Back in 2017 at Broken Frontier we ran a regular feature called Covers Album which returns to BF this week as a weekly blog once again. You can see a selection of past editions here. Please see contact details at the bottom of the page if you would like to be a guest Covers Album contributor.
In ‘Covers Album’ we ask comics creators, publishers and commentators to pick three of their favourite comic covers …but with a small twist. One must be chosen for aesthetic reasons, one for inspirational reasons and one for pure nostalgia!
This week it’s Justin Zimmerman, writer and creator of The Killing Jar and The 27 Run: Crush.
Aesthetic Choice: Swamp Thing #49 (1986) by Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben (DC Comics)
Has there ever been a better penciler / inker partnership than Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben? Not in my book! Their collaboration is so profoundly perfect that any single cover I could have picked out from their extraordinary Swamp Thing run would be appropriate. I settled on this issue because it’s a singular, focused image. First, there’s Bissette’s energetic and unbridled pencils, creating the illusion that the plant that thought it was a man is JUST about to spring to life, heaven help those who would get in his – its – way. And then there’s Totleben’s details: the shadows, the enhanced texture, the gravitas. It’s an extraordinary piece, without a wasted line, filled with passion, promise and personality.
Both Bissette and Totleben are incredible artists in their own right, proof positive when they handled sole art chores in Swamp Thing from time to time. But Bissette always felt a little loose and Totleben always felt a little rigid to me when those still welcome issues were released. But put the two together? A team unparalleled.
I was too young to find these the first time around, but the welcome trade paperbacks (colored to perfection by Tatjana Wood) found their way into my hands in high school. Still later, I was shocked to find out there was a partial reprinting of the original black and white versions of the series, Essential Vertigo: Swamp Thing, that were released as single issues… and then subsequently cancelled. I hear that these might soon be collected by DC. One lives in hope, as they continue to be my favorite comics of all time… especially those that feature the Bissette / Totleben team.
Inspirational Choice: Scene of the Crime #3 by Michael Lark (DC Comics/Vertigo)
Speaking of singular penciler / inker teams, Michael Lark and Sean Phillips worked together exactly one time, and that was on Ed Brubaker’s excellent Scene of the Crime series. Lark handled the covers with colorist James Sinclair, and each one is a study of character and mood. This piece showcases what it’s like to be a protagonist in a noir story: beaten, bloody and yes, brave. Notice too the 35mm strip on page left. Each of the four issues revealed a different frame by frame story, pictures within pictures, emulating the power of film while staying true to what makes comics great.
Here again, I want to briefly comment on the interior art. Lark and Phillips are geniuses on their own, but this series showcased the power of bringing two early talents together and unlocking something fiercely original. And now that Scene of the Crime is finally back in print, go see for yourself!
Nostalgic Choice: Batman: Holy Terror (1991) by Norm Breyfogle (DC Comics)
If there’s one cover that’s going to beat Todd McFarlane’s Batman #423 (below) for me, it’s this one. Norm Breyfogle’s study of color, shadow and light truly lives up to the Elseworlds promise. This is the Batman we know and love, but he’s decidedly different, as is the world around him.
From the blistering whites, yellow, reds oranges (and yes purples) from above, we’re subliminally connected to the idea of good and grace. This is a priest, a man of the cloth after all, who’s taken up the mantle of Batman. And then the subtle redesign of the suit. Modified ears, a more protective cape, his hunched and brutish pose, a man who had this moment thrust upon him rather than having trained for it his entire life. And this flag, so familiar and yet not… an enemy of the state literally at hand.
I was lucky enough to get to know Norm later in his life, and was able to tell him how much I admired his work. He said he was still proud of personally experimental pieces like this (and Batman: Birth of the Demon, an incredible graphic novel he painted page by page) as he felt they really challenged him as an artist. I’m looking at the texture of Batman’s cape on screen right, the incredible use of negative space and the amazing attention to a central light source as proof positive that whatever challenges he felt he was facing, he surmounted them with ease. (In the case of Batman: Birth of a Demon, he started out doing a page every 2 – 3 days, but by the end of the process was knocking out a finished page a day… and loving every second. But I digress.)
Must have been somewhere in middle school when I saw Batman: Holy Terror on the shelves. It knocked me out then and it knocks me out now. It was almost five bucks – a lot for a comic back in those days – but I bought in anyway. Thanks, Norm.
Justin Zimmerman, MFA in Film, is a nationally recognized filmmaker, professor and comic creator. His narrative and documentary work has appeared in more than 150 film festivals across the globe and has been broadcast on national public television, where he won two international television awards. He’s also been the recipient of multiple grants and fellowships, he contributed a story to the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel Love Is Love, and his script and comic work has been optioned on multiple occasions. He makes cool stuff with his team at www.brickerdown.com.