Three Artists That Deliver

Apologies to Stuclach, Neb and Rayclark — this article was accidentally posted earlier than it was supposed to, and I lost your comments postings while trying to fix it. I have included them at the end of the piece.


Though it can be tempting to complain about being overwhelmed by comics (and I have), I’ve been trying to more positive these days and realized that the sheer quantity of comics that are around these days does provide one a great opportunity to what we rarely get to in our daily lives: explore and discover.  

No, really! I mean, week after week, you can get pick up a book you’ve never read before, and get a different take on how to tell a story — you have different writers focusing on different topics and ways of giving a voice to different situations, and you get different artists describing the actions of those stories in a myriad of ways.

I’ll admit it — I’m a huge fan of the comic book artist. I know, I’m being really controversial here, but I’m a pretty visual person and have drawn all my life, I used to draw on my pillowcases when I was really young. My parents asked me why I was doing this and apparently I answered, “It’s the only way I can see what I am drawing!” — I got glasses very soon after that. I have always thought of comics as primarily a visual form of art (though my thinking is beginning to shift on that a bit) and my appreciation of the visual artistry has really been one of the main reasons why I am still into comics.

With that in mind, I thought I would talk, briefly, about three artists that I have “discovered” over the past year or so, whose work has been consistently inspiring and, well, just amazing. Basically, if one of these artists is on it, I am going to buy that book.

Gary Frank

I know, I am so late on the Gary Frank bus that I had to take a Gary Frank plane a few hundred miles, land at the Gary Frank International Airport and then take a Gary Frank cab to meet up with said bus at the Gary Frank Museum of Gary Frank.

But still, the guy rocks, and his work on Action Comics has been out of control. I mean, check out Action Comics #868. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: no matter what you think of Superman, you should at least page through what Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are doing with Action Comics. I am not sure how they do it, but each issue they do tends to get better and better. Frank nails down some sequences, including the right before Superman meets up with Brainiac, when Brainiac’s shadow plays across Superman’s face, that are truly amazing.

When I think about Gary Frank, what strikes me first is his attention to detail. And while it took me a few issues to get used to seeing Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Clark and Lois, it just… well, it just humanized the story for me. I was a kid when those movies came out and for years I had a poster of Christopher Reeve as Superman, flying right into the camera in my garage. Every day I looked at that poster when we would leave or come back home interesting, I haven’t thought about that poster until just now! That’s the thing with Gary Frank. His art taps something inside of you, and adds a emotionality that makes sticks with you. His characters are so expressive that their faces really support the words they are speaking. You could easily read an issue of Action without any of the word balloons and really know what was going on with the characters just by looking at their faces. When you have this kind of artistry, it just endows the story with a kind of emotional honesty that really inhabits you. You remember these stories like you lived them, in a way. When you read the speech balloons, you get a sense of their tone, not only because of the face of the person who is speaking, but also from the reaction that the other character has on his or her face. That’s the power of comics, that kind of interplay between text, graphic art, and your imagination.

This easy detail, which is so effective when Frank is drawing people wearing clothing, makes his spaceships and aliens and interiors so jaw dropping. Look at how he draws Brainiac — you can see the straining flesh where the tubes go into his head. You can see the liquids glisten off of the equipment, the jagged edges of the blades digging into Superman’s skin, the heaviness of Superman’s cape when it’s drenched in water (which happened in a previous issue). It’s just cool, you know? That we can see this kind of artistry, month after month.  Gary Frank’s art combined with Geoff Johns’ stories…well, this is one of the most exciting creative teams working today.

Sean Phillips

Sean Phillips, at first glance, could not be more different an artist than Gary Frank. No, you won’t see each individual eye lash or the stitching on someone’s collar. But if you read Criminal, you probably are already nodding in agreement: Sean Phillips bring it home, issue after issue, with memorable characters, explosive action sequences and dynamite backgrounds.

Phillips is interesting because he does include a great amount of detail, but it’s balanced by a loose line quality that lets your eye do a bit of work endow the image with a depth that you do not see all that often. With just a few lines, he’s able to describes real emotion in his character’s faces. Let’s face it — if you are a character in Criminal, you’ve got it kinda hard, and Phillips knows how to draw his characters with a frustration and pain that wallows in realism. And as good as his faces are, the world they live in is a reflection of the world we live in, grimy and dirty cities that, when caught in the right light, are beautiful.

Phillips is also an amazing story teller. He’s able to distill sequences to their bare essence — I mean, click on the picture to your left and check out the sequence. The way he focuses in on specific parts of the face, on the belt… this directed camera work drives home the ferocity of the moment, to burning in key images that sear themselves into the character’s memory and, eventually, define his life. It is this skill in being able to use the right images to honor the demands of the writer, to not just tell the story, but to realize the story, to make the reader feel those punches, smell that cigarette, hear the sirens coming in the distance. Sean Phillips art has the visceral, barely contained ferocity that goes hand in hand with Brubaker’s taut scripts, making Criminal a must read.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Sean Phillips’ covers for Criminal. I think it’s a great opportunity for the artist who does the interiors of the book to do the cover — the artist has an inherent advantage to sum up the story (and tone) in a single image and Phillips exploits this advantage with great success. Criminal‘s great because so many of the covers have been full two page spreads — each one, really, I think, is more than suitable for framing and I would hope that some day we get an opportunity to get some posters of these covers. Stunning work.

Doug Mahnke

I first encountered Doug Mahnke’s work in Black Adam: The Dark Age, written by Peter J. Tomasi, which I think was one of the best mini-series of the year so far, and really, the best thing that came out of the mess that was Countdown. Hopefully you saw his work in Final Crisis: Requiem, which Sonia wrote about last week — well worth picking up. There’s a smooth and easy elegance to his work, even when drawing some very dark and violent sequences, that add a sense of other worldliness to whatever story he is writing, which makes him more than suitable for Requiem and Black Adam.

Where Gary Frank is detailed and realistic and Sean Phillips is more detailed and sketchy, Mahnke is detailed and stylized. While his faces are not as “realistic” as the other two artists, Mahnke’s characters are just as expressive and dramatic. The terror that Black Adam unleashed in his miniseries was visceral and terrifying, but one got the sense that Mahnke was interpreting the action, not just telling the reader what happened. There is a gravitas, almost a majesty, to his art which lends a great deal of timelessness to his superhero work. The images of the heroes mourning the Martian Manhunter in Requiem (click on the graphic at the beginning of this article) are forever, you know? They are iconic.

This stylized approach makes the stories Mahnke is describing intensely personal, it really shows the power that an artist has to describe a world inside his head, a world that he wants to share with the reader. This carries over to his faces as well–no one draws people like him — but it doesn’t upstage the story, which is a trick. He just works with a writer to tell a story that is uniquely his. There’s a fluidity to his work, especially in his action sequences, that keeps the story flowing, but when you re-read the issue and take your time to really look at his panels, the detail is there. Reminds me of really great stained glass, in a way, you can take his art as a whole, but when you focus in, you see details that you missed at first glance. Like the two Frank and Phillips, Mahnke seems to be paired with the perfect writer for his particular style — I was very happy when I saw that Requiem was going to be another joint with Tomasi because of their success in Black Adam; they just know how to work together to tell fantastic stories.

So these are a three artists whom I have “discovered” over the past year or so. There is just so much to say about each of these artists that I feel badly to discuss them so briefly, but hopefully you get a sense of why they are making the titles they are working on so compelling.

How about you? What artists have you discovered recently that have made an impact on you? Why?

Mike Romo is an actor in LA. Should there be a call for it, he’d like to have Gary Frank draw his life story, with flashbacks done by Sean Phillips and dream sequences done by Doug Mahnke. He can be reached at

Okay, as I mentioned, I blew it with the editing earlier, posting accidentally and then I lost three comments. Here they are below.


Stulach wrote – Interesting article. Gary Frank’s current work is outstanding.  That is how Supes is supposed to be look.

I am also currently digging: Cliff Chiang, Steve Epting, and Dustin Nguyen.


Neb wrote: I’ve only recent become a fan of Scott Koin’s art. I know some people don’t like him, but I really like his use of bold line with slight details. In Rogue’s Revenge, he gave that book an amazing dirty quality that fit perfectly with the rogues. Also, Don Kramer has been drawing the hell out of the Bat books, and his Nightwing run has been great.

The artists you all have above are badass.

Rayclark wrote: nice article. I’m a huge Gary Frank fan after his Superman and LoSH run in Action Comics and now he’s back for the Braniac arc in Action comics. I love his art so much it reminds me of Lenil Yu’s art and I love it. Love Mahnke’s art in Requiem and Sean Phillips in Criminal (a new series I started). Love all of them. Good choice!!



Thanks for the comments, guys. I totally dig the artists you were talking about. The sheer quantity of quality are that we are getting is truly an embarrassment of riches. Again, I really apologize for screwing up the posts. – Mike



  1. Cool.

  2. I like Gary Frank, but I think there is something about how he draws eyes and faces that sometimes his characters look a bit like they are posessied . I don’t always dislike that but sometimes its a bit creepy. Does anyone else get that vibe?

  3. Ben Templesmith is a big recent one for me. Of course I was first exposed to him on Fell, but for some reason i hadn’t really paid that much attention to the art for whatever reason most likely because his faces can be off putting if you’re not used to it. Then i picked up Wormwood and was totally blown away. He’s one of the few SERIOUS cotenders for Bill Sienkiewicz’s throne. Also he can be extremely funny, disturbing and terrifing all in the same page and THAT is rare gift.

     just gonna drop a few more names that i’ve really gotten into recently. Chris Bachalo, David Lapham & yeah, i have to agree, Gary Frank.

  4. I agree with all those listed above, especially Gary Frank and Cliff Chiang. To the list I submit:

    Ryan Sook: More than just a Mignolaesque artist, his art on the Zatanna 7 Soldiers mini was phenomenal! His work on X-Factor is what first drew me in.

    Jae Lee: I know, I know, welcome to 10 years ago. I had never read anything he did before but his work with Richard Isanove on the Dark Tower minis makes me want it to never end. I picked up Fantastic Four: 1 2 3 4, Inhumans and even The Sentry. Great Stuff!

    Jamie McKelvie: So clean, so damn pretty! Had to find out what this Suburban Glamour was all about and after reading that, quickly bought Phonogram: Rue Britannia from Kieron Gillen at Comic-Con. That’s next.

  5. Tom Raney: Such amazing lines, he really makes the characters his own without distorting them.

    Nathan Fox: Really fills a panel with a sense of panic and urgency where it’s needed.

    M. K. Perker: Never seen his stuff until the preview shots of Air which comes out today, but I’m very impressed by those pages and especially that cover. I love his seemingly almost editorial approach to illustration.

  6. Cliff Chang and Rafael Albuquerque are about the only artist I’ve seen for the first time (over the past two years) that I would pick up an issue only for their art

  7. My favs are: Tom Coker, but sadly he seems to no longer be around and Jonathan Hickman.

    I don’t why Mike thinks being a fan of artists is controversial. I’m assuming it’s a joke.

  8. Thank you for highlighting the artists, they are relatively overlooked these days.

  9. Great choices, Mike. All three are very high on my personal favourite list, too.

    Doug Mahnke has been one of my favourites for years. He’s one of very few artists that will make me pick up a title, no matter what it is, or who is writing it when he draws. I loved his work on JLA & the Justice League Elite book.

    Gary Frank is on fire on Action Comics, and has been awesome for years. I first saw him on Midnight Nation, which he killed on, and his work on Supreme Power (before the book became G-Rated) was unbelievable.

    Sean Phillips is a guy whose style is surprising to me. It sneaks up on you. At first glance, it looks almost unfinished, even ugly, but the more you look the better it gets. As a story teller, I don’t think anyone does a better job than him. He sets the tone of the world & characters of Criminal perfectly.

  10. You forgot Greg Land. 😉

  11. Doug Mahnke has been a favorite of mine ever since his work with dark horse on the first three Mask mini’s. The detail is astounding and his art from that period still holds up today

  12. @Mike – No worries on the lost comments thing.  Thanks for reposting them.  That was very considerate of you.  Good article.

  13. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Great picks, Mike!  

    I’ll go with Cliff Chiang, a new appreciation for Epting, and….yeah, gotta go with Gary Frank.   

  14. Great picks mike!

    I dont know much about Sean Phillips but Frank and Mahnke are awesome. I first read Frank’s Midnight Nation and then Squadron Supreme for the Max line and they were great but his Action Comics have been above and beyond. It feels like he is more at home with this book than any in the past.
    Mahnke rocked on Black Adam and Requiem… Amazing. Easily the best one shot of the year so far and a great showing of his work.

  15. Doug Mahnk’s stuff looks a bit like Lenil Yu, but I’ve been planning on reading Black Adam’s mini anyway, so I’ll reserve judgement





  16. A hug fan of the comic book artist? Very controversial! 

    It’s funny though, I love comics, and I also love to read. Ostensibly, if you read comics you must enjoy looking at pictures, but I have to admit, a lot of times I find myself reading through the text and experiencing the art almost peripherally. Maybe I go back and page through it to get the full(?) effect. Maybe I pause for a moment or two at a particularly well-drawn panel. But just as frequently I page through quickly to see what happens next, and sometimes I feel guilty for not giving the art the time it deserves. I mean hundreds of hours went into producing it. (Unless you’re Mark Bagley. I hear he draws on-the-fly as writers dictate stories to him over the phone.)

    Finally, I can’t believe no one done made a shout-out for Marcos Martin. Easily my favorite discovery this year.

  17. Huge fan of Doug Mahnke’s. I first discovered his work on Dark Horse’s The Mask Returns. Then again later on in JLA. Great stuff. I’ve had a couple of opportunities to run into him at a couple of cons I’ve been to and he is incredibly friendly.

  18. What about EVAN SCIVER his work over the past year has been amazing doing GL having to draw all thos characters hes been amazing. Gary Frank is awsome i way agree with that.

  19. i dislike sciver. i bought a couple gary frank action comics issues  after reading this, and they look pretty

  20. Frank’s eyes can creep me out too, but everything else is soooo good. He first came to my attention on Gen 13 when he followed up J. Scott Campbell. Talk about a radical art change, but man it’s good. Midnight Nation, Squadron Supreme, and Kin were all very good as well.

    Agree with Sean Philips, too. Check out his Wildcats or Hellblazer. Nice.

    As for Mr. Mahnke, I don’t know his work. At all. The sample looks pretty cool though. May have to look into it; maybe check out a trade from the Library.

    All that said, I don’t really have an "If s/hes drawing it, I’m buying it" artist anymore. Writers, yes, Artists, no. But if I can go back to 1983: John Byrne, George Perez, and Walt Simonson. They RULED my comics world.


  21. My two cents and three opinions:

    Darwyn Cooke. Ain’t no better illustrator/designer working in the industry today. His work is on a different level. And he can write.

    Frank Quitely. More Superman. But what a GREAT Superman.

    Kevin Maguire. His recent work on Batman Confidential is simply wonderful. 

    Special recognition to Scott Kolins who is the only guy who should ever draw the Rogues and Tim Seeley just because he draws the most badass monsters and fetish girls in the history of monster/girl drawings.