Top Ten Comic Artists of 2012

A column article, Top Ten by: Dylan Tano, David Fairbanks, Steve Morris, Danny Djeljosevic, Chris Kiser, Shawn Hill, Zack Davisson, Keith Silva


Lots of people drew real nice in 2012, but these are the ones we thought drew the nicest?

- Danny Djeljosevic


Riley Rossmo

(Green Wake, Rebel Blood, Debris, Bedlam)



Let us take a quick look at some of the comics Riley Rossmo has worked on this year. Green Wake, Rebel Blood, Debris and Bedlam. That is a pretty amazing list. The art from any one of those is strong enough to put him into contention on this list but putting together but when you add all of them together you get one hell of a resume. Rossmo has a unique style that I really haven't come across with any other artist in the industry. The closest would be Emma Rios; who has also made this list. Her style shares the sketched edges that Rossmo incorporates but Rossmo takes it a step further; he lets the rough edges define the figure. This method works wonders for books like Green Wake and Rebel Blood. Combine this with his multimedia use of coloring materials -- including watercolor -- and you'll get a comic book that isn't quite like anything else on the shelves. 



Yet, he isn't restricted to that style. When you see him in Debris and Bedlam he keeps the images tighter, using color manipulation; like the heavy use of red in Bedlam to convey a sense of menace. The world of Debris is colorful and tightly drawn, with defined edges and a lot brighter color palette. This is the portrait of an artist coming into his own. 

Also, he gave us this instantly iconic villain design:



- Dylan Tano


Farel Dalrymple


Farel Dalrymple is an artist that I wish I'd stumbled on much, much sooner. I'm confident that I had seen his work before his two issues of Prophet, but right now, I'll have to credit Brandon Graham's self-described "Conan in space" to introducing me to one of the best comics artists I've seen in some time.

He brings a somewhat gruesome, violent feeling to Prophet that is complemented by his smooth, futuristic spaceship and technology designs. Bizarre alien species mingle on the page with the (relatively) human John Prophet, and they don't even look a little bit out of place. He's got a humanity to his aliens that, while not necessary for a series like this to survive, makes it feel much more natural. Of course, that humanity melts away the second they try to eat someone.



Dalrymple's art is a nice mixture that fits the tone of Prophet incredibly well, and it just feels right that I'm talking about him in a list where we've also got James Stokoe as well. Dalrymple's art is a nice hybrid of Stokoe's highly detailed linework and Graham's smooth, graffiti-influenced style.

For those who really got into his style in Prophet, I've got Omega the Unknown and Pop Gun War sitting atop my "to read" pile, and you should too. Check out his website as well to see what else he's been working on lately; there's been a fair amount this year beyond two issues of Prophet, including a page in New Avengers #34, a cover for Once Upon a Time Machine and more.

- David Fairbanks


Emma Rios

(Doctor Strange: Year One, Captain Marvel, Prophet)


The past few years have seen Emma Rios' art grow from an amazing experiment in character design and panel layout to a masterclass in how to distort and unwind a comic book page. Fresh off her dabble around the world of Spider-Man (she filled in for Chris Bachalo during the "Shed" storyline, and was the lead artist for Osborn and Cloak & Dagger's Spider-Island tie-in miniseries, this year saw Rios take over. When not announcing the creator-owned Pretty Deadly for next year, she was busy flitting from Marvel to Image, putting her talents to good use on Prophet and Captain Marvel. Her most startling piece of work this year, however, was surely her role in the Doctor Strange: Season One graphic novel.



With her beguiling and ethereal twist on anatomy and character, her art proved perfect for a book about magic, with the effects and world she created taking Greg Pak's script and making it entirely her own. Not only does hers art look distinctive, however -- she also has an incredible grasp on emotion and storytelling. She has an uncanny ability to take a page, fill it with chaos, but provide a structure which makes every single part of the page fit a logical structure. Nobody commands a splash page like Emma Rios, with each panel placed carefully amidst an overwhelming central loss of control. Her art flips around on itself and catches the eye in the strangest of places -- and yet it all falls into place.



It's the sort of art you can spend hours dissecting, to see how she organizes a mass of limbs and magic spells into a cohesive piece of work which also tells a story. The more she improvises and experiments, the more revelatory and astounding her artwork becomes. Sure, she can draw a conversational scene and play it straight. But why would anybody want to write that for her when she can whip up a fantastical, whimsical world all her own? Emma Rios' art has been absolutely stunning this year, and I can't wait to see what she's got coming up in 2013.

- Steve Morris


Ross Campbell



In terms of reasonable representations of the female form, comic books are, if nothing else, ahead of video games, but probably not by very much. At least, in comics the female characters have some agency before the fans start debating who they'd like to fuck, and I don't think male fans got too angry about Womanthology, at least? Yeah, that sense of superiority is well earned. Good job Djeljosevic.



Anyway, Glory is based on a Rob Liefeld property, and the way he draws ladies certainly doesn't jibe with any woman you've even seen outside of a sideshow (and I say that as an appreciator of the Rob, no offense but y'all know how he draws). With that in mind, it's actually kinda funny Joe Keatinge's story of an alien warrior who punches the crap out of things involves not just women, but human beings and aliens of different shapes, ages, body types, species and -- in the broadest sense -- sizes, all lovingly illustrated by Ross Campbell.



Campbell rises to the occasion, as so few artists do. Too many seem limited by their interests or lack of range, so working with a collaborator who asks for more than pin-ups results in a barrel of awkward. Not so with Glory, where his young twentysomethings look young and twentysomething, his older women look like older women and his seemingly ageless, muscly alien warriors look seemingly ageless and muscly. The best example is how distinct Glory and her sister Nanaja look -- you can tell not only age, but you get a sense of Nanaja's rebellious spunkiness being at odds with our protagonist.



But other than my politically motivated reasons for cramming him into this list, Ross Campbell is a straight up regular great artist, delivering what we want from a comic based on a dormant '90s Image Comics property -- extreme violence. While Campbell is known for the more subdued Wet Moon, there are no superlatives ejaculatory enough to describe his ability to draw two alien ladies bro pounding so hard that their arms explode.

- Danny Djeljosevic


Nick Pitarra

(The Manhattan Projects)

2011 wasn't a bad year for Nick Pitarra by any means. He had a breakout effort with an A-list writer on The Red Wing, a four-issue Image miniseries that we thought was pretty okay. It was a more-than-solid artistic effort with a few truly brilliant pages, fully cementing Pitarra as a talented illustrator in the Frank Quitely mold with a knack for nailing sci-fi concepts. But, while he may not exactly have been riding with training wheels prior to 2012, this was the year in which he brought his bike out of the garage with a couple of machine guns strapped to the sides.



Hyperbole is just about the only way anyone could hope to speak intelligently about The Manhattan Projects anymore, and Pitarra has a whole lot to do with that. His work may have become a tad squigglier and less "realistic" than it was in his previous projects, but that's just what the physicist ordered for this series about teleporting death Buddhists and devil-worshipping US presidents. The alternate postwar 20th century that writer Jonathan Hickman has imagined is a wacky to the max place, and Pitarra has perfectly captured its spirit visually. The book wears strangeness on its sleeve, and it only gets stranger once you hold it up close and soak in all its Waldo-esque details.



Manhattan Projects also boasts a larger than life cast, the varied personalities within made abundantly overt by Pitarra's renderings. It takes not a single line of dialogue for the book to communicate that General Groves is a thick-skulled, war-mongering lout, nor is there a doubt that poor Helmutt's weak posture and sad eyes indicate a life of subservience. Pitarra makes sure we know exactly what these characters are like just by looking at them. And when it comes to his Einstein (Albert and… others), give Pitarra a gold star for taking the face of a universally recognized icon and making it his own.

- Chris Kiser


James Stokoe

(Orc Stain, Godzilla: The Half-Century War)

There's only one bad thing I can say about James Stokoe, and that is that he could put out two comics a month and it wouldn't be enough. His style is a breath of fresh air to comics, as not only does he draw some of the most amazingly detailed weirdness, but he rocks a color palette that you just don't see much in comics. Sickly purples and pinks and greens that definitely make his art pop off of the page.

I won't lie that it took me a bit to really get into Orc Stain, but now I'm almost at the point of frustration that we've had to wait so long for issues of it. Instead, we're getting Godzilla: The Half Century War, which is certainly the best Godzilla comic I've read (I won't reach for hyperbole and say the best ever, but it is entirely possible that it is, considering Stokoe's talent and his love for that gigantic lizard), and it's nice to be getting a somewhat regular dose of Stokoe again.



There's really not a ton I can say about him, though, as his art really speaks for itself. He's very clearly of a similar make to Brandon Graham and Corey Lewis with the innate strangeness of his fiction, which, when you juxtapose it with such striking art, makes it clear that he is someone you'll want to keep an eye on for the entirety of his career. Follow him on Tumblr or Wordpress to keep up with the weirdness. 

- David Fairbanks


Fiona Staples

(Saga, National Comics: Madame X)

As a kid I went heavy for shit like MTV's Liquid Television, glorious, giddy explosions of imagination and wit and bodies falling apart, distorted and contorting at the whim of creators who seemed to have as much idea about what would happen next in the story as I did. I didn't get it, or understand it, and I couldn't explain why I liked any of it, but it instilled within me a fixation on imagination run rampant, logic not necessarily included. 



From there I wised up to Charles Burns, to the Heavy Metal crew, to artists that knew how to make dreams they possibly shared with me come to a vivid kind of life.

I don't know that Fiona Staples had a similar experience, and it really doesn't even matter whether she did, but in 2012, her work on Saga keyed into that sci-fi lizard element of my brain in a very big way and I both hate and love her for it. Hate because goddamn how do you not look at that artwork and get hooked like some kid getting hip to hallucinogens for the first time? Love because it's been a while since a comic and its art has so specifically set off my pleasure nodes and had me in salacious throes.

Saga of course received plenty of attention because it marked Brian K. Vaughan's epic return to the form he made his name in, and his contributions are not to be ignored. But the way I see it, Saga is Vaughan pushing Staples' limits, testing her to see where her breaking point is. Can she make two Videodrome-like beings fucking seem both sexy and believably implausible, so human and so alien? Fuck yes. Can she make a ghoulish disemboweled floating horror babysitter utterly lovable and utterly terrifying? Fuck yes. 



Staples above all else makes Saga a world of infinite possibility, where a cosmic sci-fi romance fantasy about star crossed and perpetually doomed lovers with hordes of unwashed storybook masses on their heels is never anything other than completely mesmerizing in its detail and viability. Staples didn't have a lot of projects to her name this year because how the fuck could she? Saga is her lifeforce in ink and on paper, transmuted digitally as necessary and explosive no matter the delivery.

- Nick Hanover


David Aja




Which issue of Hawkeye should I pick to showcase David Aja's talents? Issue #1, where we start with the iconic "leap from skyscraper while twisting mid-air to fire back at your foe?" The one that Renner executed so coolly in the movie (ultimately crashing through an office window and ending up maybe with a subluxated shoulder) doesn't go as well for comics Clint, who breaks some ribs, bounces off a parked car, and ends up in the hospital. That's just the beginning of his solo story about life in the hood (outside of the Avengers mansion), which will feature instead track suit wearing mobsters and the cutest sad sack lab since Old Yeller. 



Or maybe issue #2, where the Ringmaster's evil circus of crime takes us on a psychedelic trip that somehow mixes The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Blade Runner to hypnotic effect. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth must be credited as well, keeping his arsenal of tertiary colors (this is the purple issue, the first was shades of brown, the next will be shades of orange and rust; don't think I'm not waiting for olive green and baby blue, Matt!) in constant play, but they are just the supporting note to Aja's brilliant pacing and action movie anatomy. That girl Hawkeye (whom my subscription partner at the LCS insists on calling "Hawkingbird" no matter how I threaten him) ends up in disguise looking like Darryl Hannah's Pris replicant is as far as you can be from a bad thing.



No, I guess it would have to be issue #3, the best car chase sequence not in The French Connection, which is all about boys and cars and money and mobsters who say "bro" very thoughtlessly. This is the one where Kate dresses like Emma Peel, and really starts to pick up on Clint's very poor choices in the ladies. What I think I love most about it is you almost don't need Hollingsworth's colors, so clear and heavy and structural are Aja's lovely blacks that tell the story all by themselves. Maybe that's why he keeps them so simple, content to play the role of embellishment to Aja's succinct style. Aja's already established a definitive look for the title (something his awesome covers would have done on their lonesome, really) that Javier Pulido is able to cleave to (going in for a little more humor) in the following two issues. Though, you want humor, you can't beat tabbing in John Byrne's old Hawkeye headshot to preserve Clint's modesty during his nude battle sequence before the car chase.



- Shawn Hill


Richard Corben

(Ragemoor, The Conqueror Worm)


Richard Corben is like a good Islay whisky. (Or a pungent, aged cheese. You can pick your metaphor. Me, I like whisky) Not easy to swallow, not something to share with casual imbibers. Not pleasant or bright on the tongue. A strong, unique flavor with depth and maturity added by years. Strong and unique enough that many people are repulsed by it. An acquired taste. Ah, but to connoisseurs … one sip makes others seem weak and flavorless by comparison.

2012 has been a vintage year for Richard Corben. Inducted to the Eisner Hall of Fame. Reunited with his muse and mentor -- Edgar Allen Poe -- to produce some of the best comics of his career, like The Conqueror Worm and his other contributions to Dark Horse Presents. A new, original mini-series Ragemoor with his old writing partner Jan Strnad that is mind-blowing and bizarre, and one of the best horror comics I have ever read. It's as if his collaborative work on Hellboy with Mike Mignola stoked his creative fires, and prodded his mind to give up some of its dark secrets that are still lurking about in the corners. Lucky us.



Richard Corben is 72 years old. I don't mean to keep pushing his age, but for an artist -- and by "artist" I include musicians, actors, painters, writers, and any type of creative folk -- to stay vital and relevant for an entire lifetime is rare. Art is often faddish and ephemeral, focused on the "new," "innovative," and "up-and-coming." Especially in the comics world. With many of the elder statesmen of comics we respect their work and contributions, but don't really want to see anything new. And some artists' styles are so locked into their decades that their new work seems dated and even silly (Ahem… Neal Adams… ahem).

But Corben. Man, the guy just gets better and better. There is no plateau. I think he benefits from the fact that his work was never faddish. Corben started out with something that was unlike anything else seen on the comics page, and has been slowly perfecting and refining it over the decades. His art is grotesque. Bizarre. Unlovely. And beautiful. You can't mistake a Richard Corben comic for anything other than a Richard Corben comic. He is a wholly singular voice, the likes of which has never been seen before or since. And he is kicking ass in 2012.

- Zack Davisson


Becky Cloonan

(Conan the Barbarian, The Mire, Batman #12, Swamp Thing Annual #1)

Since its inception in 1940, the main Batman series has been drawn by one female artist: Becky Cloonan. When asked about what that distinction means, Cloonan is modest and sincere, a study in grace and decorous behavior, the caped crusader should be so fortunate. 



Cloonan began making comics a decade ago -- her first published work, Jennie One, was reissued this year by Dark Horse Comics as part of Channel Zero: The Complete Collection by Brian Wood -- and for the more mainstream minded, Batman #12 acts as a Bat-calling card for this fiercely independent artist. 

Conan the Barbarian shows two artists who are never willing to rest on their laurels or reissues of their work. For four issues, Cloonan and Wood rekindle their creative partnership and demonstrate that an officially licensed product, one even older and pulpier than Batman, can look younger, leaner and learn to love (and smile) when adventurous and bold creators take up the call to arms. For her part, Cloonan establishes a BĂȘlit for the ages, Hyborian or otherwise. 



For Cloonan, Batman and Conan stand as mere supports -- I could add Swamp Thing Annual #1 and an illustrated hardcover edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula as well, but that would be piling on -- for Cloonan's most important work, her self-published mini-comic, The Mire. Daniel Elkin writes about Cloonan in Comics Bulletin's list of the Top Ten Comic Writers of 2012. Elkin says, ''Cloonan plays with time seamlessly, layering her narrative with shifts from the present to the future -- a future looking at the past -- a past filled with secrets that are slowly revealed;'' and that's only her writing, you should see the art. In 2012, no artist or writer says more with twenty-four pages than Becky Cloonan does in The Mire



Ink is Cloonan's medium and signature; ink defines her as an artist. She dedicates The Mire to ''those of you with crushes on your characters.'' Cloonan takes her own advice and always draws sexy people. The power of Becky Cloonan compels me to write about comics. I don't know if that makes her Christ or a Jesuit priest; perhaps it means I am a 12-year-old girl in thrall to an Assyro-Babylonian Demon King. No matter. 2012, the year of Becky Cloonan; she did more than draw Batman. She is Batman

- Keith Silva




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