The Best Artists of 2009


The work of a comic book artist is both universal and utterly individual. The comic book artist must use his or her skills to tell a story someone else has written and use his individual talents to share emotions and experience in a way that everyone can comprehend and feel–whether they can read the words or not. The comic book as an art form hinges on the artist's ability to craft a story, to inspire memories–indeed, when one remembers a comic book, it often boils down to a sense of the story's plot, sure, but the memory leverages a few iconic pages and panels from the book to become alive in your thoughts.

The job of the comic book artist is a mighty one — many a book will rise or fall based on the work of the artist — but the personal nature of evaluating art, of evaluating the sharing of experience through lines and fields of color makes considering the best artists of 2009 an intimidating and possibly hopeless task.  I have scoured over the books that have made the most impact on me personally, studied the work of the artists that have excited and inspired me and I wanted to share my thoughts with you, but I am also looking forward to discussing the artists that I might have forgotten about or missed entirely.  The artists I wish to discuss in this title have been consistently good all year and while many are already respected names in the industry, a few here are new talents whose talent will keep them in this industry for many years. So, let's get to it, shall we?

The Stunning Debut

So, while these artists may have worked on titles in the past, they really made a huge impact in 2009. They have worked this year on ongoing books and, as far as I know, will continue on these books (well, one is going to move to a new, but still ongoing, title) for the foreseeable future.  They inspire me because they not only have great technical ability, but all have a very distinct and individual style.

David Lafuente – Ultimate Spider-Man  – I know, easy choice, an obvious choice–but what can I tell you? At first I wasn't sure–I am a big Stuart Immomen fan I wasn't convinced he was really given a chance to shine on Utlimate Spider-Man–and when I opened the first issue, I really struggled to get my head around this utterly different interpretation of Peter Parker. I mean, check out his hair! His style…I couldn't figure it out. Was it manga? Kinda, but not really. Some pages were like animation, others were really distinct illustration…basically, his pages were a feast. I have been looking over the several of the issues, and I have this crazy feeling we are just beginning to see him get his swagger on. His faces, so utterly distinct, are wonderfully emotional. His sequences really can be read without the words.  His pages are wonderfully laid out, with some truly inspiring two page spreads and his pacing is almost addictive–I am always frustrated when I reach the last page. I could go on and on, but suffice to say, I am hooked.

Francis Manapul – Adventure Comics
– Another iFanboy favorite (let's just get it out of the way, I would be surprised if you are surprised by any of my choices), and another artist whose style totally tripped me out when I first encountered his work in Adventure Comics. It reminded me of Chinese comics, the facial construction and the action sequences, but there's a warmth–an almost romanticism–in his lines that are utterly his own.  He knows how to construct a page very nicely, but some of his one and two-page spreads are just deliriously gorgeous (do yourself a favor and click on the graphic to the right). A full page graphic is so important; given the price of comic books using two or even one full page on a single image can really be irritating, but Manapul has a knack for creating legend with his full page work. The only problem with his work on Adventure is that the stories always seem to end too soon!  I really can't wait to see what he does with The Flash, but must admit, I am going to miss Manapul's wonderful, charming interpretation of Krypto. Maybe the can hang out with The Flash for a teamup?

Rob Guillory – Chew – What can I say about Chew that you haven't already heard? If you aren't reading the book, you are just being stubborn. Great concept, great characters and jaw-dropping art by Mr. Guillory.  Of all the artists I will be discussing, I think I relate most with his work on Chew. It's just, I dunno–I just relate to his lines, the way he does faces, I just can't get enough.  His camera work and the way he exaggerates characters during certain moments is incredibly dynamic, and he handles action and conversation with ease. His work reminds me of the kind of new-school children's cartoons I sometimes catch a glimpse of, with vibrant colors and just…fun. Chew is a fun book, and Guillory's work is a major reason why so many people are taken by it.

Great Artists That Were New To Me, At Least

I wasn't sure how to categorize these guys, obviously, but the following artists all seem to have been around and have had some success in other books, but it was this year when I first encountered them as artists doing some top-notch interiors.


Jerome Opeña – Vengenance of The Moon Knight – This is definitely one of those situations where my own personal tastes are coming to light. I think Opeña is a revelation on this book.  His art is detailed without being overdone, and his faces are so expressive, his moments so…honest–I don't know how else to say it!  (I must give a tip of the hat to colorist Paul Mounts, who is also doing some great work here.) This book really doesn't look like anything else out there (I know, it's a ridiculous thing to say, but, really, just flip through it) and I look forward to seeing more and more people take notice of him.

Olivier Coipel – Thor
– Yes, I got some heat when I admitted I wasn't into what JMS did with Thor, but I always maintained my respect and admiration of Coipel's consistently fantastic work on this book. He took control on this book, echoing classic character designs and making them his own. (Oh, and by the way, Loki turned back into a woman in Thor #12.) Coipel not only rendered the characters and armor and faces with elegance, but his work on the surroundings–from the lowly diner where BIll worked to the majestic halls of this new Asgard–was just wonderful.  His action sequences spring out of the page, and his gentler sequences (the ones with Bill and his love come to mind) linger in your heart. Truly stunning work, it made every issue of Thor worthwhile.

Established Artists Who Continued to Rock It

We have been lucky to experience some truly stunning artistry throughout the year with some very popular, very established and extremely talented folks. None of these names will be unfamiliar to you–these are modern masters of the form, and they produced some spectacular single issue guest spots and multi-issue runs, and at least one graphic novel.  There others–there are always going to be others–but as I glance at the stack of my books to my right, I know I am going to keep these issues on a shelf, not in a box.

Darwyn Cooke – Jonah Hex #50, Parker: The Hunter – What can I say? Darwyn is one of those forces of nature in the comic book world, one who is very close to the iFanboy community. The guys have been celebrating his work for years, and for years, Darwyn has created art worth celebrating, delivering books that truly transcend comics — you can give a Darywn Cooke book to anybody, comic book fan or no.  After his incredible run on The Spirit, we had a bit of wait until we saw Darwyn Cooke's name in the spinner rack–to say his return to Jonah Hex for the fiftieth issue was anticipated is a bit of a understatement. Lyrical, honest, iconic–Jonah Hex #50 was more than a comic book, it was an American fable. In 2009, Darwyn also adapted and illustrated Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter, a truly stunning hardcover noir story that was a perfect match for Darwyn's artwork and is another triumph in an already storied career. A talented artist and a great guy to boot, Darwyn continues to do things his way and we're luckier for it.

P. Craig Russell – The Sandman: The Dream Hunters
– I first encountered PCR back in his days on Elric, when I was a wee comic book fan. I was thrilled to see him work with Neil Gaiman on his adaptation of Gaiman's short story.  For me, this shows a level of artistry that defies the assumptions one might have about comic book art. Working with colorist Lovern Kindzierski, Russell takes the reader away, weaving a tapesty of colors, shapes, lines and textures to tell the story of a lone monk and a fox.  While it's not everyone's cup of tea, I found myself lingering on almost every page, delighted by the intricacy and emotion that Russell was sharing with the reader.  The story stuck with me, lodging itself in a space normally reserved for a poem, or a song and opening these pages stirs that sense of wonder and beauty still. This was a beautiful series and I encourage you to check out the trade if you have the opportunity.

Gary Frank – Superman: Secret Origin (and various covers and everything else!) – Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are absolutely killing it this year with this stirring retelling of the Superman origin tale. They both not only understand Clark Kent and his struggle to become a hero, they truly love our hero — I think each page underscores this.  They understand the opportunity of echoing aspects of the Richard Donner Superman movies and the television show Smallville while creating a story that is utterly their own. For me, the best part about World of New Krypton has been Frank's covers–everytime I open an issue, I am always disappointed that he didn't do the interiors. Gary Frank has always been good–the Braniac story? The Legion of Super Heroes arc? It's fantastic work. I sometimes worry if this new golden age of comics that we have been enjoying for the past few years might be coming to and end, but when I see Johns and Frank do their thing, I wonder if it's just the beginning.

The Artist of the Year


J.H. Williams III – Detective Comics. Please, was there any question? (Besides the second story in each issue, that is?) I remember in San Diego when Greg Rucka told the audience that J.H. Williams's art was just getting better and better, that the upcoming issues were going to be better than we could imagine and thinking, "Yeah, right, he's supposed to say that, I guess!" No, it's true. Just when we starting to get used to Williams's incredible, jaw-dropping pages, he completely flips the damn script and wows us all with another completely different (and just as gorgeous) art style. And then, at the end (in issue 860), he uses a whole issue to transition from one to the other, as Katherine's resolve to take on the Batwoman mantle is made complete.

It's absolutely crazy how good the art has been.  I mean, you remember, when the press jumped all over DC's decision to bring a new Batwoman to the stage? Oh yeah, she's gay! She's got crazy red hair! What a stunt! I was guilty of it, I didn't know how to react, I didn't know what DC was doing…but obviously Rucka did. J.H. Williams III did. If there is a comic book that defied all expection this year, it was Detective Comics #854-860.  We have been so lucky–so lucky–to watch these issues come out, month after month, to be surprised and delighted and, well, amazed, that the comic could just get better and better.  As I flip through issues #854, I don't know what you talk about first. The imaginative and exotic page lay layouts? The shift in color pallette when Katherine is on her own, arguing with her lover? The crushingly beautiful watercolor portrait of Kathering when she remembers that terrible moment where she lost her mother (that we don't understand until many issues later)? Let me tell you–I am glad I can press "delete" as I type this because if I were speaking this outloud to you, it would be an avalanche of stuttered fragments and wild-eyed gesturing.  I want, nay, I demand, DC make a big-ass hardcover compilation of this–with the covers free of all lettering too, because the covers…! It might be a thin Absolute Edition, but it would be awesome. This is more than art. This is an ideal. This is genius. 


(I don't smoke but I kinda feel like I need a cigarette.)

So that's it. My favorite artists of 2009.  I admit, I have been thinking, struggling with this article for weeks. I put off the actual writing of it until Monday, finishing it Tuesday night, after building it in my head for days. Art is so subjective, but I hope I hope my attempts to express why I think these artists are so important make sense, that my platitudes, as clumsy as they may have been, come from an honest and well-intentioned place. 

It's the art that makes a book a comic. For me, the artist makes $3.99 less the price of a book and more a ticket to a show, to a performance.  To the artists, I thank you and bellow, "Bravo!"

Happy New Year, everyone!

 


Mike Romo is an actor and, more recently, a writer, in LA. You can email him here, and he's rikemomo on twitter

Comments

  1. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Damn fine list, Mike. Great cross-section of the industry too. If I were to add any others, they’d be Mazzucchelli (Asterios Polyp) Lemire (The Nobody, Sweet Tooth), and Quitely (Batman & Robin). 

    Oh, and a special category for everyone involved in Wednesday Comics.  

  2. No frank quietly?

  3. If i could of picked one that i have enjoyed recently it would be Ryan Ottley. Did not know about P. Craig Russel, so thanks Mike.

  4. I second Mr. Montgomery’s Wednesday Comics recognition.  That was fun.

  5. I think Ivan Reis deserves a little credit simply for being on a major book that hasn’t been late or had any fill in artists (that I know of)  Sure, there’s no distinction to his art, but when was the last time you saw someone with that over-processed style stay on schedule?

  6. Amanda Conner has also been flat out amazing.

  7. Well, its not an Absolute Edition, but ‘Tec 854-860 gets the Deluxe HC treatment (same page size as a Marvel Omnibus) this Spring/Summer. (Amazon)

  8. TOM FOWLER! he’s been my surprise of the year. I can’t wait for the trade of Mysterius the unfathomable to come out in March! I’ve been loving all the stuff he’s been posting on his site: http://tomfowlersportfolio.blogspot.com/2009/09/blog-post.html

    I’ve since ordered a full colour commission from him and i can’t wait until it’s done. Also, he’s from my city and i’ve got to support the local talent!

  9. @mikeandzod21 Quietly only really did three issues this year; I think Mike was going for more than just cover artists

  10. Interesting…my two favorites didn’t make the cut.  They would be Nikola Scott and Jesus Saiz.

  11. Seconding Ryan Ottley. Adding Tony Harris to the list as well as Marcos Martin 

  12. Some others I thought were great were Michael Lark (Daredevil), Sean Phillips (Incognito/criminal), and Fuso (G.I. Joe Cobra).

  13. Yeah I too think Amanda Connor has done an excellent job on Power Girl and Wednesday Comics and that’s great news about the Detective HC coming soon

  14. Artists like JH Williams and Darwyn Cooke made 2009 the ideal year for me to get back into comics.

  15. My artistic standouts for 2009: 

    AMANDA CONNER; Power Girl just wouldn’t be the same with anybody else at the helm, and FRANK QUIETLY for doing exactly the same with Batman and Robin #1-3. 

  16. Like there could ever have been any doubt!  Mind you, Williams’ co-feature colleague Cully Hamner is still doing stirling work.  Opena was also a great pick.  His work on Punisher was really good, but his Moon Knight was on another level altogether.  I would have voted for the inclusion of John Paul Leon, but I’ve always loved his stuff.  Still he did put out some nice work this past year, like the conclusion of Wintermen (was that 09? The trade certainly was), his Sgt Fury oneshot, and his shaming of Tom Raney on Black Widow. Also, I’m really digging RM Guera on Scalped.

    I guess this kind of list could go on for days…

  17. A fine list – with only one exception (I just like Opeña’s Fear Agent better), all these artists did career-defining work this year. J.H. was great on Promethea, but seriously, in 20+ years of reading comics, I have never been as taken with art and style and all of it as I have been with Detective this year. Every issue was like a handful of M&M’s for the eyes – simply amazing. Will be one time it’ll be OK for me to double-dip and pick up that HC.

    I’d also throw Amanda Conner into that category as well. She’s been like the second coming of Kevin Maguire and it is f’n fantastic stuff.

  18. Love the line "I don’t smoke but I kinda feel like I need a cigarette." I always feel the same after an issue of Detective Comics. 

  19. hey guys–

    Yup, I totally missed the boat with Amanda Connor–I just haven’t picked up any of her books this year! I’ll have to go get those Power Girl issues.

    I was going to a list of special mentions, which included Frank Quitely, but honestly, he only did a few (INCREDIBLE) issues of Batman and Robin and the covers. I love his work–like, I really do–but there just wasn’t enough…I dunno. I really struggled with mentioning him and probablhy should have, along with RM Guera, who has just delivered top notch work all year.

     

    @odare77–you are right..this list could go on for a loooong time. Ah, well–’tis a good problem to have, I guess.

    -mike

  20. My nominations would be Chris Samnee and Ryan Ottley. They both excelled this year.

  21. But Mike’s list was really good, and I don’t disagree with a thing on it!

  22. Nothing wrong with the list, all great choices.

    If I had to ask to add on to it….

    Third for Wednesday Comics.

    Second for Frank Quitely

    First on Paco Medina (Deadpool) and Ryan Stegman (Incredible Hercules)

  23. Tony Moore and Ryan Ottley Have been Rockin it this year.

  24. Nice list but I also would have put Amanda Conner on there.

  25. In the last 8 or 9 years, writers have come more to the forefront than artists. This list and all the suggestions that have followed it show while that may still be true, there are some incredible artists creating some awesome work as well.

  26. Great article and great list!!

    I can’t agree with you enough about Francis Manapul and how beautiful his art has been on Adventure Comics.  Plus, Connor has never been sexier!!  I would also add Nikola Scott for her great work on Secret Six.

  27.  

    I think Wednesday Comics needs to be recognized as a singular achievement for 2009, it really was one of those projects that could have gone terribly wrong but went so right..

  28. I am so getting the Detective Absolute if it comes out!

  29. If only Van Sciver and Mcniven would put out more work….but damn when they do it’s the best in comics(my pov)

  30. Clayton Crain was awesome on X Force.

  31. Oh! and Oeming on Powers.

  32. I think Oeming only did like 2 issues this year.

  33. All these artists make me feel so lucky to be a comic geek/fanboy.

  34. Tony Moore and Ryan Ottley Have been Rockin it this year.
    Posted by doddzilla on 01/06/10 at 04:34 PM

    I agree completely. I also really dig gabriel ba & Fabian moon.

  35. While there are guys on there who’s art I haven’t seen (or hadn’t seen until now), there’s nobody mentioned in this article that’s bad.

    And that’s *awesome.* 🙂

     

  36. Oh, though I do notice a distinct lack of Terry Moore. Uncool, man, uncool. 😉

     

  37. Skottie Young on Oz!

  38. I notice the iFanboy staff tend to skew to what I consider that Bruce Timm school of art.  Lafuente, Manapul, Guillory, and Cooke all fall into that style for me.  I think they’re good, and there is a place for that, but I think there are too many artists doing the Bruce Timm thing.  I’m more a Frank Quitely, J.H. Williams, and Gary Frank fan myself, but I like anything that tends to skew toward a more photrealistic style.  Can’t have enough in the world of comics in my opinion.

  39. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @Kodaiji – I think most of us love that second grouping (Quitely, Williams, Frank) too. I certainly do. See, I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. All of the artists listed are incredible draftsmen and cartoonists, regardless of their technique. These are the best of the best, and the one thing about art is that "the best" can mean a million different styles. It often comes down to: "Is this an appropriate visual style for this story?" or "Is this a good day for ____? Are they at the top of their game on this project?" 

  40. A great list there Mike – all artists who have excelled this year. The additions I would make to the list are:

    Ryan Ottley on Invincible

    Ba and Moon on Umbrella Academy and BPRD 

    And the artist who impressed me the most this year is Gabriel Rodriguez on Locke and Key. The way he arranges panels is on a similar level to that of Gibbons on Watchmen. He’s a seriously underrated artist that more people should take the time to check out.

  41. I agree with Ottley and Scottie Young being added. They both had a great year, particularly Scottie with his amazing covers and his work on the Oz series.

    Great list, Mr. Romo! 

  42. I wish I could afford to buy some of his original art. Some of his covers go for over $2000 and they’re worth every penny.

  43. I love me some Ottley, but I think the real props need to go to his colorist on Invincible. DAMN. Guy’s got skills.

     

    Also, great list Mike! 

  44. Great list, Mike. I would add Skottie Young to the list, but I agree with all your choices as well.

  45. As we’ve all discussed infinitum, art is very subjective.  I agree with all of the above except for Lafuente.  I just don’t like the way he draws

  46. Marcos Martin! My fave of the year. I will also voice some love for skottie young his spidey and deadpool cover on ASM (forget the issue number)

  47. I would take of lafuente. He is a very good story teller, just not my cup of tea. Also I forgot to add Lemire his work on sweet tooth has been beautiful. His ability to create atmosphere and instill genuine emotion in his artwork is almost unreal.