Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Ten great comics artists

Over on the comic arts collectors' Yahoo! group, comicart-l, members have been trading lists of their favorite comic book artists working today. I don't have a dog in this fight, mostly because I only occasionally glance at today's comics, and thus I'm only vaguely familiar with many of the current artists. So, rather than clutter the group with a list that's not quite on target, I'll instead share with you loyal SSTOL readers my favorite comic book artists whose primary work occurred during my comic-reading period (essentially, from the mid-'60s forward), whether currently living or deceased, active or retired. I'm not going to try to rank them; the names appear here in more or less chronological order, based on when I discovered them.

1. Jack Kirby. I'm not a huge Kirby apologist. I believe his influence far outstrips the actual quality of his art — a rough, often inconsistent draftsman, Kirby relied on good inkers to truly make his work magical. But no one can deny his power, or his sheer visionary scope.

2. Steve Ditko. Like Kirby, Ditko's imagination was better than his draftsmanship. He was, however, one of the great visual storytellers in the history of the medium, and the man responsible for two of comics' iconic characters: Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

3. John Buscema. In my opinion, the greatest superhero artist of the Silver Age. No one before or since has matched Buscema's sense of drama and anatomical accuracy. And, ironically, he didn't much like drawing superheroes.

4. Wally Wood. Probably still better known for his EC Comics and Mad magazine work than for superhero art, Wood produced some of the best pictures ever in his mid-60s Tower Comics books (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Dynamo). Wood was also the artist who designed Daredevil's costume.

5. John Romita, Sr. The man who taught me to love Spider-Man. As art director at Marvel for decades, he shaped a generation of comics artists.

6. Sal Buscema. An underrated artist — not quite the equal of his brother John, but plenty good nonetheless. Still very active as an inker, and doing excellent work. One of my prize collection pieces is a Spider-Girl page he inked over Ron Frenz's pencils.

7. Neal Adams. Second only to John Buscema as a picture-perfect superhero artist. Brought a tremendous sense of mood and mystery to comics.

8. Barry Windsor-Smith. I wasn't a big fan of sword-and-sorcery comics like Conan the Barbarian, but I simply had to read it every month just to ogle that gorgeous Barry Smith art.

9. John Byrne. The first and still one of the best of the modern-era superstars. Byrne was the guy who made it okay for superhero art to be ever so slightly cartoony again, without losing any of the realism.

10. George Pérez. If he'd never done anything except Crisis on Infinite Earths, he'd deserve a spot on this list. But his incredible array of landmark work, from Avengers to Wonder Woman, makes him probably comics' greatest active artist.

Restricting the list to my "lifetime" enabled me to cut the names to 10. Just missing the top ten were Jim Starlin (Captain Marvel, Warlock), Murphy Anderson (pencils on Hawkman, inks on Adam Strange), Jim Steranko (one of comics' most distinctive and innovative stylists), Mike Kaluta (mostly for his revival of The Shadow), and Mike Ploog, whose brief run on Marvel's horror comics in the early '70s generated some of the most spectacularly moody art I've ever seen.

Were I to reach back to the Golden Age, I'd need room for such people as Mac Raboy (the primary artist on the Captain Marvel Jr. feature in Master Comics), Lou Fine (mostly worked for Quality Comics, on such characters as The Ray and The Black Condor), Jack Cole (the genius behind Plastic Man), and the phenomenal Will Eisner (creator of The Spirit and one of the most influential stylists in comics history). As a sentimental favorite, I'd also try to work in Matt Baker, the stellar "good girl" artist for Fiction House (the man whose buxom rendition of Phantom Lady gave rise to the phrase "headlight comics") and the first prominent black creator in mainstream comics.

2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Joel offered these pearls of wisdom...

If you like Perez' work (who rules, by the way!), check out Phil Jimenez's work (

11:57 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Thanks for the tip, Joel. That is indeed nice work, and very Pérezian (Pérezesque?) in style. I'll have to check him out further.

8:51 AM  

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