Monday, March 26, 2007

How A Cover Is Born

How A Cover Is Born

Reflecting on the fracas over the cover to Justice League #12 (which I highly doubt will ever see the stands in its present condition) I thought it would be kind of interesting to talk about how a cover is born -- from concept to sketch to the final product.

The amount of input the editor has in the making of the cover depends on the artist. Some artists are told, more or less, exactly what image the editor wants. Some are given plot synopses or scripts and interpret the issue as they see fit. And some artists, for whatever reason, really don't care too much about what is going on in the book and end up just drawing something iconic that has very little relevance to the content of the actual issue but will probably sell really well anyhow.

A good cover, at least in my opinion, is one that is both iconic (a bold, striking image) and tells a story. Some really great interior artists occasionally make lousy cover artists because they treat the cover like a panel -- a bunch of stuff going but no focus. And some really great "pinup" style artists occasionally turn in covers that are pointless and without context.

What might be controversial is that, as an editor, I would choose "pointless but striking" over "deep but unfocused." This is because, in terms of sales, the iconic cover will always grab more eyes on the stand. And, each month, the editor is given the "numbers" for the books she or he edits and is either patted on the back or left with a warning. Whenever you try to fathom the decisions these editors make, you should take this fact into account.

The artist will often first submit a cover sketch. This gives the editor some idea of what will be on the cover, and there should be enough leeway at that point to change things around. Some cover sketches are quite elaborate, and some are a couple of lines with a smear.

Once the sketch is approved, the art then either goes through the stages of pencils, inks, and color or, in the case of painted work, straight to the finished product. Ideally, the cover is approved and signed off on each step of the way. You need to have all these checks and balances for the comic cover, so many sign-offs, because a f**k-up that gets to print is a DISASTER. And I've seen these disasters.

For instance, when I worked at Acclaim, an issue of "Master Darque" got through with a nipple on it. I mean, the whole cover was so abstract, so etherial, that none of us saw the nipple. Until it was published. Then, we ALL saw the nipple.

Generally, you don't want nipples on your comic cover. You don't want cuss words, you don't want nudity, you don't want your artist getting cute and etching in a tiny portrait of Peter Parker when it's a DC book, etc.

Sometimes you will get a comic book that features a woman with huge gazongas. For some editors, this is a dilemma. For others, it's a non-issue. The only time I heard of an editor insisting on a breast reduction on a cover, the editor was female. Was she more sensitive to these issues? All I know is that the cover artist was a big name, the cover was finished, and this editor said: "look, she's too top-heavy and that's not what she's all about. these have to be reduced. please." And either the big-name artist changed it himself or it was changed in-house. And all his future covers reflected the change. And that was it. Maybe there was a minor grumble at the beginning. But that was it.

DC is a company, as far as I remember it, that took a special pride in the artistic quality of its covers. It wasn't just about "
selling soap," as they say. They were looking, in most cases, for Art. That's why there are so many coffee-table books that feature beautiful reproductions of their covers. And that, ultimately, is why I feel the cover to Justice League #12 has to be fixed or replaced. Not because of the "sexist" issues. But because to allow one of their top books to go out with such a cover really sends the wrong message.

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