With Further Ado #262: The Joys of Going Coverless

I love going barefoot in the summer and wearing shorts. In a way, the fall ritual of wearing pants every day seems like I’ve done a poor job negotiating my terms of surrender to the cruel reality of the change in season. It’s tragic – to be sure – but it’s still a little ways off, isn’t it? Can’t I just enjoy the end of August and still consider it summer?

And along the lines of that whole idea of less is more, can I make a case for the joys of coverless comics? They are so carefree, so fun. When I read an old comic without a cover, I’m not worried about the condition of the comic, and certainly not worried that anything I do will deflate the value. In today’s grade-conscious comics work, it’s invigorating to read a comic like a kid again: to curl the cover back on the spine and maybe even to drip a little ice cream onto it.

(But my wife not set her coffee mug on them, nonetheless!)

I enjoyed a few coverless (and ¾ cover) comics this summer. As many of you know, in the old days, newsstands could return unsold comics to the distributor and get their money back. But after a short while, folks realized that sending the whole comic (or magazine) back was costly and inefficient. What if instead, they just ripped the covers off, sent them into the distributor as “proof” and then destroyed the comic? Or maybe they could just send in the logo of the cover for credit. That was the idea, but thankfully – so many “valiantly unscrupulous” newsstand dealers just didn’t have the heart to destroy the comics. So, they’d re-sell the coverless comics at a discount to other venues.

These comics are especially great for reading a story you might never buy normally, or be able to afford as a back issue. And many of these stories were never collected again in any other format. For horror titles, I find the coverless comics to be a real treat, as often there will be one short story (they routinely contained several stories) by a favorite artist that you never would stumble across otherwise.

Here’s a few good cover comics that I snagged this summer:

Brave and The Bold #108 – Batman  & Sgt. Rock in “The Night Batman Sold His Soul” (Aug-Sept 1971)

It’s been a team-up summer in for me. I really enjoyed the Michael Eury/TwoMorrows panels at the superb HeroesCon in Charlotte this past June. And especially when we focused on Michael Eury’s new Team-Up Companion book. He wrote about (and talked about in Charlotte) with great affection – his love for the Bob Haney team-ups in The Brave and the Bold. This one in particular was a classic -with all the delicious trademarks of a Bob Haney story. It’s “kind of” out of continuity – but who cares? The story moves quickly and concludes with a memorable ending.

This issue shines with its Jim Aparo artwork. I would venture it’s just about a half-step before he hit his groove and fully blossomed. But any Aparo artwork, I think, has SO MUCH to love. The layouts, the figures, the POV, the inking, the shadows. Admiring Aparo’s work in this one is like watching a master class in comic art.

Astonishing Tales #3 – Starring Ka-Zar and Dr. Doom (Dec 1970)

The ¾ cover that is still on the comic is a bit lame. Maybe it should be a full-on coverless comic? This cover was a mishmash of storyline highlights by Marie Severin and Mike Esposito, with (most likely) a few John Romita art corrections thrown in there too.

This issue kicks things off with an early effort by Barry Windsor Smith, struggling to break out of his Kirby phase and emerge, like a butterfly, into the artist he became. So many of the characters and scenes look like they could’ve been in an early Conan issue too.

In the second story Dr. Doom is the protagonist. But real star here is artist Wally Wood. One can’t help but think about this talented-yet-tragic artist at this stage of his career– with projects like Tower’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and DC/Ideal’s Captain Action in the rearview mirror – returning to work at Marvel where he had left in a huff as a result of Stan’s poor treatment.

Few people could argue, with a straight face, that this Dr. Doom story is anything approaching memorable- but the Wally Wood artwork makes it all sing. His inks, his figure work, his textures and his scenes that just go on and on elevate this coverless comic into s rarified stratosphere of fanboy fun.

Archie Giant Series Presents Betty and Veronica Summer Fun #19 (September 1962)

This comic is older than me, but boy, did it made me feel young! This might have been my comic of the summer. It’s full of teenage hijinks and heaps of gorgeous Dan DeCarlo artwork (with a bit of Dexter Taylor and Joe Edwards thrown in too).

I especially enjoyed “Grand Hotel” one of the thirteen (!) stories stuffed into this 80-page-giant-ish issue. In this adventure, Bobby Darren visits Riverdale. He’s the “most popular” pop singer of the day, inheriting Elvis’ crown…but it’s right before the Beatles would make the scene. Here called “Bobby Barren”, he wants to find a quiet hotel, and Veronica schemes to make his manager believe that the Lodge Mansion is actually a private hotel .

I think Veronica just invented Airbnb!

On a slightly different note – The CW’s Riverdale finale aired this week. Whew! What an impressive run that was. Kudos to all involved, especially the Archie publishing folks.

Superman Family #168 (Dec-Jan 1974/1975)

You know what? I think the Table of Contents page for this oversized comic is more informative than the original Nick Cardy cover. Can you believe how much was packed into this comic?

And in those pre-internet days, it’s fascinating to see the publisher creating their own parodies of past comics. It’s only fitting to close out this “Going Coverless” column by checking out this curious feature: E. Nelson Bridwell’s Comedy Cover Capers.