Pop culture and other perspectives with an artistic P.O.V. By Mike Pascale.
All contents ©2013 Mike Pascale. Visual content ©2013 their respective owner(s).
Last week, during my tribute to the recently late-but-always-great CBG (Comics Buyer’s Guide), I mentioned one of my favorite features of the recent magazine version was their “Top 10 Favorite Covers.” Each month they would ask a different comics pro to pick 10 favorite covers to showcase and provide a brief couple sentences describing each.
That’s the kind of thing I drooled over, both the great (and not-so-great) art shown as well as finding out why some were chosen. I really, really wanted to have a go at it, spending many spare minutes thinking of what I would choose. I even had a standing invitation from editor of brilliance, Brent Frankenhoff, to submit something. Never got around to it.
So, here’s my chance. Of course narrowing down a gazillion comics covers over 80 years is impossible, considering I’ve not only not seen them all, but can’t recall that many either. It would be easier to choose them by category, era, artist, character or publisher—the narrower the choices the better—but since I can’t, I’m going to mix it up. Some are from fond/impactful memories of youth, some are from friends & favorite artists, and others are representative of a genre, era or character.
I also tried to mix up the publishers, but it wasn’t easy. Marvel just seems to have a stronghold on cool covers from my childhood. Since I’m not bound by CBG’s print restrictions, commentary is expanded as needed (re: it’s my blog and I like to ramble).
In alphabetical order (if you have definitive yays or nays regarding the question marks, please do comment below):
BRU-HED’S BREATHTAKING BEAUTIES #1 (Schism Comics; Art by Dean Armstrong) No, I’m not being conceited here because I published this—it’s all Dean’s gorgeous work. I remember when he painted this—by hand, with airbrush (except for the later computer-painted top—the original woman was topless) and it blew me away. Dean’s one of the very rare guys who can marry photo reference with something completely made up (I’ll let you decide which is which) and make ’em look equally real and convincing. Although this b/w pinup comic featured the first appearance of Nasti: Monster Hunter, it was my highest-ordered issue strictly due to the cover.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #106 (Marvel; Art by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott?): My first choice was the iconic AVENGERS #4 for obvious reasons, and because it was my first exposure to Kirby’s brilliant version of Cap, as well as one of my first exposures to the King period (thanks to the old Marvel book-and-record set, which I talked about here: ). But this is by far my favorite Kirby Cap cover. Ironically, I first encountered it in the pages of a British-published comics history book titled A PENGUIN BOOK ON COMICS (which had for some reason eliminated the “Cap goes” part of the blurb). The figures are just barely contained within the borders, ready to bust out at any minute. Kirby always made you feel like you were part of the action.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #116 (Marvel; Art by Gene Colan and Joe Sinnott?): Not the best or most memorable Colan cover by far (most would deservedly choose the iconic image from IRON MAN #1), but I believe it was my first exposure to Gene’s art. I picked this up in a back issue bin at an indoor mall flea market when I was about 11 or 12 years old and it marked my mind’s eye forever. The issue not only has part of the mind-bending Cap-switches-identities-with-the-Red-Skull Cosmic Cube story, but also Gene’s (inf)famous BULLIT-inspired 5-page car chase. (I’m blessed to own a couple pages from this one. I’m always looking for more, so if you have any leads or info, please let me know—there’s a finder’s reward!)
CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES #125 (Fawcett; Art by C.C. Beck): The original Captain Marvel, aka “The Big Red Cheese”, is tied for my favorite superhero of the Golden Age along with Jack Cole’s brilliant Plastic Man. Unfortunately I could only include one, so I went with C.C. Beck’s. I adore the deceptive simplicity of his style, the sublime inkline, the clever incorporation of the logo, which may have been a first back then. Sure, I love rendered work–it’s hard to beat MacRaboy’s Captain Marvel Jr.–but this kind of super-simple style, when done right with such a likable character, is like aesthetic candy mixed with crack.
(Historical “truth is screwier than fiction” note: DC Comics sued publisher Fawcett out of the industry back in the early 50s because Cap outsold Superman. Their allegation was that the Captain was too much of a copy of Supes, and that he would mislead readers, taking sales away from their flagship Big Blue Boy Scout. In a telling display of ironic hypocrisy, DC ended up nabbing all of Fawcett’s characters, and later published new and reprinted adventures of Captain Marvel themselves, with C.C. Beck’s art! So much for cannibalizing sales.
In an even more ironic twist, Marvel had since published a completely different character/comic book with the Captain Marvel moniker, so DC had to title their book “SHAZAM”, even using it for the name of the character. Delicious.)
DARING MYSTERY COMICS #7 (Timely/Marvel;Art by Joe Simon?): I first saw this image and the cover for #8 (showing the characters running toward the viewer) reproduced b/w postage-stamp size in one of Jim Steranko’s two HISTORY OF THE COMICS large, saddle-stitched tomes which I’d received for Christmas. This image sparked my imagination like many of the others in it—but in a different way. I’d always wondered about all these super-cool characters! The Thunderer?? WTF is that? (Trust me, when you’re 12, it’s just cool-especially with the cape and hood. Though the baby blue coloring doesn’t help.) I know both issues were reprinted in a Marvel Masterworks edition, but I doubt it could never live up to my expectations. I don’t want to disappoint my inner 12-year-old, but eventually curiosity (and a clearance sale) will get the better of me.
DEATH RATTLE #7 (Kitchen Sink; Art by Dean Armstrong): Another airbrushed jaw-dropper I watched being created. Initially done just for “fun”, I helped convinced my old college pal to show it to Denis Kitchen who used it for a cover for KP’s well-liked horror anthology. (Dean, just 21 at the time, would later do one more on commission, for half of what he received for this one, due to a ridiculous set of circumstances and excuses; but at least DK let Dean retain the copyright.) Many years later, Denis reused the image as part of a collage for the cover of an anniversary book, but without compensation or even Dean’s permission—because he “couldn’t locate him”–something that caused a nasty email exchange between us (mostly me). Regardless, it’s an incredible piece of work from a very underrated and under-noticed artist—the most naturally-talented one I’ve ever known.
(Historical note: in the early 90s, Dean became the first artist to digitally paint comic covers in North America, including most of mine for BRU-HED and NASTI. This one shows he could do just as good with “old school” methods.)
FAMOUS FUNNIES #209 (Funnies, Inc.; Art by Frank Frazetta): My favorite artist in the field and my favorite series of covers in comics history. All of his Buck Rogers FF covers are masterpieces, as is his famous “Flash Gordon vs. the cavemen” cover for EC’s WEIRD SCIENCE-FANTASY #29, which only lost to Buck Rogers because of the purty ladies. (Sorry, I’m Italian.)
FOUR COLOR #199 (Dell; Art by Carl Barks): One of the Duck Man’s most of many memorable efforts—I have a signed lithograph of the painted version framed on my wall. Barks not only drew Donald and the boys better than anyone before or since, he also created Uncle Scrooge, The Beagle Boys, Gyro Gearloose, Gladstone Gander and other legendary DD characters.
MAD #22 (EC; Art by Bill Elder): I had to include at least one EC cover here, and it was tough! A Wood or Williamson/Frazetta WEIRD FANTASY or WEIRD SCIENCE, a Jack Davis TALES FROM THE CRYPT or Graham Ingels HAUNT OF FEAR, a Wood SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES…or even a Kurtzman or Wolverton MAD or PANIC would do just as well—favorites all! But I chose this Picasso parody because it exemplifies both Elder’s and MAD’s ingenious and hilarious satirical assault on “serious” art and culture, as well as their unique flair for irreverence that helped define a genre and generation. Not content with merely putting the “humor” in “humor comics”, they made ’em damn funny.
TARZAN #207 (DC; Art by Joe Kubert): I know, I missed Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Steve Ditko, John Buscema, John Romita, Gil Kane, Steranko and at least a dozen other equals. But I went with Joe Kubert because he was my teacher and mentor, and because he’d been drawing commanding covers longer than any of those guys. And I chose this first issue also for two reasons: it introduced me to the world of Edgar Rice Burroughs at an impressionable age, and after seeing Joe’s first Tarzan art on the cover of my first Overstreet Price Guide (1975 edition), I was ecstatic when I found the first issue of his historical Tarzan run. His version of the ape-man has remained my favorite in comic books ever since. (You can read my tribute to Joe and his school here: http://wednesdaysheroes.com/apw-93/
Well, that’s it. If I were to do this every year, I’d probably choose some different entries each time. What about you? Got any additions? I’d love to hear or see them. Let me know below if you can. (If you’re over 40, I bet I would have included them too if I’d either remembered or had the extra space!)
P.S.: I love doing covers—not line-for-line recreations, but re-imaginings and remakes with a twist, as well as “never-befores”. If you’ve seen my recent Silver Surfer contribution for the Joe Sinnott Inking Challenge and want your own of any character–just ask Craig here!