by Aaron Lightfoot, Comic Columnist
Comics are difficult to create due to needing two distinct elements, storytelling and art. It can take a few issues in order to establish a really good story that will make sure the reader will come back for more; however, comic book art is what can sometimes dictate if a reader will even give it a chance in the first place.
Art speaks to people in various ways and with so many different art styles, each of which can be used for different stories. Comics have several people working on the art. The penciler, colorist, and even the letterer need to work together in order for everything to look smooth and cohesive. With so many artists, it was difficult to create a list, and inevitably omit some great artists, but join CMN as we look at the Top 15 Comic Book Artists of All Time.
15. Ant Lucia
The most difficult part about separating artists is that if they work for DC or Marvel, you know what the end result should look like. Not much has changed in Batman’s attire since his original debut. This can make standing out a bit challenging, but Ant Lucia has quickly made a name for himself for his unique take on heroes, especially the females of DC Comics.
Taking a pinup approach with each female superhero, it is easy to see why people are drawn to Lucia’s art. Just because they are pinups, doesn’t mean these superheroes aren’t badass. Lucia has gone on the record saying he appreciated the classic pinup art style and, through doing it that way, he can make these female superheroes truly a force to be reckoned with. His art has spread like wildfire, becoming bumper stickers, buttons, a DC statue series and much more. Thanks to making this art all about the power of women, his art has also become a rallying cry to feminists everywhere.
14. Matt Wilson
Mostly known for being a colorist, Matt Wilson is a crucial member to any creative team. Making sure his color palette is chosen correctly, Wilson makes every decision as if it is the most important one. This means that a reader needs to build an emotional attachment to a piece in order to have a desire to come back for more.
His dedication has paid off as he has been praised for his work, earning him an Eisner Award in 2017 for Best Coloring/Colorist for his work in “Cry Havoc,” “Paper Girls,” “The Wicked and The Divine,” “Star-Lord,” “Black Widow” and “The Mighty Thor.” Wilson is truly a team player – he has talked about the great importance in working with the team throughout a story, to ensure everything feels cohesive. Although not given a lot of credit, Wilson deserves to be on this list for all of his dedication and for the strong showings he has given the comic industry.
13. Nick Dragotta
“East of West” is easily one of the most in-depth comics I’ve ever read. The depth of the comic comes at you from all angles. The story is fantastic, and the art of Nick Dragotta perfectly fits the “end of the world” vibe needed for it. The clean art, followed with the wonderful use of colors and shading makes the art truly unique, and easily something that should be sought out by anyone who wants an enjoyable series.
The biggest benefit is that “East of West” writer Jonathan Hickman and Dragotta previously worked on a Fantastic Four series for Marvel. Their work together shows they truly enjoy what they do and they fully understand the scope of their projects. Dragotta’s elevation of a simplistic color palette is something you shouldn’t pass up.
12. Alex Ross
The key to Alex Ross’ success is how beautifully realistic his art looks. Treating each panel as a work of art really helps bring out the beauty of each page, making sure the reader will come back for more. Most known for his work on DC’s “Kingdom Come,” Ross is also highly coveted for his cover art, thanks to its natural ability to draw people in.
His artistic take on American history in Vertigo’s “Uncle Sam” shows every dark moment in America’s past that people like to gloss over. Ross’ work shows true dedication to the medium and elevates it to a level that many people wouldn’t believe comics could achieve, helping to make comics become referred to as works of art.
11. Amanda Conner
A writer being the go-to person for a character can show the publisher believes they will be able to tell a story that is true to that character. An artist that becomes a go-to for a character shows the company’s trust that the art will be the sole image of the character. Amanda Conner has become the go-to Harley Quinn artist, and it doesn’t seem like that will change anytime soon.
Conner was specifically requested to be a part of the team that worked on the “Before Watchmen” series, and you know the artist is offering something special when a company like DC or Marvel will let their teams bring in specific talent. Conner was voted in 2015, by cbr.com, to be the No. 2 female artist of all time, and when looking at her work, it is very easy to see why.
10. Greg Smallwood
When a series is reset it is very important to give the reader a reason to stay for the long haul. As Marvel’s previous “Moon Knight” series was winding down, they turned to a new artist, Greg Smallwood. The response was good enough that Marvel made Smallwood the main artist of the series after their “Secret Wars” reset. When the No. 1 issue came out, many people had nothing but positive things to say about the art style, making “Moon Knight” a highly-coveted series and the hero a fan favorite.
Smallwood’s success didn’t begin with Marvel, though. His breakthrough came with the series “Dream Thief” with writer Jai Nitz. Smallwood’s art in the series looks entirely unique and with an interesting premise, it is something you need to read.
9. Skottie Young
Simple doesn’t always mean easy. Skottie Young’s art may seem simplistic, but the amount of detail that he is able to achieve is astounding. He will make anything he works on stand out across the room. Although mostly known for his child-like portrayal of Marvel superheroes, Young has also worked on several series about the Land of Oz as well as his highly-praised “I Hate Fairyland.”
“I Hate Fairyland” is a series in which you get to follow the main character, Gertrude, as she seeks to escape from a land she wished herself to. Almost like a “Alice in Wonderland” gone wrong story, Gertrude begins a psychopathic rampage as she does whatever she wants, including killing the moon, while she looks for a way out. Young’s art will make you wonder why a “cute” art style could be used in such a vicious way, but there’s no doubt you will enjoy every page that you read.
8. Jamie Hewlett
Very few artists have become world renown for their work. Jamie Hewlett’s artwork for “Tank Girl,” and more famously known, Gorillaz, has made sure everyone in the world can appreciate his style. Hewlett’s work on “Tank Girl” drew many people’s attention in England, until it eventually made its way to the United States.
Used for a source of female empowerment in the punk rock culture, “Tank Girl” shows a unique blend of anarchic and psychedelic art direction that would later become world-known. Hewlett worked with singer Damon Albarn to create the electronic virtual band Gorillaz. Using the fantastic art style he used during his work on “Tank Girl,” Hewlett helped forge a new approach for both music and comics.
7. Frank Miller
There are many creators who can write as well as provide art. Some of the people on this list and the Top 15 Writers of All Time can do both, but I tried to make sure someone’s name wasn’t on both lists. That being said, I honestly couldn’t avoid that with Frank Miller. His writing style is known for being one of the best, but his art is something you also shouldn’t overlook.
Usually found doing both art and writing for his stories like “Sin City,” “300” and “Ronin,” Miller has found a lot of success. The success has been matched with some criticism, though. Even though Alan Moore praised Miller on his runs with Batman and Daredevil, Moore criticized Miller’s popular “Sin City” series claiming that the work was homophobic. Even with that critique, and some other series that received mixed reviews like “All Star Batman and Robin” it’s hard to not admit his work on both storytelling and art has had a profound impact on the comic industry.
6. Neal Adams
Neal Adams is mostly known for his work with Batman and for his revolutionary run on “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” with writer Denny O’Neil. His work reflects his thoughts and experiences on everyday life. In an interview with CMN, Adams talked about the controversial comic cover for “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” that helped make him become an overnight hero, helping to break the Comics Code of Authority.
His dedication to his work is also an impressive feat. He told CMN it took a full 365 days to create a 325-page story for “Batman: Odyssey,” saying that every single piece he works on is his favorite because “that’s what it’s supposed to be if you are a professional.” Inducted into both the Eisner Hall of Fame and Jack Kirby Hall of Fame, Adams has been able to show that his work will be able to stand the test of time with many of his works being very relevant still today.
5. Jack Kirby
Generally considered one of the godfathers of comics, Jack Kirby’s work has influenced the majority of comic artists today. Helping to create comics for more than 40 years, Kirby was able to put his own mark on almost everything the industry had to offer. He, alongside Stan Lee, was responsible for creating the majority of Marvel’s big-name heroes like Hulk, Thor, Doctor Doom, Black Panther, and the X-Men.
When Kirby worked for DC, he was able to show more of his creative talent by creating Mister Miracle, Etrigan the Demon, and Darkseid. In a show of class, Kirby took projects that didn’t have stable creative teams so he would not cost them a job. Unfortunately, due to Kirby’s previous work with Marvel, there was a bias at DC against him and Kirby left the company after being undermined and having his work redrawn. Kirby’s legacy shows the tremendous amount of respect he deserved. A hall of fame was created in his honor and is heralded as a visionary influencing all forms of media for many more years to come.
4. Jamie McKelvie
Although his amount of work may not look like much, what Jamie McKelvie does have shows that his work will easily be regarded as one of the best of our time. McKelvie is able to create art that has a beautiful mixture between comics and reality, making you believe the stories really come to life.
McKelvie is mostly known for his work on “The Wicked and The Divine,” “Phonogram” and “Young Avengers” all of which he has worked with artist Matt Wilson and writer Kieron Gillen. He also helped Marvel redesign Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel, all the while trying to keep intact the characters’ past so their “identity would reflect their legacy.” McKelvie has a unique art style that is instantly recognizable and you are truly missing out if you are not reading anything he has worked on.
3. Fiona Staples
Another artist that proves that quality is always better than quantity, Fiona Staples is highly regarded for her work in the very popular series “Saga.” The sheer amount of awards she has won for “Saga” in the span of 2013 to 2017 is absurd. Fourteen Harvey Awards and nine Eisner awards are some of the highlights of her achievements.
Staples’ art is what will easily draw people to “Saga.”” Along with writer Brian K. Vaughan, Staples has been able to tell a sci-fi fantasy story that begs to be portrayed on the big screen, although the idea has already been turned down several times by the creators. Her work landed her as Comic Book Resources’ No. 1 female comic book artist of all time, but the truth is that she really is one of the best artists of all time, period.
2. Greg Capullo
Although Todd McFarlane created the popular Spawn character, it’s really Greg Capullo that helped bring him to the mainstream. Having worked on almost half of “Spawn,” Capullo has left his mark on Image’s longest running series.
Capullo has also had a tremendous amount of success working with Scott Snyder. This team worked together for five years, totaling 51 issues, on “Batman,” with their work being heralded as a new era for the titular character. They have teamed up recently to work on “Dark Nights: Metal” where the story is, in Capullo’s words, “very Batman-centric and very rock n’ roll.” Capullo’s art has helped take stories to a new level, making everything as gritty as it needs to be, something that will always be welcomed from fans of the Caped Crusader.
1. Jim Lee
You know your artwork is highly regarded if it is constantly being used as a representation of a company. Jim Lee’s work for DC has become universally known. His work on “Batman: Hush” helped push him to the forefront of DC, while his team-up with Frank Miller in “All-Star Batman and Robin” was truly an enjoyable sight. Having worked on DC’s MMORPG, DC Universe Online, and having his art used for Wizkids’ Dice Masters game, it is hard to avoid his work.
His work for Marvel’s X-Men is also what helps to solidify his position as one of the best artists of all time. Lee helped to create Gambit and Omega Red, while also redesigning Cyclops, Jean Grey, Rogue, Psylocke, and Storm. Lee’s name carries a lot of weight in the comic industry and his work really does back it up, and for those reasons he earns the No. 1 spot on our list of the Top 15 Comic Book Artists.
Honorable Mentions: Chip Zdarsky, John Romita Jr., Dave Gibbons, Todd McFarlane, and Katsuhiro Otomo.
What did you think about our list? Do you think we missed anyone, or do you have any changes to the list? Let us know in the comments below and follow CMN on Facebook and Twitter for more news and information on comics, movies, music and much more. Also be sure to check out our list for the Top 15 Comic Writers of All Time.