Paul Pope's artwork is what I envision the future will look like. A frenetic celebration of Blade Runner style visuals, Pope's work is all about the viscera. His art is sensory overload and his page composition is second to nobody currently working in the industry. I first got into him when I picked up his graphic novel Heavy Liquid from the library. I can admit that the first time through I wasn't entirely certain what was going on, the story being heavier than I was expecting from my comics at the time, but the art stuck with me. I never forgot Pope's striking style and I've spent the years since devouring everything I can by the man. If I had to pick a favorite work by Pope though, I'd have to say it's Batman: Year 100. Of course, anybody who knows me won't be shocked by that at all.
Walter Simonson requires no introduction. The man is a legend. If you were going to rank the greatest comics creators of all time, Simonson would no doubt find his name amongst greats such as Kirby, Lee, Toth and Eisner. We could talk for a solid year about the man's contributions to comics and still have plenty to say, but what we're talking about right now is his pencilling. And when you think about Walter Simonson's pencils, you immediately think of Thor. Simonson's run on Marvel's Thunder God is nothing short of masterful. I'll talk more about his contributions as a writer in the second half of this list, but if we're talking about Simonson's version of the Odinson, it's got to be second only to Jack Kirby's original. And, to be fair, you could even argue that point. Simonson poured his heart into some of the best corners of superhero comics, but the thing that made me, that made almost ALL of us, fall in love with his style, was Thor. I, for one, am excited as hell to know that he's a consultant on the upcoming film. You're a legend, Mr. Simonson.
Arguably one of the more important artists to ever pencil a superhero comic, Infantino nonetheless flies under the radar. While most casual fans will know names like Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Jack Kirby, only the most stalwart of comic book nerds are Infantino aficionados. While most famous for his contributions to the Barry Allen iteration of The Flash, it was Infantino's Batman that made me a die hard fan. Infantino was given a pretty difficult task by then DC editor Julie Schwartz. Schwartz was in charge of the Batman line, which over the course of the Sixties had become a home to camp and silliness. As the Seventies approached and the political and cultural winds shifted in America, Schwartz decided that Batman needed to get back to his detective roots. We've all grown up with Batman as dark knight, but few of us know that the genesis of that shift was Infantino's Batman. What Infantino did with writer John Broome paved the way for Denny O'Neil's iconic run on the character that would ultimately change Batman forever (and in this writer's opinion, for the better). Without Carmine Infantino, we might still be POW ing and BOP ing our way through Gotham City. Without Infantino, Frank Miller may never have taken up the cape and cowl.
Mike Mignola is my favorite comic book creator of all time. He appears on both the artists and writers list, which puts him in pretty elite company (Walter Simonson). I'm a fan of Mignola's entire body of work. From his earliest work, which perhaps recalls Kirby while still building on his legacy better than any other comic art before or since, to his more original and iconic style on Hellboy, Mignola is tops in my book. His simple artistic style generates mood and compliments the story better than any artist I've ever enjoyed. If I spend too much time here I'll just gush and gush, so I'm going to state something very simply and then move on; Mike Mignola is everything right about comics.
What can be said about Jack Kirby that hasn't already been said? The man's style has been the benchmark of superhero art since he came onto the scene. He had a hand in the creation of some of the most iconic superheroes and villains in the realm of comics and left his stamp on a host of others. Really, what more can I say? Kirby is king.
I'd wager that most fans of Darwyn Cooke became so after reading his excellent superhero epic, New Frontier. That masterful feat of storytelling is perhaps the greatest superhero comic ever written, the hopeful side of the Watchmen coin. When you find out that Cooke wrote the entire thing by drawing the book then going back and adding the dialogue, his knack for visual storytelling seems even more impressive. But for this fan, it was his redesign and revitalization of Catwoman that served as my introduction. What he and Ed Brubaker did for the character of Selina Kyle in those first four issues is some of the greatest Gotham City storytelling ever. While differences would eventually lead the dream team to break up, what Cooke did on that book made me a fan for life and he has yet to disappoint.
Steranko is the reason modern comics look the way they do. What he did with the visual side of comics storytelling completely changed the medium. His introduction of the prevailing styles of the time (psychadelia, pop art) to comics represented a giant leap forward for the industry. A designer at heart, Steranko did things with a comic page that had never been done before and his art still remains fresh and innovative to this day. Plus, he made Nick Fury into the most badass character on the Marvel roster. Sorry Wolverine, but it's just a fact; Nick Fury is the best he is at what he does. Just like Steranko.
Bruce Timm is the reason I love Batman. Sure, I was a fan of the Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson film just like every kid my age and I was aware enough of Batman to want to dress up like him as a kid. But it was Bruce Timm's (et al) Batman: The Animated Series that shaped the childhood love of Batman that would become a healthy obsession as an adult. The simple, square-jawed style of Timm's animation/illustration coupled with the neo-classic depiction of Gotham City is still the first place my brain goes when I think of Batman. Seriously, in my mind, Gotham looks like Batman: TAS. Add to that his turn as the commander in chief of the always fun (and sometimes excellent) line of DCU animated films and Timm ranks as one of my favorite creators ever.
Neal Adams is a legend, to be sure. His contribution to Batman alone influenced an entire host of Bat-creators to follow, not the least of which was Frank Miller, arguably the greatest Batman writer of all time. But it's Adams' Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories with Denny O'Neil (who you'll be seeing later) that made me fall in love with him. When it comes to the fundamentals of fine illustration like perspective and anatomy, Adams is second to none in his field. Neal Adams is the guy you show to non-believers when they scoff that comics art isn't real art. Perhaps the most influential comics artist not named Kirby, he deserves a spot toward the top of ANY list of great pencillers.
White gloves. Let me repeat that. WHITE GLOVES. When the early shots of Ryan Reynolds' costume for the upcoming Green Lantern film were released, fans went crazy. Why? They'd forgotten the white gloves. Kane's simple, sleek costume for Hal Jordan, the silver age Green Lantern, is maybe the best superhero costume of all time, a costume capable of sending the internet into a vitriolic tailspin when filmmakers don't do it justice. Of course, making the Green Lantern into an icon isn't the only thing Kane did. He created Iron Fist, made Adam Warlock into a cosmic badass of epic proportions and drew arguably the most memorable comics storyline of all time, when he lent his pencil to the death of Peter Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacy. With white gloves and shocking tragedy, Gil Kane left his considerable mark on this fan.
So that's the list of my favorite comic book artists. To give you a teaser of the next half of this list, I've posted the names of my favorite writers below. You'll have to wait till tomorrow for the explanations, though. Now, without further ado, let the discussion begin!