Interview: Greg Hildebrandt On The Sword of Shannara


brooks-annotatedswordThis week, we celebrate the 35th publication anniversary of The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks.

Terry was not the only person at that event thirty-five years ago. There were a few around at that time, even Shelley Shapiro who, after thirty-five years, still works for Del Rey in the Star Wars division!

But while Terry largely did not know what was happening when Ballantine Books published his debut book, Lester del Rey and his wife Judy-Lynn knew exactly what they were doing. They knew they had a winning book. Otherwise, they would not have put so much time, energy, and money into the project. While they had time and energy to spare because they were workaholics who knew a sure bet, money had to be used wisely for the brand-new, unproven publishing company they hoped to start.

Therefore, they knew where to put their money. And it resided in reaching booksellers and putting a great cover on The Sword of Shannara.

Remember. There was no internet back then to drive marketing!

The del Reys were no fools. The Hildebrandt Bros. were no rookies in the field. Even in 1977, they were considered two of the best artists. They had done a number of projects by then, including three fantastic The Lord of the Rings calendars. Fantasy fans knew them. Lester del Rey and Judy-Lynn did too and wanted those same fantasy fans to read The Sword of Shannara. It was in Greg and Tim that the del Reys placed their faith for the cover and interior artwork. Cover art would draw a similar readership. And once they had a few readers, word of mouth would spread.

It spread like wildfire. The Sword of Shannara became an immediate New York Times bestselling novel, selling 125,000 books in the first month alone.

I still find it amazing that Terry had no idea what the Hildebrandt’s inclusion meant for his debut novel and ultimately his long career. He does now though. To talk about this, I decided to contact Greg. He was there at the beginning with Terry. And as with all important and memorable events, there is a beginning.

Here is an interview with Greg Hildebrandt:


Shawn Speakman: The Hildebrandt Bros. have produced some of the best sci-fi/fantasy artwork in the history of the genre — from The Lord of the Rings to Star Wars to Marvel Comics. How did you and Tim become involved in producing the gorgeous cover and interior artwork for 1977’s The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks?

Greg Hildebrandt: Judy Lynn and Lester Del Rey called and asked us to do the cover for the first Shannara book. Lester was the editor on the book. We said yes.

SS: You produced a half-dozen black & white interior paintings for The Sword of Shannara. What was the process for deciding the scenes to depict?

GH: All book illustration for my brother Tim and I had a formula. You need an equal amount of long shots, medium shots and close up shots. You needed to make sure that all the characters were illustrated and all the major environments were illustrated. You also needed to make sure that all epic scenes were illustrated. So we would read a book and mark all the possible illustrations. Then we would narrow it down by the formula based on how many pieces of art the publisher wanted. But ultimately Judy and Lester Del Rey had a lot do with choosing the scenes.

SS: How much input did Terry have in the artwork? Did he give any aid beyond the book or did you and Tim rely solely on the text?

GH: We never met Terry. To this day I have never met Terry. But I can say that Terry had nothing to do with the art. Judy and Lester Del Rey were obsessed with the project. It was their baby. They approved all levels of the art.

SS: The Sword of Shannara became an immediate bestseller in 1977. How much of a role do you think artwork plays in the success of a novel?

GH: For a first time author, like Terry was, the art plays a big part. As an author becomes famous the art is no longer that important to the project for success. In the case of the first Shannara book, the Del Reys called us because we already had a large fandom with our success with the Lord of the Rings calendars. They knew this would aid the sales of the book. They were the editors on our Lord of the Rings calendars in 1976, 1977 and 1978.

SS: The Sword of Shannara is featured on the cover of the original publication as well as in the interior when Shea Ohmsford claims his birthright. Artist Keith Parkinson used the same Hildebrandt Bros. sword design on the cover of First King of Shannara. How did you and Tim develop what the sword would actually look like?

GH: God knows it was a long long time ago. I have designed many swords since Shannara.

SS: Out of the paintings the Hildebrandt Bros. produced for The Sword of Shannara, what is your favorite?

GH: The color centerfold was my personal favorite.

SS: Who do you think has produced great art in the genre outside of the Hildebrandt Bros.?

GH: Frank Frazetta.

SS: Would you ever consider producing cover artwork for a new novel?

GH: I would find it a fascinating idea. But unfortunately my schedule is already booked for years.

SS: Every day, I see you feature new art on your Facebook page. The quintessential artist question: Where do you get your inspiration from and has that changed over the years?

GH: It is interesting that you ask this. Mainly because no one else ever has. I am not sure that all of my inspiration comes from somewhere other than my own burning desire to do art. For sure part of it comes from the people in my life. Part of it comes from what is occurring in my life at any given time. Part of it comes from what is occurring in the world at any given time. A lot of it comes from my parents, my childhood and my brother Tim. And a lot it comes from my best friend and agent, Jean Scrocco.

SS: Thank you for your time, Greg. You will always have a place in the hearts of Shannara fans!

GH: That is very nice of you to say. I appreciate you adding me into your project.

There you have it, from the fingertips of one of the best fantasy artists of all time. The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks will be forever in our fantasy lexicon. As it should be. But two great artists were there at its beginning and we can never forget that.

To learn more about how the book came to be as well as thoughts from the author, The Annotated Sword of Shannara will be published in October 2012.

Get ready!