The cover of a comic is one of its most important aspects–it sells it to the reader. It’s their first impression and it gives them a taste of what’s inside. That’s why we just had to attend the Art of the Cover panel at Boston Comic Con 2017. Stocked with excellent cover artists Arthur Adams, Joe Jusko, Jae Lee, and Tony Harris, the panel discussed everything from their favorite covers, how the industry has changed, and the process of creating covers on a deadline.
Most of these guys have been in the business for decades and have seen the industry change over the years. Harris pointed out when he got into the industry everything was analog and that “You had to do interior work for a while before companies would give you the gift of doing your own covers.” It’s much easier to get into drawing covers than it was now, but there are downsides as well. “When we broke in editors were all former artists and they aren’t now,” Jusko said. Dealing with an editor who has a background on the creative side makes it so much easier. It’s not uncommon for instance, for an editor to not know what they want and say, “I don’t know, I’ll know when I see it” Jusko said.
Jusko is known for so much there’s too much to list here, but one of his biggest moments came when he painted the Marvel Masterworks trading cards. “I signed more of those cards than anything I’ve ever done,” Jusko said. The thing is, he did 104 of them in 94 days and yet that’s what stuck. Likening it to breaking in as an actor, Jusko said it might take a lot of work, but the smallest thing can be your big break. At the time he started getting jobs, Jusko said painted work was starting to become more popular in American comics. This allowed him to learn on the job. “I filled a niche they really needed,” Jusko said, and now, “The talent is so much greater today than it was back then.”
Speaking about breaking in, Lee talked about Secret Wars #2 being an inspiration to him because it had so many characters on the cover. “I said to myself, wow this one comic has every character that I love, I’ll buy this because I couldn’t afford to buy all the Captain America and Iron Man comics and everyone was in this book.” It’s from this issue Lee said he’s always wanted to work on a big crossover.
Adams opined, “Those are cursed words,” which brought a laugh to the audience.
Harris pointed out in most cases the job is already due the day you get it. “A lot of the times, by the time you’re hired, the candle is burning at both ends.”
Adams retorted, “I have a special filter where I translate ‘when it’s due yesterday’ to ‘never.'” Lee agreed with that, “Being a comic book artist you have to be a part time detective, [to figure out] when is solicitation art really due?”
Jusko pointed out the industry has changed quite a bit and in most cases, the cover needs to be finished for catalogs and solicitations “five months before the book is even drawn.” That forces the artist to draw more pin-up style covers since the content of the script isn’t even written yet. “It’s boring to do a pinup cover every single month,” Jusko said, “I personally like narrative covers.” Adams related that it’s tough to draw a cover without a script and there are cases where it might be the perfect cover “… if it was two issues earlier.”
Harris said he never works on a cover unless he can have a script. “Whether the interior artist has started or not, I can go through and hit keystones, like that would make a great cover that would be a great cover,” Harris said.
Adams pointed out most of the time you get a, “This is what we think happens” outline to base the cover on. Jusko added a lot of the time it’s a case where they just want “A cool shot of fill-in-the-name of the character.” Of course, there are minefields to navigate, as Jusko shared he’s currently working on a Barberalla cover and editorially isn’t sure what the costume looks like yet even though the cover is due in a few days. Lee was familiar with that and said, “You’ll do it, make it up, and they’ll ask you to redo the cover.” Harris was quick to point out that’s the real challenge of creating covers. “That’s the art of the cover though. It’s not as simple as it used to be,” because, Harris said, you must be able to work on the fly. “With all the stuff we’re telling [the audience], we should be classified as athletes,” Harris said which brought laughs from the audience.
Arthur Adam’s cover work has astounded readers for years. This is a combination of covers from Original Sin.
The panelists then got onto the topic of their favorite things to draw. Joe said it was always Vampirella after he saw a cover for it when he was 12 and now that he’s done that, these days he just wants to draw big cats. Lee said his was drawing Superman. “I’m a big fan of Christopher Reeve’s movies. Getting to draw Superman was one of the biggest challenges of my career.” That’s because, Lee said, there’s no cheating drawing Superman. “The face has to be perfect,” while characters with masks you can cheat. “I love to draw monster covers because you can’t make a mistake,” Lee said which brought a laugh to the audience. Adams said he’s “Just happy if they pay me to put lines on paper,” which Harris agreed with. “I love drawing anything set in the 1940’s and the other thing would be monsters,” Harris said. Adams told the audience his big wish is “To do paintings of Joe [Jusko] painting big cats.”
When asked if there’s anything they dislike drawing each artist had a different response. Adams hates drawing people holdings guns. Harris said he hates drawing feet. Jusko said he dislikes drawing tech of any kind and he’s not a fan of Batman. “I loathe Batman, every time I’ve tried to do Batman there’s a block. I feel like everything has been done before on that character.” To much applause, Lee said, “Have you tried putting him on a gargoyle?”
Adams related to that, saying he was trying to figure out what to draw for The Walking Dead comic and he asked Robert Kirkman what he needed to know. Kirkman told him he would send him something. “The next day I got a box with 150 comics in it,” Adams said relating it’s not always so easy.
Lee said his biggest issue is the costumes these days. “I grew up reading comics when costumes were simple, those bold Alex Toth senses of design as opposed to these costumes with plating,” Lee said. “When you draw Batman now he’s got 50 different armored plates on him, the Flash has lighting bolts coming out of everything, I get these designs and I don’t understand this,” Jusko added these characters get more complicated over time, but a lot of the time the design doesn’t factor in more than one angle. Jusko said, “I would go on Facebook and ask, ‘can anyone tell me what this particular costume looks like?'”
As the panel wound down, the artists were asked by an audience member what their favorite covers were of all time. Adams said it was either a Rom Spaceknight cover with Jack of Hearts, or Fantastic Four #26. Jusko said his might be Amazing Spider-Man #48. “It’s a shot of the Vulture from behind, Spidey clinging to a wall…that composition of that cover is awesome,” Jusko said.
Jumping off topic and onto how one might take notes from the writer, Harris said, “I don’t take notes from writers,” which got a laugh, but he was serious. “The writers are directing the books, it’s kind of my job to sell it,” Jusko said. Adams said it all depends on the relationship you have with the writer but that, “I have little contact with the world of humans.”
Finally, the artists were asked what they’d love to draw if they could redo a movie poster. Adams said his would be King Kong. After some deliberating–Jusko couldn’t pin one thing down, Adams answered for him saying it was Tarzan to which Jusko agreed saying there hasn’t been a good Tarzan cover yet. Harris said his would be any of the original Universal monster films. Lee said his favorite film is Last of the Mohicans, “It’d be fun to tackle something like that.”