Judging the Book: The Best Covers of 2008

I bought hundreds of comics in the 2008, maybe more. I’m not really a cover person. If it’s a book I’m already reading, quite often I don’t even stop to notice the cover. Yet, that’s obviously doing a disservice to myself and the amazing artists behind many of these covers.

I took out all the issues I had from the last year, and pulled out the ones that struck me, the ones that stood out, the ones I remembered, and the ones that simply wowed me. 

Therefore I give you my Best Comic Book Covers of 2008.


Air #1

This is the first issue of a Vertigo series of which I only bought two issues. It didn’t hook me, but I can tell you that this first cover sure did. There’s a story being told right there, and it begs the question of what happened to this poor woman that she is in free fall. As you’ll probably notice in some of these picks, I love white space being used in covers, and this makes good unique use of it. Also, I think it’s a really nice clean logo and title as well.

 

Criminal 2 #2  

Every time I see a commercial for The Wrestler, I think of this cover. This image has stuck with me since I saw it the first time. Look at all the colors Phillips put into that bruised beaten face. Notes of blue accent the shadows and bruises. It’s ugly, but there’s no choice but to look right at him, and he doesn’t care what you think. That’s a tough guy who seems completely alive, despite not being real at all. I keep trying to figure out if there’s an actor who’s being used for photo reference there, but can’t pin it down. Sean Phillips isn’t just a fine comic book artist, but he’s just an incredible artist.

 

Detective Comics #841

Dustin is the first of two Nguyens on this list, and he needs to be commended for bringing something different to the table after 800+ issues of Detective Comics. So many comics are colored by computer, and that isn’t to say that Christina Strain or Dave Stewart aren’t artists of the highest caliber, but to see something that at least looks like hand water colors really stands out. The cover is a great representation of the madness in Batman’s life, and the pained sigh on Bruce’s face might be a glimpse at his innermost thoughts on a particularly bad day. The style employed on these covers is quite different from that on Nguyen’s interior pages, and it makes for a nice all around artistic effort. This is simply a fantastic cover, breaking all convention for a title like this.

 

 

Ex Machina #40

If you read my Pick of the Week for this issue a few weeks back, you know that this was probably my favorite single issue of the year. The ink wash cover is certainly included in that ranking. There’s so much of their personalities captured in that cover image. Tony is bored. Brian is a bit uncomfortable in his skin, and that other guy is probably an inker (it’s a brush!). Man, I just loved everything about this issue!

 

 

 

Fables #71

It’s no real feat to say that the guy who’s won the Eisner for Best Cover Artist for most of the century did a good cover, but James Jean delivered on this cover. This came between the Good Prince storyline and the War and Pieces story that ended the first epoch of Fables. This is the story of Cinderella as a completely badass secret agent type, and just look at that cover. She’s sexy and dangerous and, while nothing new is going on in this cover, it just works. If you weren’t reading this book, you’d give this one a second glance, because it’s just a fantastic eye-catching piece of artwork.

 

 

 

Fear Agent #23

It’s another of my Picks here, and if I were to try to narrow all of these down to just one, Tony Moore’s cover would definitely be in the running. The reason I say that is that it perfectly encapsulates what Fear Agent is overall. The first thing you notice are the really nice, but sort of cheesy-art-on-the-wall-of-a-truck-stop-for-sale colors. It’s an alien sunset, and beautiful vista. Look closer, and you see a hungry vulture looking at a horse calmly chewing some grass. Only upon further viewing do you see our beleaguered hero Heath Huston, beaten, bleeding, and naked being dragged by his horse. This says everything you need to know about the series, right there, and is a spectacular cover.

 

 

 

Gigantic #1

It’s a second Rick Remender book here, and if that cover doesn’t grab your attention, you should check your pulse. From the extreme low angle, to the giant robot, to the flames, to the terrified people, this cover implores you to look closer. It turned out that the pages inside were as exciting as the cover, but I found myself really impressed by Eric Nguyen’s work all around. He did the art on Remender’s Strange Girl as well, and this is an entirely different style. This cover makes me want to read the book more than any trailer for a disaster movie has in a long time. That says something about the power of a cover.

 

 

 

Jack of Fables #28

Brian Bolland is the master of the comic book cover, and James Jean only wishes he can be held in the same regard some day. That’s how good Brian Bolland is and how long he’s been owning comic book covers. Except I don’t hear much about his Jack of Fables covers, and it’s a shame, because he nails them every month. I picked this one specifically because it’s just so striking and funny. He captured the absurd bemusement and ego of Jack for this one, and while it’s an easy joke, a pantsless Napoleon is just funny. Bolland has not lost a single step.

 

 

 

Jonah Hex #33

I’m making another giant stretch here, and lauding a piece of art from Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart. I know, my credibility will just be shot! If you remember, Jonah Hex found himself in Canada, during the winter, and it’s very cold. Now look at that image.  It says “cold” and “I’m gonna shoot you with a gun.” What else does it need to say? I also love the style it’s drawn in. You can see the ink on the page, and the marks from where the brush actually touched the paper, but it all works. There are likely real art terms for that, but I love art that has a tactile look, but isn’t sloppy. I get chills just thinking about this one.

 

 

 

Powers #29

Proving that a great cover does make a great book, this was another Pick of the Week, and the simplicity of this is wonderful. As I said in my review, the cover perfectly encapsulates what this issue is. It’s about the relationship between Pilgrim and Walker, and you can read in the sparse amount of detail Oeming gives us what that’s about at this point. Musicians will often tell you that the notes you don’t play are often more important than the ones you do. This cover only includes what’s needed, and not a drop of ink more, and it is entirely successful.

 

 

 

Proof #9

I’ve said a lot about Proof this year. It’s one of my favorite new series. I didn’t jump on the series until around the time of this issue. In fact, it was this cover that really made me notice the book. I actually can’t tell you why I like it, other than it’s fun. There isn’t a consistent cover dress from Proof, and that’s fine by me, because it gives them the freedom to try something different every month. This can be a blessing and a curse, because then they have to think of something new every month. But hey, you don’t get into comics because you’re afraid of being creative, right? And the nice thing about a book that’s (unfortunately) under the radar is that they can try anything they want, and this cover is a great example of that.

 

 

 

Scalped #19

This one wasn’t my Pick of the Week, but rather Conor’s. This one is from cover-master Tim Bradstreet. Bradstreet often works from photographs, and I’m sure this is no exception. I don’t usually love the technique, but this one just works for me. It actually looks like a photograph until you look closely, and then it’s clearly an illustration, and quite frankly, a very sexy one at that. While I’m not one for cheesecake comics, there is nothing inherently wrong with sexiness. We see so much forced titillation in comics that every once in a while, a cover shows up that isn’t necessarily overt in it’s sexuality, but just captures something beautiful. This cover is an example of that. Plus, we figured out that the nunchucks actually have some meaning, because Bad Horse uses them in early issues.

 

 

 

Superman #680

To those of you who know anything about me, you know that I spend a lot of time among dogs. One of the best things about the early James Robinson Superman issues was the relationship between Superman and Krypto. You’d think it would be silly, but they sold it. This cover, the sole example of an Alex Ross cover, who did approximately 64% of all 2008 comic covers (check the math on that one), is a wonderful rendering of the silent joy of being around a really great dog. The dog’s face is perfect. It’s not a growling angry dog, but a noble stoic dog, ears back in submissive position, and sitting upright, indicating good self-esteem. From where I’m standing, it looks like Krypto might be a female, but who am I to nitpick? The most amazing thing about Krypto is that he doesn’t just tug at that cape all day. That tells you Kal has been good with training. Either way, Ross just captured the essence of a great dog here, and you’d be surprised at how many artists have trouble with dogs.

 

 



The Boys #24

I’ve heard that comics should be fun, and this cover is just that. The Boys is obviously a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and this Animal House representation is right there. But it’s not just a one off that has nothing to do with the story. No, Darick Robertson produced this tribute cover that absolutely works with the story inside, as Hughie has joined a group of heroes who cavort much like the beloved boys of Delta Tau Chai. While I love striking simple images on covers, this kind of thing is fun too, because you can spend so much time scanning all the little bits pictured. It also shows that Robertson can ape other art styles when he needs to. It’s great fun, and you can see the work put into it. 

 

Comments

  1. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Great list, Josh!  A nice range of styles too.   

    Man, I love that Fables cover. It’s a testament to something that I got the James Jean covers coffee table book even though I don’t read the series.  At least not yet.  

    Alex Ross has done some amazing covers this year, for sure.  I love his JSA and New Krypton covers, especially.  Just gorgeous and, odd to say for Alex Ross but, dynamic.  It’s not just poses any more.  Lots of interesting angles and perspectives.  

    Gary Frank on Action Comics.  Great interiors, but also some really great covers as well. Sucks about the "Soda Pop" thing with #869.  

    And the Jo Chen covers on Buffy season 8?  Beautiful, whimsical work.   

  2. I miss covers that were creative and had something to do with the story inside. With the lateness of books, it is actually hard for me to sometimes if i have a book or not. I’ll be checking the latest issue of Thor at my LCS going "It’s Thor with a thunderbolt in the background……do i have tis issue yet or not?" Infuriating. These covers were all excellent choices. Nice picks.

  3. I like this list. For eye catching, these all are great. They all, also, are very representative of their respective book and tell you something about the story. Or, at least all of them that I have the issues of.

  4. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Also, definitely, Criminal Criminal Criminal Criminal Criminal.  

    You could have picked just about any of Phillips’ covers, because they’re all amazing.  I think #2 is an excellent pick though because it’s the pinnacle of that molding thing he does.  It’s like he’s sculpting a face and not simply painting it. The way you see thumb prints in a sculpture.  He can capture the beauty of a bruise like nobody else.  

  5. great list. I’d nominate Cliff Chang’s Green Arrow/Black Canary covers too.

  6. That Boys cover is probably my favorite cover of the year – I would so buy that as a poster.

  7. I took a good look at all the Chiang covers, and while I like his style, none of them really stood out to me as particularly amazing.  It’s more of a collected body of work that honestly makes me wistful for the interiors.  Seriously, go look at all those covers and tell if you really think any of them stand out.  I couldn’t do it.

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I always liked the cover to GA/BC #9.  7 and 12 are also pretty dope.  

  9. I just like to think of you sitting on a living room floor with EVERY book of last year scattered around you…

    An epic undertaking sir, good job! 

    I must admit that Fables cover is something special and one of the best issues of the series.

    And that Powers cover makes me long for more Powers, someday I hope….

  10. That Gigantic cover is so amazing.  It’s actually my desktop backround at home.  I also loved that Criminal cover and love all of Sean’s pinups in all the issues.  His pinup of The Shadow in Incognito was so freakin’ amazing.  He’s just a great artist.

  11. It wasn’t really that far from that.  The living room was briefly unlivable.

    The only GA/BC cover I really considered was #15 by Ladronn.  Most of them are here, if you’re curious.

  12. GA/BC #8 is the one that stands out in my mind when I think of his cover run.  So iconic and with a really great design sense.  I’m probably alone in actually preferring Chiang’s covers to his interiors (but just barely…)

  13. What about those Grimm Fairly Tales books?

     

    Totally kidding. 

  14. That Krypto cover gets a lot of love all over the internet!  I think its awesome, and I usually don’t get too excited about Ross covers.  Ex Machina cover is great as well.  I really liked the cover of War Heroes #1 that Harris did too.

    I loved the covers of Locke & Key #1, Barry Allen Cover of Final Crisis, and Phongram 2 #1.

  15. Do you think the fact that no (non-Icon) Marvel cover stood out relates in any way to their typically "yay, pin-ups!" philosophy?

  16. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @drake – Good call!  McKelvie’s cover for Phonogram #1 was awesome.  One of the year’s best.  

  17. I actually thought a lot of those Transformer covers were really nice.  I think it was the "All Hail Megatron" ones.  They had a cool utilitarian look to them.

  18. Good list, i always enjoy James Jean’s covers on Fables!

  19. I loved that cover Nguyen did for Detective Comics #850. You know where we have Bruce holding a dead(?) Catwoman with Hush in the background. Great use of colors, especially with white and red.

  20. Man.  You guys have zero love for James Jean.  I mean, sure, you picked his cover, but then 3 covers down you flat out insult him.  It makes my little black heart a little sadder to read that.  Say what you will about his career choices, but he is a phenomenal artist.

  21. I remember being so relieved when you commented on the cover to Fables #71. "Finally", I thought, "we can appreciate the sexual aspect in comics. Josh has opened the door!"

    anyways, it was short-lived, but good while it lasted.

  22. How did I insult him?  It was a joke about how legendary Brian Bolland is.

    Easy…

  23. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Legend equals time plus talent.  James Jean has talent in spades.  Just give him time.  It’s apples and oranges, but I prefer Jean’s work to Bolland’s.  

  24. I love the Fables #71 and Air #1 covers.  I think that this is because I am more attracted by white space than anything else.  The textures on Cinderella’s dress is astounding.  This may be why I love the Hickman covers too.  Just to show you that I’m not completely onesided, I love Gigantic cover and who can’ t love the Green Lantern #34 cover (the one with the guardian on the cover).  I’m not one who will buy a book for its cover but a great cover seems to make a great book even greater. 

  25. The Criminal cover is bar far my favorite cover of the year.  It is one of the few comic pages I have ever seriously considered buying.

  26. The Scalped #19 cover was my fav of the year followed by the Criminal cover. Great picks Josh.

  27. Jokes just don’t get appreciated as much on the web as they do in actual conversations 🙁

  28. Proof has had some great covers, my personal fave is issue 12, the one which is plain white with the Ink Monkey at the bottom. Simple but beautiful. 

    Also gotta love Superman/Batman 47.  

  29. The ink monkey cover was almost my choice, but the significance of the chosen cover beat it out.  I do love that cover as well.

    My alternate Jean cover, for the record, was this one from issue 76.

  30. James Jean is the Master of covers.  Also… JUAN DOE!  This guy’s stuff is awesome. Djurdjevic, Acuna & Olivetti.. anyone??? These guys are all awesome.

  31. I do like Doe. Many good artists out there.

  32. i really like the cover to The Umbrella Academy: dallas #1

  33. I looked over plenty of Marvel covers, but they seem to have a certain house style going on with a lot of their covers that’s just not my taste.  Djurdjevic might be a fine artist, but I really don’t like that style.  Couple that with the fact that so many of those Marvel covers are just pinups, and that’t why there aren’t any Marvel covers.  It wasn’t a conscious thing, and I didn’t even notice it until Conor pointed it out.

  34. GREAT list josh. i LOVED all of those covers and those are jsut so freakin cool

  35. Great list of covers, Josh!

    On the trade side, I was absolutely in love with the cover for Comic Book Tattoo. Jock’s covers for Faker were pretty darn sweet too.

    I’ve been pretty proud of our covers for the re-branded Witchblade trades that Stjepan Sejic did. Volume 3 is my favorite.

    Take care,

    Filip Sablik

    Publisher, Top Cow Productions

    Read two free issues of The Darkness @ http://www.topcow.com/darkness

  36. I tried my damnedest to get some Jock in there, but I just didn’t.  Not sure why.

    I did decide to leave out trades, and just do issues, because you need limits dammit!

  37. So you haven’t bought all the variant covers?

  38. Gigantic definitly the best

  39. Thanks for your homage to some of the nice comic covers of 2008 (some good selections).  I’m definitely a sucker for a genius cover.  More than once I’ve grudgingly bought a book solely based on a jaw dropping cover.

    If you ever add a 3rd score for comic reviews (beyond "story" and "art"), I would suggest one for "cover". 

    However, I never succumbed to the past variant cover "fads" based on general principle.  Not very sporting of the publishers to chum the fanboy waters with the variant covers IMO (shameless greed).

    Just one more reason it would be a sad, sad day if/when the monthly format finally gives way to all trades; or all digital (likely the day the "comic cover" dies).

  40. i fell for that air cover too, but i totally had the wrong idea about what it was about. i thought my fave alex ross cover would be a jsa one but i like the one he did for supes 676 with solomon grundy drowning supes and just the glowing red eyes. the "who is wonderdog?" titans issue made me laugh how cheezy it looks, but deliberately so to hide the viciousness inside. captain america 37 stood out, almost like that could be a poster for a modern cap espionage movie, like bourne but in spandex. that was a great article and it was good to go back and have a look myself.

  41. dustin hand paints all those detective covers.

    http://duss005.deviantart.com/ 

  42. @Josh Sorry about that.  I’m a huge fan of James Jean and I over-reacted.  I have trouble reading people, especially on the internet.

  43. Don’t you worry about it.  I too understand the delicious wonder of cupcakes.  We are of a kind.

  44. These should exempt Bolland, Jean and Jim Lee. Everybody knows these guys are awesome. Its a pity James Jean is leaving fables. The new guy is good, but he has big shoes to fill.

    Also, Dale Eaglesham variants for Justice Society were awesome as well, especially #21.

  45. Jim Lee was exempt from my list.

    Probably for a different reason though.  😉

  46. No Massimo Carnivale cover for the last issue of Y: The Last Man?

  47. Have to say I’m going to miss Dave Johnson’s covers for 100 Bullets when it winds up in february probably as much as the story inside.