Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Influential & meaningful Graphic Novel Covers

Last week I did a blogpost about going through my comic collection and sharing some meaningful and influential comic covers...this week I do the same, but instead of raiding my longboxes, I went through my bookshelves. Of course, this means that the list is limited to the books I still own. There are gaps where library collections came out and I gave or donated the individual collections away, or loans that have yet to be returned, or a few cases where things I thought should be there were just plain missing. Which means this is by no means a definitive list of covers that were influential...just the ones I can still pull off the shelf.

 Below are the covers in that collection that I wanted to share. Sometimes I included one for its artistic merits, other times because of what it represented, and a few times because it influenced work of my own.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 
First Graphic Novel edition-Book 1
by Kevin Eastman

Some of why this made the list is purely sentimental. As I mentioned in last week's blogpost, issue 11 of Classic X-Men and this graphic novel were my first comics that I owned of my own (I was 11 years old). And it was TMNT that made me want to make comics in the first place. Seeing the creator's names bold on the cover helped me understand that these were just two guys making this stuff up and drawing it––a pretty good job to strive towards. I love the grunge of the alley in this cover. Having done a fair amount of TMNT covers now myself, I know how hard it can be to get all 4 brothers in one image without someone getting pushed back..in this case Michelangelo is only a silhouette. And while I love this cover, I use it as example of something I try not to do when drawing all 4 brothers...every one of them is someone's favorite––so I need to give them all face time to help sell the book. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 
First Graphic Novel edition-Book 2
by Kevin Eastman

Here we go, not only are all four turtles getting adequate face-time, but all the rest of the vertically oriented cover left over after lining up the brothers horizontally is filled with a great city-scape. There were a few buildings in Flint, MI I'd scale in my youth to hang out on the roof-tops. And while no part of my town looked like this cover, this is the exact feeling I had while up there.

Hellboy: The Midnight Circus
by Mike Mignola

As I was accumulating the photos for this post, I was pleased that when Mike Mignola was recently posting some of his own favorite works, this cover was on his list. This cover works so well as a old-fashioned poster (like a circus poster) to represent the fairy tale quality of the story. This cover has skulls, drawn 2D imagery, animals, Mignola stars, and Pinochio! What else could you ask for in a young Hellboy story? I also want to note how great the lantern is behind Hellboy's head acting almost like a paper & false heavenly halo like you'd see in religious renaissance paintings. 

Cursed Pirate Girl
Collected Edition Vol 1
by Jeremy Bastian

While I do love the Archaia edition hardcover of CPG, there's something about that portrait of Cursed Pirate Girl herself, braids knotting akimbo, flit-lock pistol over her shoulder, knowingly smirking at us about the adventure readers have in store that hits me just right...all while printed on a natural toned paper stock and with a hand-stamped logo.

The Beast of Chicago
by Rick Geary

Partly this cover makes the list because it's my favorite of Geary's books (I own an original page for this one!) but, I think the cover does a good job at summing up what's inside...something that seems obvious for a book's cover (despite warnings of not judging contents by them) but is certainly done better in some cases than others. Here the type, the costume, the architecture all give us a sense of time and place, and there is an ominous tone presented here, without being gory, horrific, or obvious––something that matches the sensibility of how Geary unfolds his true crime graphic novels.

by Craig Thompson

I love how graphically simple this cover is and how effective it is. It also helps that it's a wrap around cover and so it can capture two vignettes in one big image. Blankets is an emotionally nostalgic look back at a semi-autobiographical story of Craig Thompson's experiences as a kid and at the end of high-school falling in love for the first time, and struggling with his relationship with religion and family. So while this cover I think grabs the reader before they've consumed the contents, all the space around the figures, the tenderness between them, and the kids sledding on the back take on an even more impactful meaning. The hand drawn logo treatment I think plays a role in this cover even more than most title fonts and placements do.

Maus: A Survivor's Tale
by Art Spiegelman

I love telling my non-comic reading acquaintances know that this book won the Pulitzer..and then explaining that there's no special category for graphic novels, it won for literature. It's a really powerful tale, and the cover of volume one does such a great job with iconography and negative space to sell the idea to the reader's mind. Using mice to represent the Jewish people of Europe while the cats became analogues for the Nazis––and the icon version in the swastika has graphic stylings to resemble Hitler himself. The raw and visible strokes of the drawn image of the mice huddling together in the glare of a spotlight-like cat-Nazi emblem prepares the reader for how visceral the narrative inside is going to be.

Batman: The Killing Joke
by Brian Bolland

This cover, I'm sure, would make a lot of people's favorite/best cover lists. I put it here for all their reasons too...but mostly for Bolland's mark-making. All those lines to render the forms inside the draftsman-precise outer contour lines. Also, I'm generally not a fan of word balloons on covers, but in this instance, it really works here.

Robotika: For a Few Rubles More
by Alex Sheikman

Alex Sheikman is really skilled at blending line drawings with silhouette shapes...something it's difficult to make both work in a single cohesive image. Here Alex shows the main character Nikoas a black shape with craved out negative space highlights for his facial features, but transitions his hat and sword into line drawings with inner and outer contours. This second volume's title along with the three background panels go a long way to conveying Sheikman's genre-mashing of "Sushi, Steampunk, Samurai, Western".

Artesia: Afire
by Mark Smylie

I miss Mark Smylie doing watercolor & ink comics. This cover, for the 3nd Artesia collection, somehow stands out even more to me than Mark's work in general. If I had to dissect it, I'd say it is the near-symmetry, the detail on that armor, and the religiously iconographic halo ablaze around her head while the color palate suggests all of The Middle Kindoms are 'afire'.

Labyrinth Tales
by Cory Godbey

Not only is this cover a cast image, but it's also an anthology/short story collection cover, and it's always a trick to sum up that many different elements into one single image...and here Cory expertly gets the message across that this is a storybook affair all while doing that wonderfully hard balance of interpreting known characters and keeping on-model with their physical puppet counterparts, while also adding some artistic identity and charm. 

The Dark Crystal Tales
by Cory Godbey

I'll say everything I said above for the Labyrinth cover  and apply it equally to this one...
though,  I always have a softer spot in my nerd-heart for Dark Crystal. Also note that both covers portray the telling of stories aloud to convey the 'tales' aspect of each title.

The Marvelous Land of Oz
by Skottie Young

Skottie's character designs are so on-point for this book, and the
readability and silhouette of them along with the other elements like the cliff & sign-post do such a great job of making this book cover instantly readable--both graphically and thematically...you know this is going to be a fun read, and you get that this is Oz.

Muppets At Sea
by Graham Thompson

Like my comic-cover post, I'm discovering that I tend to gravitate towards covers that include large ensemble groups...This Muppets cover by Graham Thompson handles that task well, while making sure it's not a messy composition and also puts them in a sense of place that tells a story–A pile of rag-tag characters on a patched together ship that reads perfectly as classic Muppet Show-era Muppets. And I love that trailing smoke rolling out of the smokestack.

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser Book 2
(Epic Comics edition)
by Mike Mignola

While I do like the Dark Horse collected version's cover with a more recent Mignola take on Fafhrd & Mouser, I enjoy the more specific story beats represented on the original versions published by Epic back in the early 90's. I'm a fan of how the ghost forms are raising up from the dead or dying main characters. I have a tendency to include repetition of form with some variance in my work (blades of grass, shingles, leaves, bricks, etc) and the way the wrappings on Fafhrd are handled scratches that itch for me. I am also have respect for abbreviation of line. Where Fafhrd's bedroll stops before it connects with the ground, where Ghost-Mouser's sword fades out in the middle, the dangly-bit on Ghost-Fafhrd's belt...so many places where the restraint and control of line helps illustrate the image.

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser Book 3
(Epic Comics edition)
by Mike Mignola

This cover features a wonderful Mignola trope of his interpretation of religious statuary as a background. Another thing that makes this cover so great is the composition that forms a triangle between the main characters and that mask..or the angle of death––both beautiful designs.

The Fifth Beatle
by Andrew C. Robinson

The Fifth Beatle is a beautifully painted book, and while there is a stark graphic design element to the cover, Andrew's painting skill is very much still on display. It's a great example of capturing likeness without being either photo-real or exaggerated caricature. Brian Epstein's clothing choice might not make sense other than to make him pop out against the monochromatic Fab Four when only seeing the cover, but after reading the story, the symbolic nature of him being the matador is fitting and thematic.

The Nevermen 
by Guy Davis

Great character designs for both the good guys and the badguys––that extends to the fact that unless you've read this book, you might not be able to guess which group is which at first glance of this cover. There is a warped Dick Tracy vibe to this book: Chisel-jawed raincoats vs. a freakish rogue's gallery–– and the cover captures that really well.

American Vampire (book 1)
by Rafael Albuquerque

This cover conveys something important that it's easy to overlook when doing a group-shot or story moment––and that's really cementing a sense of time, mood, place, history, and genre. This cover does all of that so well and so efficiently in terms of the drawn elements and use of color. I love the graphic nature of the layout of the cover as well as the visible mark-making of Albuquerque's lines and strokes.

Rex Steele-Nazi Smasher
by Bill Pressing

This cover also really drives home the sense of theme, tone, and style by playing up a graphical nostalgia and propaganda. While the interior art is similar, the interiors are all ink-line and the cover is done with no linework, all color shapes to emulate an era of artwork.

Love: The Fox, the Lion, & The Tiger 
by Federico Bertolucci 

Oh, this series... While each book is it's own tale, I put them together here because my comments would all be the same: These are beautifully rendered and realized talking animal stories in a single cover (in-spite of the fact that the comics are wordless––therefore they do not speak). I'm jealous of getting so much realism and emotion out of the natural looking beasts.

Tale of Sand
by Ramon K. Perez

Simplicity at work...and when I say 'simplicity' I mean a deceptively simple layout...as with most  art, the less there is, the more exacting every element must be of what is there. Color plays an important role in this book, and the stylized use of color here (yellow, dark purple printing, and white accents) prepares the reader––This isn't Jim Henson's puppets––it's Jim Henson's Jazz-style storytelling like his short-film 'Timepiece'.

DC: The New Frontier
by Darwyn Cooke

You know exactly what this book is when you see this cover. It is a stylized 60's nostalgia optimistic version of all the DC heroes. Darwyn so perfectly nailed the theme with a team cover that conveys all of that other information through composition, rendering, costume & character design.

Lake of Fire
by Matt Smith

I wish there were more Matt Smith comics out there. This cover for Lake of Fire has a 
terrific balance of alternating profiles and facing figures of the main characters flanked by the book's monsters, some sci-fi architecture/design, and medieval border treatment that sums up the genre mash of this book so well. It also showcases how Matt can alternate between bold shapes, fine linework, and open space contour line all in one composition.

The Shaolin Cowboy: Start Trek
by Geof Darrow

In theory, Geof's work is a dichotomy that shouldn't work––but he expertly does every time. 
Uber detailed line drawings that still have a clear overall composition so that the eye doesn't get lost (unless it wants to). It would be so easy for any other artist to do Darrow levels of ink details and muddy up the composition so much that it can't be read--or to graphically compose an image that lacks all of that texture and falls flat. It's an amazing feat and a joy to explore with the eye.

by Lorena Alvarez

I've wanted to see more original graphic novels by people working in the animation industry. The look of the concept work for recent animated films I think is a perfect fit for comic storytelling that can bear the burden of a full emotional experience range. While Lorena Alvarez, I believe has a background in children's book illustration, the idea is exactly the same, and I love seeing this cover––with it's color, style, typography, and composition––perfectly represent a full emotional range in a single cover.

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft
by Gabriel Rodriguez

I love the Locke & Key series. It's really great. The collection covers all feature a key in the foreground, and then a location as the background...no characters, no specific story elements...They remind me of paperback pulp horror covers where no details can be gleaned, but a visceral feeling is the take away. The first cover has such an iconic key design that prepares the reader for the tone of this book––and really the whole series–in a way that the other keys couldn't. And Gabe is so good at architectural design and drawing (he used to be an architect) that this cover with his masterpiece design of Keyhouse that this cover had to make the list.

Sabertooth Swordsman
by Aaron Conely 

Aaron's cover for the first Sabertooth Swordsman book has a 
Darrow-esque quality in that the overall composition can be read clearly, but there are details and textures piled upon textures and details..but all while doing something uniquely Conley with a dream-scape warping and surrealism and cultural embroidery stitched in

2019 Convention Appearances
(more may be announced)

Emerald City Comic Con March 14-17
Heroes Con June 14-16
San Diego Comic Con July 17-21
New York Comic Con October 3-6
Baltimore Comic Con October 18-20

1 comment:

Shen Leidigh said...

A great post David, thank you. :}

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