Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2000ad on the shelf: Another face of comics

We all know we shouldn't judge books by their covers, because that never works. But you literally have to do it. When you're confronted with a shop shelf that is heaving with the latest comics and magazines, you need a cover that will stand out amongst the noise. You need a cover that grabs the attention.

I'm a deep comic nerd, and I'm often left wondering how packed comic shelves look to the general public. Sometimes I wonder what they make of entire lines of comics, and sometimes I wonder what they make of individual issues, especially when it's been coming out every week for decades.

2000ad is a great British comic institution, with 37 years of constant weekly publication, and literally thousands of covers. They have a strong track record of awesome covers over those decades, with some of the most iconic images in the medium gracing their faces, and dozens and dozens of bold, exciting and tantalising covers.

The comic is still going strong, this far into the 21st century, and they're still producing the odd classic cover, especially when they get back one of the old masters like Fabry or Bolland. But sometimes, they're getting a bit too tasteful for their own good.

And 2000ad should never be that tasteful.

It's impossible for me to come to 2000ad from an objective viewpoint, because I've been buying it more or less every week since 1981. It's always there, and I'll always be there, for as long as it runs.

I still get it every Thursday, straight off the shelf at the terrific little newsagents right next to Auckland's Sky Tower. I don't need to notice a spunky cover, I've been hooked for years and years, no matter what they put on the front.

But even then, I can see that the comic sometimes get lost in the Doctor Who and Transformers comics that surround it, because it's just not popping out from the crowd like it used to.

There is still dynamism on the covers – the artwork is uniformly strong and occasionally magnificent. You can see this at the wonderful 2000ad Covers Uncovered blog, which de-constructs them from the ground up, and shows the whole process.

But the blog also shows that the gorgeous linework on many covers is drenched in colouring effects at the final stage, often muting the overall effect. Sometimes an image that is sharp and focussed in the original pencils becomes blunted and safe in the final result. Simple, striking images become overcomplicated and covered in rendering effects, while the palette becomes strangely limited.

It's not any particular colourist or artist, but more of a trend. Looking back over the past year of covers, and it becomes a bit of a sludgy mess – the predominant colours are earthy browns and greens, and washed-out blues, and you can go weeks without a cover offering anything more of a colour choice.

Look at some recent examples:

Even the cover for the big, year-end issue - which is usually some kind of a celebratory image - is a subdued close-up of Judge Death's badge. It's moody, and classy, but it doesn't exactly shine or pop.

There are still some terrific covers that have the old 2000ad bite, and they usually come from experienced hands, working in new shades. The Chris Weston cover at the top of this post might be my favourite single comic cover of the past year. Mostly because it's funny as hell, but also because Weston's clean, crisp lines aren't saturated in unnecessary effects.

Other total pros like, Rufus Dayglo, Colin MacNeil, D'Israeli have also produced some lovely looking covers, with the Stickleback one showing you don't even need colour to stand out -

- while covers from Warhammer artist Neil Roberts are also strikingly eye-catching and beautifully designed -

But these have been the exceptions over the past year or so, not the rule, with the same safe colours, blurry lines and sweeping fogginess showing up again and again:

I don't have that objectivity to look at these things properly, but I do pay attention. I still buy the latest issue every Thursday lunchtime, and leave it sitting on my desk for the afternoon in a high foot-traffic area, and it is notable what sort of covers catch people's eyes.

It's not the sludge.

1 comment:

Tam said...

Completely agree with all this. I suspect Tharg has long since given up trying to pick up the casual reader outside of the jump on progs but even so it's a shame they don't put more effort into making the covers more appealing. When I was looking through all last year's prog covers, I was surprised how few really striking ones there were. Weston's sensitive Klegg one was great because it's very silly as the covers often used to be and it's a shame there aren't many daft covers these days. I was even a bit disappointed by the recent Bolland one although it was satisfying to see him drawing Slaine...