Classic cover artists: Mike McMahon
The front cover of a comic can be, sometimes, a great picture – a dramatic, dynamic image illustrating a scene from one of the stories within, or one of the publication’s favourite characters, in moody, eye-catching pose. It’s all about capturing the attention of the reader, drawing them in and making the sale. Covers are excellent, and many of them have featured here in this series of classic cover artists. But sometimes an artist is able to take a comic cover to a level beyond – to produce something that is more than a fantastic image, that is as much a work of fine design as it is fine art. Mike McMahon is one of those artists. What’s more, he is one of those artists who, in his days of producing regular covers for 2000AD between 1978 and 1983, was able to do so again, and again, and again, each time reinventing his approach to produce ever more arresting designs that challenge our perceptions of what comic art is and can be.
I’m no student of art. Actually, I was once – I studied History of Art ‘A’ level, but only scraped through with an E grade. So … I’m not a good student of art, and I struggle sometimes to identify exactly what’s going on in a piece of artwork. I’ve no idea how to describe Mike’s style – or any of his styles. But it does trigger a deep response in me. His work was one of the earliest pieces of comic artwork that really made me sit up and appreciate it – this was before I read 2000AD, but was a reader of Doctor Who Monthly, in which he drew the amazing ‘Junkyard Demon’ Mondasian Cyberman story. By the time I came to 2000AD, Mike’s initial run on the comic was nearly at its end – this was shortly before the crowd-intensive ‘Block Mania’ storyline which forced him to step back from Judge Dredd for a while. But I truly loved everything that I saw of his. His work from this time seems more abstract than that of his contemporaries but simultaneously more expressive and character-driven. It’s raw and haunting, comical and caricatured but deadly serious. It’s fresh and bold and surprising.
And this is all as true for his cover designs as for his strip work. The four that I have chosen to illustrate this post will be familiar to most 2000AD fans – they’re instant classics, and have been reproduced many times. But they weren’t easy to select. Take a look at this gallery of Mike’s covers on the 2000AD website and you’ll spot plenty of others that represent his unique style just as well. He’s one of the greats.