After last week's column, someone on my Forum (at http://www.delphi.com/ellis) suggested that what would have been a helpful conclusion to the piece was not just a general railing at the ugliness of comics -- but examples of comics that are beautiful objects in their own right.
And he was right, too.
Therefore, my children, I am sending you down to your local comics store with a list of things to look at.
ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY by Chris Ware (Fantagraphics). These are comics from an alternate universe, as far as I'm concerned. If Winsor McKay had been put in charge of THE NEW YORKER or COLLIER'S instead of doing political cartoons for Hearst, then ACME is what comics would look like today. Just go and look at them. I'm not going to do them justice.
HEAVY LIQUID by Paul Pope (DC Vertigo). <<http://www.paulpope.com>> The Vertigo trade dress just cripples the drive to make covers unique. It's nasty-looking, and the fade-strip down the left just distracts and detracts from what are usually the nicest painted covers in comics. But somehow -- and I suspect the demented will of Shelly Roeberg in this -- the compulsory trade-dress order was lifted for Paul Pope. I could name pretty much any Paul Pope comic, but HEAVY LIQUID, being from a major publisher, will probably be the easiest for you to find (and, unusually, the cover for his other major-publisher work, the trade paperback THE ONE-TRICK RIP-OFF, is bloody horrible). Pope crafts each cover with chaotic inventiveness and a poppy sensibility that gives the object the crackle of a great single or album cover. These are fun adult objects, things you'd like to be seen leaving a record store with.
WATCHMEN by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons with John Higgins (DC). The covers for twelve individual issues of the serialised novel were a triumph, for not only were they astonishing pieces in their own right -- but they were actually the first panel of the chapter they preceded. They are preserved in place in the trade paperback, but you cannot underestimate the impact these covers had in the days where damn near everything else was a flat four-colour nightmare of old-school superhero slambang. This was the height of formal invention in commercial comics' postmodern period; cool, distant, intelligent, the badge of a structuralist application to comics never even approached since.
BERLIN by Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly). BERLIN was actually first published by Black Eye, all of whose books were exquisitely designed. This serial, published in a digest-like size, has a stable cover design that is simple, sombre and striking. I very strongly recommend BERLIN, a story of ordinary life and creeping horror in the city prior to World War 2, to your attention, by the way. It is excellent comics.
HEART OF EMPIRE by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse). <<http://www.bryan-talbot.com>> If you got William Morris to design a limited series' covers, this is what you'd get. Clever and arresting.
CHANNEL ZERO by Brian Wood (Image). <<http://www.brianwood.com>> Brian's covers are utterly unlike any other comic you've ever seen. They fulfil the suggestion of the title perfectly: stills from Hell's television. Bitingly contemporary.
Scott Morse's work is usually very nicely packaged -- in fact, Oni Press in general do a fairly thoughtful job on their books. Or, perhaps more importantly, allow their creators to make their books aesthetically pleasing objects. Andi Watson's GEISHA had beautiful covers that danced like J-Pop, their adaptation of GHOST DOG has a strong cover design, WHITEOUT's four covers had a nice unifying aesthetic conceit... you get the feeling that all involved actually give a shit about making each project personalised and worth holding. You can find them at http://www.onipress.com. Tell them I sent you.
And there's a beginning for you. There's a message board for CIA here at CBR. Tell me what you think should also be on this list.
As for my own books... TRANSMETROPOLITAN has, in my opinion, a terrific logo, and we use the best artists in the business. We make TRANSMET an object worth having by using Geof Darrow, Frank Quitely, Dave Gibbons, Tony Harris, Jim Lee, Jaime Hernandez. The PLANETARY covers change design and style each issue according to the content, created by John Cassaday, Laura DePuy, John Layman and Wildstorm's designers from my notes. Bryan Hitch created a constant cover design for THE AUTHORITY, that, to me, is suggestive of its pulp sci-fi roots, and is instantly recognisable. On HELLBLAZER, all we needed to do was get Tim Bradstreet, who is probably the best cover artist of his generation, as well as my friend and Illustration Warrior.
INSTRUCTIONS: Read MAXIMUM BLACK: ICONIC IMAGES AND CINEMATIC ILLUSTRATIONS by Timothy Bradstreet (AEG, 1998), listen to DARKLANDS by the Jesus And Mary Chain (Blanco Y Negro, 1987), and hit Timothy Bradstreet's website at http://www.timbradstreet.com. Today's recommended graphic novel is VOLCANIC REVOLVER by Scott Morse (Oni Press, 1999). Now begone.