Welcome to the 4th, and final part of my series of the 100 Best comic book covers of the period 1980-present. The source of the majority of these covers is comics.org, so if you like a cover that you see, check out the rest of that series’ covers at comics.org. They’re probably just as good!
Palookaville #14 cover by Seth
There’s some kind of nostalgic warmth thing going on in a lot of Seth’s work. He draws a lot from classic New Yorker cartoonists such as Peter Arno, and there’s something homey about his linework itself. When you add his muted sense of color, and his great eye for hand-drawn lettering and design work, you’ve got an artist worth remembering. When I look closely, it seems that the young man in the center is the main character, because his eyes are the only ones looking out and observing. Everyone else is looking down , squinting, or has their face hidden by glasses. The scene is a vanished piece of the old days, and he is one of the few young faces in a group of old people.
Starman #24 (1994 series) by Tony Harris
I remember seeing this cover as a house ad in another DC comic, and how much it intrigued me. This cover has a great balance of abstract design elements and figures with expressions and postures specific to their personality. The art also feels like political propaganda art, without being specifically tied to one particular time or cause. The DC logo is nicely incorporated in the Art Deco frame, so this cover feels like a total piece of artwork, and not a piece of work with some logos and words slapped on.
Sandman #31 cover by Dave McKean
Sandman is very notable for the ways it made a big leap forward for comic book covers. It was unique in that the look of the covers changed from story to story, and though they kept the same logo, they felt free to play with it, and even move it from the top of the image occasionally. The covers didn’t all look the same, but they looked different than anything else on the stands. Dave McKean shifts his appearance more than a chameleon, but there are two prominent modes I’ve noticed: color rich work that’s full of glows and shadows, and stark, 2 tone nib pen-and-ink work with a lot of expressive wobbliness. This one fits in the second camp, and I love how the drawing shows lots of detail without sacrificing expressiveness. I really don’t want to kill he magic on this by analyzing it too much.
A Dave McKean fansite is here.
Sandman #57 cover by Dave McKean
This cover combines model-making photography and collage for a breathtakingly mysterious image. I don’t know exactly what the image is about in a literal sense, but it fits the mood of the story, in which ancient supernatural creatures come to collect on the bargains made with various characters. These creatures are the Furies, vicious beings so feared that they are only referred to as The Kindly Ones, when they are anything but kindly. The picture hints at that contrast with a mix of angelic innocence and sinister foreboding. McKean’s interest in model-making stems in some part, from the Czech stop-motion artist Jan Svankmajer, and this cover reminds me of very few other artists, but the illustrator Chris of Red Nose Studios comes to mind. The Red Nose Studio website is here.
Sandman #68 cover by Dave McKean
Okay, this cover has a lot more work on it done digitally, But i can’t quite tell where. And that rich red and gold color scheme is made even more rich by all the texture piled on this cover. That red drop coming out of the eye is a little unsettling, as well as the weird scale of the hand to the face. A lot of surrealistic art does this trick; playing around with faces and bodies in weird ways to create slightly (or extremely) uncomfortable effects. I also dig the design work on the frame around the Sandman logo for this storyline’s covers. That curvy design element behind the “SA” in sandman, is actually the letter S from one of the Emigre type foundry’s more experimental typefaces.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For #3 cover by Frank Miller
I’ve rarely been that interested in Sin City from a story perspective, because it just seemed too cartoony and over-the-top. Feel free to tell me how I’m wrong about that– I probably am. But I’ve never been able to deny that Sin City has some great Art. Sin City was a huge leap in a new stylistic direction for Frank Miller. For those that were paying attention, it couldn’t have been a complete surprise. When Ronin came out, it looked nothing like Daredevil, and after Ronin, The Dark Knight Returns was a unique artistic recalibration, that Frank has never returned to since. (Although a lot of that has to do with the presence of Klaus Janson, but I digress…) Anyway, back to the image at hand. This image is packed with great stark black and white contrasts, and great textures. The size relationships between Marv’s giant gun, giant hand and giant head are just pitch-perfect. He also does a great job of defining form by Shapes of Black and white instead of line, which is really one of his best tricks. The image (and the whole Sin City style) owe a lot to the great Argentinian cartoonist Jose Munoz (who had a series called Sinner. Hmmm….? ) and to a lesser extent, Hugo Pratt, of Corto Maltese fame.
The Sandman Presents: The Corinthian #2 cover by Dave McKean
This might be favorite Dave McKean comic book cover, in part because of how different it looks than his other covers. That massive painted title has to be the best logo ever seen on a comic book cover. The mask/faces at top have some great touches of Picasso to them, and the image as a whole has a great movie poster look, which is very evocative. It looks like some forgotten classic from the Film Noir period, or the Expressionist Silent Film school, or the Universal Monster movie period. Dave McKean can do great collage, and he can also do… this. Delicious.
The Silver Surfer#1 cover by Moebius
Is Moebius the greatest living artist to work in comics? Maybe. I love all the lines on this cover, I love the weight and solidity of the Surfer’s stance, I love how Moebius balances detail where its needed, and extreme simplicity where it’s not. The staging is great, and Galactus looks incredible. He looks like a warm, living, but dispassionate being, and instead of a Roman sculpture, he looks like some Toltec head. This series wasn’t bad either.
Spawn #1 pencils and inks by Todd McFarlane, colors by Ken Steacy
When I heard that Jim Lee had been named co-publisher of DC Comics, one of my first thought was that Todd McFarlane should have been named to the position. But, putting aside his business acumen, Todd McFarlane really knew how to draw. You can’t deny how dynamic and moody this image is. Todd knows how to play a little loose with anatomy, structure and perspective, and make it look great. Spawn looks like cross between Batman, Spider-man, Dr Strange, and a heavy metal wet dream. This also features some of Todd’s pioneering work with computer colorists (in this case Ken Steacy), an element of the production process that was soon to become the industry standard.
Spectacular Spider-Man #101 cover by John Byrne
Strong Black and White contrasts? Check. Figures defined by shape instead of line? Check. Dynamic perspective effects? Check. Spider-man in a pose that’s both characteristic and totally unique? Double check.
Starman #4 (1994 series) cover by Andrew Robinson
When I started adding Starman covers to the list, I thought I was going to add a bunch of Tony Harris covers. But these Andrew Robinson painted covers are even more awesome, and there’s more where these came from! Here he uses paint to create some great surfaces with more realism and weight than typical drawn comic book art. At the same time, it doesn’t look stiff or photorealistic. An artist with a similar knack for this kind of painting is Paolo Rivera, who I don’t think is included in this list. (Oh, the regret!) Mr. Robinson also composes a complicated group portrait, and makes it look effortless. The composition, and a few details, like the checkerboard pattern of the clown make me think of Bill Sienkiwicz, but I actually like this more than Sienkiwicz’s work in a similar vein.
Starman #77 (1994 series) cover by Andrew Robinson
Another great Andrew Robinson cover! This cover somehow straddles the line between painting and drawing techniques. The image portrays a selection of 1940s Golden Age superheroes, and captures their retro flavor without beating it into the ground. The color choices are great, and their relationships in the composition are so well worked out, I would really have a lot to talk about… if I knew anything about color. He uses a combination of circles and straight lines (not an easy task) to create a composition that leads the eye through the picture masterfully, and maintains a taut balance.
Superman #120 cover pencils by Ron Frenz, inks by Joe Rubinstein, colors by Patrick Martin
Superman breaking though chains is one of the 2 dozen or so classic Superman poses, even though its been 40 years since any character in a story actually put him into chains. Ron Frenz spins it a little bit by having Superman turned slightly away from the camera, and by the almost silhouetted color effect. The color gives a more contemplative vibe to the picture while the bright-colored S-shield and the expression on his face convey the basic joy at the heart of the character. The story in the issue was enjoyable, too. Superman spent his time asking his friends what they would do with his powers, and begins to question whether he’s able to be the inspirational figure that he wants to be.
Tangent Comics / Green Lantern #1 cover -pencils by JH Williams, inks by Mick Gray, design work by Rian Hughes
The series of covers from the Tangent re-imaginings of the DC Comics stable is one of my favorite batches of covers ever. It was hell finding a good scan, though. The masked and hooded character design is very appealing, and the burst of orange flame around her edges are very eye-catching. Rian Hughes brings some techno club flyer design to comic books, and I, for one, am grateful. Rian Hughes site ishere.
The Dreaming #15 cover by Dave McKean
The Dreaming was basically an unofficial continuation of the Sandman series, without the title character. The covers show Dave McKean at the peak of his digital art abilities. It’s partially due to an advancement in his skills, and partly due to to an advancement in technology. Here McKean does a few things that he really enjoys, using photographic imagery for the things that are supposed to be realistic, and letting paint just be itself, in all its colorful, textured glory.
The Dreaming #39 cover by Dave McKean
This collage-beast is incredible. I love the knives that make up the wing, and the watchworks that make up the shoulder. I’d kill for the ability to write like the calligraphy that says ‘The Lost Language of Flowers.’ The flower petals at the top are great, they’re delicate, subtle, and completely out of left field. I remember buying a small stack of the Dreaming issues just for the covers, and being soo disappointed by the stories.
Tantalizing Stories #1 cover by Jim Woodring
Apparently, Tantalizing Stories was an anthology book, that was split between the work of Jim Woodring and Mark Martin. This cover shows Woodring’s character Frank, an the parallel world he inhabits, in the context of a Halloween scene. The floating shapes on the left and the building in the background fully display Jim’s knack for fantastic architecture and compelling world-building. On top of that, the lighting and color show Woodring at his most evocative. Jim Woodring’s blog is here.
The One #1 cover by Rick Veitch
This cover takes what Pop Art did to comics and throws it right back. As a Design nerd, and a supermarket devotee, the Tide detergent box holds a special place in the heart for me, and I love this type of cover. I haven’t read this series, but this cover makes me want to. Rich Veitch’s excellent blog is here.
Uncanny X-Men #168 -cover by Paul Smith
Remember that last Paul Smith X-Men cover I showed you, and all the stuff I went on and on about? If you didn’t see the appeal of the artist on that cover, I sure hope you do on this one. The drama on this cover is pallpable, and boiled to dto the most basic elements. I love the stylized approach to Kitty Pryde’s hair, and the black-and-yellow original X-Men/New Mutants costume. Not a line is out of place. It also doesn’t hurt that the cover features Kitty Pryde, in my book, the most approachable of the many powerful X-Men heroines.
Uncanny X-Men #234 cover -pencils by Marc Silvestri, inks by Dan Green
This is a pose that I swear every single superhero artist knows, but Marc Silvestri does it really well here. The weird color scheme of green and blue and purple is working to great effect. There’s this weird mottled texture going on on Wolvie’s arms, and all those ripples in his neck, but when you get to that head… those teeth… Boy, is it creepy.
The Shadow #1 (1994 series) cover by Michael Wm. Kaluta
This cover is so packed with figures and details, that it doesn’t quite read clearly as a composition from a distance. There are a few things that do help it do read clearly, and those are the solid black of the Shadow’s costume and the bright red of his scarf –really, the only bright color on this cover. The drawing on this cover is lovely, but that’s to be expected from Michael Kaluta, one of my favorite pure draftsmen. With the exception of the Shadow, who stands in murderous calm, everything is frenzied on this cover, from the damsel in distress to the horde of malevolent Chinamen. I especially love the yellow-green glow effect on this cover that originates from The Shadow’s gun flash. The only bad thing is that I just realized that there’s a giant head in the background. It’s badly obscured by the logo. Mike Kaluta’s website is here.
Watchmen #4 cover by Dave Gibbons
All of the Watchmen covers are original and striking, but this is the one that stands best on its own. One interesting note about the covers to this series: The cover of each issue is also the first panel of that issue’s story. The image for this cover is sad and wistful, though if there’s anything wistful about the Dr. Manhattan character, it’s buried miles-deep under his dispassionate shell. That pink sand on the cover is the sand of Mars, people, and I can think of of few things harder to draw clearly than sand. Dave Gibbons pulls it with ink and color.
Yummy Fur #19 (1986 series) cover by Chester Brown
I don’t know what this cover is about, (I don’t have this issue) but I like it. The image is bold and mysterious, and the colors are surprisingly great for a black and white comic. One question, though… where is this guy’s left leg? Maybe its explained inside the issue. As a plus, the cover logo is not a piece of clutter, and is clearly drawn by the same hand as the drawing. Much of Chester Brown’s work is on sale at Drawn and Quarterly here.
Wildcats Version 3.0#9 cover -art by Dustin Nguyen, design work by Rian Hughes
Once again, we have another great cover that’s a fun collaboration with designer Rian Hughes. This time it’s not so much about the drawing, (which is very well done) as much as it the great concept. The militaristic hero Grifter (a Jim Lee creation) is presented as a paper-doll action figure, along with part of his extensive (!!!) arsenal. It includes pistols, masks, knives, rifles, and a rocket launcher. The yellow and red color combo is handled well, and the cover features what I assume are some of Rian’s own fonts that he’s designed. The yellow sidebar on the right is peppered with made-up logos, a nice sign of the influence of the Designer’s Republic.
The Winter Men #4 cover by John Paul Leon
John Paul Leon is a great artist, and his mature work doesn’t look as much like it’s drawn, as it looks like it’s carved out of hard blocks of ink. The Winter Men was a series set in modern times, and dealt with the aftermath of a Soviet super-soldier program in the 60s. It had hints of Watchmen, Red Sun, and Eastern Promises, and took forever to come out as a finished series. Here tow of the main character stand in front of a Constructivist poster, and take a moment to indulge their vices. There were other great Winter Men covers, but I love the Norman Rockwell-ish scene-setting quality of this one. John Paul Leon’s website here