The Eighties experienced a serious drought in draftsmanship, so nothing in the decade compares to the figure drawing of Gil Kane and John Romita (Sr.). Selecting ten covers from this era was particularly difficult, not because of too many great choices, but because most of them were mediocre.
In fact, only three or four on this list would survive against covers from the 70s or 00s, and I easily could have exchanged a few on this list with comparably OK covers by the same artist or another. Consequently, because there was no undisputed king of Spidey illustration in the 80s, this is a very diverse list comprised of nine different artists, compared to five in the last list (with one, John Byrne, common to both).
So once again, in order of publication:
1. This cover by Frank Miller (he wasn’t the interior artist) doesn’t look any more three-dimensional in person, thanks to the prison bars being flat black strips rather than given any kind of roundness by hand, resulting in a disconcerting feeling of optical illusion. But the potent image of Spider-Man is one of the best of the decade regardless. (On a personal note, incidentally, given the publication date my dad must have bought this issue for me second-hand.) Amazing Spider-Man #219 (August 1981), by Frank Miller:
2. I love images that are black, white, and red all over, and Milgrom manages to achieve a feeling a three dimensions with simple lines and fills, but the contrast of Doc Ock’s tentacles are the coup de grace. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #79 (June 1983), by Al Milgrom:
3. This isn’t Frenz’s most flattering image of Spider-Man (his best might be #269), and the Hobgoblin’s left glove is too undistinguished from Spidey’s costume, but it is an undoubtedly dynamic cover — perhaps the perfect splash page — and it’s a rare instance of the cover actually depicting a scene that takes place in the story inside. The fact that this blog derives its name from this issue played no part in its inclusion. Amazing Spider-Man #260 (January 1985), by Ron Frenz:
4. This is possibly my favorite image of Spider-Man, ever. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #101 (April 1985), by John Byrne:
5. I have no idea who the depicted villain is, but I like how Morgan puts the reader in the vulnerable position of the Rocker Racer but also gives us that crucial piece of information unseen by the sniper. Though I usually prefer covers that are iconic or figurative rather than particular, this is a great example of a tease that shows us an entire situation the second before something exciting happens. How could you resist opening this comic? Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #104 (July 1985), by Tom Morgan:
6. Admittedly generic, but one of the better depictions of Spider-Man. And I love images of Spidey running up a vertical wall. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #114 (May 1986), by Keith Pollard:
7. Not much needs to be said for this image of the criminal-nabbing web-spinner caught himself in the hunter’s net, which also happens to kick off one of the most famous story arcs of the decade. Web of Spider-Man #31 (October 1987), by Mike Zeck:
8. Two issues in a row by the same artist may seem indulgent, and in any other case it would be, but this is one of the most memorable comic book covers of all time. Web of Spider-Man #32 (November 1987), by Mike Zeck:
9. With issue #134 this series lost “Peter Parker” from its title, the same month Sal Buscema (son brother of John) began a prolific six-year run, for most of which he provided both pencils and inks. For my money he was the best and most distinctive draghtsman since Romita, and the rough line of his unmistakable pen keeps his work simultaneously raw and refined.
I like most of Sal’s covers just because I love his artistic style. But his cover for this issue (another one I own) is particularly attention-grabbing, not to mention compositionally efficient. While the covers of most comics often feature silly if momentary confrontations between heroes — how many times have we seen Wolverine vs. the Hulk? — seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA of all people giving Spidey a roundhouse to the jaw (and looking like he means it!) is undeniably compelling. Spectacular Spider-Man #138 (May 1988), by Sal Buscema:
10. I hesitated including anything by McFarlane in this list because the truth is that he’s basically a fraud as an artist. Browsing his covers is not only uninspiring but actually depressing, especially when juxtaposed to Buscema’s contemporaneous work on Spectacular. But I thought this cover, depicting Spidey’s point of view, is just interesting enough — and buttressed by an absence of human faces. Amazing Spider-Man (January 1989), by Todd McFarlane: