Look At All The Pretty Inks And Colors: An Appreciation of Comic Book Artists

Even to the simplest of people, it is a common understanding that today, art comes in a variety of forms. From the impressions of the Renaissance Masters, to paint from an aerosol can on a lonely wall, art has evolved and spread across various mediums. Today I would like to examine and show some fine specimens of one genre that is somewhat under-appreciated*; Comic Book Art.

*Except probably by Comic Con goers and the proverbial “fat guy living in his mother’s basement”

When I decided to write this article, I mused upon when and where comics originated from. With the magic that is google, within seconds I had my answer, which was quite a surprising one. Rudolphe Töpffer of Switzerland is credited as the creator of the picture story, which dates back to 1827. Author Scott McCloud deems him the father of the modern comic and refers to the series’ pioneering use of bordered panels and “the interdependent combination of words and pictures” (Marshall, 2015). The story was called ‘The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck’ and can be viewed in its entirety here. Unlike today’s comic books his work is not about musclebound men in tights and capes leaping in bounds to save the lives of endangered people, but instead it examines a man and his pursuit for love. Story aside, upon viewing the work, some might say “oh, that does not look good; why would anyone want to read that.” Although somewhat true, the purpouse of refering to this work would be not to evaluate its quality in terms of color (a nice sepia brown) and complexity, but to appreciate its position at the genesis of the path which comic book art has come.

Go get her, Mr. Oldbuck!

While the comic book industry has grown greatly in the past decade or so ($265 million in 2000 to $870 million in 2013 in sales in the United States alone; Lubin, 2014), some might suggest that it is a beast whose lines are beginning to blur together. However with all the different artists, and all the various comic books, some specific artists have been able to develop personal art styles that have made a long lasting impression in readers minds. I shall be examining five artists who I hold in high regard.

Alex Ross

In the summer of 2014, I was pursing a goal of trying to read as much great non-canon Superman stories as I can. While perusing the comic book forums of ye olde internet, I came across a series called ‘Kingdom Come’. The synopsis provided by the faceless comic affecianado was enough to ignite my interests and I proceeded to download the entire collection. About two pages in, I found myself lost in some of the most beautiful illustrations I have ever seen in a comic book. Alex Ross’ work was almost sinful; I found it hard to believe that such spellbinding works of art could be included in a comic book.

His medium is watercolors, and his work emulates 16th century impressionistic work. Each panel in his books look like it belongs in a museum. In fact his work has been lauded so highly, that it landed him exhibitions at museums (such as the Andy Warhol Museum).

I would love to own a painting of his one day. I actually did come across a collectibles store in the Dubai Mall in the UAE, which did have his paintings for sale. I did not however look at the price, for I am to young to die of a coronary failure. Hopefully some day though.*

*The painting, not the coronary failure.

Suggested material: Kingdom Come (1996) by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

Fiona Staples

I myself do a bit of illustration, and if you had asked me which artist in the past year have I tried to imitate the most, my answer would be Fiona Staples. The Canadian artist has been getting alot of attention in the past few years, due to her work on ‘Saga’, a comic she illustrates and owns in partnership with the writer Brian K. Vaughan. Aside from the amazing story (will save my worship for another article), Fiona Staples provides a surreal cloak for all the amazing characters that inhabit Saga’s universe.

Though we may sit around in awe of her work, we do not realize the unique and long process that Staples takes to create these beautiful pieces of art. One of the most comforting facts about Staples is that she is quite young, and that we can expect more and more amazing work from her in the years to come.

Suggested material:

Saga (2012-ongoing) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Archie (2015-ongoing) by Mark Waid and Fiona Staples

Scott McKowen

I can imagine that some comic book purists will argue that Scott McKowen does not belong on this list, as he has never done illustrations for any comics other than covers. But I believe the term ‘comic book art’ encompasses every visual front of comics; even the covers. Scott McKowen’s one and only venture into the comic book world came with the covers to Neil Gaiman’s famous ‘Marvel 1602'. In keeping with the renaissance theme of those comics, Scott Mckowen’s style was a perfect fit.

Queen Victoria, Victor Von Doom and the Daredevil

It would not be out of place to look at McKowen’s work and wonder how he got to this wonderful final result. Charley Parker explains his process to be “drawn in scratchboard, a style of pen and ink rendering in which white lines are scratched with sharp instruments from areas of black ink that have been applied to clayboard” (2007). This traditional process is finalized by a modern touch, when color is applied digitally.

Sadly Marvel 1602 only had 8 issues, thereby limiting the work of McKowen. However it would not be wrong to hope that sometime in the future in he is called upon to delight the comic world with his classic yet mesmerizing style of work.

Suggested material: Marvel 1602 (2003) by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove

Asaf and Tomer Hanuka

Asaf and Tomer Hanuka, the Tel Aviv wonder-duo (not actual nickname), are twin brothers and illustrators. They both have been commercial illustrators and have had their works published in the New York Times and other publications.

Left: Concept art by Tomer Hanuka; Right: Cover of Asaf Hanuka’s comic ‘The Realist

Furthermore they have also co-created a comic series named “Bipolar”. In regards to these two illustrators I have to admit that I have not read any solid comic book material (expcept the webcomic ‘The Realist’ by Asaf Tomer). However having spent countless hours scouring the web for their artwork, it would be utterly wrong of me not to include them on this list. They both possess unique styles which seem to complement each other.

Suggested material: The Realist by Asaf Tomer (available to read at: http://realistcomics.blogspot.com)

Honourable Mentions

Mike Mignola

A writer and artist, Mike Mignola is a man after Rudolphe Töpffer’s heart. Highly acclaimed for his series Hellboy, Mignola has earn a special place in annals of comic book history. I have not included him in my main list of favorite illustrators, well, because he is not one of my favorites and I have not read much of his work. However from the little that I have seen, he is truly deserving of his laurels, with his interesting art style.

Tony Harris

Mitchell Hundred AKA The Great Machine

Tony Harris really made an impression in mind within a day (only discovered him yesterday). An impression large enough to make me want to include him in this section. Harris shot to fame for his contribution to ‘Ex Machina’, another one of Brian K. Vaughan’s highly acclaimed series . His style, although seemingly normal at first, after having read a few pages an underlying style is visible. His work is beautifully detailed; human enough to appeal to realism junkies yet graphical to appease the purists. I look forward to finishing the Ex Machina series and reading more of his work.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion I must state, that this is only a minuscule fraction of all the great comic book artists out there, and the ones I have listed may not be on everyone’s ‘love list’. I someday hope to do a follow up to this article with more new artists. I also hope that those who read this article will realise the importance of the artwork and soon find themselves compiling lists of their own favorite comic book artists.

References

Lubin, G. (2014) The Comic Book Industry Is On Fire, And It’s About More Than Just The Movies. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-comic-book-industry-is-on-fire-2014-8 (Accessed: 16 October 2015).

Marshall, C. (2015) Read The Very First Comic Book: The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck (1837). Available at: http://www.openculture.com/2015/01/read-the-very-first-comic-book-the-adventures-of-obadiah-oldbuck-1837.html (Accessed: 16 October 2015).

Parker, C. (2007) Scott McKowen. Available at: http://linesandcolors.com/2007/06/15/scott-mckowen/ (Accessed: 16 October 2015).