Covers are such an important part of the comic, as that is what the potential reader first sees. It will be what draws them in and peaks their interest, this interest could be for many reasons; such as recognizing a familiar and trusted logo or character, bright colours that catch your eye, an interesting free gift, a humorous strip that makes you want to see what’s inside, a cover girl that you can identify with or the promise of exciting stories inside.
Looking at just the 11 DC Thomson girls comics, I’ve identified 10 categories of covers that were most common. Of course there are some variations within these and I’m not going into composition details or other details just the main picture on the cover. So here are the 10 categories, in no particular order:
- Comic’s Namesake – Comic Strip
Apart from Spellbound, all the other DCT titles were girl names, so it made sense to create a character to represent the title. Giving that character a humorous strip on the cover, starts things off on a nice light note. With a lot of comics doing this, there was some variation in how this strip would be represented between comics, keeping things fresh. Usually though the strip kept to the format of having one large panel and some smaller panels (I only count those that had at least two panels with continuing narrative in this category).
To start this trend off was of course, Bunty. While the Bunty character went through some updates and changes in hairstyle, for a long run the cover consisted of 2-4 small panels and one larger panel of Bunty there weren’t any speech bubbles just rhyming text captions. The layout was played around with at times to keep things interesting. This general theme lasted for nearly 30 years, the majority of Bunty’s lifetime, so it must have been successful. This is probably why when Tracy launched,(after some short lived comics by DCT) it stayed close to this formula. It seemed to be trying to capture the classic look of some of the more long running comics. Tracy was another blonde girl, accompanied by her budgie, Elton, with white background and with usually just one or two panels, it had captions rather than speech bubbles. This pretty much stayed for the entirety of its run.
I include Mandy in this category although it is a little different from the others, as it continued the comic strip on the back page (or inside cover), but as there was more than one panel at the front and it is a title character, I’ll include it here. This setup did give it advantage over others in this category as it left more space on the cover for the set-up. The strip used speech bubbles rather than captions. It had a very clean look and followed the same pattern for a long time, with white background and full profile of Mandy, making the whole cover for eye catching. This style was kept for about the first 11 years of the comic. Similar to Mandy, Debbie also had a comic strip with one large panel and one small panel that continued on the back page, although it was Debbie’s younger sister Maisie that would mostly take the lead in the story. Prior to those covers Debbie tried a few different cover types.
Diana, had many different covers, but occasionally had a Diana strip as the cover. Initially it seems to have started with just a 3 panel strip at the bottom of the page with Diana and her friend Wendy. Later she got a full cover strip, some with the title Diana’s Daydream, so there would be a boxed panel followed by several cloud “daydream” panels and back to boxed panel when Diana was back to reality. As I don’t have too many issues during this time, so unsure how long it lasted or if there were other variations, it was bit different format to the Bunty and Tracy strips, although yet another blonde girl!
So quite a popular category and I think it does work well as a cover. Along with logo it brings instant brand recognition, stories inside may change but to have a familiar character, someone to visually identify with book,and have adventures to follow is quite effective.
- Comic’s Namesake as a Cover Girl
I consider this to be a separate category, though the lines sometimes get it bit blurry with the previous . But while these covers might have a strip inside they weren’t a straight continuation from cover. Sometimes these covers could have a caption box but that was it. Comics mentioned in previous section, Mandy and Tracy switched to these type of covers but this wasn’t a very big change for them.
In general, these comics made a good job of making these characters look distinct, such as the girl with a dark-haired bob is instantly recognisable as Mandy. Also the character’s often had a companion, whether it was Tracy’s budgie, Elton, or Judy’s three kittens, which again created a familiar visual for the reader. While characters changed their looks to keep with the times, Judy had the most drastic makeover. She started out as a platinum blonde straight haired girl, mostly wearing dungarees and when she returned after a break she became a curly haired brunette! This may have helped to distinguish her a bit more from other blondes and certainly when Tracy joined up it was easy to see who was who. Tracy and Emma and then of course Judy later joined with Mandy to become M&J. While initially the M&J covers were same style to their inside strip, they later got a more painted look.
Debbie was a bit different as it first depicted character with a full busy background of events going on in frame. Then it changed to a close up Debbie with a plain coloured background. Sometimes this picture would have a frame, such as pumpkins for Halloween. The comic Emma had the gimmick of Emma being a reporter, so the covers with Emma often included the person she was interviewing that week.
So like the previous category, quite popular choice, again probably helped with name recognition to associate the comic with a particular character.
3. Comic serial
To really fit as much as possible into the 32 pages of the comic, there was possibility of using the cover (and usually back page) as a full serial. This was a long running trend for Judy it did this for one off serials such as Beneath the Blue Sea and Marina and the Monsters, but mostly used regular characters such as Sandra of the Secret Ballet and Bobby Dazzler. The latter being the longest running, so that Bobby must have become synonymous with Judy.
Nikki also tried this though instead of many panels it was just one large panel with story continuing inside, this was used for a short serial Coping but otherwise it was used for The Comp, Nikki’s most well know strip. It must have helped to have recognisable characters on the cover and once they’ve read that they would want to read more. It may also seemed like more value for money, getting an “extra” story.
4. Free Gift advertisements
At some point a comic would use this to attract the reader, most commonly first issue, but also often in conjunction with a big change in line up. This was sometimes used to advertise competitions too. Often a character would be showing off the free gift, such as wearing the bracelet.
5.Celebrities (both drawn and photos)
Using popular celebrities could also be good to draw in a reader. In the case of Emma it often had celebrities that would have features/interviews inside the comic. While Judy also used photos of celebrities, it also had drawings of them. Mostly celebrity pin ups were used on back of page, especially in later years which can make it hard for collectors when the comics is missing it’s back page (though not as bad as when the Bunty cut out wardrobe used to feature one the back!).
6. Photo Cover Girls
The appeal of using a girl around the same age as the reader must have been that it was someone they could identify with and maybe there was a possibility that they too could become a cover girl. This became the trend in the 90s, with M&J and Bunty, the last comics standing! It was also used previous to that in Suzy and Diana, but those comics were a bit more dynamic, with more variety and colourful backgrounds, and it also fit in with it’s more glossy magazine feel. Occasionally other comics did this like Emma and Judy but not for a long amount of time. For the 90s though, that is all we saw and as they tended to be on white background, with similar poses and framing. this became quite generic and repetitive. From a glance it’s hard to tell what stories were running at these times, and it’s my least favourite cover type.
7.Full cover of inside story
If I was to pick a favourite cover it would be in this category. It would act as an advertisement for an inside story, giving us a taste of what’s to come. It showcased many great artists from the likes of John Armstrong, Ian Kennedy, Norman Lee and others. Which meant there were some very dynamic covers, and also depicted a wide variety of scenes such as historical, sci-fi, tragedy etc. so every week was new and different. Spellbound in particular had some great atmospheric covers that could be pin-ups in their own right. Judy, Nikki and Bunty also used these covers for a time.
8.Several inside stories advertised
Instead of full spread for a story, sometimes covers would advertise several things inside the comic, whether it be stories, or mixture of stories an features. Again a lot of comics tried this at some point. Seems like a good strategy for readers to see immediately what they could expect.
9. Non- character cover
Sometimes the cover would not be related to content inside the comic but would depict a girl that would be similar to reader’s age, that should appeal to them. This style could have different scenery and were generally very colourful. Diana used these covers to begin with and had quite a variety of pictures. M&J also used these for a time, though they didn’t have as much going on in the background of picture, focusing more on close up.A few other comics did this style occasionally too.
10.Miscellaneous & Variations
I’m sure there are many others that don’t quite fit into the above categories. Some examples would be would be Girl Talk from Nikki. This could nearly been counted in the first of my list even though the characters Liz and Lucy weren’t named after the comic, they did essentially become representatives. Up to Date Kate also became a regular cover girl for Diana towards the end of it ‘s run.
There were special occasions and holidays to celebrate which could mean an appropriately themed cover. More unusual were instructional covers such as Judy‘s ballet & hairstyle instructions.
All this is to highlight what variety of covers that these 11 comics had over a span of 40 years. While I could have gone into a lot more detail, I think this highlights a good mix of covers. It is interesting how some comics, like Bunty stuck to one format for long periods of time while others like Judy changed things around quite often.
I’m sure everyone has their favourite style, like I mentioned previously my favourite is covers that depicted a story on the front, but there were plenty of other good covers too. I did think the 90s photo girls were a bit plain in comparison and I can only speculate it that made it less attractive to readers at the time, but on the other hand many magazines used cover girls and did fine. Whatever the case there was some very interesting styles over the years and for long time they worked to grab the potential reader’s attention.