Great/dumb comic book covers
May 9, 2003 9:43 AM   Subscribe

The 25 greatest comic-book covers of all time, based on impact, readability, uniqueness/subject, and drawing/presentation. And the 12 dumbest. [via xBlog]
posted by kirkaracha (51 comments total)
This one's more disturbing than dumb, but it's still dumb.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:46 AM on May 9, 2003

I can't say I trust as assessment of 'readability' coming from a site that is almost illegible because of its too prominent background.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:49 AM on May 9, 2003

X-Force 124

Only comic I've ever bought just because of a striking cover, and DAMN, I'm glad I did.
posted by COBRA! at 9:52 AM on May 9, 2003

This can't possibly be for real. They forgot this cover.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:55 AM on May 9, 2003

An alternate vote for inclusion in the "dumbest" category:

"'How much more black could this be?' And the answer is: 'None...none more black.'"
posted by yhbc at 10:02 AM on May 9, 2003

Only one by Jack Kirby?


How about "This man, This Monster?" or any of Kirby's Fantastic Four covers.

The man was robbed.
posted by jpburns at 10:06 AM on May 9, 2003

The dumbest ones are pretty great. I mean, being smacked in the head with a thrown fish?

And yeah, I was wondering about the copious lack of Kirby too.
posted by furiousthought at 10:11 AM on May 9, 2003

The guy seems to have a moderate DC bias, which I suppose explains the Kirby drought.

Also a pre-1990 bias, but whatever.
posted by COBRA! at 10:23 AM on May 9, 2003

Only one by Steranko too - I was expecting at least one of the Shield covers in there. I don't think they have any single artist more than once - prove me wrong.
posted by pascal at 10:26 AM on May 9, 2003

The same website also boasts a list of the 100 Greatest Comic Book Artists of all time. I agree on some of them. Ultimately beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I'd put George Perez around number four or five, myself. The list has him at #28, probably because many fans find his work controversial and derivative. In my book he's just shy of Jack Kirby, especially for his work in Crisis, Titans and Wonder Woman. Awesome stuff.

See also Covers with big animals on them. See also also, some more 80s covers that kicked butt including Hulk sersus Santa. Then there's some uniquely mediocre Justice League covers to ponder.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:29 AM on May 9, 2003

The bitter irony is that the "good" covers are often masterpieces of good uncluttered design, and don't have many words in them, and are shown nice 'n' big, with what text they do have often reiterated in the commentary. Meanwhile, with the often text-heavy "bad" ones, they don't pop up into larger images, leaving us to wonder:

What the hell are the voice (and thought) balloons in this one saying? And does the illegible text between "ARE YOU SURE" and "YES SUPERMAN" and "IT'S IMPORTANT THAT I LIVE THE NEXT 24 HOURS AS A BLACK WOMAN" relate to why this one is named after art-house porn? And what are our other Choices in this issue? And does the fine print explain why this man seems so supremely apathetic? And is that really George W Bush on the right, leading us serenely into war? OK, that last one's not text-related, but you get the point.

All of that said, this is still fun. I also love the fish-throwing. Imagine the skill involved in getting it to smack at just the right angle!
posted by soyjoy at 10:29 AM on May 9, 2003

...then there's some rare comics with covers that royally sucked. Okay. I'm scraping the bottom of the barrell at this point..
posted by ZachsMind at 10:30 AM on May 9, 2003

While I agree in principal to the site's justification for why there are so few "modern" covers (inconsistent editing and a focus away from the cover as a pull for the reader) there have been some incredible covert art work in recent years.

I'm not much of a comix reader these days (Though I did pick up the graphic novel of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - its fantastic) but my memories of fine cover art seem to rest on titles from the DC/Vertigo line, my faves being Doom Patrol, Shade the Changing Man, and anything created by Dave McKean.

As comics and their writers grow more sophisticated, it only follows that the covers progress likewise.
posted by elendil71 at 10:34 AM on May 9, 2003

Ooh! Powerpuff Girls!
posted by ZachsMind at 10:37 AM on May 9, 2003

Glad someone else thought of McKean, elendil; but what about that brief flirtation we all had with Bill Sienkiewicz and Charles Vess?
posted by Perigee at 10:46 AM on May 9, 2003

In re: the 100 greatest comic book artists linked in the comments above:

Bill Sienkiewicz at #39? And Mike Mignoal at #34? Who is this loon doing the rating?

posted by Cerebus at 10:47 AM on May 9, 2003

And why isn't Richard Corben on that list, huh? Huh? Harrumph.

Good post, BTW.
posted by Cerebus at 10:53 AM on May 9, 2003

Hrmm.. Weird. ...woah. Holy Moley!
posted by ZachsMind at 11:01 AM on May 9, 2003

Threads like this make me long for the days when I spent hours in the comic book shop discussing comics, M:TG cards and bragging about my collection of extremely rare and entirely coverless comic books (at some point I realized that they only way I could have items such as "Amazing Spider-Man #1" was to find copies without I do have more money now though. One of these days I am going to create a robot toilet or something and make billions of dollars and then I will have to spend about six years straight sitting in my house catching up on comic books. Well, that and following thunderstorms. Another hobby that had to die. Damn gas is expensive too.


Personally, I am fond of the second cover from that link.
posted by bargle at 11:03 AM on May 9, 2003

Yo, how hot is wonderwoman in this one? Givin' me shivers...
posted by zekinskia at 11:16 AM on May 9, 2003

My alma mater has a collection of sixties underground comix that got my attention. This one is particularly good.
posted by letitrain at 11:33 AM on May 9, 2003

Perhaps, but I love the copy!

A mysterious boy holds the secret to an outlaw's past...

Holy crap. Classic.
posted by delapohl at 11:49 AM on May 9, 2003

And they forgot my favourite as well. Great post, though.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 11:49 AM on May 9, 2003

No shame, no guilt and no embarrassment were in evidence--no awareness of the social force or influence which comics exerted, however subtly, in our society.
No awareness of their influence? That explains all those hyper-nationalist WWII era covers all right.
Lacking the pretense of civility and conformity found in other media, they were allowed to develop and change apace, stripped of any mitigating influence until all that we were left with was pure, unadulterated sensationalism.
Oh no, no conformity in comics. No Comics Code, no jumping on the flavor of the month, none of that. Brilliantly experimental and daring, those comics.

Disappointing list, really. I'll admit I don't have the historical perspective on comics to appreciate all of the older covers, but how many variations on 'Superheroes are all American, and they're gonna kick some German/Japanese/Italian ass' do you really need? A few are striking propaganda images, but most are just insipid. Stuff like the Fantastic Four cover linked above by ZachsMind is much more impressive, drawing on M.C. Escher's self-portrait in the use of a reflection to tell a second tale within a striking, simple image. I haven't read that issue, so perhaps it falls down by being merely a clever design trick rather than really relating to the story within, but still.

They can whinge all they like about the decline of the cover, but if you look at much of McKean's work on Sandman and The Dreaming you find covers that often incorporate the entire story into one striking montage, often equaling (though not surpassing) #5 and #12.posted by setmajer at 11:53 AM on May 9, 2003

The Atlas people have to favor the old over the new in choosing their greatest comic book covers. The new quite simply aren't in competition. Self-consciousness hit the comix somewhere over the course of 1966-67, and after that, we are no longer looking at a powerful works of unintentional art, but calculated works of commercial illustration, whose every effect is deliberate, intentional, and informed by historical knowledge. The pre-1966 covers are "real" in way the latter day works -- however great -- can never be.
posted by Faze at 12:14 PM on May 9, 2003

Thanks, kirkaracha. No warning or nothing. I just spent the past 5 minutes in crazed hysterics laughing over your link.

Oh, and while their inclusion of The Dark Knight Returns was good, they cannot be excused for ignoring some incredible 80's covers. The Death of Supergirl was huge, as was the Death of Superman cover (if a bit contrived). But no comic in recent memory has beaten this cover (and alternate).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:52 PM on May 9, 2003

They didn't inclue one of my personal favorites: Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #4, nor did they include any classic Spider-Man covers, but I'll forgive them. Nice links!
posted by Down10 at 1:18 PM on May 9, 2003

yeah, ditto that, Civil_D.
posted by Down10 at 1:21 PM on May 9, 2003

I can't believe two of you independently picked McFarlane's Spider-Man #1. Regardless of your estimation of McFarlane's skill (everyone's mileage varies), it's certainly not his best rendering of Spider-Man, and the image lacks all of the graphic qualities that the Atlas people used as criteria. I mean, I hardly think Atlas' list is definitive, but Spider-Man #1, and even Amazing Fantasy #15, aren't contenders.
posted by blueshammer at 1:25 PM on May 9, 2003

The unknown artist on #5 almost looks like Will Eisner... Then again, the character is hit by a bright spotlight to produce the impressive shadow, yet the highlights only barely play over the right side of his body (and his left shoulder?!) That's a mistake Eisner would never make, even if it's more dramatic and symbolic to have the criminal appear as a shadowy figure.
posted by Shane at 1:29 PM on May 9, 2003

Another thing on the "Unknown Artist" of #5:

Why didn't they just look at the name "Biro" lettered on the garbage can and Google search for "biro comic artist"? That wasn't tough.
posted by Shane at 1:35 PM on May 9, 2003

Why didn't they just look at the name "Biro"...
On second glance, "Charles Biro" is printed right on the cover of the comic.

posted by Shane at 1:38 PM on May 9, 2003

Faze, I put to you that the "realness" of those Golden Age covers is largely cultural and I think that what appeals to a great many of us is as much nostalgia (however perceived - I was a babe in the mid-late sixties) as it is an appreciation of the art form.

As the Atlas folks suggested, an excellent cover should reflect the themes within. Personally, I think the best ones are a trifle abstract, in that they offer a poetic/emotional complement to the typically more linear material within.

Of course, at the end of the day, "best of" lists like these are so subjective as to be worthless .. but they are fun!
posted by elendil71 at 1:54 PM on May 9, 2003

I can't believe they left out Secret Wars #4

That one made me shit bowties when I was a kid.
posted by velacroix at 2:09 PM on May 9, 2003

Oh, and Alex Ross may be an asshole that no one can stand, but he does do good covers.
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:34 PM on May 9, 2003

I am surprised that nobody has mentioned these "Comic Book Covers of Evil."
posted by synecdoche at 2:55 PM on May 9, 2003

blueshammer: It's not just that the art is good, because it's a strange rendering of Spidey. And the content of the cover isn't very interesting, though the perspective and tightness of the web are nicely portrayed. There are probably a dozen covers I could think of that are better, artistically (with several Sandman covers going in there), but the rankings were also influenced by the importance of the issues. That particular Spider Man was so eagerly anticipated, and one of the first "mainstream" comics to appeal to collecters (the pre-bagged, alternate-versions, alternate-UPC codes, etc). Like it or no, it was one of the most influential in the past 15 years because of McFarlane's work. To get a little retrospective on his style, check this out.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:09 PM on May 9, 2003

i cant believe they left out david lloyd, seeing as v for vendetta imho is a superior work to watchmen.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:14 PM on May 9, 2003

Oh, it's not that I don't know McFarlane. But the criteria were careful not to say that the rankings were influence by the importance of the issue. Really, the only comment on that subject is here:

The artist (and the editors, the best of whom share some credit in this list) is attempting to communicate directly with the reader and intrigue or interest them in what's between the covers.

Much like a movie preview, it doesn't necessarily matter whether the thing being marketed is good, bad, indifferent, anticipated, important or otherwise. Good work tends to beget good work, but this Top 25 is, by design, disinterested in the "importance" of an issue.

Plus, the color scheme on the mass-market version is pretty bad (the yellow-green gradient), the "Torment" cover line is not particularly well-designed, and the "The Legend of the Arachknight" thing is terrible for (a) eschewing hand-drawn lettering for an awful font, (b) failing to rise to the level of a Parker-esque pun -- you look at it, and you can't tell that they're kidding/parodying Batman, because it looks semi-serious, like it, and not "Torment," could be the name of the storyline, and (c) being utterly detracting, a sign of McFarlane's growing inability to leave well enough alone.

Please note that I just took up everybody's time critiquing graphic design, not the fine plot points of a Spider-Man comic I read, what, 12 years ago? I'm not afraid to cop to geekiness; just that my geekiness has shifted from one thing to another.
posted by blueshammer at 3:27 PM on May 9, 2003

The problem is that 25 covers doesn't really let you "under the hood" to understand the judges' tastes. At 100 covers, we might have a better sense of the predilections because we could move past the more obvious choices (obvious in that they've chosen work by a lot of venerated artists) and see what they like from the fringe.
posted by blueshammer at 3:33 PM on May 9, 2003

These seem to be focused on a pretty nostalgic view of comics.

My own favorites include Mike Mignola's fabulous Hellboy covers (these are from the trade paperbacks), David Mack's painted covers for Kabuki, and the super-brilliant retro Spiderman Blue covers.
posted by blissbat at 7:15 PM on May 9, 2003

Some of the Sandman covers (Doll's house) give me nightmares *still*, years after seeing them for the first time.
posted by notsnot at 9:26 PM on May 9, 2003

Dave Sim.
posted by gwint at 9:52 PM on May 9, 2003

jaime hernandez
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:36 AM on May 10, 2003

As an 11 year-old back in '82, these covers blew me away.
posted by ric at 6:13 AM on May 10, 2003

Another good review of comic book covers (and how their graphic design related to storytelling) can be found on Judging a Book By Its Cover. This site is pretty well done, and is all famous 80's covers like these two.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:45 AM on May 10, 2003

For my money, there's not much better than this.
posted by Snyder at 11:14 AM on May 10, 2003

I'm gonna go with this:
and this
as my fav. covers. They have real emotional feeling, at least to me.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 11:58 AM on May 10, 2003

These "best of" lists are fun but never comprehensive. I'd like to see more fun classic horror and SF, too.

sarge, more Los Bros Hernandez covers are collected here.
posted by Shane at 5:03 PM on May 10, 2003

Civil_Disobedient, that b&w Spidey cover is fucking brilliant. Amazing.
posted by NortonDC at 8:33 PM on May 10, 2003

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