Saturday, July 16, 2011

What Are the Elements of a Good Comic Book Cover?

Doug: We've done a lot of cover discussing around these parts. We've looked at favorite covers, cover logos, the corner boxes on Bronze Age Marvels, etc. But I'd like to zero in on what makes a comic cover memorable. So today we'll have that discussion. You are charged with putting into words why certain covers were lovable to you, and why others seem forgettable. As an extension, were there elements of those favorite covers that became a trend for you -- a similar presentation really caught your eye? To help spur your thinking, consider some of the following cover elements, and then I'll post a few personal favorites as food for thought.
  • Color scheme
  • Figural lay-out
  • Speech/thought balloons...
  • ...or, the absence of speech/thought balloons
  • Call-out boxes
  • Relevance to the inside story
  • Simplicity vs. a whole lot going on

Doug: This one probably makes a lot of people's "favorites" list. Marvel's two iconic monsters racing headlong into each other... It's on mine because I love the black background and the way it makes the colored figures pop. That the Hulk's right hand partially obscures the corner box really gives the cover a 3D feel. Really, the only improvement I'd make is the removal of the text. Seriously... who would pick this up and need that prompting? Duh. It's just a great seller in all its simplicity.

Doug: My apologies in advance for the poor reproduction here -- I couldn't find an image (granted, I didn't look too terribly hard) that I loved. A bit out of our Bronze Age range, but one of the most stunning covers of all time. This one's much more complex than the previous example. The 3-dimensional appearance of Havok racing toward the reader, the drama on the faces of the X-Men, and the concentric circles make this an amazing visual experience. Those circles really draw me in -- this cover, even more than the previous sample, displays a depth in the art. The call-out box is OK, but again -- I don't need it. Even as this was on the spinner racks, I don't think it would have been a selling point. Any youngster should have wanted to snatch this up on its other merits, and there are many.

Doug: I'll leave you with this last fave. Again, there is very little text, and in this case the title in quotes, "Challenge of the Man-Bat!" is OK, because this is a new character. I love the detail of the city-scape, and the giant images of Batman and Man-Bat are really powerful and give off a "this is going to be epic" feel. The large full moon draws your eye and highlights the underside of our antagonists. You could argue that the book's cover logo also gives off a bit of a moon-like aura; I love the bright yellow against the midnight blue background of the main image. And sticking to the depth-theme, the angle of Batman's cape in the foreground easily sets the Man-Bat back a few paces from the reader. This cover is just a winner through and through.


Inkstained Wretch said...

Of the three you have posted, I like the FF cover the most. It has so much energy in it ...

I remember a few years ago watching a lecture -- on C-SPAN, of all places -- about the artist N.C. Wyeth and his famous illustrations for Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Wyeth's great insight as an artist was that you had to capture the moment just BEFORE something happens. That would capture the energy and excitement of the moment better. The tension can be delineated through the characters' poses. If you portray the moment of action or the moment just after, the image cannot convey much excitement because the action has already happened.

I see that in the Hulk vs. Thing cover. The image is of the half-second before the two start trading blows. You can almost feel the shockwaves coming.

Anthony said...

I miss the Marvel Comic covers from the 70's with the Marvel Comics Group banner and the classic corner boxes.

I loved the ones which depicted an important scene from the story within. I think the colors back then were, for the most part, much more vibrant.

I like a picture with a full background " shot " from an unconventional angle. I need ( strategically place so as not to obscure the art ) word balloons with a good supply of braggadocio from the villain and an equally good retort from the hero.

I even like that small period of time when Marvel used a border below the cover art and to the left near the spine. It really made the art pop out.

One of my favorite covers of all time is The Incredible Hulk 155.

Piperson said...

Steranko did some of the greatest covers of all time on Captain America, Nick Fury and Strange Tales.
Other favorite covers of the 70's were Bernie Wrightson's Swamp Things especially #9 and #10. This was a special time where they split the cover up, putting the title on an upper part and the illustration on the lower part, and with Wrightson's amazing art, it really worked! Other great covers were Kaluta's Shadow. I also like Hero for Hire #1 quite a bit by John Romita.

MattComix said...

These covers operate on the idea of getting your attention and making you excited to see what's inside! As opposed to somber images of a single character in a brooding introspective pose that may or may not have anything to do with the content. Also, the image of Superman with gritted teeth and heat-vison eyes was cool the first 100 times I saw it.

I think another component of a good comicbook cover is a catchy but unobtrusive trade-dress. Like Marvel's thing of having an image of the character in the left hand corner with "Marvel Comics Group" running along the top.

Anonymous said...

While I do prefer comic books of this era to the modern variety, I think that modern covers far better illustrate the elements that make a great cover—including allowing stark graphic art, light and shadow, alone to tease the story.

Some good samples from a variety of eras speaks to this:

david_b said...

A WONDERFUL subject for a Saturday afternoon.. I'd love to give examples of GREAT covers, but perhaps I can start with what detracted from fine covers in the Bronze Age..

1) "This Comic could be worth.." bike ads.., no need to say more about this dreadful dirge.

2) The Marvel Comics Group banner on top: Not too impeding but still a shame from the 'left corner only' identification.

3) Thought/word balloons: Used sparingly in the Silver genre, but Bronze covers artists depended on it way too much to convey tension better illustrated by graphics alone.

Take the FF 112 cover shown..: Did it need any words..? The best covers didn't. Take one of my favorites, MTU 13. Did the Gargoyle really have to exclaim "Destroy Them!!" (or whatever he said)..? You couldn't already pick that up..??

4) Way too much different action scenes, like Avengers 197. One central theme, keeping it simple is the key. Throwing 3 or 4 dramatic scenes on a cover tells me a lack of cover ideas.

Great topic, y'all.

starfoxxx said...

Very interesting about Wyeth, Inkstained Wretch. I grew up in Wilmington, and have seen his pirate paintings.

Man, I am such a sucker for a good cover. I bought almost ALL my back issue stuff (as a kid) for the cool covers. This was the 80s, so 60s and 70s comics were still cheap, I rarely spent more than $3. I STILL hate to pay more than $3 for a stinkin' comic book!

But that's how I developed a love of comics, picking up random comics. And of course, if the storyline was very good, that would supercede a bad cover. I got swept up in buying for "future value" or multiple colored covers, etc., but that phase was short lived. Teenage expenses (cigarettes, beer, girlfriends....) left little money for comics. Perfect timing, as the post Spider-man #1, X-men #1 (pretty much the 90s)Marvel and DC stuff sucked, IMHO.

I like an occasional "posing" cover, but now that's 90% of the covers, IMO. My LCS friend pointed out that there are NEVER word bubbles on covers anymore. I tried to remember what issue it was, I'm pretty sure Superman was in it. But he was right! NONE of the other new comics on their shelves had bubbles. I like a busy cover, like Avengers Annual #10. Something that would make a comic fanatic drool.

I AM enjoying the recent Adventure Comics and LOSH covers.

Piperson said...

The blurbs on the cover was the style of the 60's that Stan had established. I recently looked back at all the old Thor covers by Lee/Kirby and understood that after the art came back, Stan would throw on the blurbs. So in the 70's it was still popular but was slowly dying. it's cool as far as styles go but I prefer the great illustrations to the blurb-filled covers. I remembering growing up in the 80's and feeling really ripped off when I saw a stunning cover and the art was done by a mediocre artist. I felt it was false advertising and thought that all interior artists should do the covers. But I don't feel so strongly about it now as I use to.

Dan said...

I really like it when the type on the cover is worked into the actual image. I always thought that was smart.

And good corner box art too - whether it's The Vision passing through the cover towards the reader or Bryne's She Hulk inclusive Fantastic Four, it always made comics hunting easy.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Let me second Starfoxx on Avengers Annual #10. That was a very cool cover: Old-school Silver Age in the use of multiple boxes but drawn in a more modern style. I remember picking it up immediately from the spinner racks.

redartz said...

One of my favorite covers is Amazing Spiderman Annual 5 (introducing Peter's parents). Stark contrast, dramatic colors, the dizzying spiral that Romita used so effectively. Powerful stuff.

vancouver mark said...

In the misty pre-dawn of the Bronze Age, as the strange proto-birds were just starting to sing, we find Nick Cardy's unforgettable cover for Aquaman #42, and an eight-year-old me staring at it in wonderment...

Seriously, what could compare?

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