by Arpad Okay, Clyde Hall, and Jarrod Jones. They faced a void of endless canvas armed only with a stylus and the will to create. They warred, they danced, they won; their creative accomplishments thrilled us, and we are forever grateful. These are the best artists of 2022.
Joe Quinones (Batman ’89, DC). If you know Joe Quinones at all, you know this guy digs Burton Batman the most. Batman ’89, then, would seem to be a dream project made real for Joe: drawing panels scripted by Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm and given carte blanche to realize his vision of a world that could have been had Warner Bros just let Burton do his freaky Burton thing all over Gotham City all those years ago. I can’t even imagine how ecstatic Joe must have been when he was given the green light on this thing. Yet enthusiasm did not dull this artist’s stylus; Batman ’89 only honed his eye for reverent, cinema-devouring detail: Billy Dee Williams’ Harvey Dent lives on, much to Harv’s peril, in these pages; Winona Ryder becomes Barbara Gordon because that’s probably what Burton might have done; Robin lives, not exactly a Wayans, but as he could have been had things been different in 1989. (Can we get a Superman Lives comic, Joe? Please?) As an open love letter to a character whose media-hopping success has been such a formative thing for all of us, Quinones’ work on Batman ’89 was a 2022 flex like no other. — JJ
Lucie Bryon (Thieves, Nobrow). She didn’t know she stole from her crush; she didn’t know her crush stole it from someone else. How to return it, and to whom, is tackled by Bryon in a hilarious, smart, and deeply personal way, aesthetically present as jovial, flexible, confident artwork. The minimal colors paired with such a cartoony bold inky illustration style make for a book that feels—in so many ways, really—like a hand-pulled, screen-printed concert poster. There are individual layers you can still conceptually separate, color and line and texture and negative space, but each is strongest when they come together. And it’s hyper feet, super kicks, rock ‘n’ roll. Bryon leans into the silly and values having fun making lines over following art school rules, but damn, the work is so clean and slick. An unerringly professional finish, lifted up by pure zine exuberance. — AOK
Greg Smallwood (The Human Target, DC). For a story set during the Justice League 1980s incarnation by Giffen and Maguire, Smallwood renders concentrated 1960s elegance. His linework carries an aesthetic of period commercial art cool in swimsuits, cars, and architecture. He channels the ghosts of Alex Toth and Doug Wildey, asserting Smallwood’s Christopher Chance occupies reality strata with Race Bannon and Dr. Benton Quest. In Ice, Smallwood fittingly conveys the poise and mystery of a Hitchcock blonde. This mixture of continuity and stylistic time periods could clash, but he crafts cohesion throughout the series. With each issue centering around one or two League characters in a D.O.A neo-noir murder mystery, Smallwood’s work is also tailored for the featured superheroes. He makes the Blue Beetle sequences in The Human Target lighthearted and fun, and the Guy Gardner appearances edgy and bullying, yet his artwork organically twines each mood into the ongoing narrative, stirring the Vodka martini and never shaking it. — CH
Ben Clarkson (Justice Warriors, AHOY Comics). Life in Bubble City may be sweet, but in the UZ, it sure is a pain in the ass. The Haves keep Havin’ and the Have Nots, aka the Uzzers, have Had It. Watching the social bubble burst in AHOY Comics’ Justice Warriors, co-created by Matt Bors and Ben Clarkson, has been the kind of hoot that winds you. Fleshing out the series’ viciously concise and painfully funny future satire, Clarkson’s scuzzy line work and funky character models cut like Spain Rodriguez ran amok in Mega-City One. His panels are stuffed with those offbeat weirdoes who congregate in our mind’s eye view of our real-world wide web: NFT apes and savage cop dragons and aspirin heads and wide-eyed naifs and all those other wild freakazoids who fill out our social threads populate this sordid polemic, all of them looking for their crust of bread and a balancing of the scales. Justice Warriors is wild, gnarly comics, but Clarkson’s uncanny ability to weave a semblance of poignancy into all this havoc also makes it quite the heady brew. — JJ
Linnea Sterte (A Frog In The Fall (And Later On), Peow Studio). Sterte’s is a deeply stylized warrior’s fable, a poem really, of a young amphibian being shown the world by a couple of vagabonds. Robust, lively characters rendered with the intricate, fragile linework of a naturalist. It adheres to folktale rules and logic, animal-people hybrids who act like both, their little lives’ customs and hospitality exert an influence on the journey—the somber documentarian rather than a fantasist. Then there’s the book’s composition, a reflection of the poetry of the story itself. A comic made in a filmmaker’s aspect ratio, with binding designed to fall just so, dead flat; each page is half of an ultra-oblong super widescreen. A gentle texture compliments and preserves the negative space and the spindly contour lines. A lost comic from another time, an object that is an objet d’art. — AOK
Tom Reilly (Ant-Man, Marvel). Marvel’s four-issue celebration of Ant-Man’s 60th anniversary was succinct, with very different ant-mantle wearers plucked from across time by a future bearer of the heroic identity. Yet Reilly accomplishes an impressive chameleon performance throughout its duration. For each, he skillfully imitates the style of artists who originally rendered the various featured Ant-Men before bringing them all together in their distinctive aesthetics for a final showdown against a most challenging adversary. Coupled with how scripter Al Ewing emulated the writing style of diverse Ant-Man scribes from these represented eras, Reilly’s illustrations make this one of the most satisfying character anniversaries in recent memory. His craftsmanship is the beating heart of a classic superhero’s celebration, and it’s timed to the beat of fans who knew Ant-Man was one of the most formidable Avengers before the MCU was even a glint in the Disney Company’s corporate eye. — CH
Bilquis Evely (Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, DC). Bilquis Evely’s pencils are a sight to behold; the fleeting glimpses we’ve seen from her Twitter account make me pine for an artist’s edition of Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, Evely’s latest work and possibly her most sublime yet. Set across uncharted expanses of the DC Universe where even Lanterns fear to tread and painted with a boozy Rooster Cogburn brush, Evely’s lines sweep, swoosh, and coalesce into the most lushly realized cosmic comics I’ve seen from a major publisher since I don’t know when. More, Evely’s inks are astonishing; delicately placed brushstrokes detail starships, the drapes of a billowing cape, the stress and fatigue on a super-brow, each page is a feast for the eyes and a tonic for our diet of dashed-out superhero monthlies. Supergirl boasts expert work from an artist who further establishes her place among the artistic legends who have, through pen and paper, realized action comics featuring the last children from Krypton these last 80-odd years. I’ve been saying it for years, and make no mistake: Evely is the future. — JJ
What were your favorite artists of 2022? Let us know in the comments section below.
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