Archived: Fables #49

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Note: This entry originally appeared on Jan. 22, 2006, at Supernaturally, my work and idea blog.

I realize I write a lot -- too much? -- about comic book covers, but they fascinate me. Well, at least the good ones do.

Take, for instance, the cover for May's Fables #49, which artist James Jean posted on his website last night. The issue is the second of a two-part story, titled "Wolves," in which Mowgli (of Jungle Book fame) is sent to find the AWOL Bigby Wolf (of Big Bad Wolf fame).

I don't follow the series, just Jean's covers, so I have only a vague idea of what's going on, story-wise. But that cover is ravishing and haunting. The muted, wintery colors of the birch trees and the snarling wolf are punctuated by the almost preternatural yellow of the animal's eye, which is replicated in the accents of the trade dress.

And the beast itself -- representing Bigby, I presume -- is beautiful and terrifying. In the lower-right corner, barely noticeable in the tree line, is the hunter, Mowgli, eclipsed by his fierce quarry. Gorgeous stuff, that.

However, what interests me most here, and with many of his Fables covers, is Jean's dedication to experimenting with the series logo and trade dress. While the font remains consistent, its size and position on the cover do not.

On Issue 41, for example, the logo dangles from the end of strings, like one of Gepetto's puppets. On Issue 39, it crosses the cover like an official's sash, spelling out "fakery," "betrayal" and "lies." And for Issue 35, part of a story about Jack of the Tales in Hollywood, the title is appropriately shortened to "Fab!"

Defying comic-book convention, Jean treats the logo and dress as art elements, not static obstacles. They become part of the design, not just something to be plopped on as an afterthought. (With Issue 49, he even thrusts the UPC box to the top of the image, instead of cramming it into a corner, thereby freeing up space to tell a story -- something a good cover does.)

Some argue that the logo should remain at the top of the cover, so the book's title can be clearly seen on waterfall racks. It's a good point, of course, but not all stores use those shelves. Some overlap the books, so only the left edge shows, while others clearly present the full cover.

With little or no consistency in sales display, it makes more sense to allow content to dictate design, which appears to be what Jean and DC/Vertigo have decided. Form follows function, and all of that.

I'm not sure where I was going with that tangent, but I'm pretty sure I've arrived there. Now that that's out of my system, I'll get back to writing.

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