If you're a collector of comic books or have
been to a comic book convention, you know what a
"sketch cover" is. If not...it's a "variant"
version of an issue where the cover is blank
except for maybe the logo.
The point being you can take that version to
your favorite artist and have them draw on that
Depending on who it is, how much time they have,
how much $$$ you are willing to give them...you
could have a quick sketch or something very
Publishers put these out regularly these
days, and for a cheap ploy to get people to buy
the same issue twice, it's actually a fun idea...IN THEORY. The
problem arises from time to time of the
publisher not understanding that not all paper
is created equal and some paper is no f8cking
good to try to draw or paint on. You don't need
to be an artist of any kind to understand that,
right? There's a difference between using a
pencil on a post it note and trying to use one
on a glossy magazine cover. When you are using
ink or paint...then it's an even bigger issue.
Most of the time now, publishers get it and make
sure the paper for sketch covers is quality
stuff that's fairly good to work on. But I've
had covers handed to me that you could only use
a sharpie marker on, because anything else would
come right off as soon as it was touched...ink
would just bead up on it like rain on a
ANYWAYS...that's what sketch covers are.
I recently saw an article trying to figure
out what was the first ever sketch cover. They
more or less decided on a cover from a DC comic
from 1994...though it wasn't created to be
sketched on, it was blank, and has been used for
...they are incorrect, but they did some good
By their and conventional wisdom's loose
parameters of what a sketch cover is, thier
"first" is about 40 years late to take the
crown. I present to you...Panic no.6
1955 by the same publisher as Mad Magazine (
both Mad and Panic were comic book sized at the
time and being published as sister titles). At
the time, Bill Gaines, the publisher of Mad,
Tales from the Crypt, Weird Science, and a bunch
of other books was being raked over the coals
and even dragged before congress because
jackasses, with no life who needed to feel
important, were screaming and yelling that
horror comics were too offensive and corrupting
the youth (everything is a cycle, those people
had kids who thought heavy metal music turned
you into a Satanist, who had kids who thought
grand theft auto was too violent, who had kids
who think stand up comedians should get
cancelled for jokes, who will have kids who
think kids need to be protected from some other
thing). The point being, Gaines got fed up with
people bitching that covers like this should be
put out an issue of Panic that was blank, as a
joke. Previous to that by a couple months he had
also put out an issue of Mad with an empty
cover, sort of...
but whichever of these you think is more
legitimately blank...these were the first blank
SO...you can find these if you look hard and
want to pay some $$$, and you COULD attempt to
draw on this 70 year old paper. But...you'd
really be pushing your luck. I mean, that'd be a
nightmare! Even copies of these in good shape
You wouldn't be drawing on ONE kind of
problematic paper. The paper would be dyer at
the edges, parts would still be shiny, other
parts be rough and fragile. Some of it would
have the ink beading up and other parts would
absorb the ink like tissue paper and make it
bleed at the edges. You would not be able to use
any kind of pen because the tip would dig in and
crease or dig in and bleed.
and if you think you'd be able to use regular
ink on this I have three letters for
you..L...O...L. You'd probably have to use some
kind of acrylic ink for parts and some kind of
paint for other parts. or some kind of hybrid
paint/ink. In some spots you'd need it thick, in
other spot watery. Which is another reason you
wouldn't want to use a pen, even a brush pen.
You'd have to test and practice on another cover
of a book that old, because you are only getting
one shot. It's not like you can use white out.
Yeah...you'd have to not only be a master, but
so full of hubris that you're a borderline
egomaniac. One who is willing to possibly
destroy a rare golden age comic book to test his
skill. I am all of those things, so...
LET'S DO IT!!!
I picked a scene/character I've done before
(several times actually for one reason or
am comfortable with, so at least that aspect
won't be a struggle. This character, by the way,
is one I had done for an issue of Mad Magazine
and technically EC comics...so it's pretty legit
having me draw on this. EC comic sketched on by
That's gonna be tough, ain't it. The buildings
need be straight lines and done with a brush.
It'll need varying line thickness to give depth,
which mean heavy inking on fragile paper. It has
some details that are small and who the hell
knows how the brush itself is going to flex or
drag on parts of this.
Off we go.
It did not take long for this to become nerve
wracking and...possibly a stupid idea. Like I
said...this is really several kinds of paper.
Some of it does NOT want to take the ink and
some of it is so fragile that a brush stroke
might take a piece right off.
You see (pic above) how the line for the
building is dark and the lines for the clouds
(lower left hand side) are gray and faded
looking? That's not the paint/ink...that's the
paper. That's how different the paper itself is
and is taking in the ink, from one spot to the
well...we've come this far. Let's see how much
we can do before disaster strikes.
at this point, another issue is becoming a
problem. Aside from the structural integrity of
the paper being inconsistent, the paper is wavy
and has buckled from moisture or age or who
knows what. So, it's not even f8cking flat, and
a brush does not push the paper down as you
go..it either rides up and down or SPREADS OUT
on the bumps, giving you a thicker line than you
meant. Making one line a consistent thickness in
one stroke...not happening. That is going to
make inking those building a real problem. Okay,
we'll just keep that in mind and do our best.
Just drawing on this with a pencil was giving me
an idea of how problematic some parts of the
paper were going to be. I left some of that til
the end when I at least a a little experience
with this nightmare.
Needed the ink/paint to be rather thick on the
edges and tears so as to not bleed, and it was
sticking to the paper a little bit and could
have pulled brittle parts right off. BUT, not so
I had some ideas for the background, but I'm
REALLY pushing my luck at this point, every line
is another chance to ruin a 70yr old comic book.
And honestly, the paper is too fragile. If
you've ever held a newspaper or magazine or
comic that old, you know they're brittle and can
crack pretty easy just flipping pages. Much more
dangerous resting your hand on it and moving it
around to draw lines. Doing the affects I
wanted... would have me sliding my hand back and
forth over and over until eventually, probably
as I am finishing the very last line, I'd hear a
So, I'm going to stop here and take the win.
THAT was nerve wracking, but looks pretty darn
cool I'd say. Part of me wants to erase the
pencil lines, but I don't think the paper could
handle it. And That might be enough to pull some
of the ink off or at least lighten it. I'm gonna
leave well enough alone. Oh...I did the Mad
Actually grabbed up a bunch of these issues and
did them. A bit of that was for pure investment
purposes, because it's a safe bet that other
illustrators, or sketch cover collectors will
see this and try to get these issues...and it's
also a safe bet many get ruined while trying to
be sketched on, hahahaha. Every failed attempt
tips the law of supply and demand in my favor.
are rare, golden age, historical comics, they're
now off to get "graded". That's when you send a
book to a professional company ( https://www.cbcscomics.com/ )
to have them verify that is it what it is, the
signature or sketch was done by who you say it
was, and how good the condition of the book is
(scale of 1 to 10), and it gets sealed up with
the verification on it. Like this here...
I don't know much about grading. If that 1st top
book's condition is a 6, and the 2nd is a
1.8...the ones I did are probably a 2 or 3...or
7... or minus 0.5? I have no idea. I also
don't know if me sketching on it technically
drops the score of the condition or what. In the
case of getting a sketch cover, or an
autographed book graded, it's really more about
proving the signature and work was really done
by who it says it was done by. I think you
normally need a certificate of verification or
photographic evidence or the artist in question
personally verifies it. In this case, I can
verify myself so...that's nice.
When I get them back from grading, I'll show
them all and we'll see what's what on that.