The job of the cover artist is to pose a question to the potential buyer. "Once the book's taken off the shelf, my job is done," said Adam Hughes, and all the other members of WonderCon 2005's opening panel, "Cover Story: The Art of the Cover," seemed to be in agreement.
"We're off to a great start," quipped William Stout, and those who attended the panel were in full agreement.
Moderator Mark Evanier got the ball rolling by asking the artists - Stout, Alex Ross, Neal Adams, and Hughes - if they used different art styles or skills when working on covers rather than on interiors. All of them do, seeing the job of the cover artist as to distill the essence of a character or a story into a single image: "Little posters for the eyes . . . that can be read from 100 yards," in Stout's phrase.
Which is not to say that any of the artists is simply looking to create posters or eye candy. Adams says that "dramatic superhero covers with no purpose los(e) something. If decorating the first page of the story is all we're doing, there's no point." Adams told how, if the editor simply wants "characters in dynamic poses," he has to invent a storyline or create challenge, just to make it interesting. Adams described a Captain Marvel cover he did with the Captain walking in the air over Park Avenue. In the background, a woman is collapsing into a man. "She's collapsing because Captain Marvel farted. I needed to tell a story." On his work for the recent "Avengers Finale" #1, he gave himself the challenge of devising a composition in which the heads of Ant-Man, Hawkeye, and Goliath would all be the same size, despite their different body sizes. "You need that to keep it interesting for one's self."
"You see lots of pretty covers," said Adams, "but they're not interesting or story-related. They come up with generic covers, not more interesting or intriguing or memorable covers. That happens only when the artist is interested."
Hughes said that he had complete freedom to do what he wanted with his run of covers on 'Wonder Woman' because "It sells so badly, you could put crack in it, and kids still wouldn't take it." The covers were intended "to get people to ignore 'Wolverine' and 'Wonder Man' on either side of the book. My job is to pose a question to the potential buyer." A question that cannot be ignored. Adams concurred, pointing to one of his first "Action Comics covers," with a little girl pointing to Superman in a courtroom's witness chair. "That's him!," the little girl cries. "He's the man who killed my daddy!" Who could ignore that?
Adams was the crowd pleaser at the panel, relating stories about how legendary Superman Family editor Mort Weisinger didn't want him to do any covers. Publisher Carmine Infantino eventually talked him into it, but Weisinger cautioned Adams, "I'll let you do one, but if I don't like it, I won't let you do another." He also told the story of how, when Joe Kubert's cover for "Superman vs. Muhammad Ali" was rejected by Ali's representatives, Adams simply used Kubert's layouts and ideas to redo the cover to everyone's satisfaction with no one from the Ali camp noticing, and how he was recently asked by "ESPN: The Magazine" to redo the cover for a recent issue profiling the greatest athletes of the 20th Century, replacing Superman in the ring with Michael Jordan. Adams at first demurred, not wanting to do that much work, but in thinking about it, realized he wouldn't get another chance like this for 100 years, so he'd better take the job.
Stout discussed the differences between working on record covers and comic book covers. "With records, you always had to get the title on the top, because of the way they sat in the racks, and instead of dealing with an art director or editor, you have to deal with an art director and five band members." Adams chimed in: "With records, they pay you more, but you never see the money; with comics, you get paid worse, but get the cash."
Quizzed about upcoming projects, Hughes says he's working on a Catwoman series. "I'm free to imagine the Catwoman everyone knows lies underneath. I'm going to commit every atrocity imaginable."
Adams let slip that he's had "serious" discussions with DC and Frank Miller about a Batman project.
Ross is working on "Justice," which he described as a darker version of "Superfriends."