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Posted at 10:05 AM ET, 09/22/2009

New Album Cover Art: Tom Tomorrow (Pearl Jam) Joins Some Select Company

By Michael Cavna

Pearl Jam's "Backspacer." (AP Photo/MonkeyWrench Records)

At the recommendation of new Post pop-music critic Chris Richards, I'll get around soon to listening to all of "Backspacer," the Pearl Jam CD that drops/lands/arrives/roars-toward-consumers today (here's Chris's review). Thing is, at the moment, I'm more consumed with studying the cover art.

The beautiful nine-image cover for "Backspacer" was created by "This Modern World" cartoonist Tom Tomorrow -- aka Dan Perkins, the real-life name of the artist who is the real-life pal of Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.

Of creating the "Backspacer" art, Perkins wrote on his blog over the weekend:
"My usual relationship to my art is that of a parent to a small child -- you keep an eye on them, you know what they're up to all the time. This is more like what I imagine a parent's relationship to grown children must be like -- they go out in the world and do all these amazing things on their own, and you kind of watch from a distance, trying to keep track of it all."

Like many alt-weekly cartoonists, Perkins -- who also writes on his blog: "I absolutely love this album" -- has endured serious cuts in his client list in the past year, including the Village Voice Media. (Note: This month, "This Modern World" returned to the Voice after a seven-month absence.). And his friend Vedder has been outspoken in his support of alt-comics. (We knew the man had good taste.) In March, Vedder's plea contained this passage:

"Cartoons are a great deal for alt-weeklies: they provide some of the least expensive and yet most popular content. Many times you have picked up Seattle Weekly, the Village Voice, Minneapolis City Pages or LA Weekly - just some of the Voice Media papers - and turned right to the cartoon section. Now that has vanished.

The only way this vital artwork will return is through a sustained outcry from readers. We have to tell editors at our local alternative weeklies that we don't want them to suspend cartoons; if they already have, we want them brought back. "

(Hold for applause.)

Alternative visual artists and popular music have a storied connection, of course. Among the most notable is R. Crumb, who has drawn scores of covers . And from Jim Flora to later "Saturday Night Live" comedian Phil Hartman, there's such a rich and long history of cartoonist/illustrators designing covers, of course.

But herewith is Comic Riffs' All-Time Top Five List of Album Covers by Cartoonists.

5. JOHNNY HART's Men of B.C. evolve into The Four Freshmen.

4. SHANNON WHEELER's "Too Much Coffee Man" amps up Bob Dorough's second album for Blue Note.

3. PATRICK McDONNELL's pets cozy up to Tchaikovsky (visually turning "suite" into "sweet.").

2. GARY LARSON goes "Doggin' Around" for Herb Ellis with Red Mitchell.

And naturally...

1. R. CRUMB's "Cheap Thrills" for Big Brother & the Holding Company. Here, Crumb explains why he chose to draw for friend Janis Joplin -- but NOT for the Rolling Stones. (Classic Crumb, this.)

By Michael Cavna  | September 22, 2009; 10:05 AM ET
Categories:  General  
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Don't forget Michael "Snock" Hurley, who does his own cartoon covers, including the classic cover for Have Moicy! (!)

Posted by: casablanca1 | September 22, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I edit the AlbumArtExchange Blog, a blog about album art, and I've discussed this topic several times with my readers.

The one album cover that people always forget about is the top selling album with a cover by a famous cartoonist.

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi Trio

It may not be at the top of your list, but it has to be in everyone's top five. It is one of the most popular holiday music albums of all time.

I know Charles Schulz may not be as cool as R. Crumb, but he was one of the world's most popular cartoonists and the album has been played in millions of homes.

Posted by: FritzLiess | September 22, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

>> FritzLiess:

Thanks for weighing in (and re your very engaging blog, btw, I agree with many of your readers: Nelly Furtado's "Mi Plan" album cover rocks this week).

As for Sparky Schulz's illustration for the Vince Guaraldi Trio "A Charlie Brown Christmas": There's NO question here -- it's one of the best ever (& Schulz's emotional truths, at the strip's best, give "Peanuts" a cache that transcends mere coolness).

HOWEVER, in the spirit of Tom Tomorrow's cover, I kept the Riffs list strictly to cartoonists who were *commissioned* to draw for projects other than their own. My list of "Best Cartoonists Who Drew for Their OWN Album Projects" would include:

1. Charles Schulz
2. Terry Gilliam ("Monty Python & the Holy Grail")
3. Walt Kelly ("Songs of the Pogo")

And then, also for self-projects, where to rank everyone from Daniel Johnston to "Termite Terrace" to Cat Stevens's cartoon-y paintings?

Curious: Who do YOU think the best album-cover cartoonists are, other than Schulz? (Ron Cobb? Corky McCoy? George Dunning & the whole "Yellow Submarine" team?) The candidates seem countless.

Thanks again,

Posted by: cavnam | September 22, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

The best part about seeing R. Crumb's cover for Cheap Thrills
== ==
was that I could finally compare it with McDonnell's "Mutt's Comics No. 1 - Gags, Jokes, Shtuff" (see page 53 of Mutts No. 8 - "I want to be the kitty!"). I always knew that it was an R. Crumb parody, but I had never realized just how close it was to the original. Superb!

I enjoyed all the covers, although they were a bit too small. I went hunting for larger versions, but the system here refused to accept a post with four links in it, so I've recreated the text above from memory, and including just the ONE link that is most important. Best place to look for the rest is Amazon.

Posted by: kilby | September 23, 2009 2:43 AM | Report abuse

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