Tag Archives: Cover Art

The Eyes Have It

Would it be too diabolical a choice to words if I were to say, “The All-Star Superman cover is so great, it passes with flying colours”?

Nevertheless, I cannot stop taking a deep breath each time I see the cover of volume 1 of the collected All-Star Superman series by Frank Quitely (penciling) and Jamie Grant (colouring).

It struck me when I saw it first online, and again when I held the copy in my hand. So many reactions in mere moments:

  • The corner of the eye catches the soft sun which you know means the world is feeling benevolent today
  • Zip to Superman whose soft, heavy eyes draw you into a sense of Buddhist calm – yes, Buddha eyes
  • Clouds make you weightless, especially when you realize you are standing on them
  • And the city below, far below, means you’re soaring like an eagle, or a Kryptonian dog

So many ways to lead the reader to one single feeling – meditative bliss, I kid you not.

If I were exaggerating I would not have remembered this image for so many hours as I have. I would not have felt compelled to write about it. It is like the best snapshots you remember from a great holiday, which connect you to the feeling of freedom and being unchained.

I can try and take a more learned stand towards the image – the colours play a major role in initiating these feelings. The first thing to catch your eyes is, of course, the red of the cape. It literally explodes in your eyes, because you know your eyes and pupils grow bigger when you see it first. The next thing to catch you is the sun, as both the vanishing point of the picture and the way the title is composed lead you to this distant and diffused soft yellow sun, covered by a safety net of clouds. They are altogether reassuring, showing you that nothing looms on the horizon. All the while, not exactly foremost on your consciousness, is a beautiful blue. It’s dead centre in the picture, so you will never see any part of the whole image without a bit of beautiful blue in your sights. And yes, these are the three primary colours of printing.

But finally, there’re the eyes, the eyes that communicate safety and control. They look straight at you and hold you. You suddenly see a Superman who isn’t hurling and dashing through the sky to save mankind, but a Superman who is taking a moment to admire the heavens, just as you are.

Who invites you to sit beside him as time slows to a standstill.

Cover Lover

Can one really judge a book by its cover? Maybe not, but I love covers anyway. One can judge covers by covers.

Yes, that’s right. I said cover 4 times in the last paragraph. Moving on.

I listened, with relish, to a talk on creating cover art given by Vivek Goel at Comic Con India. It was one of the best things I did there, since it was brand new insight for me. I love learning about the technique and philosophy of comics, and a for-beginners introduction to cover art was delicious.

Cover art is not easy (and here I am not just talking about comics). They have to encapsulate as much of the story contained inside as possible. But how in the world do you do that? It is tough enough writing summaries and précises in 200 words, how do you reduce 200 panels into 1 cover, while retaining the right flavor and consistency? Well, often enough it doesn’t work, hence the old maxim about a book and its cover.

Comics covers are tougher in many ways because it is a part of what it represents. A written novel can have a photograph on its cover, or one illustration. But a comic cover art not only tell you the content of the succeeding pages, but is very much a bite of the comic itself. That way it will also tell you about the quality of the art to be expected inside.

John Berger wrote a book once, which you started reading from the cover itself. It was meant to show how communication began from the moment you have the book within eyesight, how we started perceiving signals right from the start.

So with comics this process feels amplified. Sample an example by one of my favourite comics artists, Will Eisner,

I haven’t read this book but the cover tells me it’s about The Spirit, and he faces non-human enemies. He’ll probably be trapped in a maze-like sewage system, and trying to battle his way out, outnumbered by the gremlin-likes on their home turf. And even if I am all wrong, the cover is still a story I’ve read.

A neat categorization was offered by Goel – three primary types of covers, being Mid-action Cover, Idea Cover and a Pose Cover. He further helped me out by letting me put his own work as samples of this division. So here are Vivek Goel’s 3 types of cover art, with his own works.

A Mid-action Cover is the most direct communication about the contents of the book – it picks a moment that best represents the story about to unfold. It is picked right from the action, and amplified.

The next is the Idea Cover which doesn’t represent the action, but the crux of the story inside. It won’t be an actual event, but will be like a metaphor.

And lastly the Pose Cover is one which is like a portfolio shot of the main character(s). It doesn’t represent any action, and instead is meant to attract us to the character. This works for the best superheroes as well as the deepest graphic novels.

Like with other categorisations, these three are also open to inter-mixing resulting in combinations. Take for instance Pose+Idea covers, like the last one. And maybe, if we try we can also come up with more than three categories other than these three. I’m sure it will be merrier.

And if you want to know more about Vivek’s work, he’s available here. He’s one of the most talented artists I’ve seen (and art is exploding in India, so that’s a great achievement for anyone), and what’s more, he a terrific person.