Anatomy of a Bad Cover: DC's New "Teen Titans" #1

The cover of a publishing project is a precious thing. In the book world, each cover is agonized over, sometimes for more than a year, with input from sales, marketing, editorial and others. In magazines, everything from seasonally appropriate coloring to visibility while sitting on a newsstand is discussed. In superhero comics, well, we get covers like this.

The cover to the new "Teen Titans" #1, released earlier this week, is not just a terrible comics cover, it's a prime example of how even the most corporate comic book companies can make basic mistakes regarding the potential audience for a book. It's embarrassing that anyone, in particular a company as large and full of intelligent people as DC Comics (I swear! I used to work there -- many of those people are wonderful), could produce something this non-functional. Covers are important, but their job is also very basic.

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A good comics cover alludes to the story within, yes, but most importantly, it draws readers in. In comics, covers have an especially important role in marketing, a role that hits three or four times. A cover is often the project's first impression, debuting online either in solicitations or other promotional campaigns. Second, a cover appears in Diamond's Previews catalog. Finally, and most importantly, a cover beckons a reader within a comic shop or bookstore, enticing them to throw their money down for what is ultimately an extravagant $2.99 (or more) for 10-15 minutes of entertainment.

Artist Kenneth Rocafort is not completely to blame for the fact that the new "Teen Titans" #1 cover is terrible, although he is obviously partially responsible. A really talented artist, I think Rocafort has the potential to draw comics I want to read. The color on this cover is gorgeous. His faces are wonderful. But beyond those positive aspects, there's just too much wrong.

Let's start with the elephant in the room: Wonder Girl's rack. Perhaps I'm alone in having an issue with an underaged teen girl being drawn with breasts the size of her head (seriously, line that stuff up, each breast is the same size as her face) popping out of her top. Anatomy-wise, there are other issues -- her thigh is bigger around than her waist, for one -- but let's be real. The worst part of this image, by far, are her breasts. The problem is not that she's a teen girl with large breasts, because those certainly exist. The main problem is that this is not the natural chest of a large-breasted woman. Those are implants. On a teenaged superheroine. Natural breasts don't have that round shape (sorry, boys). If you don't believe me, check out this excellent tutorial from artist Meghan Hetrick.

A secondary problem is that no girl with breasts that large is going to wear a strapless top for anything, much less a career that involves a lot of physical activity. In previous New 52 "Teen Titans" covers and issues, we've seen this same costume, but more often than not, WG's breasts are drawn smaller, or the top is pulled up higher. The way Rocafort has drawn her here, we're one bounce away from a nipslip. On a teenager. In case you forgot that entirely relevant point.

Lest you think I'm singling Rocafort out for doing what, let's be honest, way too many comics artists do (drawing unrealistic, circle-shaped monster boobs on teen girls), consider the cover's layout. This is not a group of people who seem to form a cohesive team. Now, perhaps that's the message DC wanted to send. Fine, although writer Wil Pfeifer told Newsarama, this is the "whole team for now," which implies they are supposed to be an actual team. Beast Boy is both drawn and positioned the best, however, let's hope Wonder Girl is further behind him than she appears -- otherwise, she's about to mount his head. Red Robin, the most well-known character on the team, is in the background, perched on a perspective-defying wall. Is that a mysteriously small door beneath him? Why does this building seem so close and yet so far away from the rest of the team and RR himself? Is he maybe just perched on a planter that is not connected to the building behind him? These are questions I can't answer and honestly shouldn't have to. It's needlessly distracting.

Then, you've got Raven making a gesture in the background that seems to be throwing up gak or water or something above her claws. There's a paper airplane up in the sky which, given its angle, was possibly thrown by Raven? Because if there's one thing I know about Raven as she's been established previously, it's that she has a whimsical love of paper airplanes.

Between Wonder Girl's legs, we have a sheet of paper with Rocafort's signature over it. Now, all artists should sign their work. Proper credit is important. However, in what world does it make sense to throw a sheet of notebook paper, unrelated to anything else, into the middle of a drawing and attach a bright and flashy signature to it? That's not just a signature -- it's a distraction from the overall image.

Finally, the representation of characters is particularly odd, given that this is actually a fairly diverse team. You have one female character front and center (ridiculous breasts and all), then you have one character that is potentially female based on her lips, towards the background. The team's one character of color is off in the background, so far back it's impossible to tell that he's not as white as Tim Drake.

Here's the thing about all these problems: On a cover for issue #40, one aimed at the same old comics audience, they would be forgivable. On a new #1 issue, a mere two and a half years after the previous #1 issue and debuting a couple months after the end of the previous run, it points to a massive misunderstanding of what this book should be and who it should be marketed to.

You know who loves Teen Titans? People who enjoyed the early 2000s "Teen Titans" animated show, many of whom are female and many of whom are teenagers or young 20-somethings today. Market research could and does back this up. Graphic Policy's Brett Schenker pulled together the Facebook stats for me for fans of the original "Teen Titans" animated series. Currently in the United States, there are 500,000 self-professed fans of the show on Facebook. 260,000 of those are women. Yes, that's right -- more than half. The majority of male and female fans are ages 15-23 with the bulk being 17. This is just a quick review of the potential market for these comics. Say a quarter of those fans actually tried a Teen Titans comic aimed at their demographic -- you're going to have a significantly higher number than the 26,000 copies "Teen Titans" is estimated to have sold in March. One-tenth of those animated "Teen Titans" fans buying a comic would result in a drastic increase in sales. Even if just the 17-year-old fans of the show bought the comic, you've got double the sales numbers. I could keep going, but you get the point.

Even the newer series, "Teen Titans Go!" premiered as the #1 show in its time slot, not just for boys but for kids aged 2-11. Kids and teens are into the idea of the Teen Titans, and there's money to be made off of even tangentially relating to that crowd. Virtually all of DC's New 52 books appear to be aimed at the exact same demographic: Males 18-39. And this cover is made for that demographic. It shows that, once again, DC is relaunching a book with no thought to targeting wider demographics or a new audience. This is not a cover you run if you're trying to appeal to teenagers, and it's especially not going to appeal to teen girls. Sure, the team may not be the same as the animated Teen Titans team, but there are ways to frame the characters to draw in new readers. For one, they could look like an actual team. For another, you could avoid cluttering up the background with imagery that offers nothing to a new reader, instead creating a distraction from the team you're presenting.

Basic market research could tell DC that it has potential readers of a "Teen Titans" series in the teen market. I've done this market research from my living room using library databases, so I'm sure DC has a way to do it. YA is selling like crazy right now. Why not study that market for real -- no pandering nonsense -- and launch this new series with a cover that can truly revitalize what is actually a wonderful franchise? All these characters are interesting, cool characters with a ton of completely untapped potential. Comics can and should operate like a business, and publishers need to figure out how to sell comics to truly new demographics -- but they sure as hell won't with covers like this.

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