After Marvel announced their new publishing initiative, Marvel NOW!, the first glimpse we got of the new direction was the cover of Uncanny Avengers #1, which combined the art of John Cassaday and the new, “cinematic” approach to covers at Marvel Comics. Of course we had tons of questions about how this cover came to be, and luckily enough, Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort was kind enough to answer a litany of questions from us.
As a bonus, after the interview, we have the exclusive progression of sketches that John Cassaday took to the final product of the cover of Uncanny Avengers, so if you’re into art process, be sure to scroll down and check that out!
So join us as we go behind the scenes of Uncanny Avengers #1!
iFanboy: A big part of Marvel NOW! included a bold new direction for the cover designs of Marvel books, so we have to assume that signifigant amount of thought went into them. When approaching Marvel NOW! and Uncanny Avengers, what was your high level position/direction on the cover to the book?
Tom Brevoort: Apart from the overall directives we’re giving to all of the artists working within the new design template–the logo and creator credits can sit anywhere within the live area–I didn’t have to tell Cass anything more than, “First issue cover!” He’s such an experiences designer with such an economy of line that giving him too many specifics would be wasteful.
iF: What makes a good comic book cover, in your opinion? What elements are necessary and how do you approach the design aspect of a cover?
TB: The cover of a comic needs to catch the eye and intrigue the reader to pick up the magazine and buy it. Within that broad mandate, though, anything goes! On the MARVEL NOW! covers we’re attempting to take a more holistic approach to cover design in terms of logos and type treatment. Traditionally, because comics were sold exclusively on the newsstand, logos and most copy needed to appear at the top of the cover in order to be seen. But these days, a significant number of our retailers rack the books with full face exposed–and in the digital realm into which we’re expanding, there are no such limitations at all. So we thought it was worthwhile with experimenting a little bit, allowing our artists to think about the logos and the type as a part of their overall compositions, to better incorporate them into the overall design in the style of a movie poster. This is very much along the lines of what Cassaday has done in the past on Planetary and Astonishing X-Men covers, among others.
Apart from that, there are certain truisms: white backgrounds always pop, as do primary red backgrounds. Simple compositions that can be easily deciphered from a distance are preferable on the whole to compositions that are busier or that try to juggle a lot of different elements. And the “Dynamic Live Area” (the area most likely to be visible no matter where the book might be racked) remains an inverted L shape up the spine and across the top of the cover, so that’s the most critical real estate in terms of guaranteed visibility.
iF: How important is it for the cover of a book to represent the contents inside it? Should the cover relate to the story directly or is a “pin-up” approach acceptable?
TB: The cover definitely needs to relate to the contents, but not necessarily in a story-specific manner. This is one of those questions that goes to individual taste as much as anything else, so different readers will often have different viewpoints. For myself, the cover needs in some way to put forward the idea and the aesthetic of the series, to communicate to a viewer why this particular issue of this particular comic will be a satisfying reading experience. Sometimes that simply comes down to beautiful artwork and a sense of kineticism that promises thrills and excitement. In other cases, a specific situation related to the story contained in the book may be displayed. There are similar disagreements about the use of copy; some readers love a cover with copy, others decry copy on the covers as juvenile. But really, there is no one absolute way to do a cover that works. Recently, on his creator-owned series The Manhattan Projects from Image, Jonathan Hickman’s been running covers that are entirely text-based, with no real image to speak of. And they definitely catch the eye, if only in contrast to the explosion of colors and activity on all the covers around them. So that’s potentially a valid choice as well.
iF: In looking at the progression of cover sketches from John Cassaday, it appears that the Cassaday worked through a number of poses for the team. Did you tell him to just draw the characters involved to see what he’d come up with or was there specific direction on positioning, attitude/demeanor etc? Could we get some insight into the creative process?
TB: I wish there was more I could tell you definitely that’d be of greater interest. We asked John to start playing around with sketches for the first cover, and he very quickly honed in on the one we went with himself. Initially, he sent over three, and got some spot feedback from myself and Rick. But even before he’d read that feedback, He sent over another two sketches, one of which was the one we ultimately went with–it was John’s favorite as well. It also wound up being very similar to one of the ideas that Rick sent over, that I’m not sure ever made it to John:
> Couple of COVER IDEAS:
1) 1 – Bad ass team shot from a ¾ high angle. They all together cast one shadow that turns into our logo that fills the lower right 1/3 of the image. Maybe a stark white BG .
2) 2 – Wolverine, Rogue, Havok are back to back against Captain America, Thor and Scarlet Witch. They are action ready, but still not entirely together. Cast shadow from them turns into the title filling the lower 1/3 of cover.
Just some basic ideas to get John moving. Bottom-line for me, John is one of the best designers of comic cover art of all time. I say we let him go to town, innovate and do his sweet science.> – Rick Remender
iF: Also by looking at the cover sketches, it looks as if there were some options involved for the positioning of the title of the book. What lead to the decision to go with the vertically oriented positioning of “Uncanny Avengers”
TB: At the time we were working on this cover, we hadn’t yet finalized the book’s logo. But even within that, as I said up top, we’re looking as part of MARVEL NOW! to find ways to integrate the logo into the overall design of each cover a lot more, so this was a natural approach for John to take given that fact. He knew there’d be the bottom banner and the MARVEL NOW! slug at the top center, and that implies the logo at the bottom more often than not. John just stepped outside of that box to solve the problem in a different way, which is exactly the sort of thinking we’re hoping for here. Having the logo set vertically immediately makes this cover stand apart from most everything else on the stands, Marvel and non-Marvel.
iF: Will this positioning of the title of the book be just for this first issue, or is this layout the backbone of future covers?
TB: It’ll just be for this first issue. Unless John falls in love with it, and we wind up using it on #2 as well. But the intention is that the logo will exist somewhere within the live area, but not necessarily the same place each and every month. So whatever looks the best is what we’ll go for.
iF: With the cover to Uncanny Avengers being released to fans, opinions have been mixed, with some literally judging the book by the cover. How do you feel the reception to the cover has been? How would you address the criticisms?
TB: I don’t tend to sweat the criticisms and concerns at this stage of things, well before anybody’s had a chance to sample the book and read the stories. Hopefully, most fans found this initial cover intriguing, and even if there were aspects of it or the characters they weren’t in love with, they’re intrigued enough to check out the first issue anyway. I tend to feel that the pedigree of Rick Remender and John Cassaday is strong enough and well-renowned enough so that readers will understand the sort of a ride they’re about to go on, and the level of play that’s going to be evidenced within the book’s pages. Apart from that, the fan discussion and dissention is all a part of the fun, so far be it from me to get in the way of that!
iF: In terms of character designs, we noticed that Captain America and Thor don’t match up exactly with the Marvel Now! image by Quesada, and Havok, Scarlet Witch and Rogue have gotten new (albeit influenced by the old) costume designs. How much of these costume designs were the work of Cassaday or were the looks determined before the cover was done?
TB: The designs for Havok, Rogue and the Scarlet Witch were all John’s, with some back-and-forth from myself and Rick. The Thor design, as crafted by Esad Ribic, has a number of elements to it that are modular, and that will be used as the character needs them or desires them, so it’s all stemming from the same place. In the case of Captain America, John asked for the freedom to play around with the Jerome Opena design a bit, since Cap is a character he’s got strong feelings and a lot of history with, and I had no problem with that. And for anybody who’s concerned about it, it’s not as though Cap couldn’t have more than one tunic or set of boots or gloves.