Friday, June 5, 2015

Who's the Best... Comics Artist?

Doug: Back on May 22 Karen hosted a conversation about Marvel Team-Up #70, featuring Spidey, Thor, the Living Monolith, and the art of John Byrne. Some comments were made along the lines of Byrne being the consummate comics artist, really mastering all of the characters at Marvel and DC (as well as in his own output for Dark Horse). So, knowing what we do around here with inspiration, today we'll chew that fat some more. Who, in your own esteemed estimation, is the best comic book artist. And if you want to define that feel free. My take on it is more along the lines of figures and faces. But if you heard "storyteller" when you read today's title that's fine, too. You all know we can keep a few plates spinning in a day's talk.


J.A. Morris said...

I'd go with John Byrne by a nose ahead of Neal Adams. I think Adams at his best was the best, but Byrne penciled a lot more issues than Adams, especially during the Bronze Age. Adams was mostly penciled covers at that time, so that gives Byrne the edge in my book. And there aren't many artists who could get me to buy comics about characters I don't care about. I began buying DC comics when Byrne went there to reboot Superman, and there was a time when I bought up every Byrne-drawn back issue I could afford.

We've talked here before about how Byrne never looked better than when Austin served as his inker (which is a separate topic). But his pencils looked pretty damn good with inkers like Dave Hunt, Dan Green and Pablo Marcos embellishing in the Bronze Age.

Having said all that, I don't think the Byrne sketch in today's post is very good.

Anonymous said...

Big John Buscema...'nuff said!...He wins in every category; Anatomy, Diversity of work, Amount of work, Speed of work, Nobility and bearing of his depictions of heroic figures, Range of emotions demonstrated in faces and gestures...I can and could go on, he was just brilliant...It is one of those sad (what if) moments that he was reprimanded, by Stan Lee, for his work on the Silver Surfer #4 - just as he was evolving onto another (higher) level of graphic storytelling.

Anonymous said...

It's such a hard question to answer that I'll go with my knee-jerk response: Jack Kirby. Between his dynamism, character designs, unique takes on machinery and energy effects, constant experimentation and reinventions, and the fact that he produced a lifetime of quality work in multiple genres, very few come close. Hail to the King!

- Mike Loughlin

William said...

I'll have to almost exactly echo what J.A. just posted. For me John Byrne is the best of the best. The perfect blend of realism and slick cartoon comic bookness. I bought every book with Byrne art that I could get my hands on, and I jumped over to DC and started reading Superman when Byrne took over the title. Heck, Byrne even got me to become a regular reader of Namor (a character who I never much cared for as a solo act), but JB made him cool and fun. And I actually prefer Byrne over Neal Adams (even at his best). Adams is a master of anatomy and realism, but sometimes his experimental page layouts and weird angles detracted from the clarity of his work.

We also can't leave Jack Kirby out of this discussion. A man considered by many to be the quintessential comic book artist. But I think Kirby is more of an acquired taste. Some people absolutely love his stuff, and some people hate it. I'm more in the "love it" camp, but mostly for his Silver Age work. His later stuff got a bit too boxy, hard, and angular for my taste.

Martin Molloy said...

I love John Byrne (especially his run on the FF), but there are a few I think are his near equals... George Perez did some great work, so did Sal Buscema, John Romita, and JR JR.

Lately I've also enjoyed John Cassaday's work. I think he and JR Jr are two of the best out there right now.

Anonymous said...

Best at what? Are we looking for storytelling ability, technical chops, range and diversity of work? Some combination of those? I'm not sure I can even list a single, definitive favourite....

I love the work of the mighty Alex Nino, for instance, but is he "better" than other favourites like Jack Kirby or Gene Colan? And that's just artists associated with US mainstream comics of the 70s. I'd put Moebius or Don Lawrence in any list of all time greats, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to compare them with, say, John Buscema. Who was great too (but, dare I say, was a bit limited by the demands of Marvel...?)


Martinex1 said...

My favorite artist is John Byrne as well, but I have to categorize this topic because I don't think he is the best at everything.

Best Suspense and Horror Artist: Gene Colan (his play with shadows, figure position, and odd facial expressions add to the "fear")

Best Warrior Artist: John Buscema. (Conan!!!). I also have to say he does a much better Silver Surfer than Byrne. I think Byrne's version is too lean.

Best Artist for Weird Stuff: Steve Ditko. I was looking through some old Dr. Strange issues and he drew some crazy things. They were later improved upon and embellished by others, but he started a lot of the weird realm stylings. I don't always like Ditko's figures, but here he was the first and perhaps the best.

Best Artist for Crazy Costumes and Gadgets: Kirby. Galactus' helmet, every doohickey in the background, and Metron's flying chair. Crazy but cool. And every inch of that craziness looks good in comics. It may not look good on movie screens, or so Hollywood thinks, but in comics!

Best Artist for Faces in Corner Boxes: Byrne. Weird category I know. But the reason I like Byrne is that he is on model. His characters are consistent and recognizable. His Avengers, X-Men, and FF corner boxes were top notch.

The Special Just Because Award: Sal Buscema. Let's say he is my second favorite. I feel he hit the right notes and backed everybody up. I still think his Avengers and Captain America have to be in discussion for best rendering of those icons.

As far as Byrne goes, I think he did it all well. I like the clarity of his lines in the early days. When he was penciling X-Men and Avengers and Team Up he was at the top of his game. I will say like J. A. Did, there his something off with the Byrne art in today's post. I find the problem with Byrne's art today...either not enough or too much. In this case.. Too much. Plus Iron Man's, Cap's, and Thor's legs look odd like he had to squeeze them in and forgot about anatomy.

Best Artist is hard for me, because I may have a different best for different characters even. But the "Babster" goes to John Byrne. (Although you could probably convince me otherwise). If only Michael Golden was more prolific...ha! Awesome topic today Doug.

Humanbelly said...

I think I'm inclined to sidestep a bit and say "Hal Foster" before I start talking about what we're really talking about.

I'm also trying to remember who came out the winner in the Bronze Age Artist Bracketology tourney that Doug put together a few years (a few YEARS???) ago. . . was it indeed John Byrne? And, boy, some un-named annoying bozo could really start parsing the words of the question itself to death: How does one define "Best"? Is it sort of like the decathlon, where it's the amalgam of ALL the qualities-- anatomy, storytelling, consistency, reliability of output, etc? (In which case both John Buscema and George Perez are strong contenders.) Or is the emphasis on who is the Best COMICS Artist? (In which case I kinda lean toward John Byrne or Jack Kirby.) Or. . . is it the Best Comics ARTIST? (And then I'd go with either Alex Ross or Neal Adams, truly.) And that's still a completely different question from "Favorite", isn't it? (Sal Buscema & Herb Trimpe, for me--)

Anonymous up there (partner, give us a name, a tag, a number. . .SOMEthing to call ya by, eh?) makes a great case for John Buscema, except-- his long, late run in the Avengers, while still miles better than what we'd been slogging through prior to it, was so obviously by-the-numbers and less-inspired than so much of his previous work that it tends to knock a notch off of my admiration. And honestly, sometimes even his hallowed Conan run could have a drawn-it-all-before feel to it. But, y'know-- he's never actually bad , is he? (Well-- She-Hulk #1 may have been less-than-inspirational. . . )

Heck, I'm gonna go with George Perez at the moment. He brings a humanity and a creative joy to his work that, while intangible, elevates it just a smidge above his peers to my sentimental old eye.


Humanbelly said...

Psst-- MX-1-- that "unnamed parsing bozo" comment, btw, was of COURSE not aimed at you, but at my own self-! We were clearly typing at the same time. . . AND are clearly on very similar wavelengths, eh?

HB-- The Parsing Paladin!

Garett said...

Jack Kirby is my #1. My heart beats faster when I read his comics! There's a creative explosiveness that no other artist has.

I agree with many of the comments and artists here, especially Adams and Perez. It's nice to see oldtimers and newcomers like Foster and Cassaday getting mentioned. I like Martinex1's idea of categories for best artist--perhaps topics for later posts? I'd also like to see the topic of most underrated artists.

I'll put in Bernie Wrightson as equal to or better than Gene Colan in the horror category. Nothing against Colan, as they're both great. Wrightson on Swamp Thing had the dramatic camera angles and storytelling, plus shadows and cartoony/real anatomy, and super inking ability.

BK said...

Jack Kirby is , of course, the "best" comics artist in so many categories, unless the category is "best artist in a U.S. kids' comic based on a Jack Kirby character, title, or style (Jack Kirby not included)."

Great storyteller. Great designer. Boys Ranch. Romance comics. Superheroes. Can't be beat. I like and am even nostalgic for some of the superhero artists of the 70s, but they aren't my best. Dan Decarlo, Curt Swan, Ditko, John Stanley. Carl Barks. Jaime Hernadez...

Garett said...

HB mentioned the Best Comics ARTIST. If you could go into an art gallery and see a comic artist's work on the wall, who would it be? Bill Sienkiewicz could put on a great show, from realism to surrealism to abstract, with drawings and paintings.

Anonymous said...

Such a great wide open topic. I'm going to answer it this way - if I needed one artist who could draw all the characters (and being a zuvembie, I'm talking mainly Marvel here) I'd have to go with John Romita. His Spiderman is my Spiderman. When he was doing all the house art, calendar pages, etc. as art director in the 70s, he pretty much defined in my mind what Marvel's characters should look like.

But there's so many...Kirby, Colan, Byrne, Perez and many others would have gotten my vote depending on my mood at the time.


Humanbelly said...

Say, how would Sergio Arogones fall into something like this? On the whole, I can't think of anything in comics that was as consistently, visually breathtaking as the astonishingly rich, complex splash pages he did in nearly every issue of GROO's Epic/Marvel run. It's sort of a whole 'nother animal, and yet even the best of Byrne, Buscema, Perez & etc wouldn't have you lingering over a page like that every month going, "This. . . is a flippin' work of art-!"

(To support that observation-- a later bullpen or letters page once mentioned in passing that it took the colorist four times longer to do an issue of GROO than any other "regular" comic--!)


david_b said...

I guess my stab at this would be, 'Which artist doesn't (or didn't) disappoint me either with phoning-something-in (later on in his/her career) or brought down with a bad inker, etc..?'

My stance would include Big John Buscema, Cardy, Dillin or Starlin, not names you see topping a lot of lists ('cept John Buscema), but solid 'go-to' artists that overcame typically any questionable inker-pairing and made me glad to have the comic in my possession.

I'd agree that Adam's covers for DC have always wowwed me, especially his Batman, GL/GA, JLA and Superboy covers, but I'd agree on his interior art.

I found myself picking up the old Barry Smith Avengers issues with Ultron and it's always a TREAT to enjoy early Smith issues. I love how he was Kirby's and Steranko's 'love child', the style mix is intoxicating, especially how mysterious and absorbing (no pun..) he drew early Vision appearances.

Another litmus test for me is to peruse my comic boxes for just 'that issue' to brighten my day, to marvel at esquisit art, if just for 20min of free time. Typically those artists I hunt for are Cardy, Steranko, Smith and Kirby, maybe Sal on early Defenders and Cap.

david_b said...

Sorry, meant to type 'exquisite art'..

Doug said...

My own take on the question played right off of the conversation in that Marvel Team-Up post, and that was who could draw just about any character (Marvel or DC) and make them look "right". While John Buscema is my favorite artist and Kirby stands alone in a class by himself, the only two artists who I feel really meet my criteria based on that discussion are the aforementioned John Byrne and George Perez.

If you think about it, pick a character they either a) haven't drawn or b) wasn't a bang-up job. I have to draw the line squarely at the DC doorstep for Buscema, and I'd flip that right around to Marvel for Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez -- either aritst is a master of his own universe, but Buscema's brief forays into the DCU don't seem a natural fit for me. Neal Adams can do it all... except Ben Grimm. Kirby on Batman? No thanks. And while Gene Colan and Gil Kane both have their fingerprints all over the Marvel and DC universes, they are both just a bit outside the straight-up-superhero-art norm that exists in my head.

Byrne and Perez.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't think I could ever pick just one; I agree with many of those already mentioned (J. Buscema, Byrne, Colan, Garcia-Lopez, Adams, Starlin); I could add a few names that I always love: Grell, Gulacy, Aparo, Perez...really, the list is almost endless.

Mike Wilson

Anonymous said...

But Doug, who's the best superhero artist is a different question. Isn't it?


Edo Bosnar said...

Well, I'm not going to break any new ground here, as I've said many times before that Byrne is my favorite artist. And I entirely agree with Doug's point about drawing any character "right." To his Byrne and Perez, I'd just add - as I said in the MTU conversation - Alan Davis. Also, based on the few Marvel characters he drew in the Batman vs. the Hulk book, I strongly suspect that Garcia Lopez can probably draw any Marvel character perfectly.

Humanbelly said...

Well, there ya go--
Edo, the somehow perpetually overlooked Alan Davis was the very next name on my list.
And then I was about to praise Garcia-Lopez' Hulk-- and you beat me to it!

In fact, the Hulk is one of the very, very few characters that I don't think John Buscema ever captured to my liking (although he didn't draw him that often, to be fair). Buscema's Hulk tended to lack the inherent humanity within the character-- it was impossible to think of him as anything other than a bestial, brainless, subhuman brute. JB tended to make the same mistake as all of the folks in the stories did.


Anonymous said...



pfgavigan said...


I'm going to bow out of this one as, for me, this one is truly unanswerable. That doesn't mean that I disdain the question or any of the responses. It just says that I don't know how to answer it.

I will say that I asked one editor who his favorite artist was and he said, "The one who makes his deadline".

Have fun


Martinex1 said...

I chalk it up to everybody having a personal favorite and knowing what they like when they see it. I cannot debate any of the choices. I am glad Garett mentioned Bernie Wrightson. He is correct, Wrightson had a wonderful style for that genre. Also, I was happy to see Cardy mentioned; he did some great covers. Some of my favorite covers are ones he did for Unexpected. The play with light and dark and shadows was really great; and he was quite good at capturing a mood in facial expressions.

HB, I totally understood what you meant. But if you had called me an "Unnamed Parsing Bozo", it would not be the worst thing I was ever called by any means. Now if you called me a parsing Starchild, I may have been offended :)

As Garett said, I too think it would be great to discuss under appreciated artists...I can think of a bunch who are probably not considered in the superstar category but have done tremendous work. So many to be acknowledged.

Have a great weekend all!

Anonymous said...

I second the idea of nominating artists for different categories.

Garrett (John Garrett?), Bill Sienkiewicz is my favorite artist. I would call him the best comic book ARTIST but not the best COMIC BOOK artist, if that makes sense. Kirby was better at sequential storytelling, action, etc. even if Sienkiewicz could blow my mind with his imagery and covers. Not to say Billy the Sink was lacking in his storytelling, but his individual panels/pages/characters stand out far more than his comics as a whole, at least to me. Holy frijoles, though, Stray Toasters, Elektra Assassin, Voodoo Child, etc. are unbelievable works of art.

I like artists that take more chances, whether incorporating uncommon techniques or coming up with more imaginative layouts. For that reason, I'll take Perez over Byrne. That's not to say that Byrne didn't take chances (see that all-Doom issue of FF, for example, and even his current Star Trek fumetti) but Perez almost never stood still. Looking over New Teen Titans back issues he put in some impressive sequences without getting bogged down by formalism.

Also: Alex Toth and Will Eisner deserve consideration for Best Ever.

- Mike Loughlin

ZIRGAR said...

I can't speak to who is "best" because the criteria used to determine such a superlative are pretty subjective, but it does lead to some interesting debate. Having said that, I can say who my personal favorites are (in somewhat relative order): Jack Kirby, George Perez, Jim Steranko, Jim Starlin , Neal Adams, John Buscema, John Romita, Dave Cockrum, Billy Graham (his work on "Panther's Rage" in Jungle Action is some of my favorite comic artwork ever), Keith Pollard, John Byrne...As you can see it is very Marvel-centric.

As a kid I never really "got" Kirby and didn’t really like his artwork. I didn’t hate it either, but it seemed overly cartoony to me. I mean, it was apparent to me that the man had never seen an actual human body, what with his weird musculatures, odd lines and square fingertips… However, as the years wore on I found that his work (more than any of the others I grew up reading) had done a number on me and I found myself finally "getting" it, fully appreciating his work for the genius it was (is). He is now and always will be my favorite and the things I used to think were flaws are now what make me absolutely love the man’s work.

Derek Marrero said...

I'd have to go with Garcia-Lopez. He can tackle ANY genre and make it work. I just wish he had done some Marvel work. Can you imagine his take on the Avengers, FF, Spider-Man? Byrne has always been a favorite for me as well, but Garcia-Lopez can do anything.

Also, just to mix things up, I always thought Alan Davis was pretty amazing.

Anonymous said...

John Buscema and George Perez! By the way, John Byrne is overrated.

Garett said...

Hey Derek, Garcia-Lopez on those Marvel titles would be fantastic! Love to see that. ZIRGAR, I had a similar experience with Kirby, possibly because the first work of his I saw was the late Marvel and Pacific art. He's gone from one of my least favorite to my #1.

Mike L., I'm glad you mentioned Voodoo Child by Sienkiewicz. I've never seen it on the comic shelves, but the pages I see on the net look outstanding. I'll have to get on ebay for that one. No, I'm not the hockey commentator. ; )

I like that Mike W. mentioned Mike Grell. He was always one of my favorites for storytelling and art through the Bronze Age. Not only writing, penciling and inking, but also creating his own characters that were successful comics. Influenced by Neal Adams but not a clone, more down to earth. His writing always had an entertaining blend of action, humour and romance-- and he could draw beautiful women. Perhaps that's another category for best artist? Dave Stevens would have to be right up there for his Bettie Page style drawings of the Rocketeer's girlfriend.

Anonymous said...

Whoa this is one of those topics which you know is gonna elicit a lot of responses, some quite emphatically! My personal favourite and choice for 'best artist' has always been Big John Buscema, but there are a ton of others whose style I love also; in no particular order - Gil Kane, Sal Buscema, Gene Colan, Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, Joe Sinnott, George Perez, Neal Adams, John Byrne, Terry Austin (hmm why does he always come next to Byrne?),oh, and some guy named Jack Kirby! There's tons of others too who I can't recall at the moment, but let's just say I appreciate most of the artwork these fine gentlemen have given us over the years.

- Mike 'I can draw stick figures well' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Charlton Hero said...

Hard to argue with any of the names in this list! All greats!! I loved John Romita Sr. as a kid and to this day, John Buscema was a Master of his craft, Byrne was a Master of a Decade in the 80s with awesome work on X-Men, FF and as well as Superman!

Great post!

Charlton Hero

BobCooksey said...

I love all three artists' work, but being an artist myself I can say that in terms of human anatomy greatness, John Buscema was second to NOBODY. He seemed incapable of drawing an awkward pose--it really is astonishing in hindsight. Put him together with Tom Palmer and you have world class art every single time. The Scarlet Witch and Wasp never looked more beautiful, the Vision and Black Panther never looked spookier, and all the characters looked powerful.

John Byrne was great but he drew a lot of awkward poses (not every panel can be the Mona Lisa). His work, over time, deteriorated greatly. I am not sure why but have heard many rumors.

Neal Adams had some amazing stuff but as someone already said, some of his pop art graphic gimmicks seem dated today. I still love him--just like I still love Kirby, dated or not.

In today's arena, Deodato is just stellar IMO.

Humanbelly said...

Bob nailed another good one w/ Deodato, there. Like Alan Davis, he's been surprisingly under-recognized for years and years. He's the rare artist who was able to massively adjust his style to suit the dominant visual trends. Given when they were being done, his "trendy" takes on both Hulk and Thor in. . .the 90's I believe. . . were what the other "hot" artists of the era were probably trying to shoot for.


tetrahedron said...

I'm surprised at how many people rate Byrne so highly. He's ok, but his faces bother me. They all look the same and he always puts the same dimples on everyone, it drives me batty, and prevents me from truly enjoying his work because all I see are those ridiculous faces!

jeirich said...

Kirby, Kirby, Kirby.

Byrne leaves me completely cold. In some ways, I view him as the anti-Kirby. Whereas Jack's work always had a vitality and dynamism that has never been surpassed, Byrne's work always seems so static and lifeless. And yes, I agree with the previous poster that his faces are not well done.

david_b said...

Jeirich, Tetrahedron..,

Thanks so much for your comments on Byrne.., you both have actually phrased my opinion far better than I've ever been able to here.

Perhaps a tad too-overarching or simplistic (it does depend some on inkers to an extent..), but Byrne's trademark faces grew tiresome quickly, especially the wide-eyed females, whether it be Sue Richards, Jan Pym, or Lois Lane.


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