Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Influential & Meaningful Comic Covers

For this Blogpost, I went through my comic book collection to share some influential and meaningful covers. My collection of issues isn't terribly large only 2 short boxes because I've purged, donated, and condensed several times in my collecting life. So, what remains are the issues I am attached to, that having the content in collected form isn't enough, or the issues have sentimental meaning. Due to the nature of my collection, this is going to be very Jim Lee, Art Adams, & Mike Mignola heavy...and it is by no means a definitive list of covers that were influential...just the ones I still have.

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.

X-Men #1 covers A, B, C, & D
by Jim Lee

This is a pretty iconic cover for most people my age. I know some people look at it as a symbol of the glut of the variant cover and overprinting that contributed to a crash in the 90’s comics market...but I still see this cover through my 14 year old eyes–of a team too big to fit on a single cover, and a villain deserving of his own full cover. At the time this was released, I was an X-Men reader, but not the stuff being published. Instead I was reading back issues of the late 70's X-men. Friends tried to convince me "You should read the new stuff, Jim Lee is great!" But it took this re-launch of X-Men and this string of covers to catch my attention and convince me. 

X-Men #4
by Jim Lee

This issue marked the start of a new arc and the introduction of a new villain: Omega Red. I remember calling Jesse Glenn on the phone from a Boy Scout meeting to see if he was coming to the meeting, and he told me he had just gotten this issue and that "Wolverine has his old blue and yellow costume back"–which excited me because it's the costume I was most used to seeing him in.
Looking back now, what draws me into this cover is Omega Red's hand, that as a framing device and as a way to push a sense of depth. I'm also appreciative of the faces of Gambit & Jubilee here. In a time when the going comic style meant faces had gotten very interchangeable, I think these two characters stand out as having unique features...not just Rogue in a different coat and haircut, not Cyclops without a visor holding cards.

X-Men #5
by Jim Lee

One last Jim Lee X-men cover before we move on. I included this one because I remember the hours I spent trying to re-create it in high-school. The composition is pretty nice. Having two characters intertwined in combat for a cover while still being this readable is a challenge. And I love all the damage on Wolverine exposing his adamanium innards, and the claw marks all over Omega Red and his armor–it tells a story longer than this single moment.

Classic X-Men #1
by Art Adams

'Classic X-Men' were 80's reprints of 70's issues stripped of their out-of-date ads with an added backup story by Chris Clarmont & John Bolton, and featuring new covers by Art Adams. When I was buying these though, they were old enough to be back issues. New comics at that time cost $.75 - $1.00 and I was paying $3 - $3.25 for back issues of my favorite era of X-Men when I had a $3.00 per-week allowance for chores. It took a long time for me to save enough to buy issues that connected the story together. This cover of Art's is a beauty of a team up. While it's well documented that John Romita Sr. helped Art arrive at the final composition for all those mutants, I can't stress enough that I think Art's versions of these characters makes him my favorite X-Men artist of all time. 

Classic X-Men #8
by Art Adams

Big team battles are a staple of comic covers and it's hard to make them work where the composition isn't a pile of character spaghetti. It's also difficult to give each member enough prominence (everyone is someone's favorite character). Jim Lee did this same type of cover a decade later for X-Men #3 of his run, a cover I nearly added to this post, until I noticed that Art's cover is a better example. Each character can be read clearly, and the only one not facing us, Iceman, has enough of a recognizable form (and is actively using his power) that we all still know it's him. I also like how the cover has a diagonal break from lower left to upper right of characters vs negative space echoed by Cyclops' optic blast.

Classic X-Men #9
by Art Adams

This cover shows the same moment as the original cover to Uncanny X-Men #101 (of which this is a reprint) but from a different angle, and one that really focuses the power on Jean's transformation and the power of her new persona. I especially like the flow of Jean's hair and the way it's defying  her flight upwards, Cyclops' reaction, and the trail of fire trailing from Jean's feet.

Classic X-Men #12
by Art Adams

This was the first comic I think I ever owned that was my own. My sisters both collected Archie comics, and I read a fair share of those, but this very issue was the first comic that was ever mine. It was reading this issue over and over and over (I didn't have the following issues for another year or so when I started collecting) and seeing the animated 'Pryde of the X-Men' that pretty solidly made the Giant-Sized team of X-Men my favorite.

Later I learned that the composition of this not only is a homage to the original version of this issue Uncanny X-Men #104 by Dave Cockrum, but also the original cover from the first ever X-Men issue by Jack Kirby.

Classic X-Men #18
by Art Adams

This and the next cover are great examples of 'The villain has the heroes in his clutches' imagery. This first one is more abstracted, with Magneto being a giant in comparison to those tiny X-Men (almost like they are action figures or wargaming miniatures). I tend to be very literal with my covers, they are usually a frozen moment in time of a scene, no collages, no scaling for artistic effect, no stylization...but this cover pushes me to want to go there (Mike Mignola's covers later on in the list have trhe same effect on me). While a lot of the lighting here is done in the coloring, the inks certainly go a long way to make those mutants a light source, with the shadows on Magneto's face and the the shading on his helmet.

Classic X-Men #19
by Art Adams

This other version of the villain winning is a bit more literal, even though the characters aren't quite in scale with Magneto. While this isn't a moment right out of the comic's pages, it pretty clearly shows a powerful foe keeping the heroes at bay. And compositionally, it's hard to beat, not to mention some great acting in Colossus & Cyclops' poses.

Classic X-Men #21
by Art Adams

While The Savage Land and Ka-Zar aren't my favorite part of this run of X-men (though I have nothing against them) it is fun to see these superheroes in a totally different environment. But the main reason I put this cover on the list was the way the X-Men are featured in an inset panel, something I've never been brave enough to try myself, but as you'll see, becomes a familiar theme in the covers I chose. 

Fantastic Four #348
by Art Adams

This was the first issue I ever bought that had full interiors by Art Adams. I'd known and loved his covers on Classic X-Men for years, and while I wasn't a Fantastic Four reader, the idea of Art drawing a team-up of Marvel heroes to form a new FF was enough. I can never do a cover that has no background, so I always applaud the covers where negative space is used in a way that doesn't make the composition look incomplete.

Generation X #1
by Chris Bachalo

I was a big fan of this series when it launched. The characters were so different than the X-character regulars that their visuals were a refreshing change, and my favorite of Gen X was Chamber who gets the best spot on the front cover. While the chrome covers of the 90's tended to get a bad rap, I think this one used it nicely, both artistically and to set off a #1 for a new series. I'm also glad to see a new but mirrored take on the various X-Men vs Magneto cover layouts.
And as I'm such a fan of doing wraparound covers, I appreciate that here as well.

Generation Next #1
by Chris Bachalo

Obviously I'm a sucker for a team cover. But this one is on the list because of the setting and mood. This was the first issue in a X-wide event where all the X-titles took place in an alternate reality that focused on a 'what-if scenario where Xavier died, Magneto took up his cause, but not before Apocalypse had pretty much ruined and enslaved the world. The redesigns of the characters, the mood, and that castle in the background got this cover its place on the list.

Generation X #18
by Chris Bachalo

Generation X was a fun book. Because it was the teen-X-men characters, it was ok to be a bit lighthearted. The character acting work on this cover that conveyed that mood, that spirit, is something that worked so well, it stood out to me as I was flipping through my collection for this post.

Excalibur #98
by Carlos Pacheco

cliche of single character leaping towards the reader, but this one always worked for me, and with it epitomizing the errol flynn swashbuckerl version of Nighcrawler that I love (not the super serious depressed monk version of the elf)

WildC.A.T.s #1
by Jim Lee

I was gutted when the IMAGE guys formed their company...mostly because I was an X-Men reader, and was devastated to see Jim Lee leave. For about one week I thought I was going to boycott WildC.A.T.s out of protest––but when I turned up at a friend's house for a sleepover back when this issue came out, I found myself reading bits of it over their shoulder as they enjoyed it. The cover makes it here because while it's a new team, they are familiar enough to let me instantly understand the vibe of the book, but different enough for me to need to dig into this new series. I went and bought a copy of my own the day after the sleepover.

WildC.A.T.s #2
by Jim Lee

Again, I know many folks who hate chrome covers, but I always thought this one made a lot of sense given Void's powers. This cover reminds me of the Art Adams cover for Classic X-Men #19 I already talked about, but instead of it being a villain it's the helper character Void who teleports everyone who has thrown the main heroes off their feet. I also always appreciated Spartan's facial expression and scale to the rest of the figures as part of the artistic success of this cover.

WildC.A.T.s #5
by Jim Lee

Issue 5 of WildC.A.T.s was kind of a re-launch of the series. Issues 1-4 were a mini series and readers didn't know if or when we were getting more WildC.A.T.s. This issue almost serves as a new #1 even though it's #5. And while it's a team up (clearly something I have a soft-spot for), it pushes the two breakout characters Zealot & Grifter from the margins of cover #1 into the front and center of this cover. 

WildC.A.T.s #9
by Jim Lee

This cover made it on the list because it's again a homage to the Classic X-Men #19 cover by Art Adams. The characters are all facing us with very different body poses and power effects, but Jim does a great job of making the visuals unique and his own making this a strong cover.

WildC.A.T.s / X-Men: Golden Age
by Travis Charest

I love Travis' work and this issue combines my two super-team loves: WildC.A.T.s and X-Men. This cover (a variant...if I remember correctly Jim Lee had the 'A' cover) does a great job of implying a whole story––not something common for most super-covers. And while not as obvious as some other Struzan homages, this cover is more like a Drew Struzan movie poster in many ways than it is a traditional comic cover.

by Travis Charest

Re-launch #1

I mostly put this here because I loved that Wildcats came back, and that Travis was drawing it. But there are some artistic choices here that put it on the list. The negative space not feeling empty, the rendering on the characters feeling more polished and painted than comics at the time, but not so different to not read as a comic cover. Maul being small (a big strong guy type character most of the time), and Voodoo not being played up as a sex object were nice counter intuitive moves for the visuals.

by Travis Charest

While in the early 90's I loved Gambit & Grifter's trench-coats (I even wore one myself throughout high school) I was very glad to see the spy-tactical gear Grifter got in the Wildcats reboot. This cover is so cinematic you can feel it moving.

Gen 13 mini series #2
by J. Scott Campbell

Gen 13 was a big deal when it came out. Issues were selling out fast, and it was getting a lot of buzz as a series and successful spin-off of the Wildstorm characters. Because of that frenzy, I missed getting the first issue, and this one, issue 2 served as my introduction to the characters. J. Scott Campbell described himself as less of a Jim Lee clone and more of an Art Adams copy (something that endeared his work to me). The round corner inset reminded me of the Monkeyman and O'Brien promos on the first arc of Hellboy covers (which we will get to soon)

Gen 13 ongoing #3
by J. Scott Campbell

This cover makes the list simply because it exemplifies the fun of the Gen 13 series as well as makes no apologies for paying homage to a Drew Struzan style Indiana Jones-like movie poster.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 
Reprinting of #1
by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird

TMNT is the first comic series that made me want to be a comic storyteller. And while this wasn't the first Turtles comic I owned (I had the First Publishing color graphic novel that collected the first few issues) This was my first taste of seeing the brothers in black and white. The reprint cover summed up so much of TMNT that I loved: The rooftop fighting, the four turtles in red bandannas, and the debt of vengeance against the Shredder.  I re-created this cover in my sketchbook in middle school and got in trouble for drawing in class. I also love that this is a wrap around cover

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #11
by Kevin Eastman

As you may be noting a trend of wrap around covers in my favorites (after all, every issue of the main series of Mouse Guard has been a wrap around), I also enjoy this cover for how it handles the turtles as a background shape in partial shadow. I also appreciate how the journal pages (a narrative device in this issue) blow across the cover, separating April from everyone else.

Cursed Pirate Girl #3
by Jeremy Bastian

Oh how I love this cover. Jeremy's pirate designs are so wonderfully creative––part wonderland, part Hieronymus Bosch, part Albrecht Durer. Not only are the designs delightful (the pirate with a dagger for a nose, the fish-bunny, the kitten in the hair tie...) but so is the composition and the scale variances of the characters...all while Cursed Pirate Girl herself leaps safely out of reach. The Olympian Publishing issues had a really cool feature of the logo being hand stamped on each issue (this time in metallic silver).

Legends of the Dark Knight #54
by Mike Mignola

This issue is important because it's the pivot you can see where Mike Mignola is doing a Batman book, but while clearly doing a Hellboy story––but before Hellboy existed. The triangular composition with the Lovecraftian beast on the upper portion and Batman turning into a corpse on the bottom (a slow transition in the issue that is really creepy to watch progress). 

The Mazing Screw-On Head
by Mike Mignola

Beyond this comic being such a great one-shot kooky tale with a perfectly designed main character, the whole cover is an inset panel with a smaller inset panel of the rutabaga. Not knowing anything about this issue before picking it up (other than Mike did something new)––in fact, I though Screw-On-Head's noggin was a light bulb from the cover––all I needed was a character sitting in a victorian room of curious portraits and a victrola. 

Dark Horse 25 Years
by Mike Mignola

And speaking of objects. I adored this take on how to sum up so many characters & publishers from a single publisher. Sometimes it looks odd when an artist interprets other artists' characters. Not only did Mike get to avoid that potential pitfall, he captured the nature of these ideas being collected precious treasures. I enjoyed the idea so much that I used the concept for my short story collection 

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction #2
by Mike Mignola

When the 'LEGEND' line of comics from Dark Horse were announced via a Wizard Magazine jam cover I saw Hellboy (Though I didn't yet know his name) and told my local comic shop "I want to get the Red Guy comic when it comes out". Unfortunately, they didn't set one aside for me and I didn't discover the series until issue 2 was on shelves. So this was my introduction to Hellboy. I actually think this cover with Hellboy ensnared in tentacles is more powerful and series-explaining than the first issue's cover. And here is another inset panel, this time by Art Adams advertising his backup creator owned tale "Monkeyman & O'Brien.

Hellboy: Wake the Devil #2
by Mike Mignola

As often has happened to me, I somehow missed out on the first issue of this arc and had to buy it as a back issue later, making this my introduction into the arc. I love how striking Hellboy himself is on most covers, but he really catches your attention here. I'm also very fond of the little skull faced imp carrying the candelabra where the flames just trail upwards into smoke ribbons. The two birds in the lower right are what inspired my original take for the predators for Winter 1152, before Mark Smylie & Julia both convinced me that an owl felt more 'winter' than two raptors.

Hellboy: Wake the Devil #5
by Mike Mignola

I think this cover marks the first time we saw Hellboy with his full horns. Hellboy himself is so much in shadow but still reads so clearly against the black surroundings. I also love to see how artists deal with drawing atmospheric effects, things like flame, fog, smoke, light...I'm not sure what is pouring out from Hellboy's mouth as he becomes Anung Un Rama, if it's flame or light, or warm moke...but it trails so wonderfully the effect gets the point across.

Hellboy: The Corpse & The Iron Shoes
by Mike Mignola

I love the abbreviated way Mike draws the little fairies. This cover exemplifies my favorite kid of Hellboy story: The Folktale. I'm also a fan of the horizontal break and color shift where the logo goes to help really make the whole cover read without becoming too graphically stylized.

Hellboy: Almost Colossus #1
by Mike Mignola

I included this cover because of the background image. It's really hard when drawing your own characters & comics to draw something in that is meant to be a 2D image or drawing in that world. And I often look to how Mike draws paintings, frescoes, photographs, and other drawings within the world Hellboy inhabits for inspiration. Here the figure is just stylized in such a way (and with no shadows) to make it perfectly clear to the reader that it's an image on the wall behind him (and Roger). I'm also a sucker for heraldry and symbolic icon pieces for storytelling.

Hellboy: Almost Colossus #2
by Mike Mignola

Here is a different take on the Villain vs Hero cover. And it may seem like it's a stylized representation of power, except that in this story, Hellboy is fighting a giant homunculus–so the scale is real. Because the figures read so clearly, I also think this rarer use of white negative space for Mike fits perfectly in a way that a darker color or black would have only closed in on.

Hellboy: Conqueror Worm #3
by Mike Mignola

Part of why I put this cover up was that I just simply like it. I could dissect it and talk about the way Mike's design choices to get the forms to read while playing a light against dark back-and-forth, or how the stars are such cool shapes, or the skulls...but I think it's just because I like it.  

Hellboy: Conqueror Worm #4
by Mike Mignola

While this cover has so much going for it with Mike's artwork (Hellboy inset, Lobster Johnson, a castle, and a giant Lovecraftian Worm) I want to use this Hellboy cover to draw attention to Dave Stewart who colored it. The color on this cover is amazing and ties it together perfectly. The yellow to orange-brown shift on the worm, the slight purple grey variations elsewhere–so good.

Hellboy: The Island #1
by Mike Mignola

Another example of a white negative space Mignola cover. Something that almost seems like it shouldn't work, but it does so well here.  I think part of what is making it work is that Hellboy is facing away from us looking off into the vast nothingness–telling us a story in mood. When Hellboy was floating to the surface of the ocean in the story before this: The Third Wish, I thought he was dead (the magic nail that allowed him to breathe underwater was pulled out of his horn stump after all). And I thought this arc: The island was about Hellboy being dead and walking Valhalla. I was wrong.

Hellboy: The Island #2
by Mike Mignola

This cover is very dark, and marks part of Hellboy's death. This cover is almost an inverse of the first issue in this series–Hellboy looking towards us and into the blackness. These covers remind me how much you can do with so little in terms of location and details. I tend to put in every architectural and natural detail I can in a cover, but looking at covers like this help me to rein it in and make sure the cover reads. Coincidentilly, I picked up this issue at SDCC in 2005––the same trip where I showed Mouse Guard to Mark Smylie at Archaia and made the deal to publish with them.

Hellboy Christmas Special
by Gary Gianni

A Gianni cover that feels like a Victorian etching featuring Hellboy and Benedict (the character in the knight's helmet from Gianni's Monstermen series) by a mantle decked with easter eggs, as a corpse serves them a christmas turkey (or is it goose?) What's not to be influenced by?

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #1
by Mike Mignola

I always appreciate how Mike breaks up cover-space in a way that seems counter intuitive. Covers are traditionally huge signboards––a massive single image taking as much real-estate as possible to hit the reader over the head with a visual that gets them to buy the comic. Slicing up a cover into inset panels, or negative space, or shrinks your image's footprint seem like they should work against the artist. But Mike plays with shape and space so well he can cut off the bottom of his cover and do a spot illustration that breaks the 'panel' and works with the cover as a whole. Sure this is a great portrait of Hellboy and has some spooky villain and setting elements in the background, but I'm a sucker for anytime Mike draws animals.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #1
by Mike Mignola

Here's another example of that chopped space working so well for Mike. And while Hellboy riding horseback wielding a spear with a title like 'The Wild Hunt' is enough to get me into this arc...it's that wax seal for the Osiris club that is drawing me in––like the issue's contents have been sealed and mailed to me, and I'm part of a secret group getting to read them.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #2
by Mike Mignola

Oh, man, the skeleton king is so good visually. That crown atop the intact remains still armored...right up my alley. And Hellboy pierced with a broken spear all in blood-red forcing the undead figure into the background is some Dave Stewart genius (though I'm sure Mike gave some color direction on this piece)

Hellboy: The Storm #3
by Mike Mignola

Gruagach, the pig-man, is such a wonderful tragic character, and the way his detail fades off to the left works so well. I love how central and vertical the forms are, but that the bits that stick out (Gruagach's snout, Hellboy's arm & tail, the snake's head) all balance each other.

Hellboy: The Fury #1
by Mike Mignola

It should be pretty clear that I love Mike Mignola's work by this point in the list (and we still have two more of his covers after this one). I chose this cover because of how bold it is and how well it reads on the shelf. It's amazing that for such a static pose, Mike was able to get a lot of movement out of it with the tension in the figure and Hellboy's coat. And Hellboy's wide-eyed expression tells us a story. We don't know what he's facing down with that axe, but it's got his attention.

Hellboy In Hell #6
by Mike Mignola

I loved Hellboy in Hell so much. It was hard to only pick one cover. But I chose this one because of the rustic architecture, the puppets, and the playing cards. Such a great way to visualize the dream-state of chance that Hell became for Hellboy. I'm also a fan of the slouching shoulder tired looking Hellboy. He always had a worn weariness in character for me, even in the early issues...but the way Mike drew him towards the end, his frame matched his placid exasperation.

B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth #2
by Mike Mignola

I included this cover mostly because of how the inset panel is working. It's functioning more like the main cover, and all the area around it is like a background or a frame that supports the image, even though the ratio of space doesn't conform to conventional cover-layout logic...With all these covers I'm featuring and their inset panels, it's making me wonder why I haven't tried it ever in my own cover work...

B.P.R.D.: Plauge of Frogs #5
by Guy Davis

Guy Davis also played with the panel style design of covers in his run on B.P.R.D. I wanted to include this cover not just because of how visually alarming it is for a main character of the series to be harpooned, but also because it served as inspiration in the epilogue for Fall 1152 for how I'd draw & color a flashback panel depicting Conrad's death...and as Conrad was a mouse named by Guy, it felt right.

Locke & Key: Alpha #1
by Gabriel Rodriguez 

I was late to the game on collecting Locke & Key, so I was buying the collections and it was only in the last two arcs that I was able to follow issue-by-issue. Because I wanted to share the series, I actually gave away my Omega issues once the collection came out, but I kept this issue (Alpha #1) and the last issue of the series. Gabe's artwork is so inspirational..his architecture of course hits a soft spot for me, but his compositions, use of shadow, and his characters are all to be envied. This cover, while out of context in many ways, sums up so much visually about the entire 6 volume arc.

The Mask Returns #4
by Doug Mahnke

The Mask Returns is one of the first Non-Superhero comics I ever bought (with the exception of TMNT). This was a few years before the Jim Carey movie came out, and I loved how bloody and graphic, while still being a bit light-hearted the comic was. Doug's painted covers were a treat, and of the four from the run, this one always had the most impact for me: Walter in the pupil reflection, the blood splatter, the torn skin, and those shattered teeth–so good.


Thanks for indulging me to share these and comment on them. In the near future I hope to do another post of the Graphic Novel covers currently on my shelves.


johnpotten said...

Nice choices.. There are a fair few of those in my collection too :-)

Amrita Shukla said...

I really loved reading your blog. I also found your posts very interesting. In fact after reading, I had to go show it to my friend and he ejoyed it as well!

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