“I come to bury the comic book cover, not to praise it”.

I’ve written before on what makes a good comic book cover (good design, good art, and the fact that it tells a story) and how there are not as many good comic book covers as there use to be. But this week I came to the realization that the art of the comic book cover is dead. Covers don’t matter at all anymore. They’ve lost their cachet in society and have almost no cachet in the comic book shop.

What made me realize this? The cover to Ex Machina number 39. Ex Machina is a comic I buy regularly. I bought it last week but it sat around for a few days before I picked it up. As I picked it up I realized I had never even looked at the cover. So I did. That is when I came to the conclusion that comic book covers matter in no way shape or form anymore.

I hate to pick on Ex Machina and Tony Harris’ artwork because I like the book and the art. But the cover was pointless. Like almost every cover. It was nicely drawn with a nice design. A little symmetrical for my taste but that’s not really bad. It was that the cover told no story and was just a guy standing there that made it so pointless. It looks more like an exercise than a cover created to get a customer to pick up a comic and buy it.

That’s the problem. When comics were sold on newsstands to the public a cover was the thing that screamed out to people. Now that comics are sold almost exclusively at comic book shops people don’t even look at covers much. They buy their regulars. I’m picking up Ex Machina no mater what is on the cover. And I’m not picking up the X-Men no matter what is on the cover. Well maybe I would if they came up with am X-Men cover to intrigue me but I doubt that will happen.

Comics are much more expensive now than the newsstand days too. The days of browsing covers and picking up something that looks interesting are over. Not at three to four bucks a pop and not with all the dull covers.

Plus most regulars to the comic shop know what’s coming out that week and what they are going to buy beforehand. It’s the age of the internet and instant information. There is no need to look at covers in deciding what to buy. At most it will jog a customer’s memory that so and so number eleven was coming out this week and there it is.

Covers have become place holders filled with clip art. A cover has to be there so one needs to be drawn but it will in no way sell the book. Excepting Alex Ross covers. He is the only one left who can give a cover any type of cachet. Every other cover is art meant to be clipped for other uses. Ads, previews, t-shirts, posters, and whatever else anyone can think of to sell. Ninety nine percent of covers are never put to these uses but they can be if needed and that is what is important to comic companies.

What I wonder is did the comic book cover die because it was made into clip art or was is made into clip art because it was dead? I’m not sure but I think it’s decline started because of neglect.

I know that for a decade plus no one was in charge of covers at Marvel comics. Editors commissioned them to be made but there was no art director in charge of making sure they were good. Editors who even had a small clue about making a cover look good had bigger fish to fry. Covers all got done in a perfunctory manner. Basically whatever the artist turner in is what got published.

Then the editors started asking the artists for clip art covers so they could use the art elsewhere. “Iconic” covers they were called. This was in the mid Nineties when comics were in a major decline. Could some good covers have garnered interest and slowed the decline? Or were comics going to decline no matter what and the covers already didn’t matter?

I have no answers to these questions. People still love the art of comic book covers as they are the most expensive piece of art in the whole comic book. An interior page can run a couple of hundred dollars while the cover will run a couple of thousand. At least for old comic book art.

I love the art of comic book covers and was sad to come to the realization that covers just don’t matter anymore. They exist for no reason these days. They tell no story and sell no comics. As long as we have monthly comic books we will still have comic book covers but with so few artists, editors, and companies interested in what makes a good comic book cover they will continue not to matter. Ouch.