There are, in my mind, two schools of comic book art. The first, the more technical and accurate style, is covered in my previous article. As much as I respect the work those artists do, the work that stands out to me most is more cartoony in nature. Although I can certainly tell the difference between famous comic book artists like Jim Lee and John Byrne, I have a slight preference for artists who step away from tradition in order to create a style that is unmistakably theirs. While realistic comic book art is technically more impressive, cartoon-style art seems to stick with me in a way that the former does not. Perhaps it is because this style of illustration more readily presents expression and individuality. Here are four more artists whose work deserve your attention.
Likely to skyrocket to fame after her work on The Last of Us: American Dreams, Faith Erin Hicks has a cartoony style that is instantly recognizable. I like to refer to it as “frumpy chic,” because of the interesting way she adds little details to her work. You can almost see the sketches beneath the ink. Two of her books, Friends with Boys, which she wrote and illustrated, and Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, which she illustrated, have been serialized and are available for free on the web, so you really have no excuse not to check out her work.
Marc Hempel has a way with madness. For me, his two most notable works are the Gregory series and The Sandman: The Kindly Ones, both of which have a heavy focus on characters who have, at best, a tenuous grip on reality. Hempel has a knack for drawing out emotion and perspective from deceptively simple art. The Kindly Ones focuses on Lyta Hall’s descent into madness and Morpheus’ inability or unwillingness to grow. Gregory tells the sad-but-funny tale of a child who lives in a straightjacket and a padded cell, with only bugs and rodents for playmates. Hempel’s bold, simple lines belie the complex emotions they convey.
I’d describe Eisner Award-winning Hope Larson’s art style as Daniel Clowes(Ghost World) meets Michael Allred(Madman). Books like Chiggers and Mercury, which she both wrote and illustrated, perfectly capture their coming-of-age feeling with her clean, understated art. She has also created a wonderful adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. When she works with color, her technique is even more impressive. In addition to her art, Hope is the writer and director of a short film, Bitter Orange.
Jim Mahfood (NSFW WARNING!)
Jim Mahfood’s style is something I would refer to as hyper-kinetic. He’s a pop culture fanatic, and outside of drawing comics he is a very accomplished creator of fine art. Mahfood’s art is energetic and bold. He’s worked on a number of comic series, the most well-known of which are probably Clerks, Generation X, The Simpsons, and Tank Girl. He also made a Kickpuncher mini-comic that was included with Community’s season one DVD set. In addition to those major works, he’s the creator of Comic Toast and Grrl Scouts. Everything about his work says “fucking cool.” You have to swear. It’s that awesome.