Pretentious Art Student Meets Nerd Girl, Once Again: Top Five Favourite Comic Book Artists

During my undergrad, I was a Curatorial/Collections Intern at the Art Gallery of Windsor, and to this date, I can still remember how incredible it was to spend time in the room where they kept all the paintings the AGW owned, but did not currently have as part of an exhibit. Sidenote: this room was called the Vault, a clear foreshadowing of the love I would later find for Borderlands and being a Vault Hunter…because I am really a Vault Hunter, guys.

At the time, I was assisting in selecting which paintings should be showcased in the summer exhibit, and I spent close to an hour in the Vault, walking between the thin movable walls that stretched a good 30 or so feet high, covered entirely in original artwork. This was an unprecedented experience for me, one that I will never forget because art, especially painting and drawing, has always been a passion and a hobby that is very near to my heart.

It’s this love of visual art that enabled me to take to comic books so completely. As a writer, there is beauty in discovering the right word/phrase. But as a painter, it is something else entirely when an image with the right colouring conveys the exact sentiment you’re trying to express, and that words just cannot grasp. It’s visceral, but at the same time feels like magic. And this is an experience I’ve found multiple times in comics: it’s a feeling that hits you right in the gut and freezes you and makes you understand in the blink of an eye. Basic level understanding. And this is the same overwhelming feeling I had standing in the AGW’s Vault. There are some sentiments that can only be expressed in visual art.

On that note, below are my favourite comic book artists, who have all, in one way or another, forced me to stop reading and just revel in the immediate and indescribable moments that only art can convey.

5) Steve Ditko, Deep Ruby

Steve Ditko’s art is iconic, and his position as a comics artist is undeniable. But what I love Ditko most for isn’t Spider-Man (blasphemy, I know!); but rather it’s his horror comics art that always makes me linger over the page. Specifically, it was Deep Ruby that did it for me.

The clean lines emphasize all the absurdity and surreality in the campy  story, while at the same time providing a grounding realism, which serves to amp up the terror all the more.  Even when Ditko is as far from Earth as is possible, there’s something bone-chillingly real to his art.

His style hides nothing, while simultaneously seeping into your imagination to run havoc on your sanity.

It has the same surrealistic qualities I love Dali for. The incomprehensibiltiy is only a problem so long as you try to force it into a limiting rationalism. Let go. Enjoy. But be warned, as well, because Ditko’s art can be purely unsettling in its stark revelations.

4) Nic Klein, Dancer

Dancer has been my white whale for the past four or five months. I picked up issue 2  in the comics book store, and immediately was hooked on Klein’s art: the colouring created this sort of enthralling and heartbreaking atmosphere that I couldn’t get enough of. But, as always, I couldn’t get my hands on the first issue, and refused to jump into the run without it. But my day finally came! I got the TPB! And I haven’t been able to stop flipping through the pages, studying the detail in his buildings, and staring at the intense emotion etched into the character’s features. It was worth the wait. I’ve read and reread it many times already.

The colour/design is spot-on for creating a thriller with deep emotional and psychological weight to it: this isn’t just about an assassin, his clone and his lover. Klein’s atmospheric colouring/art permeates the narrative with a near suffocating sense of tragedy that is inescapable.

Klein’s art is the sort that injects itself right to your veins and feeds you all the frenzy, panic, and heartache of the narrative. It feels like a well-shot movie: all the right angles and scenes are emphasized and highlighted by Klein’s aptly handled curation, selection and execution of detail, subject and tone.

There is not a single wasted panel in this whole run.

3) Jerome Opeña, Uncanny X-Force: Apocalypse Solution

There are two things I love about Opeña’s art in Apocalypse Solution: his distinctive stylization of each character complements Remender’s ability to provide well-defined characters within an ensemble, and it lends itself so perfectly to the absolute clusterfuck of insanity that this story is. In the above picture, we get exactly what each character is thinking and feeling after the horrendous act they just committed/witnessed. Betsy looking away from Warren, Warren’s hands in his head, Logan’s downcast gaze almost in resignation and disbelief, Deadpool’s confusion and nonchalance, and Fantomex’s bravado. It’s all there.

And then, well, there’s this on the right: Opeña can do “what the fuck” with the best of ‘em. His unfaltering detail portrays the intense scope of what Apocalypse Solution is about. Nothing is left out, everything is fully explored because there are no limits to Apocalypse’s reach. Additonally, there’s an elegance in his style that immediately lends his drawing a sense of grandeur that is appropriate for a story about the impending end of the world/universe.

2) Sean Phillips, Fatale

While I’ve been praising previous artists for their ability to depict everything without holding back, I have to admit that what I love about Phillips in Fatale is his selection of what he’ll reveal right away, and what is hidden for us to stumble upon later on. Phillips walks the line of showing everything and hiding crucial aspects of his monsters/villains because Fatale is so much about what we know, what we think we know, and what we’re not prepared to discover…not yet, anyway.

His characters are not as distinctive in their features as I like, but this works in Fatale  because the characters almost feel archetypal in a way: the femme fatale, the brazen hero, the corrupt cop, the secret society are all familiar tropes. Yet, as we know in the story these characters aren’t perfectly aligned with their predecessors, and so the uncanny in Phillips’ style works perfectly: they’re familiar, but remarkably foreign at the same time.

Beyond this, his cover art always feels worthy of being framed. The images I’ve included are the cover images and special panels thrown into the editorial at the end of each issue.

These are my favourites. The composition works so perfectly, drawing the readers’ eyes to the focal points in an almost sickening hypnosis. It’s a perfect example of the absurd set against the mundane, which Phillips achieves with his usual  dark and diluted tones, set off with particular accents. Rather than force your gaze to stay on the accented colours (like in the image on the left below), they work to draw your eye to the more mundane aspect, which becomes intensely more shocking and unsettling because of contrast. His reddened fingers and large white circular glasses work in tandem, playing off each other to create a dizzying sickness that conveys exactly the sort of haunted feelings Fatale has to offer.

And the image on the right? Well that’s a Cthulu-man holding a machine gun a la Scarface. He/It is disgusting, revolting, but not campy, thanks to Phillips’ supreme eye for detail (just look at that gun and those tentacles — so lifelife!)

1) Tim Sale, Long Halloween, Haunted Knight and Dark Victory.

I am the biggest sucker for extremely stylized work, especially when that stylization comes in the form of sharp edges, deep contrast and emotive colour-choices. This is going to be weird/pretentious as all hell , but it reminds me of Kandinsky. Ya know, if Kandinsky painted Batman villains. It’s the same spatializing that Kandinsky has in his works that Sale utilizes: stark lines and objects set in meaningful juxtaposition. It’s not just a face Sale’s drawing on the left, but a spatialized sense of fear/danger/hope et cetera. (Was this even more pretentious than when I compared Greg Capullo’s art in Court of Owls to Argento’s Susipiria? You be the judge!)

What I love Tim Sale the most for is his portrayal of villains and the consequences these bad guys wraught on their victims. In the scene above with Babs (who is being stalked by the Mad Hatter in Haunted Knight) we get everything immediately: the absence of colour signalling Babs’ supreme horror and loss, followed by the shocking red BLAM! that overwhelms with the sense of immediate devastation and undeniable danger.

In the scene above, Tim Sale’s sometimes exaggerated style conveys a psychological fear and manifests exactly the kind of terror that Scarecrow encapsulates. Scarecrow turns Batman’s mind against himself, and Sale’s style depicts this so poignantly with his composition: in the above image, we experience Bruce’s hopes dashed and broken so thoroughly with movement from a shadowed bride to Scarecrow’s grotesque mascquerade.

Now that I’ve had my say, who ranks highest out of the comic book art that you adore? I’d love to hear/see what I’ve been missing out on, as well!

10 Comments on “Pretentious Art Student Meets Nerd Girl, Once Again: Top Five Favourite Comic Book Artists”

  1. One of my favourites right now is Andrea Sorrentino (I, Vampire, and Green Arrow starting with #17). Jerome Opeña might be the only reason I want to read the Marvel Now! relaunch of The Avengers.

    • Yeah, I’m with you on the Marvel Now! Avengers thing: I’d be willing to give it a try just for his art. On that note, I think Uncanny Avengers finally killed my love of Remender, lol. He just…really likes his goat villains.

      Thanks, I’ll have to check out Andrea Sorrentino’s work. From flipping through I, Vampire, it does look like a style I’d get into. I’m just not sold on wanting to read about vampires, but I could give Green Arrow a shot. (See what I did there? A shot. Green Arrow. I’m hilarious.)

  2. I worked at a museum that used to be a bank. We used the Vault to store cleaning supplies. Steve Ditko’s great–I love his Dr strange stuff.Opeña was really great too–too bad they went from his arc to that Otherworld artist, which was a really jarring shift.
    As for favorite artists: I’ll stick to the first five that come to mind RIGHT NOW, rather than all of them, or else we’ll be here all day.
    1) Colleen Coover. She of Banana Sunday, Small Favors, and Gingerbread Girl.(Here’s her rendition of one of the most adorable MODOKs ever: )
    2)Paolo Rivera. Mark Waid’s been getting a lot of credit for Daredevil, and it’s deserved, but one of the reasons that it got off to such a strong start was the art of Paolo Rivera, who does a really great job portraying Matt’s radar sense, and a great job in general.
    3) George Perez. Got to give credit to the master of the superhero crowd scene. ( That’s the stuff.)
    4) Chris Bachalo. A lot of things he’s done I find too chaotic for their own good, but when he’s on, he’s on. I can still picture the Shed arc in Amazing Spider-Man 630-3 from 2010.
    5) Skottie Young. (,covers,dreamscapes,illustration,new,x,men,skottie,young-86410db99ec6e6f5e1c7efc7e04e4f3d_h.jpg ) His art alone makes Marvel’s Oz adaptations worth buying.

    • You know what’s really funny? I had put Colleen Coover on my list at first (I first saw her in a Creepy Comic, she did the art for a story called Nineteen and it was all black and white and absolutely pitch perfect). AND that MODOK is beyond adorable. But then I read Dancer, and Nic Klein had to make it onto this list for me.

      Those are great suggestions, and I do agree with you about Opena and Rivera (I think I’ve only read one of the new Daredevils, but I can totally see what you’re talking about). It’s funny, but I’m not super taken with Perez: I get it, but it’s not right up my alley, ya know?

      The Scottie Young one is great. I love the stylization so much. I agree: I love an artist I can get behind so much that it makes the entire run worth it, no matter the writer.

      Thanks a lot for your picks!

  3. Darryl Gallinger says:

    Mike Deodato Jr., most especially when he’s paired up with a dark writer like Warren Ellis (Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters & Caged Angels, Dark Avengers: Assemble & Molecule Man).

    The dull colours and excessive shadow really threw me off at first, because he had been put onto Amazing Spider-Man for some reason, who’s a little too cheerful for that kind of art. When I started following the new Thunderbolts team (a bunch of psychopathic supervillains given government badges and sent off to hunt down law-breaking superheroes) his artwork really matched the tone of the series that Warren Ellis established.

    • That is really cool! I haven’t seen his stuff before, but it does look like a nice companion to Ellis’ darkness. Thunderbolts sounds pretty cool; I’ve always been a supervillain fan, and making them psychopaths only sweetens the deal.

      Have you read an BPRD stuff? The governmental team-up of extraordinary individuals brought it to mind, and the art (Guy Davis) is pretty great and complimentary to a supernatural/dark investigation story.

  4. [...] secret how much I love Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. I’ve talked before about how Phillips’ art is one of my all-time favourites, because technique-wise it’s very good an…. But like any film noir, the story would be incomplete with the dazzling, mysterious and dangerous [...]

  5. [...] no secret how much I love Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. I’ve talked before about how Phillips’ art is one of my all-time favourites, because technique-wise it’s very good and c…. But like any film noir, the story would be incomplete with the dazzling, mysterious and dangerous [...]

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