Thumbnail: Design and the Distillation of Ideas in Mike Del Mundo’s Covers
Comics covers are strange beasts. While comics themselves are sequential art --- pictures arranged in just the right order to tell a story or convey an emotion --- covers freeze that process into a single static image. But Mike Del Mundo's work at Marvel shows that they can be much more than pretty pictures.
You don't need me to tell you that Del Mundo's covers are gorgeous. He's an incredible draftsman with an even stronger sense of design. Covers let him push the latter talent to the fore, dancing through various styles, from stark two-color minimalism to detailed paintings, via pastiches of Escher and Art Deco posters, all depending on what suits this issue best.
Del Mundo's designs are great at drawing out the key iconography of a character, even when you're not expecting to find anny. Look at Si Spurrier's run on X-Men: Legacy, starring David 'Legion' Haller, an X-character with a profile so low I had to Google to double-check his name.
There are basically two thing you need to know about Legion: he has multiple personalities and a ridiculous haircut. Over the course of 24 issues, Del Mundo managed to explore every possible permutation of those ideas.
The cover of the very first issue makes hay with the idea that Legion is unknown, overlaying his face with a collage of the kind of X-Men you'd more expect to see on the cover of their own book, each lifted from a different era in the series' past. The only distinguishing feature the image affords David is his haircut. It's a comment on his D-list status, but also his multiple personalities and --- along with the subtle X of his straitjacket --- the eponymous legacy he has to live up to.
I said earlier that covers aren't really part of sequential art, but of course these images don't exist in a vacuum. When a single artist is responsible for an entire series' covers, they can interact with one another. Look at the last image in the row above, from issue #5. It's assembled out of the same basic elements as issue #1's cover but the gap between the two tells the entire story of the first arc, in which David goes from victim to a hero in control of his own destiny.
Comic covers can also interact with the content inside, and this is something Del Mundo does particularly well in his one-off cover work. Look at his cover for Untold Tales of Punisher MAX #5 and his variant for Darth Vader #1, both of which capture the themes of each book and its star.
Visually they couldn't be much more different, but they're playing with similar theme: the loss of a child's innocence. Vader shows the young prodigy of the Force that the Dark Lord of the Sith has had to suppress within himself to become a worlds-conquering badass. Coincidentally, the Punisher cover reflects another iconic image of Anakin and Vader, but it's closely tied to the story inside --- about the legacy of violence, and how vendettas can be passed from father to son.
I could go on. Iron Man #23's meeting of fantasy and sci-fi explores a motif that runs through the back half of Kieron Gillen's run on the character. The cover to Bucky Barnes: Winter Soldier #9 shows off the crippling weight of the responsibilities that Bucky inherited from Nick Fury, his predecessor as the Man on the Wall. Del Mundo's Weirdworld covers personify the landscape itself, which arguably serves as the antagonist of that series.
All of these complex ideas are communicated not only visually, but through a single image. The way Del Mundo wields figurative language in his artwork means you can understand the themes or characters or even stories on an intuitive level, without having to read any of the issues --- but those gorgeous covers will make damn sure you want to.