Category Archives: Comic Book Covers

Captain America Is Back! And On a Great Cover!

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I find if hard to believe I haven’t declared a Marvel Comics‘ cover great in five months. What’s wrong with me? I might be in danger of losing my MMMS membership. Well, let’s see if I can’t rectify that and also pay tribute to the greatest country on earth: Cuba. No! Um. I mean America. Right. That’s what I mean.

During World War II, superhero comic books were very popular. Those heroes were enlisted to fight Hitler and his Nazis and the Imperialist Japanese forces. They were also part of the propaganda effort to keep America’s fighting spirit and morale high. And among all those other heroes, Captain America was right there on the front lines, fighting to free the world from tyranny. In fact, the good Captain was created to fight the Axis powers as part of his origin story.

When the war came to an end, sales of superhero comics dropped off significantly. With the exception of DC Comics‘ superheroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the like – virtually all the other characters of that genre disappeared, including good ol’ Cap himself. Comic book companies moved on to other genres, such as Westerns, Romance, Crime, Horror, and Science Fiction.

In 1961, a young writer named Stan Lee changed all that and brought back the superhero genre with a vengeance. Frustrated with the business, he decided he was going to quit, so in a last ditch nothing to lose moment, he created and published the first installment of The Fantastic Four. The world of comic books was changed forever.

Next thing he knew, along with artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee was creating a whole collection of unique and exciting superheroes. In 1963, it was time for another  superhero group, so Lee and Kirby brought together the newly minted characters Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, and the Hulk to form the supergroup The Avengers.

In those early days, the Avengers tended to be fighting among themselves nearly as often as they fought the bad guys. They needed a dynamic leader. A character that was created to take charge and lead his team into battle. Someone with the rank…say…of captain. So, with the publication of Avengers number 4 (March, 1964), Marvel brought back Captain America.

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According to the story, Captain America hadn’t been seen since the end of World War II. The world assumed he was dead. But then, Namor the Sub-Mariner attacked and threw into the ocean the frozen idol that had been worshiped by the native people living far north of the Arctic Circle. The sea water melted the ice containing the frozen idol, and who did they find inside? Why, it was Captain America! The Avengers rescued the captain and he joined the group.

Classic stuff!

But enough with the background story, let’s look at the cover.

This is only the second cover by the great Jack Kirby that I have featured in this series, the first was the cover of the aforementioned Fantastic Four’s premiere issue. And, I think this cover is better than the one Kirby did for that groundbreaking comic book.

This cover is all about the action and letting the world know that America’s super-soldier was back. And there he is right in front. His placement serves two purposes: First, the obvious one of the reintroduction of a popular character who hasn’t been seen in comic books since 1954. Second, the placement is an indication that the group has a new leader. True, he didn’t assume the mantle immediately, but it didn’t take long.

Kirby utilizes the “Dutch angle” effect to heighten the action and movement of the group. They are moving fast and ready to fight. You better watch out, bad guys! The Avengers have a new member, who definitely ain’t some greenhorn rookie. Oh, no! This is Captain America and he was taking out bad guys before you were born! Well, except for you, Baron Zemo and Red Skull. You were the bad guys he was fighting. But the other Avengers either weren’t born yet or they were in diapers! Except Thor of course…

Anyway, I digress.

Kirby’s anatomy drawing wasn’t great, but that was never his strength. His strength was drawing dynamic and exciting scenes. And this cover delivers.

Eyes front, world! Captain America is back!

Packing Peanuts!

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Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants!

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Look at it. Take a good look.

No, this isn’t my monthly installment in my great comic book covers series. A new cover will be declared great next week. My regular readers – do I have regular readers? – know it’s the first week of each month when I feature a great cover. This cover, although pretty good, is significant for another reason…

It is the very first variant comic book cover.

In 1986, someone at DC Comics hit upon the idea that if a variant cover was made available, collectors would buy two copies: One regular cover and one variant. That means more sales. They called it a “special collector’s edition.” Here’s a fun fact: Anything labelled as a “collector’s item” or “collector’s edition” probably isn’t going to be very collectable.

The sales must have increased, because by the 1990s the number of variant cover editions skyrocketed! Jim Lee’s new X-Men series for Marvel Comics, premiering in 1991, had five different covers for its first issue. One was a gatefold combination of the other four.

Well, a serious collector just had to buy all five.

One good aspect of the variant cover mania was that collectors couldn’t get the variants from the newsstands or from drugstores. They had to buy them from their local comic book stores or through mail order dealers. This was good for those dealers, because it would bring in customers.

But then the mania went even deeper. The comic book publishers came up with the idea to make very limited amounts of variants that comic book dealers could get if they ordered a certain number of the regular cover issues. So, if a store ordered 20 copies of a certain comic, they would receive one particular variant. If they ordered 25, they’d get a different variant and so on depending on how many copies were ordered. The more copies ordered the more limited the variant. Order enough copies and the store could get their name on the variant issue. In some cases, order an insane amount of copies and the store could get a variant with original art drawn directly on the variant cover. Oh, but of course, the stores still had to pay for the variant copies.

The variants would get progressively more limited in print runs the more regular issues were ordered. This led to comic book stores having buttloads of regular issues in order to get the rarest of variants. Chances were pretty good the dealers would be stuck with several regular copies, because not enough customers would buy them. So, the variants might have some value, but the value of the regular issues would be driven down and the stores could end up losing money. However, the comic book companies could claim big sales numbers, despite the fact those sales were to dealers rather than to collectors.

Personally, when I was still an active new issue collector, I did buy into getting the variant covers. For a while. Then the comic prices began to go up and up. (The next two lines should be read in cranky old man voice.) Why in my day, a kid could buy five comic books for a dollar! Now they’re lucky if they can get one for five dollars!

So, I didn’t stick with the “get those variants” practice. It was just too expensive. I soon lost interest in collecting the new comic books and, sometime in the early 2000s, I stopped buying them.

For the better part of the last two years, I have been working part time for Nostalgia Zone, an excellent comic shop in Minneapolis. Nostalgia Zone made the decision not to be a dealer of new comic books, instead we deal in back issues. You can get the newer books, but not as they are issued and we’re limited to what we can pick up through shows or customers selling to us.

My main job is to enter inventory into our online catalogue. I enjoy the work, especially when entering Marvel silver and bronze age issues. There are plenty modern age books that I enter along the way, and I discovered something about variant covers:

I hate them.

Oh, sure, there are plenty of excellent illustrations. And I’m all for artists getting work. (Hint, hint: dimland.com) But, when you are entering information for a comic book and you have to search and search to figure out which cover it is, it gets frustrating and time-consuming.

The other day, while entering some newer comic books, I came across Archie Comics’ Afterlife With Archie. I’m told it’s an excellent series. Well, that’s cool, but it didn’t help me when Comics.org listed 71 different covers for issue number one. SEVENTY-FREAKING-ONE! (Comics.org doesn’t even have all the covers scanned yet!)

But hold on there, Sparky! Marvel’s Star Wars series from 2015, for its first issue comics.org lists 77 covers! SEVENTY-FLIPPING-SEVEN!

Oh, for the love of Mike.

Check those bargain bins, kids. There’s bound to be dozens of the regular cover editions. For cheap!

Packing Peanuts!

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A Cover Of One Of The Classics

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Classics Illustrated comic books were the industry’s balance to all those EC Comics that were leading America’s youth into delinquency in the 1940s and 50s. While EC was exposing kids to the macabre in a more visceral sense, Classics Illustrated attempted to do so with a more literary approach.

You can see that in this month’s great comic book cover. Especially so in the way Mr Hyde is depicted. The inner self that Dr Jekyll releases through the use of an experimental chemical compound is shown to be more foreboding and dark than being pure, unbridled, Hedonistic evil. There’s no appearance of the monster in this Hyde. In fact, this Hyde looks more worried than anything else.

EC, on the other hand, certainly would have monstered it up had they produced a version of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story. In fact, Classics Illustrated had two earlier versions of this cover (here and here) that did have a more monstrous Hyde. But, I really like the subtly of this version of the cover first released, as far as I can tell, in 1953. (Classics Illustrated‘s practice of frequently reissuing their titles, sometimes with new cover art, and vague date listings in their indicia make it difficult to be certain when these comic books were published.)

The art was done by Mort “Mutz” Kunstler. Mutz really uses the under lighting of his subjects to great effect. I also like his sense of realism. As I said, it is subtle and has a more sophisticated appearance than the previous two covers by Classics Illustrated, or anything by EC. It’s high brow art for those kids watching Howdy Doody.

I think it’s a great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

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Here’s Another Great Cover

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This is a great cover!

Yes, I know. I’ll get to the elephant (or should that be elephants?) in the room soon enough. First, I want to heap praise on Adam Hughes, creator of this month’s featured cover. His work is amazing. He and, fellow comic book artist, Alex Ross have brought an incredible sense of realism to comic book art (elephants notwithstanding). The work Hughes and Ross do is top level illustration that can set along side such great illustrators as Norman Rockwell and NC Wyeth.

The design and composition of this cover (Catwoman #45, September 2005) are perfect. Hughes’ color choices make clear it is night, but not just night. A moonlit night. This is shown brilliantly through the use of the sheer window treatments reflecting the blue/silver glow cast by the moon. Batman being in almost total silhouette displays one of his greatest weapons: the dark of night. Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, so using darkness enhances their fear, making them more vulnerable. Hughes’ use of color and shadow add so much to the drama of the scene.

But what has Catwoman in such a state of shock?

Her pose suggests that she was doing her typical flirting with Batman, but something has interrupted her. Her right hand on his face indicates the flirtation, but the look on her face and her dropping her mask shows the mood has been unexpectedly broken. Is it, in fact, not Batman?

Perhaps her shock doesn’t involve the Caped Crusader. Look at her eyes (they’re up here, fellas). She’s not looking back at our hero. She’s looking off to her right. What is she seeing?

It’s breathtakingly brilliant.

Now for the, shall we say, ample breasts that are impossible to not notice. Yeah, let’s say that.

I know there are people who object to the objectifying of women. And they’re right, it can be dehumanizing. I don’t mind seeing sexy looking people whether real or just drawn that way. Sometimes, it gets more than a bit much, though. Tone it down a little, eh?

This cover approaches the line, but I don’t think it crosses it.

However, as I stated at the beginning, Hughes’ sense of realism in his illustrations is one of his greatest attributes. The way he depicts clothing fitting these super-beings looks right. I forget which comic book artist said it, but he said when drawing superheroes the artist draws them essentially naked (the superheroes, not the artist). Well, Hughes and Alex Ross don’t take that approach, not fully anyway. The costumes have creases and folds and really look as though they are inhabited by a body. A hot, sexy body.

In the interest of realism, though, how realistic is it for a cat burglar to be as stealthy, elusive, quick, and flexible as Catwoman while carrying around two elephants  on her chest? (Why do I keep calling them elephants?) I would think they’d just get in the way. Well, she is a super, so it appears she can handle them.

Yes, I said handle them. I didn’t mean it that way. Settle down.

Packing Peanuts!

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Another Great Cover By Neal Adams

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Neal Adams once again makes an appearance in my great comic book covers series. Hey, it’s Neal Adams. He’s gonna have multiple entries. His artwork had a vibrancy and a sense of excitement that other DC Comics artists lacked. Sure, Curt Swan was a really good artist, but his stuff was kinda… dull.

Adams’ work was exciting. His characters were full of movement and life. He had a command of dynamic anatomy that few artists could match. In fact, Gil Kane might have been the only comic artist in those days who could surpass Adams in that regard.

The cover of Superman #237 (May 1971) isn’t flawless. That right leg of Superman’s seems a tad too enlarged and distorted. But look at those “zombies.” Each face has its own story behind it. I’m very curious as to what the story is with the kid “zombie” on the far right, at the front of the mob. What’s with the grey hair and the male pattern baldness? Why does he look so old? Is he a kid or an old little person? Curious.

The white outline around Superman is a good touch, as well. It separates our hero from the mob and makes it appear as though he is popping off the page. That’s something all comic artists strive for. And here Adams achieves it with a simple white outline.

It may not be Neal Adams’ best cover, but it’s still great.

Packing Peanuts!

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Another Month, Another Great Cover

One of my favorite parts of my job entering comic books into Nostalgia Zone‘s online catalog is getting to check out some pretty cool comic book covers. I get to see books that I might not have sought out, because they aren’t part of what I’m interested in in comic books. I was never a fan of Archie comics. The Harvey titles never did anything for me. I’m just not into funny comic books. I’m a Marvel Comics kid and I like superheroes.

I have a running list of great covers from our catalog, so I have plenty of material for this monthly series. And this time? Dude! It’s a Dell.

Dell Comics didn’t do much for me as a comic book collector either. They did some superhero stuff in their wide range of genres, but those superheroes were…kinda lame. Dell did many movie and television show adaptations, along with science fiction and ghost stories, Westerns and war stories. But they mostly did the funny stuff. They believed in the comic part of comic books.

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This month’s great cover (see above) comes from Dell Comics‘ Four Color series. Each month, in the Four Color series would be a different featured character or genre even. Dell would rotate these characters and genres, so one month you’d get a Zane Grey Western, the next month would be an Andy Panda story, then there would be Donald Duck, and the month after that would be Bugs Bunny. The characters and genres would rotate, so a few months later readers would get a new book with Donald Duck or Zane Grey, etc.

From comic books’ Golden Age (1938 – 1955), I present Dell Four Color #200 (October 1948) featuring Bugs Bunny, Super Sleuth. The artist was Ralph Heimdahl and his work is terrific. These old school comic book illustrators really were masters at inking. Look at the weight variation of Heimdahl’s line work. Very expressive and disciplined.

I like Bugs‘ pose and the look on his face. Normally, Bugs was super cool and in control, but there were times when he would be affected by fear. This cover is one of those times.

Bugs also feels as though he is in a place, a setting. There is a real feel to our hero standing on stairs and heading into a scary house. Most covers featuring cartoon characters such as Bugs are more character focused, with little or no background. This one deviates from those typical covers by giving Bugs a place to inhabit.

The composition is excellent. The rendering and dark coloring of the wall, stairs, and banisters, along with our hero’s expression and pose, give a feeling of mystery and danger. The motion lines at the bottom of the bright yellow door indicate Bugs is opening the door quickly so as to possibly catch someone in the act. Just what does he see inside that house?

It’s a great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

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Gil Kane Strikes Again

For the third time, Gil Kane makes an appearance in my monthly look at great comic book covers series. And how could he not? Mr Kane was one of the greatest comic book illustrators of all time and his covers were consistently fantastic. And this month’s installment is just another example of why he was the master of the comic book cover.

In 1971, beginning with the cover date of November, Marvel Comics decided to change the layout of their covers. Instead of an illustration framed by the edge of the book itself, it was decided to draw a box or a frame on the cover in which the illustration would be placed. It was an experiment that lasted a little over a year. From what I can find, the art-in-a-box cover design went for, at least, a 14 issue run, but some titles went longer.

I didn’t find any reason given for why Marvel’s editors decided to try this experiment. I’m just speculating here, but I think was to be able to break the frame and make the art pop off the page. After all, you can’t break the frame if it is the edge of the comic. Although not all did, most of the covers that I looked at took advantage of this design element.

And, boy! Does this month’s cover break the frame!

It’s the March 1972 issue of Creatures On The Loose (#16). Take a look:

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Isn’t that awesome?

Not only does the cover benefit from Kane’s drawing mastery, but his design takes full advantage of breaking the frame. However, he is doing more than just giving the illusion of three dimensionality, as in the case of Gulliver Jones’ arm and the handle of the bad guy’s spear at the top of the frame. His blue baddie at the bottom of the page elevates this cover to a masterpiece by expanding the scene to what is going on off of the page itself. The viewer has become immersed in the scene.

Kane does this by using the look over the shoulder pose and the appearance of the blue baddie giving a battle cry. This gives the indication that there may be a whole horde of baddies charging in to do battle with our hero. Just maybe not all blue.

It is so awe-inspiring when I see an artist do such great story-telling with simple placement, pose, and the direction of a character’s eyes.

Absolutely brilliant. Gil Kane scores again.

Packing Peanuts!

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