13 COVERS: A BOB LARKIN Birthday Celebration

Spotlighting the painter’s work at Marvel…


When I was a kid, painted comic-book covers felt even more special than they do now. They always stand out – there’s something especially thrilling about seeing two-dimensional characters rendered in lush, vibrant, near-photo-real style. John Romita’s recent passing had me again thinking fondly on his amazing covers for the Fireside line of Marvel reprints.

But the guy whose painted images stood out to me the most in my formative reading years was Bob Larkin, who was born 74 years ago, on July 10, 1949.

Many of Larkin’s painted pieces went by without my notice back when: I never saw the Marvel magazines that featured his painted covers — mags like Savage Sword of Conan, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, and Planet of the Apes.

Selections from his Conan covers and his Apes covers were spotlighted in the previous two birthday celebrations here. This time around? The focus is my sweet spot, the Larkin paintings that graced covers of superhero comics, superhero collections, and a few oversize publications as well. So here are 13 COVERS that spotlight Bob’s special brand of painted comic-book covers.

Happy #74, Bob, and thanks for the great memories and amazing works!

The Incredible Hulk Fireside Collection. Fireside was the first-of-its-kind line of mass-market Marvel collections, a series that began in the mid-1970s with titles like Origins of Marvel Comics, Son of Origins, Bring on the Bad Guys and The Superhero Women. Those first few books all featured great painted covers by John Romita. Larkin soon took over, providing some amazing painted pieces of his own for the more character-specific books. None of which was more impactful to me than this Incredible Hulk cover:

In fact, I loved this cover so much that I asked artist JK Woodward to paint an homage to it for the Rom series I co-wrote a few years ago:

Crystar, Crystal Warrior #1. Crystar, based on a toy line that pretty much arrived DOA, wasn’t the greatest comic in the world, but I have fond enough memories of it. It was one of my first forays into fantasy comics, and it featured some nice art inside (Ron Frenz, Bret Blevins) and especially out (Michael Golden’s covers were amazing, and even helped inspire Danzig’s logo). The series kicked off in impressive fashion with Bob’s wonderful painted cover, an image I found utterly irresistible. Still do.

The original painting, owned by a collector named Michael Browning, is even more impressive.

Dazzler #1. Bob’s work on music-related comics covers ranged from rock (see below) to disco, in the form of the formerly named “Disco Dazzler’s” first-issue cover, a gorgeous piece that again called to me from the spinner rack and I knew I just had to answer the call.

Marvel Super Special #16: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. I was already a Star Wars fanatic in 1981, so when the graphic novel adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back was released, I couldn’t wait to dig into it. It was the only way we could revisit the story over and over again in those sad days before home video. Bob’s painted cover adorns both the magazine-sized Marvel Super Special edition and also the smaller paperback collection (the one that features the purple, elvish version of Yoda, as he originally appeared in artist Ralph McQuarrie’s early designs).

Marvel Super Special #15: Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I adore the imagery associated with this movie – the incredible Bob Peak poster, of course, and also this Bob Larkin cover of the Marvel magazine adaptation. Little did I know that Bob hated its reproduction. The cover printed far greener than his original, he told me a number of years ago. As a kid, that greenish hue lodged itself in my brain and I love it still, but I appreciated the fact that it wasn’t what the artist intended.

So when I was overseeing Star Trek at IDW, I was happy to finally, after 40 years, give Bob the proper reproduction he’d always wanted. He supplied me the original art file and I made sure it printed the way he wanted, its blueish tones intact after all this time.

Marvel Super Special #5: Kiss. This was the second Kiss/Marvel collaboration, and in general, not the better of the two. Still, as a childhood fan of both Marvel Comics and the band, I was thrilled to see this magazine. Its story and interiors (featuring a very young John Romita Jr. on pencils) could never live up to the grandeur of Bob’s painted cover but it didn’t matter, I loved it. Bob’s cover art was a big part of the reason why.

Marvel Novel Series #6: Iron Man. Around the time of the Fireside graphic novel collections, Marvel also released a series of paperback novels featuring their characters. Bob created covers for a few of these books, none better than his Iron Man cover. Sure, even then, I wondered why a book called And Call My Killer… MODOK didn’t feature that big-headed goof on the cover (it would’ve been fun to see Bob’s painted version of the character) but there was no disputing the intrigue and cool factor of a cover featuring Iron Man fighting a dark version of… himself?

Marvel Treasury Edition #28: Superman and Spider-Man. Again, Bob came aboard to provide the cover for the second issue of a notable event comic. And like with the second Kiss magazine, this second Marvel/DC crossover isn’t as good as the first (how could it be?). Still, Bob’s cover made it something special. And really, since the pairing of these two characters – and companies – was such a remarkable thing, “good” and “bad” didn’t even matter. The fact that this existed made it great.

Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts. Another of Fireside’s character-specific collections, this Doctor Strange book featured a great Larkin cover. The moody shot, featuring a seated Doctor in front of that great Sanctum Sanctorum window, his ghostly astral form emerging from his body, sets a perfect tone for the otherworldly stories found inside the book.

Marvel Novel Series #7 and 8: Bob’s covers for two other Pocket novels, these featuring Doctor Strange and Spider-Man, are both very effective and cool. I love the split cover approach to Doctor Strange’s image, showing Doc entering Nightmare’s Ditko-esque realm; and his Spider-Man cover, with Kingpin using a New York street sign as a baseball bat, demands your attention, too.

Mighty Marvel Team-Up Thrillers. After Marvel’s partnership with Simon and Shuster’s Fireside line came to an end, Marvel decided to keep the collected editions rolling (albeit not for much longer; not in this form, anyway) with this collection of notable team-ups. Now, often a cover that tries to encapsulate multiple stories and characters in a fractured image can be a bit of a discombobulated mess, but not in this case. Bob’s painted piece here features so many colorful characters from across Marvel’s pantheon that I again had to have this book.

Marvel Super Special #6: Jaws 2. Speaking of sequels that didn’t quite attain the heights of the original, here’s one final image to end the celebration. There’s something almost Mad Magazine-esque about Bob’s painted cover here but still, the various parts of this image, a direct, if more in-your-face, riff on the original movie’s poster, still works. (And the interior work, by the Tomb of Dracula art team of Gene Colan and Tom Palmer — who both inks and colors the issue; and who celebrates a posthumous birthday three days from now – is maybe better than the movie itself, too.)

Finally, while it’s not a cover, this is a fun final bit of celebration in Bob Larkin’s honor: In the mid-1990s, he created the art for Marvel’s holiday card. As a pug owner, I’m amused that Santa’s sleigh is being pulled by a couple of antlered pugs for no discernible reason (maybe the reindeer, larger animals with longer snouts, just didn’t fit the proportions of the card).


— 13 COVERS: A BOB LARKIN Birthday Celebration — 2022 EDITION. Click here.

— 13 COVERS: A BOB LARKIN Birthday Celebration — 2021 EDITION. Click here.

Chris Ryall is the co-owner/publisher of Image Comics imprint Syzygy Publishing. His latest series is Tales of Syzpense, out now.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Wishing Mr. Larkin a happy birthday today. His art style is really impressive here.

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  2. Happy Birthday!!! Yes, I had a couple of these books! (Not the Christmas Card, though!)

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  3. I actually prefer the second Spidey/Superman team up. Superman vs Dr Doom (in a way that may have inspired Byrne’s later take on Lex) and Big John Buscema drawing Superman!

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  4. Love this! In January 1984, my mother was kind enough to buy me the Mighty Marvel Team-Up Thrillers paperback – to this day there is something about those painted vignettes (particularly the old x-men) that captures my impressions of silver age Marvel before I read enough comics to fill in the details. My mom is long gone now, but that book is still in my collection, and has a great deal of sentimental value.

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