Each month, hundreds of comics are released to stores for the hungry masses of fans around the world. To stand out on the shelves, you have to put the great art up front. You can judge a book by its cover.
Welcome back to our semi-regular column that looks at our favourite comic book covers each month. 2014 has been a massive year for all of us here at Behind The Panels, and we’ve not always been consistently pumping out that column. We hope to change that in 2015, but for now we just want to share some of our favourite covers from this year.
We’ve chosen one from every month for the year to be fair, because let’s face it: almost everything that’s in this column is here for a reason. As such, this list is representative of the amazing talent out there, rather than an exhaustive or essential list of the best covers of the year. That would have hundreds of entries in it, and be too beautiful for any single human to behold.
This is Cover Story.
Deadly Class #1 (Image Comics) – Artist: Wesley Craig and Lee Loughridge
Not only has Deadly Class been one of the best new series of 2014, the consistently outstanding covers are a highlight each month. It’s interesting that this one is first cab off the rank from January, as Wesley Craig and colourist Lee Loughridge set a major trend in comics this year in many ways. Here they cast their central figures against a stark or minimal background, restricting their colour palette to one or two tones, and striking a contrast with something that lies beneath the surface.
The Portland, OR based artist is said to depict “super-saturated, hyper-detailed worlds where heroes and monsters are as fantastic as the landscapes they inhabit”. This cover works so well partly for the opposite reason: it takes those hyper detailed elements and breaks them down into their component parts, giving us one of the more messed-up versions of a dress-up game. The chance to see Dredd in sandles and socks is almost worth cutting up your comic for.
Paolo Rivera is a name that has cropped up a lot in this column over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why. Some of his work in the last few years for Dark Horse has been very influenced by older propaganda photos, and there a wealth of references in this seemingly simple piece of imagery. Magneto himself is laid bare, naked stripped back to being “just a man”. Yet the barbed wire twisted into the familiar shape of his iconic helmet also tips the hat to his tumultuous origin story.
Mike Del Mundo might just take out our Cover Story Cover Artist of the Year Award. The artist, who was nominated for an Eisner this year for his work on X-Men Legacy, channels some of the great Elektra artists of the past (notably Bill Sienkiewicz) in creating something inspired by Japanese watercolour prints. The blood splatters filled with the countless bodies that have fallen before Elektra’s blades. (If you are really into his process, there a great little video from Marvel AR about his work on this series).
The amazingly talented Michael Dialynas is the regular series artist, and his primary cover is also worth of inclusion in this column, However, there is something about the enormity of the image in the appropriately named Matthew Woodson variant that makes this cover stand out, particularly when contrasted against the size of the figures in the foreground. The Woods is also one of the best debuts of 2014.
So much has been written and said about Superman and Batman being flip-sides of the same coin. Yet few have visually captured this dichotomy so succinct as Jae Lee does in the cover to the latest title featuring the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight. Batman isn’t simply ‘in the dark’, but he appears to exist entirely in and of the shadows. Superman is at his most powerful in the sunlight, but the merging of the black tones can’t help but indicate that perhaps some of the darkness has rubbed-off on the Last Son of Krypton.
Stephenson’s is described on her website as “a modern retro Pin Up artist”, inspired by the glamour art of the 1940s and 1950s. With the cover of Bodies, the UK-based artist plays with the surface sheen of the beauty shot. Splattering it with blood stains subverts the perception, like a David Lynch film that has decay lurking just under the frame of the white picket fence. The interior art of the book has four different artists, one for each time period the book follows.
One of the best debuts of the year has featured some of the most eye-catching covers of 2014 as well, but this variant cover that was inspired by the magazines of the era is a standout. The delicate photorealistic art seems period accurate, and the wearing around the edges of the book makes it feel like a found item.
Potentially one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful pieces of cover art for this month or any other, Greg Tocchini’s cover conveys the sense of inner and outer exploration that the book embodies. Distorting the senses immediately by turning the character (or maybe the entire frame) upside-down, Tocchini organically interweaves the character with the environment, capturing a seamless union.
Jim Henson’s Storyteller: Witches #2 (Archaia) – Artist: Kyla Vanderklugt
Ontario’s Kyla Vanderklugt’s bio notes: “Capable of drawing things other than swords, sometimes of own volition”. Vanderklugt does so much with some very simple imagery here, using repetition, stillness and the backdrop of snow to make the two figures present pop on the panel. In an interview with CBR, she talks about the difference that “working sideways” brings to her work: “Flipping the pages sideways helped me to think of the two page spread as a single canvas, and explore different ways the story could unfold across that spread. There’s a strong focus in the story on the Snow Witch’s mercurial nature, and how she’s interpreted by both the other characters and the readers at different points, so I tried to use some repetition in the layout on certain spreads to bring home the changes she goes though.”
As with a number of prominent covers this year, Ferreyra’s art makes striking use of silhouette to frame the main figure against the autumnal backdrop. Yet as sinister as the vision of this figure surrounded by crows might be, even the softness of the backdrop is given a sinister edge by the shapes that the changing leaves and branches form, quite literally staring back out at the reader.
There are any number of the almost two dozen Cooke variant covers that came out in December that could have made this list, each and every one of them being an iconic example of the characters they are portraying. This one is distinctive because it exclusively focuses on the villains in Batman’s life, with every single other one being a heroic pose or candid shot of a hero in action. An amazing way to end the year, and celebrate 75 years of Batman fighting villains in the process.
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