Last week I asked: “why does anyone still use this layout at all?”
My question was answered via a link in the comments to a previous installment of Brian Hibb’s Tilting At Windmills. The short version is that there are still comic shops that overlap the covers of new comics out of necessity, though I recommend reading the entire piece because Hibbs makes some excellent points.
Hibbs could’ve been talking about this very column when he said:
“Now, look, I know that cover layout is also done for artistic and expressive reasons. And I entirely understand the school of thought that is against homogenous design and is for “standing out” on the racks, but I also think you have to balance that very carefully against how things actually function in the real world.”
While I readily admit to being against homogenous design myself, that’s not the reason I personally dislike the standard comic cover layout. In fact, in some ways uniformity can be beneficial, as Rian Hughes pointed out in an interview with CBR:
“Having a cohesive design across all the titles in terms of company logo placement and character logo placement really helps build a solid brand, makes the whole larger than the parts.”
Rather, my complaint is how often the standard layout results in covers that appear lop-sided, in a way that doesn’t look intentional or aesthetically pleasing. In short: they looks bad.
But that doesn’t mean I’m in opposition to Hibbs’ plea for people stick to placing the most important bits in the upper left corner. I just want to see it done in a way that also looks good.
For example, the trade dress that Hughes designed for Valiant works so well because it’s contained within a box that unifies all the design elements (below left). On the other hand, even this isn’t able to keep it from throwing centered compositions off-balance (below right).
A more reliable workaround would be to create bar along the left side that contains those elements. This bar divides the cover into two clearly separate areas, which allows the art to be centered with the logo without throwing things off.
And since overlapping covers is a similar space-saving measure as displaying books, movies, or video games spine-out, why not make them look like spines? One advantage over thicker media is that you can make your faux spine as wide as you want, allowing you to display your company logo and other information nice and big for extra readability.
Which brings me to my next question: are the publisher logo and issue number really the best thing to place in the upper section of the bar? If you’re publishing a lot of new and untested titles and just want to build the brand, that’s one thing. But what about the following scenarios:
1) What if the title or character has more name recognition than the publisher?
It could be argued that in terms of general audiences, Batman is more recognizable than DC, Star Wars is more recognizable than Dark Horse, Adventure Time is more recognizable than Boom!, The Walking Dead is more recognizable than Image, and Spider-Man is possibly more recognizable than Marvel.
So why not list the title as text in the upper corner and move the company logo down (similar to Superman: Earth One above)? Not only would it free you up to put the larger title logo anywhere you want within the main image area, but you could even get rid of it entirely.
2) What if one of the creators has more name recognition than the title or publisher?
In the same way that it’s not uncommon for novels to put the focus more on the author’s name than the book title, maybe sometimes it’d sell more books to give creator names top billing.
3) What if you’re an unknown creator with a new series at a barely known publisher?
This is where it gets tricky, isn’t it? Smaller shops that are able to display covers in full probably aren’t ordering your book, and the larger shops are only going to be displaying the left 20%. What do you do?
Without any other alternative, you could try getting someone’s attention with an eye-catching image that fills the upper left, or with a flat field of color that might make someone say, “what is this?” (I realized The Wake isn’t the greatest example, since they could’ve put Scott Snyder’s name there, or even a “From the writer of Batman.”)
But that sort of thing can really only be done so many times before the effect starts to wear off. What then?
Personally, if you find yourself stuck in this scenario, my advice would be this: give up on the upper left corner entirely. Instead, just focus on designing an image that will grab the attention of the people who browse Previews looking for exciting new things. You need most of them to pre-order the book anyways, right?
Plus, if you’re able to design an image that works at a small enough size to catch someone’s eye in Previews, it’ll also work pretty well when viewed small on Comixology. But that’s a topic for another time.
Onward to last week’s covers:
ALL-NEW X-FACTOR #7
I’ve been really enjoying the stylish cover design for All-New X-Factor by Jared K. Fletcher and Kris Anka, and was a little disappointed I wasn’t able to featured the cover to #6 . I particularly like the way the issue number is centered under the title, and the quotes underneath are a cool idea. This time the quote is much more directly related to the image, which works even better. I love the contrast of the armed soldiers and the oblivious autographic hound.
SUICIDE RISK #13
This was a week if contrasts. The contrast of this seemingly joyful image against the title “Suicide Risk” instantly got my attention. Maybe it’s just me, but Stephanie Hans’ illustration reminds me a little of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo In Slumberland with the floating stars and the visual idea of traveling between worlds via panels.
This cover by Adam Hughes is like the reverse of Suicide Risk, cutesy and colorful lettering laid over an image of terror and panic.
THE WOODS #1
Matthew Woodson’s alternate cover is mysterious and intriguing. Making the characters very small in the composition creates a feeling of their being dwarfed by a sense of the unknown. It also demonstrates another way to center the title logo while placing the company name in the upper left.
ORIGINAL SIN #1
This variant cover by Ed McGuinness fills me with sadness. Not only has The Watcher been left to decay on the moon, with no one even realizing he’s dead, but it looks like he’s waving goodbye. Of course, this is nothing like how it happens in the story itself. And maybe I’m a little disappointed it didn’t.
I like the way the logo and image become intertwined in this illustration by Greg Tocchini. The way the horn overlaps the logo creates a sense of depth, and the placement of the logo helps put extra focus on the character up top by dividing the image in two. If I have one nitpick, it’s that the placement of the words “New Storyline” seems a little like an afterthought, not really tethered to anything.
BLACK WIDOW #6
This uncomfortable image by Phil Noto becomes something else when viewed from a distance or in thumbnail form, the angry fists becoming spider legs.
THE COMPLETE PEANUTS 1950-1952
The covers for the new paperback editions are just as sharp as the hardcover ones (does anyone know if Seth also designed the new ones?). I really like how a strip was used as the main cover image, but I do have one critique:
Which of the three squares did you look at first? I looked at the third square before reading the other two, and tried it out on a few people who said the same. While I understand why it would be most desirable to call out the punchline panel, the three panels together would read better if the first panel was largest, with the next two were along the left side.
This would also fix panel reading order issue. We read panels in the same way we read text in a paragraph – left-to-right and then down – and many readers get confused on where to go next when two panels are stacked to the left of a larger panel.
Until next time.
Mild-mannered UI/UX designer by day and freelance writer/artist by night, nothing can stop Kate Willaert in her quest to analyze everything in geek culture. She also writes about video game history for GameHistory.org.