This is the era I was really waiting to do. I grew up reading comics in the 1970’s so my familiarity with the books of this decade is the greatest. I am not looking back removed from the historical context of the time, I lived during it! My discovery of comic reading at around age 8 or 9 changed my art path from a desire to be an animator to become a comic artist.
This list could easily just be Neal Adams covers but I was able to squeeze in a few others that really made an impression on me as a kid and still do as an adult and professional artist. The 70’s was really similar to the decade of the 50’s in that comics experienced an artistic renaissance. In the 50’s many highly talented artist’s came out of the woodwork to produce mostly non-superhero comics (generallly for EC Comics) and the same thing happened in the 70’s. Superhero popularity and comics sales in general were down and along came fantasy, sword and sorcery and monster books in an attempt to find a new audience. With these type of books came very talented and illustrative artists. The type that the industry had rarely seen before.
Here is my attempt to squeeze a decade of brilliant comic work in to 10 choices.
Once Barry Windsor-Smith shook off the Kirby influence he became one of the greatest comic book illustrators of all time. His level of detail in his work was jaw-dropping and no doubt peeved a lot of the old school artists of the time. His run on Conan is legendary but this piece is BWS at his best. The drawing is fantastic, the detail is unbelievable and the story telling is great. This deserved better than a mere comic cover. King Size Conan the Barbarian #1.
Outside of Frazetta, Berni Wrightson was the single greatest artistic influence on my early style. So I could easily fill this list with his work but I have to stay true to the process. I must note that I am not including any of the Warren Magazine covers because technically they were Magazines. (plus it makes my choices a little easier) Here is the best cover of Wrightson’s legendary run on Swamp Thing.
Okay, here it is, possibly the greatest comic cover of all time. (I think that’s the third time I have made that claim) So let’s say definitely top 5. Once again Buscema delivers great dynamics, great design and great impact. This is the first comic I ever bought simply on the merit of the cover. I had no idea who the characters were but I didn’t care. Now that speaks volumes. ‘Nuff Said, indeed! Fantastic Four #112.
Let’s begin the Neal Adams parade. Certainly one the greatest comic artists to ever pick up a pencil, Neal delivered great cover after great cover. If you needed a book to sell, you got Neal to do the cover. If DC had done more covers like this in the 60’s Marvel might not have buried them. I still get scared every time I look at this! Batman #237.
Most of Neal Adam’s memorable covers came while he was working on Batman and Detective Comics. However, there some really great Superman covers in there as well. This is clearly his best and most famous one, which is why it is on this list. Instantly iconic.
Again, picking just three Neal Adams covers is really impossible, so I guess I did the impossible. Here is the third and final entry by Adams on my list. I’m sure many are saying, “What?! No Green Lantern #76”? You know as famous as that cover is, I can think of several I like better. This is one of them. Not only in design but impact, relevance and deft handling of touchy subject matter, this cover succeeds on every level. Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86.
For me, Mike Ploog is the ultimate fantasy and monster artist. Give the guy a monster or an elf to draw and no one can touch him. His rendition of Man-Thing was the best by far. But somehow, someway, he took this Kull cover and made it into something legendary. I just absolutely love this cover. Kull #11.
Uh, oh, we have another Berni Wrightson sighting. What made Wrightson’s 70’s work so special was his ability to use blacks to create volume and atmosphere in his art. Wrightson did several covers for DC’s horror comics, House of Mystery and House of Secrets and these covers showcased Berni’s best comic work outside of Creepy and Eerie magazine. Powerful, startling and masterfully drawn and it still freaks me out. House of Mystery # 214.
Frank Brunner was quite the star in the 70’s but we didn’t hear much about him after that. He is probably best known for his very limited but impactful work on Howard the Duck, Dr. Strange and Man-Thing. Brunner did several really nice covers but the three that stand out are Dr. Strange #1, Howard the Duck #1 and this. The close up and dramatic lighting really make this cover jump out. Giant-Size Man-Thing #4.
Where’s Gil Kane, one of the great cover artist’s of all time, you ask? Right here! Gil was hard to decide upon because much like Nick Cardy and Alex Schomburg he did a lot of really good covers but not very many that clearly stood out from the rest of his work. This one resonates with me because of the emotional power. Is Captain America dead? Well not Steve Rogers, we see him in the background, but his replacement is and you can feel the remorse and guilt flowing out of Nomad and the Falcon. Not to mention the absolute shock of seeing an iconic hero being so unceremoniously killed and strung up. Captain America #183.
All right I’m cheating. I can’t pick just 10. This was the era that I grew up reading comics in and this is also my last cover list because it’s just too hard and too many of my friends have work in the 80’s and beyond so I don’t want to get in trouble for not picking one of them. With all that in mind here are 5 more covers from the 70’s that rock and should be in the top 10 but are at least in the top 15!
Finally, a Nick Cardy sighting. Now maybe Dan Mishkin won’t kill me. As I stated previously, Cardy did a lot of really cool covers for DC. He really rivals Neal Adams with his creativity. This is the type of cover that would make a Marvel Zombie buy a Teen Titans comic. Teen Titans #42.
I had to get one more Gil Kane cover in here. This one doesn’t have the emotional impact that my first choice does but it has everything else. We all know Gulliver of Mars is a John Carter rip-off but who cares?! I’m buying this comic anyway! Give me some 3-D glasses! Creatures on the Loose #18.
It’s Brunner time again. Too bad the Spider-man blurb is on this cover, otherwise it would be up higher on the list. Still, a duck with a sword defending a maiden in distress, who was expecting anything like this on the spinner rack? Not me but I grabbed it the second I saw it and it had low distribution to boot! Instant collector’s item! Howard the Duck #1.
If you haven’t read the Spectre series that ran through Adventure Comics in the early to mid 70’s shame on you. Startling good stories and Jim Aparo’s best work. Here is a particularly scary cover from his run. Great image of the Spectre and pretty startling image of a bad guy getting his hands melted. I have to grab my coat, I’m shivering! Adventure Comics #431.
What is the 70’s without Jim Starlin. He brought us the groovy cosmos 70’s style with his work on Captain Marvel and Warlock. A lot of good covers crammed in that run but this is my favorite. Great central figure with a nice collage of characters surrounding him. A very movie poster feel to it and nice black background to boot. Warlock #15.
Did you notice the rather high volume of monster and barbarian covers on this list? Is it simply a sign of the 70’s or my own predisposition? Hmmm……..
And to think I still left off Amazing Spider-man #90, #100 and #136. Let’s not forget Ghost Rider #1 and Thor #171 and too many Neal Adams covers to mention along with several more I was thinking about. Ah, I give up!