San Diego Comic-Con: The Art of the Cover

Artists discussed several of their covers and what leads to a cover's creation.

Moderated by Mark Evanier, a panel was held on Sunday, July 23, at the San Diego Comic-Con where five of comics’ best cover illustrators met to discuss their work. The panelists were Mike Grell, Erica Henderson, Arthur Adams, Joyce Chen, and Joe Staton. Before the panel began, the panelists spoke with each other, with much shaking of hands and clapping on the back. It was obvious that it had been a while since some had seen each other.

Mark asked the panelists what motivates them to do the covers, and if they’re doing the interiors of the book, when an idea for the cover comes to them. Mike said that the covers usually come while he’s in the middle of penciling the book. He tries to do them like a movie poster one-sheet — something to get the reader’s attention. Carmine Infantino told him him that a panel could be blown up to be a book’s cover, but that he wouldn’t be paid twice. He always drew covers after hearing that. “When I do a variant cover, they (publishers) want something different,” Erica said. “I kind of do my own thing.” She admitted to not being a fan of a book if the cover artist didn’t also do the interiors. When thinking of covers, Arthur had a one word answer that drew laughter from the panel and the audience, “Deadlines.” He stated that he generally does three pretty rough sketches for a cover. “Sometimes less or more, like 6 to 10. Eighty percent of the time they pick the one I don’t like.” Mike interjected with, “Editors got wise to that years ago.” He said an editor told him they needed a cover where Black Canary and Green Arrow were sparring, with her going like fire. He drew a cover with Green Arrow on his backside, bow nocked, pointed at Black Canary who was literally leaping through fire. After showing the cover to the editor, he was told, “They’re just arguing (this issue).” Joyce said that the fastest she’s ever done a cover was six hours for Marvel. Sometimes she has just “Two or three days.” She said she never knows what’s inside the books she doing covers for. “I don’t have time to read all the books that come — There are too many.” A past cover she had to do for Marvel was Deadpool Duck. She didn’t know there was such a character and had to do some quick research to get it done. For Dynamite Entertainment she did a series of noir covers because she didn’t know what was within the books. Joe said, “I have some idea where I’m headed when I get a script.”

The next question, “Were you ever upset you can’t do the interiors?”, had Joe giving a very interesting answer. “In the past, DC was so behind on covers, Ed Hannigan and I were called in. We did roughs, Dick Giordano inked, and they were done. I was making a power point on Legion of the Super-Heroes covers I had done, but they were (only) signed by Dick.”

For the last half of the panel, five covers by each of the panelists were projected and they were asked to share what they felt about each. None of the artists were aware of what images Mark had chosen. Invincible Iron Man #60 (Vol 3) was first cover for Mike and he though it held up pretty well. Warlord #10 was next and had the artist shaking his head. “…It seemed like a good idea at the time.” He stated Denny O’Neil made him do the cover. “What’s working is the bordering of the black. It’s not…real bad.” He wasn’t very happy with the creature in the illustration. Green Lantern Green Arrow #83 had him very happy with the illustration and colors, which shows Hal tearing at his costume to reveal a lantern logo branded onto his chest, though he didn’t like the panel inserted onto it or the text itself. “I don’t like text on covers.” The 1987 cover to Green Arrow #1 had him saying, “It’s an awful painting…I kind of like the layout.” He said his execution was not great. The reveal of Jon Sable, Freelance #33 changed his tone and mood. “I love this cover! Sergio Aragonés and I did this, with him doing the characters at the bottom…This is fun.”

The Fried Pie variant cover to Scarlet Witch #1 from 2016 had Erica saying, “The contrast in the colors is good.” The headpiece she used was not the one the Wanda wore in the series. Thankfully, the writer was okay with it. This cover sparked a brief conversation among the artists, who didn’t know what Fried Pie was. Issue 11 of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl followed. She liked getting the opportunity to draw Venom and Doc Oct and would like to draw Venom again. The colors on this were “accidental” but turned out really well, in her opinion. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #9 was next. “This was fun. I love cutaways. This one took a while.” Several on the panel expressed their likes for this frontpiece. This was followed by the seventeenth issue of Squirrel Girl. “It’s missing Superman text that was supposed to be paraphrased. (It’s missing because) legal may have though it too similar to Superman. I’m not a fan of this one. I don’t like the colors on this at all.” The last cover shown was Jughead #5. “I had six hours to do this cover.” Joe stated, “I love this. I think you nailed it.” Erica thanked him and told the audience that the entire cover was done digitally.

JLA: Scary Monsters #1 was the first cover projected by Arthur Adams. He liked the art, but not the logo. Monkeyman and O’Brien’s first issue was next, earning applause from the audience. “I ripped off Jack Kirby,” he said to the crowd. “I like this one.” Mark asked if he also did the title, and he did, but it was cleaned up “considerably” by someone else. The charity book Heroes For Hope followed. “This is so old, it seems like someone else drew it.” Arthur stated that Paul Smith was supposed to draw the cover, but couldn’t. He was instructed to draw Wolverine in a pose similar to Paul’s work. “I am really happy to be associated with this book.” He said he always signs several of them when he attends conventions. “I like this better in black and white,” was his response to seeing Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales #4. “The figure is lost in the colors.” He did say that he liked covers with characters off to the side, as they are on this illustration. Godzilla Color Special #1 was the final cover shown for Arthur. He smiled, saying, “One of the most irritating things about this cover is where to sign it.”

Joyce’s first cover shown was for Deadpool Duck #5. “I did this overnight. It works fine.” An interesting side note was that Joyce drew her dog on the cover, but it was covered by the barcode. Ms. Marvel #13 produced a strong reaction, “Oh, God. I actually hate this cover.” Joyce went on to say, “This was a really tight deadline, but I turned in what they wanted.” She felt much better about Tomb Raider: Sphere of Influence #2. “This was a fun cover and I got to draw an alligator.” Joyce likes to put creatures on her covers, so she’s happy when given an opportunity to do so. Red Sonja #12 had her saying, “I have no idea what’s going on inside.” She doesn’t like the coloring and gave a rule of thumb for her on covers, “If you can’t squint and find a central image (something’s wrong).” Action Comics #820 was Joyce’s final cover for the panel was one she thought was okay. “I drew it, Art inked it. Art also drew the cape, because I’m terrible at capes.”

E-Man #4 came on the screen first for Joe. “I did everything but the colors. I like the cover.” Next up was Haunted Love #4. ” I like the floating feeling. I did the finished art.” Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #250 had Joe recalling, “This was something done in the office in a hurry. Dick (Giordano) redrew my Superboy face.” The next cover had the panel and audience giggling, Green Lantern #10 (Vol 3). Placing a hand to the side of his face as he looked upon his work, Joe smiled, “It’s goofy.” His favorite from this run was a close-up of Gnort’s face, which was Issue #12. He stated he likes to draw fuzzy faces up close. “It works for what it is,” were his final words for Issue 10. The last cover shown was Green Lantern #151 (Vol 2). “I don’t like this cover.” Considering it further, he added, “I don’t like the word balloon…It’s kind of a hodgepodge. It’s kind of a mess.”

With time having run out, Mark addressed the crowd, “I hope you found this invigorating,” which had Arthur responding sarcastically, “No.” The laughter that followed was an excellent way to close this panel.

I was surprised to hear each artist being so candid about their covers. All had work shown that they liked and disliked. Hearing the time constraints and editorial comments about their work was very informative. I would love to see more panels like this at other conventions.

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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