Money changes everything: Supermarket #1-4

Supermarket #1-4, by Kristian Donaldson

I've already talked on my other blog of my appreciation for Kristian Donaldson's use of color in Supermarket, but the series' covers deserve further mention here.

Now on its second issue, Supermarket is Brian Wood and Donaldson's tale of consumerism, murder and warring Yakuza and Porno Swede crime families set in the near-future world of the City.

In Donaldson's interior art, color plays a key storytelling role, as the idyllic (if rather boring) suburbs are flooded with the same fluorescent oranges, greens, pinks and blues as the convenience store where our protagonist, Pella, works. When the action moves to the sprawling, congested City, the palette shifts, too, as an oily film seems to cover the buildings and streets. Browns, crimsons and grays dominate the cityscape, with the neon hues returning primarily in the form of enormous billboards and business signage, glimpses of sky and, occasionally, Pella herself.

A similar philosophy seeps through in the covers to the first four issues.

With Issue 1, we're treated to those same fluorescent tones, in blocks that mimic the acrylic paneling of the corner store or the window placards advertising daily specials. Mopish Pella -- we know it's her from her impersonal employee nametag -- is draped in deep pink, a color that becomes associated with her inside the book. (Stereotypical? Eh, maybe.) The cigarette-smoking Yakuza, stripped across the top, also are color-coded; notice that they appear in shades of blue on these four covers.

I like the book's logo, such that it is, particularly on this premiere issue. Here, it mirrors the signage of the local Pit-n-Git or Shop-n-Go or some other awkwardly hyphenated convenience store. It almost perfectly completes that look of suburban consumerism.

Issue 2 introduces more muted tones, with the image split up to make, essentially, four smaller covers. Or maybe they're window placards or sandwich boards. In any case, the color coding continues, with Pella standing against a pink background and the Yakuza in blue. Curiously, the Porno Swedes don't follow suit -- here, they're in green and orange, but on the next cover they're in pink and blue.

The cover for Issue 3 is probably my favorite so far, as Donaldson transforms the characters' word balloons into billboards. While Pella's sign advertises the book itself, the others contain pictographs that market love, money and death (murder?).

The neon colors -- with the notable exception of Pella's deep pink or magenta -- are abandoned on the more complex cover of the fourth issue in favor of those murky colors of the City: slate, brick and goldenrod. The lower left corner looks as if glue has soaked through, adding to the grime. Maybe it's a poster, pasted on the side of an abandoned building, or a flier stuck to a lamppost.

Of course, we can't ignore the money imagery at work here, with Pella's portait in place of a president, monarch or other notable figure, and her family name -- which, not-so-coincidentally, is also a brand name -- replacing "Washington" or "Franklin" on the scroll below.

The pictographs return, this time in the form of a floating crown, a heart and cross-bones, and a hand with a severed pinky -- the latter a self-inflicted punishment in the Japanese underworld indicating an inability to fulfill responsibilities.

(I love that last morbid little detail.)


Something old, something nouveau: Rex Mundi logo

The old logo for Arvid Nelson's noir/alternate history epic, Rex Mundi, was fairly nondescript, of the Generic Horror Font No. 4 variety. It served its purpose, I suppose, but it never truly captured the tone of the series or complemented the work by artists like EricJ and Jim Di Bartolo.

However, the new logo, which debuted along with new artist Juan Ferreyra on Issue 16, is something else entirely. Created by Comicraft's J.G. Roshell, the new treatment is elegant and distinctive, playing up the book's quasi-historical setting with a nod toward Alphonse Mucha and French Art Nouveau.

The design of Issue 16's cover, of course, hammers home that connection, even employing thick black lines that appear to bleed into the yellowed paper. The logo loses some of its finer features, but the overall effect is worth the sacrifice.

With Issue 17, we see Roshell's new logo as it's intended, with letters like old parchment or maybe chiseled stone. I like that the art and type interact -- don't I always? -- with the blood from the crucifix dripping over the pronounced "M" before continuing to the image below. It's as if the cover is a slowly filling vessel.

(Let's hope they resist using the graduated screen shown at right, though.)

Roshell's logo becomes even more impressive when you consider that neither cover would've been possible using the old type treatment. That's a sure sign the redesign works.


Placebo effect

Most of the time, I know immediately why I like a cover. Other times, though, I'm enamored with an image but it takes me a while to discover the reasons.

Tomer Hanuka's The Placebo Man is one of those "other times."

Yeah, I know the graphic novel was released by Alternative Comics back in November, but the cover escaped my attention until I saw a press release last week.

I've not read the book, which collects nine of Hanuka's short stories, so I can't say how well the image captures the tone of the content inside.

Oh, all right. I'll go out on a limb and guess probably pretty well.

The cover immediately puts us at a distance, casting the reader as observer, perhaps even more so than most comics, as we view New York City from across the river. We're not there, but maybe we long to be.

When it comes to the type treatment, I'm of two minds. I don't like that letters are unceremoniously hacked off by the edges of the cover. However, I do like the logo's simplicity, even if it reminds me of Marc Cozza's design for Fortress of Solitude (the same font, even). The title, in shocking magenta -- and in contrast with the muted earthtones of the opposite shore -- rises like the morning sun over the city, (crudely) outlining the buildings. Is that longing we feel again?

But what really clinches this cover for me is its most subtle element: the rotting wooden pier supports that mimic the New York skyline, right down to the antenna tower on the Empire State Building.


Cover stories

Comic Foundry is relaunching on April 3 as a monthly webzine chock-full of comics interviews, reviews and the like.

For the debut edition, I'll be contributing a lengthy Q&A with illustrator James Jean focusing on -- you guessed it -- his Eisner and Harvey award-winning cover work on books like Fables, Green Arrow and Batgirl.

In the interview, Jean discusses process, cover philosophy and the evolution of the Fables "look," among other things. Interesting stuff, if I do say so myself.

If that goes over well, the plan (I think) is for me to contribute regular pieces on cover artists and designers. We'll see.

The accompanying image is a discarded sketch for the cover of Fables #49.


Secret Six #1, redux

The cover of Secret Six #1 as it was solicited, left, and as it will appear on shelves in May

At Horhaus, artist Karl Kerschl shows us what the cover to DC's Secret Six #1, due in May, will really look like:
If you saw the DC solicitations last month, you'd have seen a very different version of this cover - more often than not I (and I suspect many others) have to churn out loose, rough colour versions of the covers to make the deadline for the Previews catalogue. After that, there's a bit more time to work on the finished piece.
While the final colors are nice, I sort of liked the negative-image aspect of the earlier version. I wonder if this means Issue 2 will sport different colors, too.


Cosmic thing: GØDLAND #12

The wraparound cover for Joe Casey and Tom Scioli's GØDLAND #12 just screams Comicraft, doesn't it? If the design itself doesn't give them away, the near-trademark blue and orange does.

It's busy (chaotic?) and unconventional, to be sure, but Scioli, Richard Starkings & Co. pull it off. I can see a few retailers being confused by a logo that starts on the back cover, but I love that "GØDLAND" feels as if it's sweeping across the image. It's in motion. It's larger than life. It's epic. I also like that the art interacts with the type as the spaceship -- is that what it is? -- rockets through the opening in the "A."

And to top it all off, Scioli's Kirby-esque Statue of Liberty deftly references two retro relics: Planet of the Apes and the Iron Eyes Cody "Keep America Beautiful" commercial.


Of mice and ... mice

I'm jumping around a lot, partly due to my magpie nature but also because I don't want to focus on just one or two publishers for too long. I haven't finished commenting on the DC and Marvel covers for June, and haven't even started the Image offerings, but I don't want to feel forced to sprint toward some imaginary deadline.

Anyway, Mouse Guard #2 has been on my "to-do" Post It for the past week. It's so simple and understated, and perfect for David Petersen's charming series about the regiment sworn to protect the mice territories in a vaguely medieval world. There's a children's book quality to the comic -- not just in the subject matter, but in the eight-inch square format. Petersen preserves that feel by moving the UPC box and publisher's logo to the back cover (you can't see that here, but that's what was done with Issue 1, released last month by Archaia Studios Press).

It's the little details that make this image: the strain/determination of Conrad the mouse as he lifts the enormous crab; the fish hook he uses as a weapon; and, most of all, the tracks Conrad's wooden leg leaves in the sand.

It's not a flashy cover, but it doesn't need to be. It's just ... right.


Earthtone trilogy

100 Bullets #73, by Dave Johnson; Secret Six #2, by Karl Kerschl; and Checkmate #3, by Lee Bermejo

Now back to those DC solicitations. Lately, I've been drawn more and more to earthier colors, like the mustards, olives, rusts and browns in these three covers. It could be the weather. Or maybe it's because "mainstream" covers traditionally have embraced bright yellows, blues and reds.

Whatever the case, I know what I like. Here, it's not just the colors, though.

I could -- and probably will, eventually -- devote a lengthy essay to Dave Johnson's 100 Bullets covers; he rarely fails to impress and surprise me with his composition, palette and use of negative space. With Issue 73, Johnson again makes the emblem of The Trust a central element, something he's done on no fewer than five occasions. The iconography is familiar to 100 Bullets readers, perhaps as familiar as the book's logo itself, but in Johnson's hands it never seems staid. On this cover, he even repeats the motif, using it to spell out "Croatoa," a key word in 100 Bullets lore.

I follow the series in its collected format -- the wonderfully byzantine plots probably are best appreciated that way -- so I'm not up on the current storyline. However, you don't have to be a devotee to decipher this cover: the skull and crossbones, the ragdoll pose, the falling gun. All signs point to "dead."

It was a little more difficult to figure out what I liked so much about Karl Kerschl's cover for Secret Six #2. Then I looked at it alongside the first issue, and it hit me: There's a frenzied feel to them, giving us a sense that all of these images are -- bap-bap-bap -- happening at the same time. If we were to put this in movie terms, Kerschl is using the covers as the trailer instead of the poster. This is where we'd usually hear, "In a word turned upside down ..."

That approach works, I think, particularly when considering that this miniseries is all about action and espionage and impossible missions. Those covers need to be kinetic.

Lee Bermejo's cover to Checkmate #3 succeeds where the previous issue didn't. From what I gather from interviews, there's a definite Cold War undercurrent to the series' premise, with Checkmate required to maintain a balance between its metahuman and "normal" agents -- DC's Deterrence Theory -- while confronting a global superpowered arms race.

The cover to Issue 3 evokes a (well-designed) jacket from a '70s spy novel. All the imagery is there: the pistol-wielding agent, the sniper, the enemy tanks, and the red stars -- though now they're China's instead of the Soviet Union's. And while I sometimes read too much into cover art, I think the oversized silhouettes of the pawn and bishop bring to mind the onion domes of the Kremlin.

All that's missing is the name John le Carré.


But do you have anything by John Grisham?

Amazing Spider-Man #533, by Ron Garney; Wolverine #43, by Humberto Ramos; and X-Factor #8, by Ryan Sook

The original plan was to finish up my comments about DC Comics' June covers, but while I wasn't looking Marvel sneaked in its solicitations, too.

I don't want to dwell on mediocre or bad covers -- lord knows, there are enough out there -- but the design for the books caught up in Marvel's big Civil War event warrant at least brief mention.

When I first saw the big black blocks, which take up anywhere from one-third to almost three-quarters of any given cover, I thought perhaps these were hurried teaser images; placeholders, essentially.

Of course, now I see this is part of the branding for the crossover. Yes, big black blocks and, not to get too geeky, but poorly kerned type -- Times Roman, maybe? -- crowding art by the likes of Humberto Ramos, Howard Chaykin, Ryan Sook and Adi Granov.

These covers don't say, "Status Quo-Altering Event of the Year" to me. No, they say, "Quick, I need something to read on the flight to Boise!"

Sorry. I'll have something more substantial, and less snarky, a little later.


Like a wolf on the fold

I meant to point this out earlier, but I'm the forgetful type: Kalinara at Pretty, Fizzy Paradise has a nice post about one of her favorite covers: Fables #1, by James Jean.

I like the covers to the first five issues well enough, but it's not until Issue 6 that Jean moves away from the more straightforward painterly approach and hits upon that Fables "look." That's where I really start to get into the covers.

Kalinara's appreciation for Issue 1 comes through in her post, where she delves into the depictions of the central characters: Snow White's more traditional, fairy-tale appearance, Bigby's emergence from the wolfskin.

But it's in her dissection of Bigby, the Big Bad Wolf of the stories, that Kalinara's post becomes particularly interesting:
See Bigby's the only one that's completely divorced from who he had been. Yeah, he can still take the form of the wolf, and huff and puff, but this isn't the same guy that terrorized Little Red or tried to eat the Three Pigs. If you consider fairy tales often originated as warning stories, don't talk to strangers, don't eat things you don't know, don't steal, don't impersonate others... The Wolf is the symbol of chaos and danger. He's the one who'll eat you if you let him, who'll invade your house if you can't defend it. He's unknown, wild, uncontrolled and he'll eat you if you let him.
She makes some insightful comments about the similarities between Bigby and Frau, too. It's a good read.


Samurai summer

Silent Dragon trade paperback, by Leinil Francis Yu; Solo #11, by Sergio Argones; and Y: The Last Man #46, by Massimo Carnevale

I'll put together a post later about some of the covers from DC Comics' June solicitations, released this afternoon. But I just wanted to point out the oddity of three covers -- the Silent Dragon trade paperback, Solo #11 and Y: The Last Man #46 -- all featuring samurai. It probably doesn't have any significance; I just thought it was an interesting coincidence.

Well, I thought it was interesting, anyhow.


Comrade Steel, the people's hero?

Although DC Comics won't release its June solicitations until tomorrow afternoon, Newsarama offers an early glimpse of the covers for 52 #6-8, all by J.G. Jones. Issue 8, shown above at left, spotlights John Henry Irons, the costumed hero-inventor also known as Steel.

Before this issue, Jones had employed a fairly realistic approach for the series' covers. But here, he channels those wonderfully stylized Soviet propaganda posters. Sure, the colors are different -- I prefer those trademark reds, golds and blues -- but the imagery is the same: Irons, dressed in a blacksmith's apron, grasps a hammer, which is both his weapon and a symbol of the industrialist proletariat. If those weren't enough to signal that Steel is a working-class hero, we're also shown two enormous gears.

While the backgrounds of the propaganda posters were often populated by looming factories and farm machinery -- testaments to Soviet industrialization and ingenuity -- the cover to 52 #8 gives us the towering Trylon and Perisphere, symbols of the 1939 New York World's Fair. Oh, and headquarters of DC Comics' All-Star Squadron.

The fairly generic figures soaring across the cyan field are perfect stand-ins for the nameless, and sometimes faceless, "heroes" so common in propaganda art: soldiers, farmers, factory workers.

I'm not sure who the menacing bald guy is; it could be Irons, or possibly Lex Luthor, who appears on the cover to Issue 3.

Whomever it is, let's pretend he's filling in for Comrade Lenin.


Lip service: American Virgin #1

When Vertigo released the cover art for American Virgin #1, I was immediately taken with it.

It's by Frank Quitely, and I like Frank Quitely. Beyond that, though, it's a beautiful and disturbing image. It shouts, "Buy me," or perhaps something a little more explicit.

American Virgin, by Steven T. Seagle and Becky Cloonan, is about Adam Chamberlain, a 20-year-old youth minister who spearheads a national virginity movement. It's a comic about all things carnal -- and if Quitely's cover is anything, it's carnal.

The enormous open mouth is both erotic and grotesque. Quitely shows us every warty taste bud on the tongue, and every crack and crease on the lips. The depiction moves past the overt sexual aspects of the human mouth to become something undeniably yonic.

Chaste Adam oozes sexuality as he sprawls on the heart-shaped tongue, his bunched pants serving as a codpiece and drawing attention to his crotch. He's about to be consumed, but he doesn't seem to care.

I had wondered how the cover would hold up once the trade dress was added; after all, Quitely didn't leave much room. The top, at least, works. The logo is whimsical and slightly retro, reminding me of Love, American Style, for some reason. Things get a bit shaky after that, though, with the creators' names wedged in under the logo, and the tagline -- "From the Bible Belt to the Chastity Belt" -- appearing almost as an afterthought.

Still, even with those typographic shortcomings, it's an arresting cover.


Fables Vol. 7, step by step

One of my favorite cover artists, James Jean, has posted the wraparound cover for the upcoming Fables Vol. 7 trade paperback, which collects the "Arabian Nights (And Days)" storyline. As a process nerd, I'm particularly glad he's included the sketch and drawing phases.


It's rare that a manga cover catches my eye.

That's not to say I don't like manga; there are several titles I regularly enjoy. It's just that a majority seem to employ fairly straightforward, pinup-style covers, with the main character(s) striking a fearsome/seductive/humorous pose. (Of course, I can say the same of a good deal of Marvel comics.)

It's a formula that obviously works, but it doesn't wow me. Sure, there are exceptions, where the cover is guided by a strong and obvious graphic-design sensibility: Lady Snowblood, and Chip Kidd's jackets for Vertical come immediately to mind.

I stumbled across another happy exception this week while perusing Dark Horse Comics' solicitations for June.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 1, by Eiji Ohtsuka and Housui Yamazaki, is about five students at a Buddhist university who help the dead still trapped in their corpses to move on to the next incarnation. That nutshell description alone is enough to make me order the book.

But I find the cover just as interesting.

The designer -- I emailed Dark Horse for a name, but haven't received a response -- could've gone the obvious route, showcasing the ominous bird that serves as the delivery service's logo (Kurosagi means "Black Heron"). That would've been too on-the-nose, though. Instead, he or she playfully, and perhaps a little macabrely, uses a pattern for a paper puppet. Unassembled, it resembles more a dismembered corpse than a child's toy -- a fantastic image, considering the story.

The color palette, too, is a bit unconventional. Although the web image isn't that great -- you'll notice the terrible JPEG artifacting -- it's safe to say the designer opted for something other than a blatant blood red. Maybe it's a coral red, which holds particular meaning in Buddhist belief.

Or maybe it just looks good with khaki.

The logo is fairly nondescript and utilitarian; heck, maybe you can't even consider it a proper "logo." But as ... bland as it is, it serves as more than a simple label. It's here that the black heron comes into play; "Kurosagi" is the only word in the title that appears in black. "Corpse" is set apart as well, making me think coral is more than just an aesthetic choice.

I also like the enormous volume number, primarily because of my fondness for covers that use those "annoying" necessities -- issue number, UPC box, price -- as art elements.


About This Blog

Most Recent Posts


Art & Design

Comics Blogosphere

Publisher Blogs

ATOM 0.3
Weblog Commenting and Trackback by Blogarama - The Blogs Directory