Transformaciones 003: Portadas

Una crítica a los estándares tan bajos en la presentación de los comics al consumidor.

“Transformaciones” es el título que le he dado a un grupo numeroso de publicaciones que he recopilado a lo largo de mi vida siendo aficionado a los comics, y que iremos compartiendo paulatinamente dentro de este blog. Algunas de ellas datan de décadas atrás y en los albores del Internet como plataforma de expresión escrita, incluyendo artículos de opinión, entrevistas y contribuciones esenciales en los años mozos de la “blogósfera”, repleta de voces con gran poder y con algo que decir acerca de este hobby que tanto nos apasiona. Todas ellas diseccionan al mundo de los comics desde diferentes aristas y matices. Algunos de ellos representan un retrovisor bastante interesante, y necesario para entender a su evolución como manifestación de las artes y plataforma multi-género. Sin mayor preámbulo, continuamos…


El laureado guionista de comics Warren Ellis ha dedicado gran parte de su carrera a analizar con profundidad a los paradigmas que le dan forma y fondo a la industria del arte secuencial. En sus artículos de opinión desmenuza sus problemas inherentes, las áreas de oportunidad a atacar y los vicios a exterminar. Sus contribuciones como un todo forman un contexto muy interesante y el cual, sin temor a equivocarnos, informa y da sentido a escritos mucho más célebres y de su autoría tales como Pop Comics y The Old Bastard Manifesto, los cuales a partir del año 2000 fueron el punto de quiebre para la introducción definitiva de la obra de autor multigénero en el mundo de los comics, y a través de formatos autocontenidos y económicamente viables.

“PORTADAS” es una crítica a los estándares tan bajos en la presentación de los comics al consumidor, dueños de un diseño en su mayoría horrendo, poco propositivo y nada atractivo a la vista, y que sigue siendo un mal endémico al día de hoy.

Como respuesta a esta tendencia tan desagradable, Ellis lanzaría al mercado el comic de PLANETARY, cuyas distintivas portadas fueron un intento honesto por romper este paradigma, con resultados extraordinarios.

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February 11 1997

I was in London at the weekend; did an interview for SFX Magazine in a Central London bar not very far from the comics store Forbidden Planet. FP is probably London’s biggest comics shop, and definitely its oldest and most famous. I stopped in there. In the basement of FP, you see, are books and magazines—lots and lots of odd imports and obscurities, always worth the trip. I also spent a little bit wandering about the comics displays upstairs. Just to look. To take in the wide displays of that month’s books. To get some instinctive sense, from the panoply of images and words, of where we are this month.

Comics are ugly, aren’t they?

I mean, they’re ugly objects. The entirety of Marvel’s production for this month is ugly. Garish, badly-designed, frequently featuring very bad art. Not beautiful. And so thin. DC books don’t come off much better. The DC Vertigo line proffers painted covers that for the most part ooze together in a gloomy homogeneity. Alan Moore’s SUPREME, from Maximum Press, is cursed with some outstandingly ugly covers. A man called Stephen Platt produced these. I have never met the ex-Marvel editor Sarra Mossoff, but I will never like her, for it was she who gave Stephen Platt to the world, when other Marvel editors passed his work over as an empty joke. Perhaps I’m just feeling my oats this month, with the nicely designed MAN OF THE ATOM cover, and both a Gil Kane piece and probably Tom Raney’s nicest cover illustration to date wrapping STORMWATCH #44. But maybe not. Comics are ugly looking objects.

I’m generalising. PREACHER comes with gorgeous Glenn Fabry paintings (although the stupid Vertigo cover format will always kill that centimeter or two on the left hand side, and no major publisher has yet found the guts to lose the back cover advert, lay text on there and locate that damned obtrusive bar code back there too). Frank Miller, working with Mark Cox, always packages his SIN CITY books delightfully. #5 of Chester Brown’s UNDERWATER hooked me with a wonderful watercolour piece printed on matte card stock. But these works tend to be the exception. Everyone else bangs some hasty, primitive bit of stuff into four colours and on to skinny paper with a cheap gloss.

Is that just part and parcel of the American medium’s domination by the superhero? That since we’re telling fast, pulpy stories for the most part, that our production standards should reflect this? WATCHMEN had its fair share of pulp, but stand back and LOOK at that book. That book, I submit, was a fine-looking object. Though I don’t rate Alex Ross nearly as highly as everyone else seems to, he continues to provide attractive and clever covers for ASTRO CITY.

I have a copy of X-FORCE here, from a Marvel complimentary package. Artist Adam Pollina has the three figures on the cover crouching. That is because the logo eats up something very close to half the goddamn page. Some frankly idiotic cover copy and the barcode suck up another sixth of the page. A frightening SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN cover features three stunningly ill-drawn figures against what I imagine is supposed to be a twilight sky background. I am holding this item at arm’s length. And I can see big pixel-blocks in the sky—pathetically low resolution, visited upon us by another of these computer-colour wonder-geeks who are going to save the industry from itself. Or something.

These two works may not be of the same quality of WATCHMEN and ASTRO CITY, sure. But why the hell do they need to be so ugly? I’ve got seven hundred thousand trashy paperbacks in the house with decent covers on them. If push came to shove, I’d rather someone ripped the cover off a steaming piece of horseshit novel like Stephen Baxter’s RING and paste it onto the front of one of my comics, than hit the stands wrapped in something similar to the monstrosities described above.

So why do comics look so damned ugly? What are the reasons? Why is it that each and every one of us cannot take the same care and attention over the look of our work that Dave Gibbons did with WATCHMEN, that Miller and his colleagues do with SIN CITY, etcetera and bleeding so forth? Are they reasons of time, of pressure to conform, a dozen different problems and justifications of which the fan knows nothing?

Nope. No reason at all. Except laziness. Lack of taste. Absence of style. An inability to recognise bad art. Small-mindedness. Too few people with the intelligence or wherewithal to think, “Hey—we could do something really special with this book.” Too much willingness to just do what everyone else does. Or—to display a little of the kindness most folk think I do not possess—perhaps we just don’t think things through. We concentrate so hard on the guts of the thing, getting the actual story right (and that’s noble enough), that we don’t think about the skin of the beast we’re building. It’s a style thing, not directly addressing the central problems of the content. Beauty is only skin deep, all that.

Well, I’m here to tell you that I had a lot of money in my pocket that day, and I didn’t buy a single new comic. Because everything I saw was ugly as hell. I don’t know that I’m the “average consumer”, in for a browse. Maybe I’m not.

But what if I was?

(C) Warren Ellis 1997

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PLANETARY rompió el molde en cuanto a portadas se refiere, cada una radicalmente distinta de la otra. Mostrando gran versatilidad, el artista gráfico John Cassaday incorporó una pléyade de estilos e influencias a todas las imágenes que engalanaron a las tapas de esta serie a lo largo de su publicación. La contribución de Bill O’Neil, Allison Fuchs, Ryan Cline, Wes Abbot, Michael Heisler y Richard Starkings en letras y rotulaciones fue también esencial y no puede desestimarse. Ellis compartió tiempo atrás las que fueron sus favoritas:

(Some Of) My Favourite PLANETARY Covers
Publicado originalmente el 29 de Enero de 2013 en

The thing about John Cassaday was that you could just throw anything at him, and it’d work. So I did, and it did.

The overall concept for the PLANETARY covers was that, every issue, the book would simply look like nothing else next to it on the shelves, and that was how it would stand out. Look for the thing that looked like none of the other things. I think we mostly managed that. These are a few of my favourites.

Planetary #3

Hong Kong Action Film issue. The title and credits were actually supposed to appear as film-style subtitles under the image, but that was a step too far even for the fairly laid-back editorial office. I’m still kind of sad about that.

Planetary #10

I would often just throw shorthand and free-association at John, for the cover images. In this instance, I think I said something like, “doom, sorrow, monochrome, abstract, Joy Division. Yes. Joy Division.” And probably the title of the story, which was “Magic And Loss.” (Thereby also summoning Lou Reed.) This was just a perfect conjuring.

Planetary #11

The Full Steranko. In comics, when you say “Steranko,” you mean a pure shot of Pop-Art/Op-Art Sixties mad-science spy story. ”Steranko” may in fact be the best name anyone ever had.

Planetary #19

Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey. RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA and Seventies science-fiction paperbacks. At this point, we were putting letterer/designer Richard Starkings through such horrors every time that he started crediting himself on the covers as revenge, which we were perfectly fine with.

Planetary #21

Our “Doctor Strange” issue, connecting that character’s Sixties origins with psychedelia. Right off a Fillmore poster, in classic period colours.

Planetary #26

And this one. Which I provided no notes for, had no idea for, and had nothing to do with. The penultimate issue. And John just generated the perfect image. I remember just looking at this and saying, “you clever, clever bastard.”

Can you see the logo? It’s just a bit of type above the Wildstorm mark in the top left. By this juncture, we’d proven our point—readers found PLANETARY, every time we released an issue, by looking for the thing that did not look like the other comics. And that’s all down to the brilliance of John Cassaday.

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