Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Face-Off -- Handbook Aesthetics

Doug: Friends, fans, and those of you who are foes... I've been meaning to get back to the Handbooks, because our first two ventures seemed to go over well (the Thing, and the Avengers), but alas "time won't let me". So instead of focusing on one entry, how about if we just love (or hate) on the styles of the covers of these wonderful comic books? Below are three samples -- what's good and/or bad?


J.A. Morris said...

My favorite is the cover at the top. That's because Hannigan and Rubinstein give as a view of at least 3 quarters of the characters' faces.

The second Handbook cover gives us only a side view of all the characters. It's less welcoming than the first cover. The characters in the Hannigan-Rubinstein seem to be saying "come along with us." The characters on the 2nd cover seem to be running bast the readers, almost saying "eat our dust!"

The DC Who's Who cover is the weakest in my opinion, and I'm not just saying that because I'm more of a Marvel fan. In the Marvel covers, it feels like all the characters are part of the same scene. The Who's Who cover just feels like they found a bunch of character images and pasted them on a cover.

Humanbelly said...

I feel like the nature of the over-crowded beast makes for an inherently tough cover design. All three are crowded, cluttered, with diffuse focus. I get that the Byrne/Rubenstein design is trying to convey a fun sense of a "parade" of Marvel's cast of characters, and over the course of the run it was fun to see the cover-to-cover connections fall into place. And I do think Byrne's figures are quite superior to Hannigan's-- but Rubenstein's inks on both go a long way toward making that less apparent. I agree w/ J.A. that the 3/4 front perspective is a lot more effective in both letting us see the folks AND in welcoming us into the scene (in a parade, we are automatically uninvolved spectators, after all). Also, IIRC, the 1st edition of Marvel's handbook had some reeeeally unfortunate choices for background color wash-- this one being an example. Again, kind of a no-win proposition-- since the blank white background of the next edition was also unquestionably dull, and made the covers even less distinctive from each other.

I don't know-- what would have been a better format, do you think? These are all largely in the same realm. Was there a different, completely different (yet practical) option that they missed?


Doug said...

I personally always liked the DC Who's Who covers better. But admittedly, I missed out on Marvel's first edition of the Handbook. I prefer Hannigan's cover lay-outs over Byrne's, but Perez's art is overall more pleasing to me on the Who's Who books. The advantage of Marvel's vol. 1 and DC's Who's Who is that a most-famous character could be featured front and center. That was a bit tougher to pull off with Byrne's design. Case in point with the vol. 2 choice that you see -- don't you think the Angel should have been on the front cover rather than the back? It seems instead that Batroc is the main selling point.

I also like DC's table of contents as opposed to just letters or Marvel's vol. 2 alphabetical parameters.


Anonymous said...

Well, they were both pretty fun books to read. If you wanted to know exactly how strong Luke Cage was or how Stilt-man's armor worked, and I did, for some reason, it was a fun read. I used to pick these up at the local gas station on my way home from school, where my textbooks lay rotting in my locker. But at least I got some science education out of it.
They had a real problem explaining how guys like Bruce Banner or Mr. Hyde suddenly acquired mass and size, because you can't create or destroy matter. It's a law. You just can't do it. I think they explained it by saying they pulled the additional mass in from an alternate dimension.
Well, okay. I guess I can live that explanation. What do I know, I got a D in high school math.
The covers were pretty funky looking, and they didn't even have an entry for the monstrous Mangog in the first edition,(!) but pretty good readin'.

Garett said...

These kind of covers seem like they're going to be exciting, but then turn out monotonous. For me the DC Perez cover wins, and not only because the drawing is better. Perez actually creates small stories throughout the drawing: Captain Boomerang throws a boomerang that intercepts a ball thrown by (?) at Captain Comet; there's a swordfight in the background; the characters at top left look like they're about to slide down this ice hill. Also nice renditions of Shazam, Changeling and Captain Atom up front. Perez doesn't just have a bunch of characters running generically, he makes scenes of interest and individual characters with variety of expressions.

One thing I like in the second cover is putting Batroc up front-- just a fun choice.

William said...

Wow! What a great time for comics this was. So much fun. All the characters of both universes clearly defined with all their major stats and origins, backstories, etc. They could never do something like this today with how convoluted everything has become. Who could keep track of what's what or "Who's Who" anymore? Not to mention the fact that "fun" seems to be a dirty word in the comics business today.

On a personal note, I loved these things when they were out. I even made my own version for my self-created comic universe "Superior Comics" when I was kid.

But on to the question at hand - I find I prefer the DC cover because you just can't beat Perez for insanely large group shots. He was/is just the master of that kind of thing.

Although I think I prefer the interior of the Marvel Universe handbooks only because I seem to remember them better, so they must have made a more lasting impression.

Martinex1 said...

As everybody knows I lean toward Marvel characters, but I have to say I like the DC example here much more. As Garett points out it has an element of fun to it and of course the Perez art is fantastic.

More surprising to me is that I don't like the Byrne/Rubenstein cover much. That team of penciler and inker was fantastic on books like Captain America - their run with Stern was of the highest caliber. Here, the lines look thick and dull and overpowering. It almost looks like a knockoff of Byrne rather than Byrne himself, and Rubenstein's inks were generally not that overpowering. I would put him just a step below Terry Austin in terms of talent. I don't know if this is just an issue with the printing or the coloring of the time. The DC cover seems much more clear even with some very small figures.

Anonymous said...

Well. the interior art in both magazines was fantastic.
In Marvel's case you got Walt Simonson's Thor, John Byrne's Ben Grimm, heck, you even got Jim Starlin doing Captain Marvel and Warlock in the, uh, all-dead-guys issue.
Nice stuff in the D.C. comic too. They even got one of the Hernandez brothers from Love and Rockets fame to do the illustration for the Phantom Girl entry. There were illustrations by Kubert and Kirby and a lot of the greats. It was just fun to flip through those books.

Redartz said...

To answer today's question: Perez' DC cover wins it for me, for all the reasons so well-stated by others. Must admit I have never owned, nor even leafed through, one of these volumes. Seems they came into being about the time I was getting ou of comics (temporarily, thank goodness). But they sound interesting. And if William calls them fun, that's good enough for me! Maybe one will jump out from some dollar box at an upcoming flea market...

Anonymous said...

I'd probably go for the DC covers over the Marvel ones, because I like how the DC characters are actually DOING stuff: interacting with each other, the background, whatever, as Garett pointed out above. With the Marvel covers, it's just them running or jumping in empty space. The art is great, but the characters are a bit too static for me. I seem to remember seeing somewhere that all the Volume One Marvel Universe covers were combined into a gigantic poster...I wouldn't mind having that! (If I could find room to hang it up!)

For anyone (like me) who loves to geek out over these Handbooks, there are a couple of podcasts out there on the topic...actually, there are probably more than a couple, but these are the ones I listen to:

The Who's Who Podcast is a couple of guys going over each issue of Who's Who page by page and talking about the characters, the art, and all that. They've covered all 26 issues of the original run and are into the Updates now, so there's a big (and frequently hilarious) backlog to listen to.

For Marvel, I like OHOTMU or Not which is a bunch of non-comic-reading women looking at the Marvel Universe (Deluxe) Handbooks and rating whether the characters are "hot or not"; it's way more interesting (and less gender-based) than it sounds, and the girls notice a lot of stuff that hardened geeks like me tend to overlook. They only update every 3 weeks though, so they're still on the first volume.

Mike Wilson

Edo Bosnar said...

I had the entire set of the first Marvel U Handbook (with the Hannigan covers). I used to absolutely love those and devoured each issue - filling my mind with immense amounts of Marvel U minutia, often to the detriment of my school-work (as M.P. noted).
Never had the updated volume, nor DC's Who's Who for that matter - those started coming out when I was in one of my hiatuses from comics.
As for the covers, I actually quite like the Byrne/Rubinstein "running parade" covers (better than the ones by Hannigan). But I agree with several others here that the DC covers by Perez are much better, the images are just more vibrant and engaging.

Eric said...

I remember buying the OHOTMU when they first appeared and enjoyed them immensely. Sadly I was very disinterested in DC at the time and even today have only read a few of their Who's Who. As for which style of cover I prefer, I would say neither. They are just too busy for me.

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