Comic Fodder

Mini-Rant: The Trouble with Covers

It has been many months since I got to rant against a topic, so my ramble-sense told me I was overdue:

It took me years to learn this lesson.

The comic book companies used to have a standard deal where an artist would do the cover and all of the interior art. There were some cases for an anniversary issue where a different artist would do a special cover, but it had to be an event. There are isolated cases of a time when an artist or a relative of the artist became sick, and other artists sort of threw the cover work to him, since the rate for covers is higher than for interior art, and that helped to pay the hospital bills. But as time passed, the comic companies started getting sneaky.

At first it was multiple covers, combined with trick covers. They still do it to this day, although the foil and 3-D and hologram covers have gone out of fashion for now, for the most part. Multiple covers are not so great, because the collector has to shell out the same amount of money for the same story, with only the cover itself being different. I have resisted that temptation about 99.9% of the time. No, the insidious practice I am about to broach is their bait-and-switch tactic.

You are walking along the aisle of your favorite comic store. You spot a gorgeous cover, usually by an artist you know and love. It’s not a series you normally purchase. But check out the cover! It’s awesome, and you must have it. You throw it in your stack, and when you get home… the insides are a childish, cartoony mess that might have been slapped together by your three-year-old nephew! That’s right, they put something fancy on the cover, but just like when you picked up that endowed woman at the bar, once you got home and opened up the wrapping, you found out it was artificial, and false (not that I’ve ever done anything like that myself). But I digress…

What was once a rare thing has now become an everyday practice, with many good artists earning lucrative cover assignments, with a different artist doing all of the interiors. Sometimes this is good, as a nicely-drawn comic can definitely be enhanced by a high-quality cover by a different artist. But what in the world are they thinking when they put a nice, tight cover on some of these, and then has a surrealist do the interiors? I’ve lost count of the number of times there was a knock-out cover for a title like She-Hulk, but when I opened it up to read it, there was –let’s just say it was not nearly as good as the cover, to be polite, and leave it at that.

Most people are not bothered by this. Most of us, even me, have learned to look a couple pages into the comic to see what we’re really getting for a new prospective title, or even taking a chance on an old one we haven’t read in a long time. Sometimes, no matter how good the cover looks, you just have to put it back on the rack. Those collector fanboys that absolutely have to have all art by a particular artist, even if he only did the cover, have my sympathy.

Here’s where it is affecting my habits, I have noticed: I am turned off by variant artists on a brand new series. Titles like Nova have a particular artist doing the covers, and I am used to the prospect of seeing different art, still of high quality, on the inside. Same with a lot of DC titles that have Alex Ross covers, DC has made an effort to have almost entirely good artists on their banner titles, many of which Ross has been doing assignments for months. But when you have a specific creative team debuting on a project, and right out of the gate you try to tempt me with a great cover but no details on the inside, I get irritated.

Here is the latest example of what has made me wrathful (it’s not serious, my wrath is like a teddy bear throwing a tantrum, it still makes people go “awww,” with them seeing my reactions as oh-so-cute). Wildstorm is starting a six-issue mini-series called Prototype. It has an awesome cover by Jim Lee. It makes me want to try out the comic. Then I look down at the credits and see the names Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. I know right away that I will probably detest the writing. The artists, them I have a sense I would like, but the Previews ad gives only the Jim Lee cover. There’s no way I’m ordering it, and in the days of just-enough-to-fill-orders, the comic store owner might not have a spare copy for the shelf for people to flip through. The days of ordering excessive copies in the hope it will be a big hit are gone. Any store owner who ignored those lessons already went out of business in the 90’s. If I’m going to pre-order something, they better show me more of what the product will actually look like.

Maybe, since this is a series based on the Activision video game, they figure it doesn’t matter? They couldn’t show me the regular cover as an inset in the ad, they had to go with the variant cover by a comic superstar? No!! (That’s right, my wrath has two exclamation points! [Three if you count that one.]) It doesn’t matter anymore. Here’s a friendly tip: if your comic has a #1 on it, and you’re doing variant covers, you have to show a few pages of interior art. If you don’t, a lot of us will not buy it, that otherwise might have.

I may be alone in this, but I don’t think I am.



Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

Ah, the bait and switch of the cover artist. It's been a long, long time since I purchased a comic because I thought the cover art reflected of who was on art chores for interiors. But it has happened. Just not recently.

These days, though, I expect Marvel and DC to have separate cover artists from interiors to such a degree that I usually go into the deal believing someone else is doing interior art. What makes me aprticularly sad is when I pick up an indie comic I've never heard of and they've hired a name talent to do the cover, but, apparently their twelve year old cousin did the interiors. Its unlikely I'll ever pick that comic up.

I have picked up the occasional comic just for the cover, however. I'll give an Alex Ross cover a second look, and an issue or two of Hughes on Catwoman, comes to mind.

Maybe one of my favorite covers, ever.

When its art of that caliber, I think its a nice selling point. But in general, I don't love the practice, but DC has been doing it for decades upon decades (Neal Adams covering Curt Swan, for example), and Marvel seems to have been in the practice since Joey Q took over, so I rarely think about it any more.

But now that I have... it's kind of weird, isn't it?

-- Posted by: Ryan at February 10, 2009 3:52 PM

I don't mind it when the cover is drawn by a different artist than the interior as long as the cover has something to do with what is going on inside the book. However, I do love the Alex Ross JSA covers featuring one character each month. Actually I've been diving into quarter bins trying to collect issues to get all the covers bound into a book.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at February 16, 2009 1:35 PM