by Arpad Okay, Brendan Hodgdon and Jarrod Jones. Every minute of this job is an absolute pleasure, and that’s due in no small part to our ability to enjoy and scrutinize works from the finest artists living on this planet today. As 2019 walks out the door, we take a moment to honor the incredible work these people put out this year.
Afu Chan. (‘Outer Darkness’, Skybound/Image Comics) It astounds me how beautiful Afu Chan renders the wild expanses of Outer Darkness. It’s sleek like a space odyssey ought to be, but it’s also a horror joint from the mind of Chew master chef John Layman, so it’s supposed to be gross, too. Outer Darkness is gross, you better believe it, but under Afu Chan’s stylus there comes an intrinsic beauty to the book’s countless cosmic slaughters. Chan makes brutality look so… pleasing. (Also, his spaceships rule.)
Outer Darkness, with its killer gods and last-minute exorcisms and impeccably-dressed megalomaniacs, is a circus of the damned. So Chan gives the book the requisite showman’s flourish, with awe-inspiring intergalactic vistas paired with luminously-realized moments of wit and charisma. Outer Darkness is a manga-infused masterwork that moves like Hollywood, scares like Clive Barker, and cuts like Ginsu. Let Afu Chan draw 100 issues of Outer Darkness. I’ll buy each and every one of them. — JJ
Lorena Alvarez. (‘Hicotea: A Nightlights Story’, Nobrow Ltd.) Lorena Alvarez’s artwork in Hicotea can stop a page dead. The story ceases to matter when presented with museum walls, living maps, cosmic growths, swamp blossom bubbles. Alvarez harnesses tremendous beauty to celebrate our world, to detail the world within the story she tells, and to inspire a world within the reader. Alvarez is cartoony but measured and certain, precise as the veins in a leaf. Very cute, fairly witchy, and wrapped well around itself so that dreamy adventures and scholarly sweetness rest comfortably together on the page as notebook doodles of living metaphors. Hearty nourishment for the eyes, imagination. — AOK
Hayden Sherman. (‘Thumbs’, Image Comics; ‘Wasted Space’, Vault Comics; ‘Mary Shelley: Monster Hunter’, AfterShock Comics) Hayden Sherman has a careful and impressive ability to cultivate a very specific, unmistakable style and yet make it fit into a very disparate collection of titles, subjects, and settings. He takes a sharp, monochromatic approach to color, carefully choosing just the right hue to drop in amongst his scratchy pencils and inks to breathe stark, vivid life into the work. And that rough, kinetic base from his pencils and inks give his work a refreshingly punk quality as well. That he also handled the letters on Thumbs is just the cherry on top of the sundae that was Sherman’s year. — BFH
Joe Quinones. (‘Dial H for Hero’, Wonder Comics/DC) It feels like I’d be doing Dial H for Hero a disservice if I didn’t innovate a couple new superlatives to describe one of the outright finest artistic showings of 2019. I’m bewilderdashed by what Joe Quinones has done with this book. His work is an awestravaganza, of wonder, of mayhem, of everything great about cape comics.
With every turn of the dial, Joe amazes. The varied styles he employs in these issues are micro-tributes to the artists who have inspired him over the years (Mike & Laura Allred, Erica Henderson, Bruce Timm, Alex Ross, Jaime Hernandez, etc. etc. etc. etc.), each rendition a surprise, a joy. Every turn of the page widens the eyes, warms the blood, sends endorphins charging through you. It’s a Saturday morning symphony. Super Friends on Pixy Sticks.
Joe, who teamed with inker Scott Hanna, colorist Jordan Gibson and a litany of equally incredible artists on this book, is currently doing the work of his career. A confluence of nostalgia, publisher, talent and timing, Dial H for Hero is a toy box of pop perfection. It’s undoubtedly Joe’s toy box, and he’s a prince for sharing. — JJ
Max Sarin. (‘Giant Days’, BOOM! Box/BOOM! Studios) Giant Days is over. Giant Days lives. Look at the image above. I’ve turned the last pages of this wonderful series, set them on my shelves, and yet a single glance at Max Sarin’s work on Giant Days can send me tumbling back into caffeine-fueled reveries of one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had.
Max Sarin’s character work is sincerity and strength, powered by nuclear-grade humor that will send barking guffaws across libraries, buses, quiet living rooms, restaurants. Her figures are elastic, bent to the feels of the individuals who populate Giant Days—if Esther de Groot is feeling mighty, Sarin’s panels erupt. Low camera angles catch a glint of madness in Esther’s eyes. If Daisy Wooten is feeling maudlin, her spaghetti limbs limp to her sides, the floof of her hair droops at the exact precious angle of her pout. If Susan Ptolemy has designs on the brow-beaten McGraw, her eyes become daggers, her grin a Chuck Jones smirk of mirth, while McGraw’s mustache becomes a fuzzy, inverted ‘v’ of acquiescence. Sarin’s the best cartoonist comics has, the dean of Merrie Melodies: The College Years.
We’ve come to love these characters, because Max loved them, made them live. On the pages of Giant Days is life itself, a song of friendship, of jubilation, a small triumph. — JJ
Guillaume Singelin. (‘PTSD’, First Second) Guillaume Singelin has, in PTSD, provided both the cute content and the action content my poor post-modern brain craves. A combat equipment fetish but with kid lit sensibilities. Singelin’s character designs are striking, a sofubi chunky with big head and thick limbs. But these arms have elbows, elbow connects to solar plexus, boot to fibula, tibia. Jim Jarmusch’s Metal Slug.
Just as magnificent as the characters in PTSD is the city these lost warriors must return to. A short walk will take you from the cyberpunk street bazaar across town to a quiet stretch by the water or to a memorial shrine in the woods, from dystopian urban squalor to My Neighbor Totoro. The whole of it is done with a sensitive, hesitant watercolor style.
Singelin’s gestures are bold, finished with spindled inks and dabbed in shades. The delicate hand brings together cute puppy and combat wounded veteran. PTSD has the year’s best dog, for those keeping score, an utter fluff. Rough rumble tumble street stray support animal. — AOK
Christian Ward. (‘Invisible Kingdom’, ‘Machine Gun Wizards’, Dark Horse Comics) With each new project, Christian Ward confirms his standout talents, and continues to exhibit gorgeous fluidity in his work like no other. He’s comfortable with pastels and neons in ways few artists are, showing a thoughtfulness that keeps his work from looking garish. His sense of framing remains understated and sharp, as he knows when to condense panels to suggest increased tempo, or to use a splash panel to sell the grandeur of a moment. That he also took on writing duties this year reinforces Ward’s skill with the medium, a skill that will only grow going forward. — BFH
Steve Pugh. (‘Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass’, DC) Steve Pugh rendered a riot with Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass, by leaps and bounds the best graphic novel DC published in 2019. It was a royal flush of youthful exuberance and defiance, a macabre ballet of madness and victory. Flip through Pugh’s pages and try to keep your breath. He’s that good here.
Paired with Mariko Tamaki’s vision, Pugh effectively turned a DC icon into a person—a friend, perhaps, but one you would never dare cross. Looming over a Gotham City rooftop, her eyes reflecting an inferno, Harley Quinn showed me a vision of what cape comics could look like unrestrained from continuity or template. Pugh’s illustrations in Breaking Glass gave me a sugar rush, and also something that closely resembled an epiphany. — JJ
Eldo Yoshimizu. (‘Ryuko’, Hard Case Crime/Titan Comics) Eldo Yoshimizu is a sculptor and a gearhead so when I tell you his statuesque girl gang biker yakuza toughs are as cool as they come, believe me. But what gave Ryuko the best splash page of 2019 was Yoshimizu’s inventive, stylish lettering. A motorcycle hits a subway car with a thud that cuts across the entire page, larger than the action, as loud as loud gets. The lettering is moody, intense, with sound effects that are as much a part of the art and layouts as guns and vendettas are. From chaotic to calculated choices, nothing reads like Ryuko. — AOK
Dani. (‘Coffin Bound’, Image Comics; ‘The Low Low Woods’, Hill House Comics/DC) Dani’s artwork is raw, sharp, hard surfaces and jagged textures. It’s also soft, ethereal, moody, captivating. The worlds Dani realizes can be felt from the page. Deserts scorch. Nightclubs seethe. When there’s smoke, you feel a scratch at the back of your throat. When someone gets cut in Dani’s comics, you feel it.
You’ll feel Coffin Bound. It’s a tactile reading experience. That’s Dani’s ability, to make you feel what her characters are feeling—not just feels, but pain, comfort, agony, ecstasy. Dani renders the character Izzy, a Furiosa of vengeance powering through wastes both metaphorical and vividly real with a talking vulture skull and a whole buncha guns, and you get it. Instantly, you get it. The world Izzy’s leaving is a fucking weird and dangerous place, filled with things that will bruise, slice, break you. Dani doesn’t flinch, and neither do we. — JJ
Who was your favorite artist this year? Let us know in the comments section below.