Our Top 10 list today comes from Benjamin Samuels. Take it away Ben…
Cover art! It’s what sells a comic for the most part. An intriguing cover that “jumps off the racks” and makes a sale is what every publisher is hoping for. Often the image on a cover has no correlation with the action inside but if it compels a youngster to fork over the purchase price, a cover has done its job. I created a whole web site devoted to cover art from the “Golden Age” of comics, Ben Samuels’ Classic Golden Age Comic Book Cover Gallery and you will find a heavy bias toward comics from the 1940s and 1950s but I tried to include a few covers from later years as well. As a frustrated artist, the quality of the design and imagery is my primary interest, more so than fame or historical significance. Putting together this list has been a fun and interesting exercise. Listed below are many of my all-time favorites, but famous comics like Action 1, Superman 1, Detective 27 or Amazing Fantasy 15 are not among them due to their over-exposure and lack of artist merit when balanced against their admitted historical significance. Below you will find some remarkable but hopefully less-familiar images which I hope readers will agree deserve inclusion in a Top-Ten list.
Keen Detective Funnies 20: I love this cover for its “eye”-catching design. Yeah, that’s a pun. The creature starring on the cover of this comic is a supernatural being known only as “The Eye” and it floats around foiling evildoers. And it can see anything, anywhere. And yes, it is simply a gigantic floating, flaming, disembodied eyeball. How cool is that? I think it’s VERY cool! The art is by Frank Thomas.
Marvel Mystery Comics 40: Any top ten list MUST include an Alex Schomburg cover, right? It’s hard to pick a favorite Schomburg but I think this is mine. There’s so much detail and action on this cover that I just feel like I could look at it for hours and still not take in everything that is going on.
Junior 10: Headlights. Need I say more? Al Feldstein’s early work in the teen humor field can’t help but appeal to any red-blooded American male. Sadly the publisher was Victor Fox and Feldstein didn’t get paid for his art. The good news is that not long after getting stiffed by Fox, Feldstein found work with an outfit called EC Comics and was thrilled when he was paid on time and the checks cleared. Needless to say, the rest is history.
Mister Mystery 12: Here is another eye-themed cover. The art is by Bernard Baily, who is probably best known for drawing early adventures of the Spectre in More Fun Comics. This is a very popular pre-Code horror cover and is memorable for the shocking image of a white-hot poker poised to gouge out some hapless victim’s bulging eyeball. It is hard-core horror!
Weird Mysteries 5: Another unspeakable horror illustrated by Bernard Baily. This one is affectionately called “the monkey-brain cover” by pre-Code horror collectors, although it might be a stretch to call the creature receiving (or losing) a brain a monkey… I must confess that I have no idea what that thing is supposed to be. Or what is supposed to be going on, really. But I do know it is a shocking – and cool – image. So here it is in my top-ten.
Crime SuspenStories 22: EC published a lot of horrific horror comics, and most of them had fantastic cover art. This is one of the most notorious and it’s my favorite. Johnny Craig had a flair for sophisticated design and this is a fine example of his talent. When asked before Congress if the cover was in good taste, publisher Bill Gaines famously replied, “[Yes, for] the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.” True enough! But Congress was not impressed.
Startling Terror 11: Artist and Star Comics publisher L. B. Cole made a career of specializing in excellent cover art. His interior art is scant, but his hundreds of comic book covers are always eye-catching and popular. He had a theory of trying to make his cover art jump off the racks with poster-style design and garish color schemes. It was an effective strategy! Star Comics had remarkably forgettable contents, but Cole’s spectacular covers make the comics prized by collectors today. I think this is one of his best. What’s not to like about a giant spider with a huge skull for a head, which ensnares human victims in its web, in front of a blood-red background?
Our Fighting Forces 71: Jerry Grandenetti’s grey-tone cover art set the style for decades of DC war comics. I think this one is his best. This cover has wonderful composition and sophisticated use of subdued color. It is a tense scene with Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch waiting for the enemy in a steamy jungle. Gunner and Sarge are sweating bullets but Pooch is staying cool!
Wolverine [Limited Series] 2: Frank Miller is an undisputed master of art and design, and the dynamic perspective of this cover which features fan-favorite character Wolverine – in one of his most seminal and popular story lines – make this dramatic cover image a “classic” by any measure. ‘Nuff said!
X-Men 141: Rogers & Hammerstein… Lee & Ditko… Lennon & McCartney… Kirby & Sinnott. Some artistic teams magnify each other’s strengths and combine to create a unique zenith of creativity. John Byrne and Terry Austin are one of those rare teams. Byrne’s uncanny design and Austin’s razor sharp ink lines and lush, textured, background details are unmatched to this day (in my not-so-humble opinion). I can spend hours admiring all the fantastically executed aspects of this masterpiece of comic book cover art. It succeeds on many levels, virtually telling a whole story in a single image, while drawing in the viewing and asking as many questions as it answers. This comic captured my imagination when I was young, and still mesmerizes me today. If I could own any one piece of original cover art, without question this would be it!
Benjamin asked (begged!) that I include these honorable mentions below. Having put together my own Top 10 list, I know how hard keeping it to only 10 covers can be. So…here are Ben’s “wish the list were longer” entries…