Review by C.J. Bunce
I’ve been meaning to get my hands on Adam Hughes’s Cover Run: The DC Comics Art of Adam Hughes for some time now. Hooray for Christmas presents!
Cover Run examines in great depth probably the best, powerhouse cover artist of Wonder Woman and Catwoman ever. Hughes walks and talks us through the best and worst of his work and we learn a lot about him and his process. It’s nice to confirm he’s well aware of these great influences that come through in his work, and his sometimes imitations of style from the likes of Maxfield Parrish, Kevin Nowlan, Mike Mignola, Gil Elvgren, Bob Peak, even Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper, and a whole bunch of art nouveau.
A great indication of the now established Adam Hughes style is that you don’t flip through many pages before you see that look start to grow and come to the fore. And although he doesn’t mention it, thankfully he sticks to women as his key subject–like Frank Cho his women are why we buy his covers.
Hughes is pleasantly self-effacing, he shares his problems with drawing Batman, Wonder Woman’s Alex Ross-style shiny gold metal armor, figuring what in the heck to do with Wonder Woman’s lasso, that he doesn’t like Robin (Batman’s sidekick) or the Flash.
What he likes about his work comes through, too. I love that covers he likes are covers that we not only like as fans, but that also define his own individual style.
In Cover Run Hughes also acknowledges something strikingly obvious, something other comic book artists have told me before about their original pencil work: often Hughes’ pencil work or prelims or roughs are better than the final design. “Trust your instincts” is his message to other artists (and himself, I think). He apologizes, for example, for Wonder Woman’s boots in one cover run, while I think his boot renderings are always one of his best components (hey, the guy is good at drawing boots). When I have heard the comment from other artists about their final work not being what they wanted when they initially sketched their idea, it was in the context of a penciller being altered later by another inker and colorist. Here Hughes often does the full cover work end to end, so it’s interesting to see that even when you have full creative control your final work isn’t always what you want it do be. Nobody, even a brilliant artist like Hughes, is perfect in his own mind. Frank Cho told me the same thing last year–his final work is never as good as he wants it to be (yeah for perfectionists!).
In going through each page of his work in Cover Run, usually the left page with the process photos and the final design on the right page, Hughes often shows greater emotion in his roughs/prelims. By the time the color and polish comes, he still has great, even stellar, covers, but when you go back and compare those to his original idea and you just have to say “wow!” The cover to Catwoman #70 originally had Catwoman with an uncanny Suzanne Pleshette face, for example (Mark Chiarello talked him into changing it!).
Hughes offers up lots of great advice for digital comics artists, like uses and limitations of Adobe Photoshop, that many casual readers will skip over, but certainly you can bet other artists are checking out Hughes’ secrets here, too.
Look for great background/context information on key covers such as Wonder Woman #184, Catwoman #51, Catwoman #74, and Justice League of America #6. One interesting tidbit is offered about how the late Michael Turner got assigned his well-known Supergirl covers, a job Hughes really wanted, resulting in Hughes getting to do Catwoman instead. The result is his now well-known Catwoman covers with that great Audrey Hepburn look, and Turner of course, created the Supergirl that will define his work forever.
Cover Run is a great coffee table book, available in book shops everywhere, and at a discount price at Amazon.com. Note that despite the subtitle “The DC Comics Art” it probably would have been better called the “DC Cover Art” instead, since no interior work is featured in this volume.