Comics, Covered | The best covers of the week

I'm running a little late on a Thanksgiving weekend populated by visiting relatives, but I bring my selections for the five best covers to grace comic-book store shelves on Wednesday.

If that weren't enough, I've rounded up links to interesting discussion and analysis of cover design, and to Amazon.com's Best Covers of the Year (which includes some comics and comics folk).

This week's list is populated by one title each from Dark Horse, Vertigo and Marvel proper, plus two from Marvel's Icon imprint.

To find out what made the cut, read on.

Among the strengths of Beasts of Burden -- both the current miniseries and the earlier short stories -- has been artist Jill Thompson's ability to make talking, supernatural mystery-solving dogs and cats seem believable. Her gorgeous watercolors and realistic renderings provide a firm foundation on which to rest Evan Dorkin's engaging and sometimes darkly humorous (and often deeply touching) Hammer Films-style stories of witch cults, witch cats, freakish frog storms and more.

The cover of Issue 3 showcases how those disparate elements merge as a very real-looking stray (Orphan) is beset by countless rats, shown only in ominous, distorted shadows straight out of a classic horror film. That aspect is underscored, and even wryly tweaked, by the story title and font: "Something Whiskered This Way Comes."

It's difficult to know where to begin when discussing Sean Phillips' cover for the second issue of Criminal: The Sinners: The unusual choice of colors for a cemetery scene? The way the branches of the tree frame the armless, blood-red statue of an angel? The way the reader's eyes glide past the foreground figure -- Tracy Lawless, if I recall -- to the characters at the graveside. All I know for sure is that I really like this cover.

Hey, it's Sean Phillips again! This time he's created a clever cover for the collected edition of Incognito, his superhero-crime miniseries with frequent collaborator Ed Brubaker. I love that the enormous white bar hides the man's identity (incognito, indeed), and that everything is rendered in white and gray, save for the blood splatters. There's also the matter of the man's smile: Is he cheerfully oblivious, or does he simply enjoy his work?

I wrote about this cover last month after writer Matt Fraction unveiled the trade dress for the "Stark: Disassembled" arc, so I'm repeating myself by praising the collaboration between series artist Salvador Larroca and designer Rian Hughes. That's okay, though. It's reminiscent of the cover to a 1950s science-fiction novel, yet sleek and modern at the same time. Retro-future, even.

Massimo Carnevale always produces beautiful work, but his tenure on Northlanders has been particularly noteworthy. The image above, while perhaps not the "best" cover of the series, stands out for its subtlety: the mix of sorrow and fatigue in the woman's expression, the way Carnevale establishes a battlefield setting with only a few abstract shapes, the way the smeared blood implies movement of the pale hand.

As we're discussing a Northlanders cover, it's a good time to highlight Brian Wood's design for "The Plague Widow" logo, and his repositioning of the comic's title, which, until this arc, had been stripped horizontally across the top. I'm not generally a fan of vertical type, but I appreciate the thinking behind the cover treatment, as related earlier this month by Editor Mark Doyle: "He really wanted readers to know, 'yes, it’s okay to start here!' We knocked around a few different ideas, but ultimately what did he do? He took the Northlanders logo, kicked it to the side, designed a new logo for 'The Plague Widow' and put that front and center. Slipped a '1 of eight' in there and suddenly you’re thinking, 'Hey, what’s this comic? I’ve never seen this before, maybe I’ll give it a shot…'"

Some cover-design links worth noting:

Asterios Polyp and the ninth volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service are in the running for Amazon.com's Best Book Covers of the Year. Tomer Hanuka's cover for the novel The Gigolo Murder and the cover for Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett's Boilerplate also are nominated.

• Brandon at Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader? analyzes Marian Churchland's cover for King City #3.

Irene Gallo, art director for Tor Books, examines two good cover concepts that didn't work out in the end.

• Michael J. Windsor, who designed the wonderful cover for the enjoyable Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, discusses working on The Lost Symbol.

• Designer Peter Mendelsund talks at length about his career and approach to book-cover design.

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