Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Farewell to James Jean: One of Comics' Greatest Cover Artists

The cover of today's Fables #81 doesn't bode too well for our favorite blue trumpeter. But even sadder is the fact that this will be James Jean's last cover. James Jean has been creating amazing covers for Fables since issue #1 in 2002; a few months ago he announced that issue #81 would be his last. Virtually every month of the last 8 years, his covers for Fables were easily the most beautiful, most poignant, and at times, the most sexy. He has said on his blog that he is leaving his illustration career in order to devote himself full time to his painting and personal work. The art world's gain is comicdom's loss.

In order to honor his time spent as my favorite cover artist (a huge honor, I'm sure he knows) I've collected my favorite covers here for you to enjoy. Luckily, I had the benefit of the beautiful bound collection of his covers Vertigo recently released... however after going through the book, I had marked nearly every other page. I had some tough decisions to make. If you have favorites that I missed, let me know. Also, if you haven't read Fables, but are planning too, read with caution-I'll be sure not to reveal too much in the text, but some of the covers might give things away... but really, I think we're past the statute of limitations here... these covers are from the past 8 years. I mean, come on now, we all know Snape killed Dumbledore.

Here's the cover that started it all: Fables #1. Unfortunately, it was at this point in my comic book life that I was wandering into my hometown store about 3 times a year and picking up a giant stack of books from my box... I completely missed the first few months of Fables. Thankfully, the guy who owned the store was diligent in his duties, and forced me to read the book. For that I am eternally grateful.

On of Jean's strongest talents has to be composition. He approaches comic book covers unlike most anyone else-and takes bold risks for funnybooks. The results are some of the most compelling mini-scenes you'll find on the shelves.
These 2 are great examples of Jean's skillful splitting of the image. The cover on the left is one of my favorites.

I love these two. Both feature a menacing beast, barely fitting the canvas, peering down at a tiny figure in the corner. Plus, both feature a really cool compositional element: the lower third occupied by the tiny figure is made up of a rigid geometrical pattern-all straight lines and sharp corners. But that gives way to the chaotic forces above and devolves into swirls of fur, leaves, and smoke. Also, check out that genie's arms-plastic man action!

This pair I missed when I originally bought them-it's hard to notice something this subtle with a month in between issues; thankfully I had the cover collection! I didn't even notice these beautiful complimentary covers until last night. I love the contrast between the real world Baghdad and the homeworld's Baghdad

This cover's just one of my favorite covers. Period. Hell, one of my favorite images perhaps. There's just something so bizarrely peaceful about this menacing monster marching toward the (once again) small figure in the lower third. It's equal parts terrifying and serene. Very cinematic-I can picture the quiet tension as the knight stands against the roaring waterfall-just barely able to hear the monstrous footsteps drifting toward him. On top of all that, I love the color palette-the dull blues, greens and greys with just the shock of red on his helmet. Also, creepy face rocks. What's not to love?

Jean also lovingly renders Willingham's characters-giving them an intense amount of emotion. You can feel their years of existence weighing heavily on their shoulders.

Father and Son. Pinocchio was always rendered in the books as a butch little guy-strong jawed and looking like a little man. But I loved the different approach that Jean always took: he's just a little boy-he may be hundreds or thousands of years old... but he's still just a little boy. And there's something particularly tragic about this image of him packing his toy soldiers. Then there's his pop; Jean does an amazing job of making this sweet little old man seem as menacing and dangerous as the monster walking through the waterfall. His hunched back and swooping white hair betray his age-but notice the glower and the particularly threatening way he's holding his tools. Not to mention the fact that he's cast in shadow-while his creation in the background is lit and ominous. This guy means trouble.

Here are two polar opposites: the lovably humble flycatcher tending to his duties... and the sinister Hansel tending to his duties. Note that if you look closely, both have a contented smile on their face (though Hansel's is considerably more wicked and disconcerting).

Lastly, these two are two of my favorite character covers. Snow White on the left is amazing... In the story, she's somewhat at wit's end and finds herself in dire straits... you can clearly get that from her face here. She looks so worn out and unhappy about what she has to do. A big change for a woman who's always in total control-and Jean makes you feel it. On the right is just an amazing portrait of Frau Totenkinder-she looks so kindly, sweet and hobbled... but the vast open space around her and the creepy critters gathered at her feet really imbue a bizarre sense of power on this seemingly dotty old gal. Very fitting considering she's one of the most powerful Fables in the series.

Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, I want to appreciate Jean's ability to create some of the most genuinely sexy covers in comics. In an industry littered with ridiculously proportioned women, physically-impossible revealing outfits, and mind-numbing cleavage-its refreshing (and almost startling) to see a cover that is extremely sexy without the sense that you're losing IQ points... this is a thinking man's sexy. Who'da thought that Cinderella would end up being the sexiest comic book character and not an Emma Frost or a Witchblade.

The cover on the left is sexy for obvious reasons... yes yes, it's a girl in her underwear... but there's more to it than that. The implied youthfulness (the pony tails, the pink teddy bear'd underwear... get it? she's goldilocks!) is completely offset by the disturbingly large battle axe that she so effortlessly rests on her shoulders. The subtle power implied by that battle axe is what makes this image shockingly attractive. And the image on the right is hardly even racy... but her beautifully relaxed position (notice the composition divided in two again) and the creepy old guy taking off his coat with that awful, leering smile. Naughty.

Here are two great examples of Cinderella covers. In my opinion, the image on the right is one of the sexiest covers of all time... and she's wearing a parka! There's barely any skin showing at all! All comic artists planning on designing their next sexy super heroine should look at this as an example-a tight strip of fabric does not a sexy costume make.

Anyway, these are just my favorite covers-but every issue is beautiful in its own way... like a snowflake! Pick up the collection and appreciate comics' loss. Check out James Jean's website for more of his "real world" art. And we here at Geekanerd wish him all the luck in his future endeavors and send our (my) heartfelt thanks for the most beautiful covers of the last 8 years.


AHR said...

Awesome post. I have actually read very little of Fabels, and what I have read is in trades, so I've never really contemplated Jean's covers. Now I want to buy that cover collection for my non-existant coffee table. What an ability to capture character!

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