Useless Cover Edits?

By | Tuesday, January 14, 2020 Leave a Comment
When publishers reprint comics, they sometimes get new cover art for them. Often, the cover art has to be re-worked to some degree anyway, to accommodate a different logo or publisher format changes, so it's sometimes easier and cheaper to get a new artist to create a new cover image rather than try to adjust the old one. Sometimes, editors feel, too, that getting a different artist to draw a new cover might make it fall more in line than whatever new stories are being contemporaneously published. If you got whoever's drawing Amazing Spider-Man this month, their artwork on a reprint cover might attract some readers who would gloss over or ignore a Steve Ditko cover. Whatever the case, there certainly are solid justifications for getting a new cover drawn up for a reprint issue.

Of course, it's also sometimes the case that there's not enough budget to hire a new artist, but the original cover art still needs to be re-worked for new format considerations. In these case, it usually then falls to someone on the production team to try to make whatever modifications are necessary. That might be simply re-cropping the original, or it might involve moving around individual components. These days, all of that is done digitally, of course, but before computers became a staple of the industry, someone would have to photostat the image (basically, a high-quality photocopy), cut it up with an X-acto, and paste everything back down in the new format. Depending on the number of changes needed -- particularly if they involved having to resize only certain portions -- this could be quite tedious.

But over on Twitter, Greg pointed out to me the huge number of changes that had to be made when reprinting Fantastic Four #97 as Marvel's Greatest Comics #78. Take a look at these two covers...
Fantastic Four #97 Marvel's Greatest Comics #78
Most obviously, the creature figure and the story title have been swapped. The Human Torch figure has been shrunk and placed higher on the page, and the entire shoreline has been re-drawn. Almost an inch of additional art has been added on the right side to show the Thing's left leg, and the radio from above his head has been moved down to the side. There's also a beach blanket drawn in for him to lay on, and the Human Torch is given a can of soda (with two straws for some reason). The ground texture has been entirely re-done from waves of sand to somewhat more rocky texture.

That's a fair amount of re-work to achieve, essentially, nothing. It's still Jack Kirby artwork, and the adjustments don't change the impact of the visual. The FF are relaxing on the beach, with the Torch moping off to the side, and they're all oblivious to the monster sneaking up behind them. The elements are moved around a bit, but the visual impact is more or less unchanged. I was really puzzled by this for a while. The whole logo/corner box area is formatted a little differently, but doesn't take up appreciably any more room on the page. So why go through all the time to re-work everything?

Then, I noticed a new element to the layout -- the UPC symbol. In the eight years between the release of Fantastic Four #97 and Marvel's Greatest Comics #78, Marvel had begun adding UPCs to their covers. That effectively kills that bottom corner of the page from an art perspective since any art drawn in that corner would get covered by the bar code. The layout changes then begin to make sense... the Human Torch was moved up so he wasn't getting cut off by the bar code; he was shrunk a bit to keep the figure perspective; moving the Torch would have interfered with the monster figure, so that was moved to the right; the story title was then shrunk slightly and was used to fill the space left by the creature; other elements were drawn in to fill in the now-empty spaces. That all kind of makes sense.


Except pretty much none of that was really needed. Here's what it looks like when I took the Marvel's Greatest Comics masthead and UPC, and drop them on top of Fantastic Four #97 with no other adjustments...
Marvel's Greatest Comics #78 mock-up
The Human Torch figure remains almost entirely visible, and everything else fits pretty well as is. The monster's head breaks into the "R" of the title a bit more than would be ideal, I suppose, but not so much that it's no longer legible. The new copyright notice does overlap with the monster's shoulder, but there's plenty of space under the masthead Torch figure where the old corner box used to be.

So I'm ultimately still a little confused by all the changes. The modifications they did make were pretty significant, and I'm sure took someone in the production department a great deal of time and effort. The end result isn't bad, certainly, but it seems like a heck of a lot of work when they could've left it almost unchanged and gotten the same effect.
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