What I’ve done here is combined 3 shorter guest blogs we hosted by Riley Rossmo, Chrissie Zullo, & Wes Craig – one and all great artists – into one post with all of them sharing their personal favorite comic book covers. I have original art from all 3 of them so I’m a big fan of their work and this was going to be a regular feature I did here but… lol the beach called and I went from semi-retirement to full blown retirement several years ago when I started querying artists for these pieces.
Also I’m super excited for Deadly Class on TV, Wes Craig’s art is sublime in that comic so people should go check that out if they haven’t already. Let’s get to it.
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 artist, from Ted McKeever to David Mack.
This is a really hard one to answer, I was surprised HOW hard. I don’t want to pick something TOO obscure in an attempt to be original, I just want to focus on what a comic book cover is really all about; which is A) standing out on the comic rack beside a hundred other covers, and B) something on the cover that makes you want to pick up the comic and read it. A lot of “runs” came to mind when I was trying to figure this out: Dave McKean’s run on Sandman, James Jean’s run on Fables, John Cassaday’s on X-Men, Frank Quitely’s on All Star Superman, and Frank Miller’s 300 covers. But at the end of the day I have to go back to what I initially said, and that’s what is the ONE cover that froze me in my tracks when I walked in to the comic shop? And I’d have to say that was Brian Bolland’s cover for The Killing Joke.
Bolland’s technical skill is amazing for starters, the simple use of bold color is also very effective, but the main reason is that the cover is interacting with the viewer, it uses a common experience: everyone’s had their picture taken, but this time it’s being taken by a sinister clown, his face is big and bold which also draws our attention, and when you read the story you realize how the cover is tied in to events in the comic, and the implication’s pretty creepy. “Smile.” Also it has possibly one of the best interior pages ever, so that seals the deal. It’s The Killing Joke.
To pick a favorite comic book cover isn’t easy– we’re bombarded with tons of new great images every week on the fronts of our favorite comic books. Even after I write this, I’ll go into my comic shop in a day and find just incredible artwork and new artists to look into on this weeks’ comics. So I’ll be biased this time, and pick a cover from one of my favorite artists, James Jean. To pick a favorite James Jean cover is a crime in itself, but his run on Umbrella Academy really stands together wonderfully as a set and beautiful individually. The covers were so narrative, and the characters had such personality, the world was so Mignola-esque. I loved the stylization and musical influence, you can tell Jean was having great fun working on these, and it showed through in the work.
Which individual is my favorite? I can’t really say, but probably the one hanging above my desk in my studio: the cover to Issue 2, originally a done as a teaser poster for the series. Why? To put it simply, sometimes things are just better in black and white. The graytones make your eyes really study the piece to see what’s happening here; no bright colors are going to draw your attention to one spot or another. You completely fall into this strange world with its cold sky, and then Jean reminds you that this is only a painting by having large drip strokes interrupt the landscape. The world is so believable yet unbelievable; the textures are so real, but the characters are stylized, yet we believe its world all the same, robed monkey and all. To dismiss this at a shop would be unthinkable, there is such story behind this that I am begging to read inside. Jean also has a habit of hiding little tokens in his covers, so that when you finish the issue you can close your book and give the cover a second look to better appreciate its small surprises (I didn’t even see the violin player the first time around). All these aspects make this a great cover, and a cover I never tire looking at.