Simply put, comics wouldn’t be comics without the art. The single most important person in the production process is the interior artist, and we’ve highlighted some doozies.
10. Nick Derington
“Doom Patrol” might’ve slowed down in 2018, but Nick Derington sure didn’t.
In addition to wrapping up Young Animal’s premiere book (for now), Derington offered us some of the year’s best covers, including perhaps the most striking and memorable Darkseid illustration of all time and a photo collage that has to be experienced to be believed.
Derington’s has moved further into the DC mainstream. After applying his clean, kinetic style to the Justice League of America in “Milk Wars,” Derington joined up with Batman and Brian Michael Bendis to start a tour of the DCU. Derington’s early pencil sketch teases left me aching for him to officially take on the Dark Knight, and I certainly haven’t been disappointed.
DC’s Walmart Giants will doubtless be many readers’ first comics, and the quality of the stories within will determine whether those readers come back for more. If Derington’s deftly-rendered Dark Knight (and friends) doesn’t hook them, I don’t know what would. – Matthew Ledger
9. Andrea Sorrentino
Andrea Sorrentino is anything but a traditional comic book artist in the stylistic choices, narrative flow, and creative page and panel design. His work usually surprises the audience as issues progresses, if nothing else to marvel at the solutions that the artist found to convey the vast range of situations his current and past work depict.
During 2018, Sorrentino’s work was more consistently shown on the Image series he co-created with Jeff Lemire, “Gideon Falls,” a tale of horror and suspense set in rural America and beyond. On this context, Sorretino was able to further develop his talent for the off-kilter, the strange and supernatural. Often, page layouts would be examinations of how fragmented character’s psyches were, or how reality distortions affect the very visualisation of objects, settings and people. At times, it felt like a continuation of the work of past masters like Jim Steranko on the ‘70s “Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD” series, in the sense of creating new design options and styles for future artists to leverage on.
Not to be forgotten, Sorrentino also worked on a number of variant covers on iconic characters where, again, his stylised and inventive approach delivered some signature pieces. Character elements, like the boomerangs for Digger Harkness, are converted into visors; it is but one of the examples of how Sorrentino makes these components his own.
Already an expert at his craft, the continuing collaboration with Jeff Lemire (“Green Arrow,” “Old Man Logan,” “Gideon Falls”) is also contributing for Sorrentino’s own pacing and visual scripting. Even amid complex panel designs, narrative flow is never lost: it never feels like an unsolvable puzzle, but rather an ornate jewel box that readers want to continue examining. – Gustavo Lodi
8. Sana Takeda
Sana Takeda’s artwork on “Monstress” has earned her the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist in 2018, and it’s not hard to see why. Every single image is incredibly intricate, more akin to a painting for an art gallery than an image in a comic book. The pencils are soft and careful, allowing Takeda to craft marvelous, beautiful imagery that can invoke feelings of awe, despair, or horror depending upon the situation when put up against the East Asian-esque world of “Monstress.” In fact, the extreme detail just further imposes a feeling of despair at the horrors of the story’s world, given the horrific imagery of war that Takeda is able to illustrate in such “loving” detail regardless of how mutilating or otherwise disturbing the images are.
From the elaborate covers to the equally detailed interiors, it is no wonder that only a few issues are released each year, given the amount of work and detail that would have to go into every single individual panel. –Greg Ellner
7. Ramon Villalobos
Editor’s Note: This was written before the sexual assault allegations against Eric M. Esquivel were made public, leading to the art team leaving “Border Town,” and the title’s subsequent cancellation.
I’ve been at Multiversity Comics for a few years and every single year Ramon Villalobos was included in my personal top 10 list. From the moment I saw his work (which was a “What If?” Issue during the “Age of Ultron” event) I was obsessed. With an influence of Frank Quitely, Villalobos takes his own personality and background to do things that not even Quitely could quite manage. His fan art is full of modern, street style with characters wearing clothing that I can only dream of owning. In 2018, Villalobos leveled up with his work in “Border Town,” taking the things he was doing in the criminally underrated “Nighthawk” and added more fantasy to them. His characters are unique and expressive with personalities that shine through without them saying a single word. With “Border Town,” he lets loose with fantasy and horror elements but there’s still this sense of fun in the work. Villalobos work is constantly mesmerizing and he leaves you lingering on every single page. You truly get your money’s worth with a Villalobos comic and I believe, without a doubt, that 2019 will be an even bigger year for him. – Jess CamachoContinued below
6. Daniel Warren Johnson
Daniel Warren Johnson cemented himself as one of the top artists in comics in 2018, mainly due to the work on his creator-owned series, “Extremity.” Johnson showed that not only could he handle kinetic action set pieces, but also small, emotional moments and precise character acting. His art feels alive on each page with his loose line, and that served a story like “Extremity” extremely well and is the only reason “Murder Falcon” even works at all. A story about a falcon avatar that gets summoned by playing metal is a hard sell, but Johnson makes it work. (He also draws the coolest band van I’ve ever seen.) You can see the fun he’s having on each page of his creator-owned work. The drawings are cheerful, even when the subject matter is not.
These lists are mainly for creators’ published work, but it would be a crime to not mention the commissions that Johnson often posts on twitter. He’s done everything from Batman to Harry Potter, each time making me wish that he was drawing that property on an ongoing basis. I’ve never bought original art before, but he will more than like be my first purchase. – Justin Beeson
5. Jorge Jimenez
Jorge Jimenez started 2018 off with a bang. The DC stalwart’s superlative work on “Super Sons” and the “Dark Nights: Metal” crossover were highlights of 2017’s sequential art offerings. Jimenez’s work in 2018 surpassed that high watermark by expounding upon his Batman work with the “Dark Knights: Rising” tie-in. His prolific output could be further glimpsed across variant covers for “Border Town,” “Batman #50” and most importantly, in the relaunched, world-hopping “Justice League” ongoing with Scott Snyder. Jimenez’s sumptuous style spares no detail; the Spanish artist has a keen sense of American iconography, creating gorgeous portrayals of DC paragons Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman that bring these classic heroes to life with a vivacious sense of dynamism.
In mainstream American comic book art, substance sometimes takes a backseat to creating a unique style. Jorge Jimenez is clearly one 2018’s best artists because he never sacrifices his artistic integrity to indulge his stylistic tics, or to cover up flaws in his ability as a sequential artist. Anyone drawing comics is a storyteller first, the visual stylization should serve to make the reading experience more clear and enjoyable. With every brushstroke, Jimenez is the epitome of the art form’s bedrock principles. In the vein of fellow young artists Russell Dauterman and Kris Anka, Jimenez creates an entire world for his characters to interact within, and seems to enjoy every aspect of the illustration process. From costume design, to character acting, Jimenez enhances the emotional engagement of every scene by creating characters with visual and emotional depth that plays out across their faces and surroundings.
Just because his work contains a considerable level of detail doesn’t mean it is a completely inert pile of Photoshop tracing. Quite the opposite. His distinct combination of Masashi Kishimoto action staging and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez attention to proportion and composition keep his work propulsive and light. His effervescent style even manages to make Batman’s angsty frown glow with ferocity.
More significant still, his detail hasn’t managed to derail his consistency. In a world of twice- and -thrice- monthly shipping titles, Jimenez not only manages to maintain continuity on one title when many artists are forced to rotate, he uses this opportunity to grow and develop each character’s appearance and interactions with each other as the story goes forward. This is most obvious in Jimenez’s ever-evolving approach to drawing Superman. In his hands, Clark Kent is never less than regal, but his mannerisms and features change as Superman shifts from genial team leader to take-charge-butt-kicker and back again. Even the camera angles and compositions used grow and change as he continues to discover new and more affecting ways to convey his passion for cape comics. He has deft control of the medium’s components, exemplified by the sense of mounting urgency Jimenez articulates on a page-by-page basis in his contributions to “The Totality” arc in Justice League. Jimenez is attempting to articulate on a page-by-page basis. This attention to detail and commitment to self improvement make Jimenez’s passion for comics clear and contagious.Continued below
The best way to sum up Jorge Jimenez’s art in 2018, and the experience of reading it: pure joy. –Jeremiah Bailey
4. Fiona Staples
The first time I noticed Fiona Staples’s work was 2011. She had done a variant for issue one of the “30 Days of Night” reboot series. It was her use of light that caught my eye and made me want to know who the artist was. Unfortunately at that point she did not have a lot of work out there that was in my crosshairs and her name slipped my mind. Thankfully in 2012 we were all blessed with “Saga” and since that time she has producing far more work than ever before. With “Saga” taking up most of her schedule, she usually works on covers, one-shots or quick arcs on other books. Whenever anyone asks me to choose my top artists, her name is always one of the first I bring up.
She takes a Pop Art/retro comic book style to a whole new level in all of her projects. One of her best style choices is that as perfect as her work looks at first glance, there are imperfections throughout. Sketchy, loose penciling and inking that allows the work to unravel, just enough, that it gives you a look into its humble thumbnail sketch beginnings. This is where her color skill comes in. She makes digital coloring look like hand-made paintings. Her technique, and the digital medium, allow her to make things look more solid, heavy; giving me the false notion that if you were to step into her studio mid-project she would be working at a row of canvases covered in oil paint. Other panels are translucent, a watercolor piece that is thoughtfully layered. Every panel is a masterpiece and worthy of framing. She has also mastered the stoic, heavy lines and opaque colors. Her work on the “Archie” reboot
If she does a cover for a series I follow (and even some I don’t) I have to buy it. There are few like her, she is able to make her work feel timeless and yet, I know it is revolutionary. 2018 was a big year for her work, though a bit more concise that the last few. With the last arc of “Saga” prior to its year long hiatus, that was clearly her focus, but she also made time for quicker projects like the NYCC Variant for Jen Bartel & Sam Humphries’s “Blackbird” #1. With this break from “Saga” I am on the edge of my seat waiting for 2019 announcements. I can not wait to see what she has in store for us.
I almost didn’t choose her for my number one choice. In the last few years she has popped up on everyone’s best list, and I felt that my thoughts would just get lost in the noise. To be completely honest, it kind of felt like a cop-out, but I sat down with a stack of her recent releases and I remembered a few things. Her art has made me gape in shock and amazement, smile in child-like wonderment, and shed tears from its beauty. There are only a handful of artists in this industry that I can say all those things about and that is why Fiona Staples is my Best Artist for 2018. – Chris Egan
3. Russell Dauterman
Despite the fact readers only got a few full titles with interior artwork, artist Russell Dauterman made waves this year. Dauterman contributed pencils to “The Mighty Thor” landmark final arc known as ‘The Death of The Mighty Thor.’ The storyline was an explosive final chapter for Jane Foster’s time as Thor. The dramatic moments of heartache and despair are perfectly captured the majestic pencils of Dauterman. Dauterman’s time over the past couple of years doing interiors has honed his craft as an artist as now his pencils are both precise and expressive. There isn’t an issue published with his interiors that with a boring page layout or panel composition. With the upcoming event storyline “The War of the Realms” slated for an April, 2019 debut, Marvel finally has also recognized the ability of the artist and crowning him as the main artist on an upcoming event storyline. The teaser art for the project was nothing short of majestic as well, featuring a wide array of Marvel heroes striking interesting poses. Although we only received a few published issues with interiors from Dauterman in 2018, each page he drew counted. The climactic final moments in Thor #705 and #706 served as a fitting finale to an entire era of Thor’s mythology. These two installments were filled with tons of emotion and pathos. Aside from some of the hard-hitting action moments, Dauterman had to make sure the series carried the emotional weight Foster’s final moments as the God of Thunder deserved. Plus, covers for titles like “Death of the Inhumans” and “Black Panther” were among some of the finest published by Marvel in 2018. Here’s to another stellar year for Dauterman and the coming of “The War of the Realms” next year! – Alexander JonesContinued below
2. Mitch Gerads
Mitch Gerads has been around comics for a little while now, often working with Tom King, but I think “Mister Miracle” is when I really took notice of just how good he is. He leveled up on this book, from what I can tell, and most of comics took notice. That 2018 “Best Artist” Eisner wasn’t without good reason.
Since 2018 was largely Gerads drawing and coloring “Mister Miracle,” that’s what is constant in my mind. His use of of textures on his characters, on backgrounds, on colors, on everything gives the world of Scott and Barda a roughness to it that matches their own life at the moment. Gerads also excels at small facial expressions, something very small and subtle, that adds a lot to an overall story. The small glances between Scott and Barda, small actions that add to the overall story in immense ways, give the characters a sense of life or action more than what is stated on the panel.
It speaks a lot to Gerads’s skill that he only illustrated a handful of issues this year, certainly fewer than many others on this list, but his art looms large. That he inked and colored all his own work likely accounts for some of the smaller output, but it also gives a sense of continuity to his work. Gerads is 100% in control of his art, from start to finish, making sure that each page and panel are exactly how he wants them to be. The result is a body of work that feels incredibly unique, mixing the mundane and the otherworldly with impeccable skill. Gerads can switch from a bearded, band tee wearing Scott Free sitting on the couch in his living room to a bloody, sword-wielding Mister Miracle waging war on Apokalips effortlessly, making each look just as crisp and vibrant as the other. A lot of artist can draw a really cool or flashy superhero fight. Not as many can draw a man checking his phone or talking to his wife and make it just as fun to read.
Gerads is an artist that improves on each and every project, incorporating what he learns and using it to push himself even more. With how good his work was in 2018, I absolutely can’t wait to see what he gets up to in 2019 and how high up our list he lands in a year’s time. – Leo Johnson
1. Joëlle Jones
For Joëlle Jones, this year was all about Catwoman. Since July, she has been both writing and illustrating the feline thief’s new solo series, which is probably the best thing to come out of the grand Batman/Catwoman wedding fiasco. The wedding storyline caused some resentment among fans, media and retailers alike, but Jones’s contributions to the event still shone through. She designed Selina Kyle’s wedding dress and provided beautiful artwork for “Batman” #44 and #50. I even know people who didn’t care about the storyline but bought the issues illustrated by Jones separately because they like her art so much. When an artist’s artwork being featured in an issue becomes a merit of its own, you know their popularity is booming. Having been previously nominated for three Eisner Awards, Jones’s talent has hardly gone unnoticed in the past. However, it was probably her stint on “Batman” last and this year that made her the name on everyone’s lips and an obvious choice to helm the new “Catwoman” series.
Jones is both a strong writer and artist, but drawing is where she really shines. Her style is very distinct but fits both traditional superheroics and wilder premises, like her past violent murder comedy series “Lady Killer.” Her style manages to be simultaneously clean and ornamental; backgrounds and decorative details such as patterns on clothing are drawn meticulously but never distract from the most important thing in the panel, such as characters’ movements and faces. Jones’s fight scenes are eloquent and sleek, still conveying the brutal force of the kicks and punches. Especially in “Catwoman” her drawings are in constant movement, both with the characters and with the changing angles and panel sizes.
In 2018, Jones has shown her skill not only in storytelling, but also design. In addition to Selina’s black-laced wedding dress, DC gave Jones the task of redesigning Catwoman’s outfit. Redesigning an outfit for an iconic comic character with nearly 80 years of history is never an easy task, but Catwoman is especially tricky as she has had a few quite… let’s say unfortunate costume designs in the past. Jones rose up to the challenge and her design seems to have been accepted by the readers. While not strictly comic book work, in 2018 Jones has also designed statues for the DC Cover Girls line, with the Batgirl one being especially memorable, as the playful pose starkly differs from the usual supermodel-style poses of superhero figurines.Continued below
Joëlle Jones has a careful artistic eye for every aspect of comic storytelling: action and movements, character’s anatomy, expressions and designs, layouts and angles, the mood of a scene, the small details. Being the first female artist to ever draw interiors and covers for an ongoing “Batman” storyline, her impact can’t be overlooked, and 2018 was the year Jones really made an impact on us. – Frida Keränen
Matt: Some big heavy-hitters here. Also some newcomers and some people who’ve been working forever starting to rise up in prominence within the Direct Market world. I think it’s fitting Jones was our number one pick, not just because she’s solid, but also because her art seems to move throughout these styles effortlessly.
Brian: Jones has been great for a few years now, and it is nice to see her finally starting to get the reputation she’s long deserved. One of the best parts of the past few years is the fact that the we’ve seen more prominent gigs for female artists lately. For years, it seemed like Fiona Staples was the only woman on our list every year, but we luckily have added a few to those ranks. We’re still not 50/50, but we are getting there.