Smaug illustration by Johan Egerkrans, used with permission

Johan Egerkrans burst on to the Tolkien illustrating world last year when he was selected by to produce five covers for Norstedts Swedish editions of The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, and The Silmarillion. His art was so well received, Houghton Mifflin has decided to update the three trade paperback editions of The Lord of Rings volumes with his art as well. These new US editions are due to be released on October 6th, 2020.

I had a nice interview with Johan about his various projects. I hope we will be seeing more Tolkien art from him in the future.

Can you tell me a bit about your background as an artist? How long have you been working as an illustrator?

  • I started out as a concept artist and, like most people in that field, I've nursed a deeply rooted fascination for myth and fantasy since... Well, forever I guess. When I was ten I discovered Tolkien and fantasy roleplaying games basically at the same time, which was a revelation to say the least. Those formative RPG years have defined my career - everything I do is basically aimed at myself at ten years old...

    Fast forward to the early 2000's when I got my first full time job as an illustrator concepting for a small computer game outfit called Idol here in my hometown Stockholm. There I did designs for monsters, robots, rayguns and stuff like that. It was the perfect environment to sharpen my skills as a professional illustrator (I don’t have a formal art-school education). I always had a talent for mimicking different art styles, which came in very handy at that job - one month you did a superhero game in a highly stylised Bruce Timm style, another month it was horror inspired by Clive Barker, Frazettaesque fantasy or something completely different. I really got to flex those versatility muscles.

    Anyway, after a couple of years Idol went belly up, as small computer game outfits are wont to do. I became a freelance illustrator and found myself working more and more with children's books. In 2013 Nordiska väsen/Vaesen was released - a book about creatures from Scandinavian folklore that I wrote and illustrated. That really was a watershed moment, as the book did rather well (it's sold close to 100.000 copies and still keeps going). After that I had certain amount of freedom to do what I like and followed that up with the book "Norse Gods", where I interpreted the Eddas, but also a series of books about dinosaurs and other extinct creatures.

What medium(s) do you like work with?

  • I work in a sort of mixed media style, where I do preliminary sketches or lineart on paper, and render the final painting in Photoshop. I almost never draw straight into the computer - you can't beat the tactility of pencil on paper. In my opinion something gets lost when you only work digitally. The computer is a great tool though.

How long have you been a fan of Tolkien's books? How were you first introduced to them?

  • Like I said previously, I discovered Tolkien at the same time I discovered fantasy RPGs at the age of ten. I'm 42 now now, so that’s... Wow. 32 years ago. That makes me feel really really old…

    Anyway, my first encounter with Tolkien's world was the animated Bakshi film, which was, though in no way perfect, strangely compelling, and certainly peaked my interest. My dad had a copy of LOTR at home so I nicked that and read the whole thing. I must admit I found LOTR a bit stuffy at that age. However, it did make my borrow The Hobbit at the library, and that blew me away. It’s still my favourite of Tolkien's books and the one I've read the most number of times. I still prefer the lighter fairy tale tone of The Hobbit to the rest of Tolkien's oeuvre.


Norstedts Tolkien book covers by Johan Egerkrans. Photo by Kerstin Hanson, used with permission

You were asked to make the covers for the Norstedts editions of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. What prompted them to select you for these books?

  • It was probably the success of Vaesen and Norse Gods. Norstedts really liked the aesthetic of Norse Gods and they felt that style would be an interesting fit for Tolkien's works, as the books borrow liberally from Norse mythology.

What sort of process did you go through in choosing the subjects and style for these covers? Was there anything you really wanted to focus on, or avoid, as you worked on them?

  • The tricky thing is that the visual style of the films has become so incredibly influential, despite the fact that there have actually been an enormous number of different interpretations of Tolkien's work over the years. As they're the main conceptual artists of the films, this means Alan Lee's and John Howe's visions of Middle-earth has become the "official" look of the universe. Whatever you do, you as an illustrator must somehow relate to those artists and films in some capacity.

    The trick is to ignore them to some extent and chart your own course, while at the same time keeping them at the back of your mind as you can’t really deviate from them completely. To find a balance between people's expectations and your own vision. There is no value in being headstrong and different just for the hell of it - you can’t draw Tolkien covers that look like pulpy barbarian fantasy from the 70's today (even though it’d be awesome). There is a serious, sombre tone to Tolkien's books and the illustrations should reflect that.

Have you created any other artwork in Tolkien's worlds other than these book covers?

  • Nope. Not yet!

What's a favorite scene from Tolkien's works that you would like to illustrate someday? What draws you to it?

  • I’m childishly fond of monsters and "evil stuff", so I’m drawn to those scenes. Bilbo vs the spiders, Gandalf against the Balrog (or Glorfindel against the Balrog for that matter), Eowyn vs the Nazgûl/Fell beast and so on. Smaug was a lot of fun to draw.

You also write and illustrate your own books - can you tell us something about them?

  • I’ve illustrated tons of books for the Scandinavian market, but I’m chiefly known for the works that I’ve written and illustrated myself. There’s the series of mythological and/or folkloric volumes including the previously mentioned Vaesen and Norse Gods, as well as the follow up The Undead, about vampires and revenants from all over the world. All these titles have English editions and are available from They’re also translated and published in a number of other languages, including German, Russian and all of the Nordic countries.

Click on a book cover for ordering information, or click here for a special deal on all three titles

  • I’ve also done a number of paleontology-themed pop science books about dinosaurs and other mesozoic beasties. These ones are not available in English sadly as of yet, though they are released in other languages. Hopefully that might change in due time...

odins-ravens.jpgYou've also illustrated a few board games, including one of my family's favorite, Odin's Ravens.

  • It was a neat little gig - I did it at the same time I was working on Norse Gods so it was weird case of cross pollination between projects as they both revolved around the same mythical themes. I did a few projects for Osprey back then and had a lot of fun with them.

Odin's Ravens at

  • The most rewarding was a sci-fi miniature game called Rogue Stars. I've been primarily focused myth and fantasy for a long time now so it was nice change of pace to draw starwarsy space-aliens and intergalactic pirates with ray guns for a change.

Rogue Stars page at Osprey Publishing
Rogue Stars at (affiliate)

The Houghton Mifflin trade paperbacks

On October 6th Houghton Mifflin will be releasing a refreshed trade paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings, using Johan's artwork for the covers on the books and the slipcase (if purchased as a boxed set).





Additional information on Johan Egerkrans