Retrospective article: Uncool Covers
May 19, 2004
Originally published on June 29,
2003 on Hero Realm. Updated with some additional material at the
By Avi Green
When I first read comics when I was a kid, many of them had all
sorts of covers that gave me a feeling of excitement as I began to
read them. They would have what were called “captions” – little
sentences that could ask things like “Why is this or that
happening?” Or, they would have word balloons on them spoken by
either the heroes or the villains, telling what they’re going to do
this way or that.
The purpose of these was to give readers both old and new an idea of
what was going on inside the story, and it certainly helped to
heighten the level of excitement and suspense through which readers
can enjoy what’s being told inside.
Some of these covers were quite clever. Not only did they have all
sorts of clever captions and word balloons, but they could also be
drawn to look like a set of panels from within the book itself, and
there were even some that incorporated live action photography into them as well! And
one of the most clever ones that I know of was where John Byrne drew
himself onto the cover of a Fantastic
Four issue from January 1982, complete with a nice big grin
of excitement on his face!
But then, suddenly, years later, much of this started to disappear,
probably around the time that the independents were starting in the
business in the mid-1980s. As the years went by, and the 90’s came
around, word balloons appeared less and less on the covers, and even
captions and other exclamations on the covers started to show up
less and less too. DC’s covers, for example, while they still did
have captions, seemed to stop using word balloons on a lot of them,
such as on Wonder Woman’s second volume, and Batman’s books probably
haven’t used them since the early 1990’s. Of course, some of them
still do use word balloons, like, say, when paying tribute to the
Silver Age, such as in recent issues of Superman and the Flash, but
aside from that, few of their books have what the ones of yesteryear
But even more distressing, Marvel, within the past 2 years, has
stopped using both captions and word balloons on their covers
altogether. And while some of the covers do give the reader an idea
of what they’ll see on the inside, including teasers, a lot of them
are now reduced to simple pictures of the hero in some kind of
stance or other, like Spider-Man sticking to a wall or swinging
Back in the Golden Age of comics, there were some covers to be seen
without captions or word balloons on them. But the difference is
that a lot of those still had teasers and other hints on them to
give the reader an idea of what was happening inside.
Many of Marvel’s recent comic book covers boast none of these now.
Instead, as said above, they just offer up a simple picture of the
hero/heroine in some pose or other, with no interesting villains to
be seen, and no supporting cast members, street crowds, or other
superheroes on them either.
Not only that, but they’ve also been looking less like the interior
artwork and more like what you might see in an art gallery, even
3-D! It’s nice to see that comics artists have been able to advance
so well in graphics design, but to see it happening at the expense
of excitement and suspense is really distressing. Where is the
thrill of being offered an idea as to what’s happening this month in
our favorite comics?
It may be that Marvel for one is doing it because it saves them
money. Yet, judging from the high quality artwork and the effort
that must’ve been put into it, it’s somehow hard to believe. Such
artwork – even what could be done via computer –would surely have to
cost a lot to produce.
I think it’s a shame that their
covers now amount to little more than art gallery material. By simplifying their covers so much,
they don’t give the reader, old or new, an idea of what’s going on
inside, nor does it give any feeling of excitement or fun. And with
nothing to give an idea of what they’re going to be seeing inside,
nor any sense of fun, how are new readers really expected to take
interest in many of the books?
What worked for me in the old style of covers particularly was that
they conveyed a real sense of fun and enjoyment. And having fun is
the main reason I read comics, just like when going to the movies.
In fact, captions, if not word balloons, took their inspiration from
a lot of movie posters years ago!
And I really wish we could see more covers like those that were
drawn in the past once again. They could be very clever and
inventive, and they also could draw the interest of new readers by
giving them hints on what to expect. Plus, they looked just like the
drawings on the inside, and not like 3-D computer graphics.
Sometimes, changes aren’t as good as what came before.
Now, here's a pair of letters I recieved in response to this
article. First one is by Brian Grindrod, owner of the Fremto website:
It's been a few months since I
dropped by HeroRealm and the first article that I noticed on the
front page was your Uncool Covers article.
The article is top shelf and I
agree with you 110%.
In my reviews, I always comment on
the cover and how many of them really lack the *ooomph* to attract
a potential customer.
Glad to see somebody else picking
up on that!
- Brian (June 29, 2003)
Glad to hear from you, and I'll be reading your next reviews.
Avi Green (June 30, 2003)
And here's the next one:
Thanks...I was thinking about that,
funny you mentioned John Byrne. People always talk about
BYRNE-STEALING (Byrne refers to the reading of magazines, books,
or comics in the store without paying for it as stealing), but
with most of these covers, you have no choice but to Byrne-steal
it just to see what the issue is about. Remember that issue when
Aunt May found out about Pete's identity as Spidey? What was on
the cover? Spidey swinging around the city (even though we only
saw Spidey on the LAST PAGE in the whole comic!) Remember that
recent reunion of Pete and MJ? What was on the cover? Spidey
swinging around the city (even though he was in the AIRPORT
through the whole issue!!!) I'll wager that most of the recent Hulk comics all have the Hulk
on the cover, but 9 times out of 10, the Hulk isn't even in the
all know about people just putting a pin-up of the title character
on the front of the book and calling it a cover, but are there any
more examples of covers that are misleading like the ones I've
Phil Watts, Jr.
Petersburg, VA. (June 29, 2003)
Thanks for the letter. (June 30, 2003)
The slang of Byrne-stealing is something that I myself only fully
learned recently, and yes, it is pretty appalling that people now have to flip through the comics at
the stores in order to figure out what's going on inside. If I were
in charge of directing the artwork for the covers, I would've
thought to have a cover drawn for the Spidey issue with Aunt May's
discovery of Peter's secret ID showing her as if she were going to
blow his secret to the public in almost the same way as the cover
for Flash #204 Vol 1.
which showed Iris West Allen looking like she was going to reveal
her late husband Barry Allen's secret ID as the Scarlet Speedster to
the public on the streets. Covers like that are what can give a
feeling of suspense to the reader and make them want to find out
exactly what happens inside.
Sadly, Marvel now seems to care little about really wanting to give
even new readers a feeling of excitement over what's happening in
their books, and instead must want to draw these very pedestrian
covers of theirs for making money at auction sales. A real shame,
since even covers with live action backgrounds could also be very
clever, something that DC may have done recently with a cover for Superman.
I think it may have to do with
certain people who see blurbs on the cover as something that's
cornball. But even then, you can still put something on the cover
that can give people a clue to what's going to happen in the
book...but considering those two covers I told you about, they're
not even doing THAT much!
Phil Watts, Jr.
It's been at least a year since I'd worked on this, and now, I'm
wondering, is Marvel beginning to show any signs of trying out again
what worked for them in the years gone by? Well, if this cover for
one is any indication:
Copyright 2003-2004 Avi Green. All rights reserved.
That word balloon seen there is a
promising sign, I guess.
So who knows? Maybe there is good news waiting around the
corner. But only time will tell. And last year, well, it's a
shame that of all places where they actually did use captions,
was on the last 5-6 issues of Thunderbolts,
when they tried to pull something similar to what they did with
X-Force, which was then
changed to X-Statix
(soon to be cancelled), turning Thunderbolts into some kind of a fight club
series, and what did they do? They made the covers look almost
like Maxim magazine!
It's a shame that when they did
use captions during that time, it turned out to be in the wrong
place. But luckily, the cover above, as said before, does look promising.
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