Somehow, a lot of people forget that comics are a visual medium, and that the artists that work on them aren’t just the lackeys of comic writers, but storytellers who are master craftsmen. Each and every week, we’re given some of the finest art comics have ever seen, and the following list of artists were our absolute favorites. Omitted, sadly, are names like Chris Samnee, Becky Cloonan, Terry Moore, Nick Dragotta and many others that made 2013 one hell of a year, as well as colorists like Jordie Bellaire, Matt Hollingsworth and Dave Stewart that amplified the greatness of their work, but such is the nature of our voting system, where every Multiversity writer’s vote counts towards our overall rankings.
Please, share your favorite artists of the year, and bask in the awesome that was comic art in 2013.
10 (tie). Paul Pope
Why He Ranks (Mike Romeo): Paul Pope is an influencer of influencers. There are artists ranking higher on this list who’ve clearly been shaped in part by Pope’s body of work, and I think that that’s a brilliant testament to not only to the man himself, but to comics as a whole. I mean, Pope wasn’t created in a vacuum, right? He’s what happens when you blend equal parts Kirby and Hergé, with a dash of Toth and Miyazaki.
That said, 2013 has been a brilliant year for Pope. His new book, Battling Boy, made a huge splash last fall. He’s taken his work to a new level, creating an all ages comic that is challenging to readers without losing itself in abstraction. In this book Pope’s line is as inky and kinetic as ever, but there’s also clarity in narrative and storytelling that is present like never before. Don’t get me wrong, Pope’s storytelling has been tight for a long time, but I think his creating this comic with an all ages audience in mind has introduced something new into the mix. When you couple Battling Boy with the awesome cover work Pope’s been doing for comics like Catalyst and The Fox, I’d say its been a hell of a year for the guy.
10 (tie). Frank Quitely
Why He Ranks (Matthew Meylikhov): One of the undisputed best artists in the industry, Quitely only continues to get better every year. It’s actually a little tough to illustrate without directly showing panels of his work, but Quitely’s linework is becoming even more refined throughout the years as his already influential art style becomes even more defined by his character work and focus on layouts — whether he’s referencing Michelangelo or including the creation of a panel..
“Jupiter’s Legacy,” Quitely’s major work this year, is carried by his beautiful and evocative artwork that defines itself by its massive scope done on such a closely examined level that feels personal at times and daunting at others; a lot of the characters feel real in a way that they might not in the hands of a less talented artist, and the breakdowns and horror that we’ve seen in the issues are only so palpable because of how he brings them to life and beyond. That, and his focus on panel design in the same way Gibbons did in Watchmen allows a book like “Jupiter’s Legacy” to be much better than it would be with anyone but him — that book is Quitely’s talent.
Throw that together with a bevy of exciting covers that he did throughout the year and you see an artist at the top of his game. He’s becoming a touch more constrained than he was in his younger days working with Morrison, but that has not stopped him for blowing doors down in his book
8 (tie). J.H. Williams III
Why He Ranks (Vince Ostrowski): I’ll be the first to commend J.H. Williams III for walking out on “Batwoman” after editorial head-butting. In that way, Williams was a big news story this year in comics and another example where a hardline stance on corporate characters trumps a creative vision. We’ve already debated that point. This is, however, about his art. Man was it gorgeous, or what?Continued below
Williams fired off a handful of “Batwoman” issues out this year that contained his interior art in addition to his writing, but they were as inventive and stop-and-stare inducing as ever. He then parlayed his penchant for double-page spreads and using every inch of the panel to present his painterly beauties into a terrific first issue of “Sandman Overture.” Everything in Williams’ work serves a purpose, down to the very skeleton of the pages themselves. His panels take the shape of practical or thematic elements in the work, whether its a story playing out across the teeth of a character in the story, or finding yet another way to depict one of Neil Gaiman’s fever dreams.
If you had to pick the most difficult act to pull off in comics “Overshadowing Neil Gaiman” would probably be it. With one issues of mind-blowing visual structure, Williams did just that.
8 (tie). Greg Capullo
Why He Ranks (Brandon Burpee): Greg Capullo has been an artist whose work i’ve enjoyed since the first Creech mini-series. So I was incredibly excited for him to take on the art chores of one of my favorite characters of all time, Batman. Since coming launching the title with Scott Snyder the title he has not disappointed. Twenty-six issues in and he is still the primary artist month in and month out. How many artists bring that sort of dedication to a Marvel or DC book these days? Not many is the answer. This man does that and does it without the quality faltering one iota. That’s something to be revered in this day and age of rotating artist teams.
Capullo has become such a cornerstone of Batman at this point that he has to be mentioned when speaking of the greatest Batman artists of all time. Hyperbole is typically my strong suit but I promise you in that in this case it is a fucking fact. His Batman has the dark elements that Gotham and it’s denizens require with a slight flare of Batman: The Animated Series, which is high praise considering the love that engulfs that glorious toon of my childhood. If you took him away from this title it just wouldn’t be the same. Luckily, I get the feeling the man is just scratching the surface of what he is capable of with the character. His work has gotten better with each issue this year. Again, that is a fucking fact.
If you think i’m overstating my appreciation and the respect due for the mans’ work just look over our lists where his presence is felt just about everywhere. And you should appreciate him as well fanpeeps because his consistency and dedication make him part of the endangered species that is long-term monthly artists.
7. Sean Gordon Murphy
Why He Ranks (Michelle White): Sean Murphy wowed us last year with his work as both artist and writer on “Punk Rock Jesus”, which topped our best miniseries list and established Murphy as a creator to watch. This year, paired with Scott Snyder on the Vertigo series “The Wake”, Murphy has been consistently delivering gorgeous page after gorgeous page, setting down a believable sci-fi world that we can’t wait to learn more about. (Oh, and he does a pretty neat Batmobile too.) When it comes to balancing realistic background detail with arresting character work, it’s hard to find a surer hand than Murphy’s; his art is sharp and immersive and immediately compelling. And with a new Batman story coming up in the near future, 2014 is already looking pretty solid for one of the most versatile artists in the business.
6. Tradd Moore
Why He Ranks (James Johnston): I have read exactly one issue of a comic illustrated by Tradd Moore. It was “Zero” #2 and not only was it the issue that really drove home what the mission statement behind Edward Zero’s story was, but it convinced me that Tradd Moore will be one of the biggest artist of the next couple of years. His work on Luther Strode has been commendable and one of, if not the, biggest draws on the series and his forthcoming work for Marvel looks insanely great. The cover and preview released so far for “Ghost Rider” has made it one of the most visually distinctive books of the “All-New Marvel Now!” line-up. In addition to all the contribution work he’s done this year (the radical variant for “Secret Avengers,” the contribution to “Harley Quinn” #0, 2013 has proven to be the year Tradd Moore really made his mark as an artist.Continued below
5. Emma Rios
Why She Ranks (David Henderson): Well, this feels like déjà vu a little. Which is fortunate because nothing about my opinion of Emma Rios’ art has changed in the year. All that changed was that she had more work published, from the great “Doctor Strange: Season One” with Greg Pak to two issues of “Captain Marvel” to the recent “Pretty Deadly”, which gives me even more examples as to why she is on this list.
Rios’ lines are some of the most fluid I’ve ever seen, creating a depth in her art this is simply gorgeous. Her inking style has such grace that makes even still images feel full of movement. Emma Rios has a style unlike any other and the skills to make her one of the best artists in the business and it is my sincere hope that “Pretty Deadly” will make people stand up and notice that.
4. Marcos Martin
Why He Ranks (Vince Ostrowski): Marcos Martin just got off of doing some of the most interesting work in the Spider-Man corner of the world (where he still shows up an does covers from time to time). What he ended up doing next is as important for how gorgeous the art looked as it is for what it meant for comic book distribution on the digital side. With “The Private Eye”, he and Brian K. Vaughan have crafted a pay-whatever-you-freaking-want for a beautiful book from two top quality creators that releases on its own schedule and plays by its own rules. Could other writers and artists succeed with this type of model? Some could. I like to think that the ultimate point to this project is that, in comics, you can do pretty much whatever you want to. If Vaughan is to be believed the “digital ONLY” nature of the series was Martin’s idea. How about that? The artist holding some big time sway for once.
As for the art itself, Martin has only gotten better with age. The neon-techno cityscapes of “The Private Eye” play beautifully off of the throwback noir plot points. Martin works with an uncommon set of dimensions when it comes to the digital “page”, which has allowed for more than a few interesting spreads, to be sure. With great art and major participation in the creator-owned, self-publishing process, Marcos Martin’s “The Private Eye” just plain reminds us what is so unique and cool about comic books all the way around.
3. Esad Ribic
Why He Ranks (David Harper): I would say that by far, my favorite story in comics this year were the “God Butcher” and “God Bomb” arcs of Thor: God of Thunder. Traditionally, I’m not a Thor fan, but this story written by Jason Aaron was one of the best comics I ever read, and a big reason for that was Esad Ribic’s art.
A big thing for me when reading a Thor comic is I want the scale of the comic to be absolutely mythic. I want to be dealing with things that aren’t just something an Avenger would deal with, but a god. I want to feel the power pouring off the page, drawing me in and blowing my mind at the same time. The raw energy and power of Ribic’s art, underscored by Ive Svorcina’s colors, was monumental. It was one of the best marriages of story and artist I’ve ever read, and this book was just filled with panels that made my jaw literally drop. I mean, shit, look at this!
I don’t know about you guys, but Dio just starts playing in my head when I see things like that, and I mean that in a very, very good way.
For an artist that hasn’t had the most prolific career – he’s never really had a sustained run on a comic, outside of this – this is easily something you can point to and say, “Esad Ribic…he’s one of the greats.” In fact, I’d put his work on this and Silver Surfer: Requiem up against damn near anything in comics over the past ten years.Continued below
For me, 2013 in art was the year of Esad Ribic. It may not be how our list ended up, but for me, that much is true.
2. Dave Aja
Why He Ranks (Zach Wilkerson): The reason is simple; David Aja is doing some of the most innovative and complex sequential story-telling in mainstream comics. It’s safe to say that “Hawkeye” wouldn’t be half the sensation it is without Aja’s distinct contributions. Last year we raved over Chris Ware’s “Building Stories,” and this year saw Aja apply that same level of craft to this series, particular in the Tumblr breaking ‘Pizza Is My Business.” Aja’s ability to cram massive amounts of detail into a mind-boggling number of panels, without overwhelming the reader, never ceases to amaze.
1. Fiona Staples
Why She Ranks (Michelle White): Fiona Staples topped our best artist last year, and maintains it this year because of her continued astonishing work on “Saga”. It’s as simple as that; every aspect of her work on this title is as effective and inspiring as ever, from the magnetic character work to the colourful and expansive settings. Working in bold, confident strokes, Staples consistently crafts engaging images that tend to hang around in your head. Underlying it all is a feeling that’s hard to quantify but impossible to deny; there’s an amazing humanity to her work that makes the characters (whether they’re human or not) feel like people you’ve known all your life. Topping it all off are some of the most striking covers of the year, which never fail to catch the eye and fuel the imagination. Fiona Staples is quickly becoming a giant among comic artists, and the fact that we have her work to look forward to every month is one of the best things about being a comic fan these days.