Fanboy Rage: My Top Ten Comic Book Artists and FUCK YOU If You Don’t Agree
It’s been a year since Comic Book Resources published their 125 best comic book artists, as voted for by the readers of the site. After chatting with my friend Gav about our respective selections I realized that we had voted for quite different artists, both from each other and from the eventual winners of the vote. I’m going to give you my top ten writers and artists, and Gav — in two guest posts — will also provide a list, just so that we can be all fanboy-ish and rage at the idiocy of what the other nerd has chosen.
First off, here is CBR’s top ten:
10 Alex Ross
9 John Romita Jr
8 Frank Miller
7 John Byrne
6 Jim Lee
5 Neal Adams
4 George Perez
3 J H Williams III
2 Frank Quitely
1 Jack Kirby
My initial fanboy-rage thoughts: Frank Fucking Miller? As an artist? Really? Frank Miller may have had some flair as an artist about twenty-five years ago, before he fully surrendered to the Ayn Rand id lurking in his soul and fell in love with the black marker pen, but voting him eighth on the list is just mental. The Dark Knight Returns I’ll give you: it has a dynamic visual style and good panel to panel flow, but this was his zenith and even as an eighties artist he was strictly competent, not matching Perez or Buscema or Byrne or Romita Sr. Now as a writer, Frank Miller has produced some bona fide classics (Year One, TDKRs), prior to his descent into his libertarian-madness, but as an artist, he’s worse than Rob Liefeld, apart from a period in the eighties where his art sort-of worked.
At least Liefeld has remained consistent across the years. Miller apologists maintain that his amateurish Dark Knight sequel is some sort of brutalist meta-critique of superheroes, and that this represents the latest evolution of his style from his Sin City days, instead of the scribblings of someone whom I imagine as a wild-eyed, dribbling crazy-man living in an underground bunker, surrounded by weapons and awaiting the government’s attempts to take his land and freedom away.
Richard Pace provides a rather fitting assessment of Miller’s rant against the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement:
I’m all for art being ugly as the point, but when I think of Kevin O’Neill’s Marshal Law (especially the first trade) I think of an artist who uses grotesqueness as a critique of superheroes whilst still being able to actually draw.
A quick google search turns up the following Frank Miller lovelies:
Kevin O’ Neill’s Marshal Law is also depicted in a fairly challenging way, but it’s clear that he still retains artistic chops, even if his art makes me feel somewhat soiled just by looking at it:
Anyway, on to my top ten. Oh, I should warn you, Rob Liefeld is on my list.
10 Rob Liefeld
You were warned. Rob Liefeld is an awesome artist. As an artist, he’s run with the constraints of his ability to the point where they’ve become a signature style, so that his work is instantly recognisable. Yes, he can’t draw feet; yes, his sense of anatomy seems to be filtered through a funhouse distortion mirror; yes, he likes to draw faces as if the hero or heroine in question is permanently stuck in mid-defecation, but you know what? Everyone needs a little bit of mis-shaped shoulder-padded gun-toting heroes in their lives, heroes who seem to permanently have the — uh — tortoise head popping out the shell, and therefore have to clench their teeth and their buttocks to hold it in. Oh, and he created Deadpool and got Alan Moore to write his own version of Superman, and is perennially cheerful despite everyone wishing he had penis-cancer. I grew up with X-Force, sort-of forced myself to like Youngblood (in a Phantom Menace sort of way), and still have a soft spot for his swiping other people’s artwork, and soliciting phantom books that will never come out. For these reasons, Rob makes number ten on my list.
9 J H Williams III
Wow, this guy seemed to come out of nowhere, producing stunningly beautiful pages in the book Batwoman. Sometimes I found myself struggling to follow the panel to panel with Williams III, but this just meant that I had to spend more admiring his gorgeous pages.
8 Alex Ross
Alex Ross never was much of a writer. In a field of creators awash with overgrown manchildren trying desperately to hold on to the masculine power-fantasies that defined their formative years, Ross still stands out as a purveyor of pubescent superhero fan-fiction. His superhero tales read as if an overly-enthusiastic child had imagined what would happen if some third-rate 1970s character from the nth dimension had babies with a villain, and then, their super-powered love child grew up to have babies with their clone from Earth 50, but we the lucky readers might only see their offspring for, like two panels, before they all have a big self-indulgent super-powered orgy (okay, I made that last bit up).
That being said, Ross can paint, and paint astonishingly well. My friend Phil feels that Ross’s work was always very stilted and didn’t read well — probably due to his photographing models as the basis for his comicbooks — but he can sketch just fine without models (which seem to have become a crutch for him). I do wish that he’d tried the penciling/inking approach that he flirted with the proposed comic, Batboy (embedded below), a story about… something continuity-heavy and masturbatory.
But boy, can he paint.
7 Adi Granov
This man seems to combine the visual panache of Travis Charest with the super-powered ability to actually make deadlines. As a result, he has worked both as a comicbook artist and as a visual designer on the Iron Man movies, and his art is stunning.
6 Steve Rude
The Rude Dude is the greatest Marvel artist that never was, a combination of Kirby and Romita Sr and Joe Shuster, and an artist that should be permanently on Marvel’s payroll, teamed up with whichever writer will appease his famously difficult temperament . You wouldn’t have to pay him a lot; just let him play with the Marvel toys. I mean, the man almost lost his house recently because of not getting work, and yet he’s like a timewarp, a still-living embodiment of 1960s Marvel, and a breath-taking artist.
5 Jack Kirby
I don’t really have a lot to say about Kirby other than he deserves the hype. The man famously stated ‘I get paid to draw, not to rub out’, an approach that Rob Liefeld clearly took to heart, even if he conveniently forgot about Kirby’s work ethic. Still, the two have parallels: both have run with their deficiencies until they became trademarks; both have wonky anatomy; both have instantly recognisable styles. Okay so Kirby co-created a vast swathe of Marvel and DC characters, and Rob created… Rob created Younblood and Brigade (*cough cough*).
4 John Romita Sr
John Romita Jr can draw about fifty books a month, but that’s because his art is pretty much always half-baked, unlike his dad, who is my favourite of the original Bullpen crew from Marvel. Dynamic yet fluid, Romita Sr always seemed to me to be more polished than Kirby. I see his Spider-Man as the Spider-Man, above the work of Ditko or McFarlane, and the love triangle between Gwen, MJ and Peter harks back to innocent times, before, y’know, Gwen was sacrificed to the gods of marketing gimmicks.
3 Todd McFarlane
I grew up with McFarlane’s art, as I did with Liefeld’s. Amazing Spider-Man 318 was the first superhero comic I remember buying (featuring the first appearance of Venom). Like Liefeld, McFarlane’s strengths were borne from covering up his deficiencies (i.e. the crazy amount of doodling filling out backgrounds); like Kirby, he relies on extreme camera shots and forced-perspective to really make his characters pop off the page. By the time he got on to Spawn, it was all over (although he’s still a mean inker, and like another fav of mines, Kev Nowlan, he really does add something with his inking). Now, Warren Ellis once recounted a story about how McFarlane was known, in his Marvel bullpen days, to have a vocabulary of two hundred words, one hundred of those words being ‘fuck’. He comes across as slightly more eloquent here:
2 Travis Charest
In 2000, the world was this man’s oyster. Almost forgotten now, he took a year’s lead-time on the re-booted Wildcats to allow him to build up a buffer should he *whisper it* fall behind schedule, and then all he had to do was draw six books a year on a bimonthly schedule. And he fucked it up. And so he left Wildstorm, decanted to Europe to work on Metabarons in France in (what seemed to be) a salaried job where there was no pressure for him to produce pages. (Which to me, is like hiring an alcoholic to test beer.) True to form, he only produced about twelve pages in half a decade, getting himself punted from there as well. But but but… those pages. Those were some of the most beautiful pages of comic art ever produced…
1 Adam Hughes
Adam Hughes once recounted a story of how he had approached current Marvel EIC Joe Quesada about doing a Captain America story set in WWII. Quesada refused, principally because it would not involve AH! drawing women with big chests and skimpy costumes. His art does involve an almost unhealthy obsession with busty-zesty good girls pouting at the camera, but once you get past the funbags almost taking your eyes out, this man has it all: great anatomy; great panel to panel (well, Gen 13: Ordinary Heroes was pretty good); fantastic coloring skills using techniques that he innovated and that have influenced a generation of colorists; tremendous use of perspective and design skill. Adam Hughes is my favourite comic book artist of all time.
Right Gav, over to you…