Judging a Comic by its Cover: Some Early Favourites

More than anything else, comics sell on their covers, but which ones stick most in your mind in your years of collecting?

For me, there are plenty, but here are just a few that caught my attention at an early age, for a number of reasons.

Given my love of the British comics I grew up reading, you might be surprised by the appearance of some US comics below. Those I’ve included here stick in my mind because back in the late 1960s/ early 1970s when I first discovered them, they were something of a rarity, found on “spinners” in only a few local newsagents, and often sporadically, with no guarantee you’d find consecutive issues, particularly of Marvel titles.

For this feature, I’ve focused on adventure comics – I grew up reading titles such as Beano, Sparky, Cor!, Whizzer and Chips and Shiver and Shake, too… but that’s for another time.

TV21 Issue 182 - cover dated 14th February 2068

TV21 Issue 182 – cover dated 14th February 2068. Art by Mike Noble

TV21 Issue 182 – cover dated 14th February 2068: Lew Stringer has documented the changing face of the Gerry Anderson-inspired TV21 over on his blog, and of course, the future newspaper-inspired TV Century 21 covers stick in the memory. But when “Captain Scarlet” arrived in the title, the redesign that followed prompted some stunning art-led covers, including this iconic Mike Noble “deathfall” image. How could young minds not be grabbed?

Daredevil #57 - UK Cover

Daredevil #57 – October 1969 (cover via Comics.org): One of my earliest encounters with US comics outside the British weeklies POW! and Wham!, which I saw few of (I grew up in a small village in Cornwall whose newsagents stocked very few comics back in the 1960s. It was only when I moved to St. Ives that my brain exploded at the realisation that there was much more out there than I could possibly have imagined…)

While it’s not the best early Daredevil cover by Gene Colan, it’s certainly memorable for its cover reveal of Murdoch’s secret identity, which back then was a major part of superhero comics. I suspect that discovering this scene was the last page in the story inside didn’t exactly endear me to Marvel Comics, because I didn’t find a copy of the subsequent issue until years later. The distribution issues for Marvel pushed me in favour of their paperback collections and, of course, Marvel UK…

Detective Comics Volume 1 #425, 1972

Detective Comics Volume 1 #425, 1972 (cover via the PencilInk blog): This was by no means my first encounter with Batman, but Bernie Wrightson’s demonic stagecoach driver couldn’t help but jump off that spinner and into my hands. DC Comics back then weren’t as serialised as they are now, so held more appeal, particularly Batman.

Countdown Issue One

Countdown Issue One – cover dated 14th February 1971 (Cover via Wacky Comics): Alongside the short-lived Thunder, Countdown, another Gerry Anderson British title with Doctor Who thrown for good measure, was the first comic I collected every week, at least in its first year until it diverged from its largely SF content and, as Countdown and TV Action, began including action adventure strips.

(I should point out that I could have never have afforded every comic I would have liked back in the 1970s, any more than I can now!)

Countdown provided my only dose of “Doctor Who” back in 1971 as for several years we didn’t have a TV set. Harry Lindfield and Gerry Haylock’s strips subsequently remain iconic for me, so you can understand why I was so determined that Marvel UK shell out £5000 to buy all the publishing rights to them (and the TV Comic strips, too) when I was editor of Doctor Who Magazine. Some of the best money MUK ever spent, although who knew Panini would sit on them and do nothing with them for so long?

Mighty World of Marvel Issue One

Mighty World of Marvel Issue One – cover dated 7th October 1972 (cover via Thought Balloon): Marvel UK’s first regular weekly sprang onto newsagents shelves and into my paws without protest. How could I not be grabbed by such a combination of superheroes, or, indeed, the iron on Hulk t-shirt transfer (which I ironed on myself, to the amazement of my mum). Who knew then that I would eventually work for the company that published such gems?

Detective Comics #443 - cover by Jim Aparo

Detective Comics #443, November 1974 (Cover via the DC Wikia): I had no idea who Manhunter was but this Jim Aparo cover – and the Walt Simonson strip inside – made me determined to find out.

as an added bonus, here’s the artwork for this cover (the image that prompted this article, in fact!)

Detective Comics #443, November 1974 - art

Back to British comics…

Warlord Issue One

Warlord Issue One, cover dated 28th September 1974 (Cover via Lew Stringer): While Battle Picture Weekly is the title more downthetubes readers will perhaps remember, home to the brilliant “Charley’s War” by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun, I didn’t actually read that many war comics as a teen, at least not on a regular basis. Warlord definitely caught my eye on its launch though, and helped prompt an occasional dip into Commando, too.

2000AD Prog 85 - Judge Dredd by Mick McMahon

2000AD Prog 85, cover dated 7th October 1978 (via 2000AD): There are simply too many iconic 2000AD covers to mention here, but as the Judge Dredd “Cursed Earth” saga reached its dramatic conclusion, Mick McMahon’s cover remains a stunner. (Brian Bolland’s “Jigsaw Man” cover for Prog 173 similarly grabbed).

Doctor Who Weekly Issue One

Doctor Who Weekly Issue One – cover dated 17th October 1979: Like Countdown, This comic/ magazine didn’t have an art cover but that didn’t matter – it was more than eye catching enough to get my money, especially after glancing at “The Iron Legion” by Pat Mills, John Wagner and Dave Gibbons inside.

While DWW soon became DWM within a year – I once came across the sales figures at Marvel UK and the meteoric drop off from launch explains why the decision was made to make it a monthly – this remains a fondly- remembered launch.

Unlike most of the title’s above, it’s still going strong, too!

There are a lot of of covers I could have included here (Captain Britain, The Daredevils, Hulk Weekly and Look-In, for example). This is just a smattering of covers that helped pull me along a lifelong interest in the medium.

But I’ll leave you with a small taste of some of the independent British titles that also grabbed me (around the time I was publishing my own, helped on later editions by some of the Marvel UK team), initiating my enthusiasm for and support of individual comic creators.

Again, these covers grabbed me – and assured a sale!

Some independent British comics of the 1980s

• What are your favourite comic covers? Why not let us know, below?

Categories: 2000AD, Creating Comics, Doctor Who, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Features

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