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Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: My 12 Favorite Covers of All-Time

It’s summertime, a.k.a rerun season. While not exactly a re-run, this also isn’t exactly new material. The following is a list and discussion of my 12 favourite comic book covers of all-time. It’s compiled for a series of threads on the Classic Comics forums done last year around the 12 days of Christmas.

You may have seen me post of these here and there, and I may have discussed some of these artists in prior columns – but this is the top 12, as my heart told me as of the end of 2008. This list would have been very different 10 years ago, and it will be very different 10 years from now. I was a bit surprised by a few omissions – no Neal Adams, no Alex Schomburg, no Joe Kubert etc… etc… What can I say? When you sit down and do a top 12, you really have to stick with what you truly love. Many of these are based purely on design and execution, but I’ll admit that nostalgia played a role in at least one selection.

MrDA3

12. Mr. District Attorney #3 – May/June, 1948
Cover by Win Mortimer
As I’ve mentioned here at the Corner before, Win Mortimer is a criminally underappreciated comic book artist. From what I can tell, he blazed a trail for Adams, Kubert and Cardy as the DC cover artist in the late 40 and early 50s, working on numerous titles during that period. I am shocked by how many of my favourite DC covers are by Mortimer (House Mystery #1, Batman #62 and Superboy #30 to name but a few)

I just love this cover – and when I first saw a copy of it for sale, I simply had to have it. It is very simple, and yet wonderfully designed. I love how some artists can establish an atmosphere with minimal detail.

atom17

11. The Atom #17 – Feb/March, 1965
Cover by Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson
The thing I love most about the Atom (and all ‘shrinkers’) is the juxtaposition of the smaller figure against ordinary objects that pose a threat by virtue of their relative size. Of course, car tires pose a threat to anyone – but it’s a broken foot for you or me and a complete squashing for Mr. Palmer. I love the way Kane has portrayed the speed of the spinning car wheel. How could anyone 10 year old have passed up this book back in 1965? I completed a run of the Silver Age Atom a few years back, and flipping through those covers is a real treat for the eyes. Looking at my top 12, I’m stunned to see that this is the only Kane cover I’ve chosen – but I can say with complete certainty that this is my favourite.

Lovelorn52

10. Confessions of the Lovelorn #52 – August, 1954
Cover by Ogden Whitney
Much like Win Mortimer, I consider Ogden Whitney to be a sadly underappreciated cover artist. This wonderful cover is evidence of his great skill. It has all of the exploitative elements of a good pre-Code romance cover. Whitney loved using giant hands, and here he uses the pointing fingers to great effect. The gossiping old hens and businessmen in the background only lend to the feeling of shame heaped upon our heroine. All of this conflict is balanced nicely against the image of the innocent baby, sound asleep. Sure it’s goofy and over the top – that’s the whole point. I love this one on so many levels.

There’s no way this one could have come out the next year. They would have edited the crap out of it. The accusatory fingers would be gone. The caption about sinning would be gone, along with the gossips. They’d probably replace the baby with a dying fern and the lead story would be called ‘Love Killed My Plant’. Actually that sounds better than most things I see on the shelves today.

ASM29

9. Amazing Spider-Man #29 October, 1965
Cover by: some guy named Ditko
The first (of two) Ditko cover to make my list. This one may not be perceived to be quite as iconic as some other Spidey covers, but it’s my favourite cover from the title. The Scorpion was introduced in issue #20 and that one featured a good cover, but it was a fairly static image when compared to this one. There is such a great fluidity of motion here, as the bodies bend in a very Ditkoesque manner. It’s this sense of motion that distinguishes Ditko from his peers. This is a very simple snapshot, but it informs the reader that they will find a life or death struggle is within the pages. I absolutely love the Scorpion’s regulator – a bit of Ditko sci-fi thrown in for fun. Of course, a good dose of Ditko water is always a bonus. Too often I find that the captions on Marvel covers really detract from the art, but the tagline ‘Never Step on a Scorpion’ is a good one.

CrimeClinic11

8. Crime Clinic #11- October, 1951
Cover by Norman Saunders
As I may have mentioned once or twice (or a million times), I’m a big fan of Norman Saunders’ artwork. He painted some of the best covers of the 50s, working for the likes of Fawcett and Ziff-Davis. I can’t believe anyone in their right mind would have passed this one up if they spotted it on the spinner rack back in 1951. It is both creepy and compelling – a nice blend of crime and horror. Saunders was an amazing talent and compiling a list of his top 12 covers would be a blast.

dd43

7. Daredevil #43 – August, 1968
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott
The first and only Kirby cover on my list (I hardly believe it, myself). It’s also strange that it comes from Daredevil - not exactly a series associated with Jack. I really don’t have much to say about it, except that this cover tells you everything you need to know about Jack Kirby. The action is in your face, as Cap’s right fist flying off the cover. Thank goodness the cover captions were kept to a minimum with this one (a true rarity for Marvel back then). It’s perfect and should be a poster hanging on walls around the world. Actually, I think someone told me that this was indeed produced as a poster in the late 60s.

Jann16

6. Jann of the Jungle #16 – April, 1957
Cover by Bill Everett
When I first saw this image, I just knew that I had to have the book. I still don’t have it, but that’s half the fun, isn’t it? I love a cover that tells a story – and this one pretty much tells the reader that he (or she, in theory) is in for a very suspenseful ride. The colour effects for the underwater portion are just amazing. Bill Everett was such an amazing talent.

JLA142

5. Justice League of America #142 – May, 1977
Cover by Rich Buckler & Jack Abel
Although I think this is a wonderfully designed cover, I must admit that nostalgia plays a large role in its selection, as this is my all-time favourite comic book. When I was a kid, this cover got me hook, line and sinker. This was my introduction to many DCU characters who would become near and dear to my heart over the next 30 years. So many questions popped into my head when I saw this book. Who were these 3 guys in the middle? Why were the likes of Batman and Superman so desperate for their help? How cool is that robot? How awesome it would have been had it been inked by someone other than Jack Abel?

LR106

4. Lone Ranger #106 – April, 1957
Cover by Hank Hartman
As you may have figured out by now, I’m more than a little nuts about the painted covers for Dell’s Lone Ranger series and I’ve managed to track down about 80% of ‘em. The covers were painted by a trio of talented artists: Hank Hartman, Ernest Nordii and Don Spaulding. This masterpiece is by Hartman and although I’ve flipped flopped over the years over which LR cover is my favourite – this one has been topping the charts for quite a while now. It’s wonderfully moody, with dark clouds and turbulent water. The Ranger is obviously in the midst of a terrific battle as he has lost his hat and is cradling to a dying man. By the end of the year, the series would switch over to Clayton Moore photo covers, and while those are much more coveted by collectors, I’ll gladly stick to my painted covers, thank you very much.

HOM277

3. House of Mystery #277 – February, 1980
Cover by Steve Ditko
Ditko used this ‘Menacing Floating Heads’ theme on several occasions, but never better than on this cover. Blake Bell has pointed out that Mort Meskin’s cover to Golden Lad #3 was the likely inspiration. Ditko is a master of design, as well as establishing an atmosphere. So many of his protagonists are haunted by their conscience and this wonderful images blends oppression, paranoia and claustrophobia. I bought this one off the racks when I was 7 years old and I had a really visceral emotional response to it. When I started featuring Ditko covers at my blog, this was the natural starting point. Ditko is the best at bringing out mankind’s ugly side. It’s a beautiful thing.

piracy7

2. Piracy #6 – September, 1955
Cover by Bernard Krigstein
It’s no surprise that Krigstein was also an accomplished “fine art” painter. His choice of colours is amazing – from the scorching sun to the less than inviting water. I’m just amazed by the amount of emotional punch contained in this relatively simple, static image – the man’s ‘defeated’ posture tells you that some very interesting events have led to this moment. With each passing year, Krigstein climbs higher and higher on my favourite artists list.

spotlight1

1. Spotlight Comics #1 – 1944
Cover by George Tuska
Yeah, I know it’s from an obscure title and I know that most people simply see Tuska as a capable, journeyman artist but I happen to think that this is the most gorgeous comic book cover ever created. It has that wonderful Golden Age blend of superhero and pulp hero – superbly designed and executed. Of course, the interior contents do not come close to living up to the promise of the cover, but that was par for the course back then. Any time anyone starts to diss Tuska, I simply introduce this cover as evidence and that ends the argument.

So that’s it. I compiled this over 6 months ago, and can’t see making any changes right now. The great thing about classic comics, is that there’s always something new to be discovered. 10 years ago, I never knew Spotlight Comics #1 existed and here it is #1 in my heart.

For more comic book chat – stop by my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent

28 Comments

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

July 7, 2009 at 7:05 am

It’s positively criminal that you have no favorite covers by Steranko or Carmine Infantino. Or, you know, not, because these ten are truly awesome in any era.

It’s interesting that the latest cover is from 1980. And really, there are only two covers from after 1968, though you do admit to some nostalgia.

I especially like The Crime Clinic cover, as well as the Piracy cover.

Tuska’s an amazing artist. Anyone ragging on him just hasn’t read enough Tuska!!! I especially love his work from Luke Cage: Hero for Hire.

Several of these choices were underwhelming at best, and yeah, any great covers list without Infantino is sadly lacking.

Three cheers for the underrated Ogden Whitney selection! He drew with such clean lines and simple design—yet always effective and classy!

But what are your favorite splash pages of all time. I can see not including any Will Eisner pages on a technicality, but I think this re-phrasing opens the door for at least one Spirit splash page.

Drusilla lives!

July 7, 2009 at 10:23 am

That Atom cover by Kane & Anderson is really nice LR… so is that Everett “Jann” cover. And I totally agree with you on that Crime Clinic #11 by Norman Saunders… what an amazingly strange cover.

Yup, Steranko and Infantino are great and produced many memorable covers. But then again so did Murphy Anderson and Russ Heath and Joe Maneely and Jack Cole and Johnny Craig and Lee Elias and Mac Raboy and Lou Fine and George Perez and Dave Cockrum….

You can see my dilemma.

And one’s man’s ‘underwhelming’ is another man’s treasure. That’s the whole joy of personal taste and reaction to art.

As for the lack of post-1980 covers – I must admit that none came to mind when I really sat down and scratched my head to think of my all-time faves. There are some good ones – some Grell Green Arrow covers are standouts, Bolland’s work on Animal Man and even the odd Alex Ross cover – but they don’t make my personal list.

That being said – I don’t like a great deal of post-1990 covers (let’s call it the Image Impact). I looked through a cover gallery of Uncanny X-Men, and I’d say just about everything post #250 is pretty forgettable. Things got very loud and poorly designed – nothing really jumps out as a clear and distinct image. I also like some narrative in my covers, rather than just a pose. I also have problems with the colouring of covers post-1995 or so – I just find it too garish, especially on the super glossy paper.

That’s just my aesthetic judgment, though, and others obviously think otherwise.

Splash Pages are an interesting future topic – Eisner is certainly master of that as they truly served as his covers but Meskin is also great, same with Kubert and Aparo and Miller and…. Oh boy, here we go again.

That Ditko cover is awesome. Definitely for a post code horror title.

Roquefort Raider

July 7, 2009 at 11:18 am

That Piracy cover?

Simply gorgeous. And without computer coloring, too.

I do love that Mr. District Attorney cover. It gets better every time I look at it.

With the Atom cover, I wonder how the car can be moving so quickly without him having been squashed already. And why he’s wasting time thinking about it. Heh.

That Lovelorn cover is probably the only comic cover to feature the word “unexpurgated.”

I must have that issue of Crime Clinic. “Starring Dr. Tom Rogers, prison psychiatrist!” Awesome.

Ethan Shuster

July 7, 2009 at 1:49 pm

It’s not as vintage as some of these, but I still think this is a really great cover:
http://www.yojoe.com/comics/joe/joe43.shtml

Good list, Scott. Picking just twelve is inevitably going to leave a good number of people unsatisfied, because everybody’s aesthetics are going to differ somewhat.

I’m more partial to Amazing Spiderman #33 or #31 or #28 or even #25 as far as Ditko goes, again, using design and execution as controlling criteria. On the other hand, I’d put a few Charlton books in front of the Spiderman covers, on the same basis.

I’d also have a Barks cover or two, possibly an early Walt Kelly Christmas or Animal Comics cover, and probably Steranko’s Captain America #111, as well as a few others from Mac Raboy, Lou Fine, Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood (noone did scifi covers better), and probably one of Frank Frazetta’s Buck Rogers from Famous Funnies. There are a bunch of George Evans, Joe Kubert, Matt Baker, and Fred Guardineer covers that also make the grade, based on design and execution.

As you note, “favorite” is relative. There are a few Kona painted covers that get picked just because they make me warm and fuzzy. I agree on the Krigstein Piracy cover, though. Classic.

So, adjusting for contemporary inflations, what’s the going price on selling a baby?

It’s great to see your list again Scott. I’d have to go back and revisit my own choices in order to reacquaint myself with them all. I think my favourite of your picks, if not the Ditko HoM or the Everett Jan covera, is surely that absolutely superb Lone Ranger painting… now that is a classic, beautifully and wordlessly conveying so much.

So, adjusting for contemporary inflations, what’s the going price on selling a baby?

I dunno. Ask Angelina how much she pays for hers.

I think all of mine would have been Skottie Young covers…

I know it’s all a matter of taste, so I’ll try to avoid the “ya shoulda picked…” comments. Actually, a number of these I’ve never seen before, so thanks for posting them. I especially liked the “Jann of the Jungle” and “Piracy” covers – the latter being particularly gorgeous. But that’s not surprising, since EC always had really attractive covers (the covers to its SF titles are generally the best, in my opinion).
And great choice on that Spider-man cover, as well. My personal favorite is the one to that cool “Molten Man” issue, but like Ray R. said above, there’s any number to choose from…

Ben (RR) – if you don’t already have it, I highly recommend Greg Sadowski’s bio of Krigstein. You really get a sense of just how much talent and dedication the man had. It also delves into his work as a ‘serious’ painter. His work in that field is amazing, and I’d looooove to have a Krigstein hanging on my wall. With my current financial situation – I’ll have to settle for Lieber.

As for the coloring – no computer can ever replace Marie Severin.

Bill – One of my main problems with the Comics Code is that it required all Romance comics to be completely expurgated.

Ray – Great comment. I hear what you’re saying about the Ditko Spidey cover. I too think that there are ‘better’ covers (especially late 50s Charlton stuff), but this one really resonates with me – it’s the fluidity, both in the action and the actual Ditko water. You’re quite right in that narrowing down a list can be tough – and that sometimes the Konas are going to beat out the Frazettas.

b-d – As I’ve said a million times, I’m a sucker for those Lone Ranger painted covers. I really discovered them through an article in Comic Book Marketplace in the late 90s and have been collecting them ever since. I love this one, and only wish the scan came across as well as the real deal – some of the depth and moodiness is lost.

Edo – I imagine that one could have a list of EC covers alone. I’m actually a big pre-Code horror fan. Not just EC, but Atlas, Harvey and Comic Media. I’m kind of surprised that more of those didn’t make my cut – but like I’ve said, I can’t see demoting any of my choices. I still get the warm and fuzzies every time I seem ‘em up there on my monitor.

I understand about 60% of your choices. But I think your pulling our leg here and just wanted to look into directions that we might not have looked before. Which is good, discovering unseen classic comics art is always good.

But any cover by Rich Buckler and or Jack Abel doesnt belong in such a list, even worse when both of their name are on the same cover… Plus, seriously, that JLA is ugly, colors, design, finished product, etc. It is everything that was wrong with late 70′s and early 80′s DC covers. DC had a good run of classic covers with awesome design qualities in the years (Silver and Early Bronze Age) before that bland period (late Bronze): Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane… Of these great DC cover artists, only Gil Kane is featured on your list… Most of the Atom covers could belong into such a list , the one you chose I’ve never seen before. Very cool and dramatic.

The MISTER DISTRICT ATTORNEY has merit. I can see why you like it.

CONFESSIONS OF THE LOVELORN looks like a million other covers of the romance genre to me. I like Ogden as well, but this cover is nothing special. But I am glad you have included a romance genre cover in your list, some of them were very cool and they deserve to get represented in a best-list.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # 29 is not one of the best Spidey cover by Ditko IMHO. I could name at least 10 other with better design, better art, etc. (# 24 comes to mind with the upside down room with the phantom Vulture and Sandman, I think it was a Mysterio story).

CRIME CLINIC is a good call. Saunders covers are always nice, and this one has everything as you have well said. It’s good on so many levels. Thanks for bring it up, never saw it before.

DAREDEVIL cover is pure Kirby. But it’s the Kirby I didnt appreciate as a kid, with the perspective distortions and disproportions. Today I can only admire how well it is designed. Kirby managed to display both DD and Cap so they are both shown almost full front. And the public in the background with so many details that it sure proof that Vinnie Coletta didnt ink this. heh.

JANN OF THE JUNGLE cover is awesome. Before I saw the signature on the cover, I was sure this was a Russ Heath cover. Russ Heath and Bill Everett (with Joe Maneely) were the best of 50′s Marvel. When I buy the Atom Age Masterworks or those many Bronze Age reprints, these are the artist I look for. This cover is particularly nice. Well designed. I like the suspense it manages to bring.

The LONE RANGER cover is certainly one of the most beautiful painted cover I have ever seen. I had never seen it before today. Thats what I like most about your Classic Corner, all those pretty unknown treasures you manage to discover for us. And I agree with you, Dell sure had some of the best painted covers. Never even heard of Hank Hartman! Wow!

Ditko’s HOUSE OF MYSTERY cover is also new to me (did it had any Ditko inside as well?). Pretty good, but Ditko did so many of those giant heads covers. Still, DItko is Ditko (the only one featured twice in your top favorites) and althought he did a few bad covers in his long and productive career, when he did a good one it was an instant classic.

The PIRACY cover is a no brainer as well. Kriegstein was a master at design, maybe THE master. Most EC covers are classic work of arts anyway, but I’ve always particularly liked those from “lesser” titles like PIRACY’ VALOR, etc.

That last one, the SPOTLIGHT COMICS one is only so-so. Tuska was never one of my favorite to start with, althought he did great work in the crime genre. This one is good but far from classic material.

Thanks for another fantastic Classic Corner Scott!

Are we sure that Daredevil cover is by Kirby? It’s always reeked of Barry Windsor-Smith is his Kirbyesque days. Regardless, the inker looks a lot more like Syd Shores than Sinnott.

At least you admit that a lot of it was nostalgia. While all good covers, I wouldn’t exactly call those top 12. Too many of them a basically scene scooped from the book covers. For instance, while I love Ditko’s pencils, I’ve never been particularly enamored with his covers. The second Ditko cover is an exception. They aren’t bad, but they don’t take advantage of the cover’s placing as a single, static image instead of a series of panels. A cover doesn’t need to be a concrete snapshot like most of Ditko’s. As Omar first pointed out, Steranko and Infantino were masters of the cover style I prefer. I do agree with your #12. It’s use of more abstract images, bringing the gun together with the building and the boxing ring, is superb. Much like Steranko’s Nick Fury covers, or Infantino’s famous cover of The Flash running off of a roll of film. If I was to actually think it through and put together my top twelve then that one would definitely be on the list. I also love the painted covers on the list.

Dave, regarding Scott’s Daredevil #43 cover… I’m certain its Kirby. While in his early years Barry Smith carried himself quite well in a Kirybyesque look this is too Kirby-like that we have to drop the like. Additionally, I don’t Smith did any work for Marvel prior to his X-Men covers, that came about a year after this Daredevil issue.

I’ll also buy Sinnott on the inks. I like Syd Shores over Kirby, but he tended to bring a lighter line weight (with more detail) to his work, than is evident in this smooth looking Sinnott job. IMO Shores always stood more in the Wally Wood camp of Kirby inkers than in the Sinnott, Giacoia or especially Mike Royer camp of embellishers.

Bit of a (subconscious) fascination with water, there, Scott? Shows up in one third of the covers, TWO of which feature the same split water/air perspective.

Don’t get me wrong: great choices.

Agreed on PIRACY and, well, those split water/air perspectives.

I’m damned sure the Daredevil #43 cover is Barry Smith-Sinnott not Jack Kirby-Sinnott.
The posing, anatomy & musculature are closer to Smith’s X-Men #53 & Avengers #66-67 work than Kirby’s of the period, especially the overdone legs and, quite frankly, poor feet.
What’s Marvel’s official credits listing? (After all, they paid the artists, who’s listed on the vouchers?)

The hero on the cover of Spotlight Comics was The Black Dwarf who was not a dwarf (in fact he was a large ex-football player), didn’t wear black (usually green or blue), and certainly wasn’t African-American!
He also appeared as the cover hero for the entire 3-issue run of Spotlight Comics (The only cover Tuska did was #1.) as well as most of Red Seal Comics covers from #14 on and at least one Andru-Esposito cover of IW/Super Comics reprints, though I forget which one…

I am pretty sure that the Daredevil cover was all Jack. Pencil and Inked. They reported that in The Jack Kirby Collector. It is one of the very few ones that are.

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