Classic Comic Book Covers

Ben Samuels shares some of his favorite covers from 20 years of comic book collecting. In the categories of Classic Super-Hero & War Covers, Classic Good Girl & Romance Covers, and Classic Crime & Horror Covers, here is a gallery of vividly reproduced cover design gems sure to inspire your imagination.

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Judging a Book by Its Cover

A Distributor's Viewpoint on the Importance of Making a Good First Impression
As a publisher there comes a time when you must reject the lesson drummed into your head by your mother and your high school guidance counselor and face the fact that books are indeed judged by their covers. Thereís no point in debating that fact in the ten-second window your book has to make its first impression.

Your first hurdle is convincing the retail and wholesale buyers that your book is worthy of placing in their stock. The second hurdle is grabbing consumer attention, and very often that cover is the only reason a person will pick the book up or walk past.

Here are a few issues related to cover design that you may want to consider:

Pixilated or unintentionally blurry images. Make sure the images you are using are high resolution (usually between 300-600 dpi). If youíve downloaded some free stock photos or scanned your images check the resolution.

ďCheapĒ looking fonts. There are basic fonts installed on most computers and using them for your cover design will often be an immediate tip-off that the cover was not professionally designed. Display fonts can convey not only the text, but can also set the tone visually. Finding the right font for your book jacket doesnít have to be expensive. There are many free fonts or cheap fonts available on the Internet (Check the usage agreements. Many are free for personal use, but have a small charge for commercial use.) Here are a few sites to check out.

  • Overused clip art. For example, Microsoft Office includes cutesy clip art. Using this type of clip art is death for your book. Copyright-free images and clip art images can work well, but the images must be high-resolution, unusual, and contribute to your overall design. Dover Publications offers a whole series of inexpensive clip art and copyright-free images on CD-Rom (www.

    Style that has nothing to do with content. Go into a bookstore and take a look at the horror and mystery sections. You should notice that black and red covers dominate. Now go into the childrenís section. Primary colors and bright or soft hues dominate. That is because these styles are immediately associated with their genres. Now go into the section where you would like to see your book shelved Ė does it look like it would belong?

    Covers that are too generic. Food that comes with a black and white label is generally perceived as inexpensive and often inferior quality. A bland cover with boring text and little else will be perceived the same way. The only reason The Beatles could get away with ďThe White AlbumĒ was because they were The Beatles.

    Color over design. Just because youíve spent the money to print in 4-color doesnít mean you have to use every single color in the crayon box. Use color wisely. Iíve seen wonderful, well-designed 2-color covers work, as well as awful expensive, embossed 4-color covers.

    Too much text. Have you crowded your cover with a lengthy subtitle, description, author bio, highlights, awards, and endorsements? There should be a natural flow for the readerís eyes and if the cover is too busy the flow is disrupted.

    Too little text. Donít make your audience try and guess what the book is about. An inscrutable cover isnít likely to find an audience.

    Old-fashioned looking. Yep, its true, like clothing and interior decoration, graphic design is bound by the same style prejudices. If your title is cutting edge or timely, make sure you cover is too.

    A title that is difficult to read. If someone has to squint at and scrutinize the cover to figure out the title, youíve probably already lost your audience. A consumer in a store is likely to be at least 4-10 feet away from your title when he or she first sees it. A simple test while you are working on the cover is to place the mock-up across the room and attempt to read the cover.

    Spine that is difficult to read. If your title is one of the lucky few chosen for shelf space, consider that your spine is fighting for attention in a store filled with thousands of other books. Make the spine stand out.

    Proofread. This is common sense, but Iíve seen some finished copies with typos on the front and back covers. Make sure at least 2-3 other people proofread the cover.

    A few words about back covers:

    Author photos. Unless the author is famous or somehow likely to help as a sales tool, keep the author photos and bio contained to the end of the text. That space could be better used for description, endorsements, or just part of the design.

    Illegible text. Make sure the text describing the book is in a clear, easy to read font. If the font is too small or illegible, the reader will give up and walk away.

    Boring text. You spent hundreds of hours writing the book. At the very least, few hours should be spent developing the description on the dustjacket. It is essential that the content be condensed to an utterly fascinating 100-200 words. Remember, your ďpitchĒ to your audience is only going to last for a matter of seconds.

    Meaningless endorsements. Good reviews hearten an authorís soul, but unless the reviews are from a recognized source they arenít likely to convince a book buyer or consumer.

    A few simple tips:

    1. Ask for a variety of opinions on your cover before you go to print. Get as many opinions and as much feedback as possible. Seek advice from book industry professionals if possible. Also, considering doing a test market to your audience. For example, if your book is geared toward older adults and retirees, you could visit a local senior center.

    2. Go to your local bookstore and compare your cover art to similar titles. These are the books that were deemed worthy of shelf space, so they should provide the best model for what buyers are looking for.

    3. If you canít afford the services of a professional designer, but donít feel you can produce a cover on your own, contact a local university or art school and see if they can recommend a student willing to take the commission.

    4. Create a few different covers so you can get a feel for what works and what doesnít.

    5. Read the back cover copy aloud. Read it aloud to other people. You have 45 seconds or so to grab your reader. Writing 50,000 words is often easier than the three sentence summation of your book.

    A couple of cover design resources:

    Great Book Jacket and Cover Design
    by Alan Powers/ ISBN: 1840006935

    Desktop Publishing: Book Covers and Jackets

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