Monday, February 25, 2013

Comic Book Covers – The Week of February 20 in Review Part 1 of 4

This week was a huge week for me. The amount of books I got is insane. The final count was 42 books. There was no way I was ever going to read all of them in time to include in these posts. That is neither here nor there anyway because I wanted to talk about comic book covers to start off the week.

Of course before we hit that subject I have to point you to listings for next week’s books. We can start with the clean list over at CosmicComix and also the more elaborate with full solicitation copy over at MidtownComics. The ones that I’m happiest to see on the list are I Vampire, Answer, Legend of Luthor Strode, Uncanny Avengers, Batman Inc. and Before Watchmen Dr. Manhattan.

Okay with that bit of housekeeping out of the way, I wanted to talk about comic book covers. I was five or six years old when I first starting buying comic books. On Saturday night my Dad would drive to a local newsstand and buy the two Baltimore Sunday papers, the News American and the Baltimore Sun. It was a corner newsstand that had one magazine rack devoted to comic books. My Dad would usually give me up to a dollar to spend and that meant I could get up to eight comic books at 12 cents a shot. I had to choose and I could not take all day so it was the cover that helped make the decision. Over time I knew what series I wanted to follow and the cover was no longer a deciding factor, but if it was something new the cover could often sway my choice.

That was decades ago and the industry has radically changed and covers seem to serve multiple functions. We have variants, we have the WTF gatefold covers, we have enhanced covers, wraparound covers, blank covers and we are still awaiting the first talking cover and edible covers, but you get the point. Also we have a lot of artists who almost do exclusively covers. Adam Hughes, until his recent hiatus to draw an actual comic book, was only doing covers for years. Brian Bolland only does covers anymore. To me having one artist do the cover is a cheat, because the interior and the cover artist should be one and the same. Variant covers are BS also. Often I see some wonderful cover that is a variant and the regular cover is just okay. If the cover was meant to help sell a comic that best cover should be the main one.

I question if covers are even meant to help sell a comic anymore. When I had a comic book store the new releases would be racked on one or two shelving units. Each book would have the full cover facing out so that a customer could walk in and see each new book that came out that week clearly. Many comic stores don’t do that. I see new releases shoved in with other books, covers overlapping each other, slapped into bins and a dozen other ways are used to display the books that don’t utilize showing the entire cover. Many people have pull lists and I personally do my ordering via email and no longer have the luxury and seeing my choices across any sort of display. So I have to question what purpose is the comic book cover serving. I know the multiple cover game is just to get the poor retailer to order more books to get the special incentive cover and the multiple regular covers is are done in hope of getting some dumbass collector to buy all the various covers.  So instead of paying $4 for a story the collector pays $16 to get all four covers. Dynamite is one of the worst offenders of this practice, but DC stepped to new lows with the 52 covers for JLA #1.

Still I thought it would be fun to take every book that I got this week and take a picture of them as a nine panel grid, which is the basic structure of most comic book pages. Since I got 42 books this week the last picture is just six panels. I wanted to look at each picture and see what jumps out at me.

Marvel / Other
Looking at the first nine panel grid (labeled DC), three covers draw my eye. First the Batwoman cover. The drawing of Batwoman takes the entire page and the title of the book is moved down and is almost innocuous. Now it is the middle panel, which I’m sure has some influence, but is very effective, clean and dramatic with fire all around her. Next is the GL Corps cover. The stark white background with the two figures fighting is well done. Last is the Vibe cover. Again a solo shot of the hero in his costume using his powers. Looking at the rest, some are too busy and some are trying too hard. Of course if I like the series it doesn’t matter.

Next up the grid labeled Marvel/DC. The only winner in the bunch is the Daredevil cover. It has a very cool look to it. The black background with the letters in flames as DD is jumping around. It has nothing to do with the story, but it does look good. The JLA cover is boring as hell and after reading the story the entire point of the cover was to rape sell collectors on the idea of buying all the variants. The Justice League cover is supposed to be symbolic but it way too busy and hard to see what is what. The Deadpool cover is appropriately absurd. The Moribus cover is either brilliant or stupid. I’m leaning towards stupid. That cover makes me not want to buy the book.

Our third grid is labeled Marvel/Other. The Nova cover is awesome. The kid is coming right at us. Nothing other than some coloring affects and it looks great. The Happy cover is also well done. I’m immediately curious as to what is going to happen to the little girl. Also I wonder why this book is called Happy. It does not look like a Happy book. I’ll also give thumbs up to the Superior Spider-Man cover and the Hulk cover. Both have great drama about them. The worse cover in this group is the Fables cover; it has too much going on and is marred by the title not being on the top of the page.

The last nine panel grid is labeled Other. Hands down the Shadow cover wins the contest. Of course this is only one of many covers for this book, but it is the one my store sent me and it is a clear winner. The rest of the covers are pretty good with this group. I would give a fail to Tower Chronicles as the cover is way too dark. Also Harbinger looks to be shooting direct from pencils or something. Whatever the idea was it is a fail. It does look different form the rest, but not in a good way.

Little Other
The last picture labeled Little Other has a clear winner with Fever Ridge. I immediately want to know more and when I read it is a tale of MacArthur’s Jungle War, I’m even more intrigued. This is not just a fantasy it is a tale about actual events.

The point of this exercise was more just seeing what if anything I could discern about comic book covers. My own confused and meandering thoughts lead me to believe that the idea of what a comic book cover should do is almost a lost art. I think the best cover makes you want to try the book and too many covers are trying to serve different purposes. I also think a cover should be the main advertisement of what is happening in the book and that is often just not the case. Finally I believe that the use of variant and multiple covers is a misguided attempt to generate sales that have no relationship to the quality of the material that is trying to be sold. But as long as the suckers collectors are willing to pay it will continue.

Part 2 later today.


  1. Very cool. I love it when we talk about covers. I agree that the best cover should BE the cover. I get irritated when I can't get the cover I want from the selection.

    Considering how much $$$ Marvel is raking in, their cover production is really of a lower quality than anyone else. The paper is thin and the colors sometimes bleed together. I have to consciously check that I'm not getting a bad one. IDW has the best production quality around. I was lucky enough to get the Zahler My Litte Pony variant. His issue was really good too! -- (not a joke)

  2. Shadow wins the Other catagory? Eh. It seems very bland and generic to me.

    What's the difference between it and the X-O cvr? Both covers are generic big men doing things.

    I don't know but I would think Baltimore, BPRD, or even Locke/Key appear better.

  3. Oh yeah, Morbius is brilliant. You're leaning the wrong way.

  4. Lee -Morbius is stupid - you convinced me.

    As for Shadow it stood out more for me.

    I like the composition and what some of the other covers are doing, just not sure it would sell the book.

    Mathew - Not believing you on the MLP story.