ISSUE #13: Everything But the Kitchen Sink
Welcome back, CBSI. After a very productive week out in the paper-and-print jungle (56 books for me in last week’s haul), I got inspired to give Cover Tunes a shot in the arm and refresh it a bit. While I hope you enjoyed last week’s look at the Silver Age, this week we change things up a touch.
As you may have guessed from the title, this issue of Cover Tunes is specific to Bill Sienkiewicz. Over the next few months, every other issue of this column will feature five unsung covers from specific artists. To kick this format off, I thought I’d start with my bar-none favorite, Bill Sienkiewicz.
For these issues, the format will be a bit different than my other issues. I will feature a cover or two from the artist’s very early career, a very modern cover from the past few years and a couple in the middle. In this way, I hope to give you a snapshot of the overall portfolio of work one can expect from the artist in question.
I have featured works by Sienkiewicz in other issues of Cover Tunes, so I will attempt not to repeat things I have already mentioned other than to say that there are very few, maybe no, other artists who have the command over such a wide range of media. His mastery is almost impossibly mind-boggling. Of all of the artists working today, I would be least surprised to see Sienkiewicz art hanging in major museums, eventually. He transcends the genre that much.
Sienkiewicz is a bit of an enigma in that he has, over the years, been a kind of reverse chameleon; rather than blend in to his environment, he has, instead, stuck out and often been pretty loud about it (within his art, not verbally). As such, comicdom is very polarized on his style(s). Some people love him and some hate him. There is very little middle-ground for Sink. He is a bold and ballsy artist who conforms to nothing and no one.
However, at the start of Sienkiewicz career, he was very mainstream. Clearly trying to carve out a name for himself and get a paycheck, he was relegated to staff work. Looking at his early inking work, most would not be able to pick Sienkiewicz out of a crowd.
This however, did not last long as, in the mid-1980’s, he would very much set himself apart with his work on New Mutants from issues #17-#59 between 1984 and 1987. With that said, it’s really the run of issues from #18-#31 that were so groundbreaking. Generally speaking, this run has been affectionately deemed the “Demon Bear Run” and they pretty much sealed Sienkiewicz’s fame.
Within those New Mutants issues, Sienkiewicz single-handedly redefined what a comic cover could look like. His manic and frenetic painting style was a new type of psychedelia. In this way, he captured a primal mood and motion as yet unseen in comics.
To this day, those issues are among the industry’s best covers and are instantly recognizable. It also helps that characters such as Demon Bear, Legion and Warlock were introduced in these issues. Chris Claremont writing them all certainly didn’t hurt, either. Essentially, it was a perfect storm of talent and creativity.
These covers were quite strange, though, and felt more like high-brow art than they did comic pulp work. They confused a lot of people, but this is potentially why they were such standouts. From this time, forward, Bill Sienkiewicz would continually push the boundaries of comic art as he continues to do, today.
At one point, I had pulled 21 different covers for this issue, but, since I had to hone it down, we have my top 5 choices with full write-ups followed by 5 runners up that I think you all should also pay attention to. Of course, keep in mind that there are no incentive variants listed, here.
With that, here’s the first cover from Bill:
Perhaps the most astounding cover from Bill’s acclaimed Demon Bear run, comes this beauty. The richness of the composition coupled with the avant garde style really make this one pop. There is an exaggeration of every element of the cover, but not in a gratuitous manner. The hyperbole created, here, serves to demonstrate the menace of the scene whilst maintaining a sense of grounding.
Essentially, elements of a Sienkiewicz painting are more suggestive than they are prescriptive; there is left to the viewer a sense of filling in the blanks with one’s own imagination. This is something the greatest authors and filmmakers accomplish. Bill is able to do it in art. As such, it adds a level of intrigue and makes one want to open the cover (which is what a cover REALLY should do, after all).
Copies of this won’t cost you more than a $5 bill (no pun intended) mostly due to an enormous print run. That, however, shouldn’t dissuade you from doing yourselves a favor and picking up a set (or even the trade paperback) and reading it. It is a classic story run which is quite highly regarded.
Man oh man, this is quite simply just a beautiful cover painted with all of the grace and motion of a true Sienkiewicz classic. Once Bill had cemented himself in place with his New Mutants work, he took the medium to new heights. Say what you will about the Dazzler character, but this cover is just gorgeous. Every bit of space is utilized and even the trade dress ties in nicely without becoming a distraction. As an overall composition, this may actually be Sienkiewicz’s best early cover; perhaps his best cover, period.
Again, you see the slightly fractured style at work here, as if Sink is seeing things through a cracked lense. There is a freedom to the overall work, especially as he works out toward the perimeter. However, there is also a tight and detailed nature to other parts of it, most notably Dazzler’s face and hair, which draws our eye to the center of the painting.
The use of white provides the sparkle the character is known for and those glimmers almost defy paint. It doesn’t seem possible, somehow. The work is one of masterful proportions. Worthless or not, it deserves a place in every serious Sienkiewicz collection. Also, if you haven’t yet seen the Sink variant for the New Dazzler: X Song #1, do yourselves a favor and check it out. It has a very similar feel to the above cover, but in Bill’s newer style.
I wouldn’t normally feature a Trade Paperback, but in this case, the art is unique. Typically, trade covers reuse covers from a popular issue in the run being collected. I could not resist this incredible Batman cover, though. This trade collects the film adaptation comics for Batman, up to this point.
Sienkiewicz has a few other great batman covers, but they are mostly on high-end or incentive variants like DKIII and Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade #1 (which is absolutely stunning). For another great one that is affordable, though, see Batman #400. The only reason I didn’t feature that one is because there is so much trade dress and text on it, it actually distracts heavily from the cover, but the art is fantastic.
This cover, above, though, has no distractions and is a fantastic example of Bill’s work throughout the mid-to-late 90’s. It has a bit more realism to it. Not quite yet the photo-realism of his current style, but certainly a step in a different direction than his 80’s work. Either way, there is a grit and darkness to this cover that is the summation of Batman. This one may cost a bit more than the others given its nature as a trade paperback, but it is still obtainable for around cover price for a modern trade which is $15-ish.
Sienkiewicz quickly became known for his renditions of Elektra shortly after his run on New Mutants. Beginning in 1986 with Elektra: Assassin and going up all the way until recent Daredevil issues, Sink has had the franchise on great Elektra covers. He was always able to capture the ambiguity of her sexy allure coupled with her lethal nature.
As such, there is a violence to the reds and the movement within her covers, but there is also almost always a feline-like stance to her which gives the feeling of seduction. These variables are, of course, most seen in his Elektra #1 1:75 variant from 2014, but for most, that cover is not attainable.
This Elektra #2 cover sums up all of that just as well, but for only a couple of dollars. In addition, we get a nice stark backdrop so that Elektra pops. It is a masterful classic. The #1 from this series is also a classic and has just been re-imagined by Bill on the Variant for Deadpool: Assassin #1. Cool to see him do a funny homage to his own cover. For another great one Elektra cover, see Daredevil’s current series #6 and/or see the runners-up list, below.
Here we are, finally, in the modern era of Sienkiewicz art. Throughout the past few years, Bill has mostly devoted his time to a variety of incentive variants. However, hyper-recently, he has done a few amazing little runs. The most regular and notable of them is this run of Trinity “B” covers from #5-#22 (none for issues #15 or #16, just FYI). Unfortunately, this entire run seems to have been almost entirely ignored. I have no idea why.
Bill’s modern work has often been a strange mixture of abstract photo realism. Inasmuch, much of that work has fallen under the radar. However, he has simultaneously developed a crisp, simple line art style which is gripping, concise and quite beautiful. When he employs this style, as he does on these Trinity covers, the results can be breathtaking and nuanced.
This particular Zatanna/Superman cover really gets me even though it’s the Wonder Woman covers from this run that I really hunt. It has a beautifully mesmerizing flow, simplicity and motion to it. It just crushes and there are of plenty of others in the run that also do. Either way, this entire “B” cover set is a very nice entry point for Sienkiewicz collectors who are new to the game and don’t want to “sink” tons of money into his more pricey covers. These Trinity covers can all be snagged for cover price or less.
Okay, funny story break… while at a convention, recently, I was talking to another famed artist who said they always used to sit him next to Sienkiewicz at cons. He always thought it was strange that they did this since their styles were so vastly different. With that in mind, both Bill and this other artist (who I will let remain nameless), would admire each other’s commission work and marvel at techniques.
On one specific occasion, this other artist was watching Bill work on an Elektra commission that was turning out to be just a huge mess. “There was paint everywhere, globs and smudges and it looked like nothing,” says this other artist. “He was working frantically and in his own zone. Finally, I told Bill that he just needed to stop and start again. At that moment, he turns to me, says nothing, pulls a little vial from his pocket, tells me it’s butane, opens it and begins splashing this stuff all over the commission.
Then, like magic, the painting began to change. Details began appearing from virtually nowhere. Aspects that seemed like mistakes began to disappear. In short, it became an incredible piece.” At that moment, this other artist says he stood up, threw his arms in the air and yelled, “NO!!! NO WAY!!! NO F***ING WAY! YOU’RE NOT TALENTED. YOU’RE JUST LUCKY.”
I have heard other similar stories from other artists who have seen him work and it seems to be a general rule. Clearly, this is pure genius at work. If you want to see him working, there are ample youtube videos of it. It is a sight to behold.
*** BONUS ***
TOP 5 RUNNERS UP
Just exquisite. It says everything there is to say about Elektra and Sienkiewicz all in one cover.
A little too much trade dress, but a really fantastic rendering with great depth and perspective.
Sexy and tough with beautiful perspective. What more could one want?
Cool and weird and incredibly intricate. Another fantastic departure for Sink.
A superbly disturbing modern Sienkiewicz cover. It was technically a “B” cover variant, but was cover price on release day.
Obviously, even with these 10 covers, this is merely a drop in the bucket for good ‘ol Bill. If you want to go further down the rabbit hole, I highly encourage it as there are many odd titles throughout the 1980’s that sport some amazing painted covers such as Samuree or Amazing High Adventure, for instance.
For those who love Bill Sienkiewicz art, we will soon have an awesome surprise for CBSI members, VERY soon. So, stay tuned and look out for that. I am very excited about it.
With that little enticing nugget, it is finally time to leave ya for the week. If you read this far, I thank you. I very much look forward to you all dropping a note in the comments section to let me know what you think. So, until next time, thanks for reading and happy hunting.