I don’t write that much about mainstream superhero comics because I don’t find very much that’s positive to say about them. They seem trapped in a time-loop of repeating the same stories over and over again, only with added angst, dismemberment and Fear of Women than ever. The industry, from both the editorial, creator and fan sides, don’t seem to want to change.
Right now, I’m suffering from Swipe Fatigue.
If you’re a regular reader of Bleeding Cool, then you’ll know all about Rich’s Swipe Files, which shows artists swiping poses from other panels. What I’m talking about is cover swipes, swipes from famous superhero covers from the past. You know the ones I’m talking about it.
Here’s a list of the most famous, most frequently-swiped covers:
Hmm, amazing how similar are to each other, aren’t they? UNCANNY X-MEN #136 was published in 1980 while CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS #7 was published in 1986, but John Byrne and George Perez were peers and strong enough artists in their own right that no one seemed to notice the similarities between the two covers at the time.
I’m sure we can take a vote for which one from the above is the most-swiped cover in comics these days. The ones I see most commonly swiped are ACTION COMICS#1, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS #7 or UNCANNY X-MEN #136 and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #1. When the current trend of cover-swiping began in earnest in the 1990s, it was kind of cute, an in-joke between comics geeks, especially when it was comics not published by Marvel or Dc publishing. It felt, perhaps, like a mark of nerd kinship between fans, a private joke, a nudge-nudge-wink-wink.
Well, what started as a quaint thing has become overkill. Now we can’t go through a month without someone doing another fucking cover that swipes one of the above covers. It’s no longer cute or amusing or witty. It’s become a sign of the mediocrity and lack of imagination of the creators or editors swiping them. You could come up with all sorts of arguments about literature referencing each other, being in constant dialogue, but when the dialogue just starts to repeat itself oer and over again, you get an echo chamber with the sounds having less meaning as they recede further and further into nothingness. Okay, I get it. These guys love superhero comics and we know what bloody comics they read growing up that they never got out of their heads. But they’re not the only people obsessed with those comics, as all the other creators swiping the same fucking covers are proving. It also suggests how much imagination or design sense they have, which is not a whole lot, if all they can do is swipe from comics covers everyone who’s ever read comics has seen.
It’s one thing if DC or Marvel are swiping – no, sorry, doing homages to their own original covers. They own them after all, and there’s al least a real dialogue here because they’re referencing their own history and commenting on how far they’ve come and how much has changed and stayed the same. That doesn’t make the new “homage” covers any less dull to some of us, though.
For an industry that needs to constantly renew itself, swiping famous covers feels increasingly like an industry that’s out of ideas and can only keep biting chunks out of its own flesh to stay alive. Covers may be only skin-deep, but they’re an indication of what’s going on between the covers too. The stories often feel just as warmed-over and regurgitated, but that’s another and longer discussion that doesn’t really go anywhere anymore. Would it kill these new artists to go read some books on graphic design? They don’t even have to pay, there are libraries or the internet. Learn about Modernism, Postmodernism, Constructivism, Futurism… design theory… ideas from outside of comics, and not swiping well-known movie posters, either, since everyone’s seen those, even more than just comics fans… Anything to get some new fucking ideas into play here, or the American comics industry stays in its nerd ghetto it seems to like being in, and sales continue to decline.
Meanwhile, I don’t ever want to see another swipe of any of the above covers I’ve listed again, but I know I will the next time I step into a shop.
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© Adisakdi Tantimedh