I have chosen to discuss one of my favorite comic book covers. This issue, Captain America Volume 1, Issue #332 was published by Marvel Comics in August 1987.
Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Artists: Mike Zeck, Klaus Janson
This issue is a particularly significant issue in the Captain American canon. The content and tone of this story arc is darker than most of what the hero had experienced for several years. Additionally, the central conflict showcased during this period was chiefly internal and dealt with complicated decisions rather than powerful enemies. I believe the cover design perfectly reflects both the tone the author intended.
Who is the audience? How does the design appeal to that audience?
The audience for this book is quite clear. Captain America’s target audience has always been comic book fans of all ages. This issue is no different. However, one of the challenges with selling comic books is retaining your readership. The unique style of this cover is one that appeals to both a casual fan, a devoted subscriber, and everything in between. Most covers at the time were more of a literal preview of the issue’s contents rather than a symbolic representation. Artwork like this would stand out on the shelf, as well as draw in fans that may have missed many of the events leading up to the contents of this issue.
How does the layout aid readability and understanding?
The cover art itself contains very little text. The words “CAPTAIN AMERICA NO MORE!” are prominently featured at the top of the page with uniform typeface and high contrast. These elements combine to draw the attention of the viewer. It is obvious this is an important moment in the story arc, but it is vague enough to entice a potential reader to pick the issue up to find out why Captain America is no more.
How do images clarify and enhance the text?
The images on this cover are powerful. As I mentioned, most covers would typically feature Cap along with the particular villain of the issue. I happen to know this issue featured a villain called Warhead, but he is nowhere to be found on the cover. By featuring, in the foreground, a lone image of the hero in such a state of anguish, it illustrates that the threat against him is not a physical threat. This builds intrigue around the plot itself and further entices the reader to get the book in his or her hands.
The background image of the hanging American flag–the symbol of Captain America himself–is a poignant image, as well. It hangs behind him in a crude allusion to a jail cell. The stripes are angular and harsh. Then when it reaches the ground, the bold red stripes are turn into a more organic image, almost blood-like.
My favorite image on this cover, though, is the one in top-left. The image is obviously Abraham Lincoln. If you look closely, you will see that he is crying. Abraham Lincoln is typically associated with freedom, and seeing his tears in response to the potential loss of Captain America reinforces the significance of the cover text itself. This would have been particularly noticeable for a contemporary audience. The convention of the time was to include a logo of the title character. Such a drastic change from that expectation would have drawn eyes all on its own. Check out some of the other corner logos from Captain America issues released during the same volume:
What mood does the design evoke? How do the design elements work together to create that mood?
These images and stylistic choices unite to establish an element of both suspense and concern. The color choice in the main artwork is limited to the strict palette of red, white, and blue, also unusual for the time. This is yet another instance of uniqueness that establishes the importance of the issue itself. By doubling down on the remorseful representations of the two “great Americans” featured on the cover, the artist communicates to the viewer that there is a particularly anguishing event within the pages. The title text ties it all up with its unclear preview of what that event might be.
-Thomas E. Moran