Between Christmas 1995 and June 2000 I commissioned more than 200 covers for the weekly science fiction anthology 2000 AD. In its early years the comic had a dedicated art editor, whose jobs included conceiving and commissioning the cover art. By the time I joined 2000 AD, then art editor Steve Cook was in the office only two days a week due to budget cuts. He achieved miracles in that limited time, but responsibility for conceiving and commissioning cover art was one of my tasks.
Coming up with something new, exciting and eye-catching every week was not always easy. Our best comic strip artists were usually busy illustrating the stories that were the title’s stock in trade, so finding good and reliable artists available to do the cover was always a battle. Finding inspiration for the cover image was often even harder. Ideally, you wanted an image that reflected the most exciting thing happening inside. But frequently we had no idea what that might be, as the artwork hadn’t arrived in the office. So we had to be a bit more conceptual and devise more design-led covers.
I liked covers with multiple meanings, something that worked in context for regular 2000 AD readers but might also catch the eye of passing punters. So I used lots of homages and parodies as the starting point for a cover, collecting postcards of great film posters and favourite images that might lend themselves to a 2000 AD cover. Sometimes that worked, other times it sucked. The great thing about 2000 AD is there’s always another issue next week, so you can move on from your mistakes quickly.
Just for fun, here are ten of my favourite covers from among the 200+ that I commissioned. I’ve deliberately chosen a single cover from ten different artists. Certain artists got a lot of cover work from me and could easily have been represented by many more in this selection, but I wanted to get a mix of styles. Each cover is accompanied by a few sentences about the image, the context and the artist. They’re presented in chronological order of publication.
PROG 1053 by Jason Brashill. Wow, I’d forgotten how creepy this image is. The reason Anderson looks so realistic [I was going to say lifelike, but that’s hardly accurate] is that Jason based her on a real woman. This is a really simple, but effective cover. I love the way the coverlines seem to bend around the body bag as it’s being zipped shut.
PROG 1073 by Simon Davis. B.L.A.I.R. 1 was a political satire of an old 2000 AD strip called M.A.C.H. 1, itself a homage to US TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. This cover is a pisstake of an old episode of The Goodies where a giant cat attacks the Post Office Tower in London, itself a homage to the film King Kong. I’m still not convinced that major coverline reads well, laid over the artwork.
PROG 1095 by Duncan Fegredo. A tribute Gustav Klimt’s famous painting, The Kiss. Duncan Fegredo actually painted this in two pieces, the full colour image of a naked Slaine groping a nun [all done in the best possible taste], and the squiggly line art behind it as another piece [and subsequently tinted blue]. Quite a mix of fonts, but it works.
PROG 1107 by Dermot Power. I think Dermot was still getting to grips with Adobe Painter when he produced this striking image. Inside the comic Judge DeMarco snogs Dredd, the first time he’d been kissed by a sane woman, so it deserved a cover. Remarkably restrained use of coverlines for once by me, letting the art do the talking.
PROG 1158 by Steve Cook. Our art editor Steve Cook was always well ahead of any coming trend, and this Photoshop cover is a classic by him. Long before Bollywood crossed over into the mainstream of British pop culture, Steve pushed to do this cover and the results were stunning. Different from our usual covers, but still 2000 AD.
PROG 1165 by Henry Flint & Chris Blythe. Henry originally produced another cover for this issue, a slightly murky piece of painted art. He’d drawn this image of Nemesis in black and white for an introductory page, but it was so strong I got computer colourist Chris Blythe to work some magic and this was the result. A great return for Nemesis.
PROG 2000 by Brian Bolland. This was 2000 AD’s first 100-page Christmas special issue and I wanted a suitably epic cover image. Against the odds, 2000 AD had made it to the year 2000, when so many other British comics had died during its lifetime. That’s why the characters are planting 2000 AD’s banner on a mountain of old British comics, both as a tribute to classic photo of US soldiers raising the American flag on Iwo Jima in WWII, but also to all those late, great British comics of yesterday. Everybody in the editorial office had a hand in this one, and Brian Bolland did us proud with his art.
PROG 1188 by Mark Harrison. I agonised long and hard over which Mark Harrison cover to choose, as he produced so many crackers for me on 2000 AD. This image won the day over more obvious candidates, like Durham Red on Prog 1111. Missionary Man in the snow sums up the character perfectly, his resolute fight for justice, no matter what.
PROG 1190 by Greg Staples. Greg was another prolific cover artist for the weekly. After much debate I went for this comedic effort featuring Sinister Dexter. The dialogue’s a little nod to 1999’s hit film The Matrix. This cover is perhaps proof you can have too much creative white space. Sinister’s bizarre shirt is a particularly nice, subtle touch.
PROG 1194 by Cliff Robinson & Chris Blythe. Hard to think of a less dignified cover for Dredd, but this always makes me smile. It was inspired by a Tim Bradstreet cover for a Vertigo crime anthology comic. The story that accompanies this cover’s great too. I contemplated published without any dialogue, so strong was the storytelling by Gordon Rennie and Chris Weston. I bottled out when Gordon grumbled at the concept. Still, great line art by Cliff and Chris Blythe’s usual, exemplary job on the colouring.