There are lots of big names in comic book art. Almost everyone’s heard of Steve Ditko, Jim Lee, and Todd McFarlane. Many of them are deserving of their praise. There are smaller names, though, known only in the particular niches they serve. As someone who enjoys comics but wouldn’t call themselves a diehard fan, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite artists and why I think they deserve recognition.
PART ONE: THE CLASSICAL STYLE
These four artists epitomize what I like to consider the traditional comic book art style: characters have fairly realistic proportions that are maintained throughout the story. Their work is about directly presenting the story rather than interpreting it or presenting intangibles through their imagery.
Amy Reeder keeps old-school comic book art alive, and I mean that as a great compliment. As much as I enjoy the unique style of every artist on this list, what I appreciate about Reeder is her modern take on the traditional form. Reeder captures the explosive style of classical comic art — extreme poses, bold interpretation of movement, and nontraditional angles — and makes them her own. She’s probably best known for her work on Batwoman and Halloween Eve.
Also, this may be the oddest thing I ever say on this blog, but I absolutely love the way she draws lips. Look at them! There is something about the way she captures her character’s emotions with their mouths alone. I’m not being the least bit silly here. I don’t think she’s drawn the same set twice. It’s uncanny.
Although his work appears at several times in the series, the best example of Michael Zulli’s skills appears in The Sandman: The Wake. His work with colored pencils can best be describes as ethereal. His delicate and detailed art was the perfect fit for The Sandman’s final stories. Comic book art is often the work of three artists: a penciller, and inker, and a colorist. Sometimes, the same artist fills all those roles, but in order to keep up with the hectic pace of comic publishing, this is rarely the case. Zulli’s work in The Wake eschews inking altogether, and the result is astonishing. His subtle pencilling, brought to life with Daniel Vozzo’s colors, is otherworldly.
Michael Zulli’s work is still wonderful when inked. Hob’s Leviathan, a story which appears in The Sandman: World’s End, is marvelous to look at. It does not have that same dream-like quality of his pencils alone, however.
The first time I saw Jill Thompson’s art, I wasn’t impressed. In fact, I’m still not impressed by her work on The Sandman: Brief Lives. It’s not bad, but it isn’t something that would merit making this list. Some of her later work, like The Dead Boy Detectives and At Death’s Door are Sandman offshoots with lackluster manga-inspired art. You’d be forgiven for writing her off, not as incompetent, because she’s plenty competent, but as great. Then she goes and works on Beasts of Burden with Evan Dorkin, and I’m utterly taken aback. Every single panel is beautiful. Her haunting watercolors capture the series’ strange combination of macabre whimsy perfectly. It leads me to wonder how much of her style was dictated by editors, and it may also serve as an example of how much an artist can grow, given the opportunity.
It’s the swirls for knuckles. That’s the first thing I noticed about Chris Bachalo’s style. He’s a great artist, who draws in a fairly classical comic style, but the swirls-for-knuckles thing stood out to me when I read the first issue of Generation X in 1997. Generation X was the first comic series I really got into. The new X-Men it introduced were interesting, and co-creator’s Chris Bachalo’s art served to draw me deeper into the story.
Chris Bachalo also did some work on The Sandman, and was the sole artist to draw the two fantastic Death side stories, The Time of Your Life and The High Cost of Living.
Part two delves into the more cartoony and expressionist comic book artists I enjoy. You can read it here.