Jun 09 2010

Doing Comic Book Covers Well: 5 Tips

Published by at 9:43 pm under Book Covers,Comic Book Art

1. Market what you have.  The genre should be clear at a glance and the artistic should be consistent with the mood and content.  For example, if the story is a grim and macabre horror, you’d probably want something that suggested what danger(s) the protagonist will face.  Some possibilities that come to mind include a creepy mansion looming in the background, fog obscuring something sinister behind somebody, some supernatural creature, etc. 

2.  It needs to stand out at a distance of 10+ feet.  The single most important audience segment for most comic book covers is prospective readers browsing through a comic book store.  Before they examine the product, you have to grab their attention.  Bold color combinations are one effective way to do so.  I find that scenes involving motion (particularly extraordinary motion, such as a Batman karate leap) tend to be more eye-catching.  Obviously, it helps if something interesting and/or unexpected is  happening.  More on that here.  Finally, the title/logo should be legible across the room (at least 10 feet). 

3.  Focus on what’s different or unusual about your series.  One recurring type of awfulness is a pointless closeup on something mundane.  For example, if you do a closeup on a character’s face, show something unusual about him.  For example, if you’re doing a G.I. Joe-style story about a macho soldier, instead of just zooming in on his face, maybe he’s facing the reader with a smile while an enemy in the background is taking aim at him.  Depending on the level of extraordinariness, maybe you’d have the soldier shooting at the target without even looking that way.  Also, even if the character looks deliberately generic like Peter Parker, use elements like emotion, pose, lighting, perspective and setting/scenery to make the shot memorable.   

4.  If possible, work in what’s at stake.  For example, place a character in danger.  Depending on the plot, that might be physical danger or the risk of losing something (s)he values.  For example, a romance might show the two characters breaking up and/or bitterly fighting, which would be more interesting than just seeing them enjoying 100% happy, conflict-free love.  Save “happily ever after” for when the story is over. 

5.  Assume that the typical prospective reader knows nothing about your work, especially early on.  (A lot of readers jump in a series at some point other than issue #1).  Is it an effective introduction?  Does the cover make sense to somebody that didn’t know the characters and story beforehand? Is it easy to discern the gist of the series from the cover?

Bonus #6: Put some thought into the perspective. Ground-level, head-on shots are rarely the most interesting way to show something happening.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Doing Comic Book Covers Well: 5 Tips”

  1. Lucas Irineuon 10 Jun 2010 at 9:05 pm

    Yeah, those tips are all great. But its much easier for the writer to tell the artist to do something like that than for the artist to actually draw something awesome. I can’t say much since I’m still far from being a good artist, but I can say that the more someone follows those steps, harder (and likely more expensive for whoever is paying him) the cover will be to draw. Though I guess that someone taking a job for a real comic book would be good enough to actually follow those steps and do something good without having to try so hard. X)

  2. B. Macon 10 Jun 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Each comic book team is different and I’m sure there are many exceptions, but I think it’s fairly common for writers to do most of the work deciding the basic concept of the cover.

    For example, “a super-enthusiastic soldier averts an ambush by pulling some amazing feat.” If it were the first issue and/or the artist was new, I’d probably specify what the amazing feat is. Besides that, I’d leave everything else to the artist. (Although the penciller may ask me about plot-specific details, like what sort of equipment this soldier would have in this setting). I would caution writers that it’s usually best to avoid micromanaging your artists, particularly on implementation details such as perspective and lighting, because your team has a big problem if the artists know less about art than the writer does. 😉 And, if you DO micromanage the artist by picking the perspective and such, be damn careful about those head-on, level shots.

    If the artist is really involved in the conception of the story, the writer’s concept for the cover might be extremely vague, like “Please show our protagonist, who loves being a soldier and is supernaturally good at it.” But this requires that the artist be really familiar with the plot. For example, what does “supernaturally good” mean? Is this soldier simply an extremely skilled soldier or does he do quasi-magical stuff like throwing fireballs around?

    I hope that helps!

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