The 100 Best Comic Book Covers -pt. 1

31 Jan

This is my list of the 100 Best Comic book covers from the period 1980-present.  One of the reasons that I chose a time frame instead of going for the best of all time is because the art of the covers, the methods of creating them, and the role that covers play has changed drastically over the history of the comic book industry.  Covers are mainly limited to comic books produced in the United States. There are a lot of striking covers that are homages to other comic book covers, or images from illustration, advertising, and fine art, but I made a rule to avoid those.  Rules, of course, are made to be broken.  The list is probably a little biased toward the 90s over the 80s, which can’t be helped, really seeing as I was born in 1983.

I tried to keep a number qualifications in mind: 1. Beauty -excellence in composition, color, technical drawing skills, and impact.  2. Situation -I tried to go for covers with a narrative quality that set up an interesting situation, rather than pin-up images that would work for any Batman cover, or any Spider-man cover.  At the very least, when I chose pinup-type images, I tried to choose images that did it in a fresh way. 3. Design -excellence in fonts, typefaces, lettering and other graphic design elements. 4. Expressiveness -emotional content, original approaches in mark-making, and quirkiness. 5. Unconventionality -In a word, comic book covers that don’t look like comic book covers. I didn’t limit myself to this kind of cover, but I made an effort to include all the good examples I could think of.  The covers are not ranked in order of greatness, and the images came mainly from comics.org, with a supporting role played by milehighcomics.com and some additional sites. So, without further ado… here we go!

Batman#404 cover by Dave Mazzuchelli

This is an image that comics fans have seen over and over, but it is done here with a most powerful and striking approach.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this image was the starting point for many of the similar images we have seen since.  Even though there are some reproduction issues with this scan, the strength of the composition and Dave Mazzuchelli’s spare, clean, ultramodern style shine through.  Extra points to Mazzuchelli for his stylish signature.

Batman #407 cover by Batman#407

Once again, Mazzuchelli’s clean, only-the-essentials style creates a great cover image showing a conflict between Jim Gordon and Batman before they were allies.  Especially striking is the way the black of Batman’s costume blends in to the black of the environment.  The tension of the figures, the foreshadowing, and the minimalism all combine to sell the idea that an athletic martial arts master in tights could hold his own against a man with a gun.  this image also show off the great logo that the Batman comic was using during this story-arc.

Heroes Reborn Iron Man #2 by Whilce Portacio and Scott Williams

The main point of the Hulk is that he’s big, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look bigger than on this cover.  It’s also hard to pull off to putting the title character in a prone position, but this ballsy cover does it right.  Look at the way Iron Man is spewing fire from his hands and his jet-boots.

Action Comics #810 by Dave Bullock

The art deco architecture, muted colors, retro costume, and the sheer joy of this image all combine for a win.

100 Bullets #20 by Dave Johnson

Does anyone really have to say anything about how good Dave Johnson is at making covers?  Here he combines paperback cover and exploitation movie poster techniques in a powerful way.  The figures are not held by line, but presented as a solid shape, defined by a series of darker shapes, and the color scheme is simple and brilliant, while the whole cover combines urban grittiness and retro appeal.

100 Bullets #13 by Dave Johnson

I love the intensity and scariness of the woman’s demeanor on this cover.  See how she’s been knocked around, but seems to be relishing licking her own blood off her hand, as she stands minutes away from her revenge.

1994 #13 cover by Jose Bea published by Warren publishing

I just happened across this image,and was struck by the unconventional color scheme, and the way this imaginative picture straddles the line between collage and a straight picture.  I also enjoy how it remakes the classic woman-at-his-feet type of Conan the Barbarian image (reprised in both the covers of both Army of Darkness, and National Lampoon’s European Adventure) in a slightly less chauvinistic way.  By the way, that blocky, futuristic 1994 logo still looks great.

Acme Novelty by Chris Ware

No one in comics is a better graphic designer than Chris Ware, and this typographically stunning image comes closest to the tour-de-force that was the cover of the hardcover Jimmy Corrigan.

Action Comics #738 by Stuart Immonen inked by Jose Marzan Jr. colored by Glen Whitmore

I actually liked the blue-costumed Superman, but this was the only great cover from that period.  Stuart Immonen makes the most of this method of defining faces by shadow.

All Star Superman #12 pencils, inks and colors by Frank Quitely

A great cover by the definitely idiosyncratic and always methodical Frank Quitely.  This cover combines the best elements of his series of All Star Superman covers.  Some of them were iconic, some of them were narrative pieces, this one was both.  As a bonus, the reversal of Lex Luthor using superpowers and Superman using science, is great.

Amazing Spider-Man #278 cover by Mike Harris

The small figures, with a large shadow is executed brilliantly, creating an image of high drama.  I also enjoy how the lettering is integrated into the image in a non-hackneyed way.

American Century 17 by Jim Silke

I don’t know a lot about this series, other than it was written by Howard Chaykin and that is was about politics and crime in the 50s/60s period and the stories spanned North and South America.  But man, that cover is great!  I love the personality conveyed by the character, and the sense of chill the image puts across.

Astro City #4 by Alex Ross

Alex Ross uses the medium of paint to do something that just couldn’t be done in the same way by pen and ink.  The image conveys a great sense of wonder and hope, and focuses attention on ordinary people, one of the the things that the Astro City series does best.

BPRD 1946 #3 by Mike Mignola

Mike Mignola is a brilliant stylist and a unique draftsman.  The white space of the owl’s wing attracts the eye, and grounds the composition of this atmosphere-drenched image.

Bacchus #55 by Eddie Cambell

Eddie Cambell uses paint in a manner that’s unique in comics, and here he uses it to create an unusual image, one that has a gag cartoon quality, and bewilders the reader.

Batman #576 cover pencils and inks by Scott McDaniel, colors by Roberta Tewes

Okay, this one may be kind of a gimme, since I have a personal soft spot for Scott McDaniel’s art.  But I love the Spider-Man-esque position of Batman’s legs, and the one bizarre color choice that was made.  This one also uses the trade dress that Chip Kidd designed for the Batman books.

Birds of Prey #40 by Phil Noto

Phil Noto is a big fan of the illustrator Robert McGinnis, who illustrated Bond girls on several James Bond posters, but here, he goes for a bachelor-pad meets Blue Note Records kind of look.

Birds of Prey #43 by Phil Noto

I couldn’t just include one of Noto’s covers in this style.  Plus, that eye is hypnotic.

Brat Pack #1 by Rick Veitch

This is a slightly disturbing cover image, but it’s also a really great drawing. It depicts a Robin-like sidekick character shaving his legs in the bathroom.

Captain America #6 by pencils and inks by John Cassady, colors by Dave Stewart

This is a stirring, design oriented cover for the Marvel Knights Run of Captain America.  Dig the way that the star on Cap’s shield perfectly aligns with the stars on the background.  There are a lot of cool design things you can do with American Flag imagery, but there are also a lot of ways it can go wrong.  This cover pulls it off.

Chase #6 cover- pencils by J.H. Williams III, inks by Mick Gray, colors by Lee Loughridge

This cover is a take-off on the Thanksgiving dinner image  “Freedom from Want”, from Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series.  (It’s a much copied image) What raises this image above the crowd for me is the slightly creepy presence of a black masked superhero at the head of the table.  Well, that and the compounded sense of unease from the man outside the window.  This cover has stayed in my memory.

Daredvil #180 pencils by Frank Miller, inks by Klaus Janson

There is a lot of appealing chunkiness to the art of this cover.  Frank Miller, a great artist for ideas, composition, and texture, paired with Klaus Janson, a great artist for anatomy, and structural drawing skills.

Defenders #128 by Kevin Nowlan

I love the texture on this cover, the positioning of the characters, and the overall moodiness.  When I started this series, I had no idea that a Defenders cover would make the list.  The variety of character faces definitely doesn’t hurt.

Demo #11 cover -pencils, inks, and colors by by Becky Cloonan

I had another Becky Cloonan cover from Demo I wanted to include, but I had to cut it.  This one won out for its great sense of character -from the faces to the body language to the clothing.  Its definitely a great example of building a scenario, and the visual rhythm of the repeated items in the grocery store is an effective and unusual element for a comic book cover.  The polychromatic yet slightly desaturated color scheme, when combined with the Brian Wood design work at the top, is also nice.

Detective Comics #761 cover by Dave Johnson

If you’re an artist, covers like this make you hate Dave Johnson.  How can he be that good?

Matthew Jeske, who compiled this article and runs this blog, is an illustrator and graphic designer who lives in Northern Illinois, USA.  His business website can be found at www.matthewgraphicdesign.com

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10 Responses to “The 100 Best Comic Book Covers -pt. 1”

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  3. jeff May 15, 2010 at 9:26 am #

    I actually enjoyed reading through this write-up.Thank you.

  4. Ton Press September 12, 2010 at 5:35 am #

    What a great list. I am always on the look for top lists, and your list is great starting point. Lists are very useful.

    Well, this is my first visit to your blog! But I admire the precious time and effort you put into it, especially into interesting article you share here!

  5. Camoron February 14, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    A decent list, but I think a comic book cover should tell a story or draw your attention and make you want to look inside. Some of these covers had perfectly fine art but they didn’t tell any sort of story or provoke me to care about the book’s contents, such as the Doctor Strange one, for example.

    • the captain August 18, 2014 at 1:01 am #

      These are not an overall 100 but are indicative of the author’s limited worldview re:comics. Silver age, bronze, etc.?

  6. Faisal J. June 1, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

    Reblogged this on That Dark Alley.

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