I regretted this… almost instantly.
This was, you see, supposed to be a list of ten. My ten favorite comic book artists. Easy peasy. I’m going to do a follow up on writers, sure, but I figured I would start with the men and women who bring the writers’ ideas to life.
And all I had to do was pick ten who were my favorites.
Within half an hour of applying barely any thought at all and even less research (which would consist of little more than glancing at my bookshelf), I had a cut-down list of fifty-plus names.
There was simply no realistic way I was going to get just ten names and not feel absolutely gutted over many of the ones I left off.
I quickly decided this would have to be a super special double-sized list! There was no law that held me to ten, so if I wanted to increase it, that was my right.
But even that is a double-edged sword.
You see, the bigger the list, the more great names I could include and feel better about not leaving anyone off. But the bigger the list, the more upset a reader (like YOU) could justifiably be when I left off your favorites. Okay, maybe they didn’t make Stew’s top ten… but not even his top TWENTY?!
So by expanding to twenty, I’m opening myself up to being called an idiot more. Que sera sera.
Ultimately… this is just my preferences! I have particular tastes in comic art, and you’ll come to pick up those pretty quickly as the list goes on.
I do want to say as a preface that I am by no means an artist or an art scholar. I can’t draw AT ALL. I draw at about a fifth grade level, and that might be generous. And when it comes to art, a lot of my criticism will break down to “I like this” or “I do not like this”. And it’s hard to explain why. It’s that old stereotype “I don’t know art, but I know what I like”, you know?
There are aspects I get. Cleanness, boldness, colors, background details, story-telling. But, I barely feel capable of judging even those. Let’s take story-telling for starters. It is a spectrum. You can be GREAT at it, TERRIBLE at it, or anywhere in between, But I’m here to tell you, unless you are an A+ or an F at it, everything in between just runs together to a degree for me.
I just know what I like.
All right, that’s enough meandering and justifications from me. Let’s get into the pretty pictures!
20. Mark Bagley
Mark Bagley is TWENTIETH. That says a lot to me about this list.
The thing with Bags is that I just take him for granted. He has been around forever, constantly giving us the definitive versions of Spider-Man and his supporting players. Spider-Man has had so darn many great artists, but when I think of the character, I think of Bagley’s version.
Also, his collaboration with Bendis on Ultimate Spider-Man gave a soul to one of the greatest titles in Marvel history.
19. Amanda Conner
Sure, Amanda Conner makes some gorgeous cheesecake art. There’s something to be said for that. But her work is so solid. Literally. Everything is clearly defined and well-shaded and bright and colorful and neat.
Her characters feel larger than life and pop-off-the-page fantastic because of her style. It’s weird to say this, too, but they come across as such FUN people. Their humorous expressions and body language make them feel like folks you’d actually want to hang out with.
18. Chris Bachalo
Chris Bachalo is one of those artists whose work you recognize RIGHT AWAY. It’s gloriously stylized, and that is the kind of creator I either love or hate historically.
But I love Bachalo. Very few artists are as good at conveying bright joy equally as well as dark misery. His characters always feel at home in their lovingly-tended settings. His is an art that you can tell he puts not just effort but THOUGHT into. He can do sexy or funny or gritty, and it’s all perfect.
17. Russ Braun
Russ Braun isn’t just a terrific funnybook artist, he’s a truly great person, as well. He was a guest for a whole show of ours once, and helped us review a book he didn’t even work on and just had a fun time.
But being a cool dude only gets you so far on this list; Russ’ art speaks for itself! I watched this guy do sketches in a few minutes at a convention that had fully three-dimensional shading and impeccable detail. He has a brilliant understanding of anatomy and light. It boggled my mind.
16. Erik Larsen
THE BEST VENOM ARTIST THAT EVER WAS.
He is that and more, but shit. If Erik never drew anything BUT Venom, I think he’d still be on my list.
My love of Savage Dragon is well-documented from previous lists I have done to books I’ve reviewed. And Larsen was never a guy to rest on his laurels. He would somewhat regularly change up his art to either try new things or pay homages to his idols.
15. Bill Sienkiewicz
Bill Sinkiewicz is the epitome of a comic artists whose work you instantly recognize. If you have even a passing familiarity with his work, any time you see something he drew, you know it’s his.
His work is not only wildly exaggerated and dramatic, but he packs so much emotion into it. You wouldn’t think that creating nightmarish monsters and unrealistically proportioned characters would leave much room for art that can make you FEEL, but man… Bill does it.
14. Stuart Immonen
Stuart Immonen, possibly the counterpoint to Bill Sinkiewicz. I can’t believe the same person drew both of the above images.
The same guy drew the hyper-realistic and subdued Secret Identity AND the cartoonish and bombastic NextWave. It’s unfathomable.
And that is a wild thing to be able to do. I know Inkers and Colorists help in those regards, but the variation in work that Immonen can achieve is outstanding.
13. David Aja
David Aja, one of the modern masters at making panels feel potent.
I don’t know how else to describe him. He’s one of my favorites at just… panel usage. He lays them out so well, and each panel is so clearly defined from the others, and he can change up little details or the entire action to make each one seem so purposeful and thoughtfully designed. I would read Aja nine-panel pages all day.
It’s a kind of throwback style that Aja juxtaposes with his energetic, expressive art style.
12. John Cassaday
I will never ever forget reading Astonishing X-Men for the first time and thinking, well first that these characters looked like real people, but also “holy crap, this guy draws hair really well”.
Who notices HAIR?
Me, when John Cassaday draws it.
Cassaday makes silly comic book characters look and feel like real human beings. When you see his characters, they move from the realm of fantasy to some level of… “I could meet this person in the real world”. His attention to detail is that good.
And yeah. He draws good hair, I don’t know what to tell you.
11. Sana Takeda
God damn, but Monstress is such a beautiful book. BEAUTIFUL. Liu and Takeda’s fantasy world is so vibrant and detailed and lush. It’s one of those books that I just want to show non-comic readers and say, “See how gorgeous this is?!”
It’s hard to go into what I enjoy about Takeda’s art, because it’s just so obvious. What is there NOT to enjoy? The deep, intense coloring? The emotional range on the faces? The intricate work in all of the background and details? Just look at it.
10. Terry Dodson
Everything I said about Amanda Conner first, but now for Terry (and his constant inker, Rachel) Dodson. It’s some guilty cheesecake pleasure, sure, but it’s also so bold and intense. The linework is thick and solid and everything is so purposefully stood out from the other items on the page.
Terry and Rachel manage one of my favorite blendings of realism and cartoonishness. The details are there, but so are the smirky faces and exaggerated features. It makes comics feel like the fun they are supposed to be, but with the attention you need.
9. Marc Silvestri
Marc Silvestri does grittiness better than anyone in comics.
When he was drawing Uncanny X-Men and then Wolverine, he created a world where everything around the heroes felt dirty and dusty and dark. It’s a weird compliment, but he took these big, colorful heroes, and he put them in a grimier world where the stories just felt more relatable and the tension of the the stories was palpable. He creates places that it feels like these heroes could inhabit.
8. John Byrne
When there is a solid argument to be made that you have drawn THE definitive version of characters like Superman, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, you’ve got to be included here.
Byrne’s work is polished and cheerful. He draws comic book characters the way they are supposed to look: powerful and distinct, and like the imaginative characters that they are.
Also, I met him at the first Con I ever went to when I was a kid. He was so nice to me as the kid that brought him SHE-HULK of all books, he and took time to be a great guy. I always appreciated that.
(That said, his She-Hulk was tremendous. I just mean… this guy did X-Men and F4 and Superman, for Pete’s sake!)
7. Akira Toriyama
As you would expect from the guy that created Dragon Ball, Toriyama draws the very best action sequences you have ever seen.
Everything is dire and there are blurs of motion and giant energy attacks and characters look beat-the-hell-up during and after it all. His work can tire you out just by looking at it.
But then… a few pages later, he can be goofy and drawing characters with their eyes bulging out of their heads. He excels at both high-stakes action and goofball charm.
6. Todd Nauck
Nauck is up there with the very best COMIC BOOK ARTISTS in my mind, in that he draws exactly what I want comic characters to look like.
The facial expressions are varied and tell a story by themselves. The characters look age appropriate (Nauck doesn’t oversexualize teenage characters). The action is frantic. Everything is bright and an amazement to behold.
Honestly, no one on Earth could have drawn Young Justice as well as Nauck did. He was born for that book. That’s where I got hooked on his style, and I have been a huge fan of everything else he has ever done. He is near the top of my “if only one guy had to draw every comic on Earth, who would it be?”. Like… THIS is comics to me!
5. Scott Kolins
Scott Kolins is another guy who just gets how to make characters as expressive as people out in the real world. It’s all a bit exaggerated because it IS comics, but he can tell a story through his characters’ faces alone.
In that Avengers image, take note of the stripped-down look on, say Hawkeye, but then the intricate detail of Cap’s chainmail. What a great difference there. Look at the ferocity of his Gorilla Grodd next to the brightness of Wally West. I love the dichotomy of Kolins’ work! His action sets are absolute gold, as well.
That Grodd, though. As an adult, there are only two comic characters who strike me with awe and fear. Dan Jurgens’ Doomsday, and Scott Kolins’ Gorilla Grodd.
4. Jack Kirby
I feel like I just need to write “It’s Jack Kirby” here.
You may notice I included Kirby, but not some other legends like Will Eisner or Steve Ditko. That’s no knock on the latter two because all three are among the best creative minds in comics. Their designs are unimpeachable and their story-telling laid the groundwork for the industry. I think Ditko in particular had some of the most fun hero and villain designs you’ll ever see. I mean, god… he gave us the looks for Mysterio, Electro, Dr. Octopus, and the Green Goblin!
But as an ARTIST, I just tend to favor Kirby well above the other two. He’s only marginally behind Ditko as a designer, but well ahead of him as an artist. Kirby drew strange alien devices with such detail that you’d think he actually had them in his home. His signature crackling energy (Kirby Dots!) is well-known. And his action panels were so damn iconic.
It’s Jack Kirby.
3. Walt Simonson
Remember WAY up at the top where I said if you weren’t an A+ or an F at stortelling, I didn’t really notice it?
Walt Simonson is an A+ at storytelling.
Walt Simonson comic books only have words because people actually speak in real life; not because the art needs them. You could make every Walt Simonson comic a “silent” issue, and barely anything would change because the art is already telling you everything you need to know, and it’s making each panel flow seamlessly into the next.
Walt is an artist’s artist.
2. Tim Sale
We’re going to finish up with two artists who, like Bill Sinkiewicz, are immediately recognizable and stylized. And I love when an artist can master a distinct style and just be so damn good at it.
Tim Sale’s use of silhouettes and light/dark contrast is unparalleled. The way he OWNS versions of characters is amazing, too. Sale’s Two-Face looked like a man in constant pain. His Catwoman is sexy and athletic. His Joker is, well, the best Joker ever.
His work at Marvel, on Spider-Man Blue in particular, was equally engrossing. I love everything he has done.
1. Mike Mignola
That is always the word I think of when I think of Mike Mignola’s art. Everything is so damn atmospheric. Mignola wants his world to feel a certain way, and he just… creates the mood. You get foreboding. You get tension. You get horror. You get light-heartedness. It’s all right there on the page.
It’s not realistic, but it’s not supposed to be. Mike’s art is another world. It’s supposed to make you feel slightly uncomfortable as you read it because the shapes are all so foreign and the characters just all have this off-ness to them.
When I read a book drawn by Mignola, I feel the artwork in my SOUL.
TOO MANY HONORABLE MENTIONS!
OH WAIT BUT I FORGOT–
Look, I could be here all day. Sal Buscema. Steve Lieber. Humberto Ramos, Dan Jurgens. Steve Ditko. I could go on and on and on. Comics history is littered with stellar artists and brilliant talents. To say “Here are 20 I find noteworthy” is almost an insult to the profession, but it’s just a conversation starter at best. Here are MY favorites. Then you give me YOUR favorites. By the end of the conversation, a LOT of great names are getting their proper credit. See what a great team we are, you and I?
I’ve rambled on enough, though. Who are YOUR favorite comic book characters? Let me know in the comments. Like I said… let’s give these talented folks their due!
Until next time… take care!