iFanboy’s Best of 2012: The Best Comic Artists

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On the one hand, this list is a joy, because I love comic book art more than almost anything. Seriously. The things that make comic book art good are myriad, and not always easy to put your finger on. You’ll know when it’s working, but might not know exactly why. The artists might not know exactly why, but you will know that it is working. But maybe it’s working because you’re thinking about it, or maybe it’s because reading is effortless. It’s not a science. Now on the other hand, I know of and know a lot of comic book artists, and I just can’t include them all on this list. There are folks that are some of my personal favorite comic book artists, unappreciated geniuses in their time, who didn’t make this list for 2012. But we have to make choices, and here we are. That is my cross to bear. In the meantime, there’s something to learn from everyone on this list, and a lot to savor.

Honorable Mention

HarrenJames Harren

Harren is still flying under the radar. I can’t tell if he’s going to blow up, or just remain one of those guys who artists and pros know about, but the general readership doesn’t really appreciate. He’s already the latter though. Pros I’ve talked to all year have sung Harren’s praises, and every time I see his work I find something else to be impressed with. If the only thing you read this year was the fight sequences from Conan the Barbarian, you’d have seen top of the line sequential art. Keep your eyes on James Harren.

Kubert

Joe Kubert

We lost a legend this year. We actually lost a whole bunch of legends, but when you’re talking about comic book artists who have been working since the Golden Age, you’ll rarely find one who was working right up until the end of his life. And if you do find someone like that, the work at the end probably won’t be as good as anything they’ve ever done. Yet, this is exactly the case with Joe Kubert. The pages on which he’d collaborated with his son on Before Watchmen: Nite Owl were magnificent. He wasn’t even close to done working, but he passed away before he had time to finish. That’s the real tragedy.

Bradshaw

Nick Bradshaw

Earlier this year, I was in my comic shop, and the owner, a friend of mine, asked where Nick Bradshaw’s work was going to show up. I told him he’d be doing an arc on Wolverine and the X-Men, and the look that came over his face was one of joy. I think of Bradshaw’s art as lively. It’s a treat to look at. It also has the sense of someone just about to break through, where people are reading it, and opening their eyes, and thinking “hey, this is something new,” which is one of the most fun parts of comic book reading.

Burnham

Chris Burnham

Chris Burnham has always been good. There’s no doubt about that. His work has a natural energy that recalls many of the greats who came before him. This was the year that Burnham arrived. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you he would be the guy to competently replace Frank Quitely, but with Batman: Incorporated, that’s exactly what’s happened. I will always have an eye on any project Burnham takes on.

stegman

Ryan Stegman

Stegman is another guy who earned his chair at the big table this year. He kicked around Marvel for a while, where they put him on projects that, just by the nature of the market, were tough to sell. But they were all beautiful. He put his all into pages of Scarlet Spider, and then changed things up, and brought a different luck to Fantastic Four, all this a prelude to his finally taking over a Superior Spider-Man, for what many Stegman fans hope will be a long run. In the middle of that, he also released I Draw Comics, an instructional volume for aspiring comic artists.

Semi Finalists

opena

Jerome Opeña

Superstar. That’s the word that will accompany Jerome Opeña’s name from just about here on out. From the first time I saw his art, I knew it was something special, and this year, he wowed people yet more on Uncanny X-Force, and then moved over the big big league, helming Avengers written by Jonathan Hickman. The guy can do it all, and while he evokes something I can’t put my finger on, it’s 100% original, and always dynamic.

conner

Amanda Conner

The saddest thing about Amanda Conner’s art is that we don’t get nearly enough of Amanda Conner’s art. But this year, we were treated to several issues worth of her best stuff on Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre. Working with Darwyn Cooke, Conner quite simply outdid every single expectation, building something that actually adds to what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did. She worked within the confines of the nine panel grid, and then added her own flavor to it. She’s an amazing cartoonist, and every project looks better than the one that came before it.

cooke

Darwyn Cooke

It’s too early to call Darwyn Cooke a legend, because he’s still in the prime of his working life. And yet, the term feels like it fits. While writing for Amanda Conner, as listed above, Darwyn also wrote and drew Before Watchmen: Minutemen, which was almost enough to get him on this list alone. But in 2012, he also released Parker: The Score, which topped excellent on top of excellent, where he exceeded the previous volumes in both design and cartooning. The Parker books are already some of the best works of the past decade, and in the middle of all the Before Watchmen hoopla, he managed to release the best of them. His place in history is already assured.

staples

Fiona Staples

Fiona Staples didn’t quite come out of nowhere, but once again, Brian K. Vaughan is working with an artist who couldn’t be more perfect for the project. With Saga we have what is probably the best new series of the year. Vaughan tends to get a lot of credit for the series, but make no mistake about how important Staples’ incredibly evocative art is to the success. When you look at Saga, you don’t see anything that looks like anything else out there. You see a world that doesn’t exist anywhere else. You see characters who are so realistic and well formed that they feel real, regardless of the horns and wings. She found exactly the project she should be doing, and she ran the ball with exceptional flair.

murphy

Sean Murphy

Sean Murphy is one hell of a comic book artist. This year saw the publication of Punk Rock Jesus, his first major creator owned work, through Vertigo Comics. For some reason, they decided to do it as a black and white book, and with a lot of artists, they lose something when presented in the more raw inked form, but with Murphy’s art, it only let the work sing. In a world that’s more and more committed to digital work, Murphy is a pen and ink man. He used a brush. The pages look handmade, and they crackle with excitement. He wanted to draw a motorcyle and a polar bear, so he did, among other things. Sean Murphy is another one of those guys whose work I will check out every time, and if he keeps doing such beautiful work, that’s going to be true for a lot of people.

Finalists

ajaDavid Aja

David Aja is simply an amazing artist. That he happens to do comics is just a bonus. There isn’t a thing that looks like Hawkeye in the history of comics. It’s a strange mix for a superhero comic, especially considering that there’s hardly a costume to be found. For some reason, Aja can cram a page with 20-30 panels, and it doesn’t feel overdone. It’s a kind of magic. The book is a piece of design that also functions as sequential art. Against all reasoning, it doesn’t come off as stiff, but incredibly lively and human. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen elements of Chris Ware in a Marvel comic book, but David Aja makes it work. Like a lot of the others on this list, we don’t see enough of Aja’s work, but this year it’s been a huge treat.

capullo

Greg Capullo

Capullo was a left field choice for the main Batman title, or so it seemed. Since relaunching, Scott Snyder and Capullo have ignited a fervor for a DC book that I haven’t seen since Blackest Night. Every month, with only one fill in so far, Capullo pushes the limits of what he’d done before. In issue #5, he gave us a twisting maze that should have been annoying, but was instead masterfully executed. When Joker returned, he gave us a new design that added so much to the terror of the written words. You get the sense that Capullo is trying to prove himself with every panel, telling the industry that he’s among the best there is, and if you don’t believe it yet, just watch. It’s working.

perez

Ramón Pérez

I love the word cartoonist. It’s more specific than comic book artist, and denotes a treasured and varied artistic history. Obviously they’re not mutually exclusive. With Pérez, we get a wonderful combination of both. Pérez brings a style and wittiness to his art. It moves. It breathes. It lives. Between the much lauded Tale of Sand and the criminally under read John Carter: The Gods of Mars, Pérez made an exceptional mark on comics in 2012. If they didn’t see him on that, he’s got a run coming up on Wolverine and the X-Men that will gain him even more fans, if the Eisner wasn’t good enough.

And the Best Comic Artist of 2012 is…

perez2

Ramón Pérez

He’s won a fan for life. All year when anyone asked me if I’d read anything good lately, my response was always A Tale of Sand. It was an artistic feat that moved effortlessly through panels and a dense surreal landscape. Pérez got to draw a little of everything in this story, and there wasn’t a single bit of it that wasn’t beautiful. From pulpy heroes to gorgeous dames, to insane football teams, the pages were jam packed with smooth, perfect lines. It was pure sequential art of the finest kind, and I was smitten. When I picked up John Carter: The Gods of Mars, I expected an enjoyable, but forgettable licensed property, but got the same level of craft and artistry, but just in a different setting. 2012 was the year most people got to know Ramón Pérez, and comics are better off for having him. I sincerely can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.


Comments

  1. jpriester73 jpriester73 says:

    No Samnee? No Guice? Otherwise pretty solid list.

  2. Between his work on American Vampire and Punk Rock Jesus, Sean Murphy has really become a favorite of mine over the last year. I’ve been Chris Burnham’s personal cheerleader since Officer Downe. So glad to have him on Inc.

  3. zombox zombox says:

    So… You squeezed about 20 artists into a top 5?

  4. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    Still no Jeff Lemire?! Jerome Opena is a great choice, I loved his art on Vengeance of the Moon Knight much more than the writing and it made the first 6 issues well worth buying. David Aja was great on Immortal Iron Fist. Sean Murphy is simply fantastic, I love how we can cram a single panel to the brim and make it seem natural. I’ve never heard of Ramon Perez but now I’m very tempted to check out his work. Great list overall.

  5. wangman31888 wangman31888 says:

    I really enjoyed Punk Rock Jesus, but I do think that it would have looked nicer if it was colored.

  6. redwingsguy redwingsguy says:

    Jerome Opeña (a master among mere mortals), Greg Capullo, Stuart Immonen, Sean Murphy and Fiona Staples would have been my top five. I’m not a fan of David Aja’s style. I love the art direction of the book, but not his cartooning.

  7. For me Opeña evokes Ralph McQuarrie somewhat.

    I really enjoyed your list and reasoning. Mine would be different of course, but it’s true of any subjective ranking.

    Have we ever figured out a good definition of a cartoonist vs. comic artist?

    • Josh Flanagan Josh Flanagan (@jaflanagan) says:

      The best I could come up with is that comic artists tend to go longer. You can be a cartoonist in one panel. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.

    • Comic artists go longer than cartoonists. That’s a reasonable definition, and more importantly a funny one. I’ll alert the OED.

    • I’d consider Edwardo Risso and Jeff Smith some of the best cartoonists working in comics today. Risso’s uninterrupted run of 100 issues on 100 Bullets and Smith on Bone shows cartoonists can do longer work. It’s always been a distinction that I could never really pin down either – you just know a cartoonist if you see them.

    • bub64882 bub64882 says:

      Good call on the Ralph McQuarrie evocation! I see that too, but like Josh, couldn’t put my finger on it. That pretty much nails it…They both create something that just makes me want to crawl in the panel and live in that world, or at least be able to pan that frame around and see more more more!

    • optic00085 optic00085 says:

      On the whole artist vs. cartoonist thing.

      I always thought of being an artist is more about replicating a person, place, or thing visually. Cartooning is creating a line that is evocative of an image or idea.

      For example, there are many ways to draw something like rain, but choosing what lines you are going to use to tell the reader “it’s raining” can have an effect on the mood in the panel. A good cartoonist knows how to present all the images in a panel in a way that the reader will notice what they’re supposed to, and all the emotional subtext of the panel is communicated.

      Just my thoughts. Great list, the only two that I would have added are Chris Samnee and Tyler Jenkins. It’s really been a fantastic year for comics artists(and of course…cartoonists)

  8. ScottB ScottB says:

    Good choice on Ramon Perez. All of the artists on this list have done some amazing work this year, but what Ramon Perez did with Tale of Sand is simply amazing. It’s packed full of story with very little use of words. It also breaks the boundaries of the medium.

    I’ve been following him on Instagram and he’s been posting some of the uncolored pages for Wolverine and the X-Men. His run is going to be A LOT OF FUN!

    • optic00085 optic00085 says:

      Yeah, I’ve been watching those as well. Some of those close-ups of ink work are downright inspiring. Really excited to see his run start.

  9. I definitely approve of tis list. All fantastic artists. I would put Fiona Staples at the top, based on not only her art, but that she does everything on te book. While most artists just do the pencils, she does the art, the coloring, the lettering, everything. When you are totally responsible for all the visuals on the bet comic out there, and those visuals are o damn good, I am going to give you the edge.

  10. What a great list, it must be a really difficult task to come up with every year. I would have had a hard time keeping Samnee, Guice, Francavilla, and Rivera off the list, but for the life of me I don’t know who I would take off.

  11. Tad Tad says:

    This is a fantastic page of beautiful art. I appreciate that most of the pages highlight the importance of panel to panel storytelling. But what also stood out is the gorgeous coloring on these pages and the varied styles of same.

    Great picks, Josh.

  12. I’m surprised J.H.Williams didn’t make the cut.

  13. Heroville Heroville says:

    I feel like Francis Manapul gets overlooked not just here but all over the comics internet; the Flash is one of the best looking and most consistent books of the relaunch but it doesn’t get a lot of shine and consequently people are ignoring one of DC and the industry’s best artists.

    • rossco says:

      i agree with you on this !

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      Dang I did this and I’m a huge fan of Manapul’s the Flash! I completely forgot how beautiful the art work is, and I just assumed you needed a huge body of work and experience to make these lists (which might explain why Jeff Lemire has been absent.

  14. And there’s still dozens and dozens of other great artists not anywhere on this page

    I think that speaks well

  15. Great list… would have loved to see Ross Campbell here, also. His work on Glory and Wet Moon has been pretty awesome.

  16. Ilash Ilash says:

    Can’t argue with anyone here, though I would put Amanda Conner near the top and I would certainly include JH Williams III and Francis Manapul.

  17. dignan17 says:

    I love Amanda Conner’s art. Really great.

    My favorite, though, always ends up being Gabriel Rodriguez.

  18. kennyg kennyg says:

    I also think JHW III should be on here.

    Nice to see Capullo in the top tier, I think he’s doing the finest work of his career on Batman. I would have put him as best of 2012, only because I am unfamiliar with Perez.

    It is a shame Amanda Conner doesn’t get more work. DC really screwed up when they didn’t lock her in on the reboot.

  19. J. Zahm says:

    after seeing james harren’s work on both conan and bprd, i will gladly pick up anything else with his name on it.

  20. fd fd says:

    I think this list is more difficult to make than the list of writers. Probably for the ‘I can’t put my finger on it but I know it when I see it’ quality of comic book art that Josh alludes to above. I would add James Stokoe (Orc Stain, Godzilla) to the list.

  21. Mark Chechetto would have been my top pick. Loved his Punisher run.

    • illmatic illmatic says:

      Definitely would have had Chechetto somewhere on the list, my favorite Punisher run in years. Would have loved to have seen Sara Pichelli and Stuart Immonen get some love as well. Next year hopefully.

  22. JohnNevets says:

    Fiona Staples should be nominated for a Hugo for best professional artist. I mentioned this once before, and I looked it up there is nothing stopping comics as being considered the “publication” for these artists. Yes, I also think Saga itself should be (and probably will be) nominated under the Hugo for best Graphic story, but as far as I can tell no comic artist has been nominated for best professional artists, and Fiona should be.

    I’m not sure how much cross over we have here with folks with voting eligibility, but I’m going try pushing it here a bit. By the way if you are into Scifi becoming a supporting member of Worldcon is well worth it for the e-copies of the nominated works alone, as well as being able to vote for the Hugo. I’ll probably end up mentioning this a few more times before the March deadline for nominations, but it’s worth it.

  23. ragcage ragcage says:

    I think David Aja is overrated. His art is definitely good, but come on, it’s not better than Darwyn Cooke or Sean Murphy…

    • BCDX97 BCDX97 says:

      See, I think Sean Murphy it totally overrated. I think his work is just too scribbly and gets way too much praise here. I’ve never read anything by Aja but from what I see, his art looks pretty damn cool.

  24. rossco says:

    ALOT of great artists there. I was really impressed by these in particular: Chris Burnham, joe kubert, amanda conner (so gorgeous), darwyn cooke plus greg capullo and fiona staples !!

  25. BCDX97 BCDX97 says:

    Am I the only one here who has no idea who Ramon Perez is? Or has never heard of A Tale of Sand?

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      I kept seeing “Tales of Sand” in the upper corner on the home page but I never clicked on it, so I had no idea on the book or it’s creators. After seeing a sample of the pages tho I really want to check it out from the library or something to find out more.

  26. nickpitarra nickpitarra says:

    Jesus Christ! This is impossible to choose! I think for me…Saga was just SO FUCKING GOOD…its hard not to pick Fiona Staples. She did all the art duties along with incredible color (and color is SO important)…having to create new characters/visuals from scratch and not just getting to do her version or twist on stuff, plus she got 8 issues out and they launched in late March I believe. The book reads too well and did too well for her not to get my (who gives a shit) vote. ALSO…ultimate anti-fake nerd girl cred. if she tops a list dominated by dudes.

  27. chop360 chop360 says:

    A great list but i would have loved to see Sara Pichelli. her work is just amazing.

  28. artpunk007 artpunk007 says:

    I like this list a lot…I too might have changed order a tad, and maybe included a couple of artists I felt overlooked (Goran Parlov on Fury Max, and, although a bit inconsistent, really you can’t not have JH3 on a top artists list), but am really looking forward to checking out Ramon Perez, since I value IFanboy’s recommendations.
    I have to, in particular, agree with Fiona Staples, Amanda Conner and Greg Capullo for exceeding expectations, a bit of a rare feat for comic artists these days.
    Lastly, Fear Agent Jerome Opena was great, but holybejeesus, Avengers Jerome Opena…to me he is recalling panels of Mike Kaluta or P Craig Russell…just so fine. Fine finery. Elegant, donchaknow….

  29. mickmac59 mickmac59 says:

    Congratulations, Josh – you pulled off a difficult, thankless job with style & class *ragged cheer*. Everyone on this list deserves to be here, & the fact that it’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the talent out there is, literally, astonishing. We are so damn lucky.

  30. randall4000 randall4000 says:

    That James Harren issue of Conan is my favorite issue of the run. Incredible action sequences. All solid choices though. Perez should be a super-star!

  31. JLB68 JLB68 says:

    Ivan Reis should have been on this list. A definite superstar, long overlooked (in my opinion). Nicola Scott’s work on Earth 2 is also amazing; it’s very kinectic.

  32. DenverDave DenverDave says:

    this was great! Nice work.