Saturday, July 24, 2010

How Important is the Cover of a Comic Book?

Doug: This weekend's discussion asks you to weigh in with your opinions and/or observations on the evolution of the comic book cover.

Doug: Back in the Golden Age comic covers seemed largely to be used for two main purposes: patriotic propaganda and (especially in the case of DC) light-hearted humor. As comics segued to the Silver Age, covers took on more of a selling-point role, often showcasing events that would take place within the pages of the magazine. Of course, sometimes the covers sported teasers that didn't really happen -- this was also true more of DC than of Marvel. Now, however, comic covers are often merely splash pages -- material that might be better suited to posters or prints.

Doug: So what's your take on it? Do you hold particular covers as favorites that stand out in your mind? Are there those that draw your ire? Leave a comment, and thanks for your consideration of this topic!


Simon B ( formerly cerebus660 ) said...

I've always thought that comic book covers were incredibly important, from a commercial viewpoint if nothing else: if you want your comic to sell it has to compete and stand out from whatever else is on display. Or that was the case when comic books were freely available in the "real world" and not ghetto-ised in speciality shops.

Todays publishers, chasing an increasingly diminishing audience of post-adolescents, seem to have no concept today of reaching out to new readers. Stan Lee ( who, in his day was Marvel's de facto art-director as well as editor )used to insist that covers were bright and uncluttered, featuring dynamic, eye-catching visuals; and if the artwork didn't necessarily illustrate a part of the story within, it had to be a strong poster-like image, a classic example being the Silver Surfer cover to Fantastic Four no. 72 - none of the regular characters featured, but you certainly wanted to buy it!

As you can see I could ramble on about comic book covers for hours :-)

ChrisPV said...

I agree. The cover has to leap out and scream "Buy Me!" otherwise it's a failure. That's why the ongoing trend of just having a (not terribly exciting) splash of the main character or characters is such a bad thing. If nothing else, I think it proves that big two know that they're running on pure inertia now. There's no need to show the Avengers actually doing anything on the cover, because anyone who was going to buy it already will.

J.A. Morris said...

Covers were very important to me when I started collecting in 1980. I remember seeing Avengers #196 on the 7-11 racks:
I thought "who's the Taskmaster? He looks cool".
First Avengers story I ever read.
That Perez/Rubenstein cover still looks great,the plain green background,no distractions.
About the same time,I saw this Marvel Tales ish:

So much going on! It would be another few years before I heard the name "Gil Kane", but I loved the almost 3-d Spider-man popping out of the screen. Not the mention the promise of a surpise villain on the cover(I'd never heard of the villain who shows up at the end,but I'd never heard of him until I bought this).
Here's a Hulk cover from later that year:

Shortly after,I started picking up back-issues,here's the first I bought:

By 1984,I was subscribing to ASM,but seeing this cover was a real "f*^k yeah!" moment for 13-year old me:

I stopped collecting in 1995,a few years into the era of 20 different covers for a "hot" title. I think the lack of eye-catching covers says a lot about the companies. They must figure everyone who sees comics will buy them because they know about the contents of the issue from DC Direct or,so why bother making a cool cover?

La Belle Esplanade said...

Who am I to give business advice to successful publishing empires? I prefer the teaser cover that is out of fashion nowadays. I haven't been tempted to buy a comic in months so I must not be their target audience. I'm not interested in looking over twenty pages of posed splash pages.

C.A.S. said...

What really attracted me to some comics back then is that sometimes the respective logo of the book had been incorporated in the action on the cover as well( see X-Men #111 (the "circus poster" logo), #130 (the "marquis" logo), #135 & #136 (damaged, then repaired), and #141 (aged & battle-worn).

But it does seem like some of the comic covers of today are comparable to painting you might see in an art museum....

Rip Jagger said...

The comic book classically has been like any magazine cover, an attempt to capture attention and tempt a potential buyer. I love older covers that blend elements of merchandising with more purely artistic components.

Modern comic book covers are often inconsequential because more and more they are not designed to lure a new reader but supply an already existing reader with a glam shot. The comic book is less an individual bit of merchandise to be sold on its own merits but a part of a larger unit of material to be collected.

They don't bother to change the labels on bars of soap when you buy them in a bunch, so neither these days do they really bother to change the labels of individual comics.

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

An ideal comic book cover should have some bearing on the story contained inside, but also be well-designed and drawn so it can stand on its own like a pin-up or poster. A really good example that comes to mind is the cover of X-men annual #3 (which I went back to re-read in anticipation of your upcoming review).

joe ackerman said...

a great cover will make or break a deal for me. unless it's a title I buy regularly, I'm not even going to pick it up without a cover that draws me to it. which could be why I don't buy that many comics these days.

my own all-time favourite cover? this little gem. . .

Simon B ( formerly cerebus660 ) said...

@Joe: that Cardy cover is a beauty, isn't it? That's the first issue of Bat Lash I ever read. I was never into Westerns but that cover convinced me to buy it..... which kinda proves the theory of the power of a good comic book cover :-)

Doug said...

What a great series of comments! Thanks to all who've jumped in so far!

Yes, the cover should be designed to get the potential buyer to pick up the magazine. However, how many of you recall the disappointment felt when the cover artist was much better than the storyteller inside? I can recall books that had very cool covers, that did their job in grabbing me to pick up the book. However, once leafing through it I often found myself putting it back on the shelf.

Think of the very early issues of The Invaders with the John Romita covers and the Frank Robbins interiors. Yuck!


joe ackerman said...

easy there, doug, mate! I loves me the Invaders!

Doug said...

Ah, Joe, I love the Invaders, too! I just really can't stand Frank Robbins' art. Take issue #5, which began the Liberty Legion 4-parter. How much cooler would that story have been if, say Rich Buckler, had done the whole thing instead of just the first part? Instead we got two issues of Don Heck in his miserable state of decline, and then Robbins in Invaders #6. It was still a fun story...

I just like my comic book art a bit more realistic (does that sound silly to say "realistic" when talking about comics?).

Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks!


Edo Bosnar said...

Another thing I would add given Doug's comments is that the cover and interior should kind of correspond, i.e. it should be done by the same artist or artists with similar styles. I also found it annoying when there was beautiful cover art by, say, George Perez or Michael Golden while the interior was drawn by a less stellar talent (I won't mention any names to avoid ruffling anyone's feathers...)
Then there's the case of a really lousy and/or silly cover that conceals a beautifully drawn comic. An example that comes to mind is Avengers Annual 10, with awesome interior art by Golden, but with that ridiculous cover crowded with panels and blurbs that looks like it was slapped together by Al Milgrom in about 10 minutes.

Rick J. said...

As a young kid back in the mid-70's, the cover was always the first thing that would jump out at me to generate interest to look over a comic and ultimately decide to buy it. My very first comics purchased were the ones with great cover art and design.
As I start collecting and my collection grew, I began to fill in the back issues I was missing. A lot of times when I had to decide between which ones I wanted to buy with my limited income, the best cover usually won out.
I stopped collecting around 1990 when the whole industry became a little ridiculous and the effort no longer seemed to be there as it was in the 60's to mid 80's.
With most of my collection now CGC sealed, it is still a joy to occasionally go back and take a look at the effort and care put into the great cover art of the past.
It's sad that type of creative effort is missing from today's comic creators.

Doug said...

J.A --

I love those covers you posted. The Hulk/Subby one in particular, even with Dorma looking a bit stiff, is a classic. It certainly would have been an eye-grabber back in the day.

No one's mentioned "to word balloon, or not to word balloon..." Any opinions? Is it out-of-date, or if done properly (not sure what that would mean) still workable?


joe ackerman said...

Doug, I think we're just going to have to disagree over Frank Robbins. I love his stuff.

But word balloons? Hell, yes. Word balloons are the way to go.

Fred W. Hill said...

Of course, a good, catchy cover is what initially attracted me to any particular issue. I prefer covers that provide the gist of the main event in the comic as opposed to the poster-style covers. As for word balloons, sometimes they really unnecessarily detract from the art, but other times they really are necessary. That Hulk vs. Subby cover was a great example of one in which word balloons would have been silly. Amazing Spider-Man #123 is one where the word balloons were significant in letting the casual browser know that this wasn't just another Spidey vs. Green Goblin fight fest, but a tragic milestone in the series.

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