This wasn't the first issue of Dragon I owned (that honor goes to issue 56, I think), but it's one I remember buying very clearly and part of it is because of this cover by Larry Elmore. Looking at it now, 27 years later, I still like it a lot, even as I can clearly see within it the seeds of everything I'd eventually come to dislike about Elmore's art specifically and Silver Age D&D art in particular.
But that's not the purpose of this post. I'm writing this to give credit where it's due. Larry Elmore catches a lot of flak on this blog, some of it unjustly. I know I tend to forget that he started his tenure at TSR during the Golden Age and that there's a reason he was so highly regarded back in the day: he's a very a talented artist.
I was perusing back issues of Dragon from 1982 to 1984 and Elmore makes his appearance in many of them. His work back then shows a clarity and precision that was unique and nicely embodied the esthetic of the Silver Age, when "fantastic realism" was the style of the day. His figures looked real, as did the clothing they wore, the weapons they carried, and the environments they inhabited. He evoked an impression of "groundedness" that contrasted powerfully with the fever dream phantasmagoria of Otus and the dark density of Trampier, both of whom were examplars of an age that was passing, while Elmore was the spirit of the transition between Gold and Silver.
I don't think it's fair to blame Elmore for the subject matter he was asked to illustrate as a staff artist. Though I forever associate him with Dragonlance, it's not as if he created that series or was responsible for the direction it took. Likewise, I can hardly blame the man for producing more of the kind of art that gamers so clearly enjoyed. Much like Wayne Reynolds, another artist regularly singled out for the failings of his art directors, Elmore has often produced memorable and evocative pieces that really capture the spirit of this game we all love. I have no doubt his artwork, even the pieces I don't much like, did a lot to bring plenty of people into the hobby. Frankly, that's something worth praising and I need to do more of that.