One of the best parts about social media when it comes to comic book collecting is joining groups and following pages featuring your particular interests. You can see some of your favorite characters, stories, artists, and covers, but also discover new things thanks to other fans. Facebook groups like Comic Book Collector’s Forum, Comic Book Fanatics, Comic Book Historians, Why I Love Comics, and of course Comics Price Guide’s Facebook page are just a few I enjoy following. There are also plenty of pages for comic companies, specific comic eras, and even specific characters and teams.
The best part for me of these Facebook pages is that you get to see a lot of things that you already enjoy, and maybe some things you want to check out. Something that caught my eye recently is a number of comic book covers with the characters interacting with the book’s logo.
It is an artistic choice that has been around almost as long as comics themselves and has appeared in every decade since. The list of artists using interactive covers is a veritable who’s who of some of the biggest names in the business: Steve Ditko, Al Milgrom, Neal Adams, John Byrne, Keith Giffen, Carmine Infantino, Jim Steranko, Todd McFarlane, and George Perez just to name a small handful. Same for the characters frequently featured on these covers: X-Men, Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Flash, Fantastic Four, Batman, Hulk, and, oddly enough, the Marvel villain Gladiator.
As for the history of the idea of having characters interact with the cover title, there is one combo of artist and character that I am almost required to start with: Will Eisner and his work on The Spirit. I am not sure if he was the first to do it (and I am sure someone will let me know if he wasn’t), but I believe it is safe to say that Eisner perfected it.
Here is the earliest example I could find from the weekly newspaper supplement that the Register & Tribune Syndicate was distributing to about five million households. It was called “The Spirit Section” at the time and known now in comic circles simply as Spirit #33 (January 1941). It isn’t much – The Spirit leaning on his name – but it seems to have started the trend.
It also opened the floodgates of Eisner’s creativity. He kept drawing The Spirit for decades and did this more and more. It almost became a let-down when the characters weren’t interacting with the title! Here is a great example from Spirit #2 (March 1967) from Harvey Comics.
With proper respect paid to the originator and best, I now want to share the first three books that pop into my mind when I think about interactive covers. The first is one that I bought directly off the rack as a teenager in northern Michigan. It is Thor #337 (November 1983) with the classic Walt Simonson cover that introduced the universe to Beta Ray Bill.
My preference was more classic superhero books at the time, so I wasn’t buying Thor at all and didn’t care much about his Asgardian or space adventures. However, something about this cover just jumped out at me, almost literally, so I had to have it. I am so glad I bought it and still have it to this day because Beta Ray Bill has become one of my favorite semi-obscure characters.
This cover also shows one of the basic ways that artists have chosen to have characters interact with the title, and that is having an adversary destroying it. Here are some other classic covers using the same idea: Uncanny X-Men #56 (May 1969) by Neal Adams (and the later homage to that cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin in Uncanny X-Men #135 (July 1980)); DC Comics Presents #76 (December 1984) from Eduardo Barreto; Spyboy #6 (March 2000) drawn by Pop Mhan; Iron Man #7 (November 1968) by George Tusk and Johnny Craig;, Al Milgrom’s Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #77 (April 1983) (see what I meant by Gladiator loving these covers?); Superman #4 (April 1987) again by Byrne; and The Thing #29 (November 1985) from Ron Wilson and Paul Ryan.
Another common way for characters to interact with the title on their book is to keep it from falling, which leads me to the second cover I think of when it comes to this type of cover: Hulk King-Size Special #1 (October 1968).
This iconic cover from Jim Steranko has been used for multiple Hulk collections and trade paperbacks and has certainly been copied by other characters, including Todd McFarlane’s Spawn #229 (March 2013). Other great examples of this type of cover include Legion of Super-Heroes #293 (November 1982) from Keith Giffen and Iron Man #303 (April 1994) by Kevin Hopgood and Steve Mitchell.
The next common way artists have had characters interact with the titles is as if it is part of the landscape in their world. They use it as a weapon, to help them out of a jam, to hang from, or to climb over. The final cover in this genre that immediately comes to my mind fits in this group – Batman #194 (August 1967) has Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson showing the Dark Knight using his own name to crush Blockbuster.
Apparently, Infantino got some push-back on this cover, with people in the DC offices worried that people wouldn’t realize it was a Batman book because the name wasn’t in the normal place. Hmmm…maybe the giant image of Batman at the top of the cover would be enough to take care of that! Other great ones in this category include this gorgeous Nick Cardy cover from Aquaman #42 (December 1968); the classic Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (October 1964) by Steve Ditko; the Rogues all over Flash #174 (November 1967) again from Infantino; and another look at Batman interacting with his logo on Batman #539 (February 1997) by Kelley Jones.
And finally there is a group of interactive covers where characters are using them for more practical purposes, like to hold a ladder as in Action Comics #560 (October 1984) another Giffen cover with help from Bob Oksner, and as a clothes hanger as seen in George Perez’s cover to New Teen Titans #39 (February 1984).
This idea of interactive covers is prolific enough to have too many examples to show them all, but thankfully not so common that it isn’t special and unique when you see one.
Admittedly, as with any comic book art, this list is completely subjective. I showed you some of my personal favorites, but did I miss any of yours? Let me know in the Comics Price Guide Forum.
By Rob Otto
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