Favorite Cover Artists Countdown # 5: James Jean

When James Jean first started working in comics I was running a comic store in Iowa City, Iowa. Suddenly all these wonderful covers began appearing on DC comics, and I honestly thought DC was, at first, gleaning covers from one of the old illustration masters from the heyday of magazine illustrating. The paintings were just so beautiful that they looked almost out of place in the Deadline NOW oriented world of comics. So I looked into the covers and found that one guy was producing cover after cover… stunning covers full of sensual overtones, other-worldly elements… where every leaf and every smile was full of grandeur and danger, both.  James has now largely left the world of comics for work in the illustration field, and the world of Fine Art… but to me he’ll always be one of a select group of men and women that revolutionized comics by opening a brand new floodgate of creativity. Thanks, James.

Favorite Cover Artist # 5: James Jean

The cover to Fables # 74. A great deal of Jame's work was for Fables... a perfect fit of artist and subject material. Old World Magic fits right into with Jean's artistic sensibilities.

A nice three-part look at the magic being made.

A cover rough, and then the finished cover. Down below are the finished pencils for a well designed cover. The colors, here, perfectly bring out the characters that need to be focused upon, all without losing the multitude of other characters surrounding them. I believe this cover was based on my high school prom, or something. Well... maybe not, come to think of it. My prom date ditched me to go out with another girl... the girlfriend of one of my best friends... leaving us both standing in the lurch. Yeah... that really happened.

The finished, and very lush, pencils for the above cover, shown here without any more sob stories from my high school prom.

Why won't those people let the knight pet the tiger? He obviously wants to.

A painted cover for Umbrella Academy, and then a cover rough for Batgirl # 58.

Cover art for Fables vol 2: Animal Farm. Soooo many great characters on this book cover. Most artist would have been satisfied with doing a tenth of the work displayed here. I particularly like the bunny with the dueling pistols. Would life be better if rabbits had dueling pistols? That is, of course, the founding question of most Greek phillosophy, so I'm not so arrogant that I think I can settle the matter here... but I will say that if life wouldn't be better, it certainly woudn't be any worse.

The finished art, with all the pretty colors put in.

If you can put up with the way Batgirl drives your teeth into your throat, she's actually a pretty nice date. And, you know... those boots.

Ran across this photo while assembling the images in this blog post. This is a photo from when James Jean teamed up with Prada to do an art exhibit / fashion show collaboration. If the world truly treated artists the way they should be treated, THIS is how an artist's studio should look. And... also a writer's studio. And by writer... I mean ME.

In actuality, this is what James Jean's studio looks like. Still pretty nice, I guess.

A note to anyone looking at this at work. We’re coming up on some images that rather prudish people would go pale upon seeing, so you might consider parts of the remaining post NSFW, sadly.

The cover to Fables # 47. I believe this one is a representation of my Jr. Prom. I'm the bat.

James crafted some art promoting safe sex and condoms, and it's just plain gorgeous. Unfortunately... many people think that human nudity ranks as morally worse than human violence and hatred, so these weren't widely distributed. A pity... they're quite lovely.

A somewhat toned down version of the above. Thank god I don't have to be faced with any actual nudity. I fear I would have one of my fainting spells.

The "male" version of the condom ads. I feel a little gender discrimination here. The female version was a wonderful world of the mysterious and sublime, and the male version is all boobs and butts. I tend to look at the ladies with a bit more lyricism than that. (although I do like boobs and butts really quite a lot)

Hey… it’ s Gallery Time!

Those last two are a book about James Jean’s covers for Fables, and then a partial cover study for Fables #19. You know you’re doing fairly well with your covers when they put out a book about them. I should put out a book about going bald. I did it really well.

A before and after look at a Nike ad that I really liked.

Another "before and after" piece... or actually an "after and before" piece... this one for the really wonderful Jack of Fables material.

A painting for Fables # 33… and a look at the finished cover design.

I really don't even know what this was for, but I liked it so I'm throwing it in.

The finished pencil art for Fables vol. 5: Mean Seasons. It seems so beautiful at first. Only as I continue to look do the nightmares begin to stir.

One last look at Jean's voluptuous pencil art. I want to take it home, put it in a dress, and (further sentence deleted due to regulations concerning decency in America)

Parts you’ve probably read in earlier posts:

The Disclaimer:

You might not see your favorite artist during this countdown. That’s okay. Don’t get mad. Some of MY favorite artists aren’t here. Hugo Pratt, Bernie Krigstein, Mike Wieringo… these guys (and others) are fantastic artists, but their covers just don’t strike me. Some people need sequential panels in order to have their art sing… and that’s okay. Furthermore, this list is subjective to my moods of the moment, so if you disagree with me, then rest assured that I probably disagree with me, too. That said, I welcome any and all comments as this list progresses over time.

THE FINE PRINT: (Why I’m doing this)

Recently, on a trip to a comic store, I was DISGUSTED by the overall lack of design on covers. Most covers were nothing more than two or three characters punching each other and snarling, the exact kind of design that I would have worked out when I was eight years old, and spat on by the time I was ten. So, why do such covers proliferate the shelves? One reason is for trade dressing… so that any cover can be put upon almost any trade compilation, which is one of the reasons behind the other Far Too Common cover design… that of the character or team standing at attention, looking tough, staring at the viewer. Fuck that. I’m lucky enough to work largely with editor Nate Cosby, who does very good work at hiring talented cover artists and creating covers that don’t piss me off, but in consideration of my other less lucky friends, and the industry as a whole, I’m going to spend the next few weeks counting down my own personal Top 40 Comic Book Cover Artists… the ones who got it right.


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7 Responses to Favorite Cover Artists Countdown # 5: James Jean

  1. bp

    james jean is a force. i had a great time exploring an exhibition he had in chelsea a year ago.

  2. Paul Tobin

    Man.. I’d LOVE to go to an exhibition of his work. I’ve only ever seen a couple of his pencil pieces… never any of the paintings.

  3. I’ve enjoyed and admired Jean’s covers for years now- he’s as good as it gets. Besides all his great Fables covers and the like, I really enjoyed a small cover run he had back a few years ago for Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy revival, when it featured their teen Scorpion, issues 7 through 12. Although he had done (and would go on to do) a ton of superhero covers, these seemed to be a little outside his normal comfort zone at the time.

  4. Paul Tobin

    Yeah! I remember those, too. And, you’re right… they were brilliant, but seemed just a touch off, somewhere. I think they were drawn in too closely, so James didn’t quite get that ethereal feel that most of his works embrace. Might have just been an editorial mandate. He was at a stage of his career where editors were still dictating, rather than just standing back and enjoying the ride.

  5. They were competing with a LOT of cover copy on those, that may have been part of the problem.

    That Fables cover, with the redhead (I forget who she was supposed to be, darn it) holding a Chinese umbrella and reclining in the flower with dandelions blowing all around her, is one of my favorites of his.

  6. Paul Tobin

    I noted all that cover copy as well. Garish, eh?

  7. A bit. It’s not so much the fonts used (I kinda liked the plain, no frills block-form letters used for the AF logo, and to be fair, there were a couple of covers with minimal copy), but I think it’s just the getting used to seeing that stuff laid over a work like that, as much of a genre piece as it is…

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