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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Cover Story - Top 12 Tick Covers

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While The Tick may not be on everyone’s mind this week he’s certainly on my mind.  His new live action show premiered Friday on Amazon mostly to widespread apathy but it’s reignited my curiosity for the character.  Like him or not, the wild blue yonder is one of the most successful indie superheroes there is, emerging out of the bubbling stew of creativity that was 1980s underground comics to be a major media force in the 1990s. 

In his over 20 year career the Tick has been adapted to live action, animation, video games, and a whole avalanche of comics, to the point that I’d say he deserves to be counted alongside the likes of Hellboy, Spawn, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as one of the truly iconic superheroes not to come from DC or Marvel.  Given all that, and the fact I’ve now got an excuse to re-examine some of his stuff, let’s dive into the shallow end and get the cover story on the top 12 covers featuring The Tick. 

Given everything we’re about to see this cover is actually pretty mundane.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still exactly the brand of whackiness that informs most of the Tick’s outings it’s just that this cover is a more mainstream approach.  The visual of the heroes in peril, the game of chance, the blend between literal and metaphorical concepts, this is all very standard stuff for modern comic cover construction, it just so happens that this is a really damn good modern cover.  

It comes from The Tick’s Massive Summer Double Spectacle, one of a whole slew of one-shot seasonal special comics the Tick put out.  That’s something worth noting about the Tick and this list as a whole, most of the covers that are on here aren’t from an ongoing comic but rather a litany of very short and very topical releases like this one. 

As to why I like this cover so much it’s all in the perspective and the colors.  I’ve seen covers like this before but the use of dice is a unique wrinkle and I really like the idea of tying the heroes to giant dice then rolling them, that’s actually really original.  The dice coloring helps too as the black background helps them pop a lot more than if they were white.  

I also like the Risk board the heroes are being rolled on, as I said this cover is crafted with knowledge of comic cover tradition and does a good job skewering the “game of chance as metaphor” concept, swapping out the standard chess for something more immature and jokey. 

This is such a strange cover I really love it.  Having looked through the Tick’s entire bibliography to make this list I don’t know who the various figures surrounding him here are, as he’s never looked like any of these people before, but honestly it doesn’t matter; you get the joke regardless.  

And even if the joke wasn’t both clever and obvious they labeled it right there at the bottom of the page, that’s very much the kind of humor to expect when dealing with The Tick.  It’s very pie in the face type humor with no small amount of meta-comedy as well. 

Much like cover #12, this cover is actively skewering the superhero cover tropes and aesthetics; in this case it’s about covers that feature previous character designs.  Normally this kind of cover would feature all the evolutions of a hero but not with the Tick, instead I’d suspect we’re seeing the various rough drafts and first concepts that eventually evolved into the wild blue yonder.  

My favorite would have to be the massive furry red guy giving Tick the D.  He honestly looks like some kind of evil version of the Tick, sort of in line with Nega-Duck from Darkwing Duck.  That would certainly fit given how similar the two are, just a shame this guy never got more use. 

Here we have an example of one of the Tick’s several mini-series releases.  Though the later half of his career was punctuated more with one-shots the early days of Tick’s success were all about short but memorable bursts of content.  If you aren’t familiar with much of The Tick’s mythos, the pudgy white bunny man in front of him is Arthur, his sidekick and audience surrogate.  While I don’t know the specific reason Tick and Arthur are on trial here I also can’t think of a good reason they WOULDN’T be on trial either, as they’re both pretty destructive in their own way.

Actually, I suspect this cover is another spoof on the superhero structure, there are a lot like that.  In this case it’s mocking that old favorite cliché of “the hero creates his own villains!” with the bad guys putting Tick on trial for “inspiring” them, hence the inverted American flag in the background.  If that is the case, it’s remarkably sharp given that Batman the animated series had pretty much the exact same plot in one of its episodes, though without the judicious helping of wackiness that only The Tick can provide. 

This may honestly be my favorite Tick cover.  I know it’s early on in the list but there’s just something perfect about this image, the conflicted and odd emotion of it all.  It’s honestly a bit too mature and serious to be a Tick cover over all but the subject matter definitely fits and it play well off the Tick’s quasi-self awareness.  

If you’ve never read the Tick comics he’s kind of aware of his own fictional status, it’s not so much that he knows he’s a character so much as he’s aware that a story is being told and can interact with the “drama” of it all, hence the subtitle of this mini-series ‘Days of Drama.’ 

This cover is very much playing off that semi-awareness as well as the Tick’s actual origin.  See, the Tick didn’t start out in any comic book, he started as a mascot for the publisher New England Comics before transition to the books and then eventually TV and action figures.  There’s an odd kind of parabolic arc to that career, with merchandisable shallowness punctuating both ends to create a hollow victory on the whole.  

All of that comes through here mainly thanks to Tick’s expression, which wrings incredible pathos out of only having his mouth.  He just looks so conflicted about his own success, unsure about whether or not the avalanche of material before him is really what he wanted.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it but for me this is an amazing work. 

This has got to be the strangest seasonal Tick special of the whole bunch, probably comics all around thinking about it- a comic special celebrating the US government’s tax returns deadline.  If you’re not from around these parts take it from, the time of taxes is basically a season unto itself wherein paperwork and drained bank accounts pretty much reign supreme, so while there are certainly enough seasonal detritus to make-up this issue it’s still an odd choice. 

Actually, the design of this cover almost justifies the bizarre idea of releasing a “celebratory” comic to punctuate tax time.  Obviously, the Tick and Arthur aren’t celebrating taxes so much as they’re being menaced by them and I must say the visual design of those hideous tax return papers is spot on.  What’s more, there is a really clever side joke in that the forms that are menacing them are superhero specific taxes, that’s a pretty funny gag and right in the Tick’s wheelhouse of spoofing superheroes through banality.  

Really though, the idea of the Tick fighting taxes is what sells this cover because that is his perfect natural enemy.  I mean think about it, the Tick is all about big, unhinged, zaniness and wackiness, he’s a living cartoony who cartoonifies everything around him and what better opposite of that is there than boring financial paper work?  This cover might as well be titled “The Tick vs. Responsibilities” because that’s what it is. 

Before I talk about what works in this cover let me quickly address what doesn’t: that weird circle slapped right on the bottom of the page.  That’s another classic comics cover technique but it’s totally unnecessary and completely out of place on this page.  

The characters involved seem completely disconnected from the action at hand and we really can’t make out who they are well enough for them to really be funny, except for maybe that pilgrim guy and even he’s a stretch.  I’m honestly not sure why it’s even here, it doesn’t tell me anymore about why the Tick is getting pelted with garbage, it doesn’t announce an exciting cameo, it doesn’t even debut the issue’s title.  It’s purely superfluous. 

What works about this cover, however, is everything else.  I honestly didn’t realize the Tick getting pelted with garbage was something I wanted as badly as I do but now that I’ve seen it I can’t believe there was a time I didn’t crave this image.  Much like when he was put on trial I don’t know exactly why the Tick is getting booed and tomatoed all over the place but it’s a safe bet that he probably deserves it.  

This is the first of the covers to draw from a core iconography other than cover art, namely cartoons.  While this kind of behavior did, allegedly, happen in real life the visual language of getting rotten tomatoes thrown at someone on stage is firmly rooted in the world of Looney Tunes and other cartoon shows.  That’s a perfect fit for the Tick, as he’s already something of a Bugs Bunny esc character anyway, and offers a nice change of pace from the usual imagery presented. 

I’d actually argue that this “hand on hips, one eye cocked” pose is the Tick’s most recognizable stance.  It was the same stance as his first cover and has been reworked and redesigned in countless follow-ups, believe me I know having gone through all of them.  Before I get to why this one made the cut, I think the reason this particular stance fits the Tick so perfectly is that it cuts right to the core of his character.  

The language of his body and facial expression are all about confidence and strength, this is a power pose easily.  His upright posture, raised eyebrow, and arm placement is all designed to shout “I rule,” which is contrasted perfectly with his absolute ridiculousness.  That’s the central joke of his character, someone who’s incredibly confident in their own abilities and decision-making despite all outward evidence to his complete incompetence and lunacy. 

As for why this cover made the cut it’s mainly to do with the city setting.  The Tick’s pose is pretty much static from variation to variation but this vision of the city is beautifully rendered and shockingly unique in its impressionistic nature.  If you look carefully at the buildings the placement of light and structure doesn’t really make sense, with a lot of long rectangle and circles that wouldn’t really exist.  However, even though this isn’t a great literal city it captures the mood of the city perfectly, same with the red sky set-up.  It all creates a very serious and noir feel that adds to the humorous contrast of The Tick’s massive blue form. 

For the record there are plenty of “The Tick in space” covers as well but this is the only one where he looked completely lost enough to make the list.  That’s something that hasn’t really shown up enough in these covers so far so I’m glad it’s making some kind of appearance, the idea that the Tick’s competence stops at the physical level.  

That’s something I think the comics tended to forget but proves to be a damn integral part of making the character funny rather than obnoxious, emphasizing the idea that even though the Tick is an unkillable Superman whose strength knows no bounds he’s kind of an ignorant oaf with no real conception of reality outside of the very narrow band of superhero work. 

That’s what I like so much about this cover because you KNOW that he has no conception of what’s happening to him.  It’s another great example of how much emotion can be wrung out of the Tick’s exaggerated features but his face here is a work of art unto itself.  It exudes a sense of quasi-awareness in that he knows something is different but doesn’t have the vaguest clue what.  

Making the Tick the butt of this joke and playing up his own ignorance is a good way to set him apart from the comedic superhero pack, as “indestructible sarcastic jerk” is a pretty common shtick overall. 

Hey, another serious cover, we haven’t had one of these since #9.  Honestly, as perfectly suited for comedy as The Tick is I do wish there were a few more serious adventures as his unique blend of powerful ability and crippling ignorance is rife with pathos.  He’s sort of like Bizarro that way: incredibly powerful, ultimately good hearted, mentally incapable and probably a danger to most folks around him that aren’t also super powered.  This cover isn’t playing on any of those ideas, mind you, but that doesn’t detract from how cool it is. 

Partially this cover works just on a visual level.  The design going on here is pure superhero but it’s executed flawlessly.  The Tick’s stance is drawn from the Spider-Man playbook, but like many of these covers his expression really sells it as more than just aping the original.  He genuinely looks concerned and on edge about whatever’s brought him atop this exterminator sign.  

Speaking of, that sign is a really great visual pun and serves to highlight the looming moth monster well.  The moth monster is also pretty amazing, with the glowing red eyes in particular as a well rendered visual while the spindly multiple arms are damn creepy. 

However, this cover really succeeds because of how it builds on the Tick’s established mythos.  See, the thing about featuring a giant hideous moth monster is that the Tick’s sidekick Arthur is a moth-themed superhero, so while I’m not positive the obvious visual suggestion here is that the hideous insectoid thing lurking behind the Tick IS Arthur.  

The “sidekick” goes evil trope is a pretty classic element of superhero books but there’s something extra sinister about seeing it in the Tick, mainly because it’s not supposed to happen here.  I mean, this is a comedy book about whacky antics and zany adventures, it’s not supposed to feature hideous transformations or pit best friends against each other, so it catches you off guard when it does; that’s the power of comedy. 

Before I talk about what works in this cover let me just say that plastic Tick mask is the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen.  Plastic versions of people’s faces are one of the most inherently creepy visuals I can imagine but a drawing of a plastic imitation of someone’s face definitely manages to top it.  There’s something about the glazed over eyes and the heavily detailed teeth that’s profoundly unsettling. 

Terrifying face masks aside this is an absolutely hilarious cover, mainly because of horrible it is and how oblivious the Tick seems to that fact.  If it’s not obvious what’s happening, for the big father’s day special Tick has adopted himself a son and seemingly tossed his closest friend and crime fighting partner Arthur out into the cold, which is pretty terrible but also makes things all the more funny.  

The truth of comedy is that it emerges from tragedy and this cover is the best example of that, the Tick blissfully oblivious to his own rampant idiocy alongside his freaky new son.  The mask actually adds to the joke in that respect, playing up just how much Tick doesn’t understand the father’s day traditions he’s trying to hard to emulate.  Like I’ve mentioned, the Tick works because of his blend of physical ability and mental incompetence and I don’t think it gets more incompetent than this. 

I swear, the Tick’s mouth is like a work of art in its own right, you can create so many unique expressions and emotions with just one squiggle.  In this case, it’s a mouth that speaks to anger, frustration, and solemnity; as would befit a man doing battle with a toilet.  

Similarly to the #6 cover this one is all about comedic contrast between the seriousness of the posing and framing against the absolutely ludicrous nature of what’s actually occurring.  Something I really like in that regard is how well the cover manages to actually render its scenario. 

Tick’s physique and posing do look heroic and stalwart, much the same way Arthur’s panic is well rendered and the angled foreshortening created by looking up from the toilet is beautifully done.  I even like the big, dopey, inter-title circle that’s stamped right on the page even if it is a little bit much.  

The Tick fighting toilets has become something of a common trend for him, which fits his very “pie in the face” style of humor nicely.  No one has ever accused the Tick of being overburdened with intelligence as a franchise but not every comedy needs to be sophisticated satire; we have toilet jokes for a reason after all. 

I’m sure this cover must seem like an odd pick given that it’s the least technically impressive cover of the bunch but I’d argue the style and self-deprecation inherent to this image completely overpower any issues of mechanics.  After all, this cover is meant to look like school book scribbling, it’s the back to school special, but more than that, the childish affectations create a kind of self-awareness and acceptance that’s damn near transcendent.  

I’m not sure if this was intentional or not but regardless this Tick cover is down right majestic in how well it parodies the character and his own existence while cutting right to the heart of what he is.  At his heart, the Tick IS a childish scribble, a nonsense character doodled over a serious assignment by a distracted student. 

That’s not a slam or a complaint, it’s just the nature of who and what the Tick is, what he’s always been.  Everything about him from his exaggerated physique and powers to his complete inability to function outside the world of super heroics to his own self-appointed random catchphrase fit perfectly into this identity.  

Coming right out and owning the characters core nature is incredibly refreshing and represents an honesty that’s often missing from the Tick’s other covers.  Much like my favorite cover, #9, this is an image that really resonates and that’s because it’s built on a firm foundation of truth and that sticks with you. 

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