What is a Cover?

Our new scanner arrived last week, and yesterday we spent some time experimenting with it and testing it out. One of the things that got scanned was corpus book #0001, an issue of Gulf Funny Weekly from 1934. This is the physically largest comic book in our entire corpus, so it made for a good test of the machine. 

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When I sent this image to Ben and Nick, Ben asked the obvious follow-up: How many comic books in our corpus don’t have covers?

What he meant by that is that GFW has a comics story on its first page, and that is counted as a one-page story (this issue has three one page stories and an ad in its four pages). A “cover” for our intents and purposes does not contain part of a story. While it might refer to one of the stories (as is often the case), it isn’t actually a part of it - it is a distinct formal element. 

Generally speaking, of course, magazines have covers, and books have covers. Newspapers, on the other hand, have front pages. It is not terribly surprising that GFW is more akin to a newspaper than to a magazine or book. Indeed, this issue is a newsprint page fold in half to make four pages. GFW seems like an anomaly in our corpus. We have three issues, and none of them have covers.

The other series that is similar are The Spirit supplements, which, of course, ran in newspapers. We have seven Spirit supplements in the corpus, and none has a “cover” - everyone of them simply begins the story on the first page, like so:

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All of this would add up to the pretty simple observation that newspaper-aligned comic books don’t have covers, while magazine-aligned comic books (which are the vast majority of them) do. Were it not for this:


This is corpus book #0078, Silver Streak Comics #21, published by Lev Gleason in 1942. At first glance, this seemed to have a cover - like most comic books of the period there is a distinction between the glossy cover stock and the interior paper that suggests a magazine tradition. 

Closer inspection, however, troubles that conclusion. The fact is, the story featuring the Saint starts, as the text says, “here”. This is page one of the lead thirteen-page story (the book has eight stories in its 68 pages). However, unlike The Spirit supplements, there are some “cover” elements here beyond the paper stock. Notably, the “In This Issue!” Portion of the page acts like a traditional cover, drawing attention to interior features. From this standpoint, it seems to be both a cover and not a cover. It’s Schrödinger’s Cat Comics #21.

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Just to add to our confusion, this is the next story page: 

Note that that pagination indicates that this page, the third, is the first page of the story, contradicting the “cover”.

So, it’s anomalous and we’ll ponder it. But then, what about this:

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That is corpus book #1128. Some might argue that a two-panel comic stretches the definition of “story”, but for our purposes that is a distinct story. Indeed, that 68-page comic book contains a whopping 57 stories, none longer than a single page. Many of them even have their own titles!

I think it’s interesting (but not analytically defensible) that, on first pass, the issue of Jughead’s Jokes was coded as if it has a cover but Silver Streak Comics was coded as if it does not. There are additional Archie comics in the corpus that similarly have “covers” with stories on them - although very few other publishers did the same.

All this is a reminder that coding decisions matter and that consistency will be a major consideration as we move forward. I’ve already changed the “cover” of this Jughead’s Jokes to an other story - this issue now has 58 stories in it.