For many comic nerds growing up in the ‘80s, our first exposure to music was (sadly) through John Byrne’s Silver Surfer illustration that adorned the cover of Joe Satriani’s Surfing With the Alien album. “Who cares what this guy sounds like,” we told ourselves. “That Norrin Radd looks totally boss!” Of course, we were then left scratching our heads when we learned that Satriani was in fact a wank-off hard-rock instrumental guitarist.
Still, compared with many of the other comic book artists who have branched out into the world of album-cover design, Byrne’s Surfer piece holds up. Robert Crumb set the bar pretty high with 1968’s Cheap Thrills cover for Big Brother & the Holding Company, and everyone from Bone mastermind Jeff Smith (on Say Anything’s latest record) to Dawn creator Joe Linsner (a freaking Gary Numan album!) have unleashed their inner rawk god and illustrated a sleeve or two.
But there have been those with a background in funnybooks who haven’t exactly provided the Abbey Road of comic-art album covers. So grab your ear-plugs AND eye-plugs as we count down the 10 worst.
10) Winger’s IV by Ethan Van Sciver
When Kip Winger says “Jump,” you say “Off of what cliff, and was she REALLY only 17?” So when the Wingman—a longtime Green Lantern fan, apparently—approached Green Lantern artist Van Sciver in 2006 about providing the cover art for the band’s first album in 13 years, Van Sciver took the plunge.
Now, we can’t really hold this assignment against Ethan, as it’s a pretty cool piece that we assume is making some sort of overt political statement that’s lost on us. But the penciler has breathed life into some of the most badass-looking aliens we’ve seen in years through his regular comics work, so we would have preferred he tackle a more “spacey” piece for, say, the next ELO or Boston reunion album. Or Coheed & Cambria; they like spaceships n’ shit, too.
9) George Thorogood & the Destroyers’ Haircut by Peter Bagge
Who knew that George and the boys were still recording new material as of 1993? Hate creator, indie comix trailblazer and closet “Bad to Bone” fan Bagge must have, as he provided this rather uninspired grossout cover. (Hate satirized the alt-rock/grunge culture, which we assume was what Thorogood was shooting for.) Sadly, the only thing that was “destroyed” with this collection of tired blues-rock tunes was Bagge’s credibility. Here’s hoping he at least got paid with one bourbon, one scotch and one beer.
8) The Gas Giants’ From Beyond the Back Burner by Geof Darrow
It’s a stretch to refer to any piece of art rendered by Darrow as “crappy,” but here’s the real question: Instead of supplying comic fans with more insanely hyper-detailed art on books such as Hard Boiled and Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, why the hell was Darrow slumming by agreeing to an album cover for a friggin’ Gin Blossoms side-project band? In 1999, no less! The Gin Blossoms had long since wilted by that point, and no one was exactly clamoring for three-fourths of them to soldier on under a different moniker. Darrow wised up and went on to work on The Matrix and the Doc Frankenstein series; thankfully, the Gas Giants passed like a fart in the wind.
7) Jethro Tull’s Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! by Dave Gibbons
In 1976, British-born Gibbons had yet to make a name for himself on this side of the pond. Ten years before Watchmen debuted and introduced highbrow phrases like “Rorschach” and “Ozymandias” into the fanboy lexicon, Gibbons was a struggling freelance artist, which explains why he took a gig from flute-rockers Jethro Tull for this otherwise-unmemorable record. In addition to the trying-way-too-hard-to-look-tough illustration of what appears to be balding frontman Ian Anderson on the front cover (he may as well be saying “Up your nose widda rubber hose!”), Gibbons laid out an entire sequential story of aging rocker “Ray Lomas” on the inside sleeve. We may not be sitting on a park bench, but we’re certainly eyeballing this with bad intent.
6) Meat Loaf’s Dead Ringer by Berni Wrightson
In true iconic horror-artist fashion, legendary Swamp Thing co-creator Bernie “Berni” Wrightson leaves many of us spilling our own guts with his cover to Meat Loaf’s 1981 follow-up to Bat Out of Hell. What we have here are a couple of discreetly covered hot naked ladies as well as a naked Thor-esque dude…who appears to be skull-fucking his monster motorcycle. But then again, at least Wrightson didn’t paint a shirtless Loaf himself, which has been documented many times over as the most horrific sight known to man.
And hey, if you have $45,000 that you were thinking of pissing away and wanna buy this actual painting, here’s ya go!
5) Jim’s Big Ego’s They’re Everywhere by Carmine Infantino
Jim Infantino, frontman of lame folkie act Jim’s Big Ego and nephew of seminal DC Comics artist Carmine, somehow convinced his pushing-80 uncle to pencil the cover for his fifth full-length album in 2003. A clearly bored Unky Carm delivered some cut-rate giant robots that would have looked outta place even in the Silver Age, as well as a truly freakish woman with a hairstyle we’re still trying to comprehend. A year later, Carmine was suing DC for royalties on characters he created for them as a freelancer, such as the Barry Allen Flash. We think it was this piece that pushed his own “Ego” over the edge of sanity. Here’s hoping Jim got written out of the will.
4) Danzig’s 6:66 Satan’s Child by Simon Bisley
Bisley comes from the Frank Frazetta school of illustration, and his work on the first Lobo mini-series and all those crazy-ass Doom Patrol covers still stand the test of time. However, nothing screams “dated” like working with Glenn Danzig. Even by 1999, when Bisley provided this dopey, demonic “Danzig as death-dealer” album cover, the shtick was pretty much played out. Danzig was in his mid-40s and was churning out lame industrial metal, but still thought of himself as a cutting-edge presence even though he was still writing snicker-inducing songs with titles like “Belly of the Beast” and “Into the Mouth of Abandonment” (but kudos to Glenn for channeling his inner New God and naming a song “Apokalips”). Bisley, who had worked with Danzig before, probably felt sorry for his old pal, but that doesn’t excuse this bargain-basement Conan/Kull rip.
3) Trixter by Neal Adams
A highly influential Avengers and Green Lantern/Green Arrow artist—and certifiable crackpot, thanks to his “expanding Earth” theory—Adams did quite a bit of album artwork in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, but mainly for “WHO?!” musical acts like the Mighty Groundhogs and Bill LaBounty. Somewhere in between his failed Skateman series and failed Mr. T and the T-Force series (which both sounded like such can’t-miss concepts!), Adams accepted forgettable pop-metal band Trixter as a client, penciling the cover for their first self-titled album in 1990. Though their lone minor hit was called “Give It to Me Good,” Adams apparently never got that memo and accurately portrayed the group as huge tools.
2) Swollen Members’ Heavy by Todd McFarlane
McFarlane has at least one respectable album-cover credit: the five-times platinum Follow the Leader by Korn. (Oh, c’mon, don’t act like you didn’t own it, or at least headbang to “Freak on a Leash.”) That was in 1998, and five years later the Spawn creator/lawsuit magnet/frivolous spender agreed to pencil a cover for a—wait for it—Canadian hip-hop group that dubbed themselves the Swollen Members. From what we REAL North Americans can tell, these guys’ only notoriety comes from this album cover and an appearance in National Lampoon’s Going the Distance, whatever the hell that is. Heavy just reinforces what a great idea it was for McFarlane to quit drawing.
1) Nightcat by Joe Jusko
That leather! Those tassels! That cleavage! That finely sculpted ass! That butterface! Jusko really outdid himself with this one. The comic cover painter extraordinaire has long been championed for his uncanny photorealistic abilities, but if he actually met “Nightcat” face to face in 1991 to work on “her” album, he did TOO good of a job with her facial features. What a skank! It turns out this Alannah Myles “Black Velvet”/Janet Jackson “Black Cat” hybrid was really just a studio-manufactured alias for a project masterminded by songwriter/producer Warren Allen Brooks (surprise surprise, this seems to be his sole credit) and a couple of undistinguished female backup singers.
Jusko’s cover art was also used for Marvel’s friggin’ tie-in one-shot, written by none other than Stan Lee. We’re sure Jusko loves it when this is presented for him to sign at conventions … but odds are, thanks to this dubious No. 1 honor, he’s bought up most of the copies and torched ‘em. Good man.