EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate the 10th anniversary of THE DARK TOWER (book 7), we are offering free shipping on all DARK TOWER prints. We’ve also added a new print and original art from The Dark Tower and Little Sisters of Eluria to our shop.
“Ka was a wheel; it was also a net from which none ever escaped.”
Michael Whelan and Stephen King first met in 1979 when both were Guests of Honor at the World Fantasy Convention. The meeting led to Whelan’s first illustration for King, the cover for a slipcased limited edition of Firestarter published by Phantasia Press.
Based on the strength of that darkly fantastic work, King named Michael Whelan as the illustrator for The Gunslinger, the first book in The Dark Tower series published by Donald M. Grant. The epic was born from a Robert Browning poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” and chronicled the last gunslinger Roland Deschain’s quest for the Dark Tower, the nexus at the center of all reality.
As if Ka—destiny or fate in King’s world—willed it, Whelan would come back to the series time and again. His artwork was adapted to various mass market editions of the books, including a reissue of The Gunslinger that featured a mashup of his original back cover art GUNSLINGER: ON THE BEACH and a new painting titled GUNSLINGER ’88. As the years drew on, more original paintings surfaced, including a frontispiece for the Legends anthology from TOR a decade later.
From the beginning, King insisted that the series would be his magnum opus, and it was clearly a labor of love, but one that would take decades to complete. In the beginning, the wait between books spanned years, and the series almost went unfinished when King was struck by a van while walking near his home. Still in pain from the accident in 1999, King abruptly retired from writing in 2002. Retirement didn’t last long, however, as King announced in 2003 his plan to complete the last three volumes over the course of a year.
While many talented illustrators worked on The Dark Tower over the years, only one could draw a close to the epic series. Whelan would return to leave his mark once again on Midworld for the concluding seventh volume aptly titled The Dark Tower. The project included an artist edition brimming with both black and white and full-color illustration.
Although the series wrapped in 2004, a long road and more paintings still lay ahead. Whelan returned in 2009 to illustrate The Little Sisters of Eluria, an artist edition from Donald M. Grant which added the short story from the Legends anthology to an updated version of the The Gunslinger.
That same year, Whelan’s work appeared in Knowing Darkness, a collection of Stephen King art curated by George Beahm and published by Centipede Press. Included with his previous illustrations, Whelan added a new piece titled THE LONG ROAD that captured Roland’s long and desolate journey to the tower.
As years passed, King couldn’t stay away from the series either. In 2012, he added a new volume The Wind Through the Keyhole, a marvelous frame tale that took place between Wizard and Glass (book 4) and Wolves of the Calla (book 5).
Later that year, Whelan won a Spectrum Gold Medal for an unpublished work titled UNMASKED, a wildly grotesque interpretation of the Crimson King, the ultimate villain of the series and master of the Dark Tower.
September 2014 marked the tenth anniversary of the completion of the series, but even recently in Rolling Stone magazine King admitted, “I’m never done with The Dark Tower.”
While tinkering with the last remnants of his Dark Tower sketches and preliminaries, Whelan came to the same realization. He began to feel the tower’s pull again after stumbling upon an image done for the title page of The Little Sisters of Eluria.
That piece, ROLAND AT THE GATE OF ELURIA—complete with the addition of the gunslinger astride a horse—is now available as a signed open edition print. To celebrate the release of this new work, we’re offering free shipping on all Dark Tower prints through January 5th, 2015.
With our latest email newsletter, we’ve also added to our shop a rare selection of studies, preliminary concepts, and interior illustrations from Michael’s work on The Dark Tower and The Little Sisters of Eluria.
About the author
Mike Jackson (Mike Jackson)
From the mid-90s to the early aughts, Mike designed and maintained the original MichaelWhelan.com and GlassOnion.com websites. After a hiatus of several years, he has rebuilt the site from the ground up and is happy to be back as webmaster.