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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

That’s me Christmas morning beside the framed enlargement of my latest book cover. Definitely not my most photogenic moment, but thank you, Lesley, for taking the shot and, more importantly, conspiring with Santa and our local frame shop for the Christmas gift. It will join its siblings on my office wall as soon as it’s warm enough to carry across campus. As my kids noticed, apparently my name should always appear in a burst bubble on the right side of a cover design:

I owe many thanks to the graphic design folks at Bloomsbury for what turned out to be a brilliant save.  Both the book title and cover were decided before I joined the project (long story) and so the original cover proof looked like this:

Image result for chris gavaler superhero comics net gallery

When I showed it to the superheroes class I was teaching that semester, they were not impressed by the anatomy–and not just those circular, weirdly insect-like hips. I emailed a friend (a fellow Bloomsbury author and the top name in superhero gender analysis) to say I was “concerned.” She responded something like: “Why, because each breast is the size of her head?”

It didn’t help that my chapter “The Gendered Superhero” critiques this sort of image, specifically “head, breast, waist and thighs drawn in similar proportion” (190). So I was thrilled when my editor forwarded the cropped version, a solution I never considered. The female face (despite still sporting what one of my students called “babydoll lips”) now seems to emphasize gender and the importance of female characters but without gratuitous sexualization.  The detail isn’t clear enough here, but I also like how the close-up reveals some of the artist’s brushstrokes, implying (to me at least) that the book is all about close reading.

But before the revision, I used the problematic cover as an excuse to experiment with some designs of my own. This was over a year ago, so my attempts already look archaic to me, but I will share the mock-ups anyway. Happily, I wasn’t quite stupid enough to share them with my editor, because even I know publishers who employ graphic designers aren’t interested in authors who think they can design too. Still, I had fun trying.

The first focuses on simplified symbols, some specific to superheroes, some emblematic of time periods, again suggesting (to me at least) close analysis of genre:

Then I started thinking about simplified superhero faces, specifically female:

The Comics Code plays a significant role in the book (I use it to divide the genre into historical periods), so I manipulated some public domain images from the 50s next:

Next up, doctored photos of Olympic athletes (bonus points if you can name any):

And finally there’s “Punch,” which I used as an illustration inside the book–minus all of the tiny comic book covers that make-up the background. I didn’t work up a full cover design for this one, which is just as well since my fonts tend to look amateurish (not sure precisely why, which is probably the mark of an amateur):

So, as you can see, good thing Bloomsbury employs professional graphic designers.

Thank you, Santa.

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