Dave Johnson is one of the best cover artists working in comics today. His covers are powerful, his design work is flawless and his ability to capture to essence of a book in one single image simply cannot be beat.
Dark Horse teams with Bloody-Disgusting once again to deliver an exclusive look behind the scenes to show how Johnson takes a cover from a thumbnail to a fully polished piece of art. Below you can see the evolution of Johnson’s work on the covers to the new Dark Horse series “Kiss Me, Satan!”(previously titled “Witch Hunt”), which hits stores on September 18th, 2013. Then, we caught up with Dave Johnson at this year’s FanExpo to discuss his approach to creating a cover.
Bloody-Disgusting: Talk us through your creative process when you sit down to create a cover…
Dave Johnson: Well I usually talk to the editor to get an idea of what they are looking for. The problem with covers these days is that they need the cover so far in advance that a lot of times there isn’t even a script yet. So I’ve gotten into the habit of talking to the writer or editor and asking what general vibe they want to get across with that comic. I try and pick out touchstones from that conversation, which I then take and apply to that cover.
BD: You’ve garnered quite a lot of attention as a cover artist. What is the most important element in creating a great cover?
DJ: To me a good cover should be simple and impactful, sort of like a billboard. The theory behind billboards is that, if it takes you more than 5 seconds for you to look at it and understand it then you’re going to drive off the ride and potentially kill yourself. I kind of approach covers the same way, in that I strip it down to the bare essential of what needs to be said. I think a lot of artists tend to look at covers as an opportunity for them to show how badass of an artist they are, but it generally turns out to be a muddy mess in a crowded sea of books on the stands. I try and go with a simpler approach to get someone’s attention.
BD: What do you think is the most common mistake that most cover artists make today?
DJ: Once again, just trying to draw too much and put too much information or detail on a cover. That is the problem with a lot of these team books is that the artists wants to include every character on the cover, but unless they design it right then all the details become a muddy mess.
BD: Who do you think are the artists that are making great covers at the moment?
DJ: Jock always does great work, Paolo Rivera, and Massimo Carnevale does great covers and is a great painter. Joe Quinones does good covers that are usually well designed. There are a lot of great cover artists out there doing good stuff.
BD: What are some of the covers you’ve done that you are most proud of and why?
DJ: I don’t know, because they are all different and have different meanings for me. There are certain illustrations that have more meaning to me because of what was happening when I did them. For instance the rubber stamp cover that I did for ‘100 Bullets’ issue #21 was done out of desperation. I was supposed to paint it and I ran out of time and wasn’t able to paint the image the way I wanted to do it, so I just did that rubber stamp and sent it off. I thought that I was gonna get fired from the book because of it, but Karen Berger from Vertigo even sent me a note saying how much she loved it. It kind of opened my eyes to show me that not everything had to be painted or overly rendered to be good. That gave me the courage to try out other weird ideas and graphic styles of covers.
BD: What’s next for Dave Johnson?
DJ: I’m doing covers for the new Vertigo series called ‘Coffin Hill’, and I’m still working on ‘Brother Lono’ but that’s only eight issues. After that, I’m actually gonna do some video game work for a while and then maybe spend some time working on a personal animated projects.
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