Re:Covers

I just love comic covers, especially the wacky ones. They help sell the book, they get you excited about what's to come, and they are the thing that you remember long after you’ve forgotten exactly what happened in a particular issue. It takes a keen eye to see what works and what doesn’t work as a cover. Covers aren't just the icing on a cake. They are an integral part of the comic experience. That’s why it offends me so much when Trade Paperback reprints either don’t reprint the covers at all (sheer apostasy) or reprint them all in the back of the book (mere heresy). I honestly don’t understand that decision.

The only reasons I can think of for not printing the covers in order along with the story are:

  1. You don’t think the covers are important (or you don’t realize it)
  2. It’s too expensive to reprint them
  3. You think they break up the story

(#1) If you don’t think the covers are important, then I assume you must not be a true comics fan. Perhaps these TPBs were put together by people working in printing sweatshops who simply don’t get the concept. But surely the books were approved by someone who did get it, so I remain baffled. (I'm looking at you, DC!) It's especially confusing when so much of the industry sell-through depends on cranking out variant covers these days (but that's a different rant).

(#2) It’s too expensive: I can see how the smaller independent publishers may have a hard time here. Especially when reprinting the issues in black and white, it may be difficult to get a good b&w re-print of an original color (or even painted) cover. But that problem can’t apply to Marvel or DC who more than have the resources at their disposal. And let me just state for the record that I’ll pay an extra buck or two to get those covers.

(#3) You've made an "editorial" decision because you think the cover breaks up the story: listen, buddy, any book that has chapters breaks up the story. Older books even had titles, pictures, or ornate lettering at the beginning of chapters; and some went so far as to provide a brief summary of what was to come, so this argument is ridiculous. And given that comics are created so that issues/chapters can be read a month later, they typically have a natural break in them which then feels awkward and out of place if you don’t insert a break (like reprinting the cover)!


All this is to say that I love comic covers, and I’ll be presenting some of my favorites here from time to time and talking about what makes them so special.

Here’s a cover that most people recognize: Amazing Fantasy #15, with the first appearance of Spider-Man. Originally drawn by Jack Kirby, it’s been reproduced, copied, and “homaged” scores of times.

Amazing Fantasy #15

What many people don’t know is that there was originally another cover to AF #15 by Steve Ditko that was rejected.

Original Cover to Amazing Fantasy #15

Now I’m a big fan of Steve Ditko, and I greatly favor his art over Jack Kirby’s. But here’s a case where I agree with the decision. Kirby's version is a much better iconic cover.

Kirby's cover is less cluttered. Spidey is front and center, occupying the majority of the frame. While Spidey and thug aren't the only characters, the others are small and are clearly looking up in awe.  Backdropped with city and buildings, Spidey looks noble, soaring over it all. The thug is placed behind Spidey so that he doesn't obscure our hero (and his impressive physique), and making him less significant (more thuggish) in comparison to Spidey. The image takes advantage of the rule of thirds, creating a nicely balanced composition with exquisite clarity as to what the viewer is supposed to think about this new superhero.

And yet, Ditko's cover is more Spider-Man. In many ways, it is the exact opposite of Kirby's. The viewer is looking down on Spider-Man as he is striving to go up; Spidey breaks the viewing plane along the opposite angle; Spidey and the thug are closer to the same size, they are both somewhat awkwardly contorted, and the thug blocks Spidey to some degree. The image is much more "cluttered" with onlookers of different sizes (both on the ground and in the buildings) who don't look up in awe so much as alarm and fear.

Overall, while Kirby's cover is more iconic and memorable, Ditko's is more true to the character of Spider-Man (at least as envisioned by Ditko). He's awkward, he's a bit weird, he inspires fear and concern from the public, and he travels among the thugs, not above them. I don't think Kirby ever really "got" Spider-Man. He never looks right when he appears in the (cosmic and heroic) Fantastic Four comics. Ditko, however, understands that Spidey is not a noble god; he's a misunderstood loser trying to do the best he can in a troubled world that doesn't appreciate him.


Thanks to Blake Bell's Ditko Looked Up site and Mile High Comics for the images.