Cover me

Listening to: Diana Krall. Live in Paris.

I spent the evening with a very large book, Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art, by Alan Cowsill. After reading the Forward by Adi Granov, my favorite Marvel cover artist (if I had to pick one, but don’t make me), and the Introduction by Cowsill, I found myself calling for “more intro.”

But two pages of opening text is all you get. Because, as Cowsill writes, “the art comes first.”

And the art is amazing. But so are the words. Cowsill’s cover descriptions do a great job of capturing what makes each piece special and the unique contributions of the artists. You’ll want to read every word he’s written.

Before opening the book, I thought I knew what my favorite cover of all time was: Iron Man #76, from March 2004, by Granov. But as I flipped through the pages, making a list of the covers I liked best, I began to suspect that I have many favorites. And those favorites change, depending on the day I’m doing the choosing.

Here’s today’s list of favorites:

Granov’s Iron Man. Of course.

Captain America #1 by Jack Kirby (March 1941) — Captain America punches out Hitler (when Marvel was called “Timely”).

Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 by Jim Steranko (September 1968) — Very mod, with a psychedelic thing going on. The bright blue of Fury is set against a black-and-white graphics background. (I also like #6, with the bright colors of Fury’s space suit set against the stark background of space and the exploding Earth.)

Amazing Spider-Man #50 by John Romito Sr. (July 1967) — I’m not a Spider-Man fan. But. This “Spider-Man No More!” cover with Peter Parker turning his back on the superhero life is one of the best. An unusual style for the time, it looks ahead to the designs that emerge in the late ’80s.

Anything by Boris Vallejo, who worked in the ’70s, drawing zombies and vampires

Machine Man #1-4 by Barry Windsor-Smith (of Conan fame). 1984-85

David Finch‘s work with The New Avengers (2005), especially his approach to Captain America. (Generally, I’m drawn to the later covers, when the art gets darker.) And, yeah, Finch does Batman.

The New Avengers #27 by Leinil Francis Yu (April 2007) — Ronin takes on a hoard of ninja assassins led by Elektra.

All the Hawkeye covers by David Aja (2012-2013) — Especially #8 with the character Cherry centered on a red background.

Thor #601 by Marko Djurdjevic (June 2009) — Shows Thor’s home, Asgard, and is just downright gorgeous.

Fantastic Four 1234 #1 by Jae Lee (October 2001) — Ben Grimm on Yancy Street.

Guardians of the Galaxy #7 by Sara Pichelli (November 2013) — Woman artists are rare in this world. But I highlight Pichelli not because she’s a “she,” but because I love what she did with the Guardians.

Marvel Zombies #1 by Arthur Suydam (2006) — All Suydam’s zombie covers are great, but the #1 homage to Amazing Fantasy #15 is a standout (February 2006).

Chris Bachalo‘s Amazing Spider-Man “punch” covers #575 and 576 (2008-2009) — featuring Hammerhead.

I’d be interested to hear what other people pick as faves.



Jazz is for kids

Listening to: Harry Connick, Jr. The NY Big Band Concert.

Learn jazz like a kid. This is what I remind myself when I reach the point at which I feel like throwing in the towel. And it’s always on a night when I’ve been sitting at the piano for hours, trying improvise, because I kind of stink at it. And it seems to be a mental thing: I want to do it right. Which reflects a crazy, grown-up, riff-killing frame-of-mind. Kids don’t swear off Legos because they’re afraid they’ll never build something right. “Creating” and “right” don’t combine in children’s heads. At least, not until they start listening to us, the grown-ups, who pass onto them all the nonsense we’ve been collecting since that first moment someone explained to us, “You’re supposed to color in the lines.”

I suspect a kid would approach learning improvisation in a much different way from me. A child wouldn’t even use the word “learn.” She’d say “do.” As in “do Legos.” Because no one “learns” the steps to creating. We all begin our lives with that knowledge.

The enormous challenge for me, as someone who has been educated in all the right ways to construct sentences and develop marketing plans, is to stop looking for the lines. As I’ve written before and truly believe, “There are no wrong notes in jazz.” And yet, I’m thoroughly encumbered by the fear of them.

I can remember a time when I approached the piano with complete conviction that whatever sound I produced was magic. To quote Gonzo the Great Philosopher, “I’m going to go back there someday.”

I’d love to get advice on improvisation. What do you think about when you sit down to create? Or when you want to add your own sound to a favorite standard? What guides you?


If you haven’t watched Oscar Peterson’s BBC special, do that now. About halfway through the show, Peterson and Count Basie play together and talk about coming of age as a musician. Highlight: their memories of Art Tatum. Basie was a funny man, and Peterson’s keyboard impressions of Tatum are brilliant.

The two men also provide a lesson on improvisation: You don’t need a lot. Just great rhythm and interesting sounds. (That said, Peterson ends the special with a performance that reminds you why people called him the “Maharaja.”)