Sunday, December 25, 2016


It's been some time since I did a little list like this, but for whatever reason, not long ago I was thinking about which artists I consider to be my favorites of all time in the comic book field. It honestly didn't take much thought at all to come up with five; these guys all came to mind immediately with very little head-scratching or consideration over anyone else. So in alphabetical order, here they are:
  • 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.


  1. 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 did ever own very few DC books but by a freak coincidence I happened to get from somewhere our Superman book that printed this particular issue as 2nd story to Byrne's SUPERMAN #10. I nearly jumped the gun to tell it was the first for me too but then I realized it was beaten at least by some months for me by our X-Men book printing UNCANNY #213. Maybe a tad be too cutesy for me at the time but then again I took badly any deviation from what I vaguely understood as the concurrent Marvel house style.

    Later on when I started to note the artists' names in books it obviously was a revelation to realize that the pretty Batman one had been by Davis.

    1. I don't know exactly when I started paying attention to the credits in my comics, but it was always kind of interesting to make connections between artists I "discovered" as a teenager and the pictures I admired as a kid, and see which ones matched up.

  2. You might be interested to know the term "Ligne claire" (clear line) which was a style popularized by Georges Remi, otherwise known as Hergé. He drew the Tintin comic books (which would fall more into the "graphic novel" category as it emerged later). Google some images of Tintin and you can see the influence on Byrne and Pérez especially.

    Byrne, I think, mentioned the influence of ligne claire once or twice but I don't know if he was aware of Hergé. Given that he was a brit who spent a lot of his life in Canada I would be surprised if he was not.

    In any case, Hergé's style is absolutely clean lines, his figures look two-dimensional in the sense that there is no defined muscle or anything like what we usually associate with superhero comics. But if you look at everything else in the frame, you see an attention to fine detail that is strong enough that you can identify the model of car or tank or airplane in his stories (most of which were written between the 1930s and the 1950s).

    I'd also point to the influence of Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo. I'd bet money that everyone on your list was at least familiar with both, given the period in which they developed their art, and I'd be surprised if they said they had no effect on their style, because when I look at it I see the influence pretty strongly. But YMMV.

    By the way I experienced Byrne's run on the X-Men as it happened, and Pérez as well on Teen Titans. There are lots of other artists of the period I might have rated among the best. Jim Starlin is one, though his sensibility is a lot trippier than Byrne's.

    One complaint: none of the ones you listed IMO are all that great at differentiating faces. It's not a tic I noticed as a kid, but many years later (and exposed to many other comic art styles) it becomes noticeable.

    As well, in comic book art in the last 20 years or so the sexualization meter for female figures got turned up to 11. That, to me, is problematic for a zillion reasons, but most of all when applied to characters who are supposed to be adolescents. Byrne in particular was good at keeping that under control in the 80s especially. I always thought Pérez's design of Starfire in the metallic slingshot bikini was a bit much. (I know, I know, there's all this in-universe justification for it, but as I get older I realize that most of it was to justify masturbatory fantasies of teenage boys. Lots of people - especially in comic book fandom and the art world - don't get the difference between beautiful, sexy, and objectification). Personally I'd like artists to draw from female forms that look like Serena Williams or Ronda Rousey rather than Pamela Anderson.

    1. Thanks for the info on Hergé, Jesse. I'm familiar with him by reputation, but I've never read any of his works. I know he's highly respected in sequential art circles, though, and I think you're right that Byrne is a fan.

      Seems fairly certain many of these guys were influenced by Frazetta too. He's definitely one of my favorite fantasy artists as well.

      Much as I loved my own childhood and would never trade away my memories of being in the first generation of kids to play with He-Man, Transformers, etc., I have to admit that sometimes I'm a bit jealous of those who got to read Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne for the very first time as it was coming out. I've only ever read it in chunks via reprints over the years.

      I'd agree with you on the face thing for most of these guys, though Pérez, especially later on in his career, got much better about it. If you read his AVENGERS vol. 3, it's very easy to recognize most of his characters by face alone. But yeah, Byrne, Bagley, etc. all have very similar faces for most all their characters.

      The oversexualization thing certainly seemed to begin with the Image guys in the early nineties, and while I won't deny that I loved it as an adolescent, I can see the objections to it as an adult. Mind you, I absolutely love cheesecake, but there's a time and a place for it, and monthly issues of mainstream superhero comics may not be that time or place.

      That said, I can't complain too much about Starfire's costume or the fact that all of Alan Davis's and Mark Bagley's women seem to wear size 32EEEEE bras. It's an aesthetic I enjoy, even as I see the absurdity in it.