The Chronicles of Sheldon Mayer's Sugar & Spike
The Covers of Sheldon Mayer
(for a full gallery of SUGAR & SPIKE covers, you can go here, or here, or here)
The early covers were all self-contained and didn't refer to any of the interior short stories (except to the extent that there would be seasonal issues for things like Christmas or Halloween and both the cover and an interior story would play off that theme in different ways). One of the many delightful things about them, and about Mayer's work in general, is the way he can put a perfect facial expression on Sugar and Spike for any situation. When you see them, there's no question about whether Mayer meant for them to be happy or confused or angry or surprised. All the expressions are clear, all of them are funny and all of them remind me of faces I've seen real babies make in similar circumstances.
Structurally, these covers can be divided into three major groups, the comic strip, the single image verbal gag and the single image sight gag.
The comic strip types are usually four panels, and have the same rhythm as the classic humour strips like PEANUTS. Mayer used that type of cover on the first three issues, and again on #14 and #18. #11 is also a variation on this, being a two panel gag, with the panels being two tall ones (essential to the construction of the particular gag). These covers really make me wish that a SUGAR & SPIKE comic strip had come to pass (it was apparently seriously discussed at various times, with a proposal and some finished samples from around 1960 and an an unfinished six-week proposal from the early 1980s, including some recycled gags from these covers and other places, but it wasn't to be). Mayer is clearly worked on a level that only a handful of daily comic strip artists managed, and comic books didn't really seem to give him the audience he deserved. On the other hand, I like his longer stories even more than the four panel gags, and he had a certain flexibility in story construction there that comic strips didn't offer, so it's a trade-off.