- Mark Bagley: I first encountered Bagley as the regular artist on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN when I became a regular ongoing reader with issue 360 (which was a fill-in, but Bagley returned for the next installment). At the time I wasn't all that enamored with him; he seemed to draw people's heads too small for their bodies sometimes, and as his time on AMAZING went along, he drew Spider-Man's eyes larger and larger until they seemed to take up about 75 percent of his head. But over the years, on THUNDERBOLTS and his subsequent work for Marvel, I've come to love his expressive style. I really like the way he draws musculature; his characters are all sinew and strength, and I love the way he draws faces these days. Plus, in Tom DeFalco's COMICS CREATORS ON SPIDER-MAN book, he admitted that he loves drawing "big, strong buxom women", which is always a plus in my book. Bagley is one of only two artists who I will always check out on Marvel Unlimited even if I have no interest in reading the actual issue he drew (the other of those two is #3 below).
- John Byrne: Byrne has said that if you're a fan of his work on X-MEN, it really means you're a fan of Terry Austin. That may be partly true; I do believe Byrne looked his best whenever Austin finished him around that time. But even under other inkers -- many of whom have come close to Austin as far as polishing Byrne's roughness -- I find that I really like his style. Yeah, maybe all his faces look the same, but his figures are always dynamic and exciting, even when they're doing mundane things. Byrne is really good at finding that "one second in time" in the middle of a movement in which to freeze the action for a single panel. Plus he has a knack, probably more than anybody else on this list, for making pretty much any costume or character design work, no matter how unusual or inappropriate -- and I also like some of his little trademark tics, such as the lopsided smile and that flat open hand thing he does all the time.
- Alan Davis: I put this list in alphabetical order so as to avoid trying to rank these guys, but I have to admit that if this were a ranked list, Davis would sit firmly on top in the number one spot. I think I first came across him in DETECTIVE COMICS #570 when I was a youngster, and even then I found his clean, crisp style really attractive. Of course I didn't realize who he was at the time, not paying attention to credits back then. I think I became aware of Davis's name sometime in the mid-nineties, but it was his work on JLA: THE NAIL in 1998 and X-MEN around 1999 which really made me take notice. Since then I've gone back to read a lot of his older stuff too, and nowadays I just can't get enough of his faces, his poses, and, yes -- his females. He draws big brawny men and super-shapely women, and they're all gorgeously rendered at a level I don't think anyone else on this list can match. It certainly helps that for the majority of his career he's only ever had two regular inkers -- Paul Neary and Mark Farmer -- but I don't think anybody could have a negative impact on his remarkable pencils. Alan Davis may well be my favorite comic book artist of all time.
- Tom Grummett: So everyone else on this list is, or has been at some point or another, what you might call a "superstar". Not so, Tom Grummett. Whether at DC or Marvel, for the most part -- aside from a run on THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN back in the nineties, he's generally been assigned to second (or lower) tier books like SUPERBOY, NEW THUNDERBOLTS, NEW EXILES, and so forth. I've seen some call him "workmanlike" or a "journeyman". And while the latter may be the role into which he's been pigeonholed, I certainly don't believe it's where he should be. Like Bagley and Davis, Grummett draws really expressive, big-eyed faces. Like Byrne, I think there's a nice dynamism to his figures and his work in general. I believe he mainly worked for DC in the nineties, and since I barely touched DC comics back then, I only admired Grummett's work from afar except for rare Marvel fill-in work such as UNCANNY X-MEN 322-323 and some GENERATION X stuff, both of which really appealed to me as a teen to the point that I wished, on GEN X, he could replace Chris Bachalo as the series' regular artist. But it wasn't until NEW THUNDERBOLTS that I really got to see Grummett's work from month to month, and I followed him from there to X-MEN FOREVER as well, where -- sadly for only the first few issues -- he turned in beautiful depictions of the X-Men in the Jim Lee costumes I grew up with. I haven't continued to actively seek out Grummett's work, but that doesn't keep him from earning a spot here. His crisp style is just the sort of comic book art I like.
- George Pérez: I missed the Pérez train in the eighties. My first exposure to his work was on INFINITY GAUNTLET, which I liked, though I didn't actively seek him out anywhere else. It was AVENGERS volume 3 which was my initial foray into a monthly George Pérez series, and I found his style a nice, traditional change of pace from the work of most of the nineties artists I was used to (and who I really liked, mind you -- but that volume of AVENGERS needed Pérez's throwback style to work). I have since read most of his original seventies AVENGERS issues, as well as his NEW TEEN TITANS, and I can't get enough of his lovely rendering and his ultra-detailed backgrounds. I'm not sure I'd call him as dynamic as some of the other guys on this list, but given the right inker, his work is just as polished and attractive to my eye. While I adore his AVENGERS vol. 3, I think Pérez is at his best when inked by himself or by a slick finisher such as Romeo Tanghal or, say, Gene Day. But in any case, Pérez's style really appeals to me -- though in different, less-polished way than the rest of this crowd.
I know, I know -- no Jack Kirby, no Steve Ditko. I fully understand their stature from a creative and design standpoint, but I've just never found their artwork particularly attractive. I'm sorry! Looking over the guys listed above, it occurs to me that while they all have different and distinctive styles, they also have a certain... something... in common. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, though. But I feel like if these five were to work on different series at the same time at one publisher, said publisher would probably be accused of having a "house style".
I think partly, it's that -- perhaps aside from Pérez -- they all draw very lean, polished figures and have a very clean, tight style (sometimes a bit looser depending on inker, of course). It's hard to explain exactly what I like, but I guess the best way to to put it is that I've always been attracted to a really tight style, where the characters look like they're coiled balls of muscle ready to explode at any second, where they're basically just nude figures with costume details painted on. I love square jaws and bulging muscles and big hair and tight, but appropriately curvy, figures. I like my comic book characters to look clean and shiny, but still a little cartoony, and I think most of these guys fit that bill perfectly. I find this sort of hyper-dynamism is missing from a lot of today's artists, who seem to either draw characters too realistically so they look dumb and or/boring doing super-stuff, or so cartoony and exaggerated that there's no sense verisimilitude to their work. The guys listed above, I believe, straddle the line between those extremes about as perfectly as possible.
Bonus: Each of the above artists draws the Scarlet Witch for no real reason:
Finally, I should provide honorary mention for a pair of my favorite Silver Age artists, John Romita, Sr. and Neal Adams: I love both their styles; one of them defined Marvel for decades and the other did the same for Batman, among other DC characters. But both of them put out the majority of their most popular and influential work prior to my lifetime, and as a result, much as I appreciate their work, I don't believe they were as influential to me as I wasn't reading their issues regularly, a month at a time. That said, were this a top ten list, both those guys would have easily made the cut.