colors, and even spray paint in the flames (just as some sort of spray paint appears to have been used in the background of The Dragon #1). The variety of art styles in early issues of The Dragon is quite interesting, and quite far from the perpetual paintings of its later days.

The content is also interesting, because it looks like a sorceress has summoned some sort of demon to fight against a warrior. Much like the Eldritch Wizardry (1976) cover, The Dragon #10 probably would have gotten TSR into trouble several years later, when they were genuflecting to the moral minority, but for now they had no concerns about infernal theming. (Again, there’s no direct connection between the cover and the contents of the magazine).

The artwork is by John Sullivan, who had first come into contact with Tim Kask when he submitted “The Death Angel”, complete with full-color artwork, as The Dragon #6 (April 1977) “Featured Creature”. Sadly, the Death Angel was the first such featured creature not to recur in the Monster Manual (1977). Presumably it arrived too late, but one can only wonder how D&D might have been different if there had been an angelic being in the first creature compendium. Even though Sullivan didn’t get a Monster Manual entry, that monster probably got him the commission for The Dragon #10’s cover. Sullivan wasn’t the only artist to make the jump from “Featured Creature” artwork to more work for TSR: Erol Otus would be the most famous.

The commonness of John Sullivan’s name makes it hard to figure out who he is and what other work he might have done. There was a gamer named John Sullivan living in Eureka, California around 1980, and there also was a John Sullivan who did work for Chaosium, located about 100 miles south of Eureka, a few years later: his work included illustrations and design work for Call of Cthulhu and Superworld, including the “Paper Chase” scenario in the Cthulhu Companion (1983). Were all three of these John Sullivans the same person? Maybe, though the Dragon’s John Sullivan stylized his signature with an ornate “S” and trailing “/-” that’s not found in the signatures from the Cthulhu Sullivan.

Dragon Magazine published eight issues in its second year of publication. It was running two issues every three months throughout the period, and would go (mostly) monthly just as its second year ended.

Artistically, the second half of Dragon’s second year largely matched what had come before. About half of the cover art was being used to highlight Dragon’s fiction, suggesting that Tim Kask was considering the short stories an important element of the magazine’s possible success. Beyond that, editor Kask was quickly developing a bullpen of cover artists that he’d return to again and again.

The Dragon #11: Elrohir (December 1977)

In its second year, The Dragon saw a total of three returning artists for its covers. The second of these was Ken Rahman, or Elrohir, who had kicked off the year with his first cover, which was the first of The Dragon’s anniversary dragons.

Rahman’s cover for #11 is a peculiar piece, depicting a traveling merchant offering a slave troll for sale to a merchant caravan that appears to be selling slaves of its own. Both the merchants and the slaves seem panicked by the offering.

One would like to think this unusual fantasy image is related to the story within, which is “Sea Magic”, by Fritz Leiber: Leiber’s first fiction to the magazine, and perhaps the most important Appendix-N related fiction that The Dragon ever published. The lead merchants, a redhead and a brunette, certainly seem like they might be Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in drag, especially given the weird combination of bangley jewelry and a red beard for the larger of the two.

But, there’s no such scene in the story, and in fact the Mouser is absent entirely. Perhaps Rahman was simply asked to draw an image of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and this was his response.

Unlike Rahman’s debut piece for The Dragon, this one is sized correctly and is a carefully textured and shaded piece, making it one of the most mass-market professional pieces of The Dragon’s first two years of publications. That speaks to a longer turnaround time than would have been possible if Rahman had been given the story and asked to immediately draw a cover for it, as was likely common in The Dragon’s first few years.

The Dragon #12: Elrohir (February 1978)

Ken Rahman’s third cover for The Dragon in just six issues is more obviously a direct portrayal of a story within, and that’s probably the reason that it’s a quicker, less sophisticated piece, most likely drawn in colored pencils. Though it has some shading, it doesn’t have the depth and texture of the illustration covering the previous issue.

Rahman’s drawning illustrates an excerpt from Quag Keep (1978) by Andre Norton, and its publication would be a real milestone for the entire industry. Four years previous, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson had produced D&D (1974), a game influence by fantasy literature. Starting in 1976, with The Dragon #2 (August 1978), TSR had begun publishing original fantasy fiction from some of its influences: first Gardner Fox, and then at the end of 1977, the much bigger name of Fritz Leiber. Now, D&D was influencing fiction of its own, beginning with Quag Keep. Much, much more would follow, from the Dragonlance Chronicles (1984-1985) to the stories of Drizzt Do’Urden (1988+) to unaffiliated stories such as The Guardians of the Flame (1983+) and TV shows, movies, comics, and really the entirety of mass media by the 21st century.

On the cover, the wizard Hystaspes (who looks much like the D&D cartoon’s Dungeon Master) tells an unfortunate group of adventurers that they are actually D&D players, “imported” from their own time and place (offering perhaps the first fictional usage of a very popular trope, though of course Dave Arneson had already done in it Blackmoor, whose players had played themselves). The adventurers on the cover are a very interesting D&D band: the swordsman Milo Fagon, the were-boar berserker Naile Fangtooth, the elf Ingrege, and the lizard man Gulth.

Additional illustration for the story itself is done by Dave Trampier instead of Rahman.

The Dragon #13: Thomas Canty (April 1978)

The Dragon #13 featured another repeat, as Thomas Canty’s New Romantic artwork had previously graced the cover of The Dragon #2 (August 1976), where he illustrated “Shadow of a Demon” by Gardener Fox. Here’s he back for “The Stolen Sacrifice” also by Gardener Fox and in fact another story of Niall of the Far Travels. That makes Niall the first repeat subject found on The Dragon’s covers.

Probably. Niall’s not drawn quite the same as before, but he has a similar complement of weaponry (and a similarly gaudy belt!) The scene is likely from the end of chapter three, as Niall is overwhelmed by the warriors of Lurlyr Manakor, who want to sacrifice him to the monstrous Korvassor.

This time around, the interior art for the story is done by Dean Morrissey, as The Dragon continued to bring on new artists (even if half the covers for its second year were done by old favorites). Morissey would get his own cover credit three issues hence.

The Dragon #14: Steve Oliff (May 1978)

The Dragon closed out its second year of publication with one of those new artists finally getting a cover credit: Steve Oliff. Oliff had been doing brief illustrations and some coloring for fanzines for a few years, including colors for a Neal Adams piece for Venture #5 (1976). He did more extensive work for Mark Clegg’s Dragon Seed Productions, including a fantasy cover for Slug #6 (1977) and even did some minor work for TSR in 1977, including a new “Dragon Rumbles” masthead for The Dragon #6 (April 1977), which would be used until the whole magazine underwent its next facelift in 1979.

But 1978 was the year when Oliff went fully professional, including drawings for the “Shadowjack” story in The Illustrated Roger Zelazny (1978), colors for Harlan Ellison and Tom Sutton’s “Croatoan” in Heavy Metal v2 #5 (1978) … and the cover illustration for The Dragon #14.

The cover shows a robot shooting off into space, making it TSR’s third science-fiction cover. Like the previous SF covers, it probably had a purpose: The Dragon #3 (October 1976) had talked about War of the Empires (1966) and The Dragon #9 (September 1977) had marked the release of Traveller (1977). Now, The Dragon #14 was actually labeled as “TD in Orbit”, with the cover highlighting three related articles: designer notes for “Space Marines”, “Robot Players in MA”, and (inexplicably) “Lycanthropy in D&D”.

Of those, Space Marines (1977, 1980) was a little known science-fiction wargame by A. Mark Ratner — highlighting TSR’s continued links to wargaming in its early years. The game, published by FanTac, also demonstrated the close links between wargaming and roleplaying at the time, because it included rules for introducing the tactical Space Marines into D&D!

Meanwhile, “MA” was of course Metamorphosis Alpha (1976), the debut science fantasy game for both TSR and James Ward, paving the way for Gamma World (1978). It had received attention already in The Dragon, beginning with a trio of articles in #5 (March 1977), but had never before received a cover feature — which here included not just those robots, but also background tables for characters.

As for Steve Oliff, he continued in the industry for a while, with much of his work spent coloring: he colored a William Church cover for Different Worlds #2 (1979) and a Jennell Jaquays cover for Different Worlds #4 (August/September 1979). He also did his own covers as late as Different Worlds #8 (June / July 1980) and Dragon #42 (October 1980).

However, Oliff’s first love was comics, and therein he had perhaps the greatest impact of any early Dragon artist. He gained his fame by coloring Akira for Marvel (1988-1995). This was the result of him convinced Marvel to allow him to use a computer-coloring technique then unknown in the industry. The result was a giant stride forward for comic-book artwork, one that won Oliff the highly prestigious Eisner Award in 1992 through 1994 (as well as some Harvey Awards in the same time period). Oliff’s computer coloring company, Olyoptics, was ground-breaking for the comic industry and set the direction for all future comic-book coloring.

(Not bad for the artist behind a robot drawing for The Dragon #14.)

This article was originally published as Advanced Designers & Dragons #51 & 52 on RPGnet. It followed the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014) from Evil Hat, and was meant to complement those books.

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