First of all, there needs to be some ground rules when you tackle a “best of” list for someone as talented as Frank Cho. With Alex Ross, we took his entire body of work and picked our 15 favorite images, whether from cover art, interior pages, or marketing pieces Ross painted.
But with Frank Cho, the world renowned artist known for his voluptuous women characters and funny and sarcastic animals, it was a bit harder to choose. In particular, his work on Liberty Meadows, and before that, his hilarious college series University². Cho’s drawings of Brandy and her animal friends are so expressive and fun that we think they beat out all his other work. And we think Cho would approve–he told us this summer that he doesn’t sell any of his original Brandy pages. We wouldn’t either! You can see some of the Liberty Meadows covers behind Brandy in the image above from Cho’s great website, full of his blogging and galleries, apesandbabes.com. If you don’t know Frank Cho’s comic strip-turned-comic book, we suggest you start with University², available in a compilation of comic strip humor called University Squared: The Angry Years that is my personal favorite. Beyond that, Liberty Meadows is available via Image Comics in Liberty Meadows: Book One, Eden, Liberty Meadows: Book Two, Creature Comforts, Liberty Meadows: Book 3, Summer Of Love, and Liberty Meadows: Book Four, Cold, Cold Heart. Liberty Meadows is about Brandy, a animal psychologist at an animal sanctuary/rehab clinic, her animal friends, and Frank, a veterinarian, who is in love with Brandy…but won’t tell her. It is funny in the vein of Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, yet dramatic like Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise.
So before taking on a “best of” or “favorites list” for the other comic books series Cho has created covers for, could we select one Liberty Meadows piece that stands for them all? We came up with this cover, with Brandy sporting her Beltsville shirt. This image is classic Frank Cho. But even this is sort of a cheat, since it is a cover to Cho’s Liberty Meadows: Cover Girl compilation book, as opposed to a regular series comic, but it is the cover Cho chose for the book on his own covers. Hey, you try and pick the best from Liberty Meadows!
Oftentimes we think you can see his Liberty Meadows characters Brandy the brunette and Jen the blonde as the superheroes in the mainstream comics he draws. They are fun to watch for.
It’s probably easier to discuss Cho’s best cover art by referring to each series he has drawn. And we’ll focus here on just a dozen of his cover projects that blow us away. You’re dealing with a body of work that includes Shanna the She-Devil, New Ultimates, Fear Itself, Schism, Ms. Marvel, Red Sonja, and New Avengers, and his many variant covers, which often eclipse the regular issue covers of other artists.
First up is his work with “dinosaurs, Nazis, guns and babes” in Shanna, the She-Devil. This cover to Issue 3 is a standout, with Shanna in about as much danger as a human in the Jurassic era can get into! If you like this also check out his Jungle Girlseries, his Red Sonja series, and, coming soon, his Guns and Dinos.
A lot of Cho’s work has the feel of 1940s pin-ups. This Dark Horse Comics Hellboy: Weird Tales, Vol. 2 cover image has a great retro look, and shows that, like Alex Ross, Cho gets to work with a variety of publishers’ star characters:
We only wish we’d see Cho take on more DC Comics characters!
Cho hasn’t come close to hitting his full stride yet, with some of his best work coming out in 2010 and 2011. Check out these covers for the Ultimate Comics New Ultimates: Thor Reborn. And his interior work is as good or better than the covers. In fact, most of the cover work featured here reflects covers of books where Cho drew the interior art, too. When you usually find a great cover but lesser art inside with other creators’ books, Cho’s books give you top illustrations, cover to cover.
Cho practically re-ignited Ms. Marvel through his drawings of this once minor Avenger. Two covers with Ms. Marvel stand out: the Mighty Avengers cover that was redone for the Irredeemable Ant-Man series, and this stunning cover for her own series:
The other Avenger Cho brought into the limelight was Spider-Woman, especially in this cover to New Avengers (left), yet check out this incredibly powerful image in the variant of Secret Invasion (right), with Cho showing his pre-Raphaelite influence:
Cho has said that his favorite superhero to draw is Spider-man. Here he drew Spider-man in contrast to this dark, Gothic, seemingly medieval woodcut-inspired image in Ultimate Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man, one of his best variant cover pieces:
The second piece above is the Scarlet Witch from Ultimates 3: Who Killed The Scarlet Witch? (v. 1), and it is just another example of a great Cho female character.
Right now on the shelves, Cho returns to his Gothic imagery with the Fear Itself: The Fearless series with these two incentive comic covers from one original grand Cho artwork. Contrasted with his beautiful Valkyrie on the left is his self-described “fugly” character Sin, daughter of long-time Marvel villain, the Red Skull. Good luck to whoever gets in the way of either of these women. Doesn’t look like anyone will stand a chance against either of them.
Keeping with the angel theme, this early Witchblade shows another, earlier Cho style, likely influenced by the paintings of Maxfield Parrish:
Finally, to get the full effect of this next image, Cho’s magnum opus of X-Men in X-Men: Schism, you’ll need a wide screen. In the alternative, click on each image to see how nicely done this new pentaptych is close-up. Again, Cho’s work gets the exclusive variant edition status…those comics that don’t easily get into readers’ hands, unfortunately, because they are issued in limited numbers to comic shop owners as incentives. But no doubt the trade edition will include these images not long from now. Pretty hard to pick a favorite just from these five covers:
Although the most recent work isn’t out in trade versions yet, a lot is still on the shelves as individual issues (see links in the series names above to check out what is available). Original prints of Cho’s work and other cool stuff is available at Cho’s website.
So… what do you think? Any glaring omissions?
*All images posted above are owned by Frank Cho or the respective publishers listed above.