Saturday, June 30, 2018

This & That: Our ...Somewhat Less Than Favorite Covers...

Redartz:  Hi folks! Not long ago we did a post about our favorite comic covers. In the interests of balance and full coverage, it seems natural to consider the other side of the coin: covers that, shall we say, didn't light our fires. And this is not to disrespect any particular title or artist; it's just that these covers failed the 'cover would make me buy it' test by a long shot.

First off:  This cover for Avengers Annual 10. For the most part, I like Al Milgrom's work, but this cover is just way too cluttered. All those panels, unevenly spaced. An overabundance of text certainly doesn't help. And this doesn't even address the "Columbia" banner across the top. As great as the interior was, the cover wasn't.

 Next up are two covers from Ross Andru, featuring the banner characters of each of the Big Two. As with Milgrom, I usually like Andru's work. At least, his interiors. Somehow, though, I always felt he lacked something when it came to his covers. On Superman, it just looks blocky- there were numerous such covers about that time. Kind of an uncomfortable viewing angle; good thing Supes wasn't turned a bit or we'd have gotten a Super booty shot. As for Spiderman 157, again we have some rather clunky figures; along with a flat background. Coming during the heyday of John Romita covers, seeing this from Ross was dismaying...

Turning to a couple of my favorite artists, here are examples that just go to show that nobody's perfect. Avengers 162 by George Perez? Not a bad cover, certainly. But as good as he usually is, this seems a bit unremarkable. And the action is difficult to follow; the composition seems rather scattershot. And Ultron looks a bit cartoonish, strangely.

 My other bronze age favorite: John Byrne, of course! But not because of this cover, I'm afraid. Byrne could do wonders depicting Ben Grimm, so what happened here? Fantastic Four 274 is the book, and our rocky friend Ben is the subject. But he almost gets lost amongst the rubble and bricks. Even the Thing's look seems off. Strange, as Byrne provided some fabulous cover art during this same era. Again, nobody's perfect.

Speaking of perfection, many folks would consider Jack Kirby the perfect comics artist. He's always the King in my book, but even he has some clunkers. This cover for Fantastic Four 78 always struck me as off; especially Ben Grimm's human face. That's quite a nose he's got there.  As for his later work, some of it was incredibly cool. However this cover for 2001 issue 2 looks like an ad for Max Factor mascara. Kirby could get pretty loose with some of his later drawing, but this cover was a bit too loose for my tastes. 

And how about this cover for Daredevil 69 by Sal Buscema? For one thing, that's a lot of prominent word balloons. Especially distracting against that black background. As for the art itself, Daredevil looks like he bulked up quite a bit. He almost resembles one of Carmine Infantino's famous DC apes. And it's a minor thing, but it bothers me: DD's mask has that sharp black shading, but the rest of the figure just looks flat...


And here are some more general cover comments. Photo covers can be quite effective: the classic cover to Submariner 7 for example: Namor looks amazing as John Buscema depicts him rising above the streets. On the other hand, this Spider-Man cover (from ASM 262) just looks a bit cheesy to me. Perhaps it's the combination of hand-rendered art and photography that works for me; the photo alone just lacks punch.

 Finally, this cover for Justice League of America 23 (2006 series) exemplifies one of my pet artistic peeves. Specifically, it has no sense of design. It's an over-rendered mess. Fine linework is great, but not when it gets totally lost in Too Much Detail. Everything in this cover mushes together visually, with the exception of the logo and Wonder Woman. And really, I don't mean to be critical, but it is a problem way too common with comic cover art in the modern era. This cover could have been more effective if, say, they took out half the characters and blacked out the background. Then you could actually make out individual figures and actions. It reminds me of my first year drawing class in college: what you leave out is as important as what you put in. 

Okay, I've pontificated enough. I'll turn the mike over to Marti; let's see what he's got for us...

Martinex1: Thanks for getting us started Red!  There are a number of comics that rub me the wrong way.  And it is not necessarily because the art is bad, some of my selections will actually be from some of my favorite artists who are definitely superstars.

Martinex1: My first choice in this rather dubious post is for Avengers #228.  Al Milgrom pencilled this piece.  I think the cover would have been one-thousand times better if he actually had Hank Pym in costume.  It is the "Trial of Yellowjacket " after all, and the cover can be symbolic if he doesn't wear his fighting togs in the story itself.  That choice really diminished the cover.  On top of it, I have never liked that Hank is very indistinguishable from Steve Rogers, Clint Barton, and Donald Blake when out of costume (which is probably why those characters are fully suited up in the background).  I believe this should have been corrected by editorial.  This cover just was not good enough.

Martinex1: I really admire John Byrne's art.  He is definitely one of my favorite artists of all time.   I know some people don't like his style, but I have always found him to be an enjoyable and clear storyteller.  I also think that many of his covers are iconic - just take a look at Uncanny X-Men #141 or almost his entire run of Fantastic Four covers.  It is a bucket list type dream to own original cover art from Byrne.  But I would not want to own one of these.  This particular FF cover does nothing for me.  I have commented before that I am really turned off by "civilian" covers when I am looking for super-heroes. It is of course rendered quite well, but thematically it does nothing for me.   This Alpha Flight cover is a miss for me also.  I think the extreme close-up works against the layout - it wants to be "in your face" but it comes across as strange and unshapely.  If he had pulled back just a bit, it may have been more effective.  Having said that though, it may not be the pencil art at all but rather the color that is off-putting.  The pink header does not work well at all against Sasquatch's orange fur and it actually seems to cut off the top of his head.  I am not sure if the whole thing would have looked better if the entire panel was orange.

Martinex1: George Perez is another favorite of mine.  But I have never liked covers that put the characters in a distant shot.  Covers should be bold in my mind; the characters should be larger than life. Something about the size of the characters diminishes the cover for me.  It would have been a perfectly fine internal panel, but for the "marketing" of a story, I thought this was a miss.  This cover is actually famous in a sense as it is well-known that the graffiti on the train car includes the names of many comic creators and co-workers from Marvel.  It is a novelty in a way, but I felt that the touching tribute to his peers actually minimized the action because he needed to pull back to use the space on the train car.   I am torn on this one, but it does not work for me and back in the day I delayed buying this issue from the spinner rack for a long time.

Martinex1: Bob Layton is just fantastic and he had an iconic run on Iron Man along with writer David Michelinie.  I like his work even more now as I have recently been looking back at his key run on the book. Layton also shares some of his work on Twitter, and I always check it our because it is fantastic.  This cover however always seemed rushed because of the strangely proportioned characters.  I know it is supposed to be a forced perspective to indicate the characters "coming at you," but it is just too much.   Wolverine's lower leg is much too large and Spider-Man looks fat.  It always strikes me as weird, like a fun house mirror version of the characters.  I don't like it.

Martinex1: Metal embossed covers never did anything for me.  I found it very hard to see the art.   The Avengers had an intermittent series of this type of cover during the Gatherers story arc.  I preferred the second print  or newsstand versions so that I could actually see the art.  Steve Epting and Tom Palmer were a great team, but I could not even distinguish the characters in the embossed version; the art was just lost.

Martinex1: Archie Comics and Harvey Comics are spectacular and we don't discuss them enough here. And I know you are going to say, "What?  How can you criticize this classic art?"  And I would respond that it is not at all the art that bothers me about these covers.  My beef with these publishers though is that I can never recall what is inside a particular issue because the cover does not tie to the stories.  There are old Archie tales that I remember so fondly.  A beloved cousin gave me a ton of Archie issues when I was little, and after losing them decades ago to childhood wear and tear I wanted to recreate the collection.  It is impossible  For the life of me, I cannot recall a single issue cover to try to source the comics.  I have absolutely no point of reference.  That was never true for super-hero tales back in the Bronze Age.

Martinex1: On the other hand, more modern comics have embraced the poses and poster shots for covers and I hate it.  Take a look at the comics below.  They may indicate what heroes are in the issue (maybe) but there is absolutely nothing about these covers that indicates anything about the story inside.  I really dislike that immensely.  In the future, any collectors will have the same concern with Marvel that I have with Archies and Harveys.  The embracing of these stock shots is misguided I think.

Redartz:  Marti, I so agree with your thoughts about those 'poster shot' covers. Once in awhile is fine, but almost every issue? No, give us some reference to the interior contents to entice us to buy. But hey, it's time for you all to chime in. What do you think about these covers we've chosen, and what covers can you think of that left you cold?


joecab said...

Milgrom. With all the subtlety of inking with a mop. :/

Edo Bosnar said...

Very much agree with many of these choices, but esp. Avengers Annual #10. What a mess. Also that Spidey cover with the photograph. I didn't like any of those covers with the cos-players on them.
However, I disagree with a few of these. I don't think the Andru or Byrne covers are all that bad - not their best work certainly, but still good enough. Also, I really like the cover to Captain America #246.

Mike Wilson said...

Yeah, I always preferred covers that have something happening, as opposed to just a glamour shot. The worst is when it's just a posed shot of a single character (or their head in close-up!) ... save that for the posters.

I don't like "fake-out" covers either, where a big name guest star is shown but doesn't appear in the story. It's like those movies where some big star gets top billing but is only on screen for two minutes.

I'm torn on photo covers; they have the potential to be great if done right, but rarely are. One I do like is Spider Woman #50, though it might just be the backstory I really love!

Humanbelly said...

TOTALLY agree with the group about the absurd and frankly stupid decision to make every cover of every issue of every comic a generic rip-off of low-end movie poster composition. It's the antithesis of what makes a comic book memorable. I would call it the "Liefelding" of covers-- as a remember an awful lot of late New Mutants then X-Force comics that went this lame, lazy route-- but there actually was a much earlier dabbling in this style. Late in the original Defenders run the title went through a BIG make-over, and was re-christened "The New Defenders" (IIRC), with mostly a new superteam, new writer, and (under-performing) new art team. Along with that, there was a decision to go primarily with Poster Style covers-- often paintings, in fact. VERY artsy, VERY moody, VERY little to do with the content of the comic. A comic which did not survive for too much longer, one might add.

It's actually kind of hard to pinpoint least-favorite covers, because a "bad" cover is likely to be a forgettable cover more than anything else, right?

I'm going to pick on the Avengers, though, 'cause they honestly had several covers that stuck with me as being quite bad-- covers that would make me NOT want to buy the book if I saw it on the rack:

#215 &#216-- the two-parter where Molecule Man truly takes down Thor, Cap, Iron Man, Silver Surfer, and. . . Tigra, and wants to keep Tigra for a pet? The story is quirky but kind of cool--- but both covers are flat-out amateurish. Awkward figures, cluttered, trying-to-hard, TOO MUCH BLACK--- really rushed-looking and poorly done.

#218-- Little kid putting a gun to his head in front of the horrified team. Just an awful, awful image, playing completely on a misplaced allegiance to "shock-value". The context revealed within doesn't matter a bit-- that's an image that has no business being on a comic book.

Al Milgrom's entire run on the title was a tough stretch of mostly-weak covers (w/ occasional really nice ones), but what has stuck with me for years is how the covers for #'s 247, 248, 249, and 250 all had such a dreary, uninteresting sameness to them-- in spite of being very busy, very cluttered images. It didn't help that they were largely covering an endless, pointless Eternals/Deviants wrap-up-that-title arc that had all the depth of a potato chip. The covers themselves were handicapped by a choice to go with an undetailed white background for three issues in a row. I literally couldn't remember if I'd already bought any of those issues already when they came out. . .

And-- that's plenty from my hyper-critical ol' self!


Comicsfan said...

The spinner rack was a wonderful thing, wasn't it, Martinex? You could change your mind about a book you'd initially passed on, go back weeks later, thumb through the racks past the newer issues, and more often than not the issue you wanted would still be there! (Maybe even a few copies of it!)

Humanbelly said...

Comicsfan-- one of my personal rules of thumb with spinner racks (when I was relatively flush with lawn-mowing or paper route cash) was that if there were ever three consecutive issues of a title on the rack at the same time, and I had even a remote interest in that title, I would pick them up. Picked up some DC Tarzans that way (Joe Kubert); Superman a couple of different times; got started on Conan that way(!); and I'm sure a couple of other try-outs as well. . .


Redartz said...

Mike W.- Good call on the 'cameo' guest star covers. One I did like, though, was that Fantastic Four cover with Dr. Doom on it, and Byrne holding a sign assuring the viewer that Doom isn't in the issue. Love a bit of humor...

HB- I forgot about that Avengers cover with the 'kid with a gun'. Definitely a low point on that title. And yes, spinner racks were a great place to try out different titles. Sometimes if you dug deep enough you could find some really old issues. There was a small pharmacy attached to my Opthamologist's office (really need those glasses as a kid). They had a spinner rack, and rarely switched their stock. One day after a checkup I went in and found Giant Size Chillers 1 with Dracula, and this was about two years after it came out!

William said...

Very late to the party here, but that atrocious Avengers Annual #10 cover definitely seems like a rush job (or an afterthought). Like they realized the day before it was going to print that they forgot to commission a cover for that issue, so they had to cobble something together at the last minute. (At least one hopes that's what it was).

Dr. O said...

Ha! I love covers like Avengers Annual #10's!

Of course, I wouldn't want them all to be that way, but one every year or so? I'll take it!

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