There’s Jim Lee. You put that guy’s name on a book, and it goes to the top of the charts. But imagine Lee wants to step down from the book; who would they replace him with? What other artists have that kind of star power that just brings in large numbers of readers sight unseen?
The first few names that come to mind are guys like Bryan Hitch or Steve McNiven. Those guys move units, but they’re not super huge in the marketplace anymore. John Cassaday has been away for too long, and sometimes I wonder if he’s devalued his work to a certain extent doing only covers for the last chunk of years. DC already tried to make a big deal of bringing David Finch over to do Batman, and that resulted in a Batman book that only David Finch fans buy. Anyone else even close is already working with Mark Millar.
Like everything in media today, everyone’s tastes are satisfied by the thing they like best; their niche. You hear a lot of talk about Mad Men and The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, but the numbers they do would have been laughed at a decade ago. ER averaged around 20 million viewers. Their highest watched episode had 48 million viewers. American Idol actually does those kinds of numbers, but I think the American Idol of comics might be Jim Lee. In comics, we all have our favorite artists, and as a result, we don’t all have one favorite artist, so everyone has their own little following, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone left who appeals to everyone. It’s getting to be the same with movies, where the stories and properties are driving tickets more than the names involved, which is a rapid shift. Men in Black III made a lot of money with Will Smith in the lead, but didn’t make Avengers money, which doesn’t really have a big star to speak of (Downey is debatable).
If you were to ask me who my favorite artists are, I could name many (Chris Samnee, Gabriel Hardman, Ramón Peréz, Jock, Sean Phillips, Skottie Young, Eric Canete, Jerome Opeña, and more), all of whom are fantastic comic book artists, but very few of whom are considered “superstars” in the sense of moving a lot of units as a matter of course. Even Darwyn Cooke, who is as good as anyone in comics, has a sort of niche style that doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone who buys comics.
What say you?
Bonus question: Who is the Nickelback of comics?
UPDATE! Again, the question is not “who is really good” or “who is your favorite artist” but who is popular enough to bring large numbers of readers to a top tier book on their name alone.