When asked what the best comic covers are, I think most people try to choose something by one of the classic artists: Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, etc. But for me there is only one choice: Bill Sienkiewicz. I first noticed his art on the Moon Knight comics I was buying from quarter bins when I was eight years old. He was the first comic book creator whose name I knew.
Moon Knight’s covers were composed beautifully, but the interiors still felt somewhat more traditional. When I discovered the The New Mutants (issue 18 to be specific), everything about it seemed amazing to me at the time, and still does. At the time I was just attracted to it, but there was nothing about it that I could articulate. Years later, it’s still my favorite cover. I can look through back issues of the time and it’s still incredibly striking.
At first all we see is on the cover of The New Mutants #18 is the character Danielle “Dani” Moonstar. A pretty First Nations woman, Dani embodies strength and charisma. Though the feathers and war paint she wears are clichés, they communicate Dani’s heritage in milliseconds. Sienkiewicz uses those feathers and her earrings as a directional tool, drawing the viewer’s gaze to Dani’s face. They’re stable and angular shapes while the “demon bear” behind her, which might only be seen after spending some time with the image, is the opposite. The bear’s maw is illustrated with frantic lines to offset Dani’s clean and centered face. Sienkiewicz indicates snow with splattered white paint and uses a cool blue in the background, again to contrast with the warm tones used in Dani’s face. Though stoic, Dani’s in danger of being consumed by both the elements (the snow) and the threat of something in the darkness (the demon bear).
In addition to producing a masterful composition, Sienkiewicz is an expert technician. Although some of his brushstrokes seem haphazard, it’s a controlled experiment and his use of both controlled and frenetic brush strokes is unmatched.
Sienkiewizcz’s brief run on The New Mutants changed the way I view comics and I still return to it for inspiration. The covers told a narrative without literally depicting a scene from the issue, which was common practice in superhero comics at the time. Bill Sienkiewicz paved the way for alternate ways of illustrating comics and inspired countless later artists, from Ted McKeever to David Mack.