Legendary Album Covers: When Comics Meet Vinyl

Music lovers know what it’s like to walk into a record store and be lured by a album cover. It can be particularly beautiful, striking or even disturbing – an eye-catcher that entices people to buy that particular album, which they might otherwise have overlooked.

It’s a known fact that album covers can be real works of art, at least since Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson designed covers for bands such as Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin at Hipgnosis, their legendary photo design studio. Since 1968, British designers have created around 350 record covers, which has contributed to the cult status of the respective records.

The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s was evident in album cover designs. Connecting the world of comics and the world of (rock) music was really only a matter of time – in 1965 the Californian city of San Francisco was not only a place that many musicians and hippies aspired to , but was also home to well-known underground bands. artists. Robert Crumb, for example, designed the cover of Cheap feelings by Janis Joplin’s group, Big Brother & the Holding Company.

Crumb would have had only one day to complete the cover in 1967, writes Eckart Sackmann in the exhibition catalog “VINYL! The Comic Covers” at Ludwiggalerie in the German town of Oberhausen. Originally, Crumb’s artwork was meant to be the back cover, featuring artwork for each song title. “The illustrator would later have regretted settling for a flat fee of $600. After all, he was contractually allowed to touch Joplin’s chest,” Sackmann writes.

Comics were the perfect medium for rebelling against the establishment and campaigning for more sexual freedom in the late 1960s. But artists also used illustrations to protest politics and the Vietnam War, and to fight for civil rights. “It was a noisy time, an open time, a time of upheaval,” says Sackmann – in arts and music.

perfect symbiosis

The symbiosis between comics and music continued into the 1970s and 1980s. Famous and underground bands turned to comic artists to design their covers. Danish band Gasolin’ were fans of Tintin creator Hergé and commissioned the Belgian artist for their 1971 album. Gasoline.

Frank Zappa commissioned Italian illustrator Tanino Libertore to design the 1983 cover The man from Utopia. This refers to Zappa’s more or less disastrous tour of Italy the previous year, where the band faced everything from trouble with the mafia to technical problems. The cover is a tongue-in-cheek reference to their concert near Milan, where Zappa and his band were attacked by swarms of mosquitoes that nearly prevented the band from continuing the concert.

In the 1990s, vinyl records increasingly disappeared in favor of CDs. The smaller covers provided less space for the large-format comic, but some musicians continued to use the art. In the early 1990s, Motörhead had this legendary cover designed for their best-of album.

These days, most people stream music and don’t immediately envision a particular cover when they hear songs, Sackmann says, saying it used to be different. “Imagine Sgt. Pepper’s (famous Beatles album, editor’s note), and you see the album cover,” he says.

The exhibition in Oberhausen, which runs from January 16 to May 8, and the catalog draw attention to a subject that has not yet been fully explored. “There’s a little literature in France, but there’s almost none in Germany,” says Sackmann, who collects both records and comics. For “VINYL!” The Comic Covers”, he collected an impressive 200 comic book covers.

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