When you think of 1960s covers to paperback sword and sorcery books, Frank Frazetta and Jeff Jones immediately come to mind. Those were the titans, especially Frazetta. It took Jeff Jones a few years to really hit his stride.
There was another artist who painted covers for sword and sorcery fiction in the late 1960s: Michael Leonard.
“I was born in India in 1933 to British parents and in 1945 at the end of the war in Europe I returned to England to complete my education. In 1954, after two years of National Service in the army, I went to St Martin’s School of Art in London and studied Commercial Design and Illustration, (subjects that at the time seemed more likely than fine art to provide me with a viable future). By the time I left Art School in 1957 I was already working as a freelance illustrator and for many years was busy producing artwork for books, magazines, advertising and the press.”
He did some work based on classical myth. A cover for a Panther Books edition of The Odyssey would point the direction he would follow the next few years.
“My early pictures drew mainly on the world of myth. Three Disciples, Lazarus and Magdalen were in naturalistic vein while others, like The Fallen Warrior and Ajax with the Body of Achilles 1 & 2, were stylised in ways that grew out of my enthusiasm for the vase paintings of ancient Greece.”
Leonard’s sword and sorcery work was for Paperback Library in the U.S. His first cover was for Henry Treece’s The Green Man in 1968. This is not Frank Frazetta but in its own eye-catching style.
A reprint edition of Henry Treece’s Jason in 1969 followed.
August 1969 brought C. L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry which Lin Carter claimed to have edited. This paperback must have sold well as you used to see many copies in used bookstores for years.
The first two of John Jakes’ “Brak the Barbarian” paperbacks had Frank Frazetta covers. Brak the Barbarian vs. the Mark of the Demons (1969) had Michael Leonard.
Jane Gaskell’s Atlan are an early example of a romance series disguised as fantasy. For some reason, this mediocre series has been blessed by covers by Frank Frazetta, Jeff Jones, Boris Vallejo, and James Gurney. Paperback Library reprinted the series in 1970 with new covers by Michael Leonard. Not as iconic as the Frazetta covers, these covers still are part of the classic era of sword and sorcery paperback covers.
This was the end of the first sword and sorcery paperback boom.
What is interesting is Michael Leonard had a different style for sword and sorcery paperbacks for a few years and would then move on. Paperback Library generally did not acknowledge the artist. Randy Broecker’s Fantasy of the 20th Century has “artist unknown” in a reproduction of Jirel of Joiry. Michael Leonard never got the acclaim alongside of Frazetta and Jones.