Here’s part 3 of my series on the best 100 comic book covers from 1980-present.
Hellboy: Darkness Calls #4 cover by Mike Mignola, colors by Dave Stewart
It’s hard to pick one particular Hellboy cover for a list like this. There’s something about Mike Mignola’s artwork that sticks in your head, so that you remember things that aren’t even in the picture. He also likes to draw the same things over and over, to the point that all his covers can start looking the same. Mignola is like the Ramones or AC/DC in that regard (which I mean to say that he can repeat himself, and I don’t care because he’s still GOOD.) What can I say about this… it’s Hellboy and what looks to be Vlad Tepes the Impaler. Vlad has all kinds of cool design stuff going on with his costume, there’s a bunch of skulls, and some classic color combos here. It works, and there’s just about nothing out of place on this cover.
Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #8 cover by Mike Mignola, colors by Dave Stewart
Okay, this cover kinda makes me take back what I said about Hellboy covers. It feels a little unique, probably because it avoids the color trick that most Hellboy comics use, namely, having the character’s red skin be the one bright color in a world of black, browns, and dusty yellows. It’s not just the way Mignola draws things that makes his work interesting, but the unique things he finds and chooses to draw. That’s unusual for a comic book artist. He has a great eye for relics and interesting trinkets. This cover is filled with textures, both visual and atmospheric. Hellboy looks as worn and pockmarked as the statuary, despite the light in his eyes that betrays his living status.
Hate #5 by Peter Bagge
Peter Bagge’s art is the polar opposite of the art in the rest of this list; it’s cartoony to the bone. When I first saw his work I pretty much hated it. I’ve learned to appreciate the way his art fits the stories he tells, but this cover blows away the need for any disclaimer. It’s expressive, compelling and a striking composition. The Hate logo, which is great normally, is crammed with cartoon-figures here, which is a nice nod to Mad magazine.
Heavy Metal vol. 10 #3 cover by Enki Bilal
Heavy Metal has an interesting place in comics. The magazine is the American version of the French comic Metal Hurlant (english: Screaming Metal) a magazine that’s comparable to a mainstream Zap Comics, the New Wave science fiction of the seventies, or the Image Comics explosion of the nineties. The French pedigree is unshakable but the American version became ‘Winged Naked Chicks Monthly’, and was tellingly owned by National Lampoon. In spite of that, it was still the home of some great European comics art, like this cover by Enki Bilal. I don’t know exactly what’s going on with the naked man and woman hanging out with an Egyptian god in the ruins of a decrepit apartment, but I like it. Bilal uses a fair ammount of texture on this image, which creates an effect somewhere between that of a drawing and a painting. He also makes good use of some light/dark contrasts to make the pale woman pop out from the background.
Hellblazer #38 cover by Kent Williams
Hellblazer is an interesting book, as far as covers go. There seems to be a rule that if you’re a British writer working in American comics, you have to do a stint on Hellblazer. And if you’re an interesting artist that specializes in covers, you may have to work on it as well. They’ve had Dave McKean, Kent Williams, Glenn Fabry, and Tim Bradstreet on this book. whew! I love this cover: the texture, the shadows, the spooky figure lit from below, and the jumble of blood, guts and viscera that skirts the line between being clear-cut and abstract. I also love the red drippiness and the fact that it reminds me of a certain album cover by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Hellblazer #56 cover by Glenn Fabry
Glenn Fabry is the best at what he does, and what he does is paint ugly things. I mean that as a compliment! Since much of his cover work has been on books rooted in horror and shock value (Hellblazer, Preacher) it all kinda works out. When I think of his work, I think of the tanned, cancerous, sun-baked skin of the people he draws. Here that weird Fabry skin is dialed down a little and used as part of a dramatic composition.
Hellblazer #176 by Tim Bradstreet
I have vivid memories of being drawn to Tim Bradstreet’s series of Hellblazer covers when I saw them on the stands. When I was looking through those covers for the list, I found that the drawings were still great, but the compositions didn’t hold together as well as I thought. This cover is the exception. The arcs and circles are good motif to use for a change of pace on the comic racks, and for once, Bradstreet misses a chance to draw someone in a trench coat!
Impulse #20 pencils by Humberto Ramos, inks by Wayne Faucher, color by Tom McCraw
I fell in love with Humberto Ramos’s style in the first place I saw it, and that was in the Impulse comic book. I loved the sheer bigfoot/cartoony/manga-flavored essence of it, and how it still managed to be dynamic and comic-booky. I also loved the way he drew hair! He uses a classic off-center composition here and plenty of minty-clean white space. Once again, art with a sense of humor makes a rare appearance on the list. (P.S. Read the back cover!)
Incredible Hulk #77 cover by Lee Weeks, color by Edgar Delgado
Lee Weeks, a great straightforward action cartoonist, draws a classic image of the Hulk, with a freshness that belies the fact this type of image has probably been done twenty times before. The atmospherics (the rain and lighting) are done with verve and aplomb.
Iron Man #77 cover by Adi Granov
Here Adi Granov uses his smooth metallic style to good effect, making the most of contrasts between dark and light. He uses a static image of an unmasked Iron Man to convey the nature of his character and his emotional state. Also: check out the chair that Tony sits in. I want that chair.
Justice League International #18 pencils by Kevin Maguire, inks by Joe Rubinstein, colors by Gene D’Angelo
This kind of image is soo much better if you know the characters and the story, but if you do, its great to see it on a cover! Guy Gardner, as a character, fluctuated between lovable jerk and insufferable brat, and its so very gratifying to see him on the losing side of a confrontation with Lobo. Kevin Maguire works hard to reminds us that no one else can draw facial expressions like he can.
Love & Rockets 82 series, # 33 cover by Jaime Hernandez
This is a great simple composition idea from Jaime Hernandez (aka Xaime), my favorite of the Hernandez Brothers. I love how he can create a whole line of distinct individual cops through minimal means. They all have different heights, different shapred bodies and different dhaped faces. I don’t have my Love and Rockets Book in front of me, so I can’t remember if that’s Maggie or Hoopey, and who the other girl is. Anyway, the two of them look great and Jaime takes a fine snapshot from the world of ’80s California Hardcore.
Marvel Comics Presents #77 cover by Barry Windsor Smith
It’s a bit bewildering that BWS, one of the most elegant artists in comics, a guy who’s enamored with the Pre-Raphaelites, would create on of the great Wolverine stories of all time. On this cover he makes the original move of stressing the smallness and solitude of Wolverine. The background is delineated beautifully, and Wolverine still carries a sense of power, danger and strangeness, in spite of (because of?) being naked in the snow. (As an aside, naked Wolverine just makes me think of Brock from the Venture Brothers –and laugh)
Marvel Fanfare #7 cover -pencils by Joe Barney, inks by George Freeman
I love this cover of Hulk being attacked by two villains for its sheer oddness, and that great pop-art swirl of color. The Marvel Fanfare logo is also reacting to the action of the scene, and doing it in a way that’s not a cliche.
Love and Rockets, 2000 series #6 by Gilbert Hernandez
And here, we have a Love and Rockets by the other primary contributor to Love and Rockets, Gilbert Hernandez. This cover is bright, loud, bewildering, and completely alive with sheer cartoony joy. This cover screams to be noticed.
Marvel Comics Presents #95, Wolverine variant by Sam Kieth
If you buy this comic, hold it carefully. You might just get testosterone stains on your hands. The shirtless, hairy, ripped figure of Wolverine stands defiant holding a rifle. Awesome. Sam Kieth might just be the comics’ greatest expressionist. There’s a adolescent male mentality in a lot of his work, and it’s great.
Marvel Comics Presents #106, Ghost Rider variant by Sam Kieth
The Ghost Rider hero, as a concept and a character design, is simultaneously great and stupid. Here Sam Kieth makes him flat-out rad, drawing him like a 2000 AD artist would. Dr. Strange looks great too, with miles of voluminous cape.
Phonogram: The Singles Club #2 cover -by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matthew Wilson
Here we have another great design-oriented cover. The cover works great from a far away, but then when you look closely, you can see the girl in the eyeball, so its working well on multiple levels. Jamie McKelvie has a very simple, clean and razor-sharp style, and its working well here, with some great typeface and color choices. It looks like an album cover or a club flyer, which is perfect for the music-themed series.
Marvels #3 cover by Alex Ross
My favorite cover from my favorite Alex Ross series. For once, the Silver Surfer, actually looks like he’s made out of silver, with the Human Torch reflected on his chest. The Surfer is not so much muscular as he is sculpted, with a face that makes him look like a dispassionate Greek god.
Optic Nerve #11 cover by Adrian Tomine
Adrian Tomine has superb draftsmanship, without a having a line or hair out of place, even if his characters do. Here is one of the great design-oriented covers from the Shortcomings story, and this one in particular strikes a nice balance between emotion and restraint.
The Punisher #22, 2004 series -cover by Tim Bradstreet
This is one of Tim Bradstreet’s great tough guy covers. The Punisher is completely unfazed as he leaves the scene of his latest massacre. The image is perfectly framed to tell a story, even if the scan here is a little darker than it should be.
Uncanny X-Men #167 by Paul Smith
Paul Smith is a great clean and minimal artist, and the closest match to the idea of Jaime Hernandez working in superhero comics. This image works great as a group portrait of the X-Men, and also as an emotional image showing the team reacting to the state of their fallen mentor. Kitty Pryde’s costume is awful, though.
Queen & Country #20 cover by Carla Speed McNeil
This cover is a good companion to one of the 100 Bullets covers earlier in the list. Tara Chase is a little beat-up, tougher than Clint Eastwood, and ready to mess you UP. You can feel the grit on this cover.
Runaways #18 cover by Marcos Martin
This cover is a great picture of the Runaways cast playing around without a care in the world. It’s the perfect counterpoint to the impending doom spelled out by the cover’s tag-line at the top. On top of that, the unsettling combination is neatly reflected by the tilted camera. Boy, can Marcos Martin draw.