Saturday, October 20, 2012

Teaching Old Art New Tricks

One of the perks of buying a comic book used to be this little gem in the upper left corner of the cover:

The corner box image--which, with the issue number, gave you at a glance the characters in the book, or otherwise a general idea of what you could expect to find.

In a word: they were neat.

And they seem to have disappeared.

Most of them were customized original renderings of the character(s), which was another nice little touch. It was an extra effort by an artist to welcome the reader. These little images made more of an impact than you'd think. They seem insignificant, and take up valuable cover space--but in addition to the cover art, which is of course the first thing that catches your eye, the corner box image is an extra message to you that this can be a regular reading experience for you--something you can depend on, and something the comic is committed to continuing and improving on. It suggested characters you could get interested in--that there was a lot more to the book than the cover implied.

In a way, these images were just as interesting to look at as the larger artwork taking up the bulk of the page. Some images were adapted from prior stories, having one or two minor alterations done in order for the image to be a better fit for the box (as well as to be more distinctive from its prior appearance). The altered image was still recognizable--but sometimes it was a real memory-jogger to try and remember just where you'd seen that pose from the character before.

So which Marvel characters had corner box images which seemed familiar to you?

Probably none of the above.

But it turns out that these four big guns made excellent choices:

And here's a peculiar thing all four had in common: each of these characters were featured in other comics before getting their own titles, and each of their corner images came from those prior titles. You'd think their own new titles would come with fresh new images--but there's something to be said for familiarity, and those older images would help bring established readers to the newer titles. So perhaps those "perks" were just savvy marketing tools in the beginning, after all.

First, have a look at Thor, whose corner image came from his old Journey Into Mystery title:

In later issues, artist John Buscema would contribute his own take on this pose--a simple standing posture, which you wouldn't expect from such a dynamic character like Thor. No lightning bolts... no leaping into battle with Mjolnir raised... just a majestic stance. Amazing how much of this noble character came across in such a simple pose.

Iron Man's image was retrieved from when he shared half of the Tales Of Suspense book:

There were plenty of prior poses of Iron Man just standing in the same way as Thor, but apparently Marvel felt that a little something more was needed with his pose. Perhaps because, for a small corner image, the armor would look almost empty and inanimate without some sort of action pose to indicate that there was a man (and a hero) inside.

With the Hulk, whose pose was taken from an issue of Tales To Astonish, it didn't take too much thought to choose his signature pose:

The Hulk was always on the run from someone or something in those days--ironic, since one of the things you tend to remember about the Hulk is that he didn't run from anything. Maybe the impression Marvel wanted to have him project is that he was always being attacked--so you were almost guaranteed a battle issue when you pulled a Hulk comic off the rack.

Captain America's pose was taken from an early issue of Fantasy Masterpieces:

With Cap's shield being so closely associated with the character, it was only necessary to tweak the original display of it to give it a more bold appearance in order to complete the character's look.  Cap has been given several other box images that either have him in movement or simply standing--but I always thought this image was the perfect mixture of stationary pose and heroism.

Dusted off and just slightly adapted, these older images (and possibly others) made excellent corner box footprints that imprinted on the minds of readers for years to come.


Super-Duper ToyBox said...

Great post! One of my faves was the swinging Spider-Man from his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy

Comicsfan said...

To the best of my knowledge, they never made that into a corner box icon--but I agree it would have looked much more animated than just a figure of Spider-Man standing and looking sullen. :)

Kid said...

I loved those little corner boxes. Wish they'd being 'em back.