Red Robin #3: Anatomy of a Killer Cover by Francis Manapul

Posted by Michael Pinto on May 19, 2009 in Comic Books |

On the surface this cover illustration of Red Robin #3 may not look like much, but to me that’s why it’s so good. Every month I see tons of covers that are crammed with detail but have little graphic impact, however this artwork by Francis Manapul is a great example of “less is more”. Although his cover looks simple there’s actually a great deal of detail and though going on under the surface. Here’s a breakout of what I love about this cover:

The first thing Francis Manapul does well is his use of silhouettes — by surrounding his figures with a ton of negative space it draws your eye into the characters while adding a strong sense of atmosphere. Yet even those the characters are just silhouettes there’s a great deal of detail in the illustration from the gentleman’s tie to his dropped hanky.

By the way it’s worth pointing out that the use of silhouettes is an old animation technique, the idea is that it forces you to put the character into motion. Manapul does this in a very subtle way with hand gestures, yet he pulls off the sense that the wind is blowing hard from the position of the hair and the trench coat. By the way even though the design of this cover is very graphic notice how much wonderful texture can be found when you look a bit closer.

This to me is the ingenious part of this illustration — when you flip the cover you see the very stylized silhouette of Red Robin. The hardest thing with a comic book cover is to not make a superhero look goofy, and when most of them are wearing pajamas with capes that’s a very very hard thing to pull off. Instead of a silly superhero we get a character that reminds me of Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The other things I love about this cover are the limited but powerful choices of the color palette. By limiting himself to red, black and sepia Manapul pulls a very powerful punch. There’s also a very nice abstract quality to his lines that you can only get with drawing by hand — I love seeing the pencil marks showing here, it’s a nice departure from the work of Adobe Illustrator.

Red Robin #3 goes on sale on August 12 and is published by DC Comics. I’ve got no idea if the interior art by Ramon Bachs will measure up to amazing cover, but it might be well worth checking out.

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