Best Cover Ever? – Kellie Strom on Eisner….
Time once more for another comicker having a crack at handing the award for Best Cover Ever? over. Each week during the season of BCE we’ll celebrate yet another piece of cover brilliance. And then each week another will come along to take the title. You see, there is really no best cover EVER. But the fun is in showing all the ones that might be.
Kellie Strøm is a Danish/Irish comic artist, illustrator, film-maker. I remember seeing his 1992 book with Stephen Walsh, The Acid Bath Case and being mighty impressed. It sadly remains his longest comics work. His children’s book Sadie The Air Mail Pilot is published by David Fickling Books, he’s worked here there and everywhere, a fine and talented artist.
His latest work came out through Nobrow Press, Worse Things Happen at Sea is in Nobrow’s magnificently designed Leporello concertina book series, telling a series of tales of sailors and doomed voyages.
You can read an interview with Kellie from 2006 here on the blog.
(Sinead O’Connor on the cover of an early issue of “The Yellow Press“ and Strom’s cover to The Acid Bath Case from ’92)
(Kellie’s book for children, Sadie The Air Mail Pilot)
But now, without further ado…. Best Cover EVER?
Issue No. 10 of the Warren Spirit – drawn by Will Eisner and painted by Ken Kelley
Around the time Warren magazines stopped publishing in the early 1980s, a whole batch of their back issues appeared in a tiny sweet shop on Dominick Street, Galway, where they were watched over by a crotchety shopkeeper who insisted on no reading, or even peeking, before payment was made. I can’t imagine what strange accident brought this fantastically illustrated helping of sex and violence to my home town, but it was a lucky accident for me.
The real oddity in this already unusual presentation was The Spirit.
Nearly all of Warren’s output was horror, fantasy, or science fiction. The Spirit was, I think, Warren’s only non-horror title, only detective title, only humour title, only reprint title. It followed the same physical format as their other magazines, Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella: full colour cover, mostly black and white interior, with one colour story on better paper in the centre of the magazine.
Issue No. 1 had a fully painted cover by Basil Gogos, but issues 2 to 9 used ink drawings by Eisner combined with painted colours by others. Of the issues I have to hand, editor Bill DuBay coloured the cover for No. 2 in this way, and Ken Kelley painted colours for No. 4 and No. 7. This effect gives an interesting tension between parts of the picture delineated in black ink and other parts rendered only in colour paint.
A complete collection of the Warren Spirit covers here, and a comparison between some of the finished covers and Will Eisner’s initial drawings here. You can find a complete scan of issue No. 1 (including ads) here.
Issues 10 and 11 returned to fully painted covers, but were to my eye greatly improved compared to the painting for issue No. 1. Both were painted by Ken Kelley and based on Will Eisner’s drawings. A student of Frazetta, Ken Kelley is best known for his fantasy art. His first professional art was for Warren’s Vampirella magazine. The Spirit covers were unusual subjects for him, but I think benefitted greatly from his technique.
The Spirit No. 10’s cover is particularly intense, not just in the death-defying stunts both hero and villain are engaged in, and the distressed state of their female audience, but also in the way Kelley has painted the scene. There is little or no consistency in lighting; instead he has painted each element in the most dramatic way he can. The tension between drawn black line and painted colour seen in earlier covers is still present; most obviously in the interaction between the title lettering and the painted villain hanging onto it, but also in the use of black to pick out certain details in the painting: pistol, eyes, wall cracks. The black lines used to bring forward the Spirit’s right shoe are in extreme contrast to the aerial perspective effect used to make his left shoe recede. This achieves a kind of super-exaggerated 3D effect with no need for glasses.
Other points in the painting also seem tonally and chromatically illogical in terms of any attempt at realism, but make perfect dramatic sense. This is cartoony pulp expressionism, and therefore completely in keeping with the artistic history of The Spirit, continuing Eisner’s initial aims in a paint technique that hadn’t been available to the original newsprint version. And I love it.
Compare the finished cover to Will Eisner’s earlier drawing here.
My oh my, thank you so much to Kellie for such a fascinating and detailed account of just what makes that cover so very, very good.
We shall leave you with a few bonus pieces, some of those covers and comparison pieces Kellie talks about in his excellent piece.