My Favorite Artists of 2008


As you know by now, this week we start the new year by taking a bit of time to appreciate 2008. I gotta tell you, it took us awhile to figure out what to write about — there were times when I just kinda hoped the guys would forget all about this and I could just talk about the benefits of acid free backing boards and what kind of tape I like to use to seal my bags. But we persevered, and, after much thought, I realized what I wanted to talk about is what I always want to to talk about: the artists.

Now, I have to come clean: before I started listening to the podcast a few years ago, I really didn’t know who was who when it came to the artists. Oh, I knew the big ones (Frank Miller and Frank Miller), but most of the time when I read comics I was just reading stories about the characters and did not really pay attention to the artists (or even the writers) unless the work was just bad. One of the great benefits of being more active in the comic book scene is discovering just who is behind these great books. I daresay I appreciate comics more than ever, because instead of saying, “Oh you should get that book by that guy who drew that one book about the detective in San Francisco and it was kind of muted colors and a little sketchy — you know, that guy,” I can just say, “Buy everything that Michael Lark draws.” A lot easier.

For me, at the end of the day, the comic book is about the artist. I know, bold words, but without the penciller, you’re just reading a script. Which is fine, totally, but it’s not a comic book. Comic book art is what pulls you in, it’s what made me open a comic book in the first place, and it is what inspired me to draw from a very young age, to think about describing the world I saw using a pencil and a pen. I continue to draw today, and every comic book I read teaches me a new lesson in perspective, emotion and construction. And though we can all agree that it takes a certain level of talent to be able to draw a person talking to another person, I am realizing that the comic book artist goes so much further than just reporting the various beats of a story. The artist is the camera, using angles to dramatize the action, create tension, and specify focus (Josh points this out in the recent discussion of Ex-Machina #40). The artist is the editor, splicing together the elements described by the writer in a way that keeps the pace invigorating for the reader. The artist is the scene designer (someone’s gotta draw the buildings!), costume designer (ditto: clothes make the hero), casting director (everyone needs a face!)… well, suffice to say: it’s a terrifically complex job and I am sure we’ll be talking about various facets of the work for months and years to come.

So this is just a long way of saying “I want to talk about the artists that most affected me this year.” Now, art is tremendously subjective, so I want to emphasize that this is not about the “best” artists of the year — just the ones that made an impact on me from aesthetic and storytelling point of view. These artists are the ones I remember (I am writing this away from home, so I am not digging through my books to find them), whose work made an impact on me, whose names I look for when scanning the shelves. They are behind the books that I looked forward to reading, whose work made me pause and just really look at the page, whose work reminds of me of why this art form is so exciting and vital (by the way, please click the links and the pictures to get a better idea of who these people are and what their art is really like! It takes forever to nail these links down so, like, click on them!).

Frank Quitely and John Cassaday, the artists behind All Star Superman and Astonishing X-Men, respectively, both completed their stories, and, quite honestly, I think the comic book world is a bit less awesome because of it. When I think about comic book art, I kind of go in two extremes: there’s the crazy realism of, say, Adi Granov and Alex Ross, whose art resembles particularly enthralling photography, and the more overtly stylized takes of Skottie Young and Karl Kerschl, where the art acknowledges the trappings of reality but would rather envelop the reader in a distinctly different world. Quitely and Cassaday kind of leverage the benefits of both — Quitely’s Clark Kent is more realistic, inasmuch as he’s a big guy (as Superman would be), with ruffled clothing and disheveled hair, but takes that realism and does something… else with it. It’s definitely not photorealistic, but the work is grounded in a reality that you can recognize and then you turn the page and you are suddenly in another world. It’s a fine trick. Cassaday, too, has real, solid characters that work in a fully realized world — there’s a gravity to his art — which makes the more sci-fi/action-y scenes even more effective. He’s able to draw Beast in a way that is believable and at home in a comic book, you know? Much has been written about these two, so I realize that having them on my list is a bit redundant, but honestly, can you blame me? These guys have moved comic book art to the next level and I’m going to miss ’em. Special mention here must go to Gary Frank, too, who also, as you know, is able to draw a fully realized and relatable universe, with distinct, emotional characters and then, with a turn of the page, take you a completely different place. To go from the Kent Farm to Braniac’s spaceship within a few pages and make both places so distinctly real is an example of why his stories continue to be so compelling. It’s just damn good comics, ya dig?

I admit, I was a snob about comic book art for awhile. I tended to think, “the more realistic the image, the better the artist,” so guys like Alex Ross were it for me. I mean, the more real it looks, the more real the story, right? And wasn’t that the goal, to make comics as real as possible? Obviously, I had a good line of some crack or something, because I don’t feel that way at all now. I think the shift happened around the time I read From Hell, with art by Eddie Campbell. At first, I admit, I was turned off — the art was too sketchy, it was just too rough… but then I realized that it was perfect for the story and couldn’t imagine it any other way (I had black and white Victorian nightmares the entire time I read that book, thanks Eddie). Over this past year, I have mentioned Sean Phillips several times, so he is definitely on my list for the reasons I have stated before. He is able to express more raw emotion in one of his drawings — with just a few lines — than other artists who spend time making people look more “realistic.” In that same vein, I humbly nominate Michael Lark, too, of course. No wonder Ed Brubaker keeps these guys close — for the deep urban stories that he likes to tell, these artists, who can handle cars, buildings, rain and compelling people with apparent ease and grace, are, well, perfect. As we have discussed in the past, the sketchiness of the art, I think, gives the brain an opportunity to “fill in” the rest of the image, making us participate more in art, in the story. And for books that tend to have a lot of pages with different people talking to each other, both of these guys are great at making sure faces are distinct and memorable (I can close my eyes and instantly remember Michael Lark’s rendition of Matt Murdock — it’s just wham! right there). Special mention here goes to Jordi Bernet, who is behind some very memorable issues of Jonah Hex. His work in Hex pulls even farther into the sketch zone and I must say, I was surprised at how well it worked with a Western comic; I just had this assumption that you would have to be a bit more realistic, given the straightforward nature of the universe, but, again, I officially know nothing. His characterizations are really iconic — the bad guys are wicked, the girls are gorgeous and Jonah Hex… he’s Jonah Hex. Bernet has a lyrical storytelling that really works and has made this book throughly enjoyable (and, at times, disturbing).

I guess everyone else knew how awesome Doug Mahnke was before I did, but I have to mention him right now because every time¬† see his work, I am blown away. I am a big fan of detailed art, and his work is consistently so specifically beautiful that I am basically committed to buying everything he draws from now on. His work in Final Crisis: Requiem was disquieting in its beauty — his work is slightly alien, in a way; perfect for this farewell to the Martian Manhunter. His backgrounds and fabrics remind me of the fantastical elements of P.Craig Russell (also one of my favorites of all time and whose work in Sandman: The Dream Hunters merits yet another special mention), and his faces, while distinct — they are very stylized — never fail to convey the appropriate emotion. His work is incredibly dramatic, both fluid and majestic at the same time and it is no wonder that he has been asked to finish Final Crisis — he’s the perfect artist for that kind of book.

Finally, I’ll just put it out there that I miss a regular Alex Maleev book (no, the Halo books don’t count. Really.). The wild variances in “Dark Reign” not withstanding (Namor looks like the uncle with a drinking problem who shows up smelling of whiskey at Thanksgiving dinner, surprising everyone and then later asking for money), I just love his work. But, I guess that’s why I have that half box of Daredevil issues…

So those are a few of the artists whose work I kept looking for throughout 2008. Obviously, there were others, too — Darwyn Cooke on The Spirit, Kevin Maguire‘s run on Batman Confidential, Marcos Martin on The Amazing Spider-Man) — but, honestly, I need to limit the length of this article somehow. If I didn’t mention someone you love, post below and let us know why you liked him or her.

Next year should be interesting; we are somewhat out of the event madness, just a bit, just a tad, so it will be fun to see which artists shine through on individual books. This could be a challenging year for comics — the economy’s made everyone think twice about spending money, and if we do see prices go up to $3.99, it’s going have an impact and we’re going to see books disappear. iFanboy will be here, though, doing our best to highlight the best of the best and discuss the characters, themes and ideas that keep all of us coming back to the store each week. One thing is for certain: comics are better now than they have ever been, and we are very lucky to be able to read these books. Here’s a resolution for you: recommend a few comics or trades to a friend this year. Fun, right? Do it and let us know what happens. We’re a community, people, these books aren’t going to continue unless we there are people out there reading them. So, next time a buddy’s birthday rolls around, buy them a good trade or a few issues and get them back into comics. You’ll be driving the economy and helping comics — what a bargain!

Happy New Year!

 


Mike Romo is an actor in Los Angeles who can never seem to get to his perspectives straight when sketching. He can be reached at mike@ifanboy.com and leaves tweets and treats on twitter.


Comments

  1. I must agree with John Cassiday and Adi Granov are my favorite artists of the year, JRJR’s New Ways to Die Spider-man Arc was Amazing (no pun intended).  If I had to pick one to rule them all it would have to be Ivan Reis’s work on the Green Lantern.  I wouldn’t say that it was groundbreaking but it was very complimentary to Johns’ writing and I felt that it communicated the story better than any other art this year.

  2. Gary Frank and Olivier Coipel for 2008!

  3. Great piece. I agree, Darwyn Cooke made me proud to be a comic fan.  I think others overlooked were McNiven, Reis and Van Scriver. 

  4. Have to agree with TheNextChampion– Gary Frank absolutely MADE Action Comics for me this year, and Olivier Coipel + JMS on Thor were my favorite combination on my favorite book this year.

  5. I would have to agree with the statement above. Oliver Coipel’s art on Thor makes that book a must read. Any other artist and the book is then boring and slow paced.

  6. Terry Moore in Echo. Beautiful.

  7. cmon guys its definitely Dustin Nguyen on detective for artist of the year.

  8. I have to agree with everyone above, but I also enjoyed Georges Jeanty on Buffy: Season Eight.

  9. I know this may seem obvious, but I skipped him, I thought that Leneil Yu did an excellent joh on Secret Invasion. 

  10. I’m sure he isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I’ve really enjoyed Leonardo Manco on Hellblazer this year

  11. Anything Mcniven and Van Sciver do…I’m  so There!

  12. Aja/Hollingsworth get my pick

  13. My favourites of 2008 were Oliver Coipel’s superb and very sexy art in "Thor" and Karl Kerschl’s utterly charming art for "Teen Titans Year One". I also love Art Baltazar’s work in "Tiny Titans" which always makes me smile.

  14. RAFAEL SANDOVAL is the major standout of the year in my opinion. His work on Incredible Herc is out of this world! His new stuff on Young Xmen is sweet.  Also Olivier Coipel, Bachalo, and Jimmy Cheung. I like Terry Dodson too.

  15. Ivan Reis’ work on Green Lantern is just great, solid artwork and Stjepan Sejic (Witchblade) is just amazing.

  16. It’s great how many amazing artists there are out there.  The list is endless, and you’ll always miss someone.

  17. I submit David Aja, Eric Canete, and Roberto Del Torre as well.

  18. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Great list, Mike!  

    I became a big fan of Guy Davis and Richard Corben this year, as well as Gary Frank and Scott Kollins.   

  19. Great list and great responses!

    Cassaday, Quitely, and Phillips almost always top my list. 

    Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon both had another brilliant year. Ryan Ottley continues to grow by leaps and bounds as an artist. 

    On our home front, I think Kenneth Rocafort is really going to turn some heads in 2009. Editorial notes back to him usually look something like this, "That’s great! More please!"

    Take care,

    Filip Sablik

    Publisher, Top Cow Productions

    Read a free issue of Witchblade @ http://www.topcow.com/witchblade

  20. most of these artists are my faves! i liked this article cant wait to see what next year brings!!

  21. ooh… Terry Moore, David Aja, and Ryan Ottley: yes, yes, and yes.

  22. so hard to choose one … my vote is for Steve McNiven … now, I rest …

  23. Oh yeah, Ottley too.

  24. these artist make me happy 

    riccardo burchielli from DMZ, sergio cariello from lone ranger ,eric canete from iron man, gurihuru from power pack and as for new comers brahm revel from guerillas i would like to see him do more stuff.

  25. You’re not kidding about Brahm Revel.  That guy is a great storyteller.

  26. Yes! Everyone should be reading Guerillas.

  27. Leonardo Manco is a terrific choice.