2014 in Review: Best Artist

By | December 18th, 2014
Posted in Columns | 25 Comments

Is it just us or is comic art reaching absurdly great levels these days? We have an embarrassment of riches as fans in 2014, and you can see that in our list, as like in Spinal Tap, this one goes to eleven rather than the usual ten. But with so much brilliant art there, we couldn’t resist, and it’s just a shame that we couldn’t make the list even bigger. The next ten artists we ranked would make a tremendous class in their own right.

Sadly, we can’t rank everyone, but our staff of writers were very happy with how this list turned out, from the old favorites to some exciting new blood within their ranks. Take a look below, and share your choices in the comments. We’d love to hear them, and come back tomorrow for the unveiling of our favorite ongoings of 2014, which brings 2014 in Review to a close.

Note: All of Multiversity’s 2014 in Review awards are based off of all of the contributing writing team voting to decide each rank. Every list is combined with equal points for every voter, and the results are what you find below.

Looking for the rest of our 2014 in Review entries? Find them all here.

A page from BPRD #117

10 (tie). James Harren

Why he made the list (Brian Salvatore): James Harren draws crazy better than anyone else in comics. The personification of this is Agent Howards in “B.P.R.D.” – a character that Harren has a long history with – he is a quiet, brooding character who occasionally explodes into a blind rage of sword and destruction. Harren’s work has a similar effect – he can draw the saddest, most heartbreaking, small, personal moments, and then the craziest monsters/blowing shit up you’ve ever seen. His versatility is one of the hidden treasures of his work – people always talk about the bombast, but it is often in the build up to, and resolution from, the sizzle that his work really shines.

A page from Starlight #1

10 (tie). Goran Parlov

Why he made the list (David Harper): It’s easy to look at the wonderful alien cities and the imaginative worlds Goran Parlov developed in “Starlight” and just say, yeah, that’s enough to qualify him. Because they’re really incredible. His vision for the planet of “Starlight” and the cityscape that Duke McQueen is out to save is mind blowing, and deservedly earned comparisons to legendary names of the industry.

But that’s not what blew me away about his work.

It was moments like the one shown above, where a weary, beaten down McQueen quietly goes through his routine without the love of his life. In every wrinkle and expression, you can see his emotional state, and through Parlov’s art, we feel what he feels. Parlov’s gifts are considerable, and there are showier moments you can find throughout. But the ones that made this book leave such an indelible impression on me were the quiet ones like the one shown above, or when Duke’s family no shows, or when McQueen and Space Boy have their final embrace and goodbye. Any artist can give you the world. Few artists can take you inside the heart of a character as well as Parlov. That’s why he’s one of the top artists of the year.

Excerpt from MIND MGMT #24

9. Matt Kindt

Why he made the list (Keith Dooley): Matt Kindt is one of those rare artists who is also an expert with the written word. He is the consummate storyteller. His art style is unique, raw, and always transcendent. The watercolors that Kindt regularly utilizes in “Mind MGMT” imbue his art with a quality that makes it appear as if it is flowing right off the page and into our psyche. “Mind MGMT” is the perfect showcase for his unique talent because of the rich labyrinth of an epic contained in his book. Kindt has built a world full of intrigue, intense emotional depth, and tension that gradually builds and entices us through art that continually adapts and gorgeously transforms as the story changes and progresses. He has released many gems over the years and deserves the acclaim he is finally receiving for “Mind MGMT”. Last year’s underrated graphic novel “Red Handed” and “Mind MGMT” (which comes to an end next year) are the best works Kindt has released so far in a fairly short but already illustrious career. Although he has writing projects lined up for next year, we can only hope he grants us the privilege of experiencing more of his singular visual art very soon.

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Excerpt from Wonder Woman #35

7 (tie). Cliff Chiang

Why he made the list (Matthew Garcia): Cliff Chiang has always been cool. From his time on “Beware the Creeper” and “Green Arrow/Black Canary”; from his posters, covers, and illustrations, he has consistently delivered images that make you go, “Oh, yeah.” Chalk it up to his retro-style, with simple-but-elegant linework and chill compositions that have the exact perfect amount of detail to keep the energy and activity lively and intriguing; or his bright, distinctive character designs, especially his re-imagined Greek gods and slightly advanced but still sort of downtrodden New Gods; or his impeccable fashion sense that lets you understand each and every character from their manner of dress and makes even battle arms look boss and functional, Chiang has been consistently fantastic.

With the end of his run on “Wonder Woman”, Chiang has turned in some of the best work of his career. The conclusive chapters of that book have been exciting, heart-breaking, and altogether wonderful, packed with action, emotion, and plenty of classic images. There’s been chases through boom-tubes. grotesque renditions of Mount Olympus, epic armies charging into battle, and satisfying final confrontations, all delivered with finesse and all-around cool. And for all the world-shaking stuff, Chiang also excels at smaller moments, at delivering subtle reactions and beats. One of my favorite scene in “Wonder Woman” was when First Born has captured Diana and he’s monologuing about his success and her being his queen in his new world, and she glances at him with a small, “Gross.” Now that his work with Wonder Woman has ended, I’m interested to see where Chiang goes next and know full well that anything he works on will only benefit from his touch.

Excerpt from Supreme Blue Rose #2

7 (tie). Tula Lotay

Why she made the list (Alice W. Castle): “Supreme: Blue Rose” is, I think, one of the more divisive books to come out this year. It was one I have to admit I almost passed on, but that was only because I knew nothing of Supreme. Then I saw Tula Lotay’s artwork. And everything changed. This might be the closest I’ve come to love at first sight as soon as I saw panels of Tula Lotay’s art. For such a metatextual narrative, being a comic book about being a comic book, if you will, Tula Lotay’s art is perfectly suited as the very reality of her work seems malleable.

At it’s core is beautifully composed, sharp, tight pencils that have a great eye for storytelling and cinematic panelling. On top of that, however, is some of the most experimenatl colours and inks I’ve ever seen in my life as Lotay brings a lot of warm colours to her panels, but in a way so that the colours aren’t rigidly fixed to the lines of the pencils. The colours seem malleable and fluid and like a truly separate entity on the page from the pencil lines which is then helped by a recurring motif in Lotay’s art for “Supreme: Blue Rose” where small, randomly, squiggly coloured lines criss cross each page like the ghosts of the panel borders of another comic crossing in this one’s reality. It’s something that pushes the boundaries of the realism of the medium and enters a very surreal and dream-like state and is, simply, beautiful.

Page from Deadly Class #1

6. Wes Craig

Why he made the list (Mike Romeo): This is the year that Wes Craig fine-tuned his craft and solidified what his voice as an artist is. Let me be clear that that’s not a statement meant to disparage the years of work he’s put in before this. Looking over his output leading up to this year’s release of “Deadly Class,” it feels like this is what he’s been building to this entire time. The way he plays with page layout and composition. His use of skewed perspective and exaggerated anatomy to convey energy and motion. The way he can so eloquently shorthand a character’s facial expression to illustrate emotion. The concise yet iconic way he designs characters. All of this stuff has been a part of his art pre-“Deadly Class,” but it’s his work this series that’s really tied it all together to create something new.

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Craig’s immense talent extends beyond the interiors of his comics. His keen instinct for cover design is on display with each new issue of “Deadly Class.” Speaking of cover design, Craig’s one man anthology “Black Hand Comics” hit shelves a few months back. This landscape hardcover has got to have one of the most striking covers to hit shelves year.

Fantastic covers, interesting page designs, unimpeachable cover treatments, Wes Craig’s got a hell of a lot going for him. When you add it all together, you’ve got one of the best artists working in comics today.

Excerpt from The Wicked + The Divine #5

5. Jamie McKelvie

Why he made the list (James Johnston): Jamie McKelvie has always been one of our favorites at Multiversity. Hell, he’s pretty much a favorite everywhere. He is also quite possibly the most cosplayable artist of all time. With his noted character designs in “The Wicked + The Divine”, “Ms. Marvel”, and “Captain Marvel” reaching new levels of popularity this year, it has become beyond difficult to go to a convention and find someone not wearing a McKelvie outfit. By combining the modern sensibilities of modern comics with an unmistakably great taste in fashion, McKelvie is the greatest fashion designer in comics. What’s even more impressive is that McKelvie never really sketches these designs out. As we were told in our big WicDiv interview at NYCC, McKelvie just thinks it out and brings it to page, perfectly formed. That’s why you never see a lot of McKelvie sketchbooks. First time’s the charm, for him at least.

In addition to knowing how to draw some nice dudes, McKelvie has also notably excelled with his storytelling. His work in “Young Avengers” (which still had one issue in January 2014 so we’re counting it) had a raw energy that perfectly reflected the cast’s youthfulness, not to mention the brilliant experimentation in panel layout that would define the series. Yet with “The Wicked + The Divine”, McKelvie has seemed to slow down and allow his art to mature significantly. Though “WicDiv” is not as trippy with its layout as “Young Avengers” was, it still maintains a grander presence that fits its characters like a glove.

With his excellent haracter design and powerful storytelling, Jamie McKelvie is without a doubt one of the most impressive artists in 2014. And there’s no telling 2015 will bring us. Besides “Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl”. We really want “Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl”.

Panels from Shutter #3

3 (tie). Leila del Duca

Why she made the list (David Harper): It’s a random choice, but the entire opening sequence of “Shutter” #3 with the worm in the skeleton suit trying to assassinate Kate Kristopher was bar none my favorite sequence of any comic this year. Part of it was the fact it was completely unexpected. We get the other side of the attack at the end of “Shutter” #2, and it’s a worm wearing a skeleton suit firing a mega bomb at Kate? I did not see that one coming.

But most of it was del Duca’s art, and how she so perfectly conveyed the precarious emotional state of the worm as he went through his final days. I never knew this character. But to see del Duca’s art was to love this character, especially in the two page (on the inside cover!) hyper paneled sequence that introduced him. She delivered a story that out of context may have seemed completely ridiculous, but god damn it, it felt real to me because of her work. It was beautiful, beautiful visual storytelling, and also at least 33% hilarious even though it was sad.

del Duca’s someone I never experienced before this year, but her ability to take a situation that’s completely insane – and she’s given many of those – and extract emotional truths from them is already unparalleled. del Duca, Joe Keatinge, Owen Gieni and Ed Brisson have built an unbelievable world in “Shutter”, and it’s thanks to all of them that it’s as good as it is. But with del Duca, it’s truly great, and I’m not sure how many other artists in comics could take this book to the levels she does. And the amazing thing is, I think she’s only going to get better in bringing the wondrous world of “Shutter” to life, and I for one can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next year.

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Excerpt from Saga #24

3 (tie). Fiona Staples

Why she made the list (Jess Camacho): Fiona Staples has won probably every single art award you can win for her work in “Saga” and deservedly so. A great artist adds an entire new level of storytelling to a writer’s script. Imagine “Saga” without the bizarre world of Sextillion, the Robot Royal Family or the Lying Cat. Hard to do right? Staples is the most imaginative artist working in the industry today. The character designs she’s created are unlike anything that have ever existed before and will never be duplicated. Years from now, artists will use “Saga” as the standard for what science fiction should look like. The best example of how magical her work is lies within Prince Robot IV. When Prince Robot IV enters a scene, you can visually see the pain that he’s in. Things like the crack in his screen or the way his body is postured all illustrate this. Without him saying anything you’re left immediately feeling something for him.

On a more technical level, there’s nothing sloppy about what she does. Everything is fine tuned and precise. Whether it’s a scene with Alana and Marko arguing or a flashback to a war battle, she never misses a step. Facial expressions are perfect on each character and make sense within the situation. The world itself that she’s built and has built is like watching the original Star Wars movies for the first time. It’s completely original and mind blowing. Staples also does every cover of “Saga” and those alone are worth an oversized hardcover. They not only tell a story on their own but are so gorgeously done. They’re like these snapshots into the world of “Saga” that, even as a regular reader, fill me with excitement. For my money, Fiona Staples is the artist of the year and will always be at the lead of all these lists.

Panels from The Multiversity: Pax Americana

2. Frank Quitely

Why he made the list (Matthew Meylikhov): If there’s one artist whose work is always celebrated, discussed, dissected and imitated whenever he does something new, it’s Frank Quitely. One of the most influential modern artists of our time, Quitely’s work never ceases to amaze; his intricate line-work and acute attention to the most minor of details sets him apart from most modern artists.

The thing is, though, that Quitely has only really done two comics this year: “Jupiter’s Legacy” #4 with Mark Millar and “Pax Americana” with Grant Morrison; yet, with just two comics (and a bevy of covers and various pin-ups/sketches that have cropped up online), Quitely continues to prove why he’s one of the biggest artists of our generation. Whether he’s revisiting the widescreen, blockbuster-style work he helped originally pioneer in “The Authority” with “Jupiter’s Legacy” or completely revitalizing the discussion of time in comics that he started in “WE3” with “Pax Americana,” Quitely put out two incredibly high profile comics, both potent with emotional impact and visceral imagery.

A new Quitely book is like a new opportunity to study the medium and all it has to offer, and that’s why an artist like Quitely is still worthy of being celebrated as one of the year’s best, even at his slower rate. Plus, “Pax Americana” was insanely great and the best comic of the year, well worth the five year wait, so that’s certainly noteworthy as well.

Page from Batman #33

1. Greg Capullo

Why he made the list (Keith Dooley): Greg Capullo, after only a little over three years as artist on “Batman”, has already cemented his legacy as one of the Caped Crusader’s greatest artists. This year, Scott Snyder and Capullo retold Bruce Wayne’s origin in the “Zero Year” storyline and crafted an epic, yet intimate, tale that can inarguably sit proudly on any shelf with such classics as “Batman: Year One” and “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”. A lot of that has to do with Capullo’s interpretation of the Dark Knight and the mix of the old and the new that he brings to the character and the rich tapestry of Batman’s world. Capullo has a deep respect and love for Batman (as does Snyder) as well as a boldness that allows him to reinterpret and make the character his own. That is why he melds so well with Snyder: both treat Batman as a real entity and bring a depth to him that is more than evident when their issues are read and enjoyed multiple times.

The first few issues of the current “Endgame” storyline have demonstrated Capullo’s versatility and successful efforts to grow as an artist. From the very first issue of “Batman”, he has constantly been honing his craft. From arc to arc, Capullo has given “Batman” a different feel depending on Snyder’s story at the time. Partly because of Capullo, each issue is always my book of the month because of the epic action, emotion, and heartfelt care he instills into every page (plus I’m biased because he brings my favorite character to life in such a grand way). Like the best Batman artists, his versatility rubs off on the character and transforms a 75 year old icon into someone that appears new and exciting. With Snyder by his side, Capullo is one half of a dynamic duo that should remain on this book for eternity (hyperbole intended!).

//TAGS | 2014 in Review

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