By Molly Jane Kremer, Scott Southard, Arpad Okay, 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 2015 walks out the door, we take a moment to tip our hat one last time to the incredible work these people put out this year. We are forever grateful.
THE BEST ARTISTS OF THE YEAR
Mike Allred. (Silver Surfer, Art Ops, cover artist for Batman ’66 and basically everything else) I could very easily turn the entirety of DoomRocket into a Mike Allred fan site and sit back, satisfied, that I had fulfilled my destiny. There are several reasons why Mike Allred is my first choice for Best Artist of the Year, and all of them are valid; but the only reason that counts is this — Allred continues to be the charge of energy this industry will always need, busting his ass with an ceaseless deluge of high-quality work while schooling each and every one of us in the methods of sophisticated cool.
His signature style evokes thoughts of the freakout style of Spain Rodriguez, the deterministic sobriety of Charles Burns, and phosphorescent pop of Andy Warhol. If comic books had a wizard, it would be Mike Allred. And nobody — and I do mean nobody — nails Adam West’s signature cheekbones quite like him. — JJ
Russell Dauterman. (The Mighty Thor) Russell Dauterman seemingly came out of nowhere last year, and in his Marvel debut on Cyclops, drew only three issues before getting scooped up for Thor. Paired with colorist extraordinaire Matthew Wilson (best colorist of the year, hands-down), every single ding-dang issue of The Mighty Thor (on its second post-relauch issue: new adjective, same creative team) has the kind of art that causes the reader to pause at the end of each page to admire, wide-eyed, the beauty on display.
Whether drawing eviscerated elves floating in the dead of space, or the fantastical sparkling-rainbow splendor of Asgard, Dauterman adds detail and unmissable flair that helps make The Mighty Thor one of Marvel’s best titles. He even has the wherewithal, and the eye, to have The Mighty Thor #1’s cover feature our good lady Thor unmistakably muscled, in a heroic pose somehow in no way sexualized. Thor Odinson, however, is in a position female side-characters are typically relegated to: off-center and drawn smaller, with a well-defined butt facing the reader. But Dauterman can be judged by much more than that cover: his Thor interiors are glorious, emotive, stylized, and detailed, and are a huge reason why the series has been such an exhilarating success. — MJ
Jamie McKelvie. (Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl, The Wicked + The Divine) There’s something decisively distinct but universally appealing about McKelvie’s art style. The faces he builds for individual characters are decidedly human, and the emotive facial expressions display a modicum of nuance and subtlety that eschews the typical binary notions of nothing or everything. McKelvie works within a spectrum of human emotion and uses it on every single panel.
If Gillen is writing good characters, McKelvie is turning them into good humans. They come across as friends you love, coworkers you kind of hate, and when everything comes together, the admirable and despicable aspects of yourself that you notice far too often.
He demonstrates an unparallelled level of care and rigor that never wanes. He’s clearly made it to an elite class of artists that deserves recognition and a big high five. — SS
Adrian Alphona. (Ms. Marvel) I believe that Adrian Alphona can do it all. He has an innocent whimsy, and he can nail action in an exciting and frequently novel way. But for me it is something beyond that. He makes little moments bigger. Ms. Marvel spends as much time dealing with Kamala Khan’s problems as it does her saving the world. Kamala and her friends are written realistically (after all, even the fantastic characters have a everyday side). Alphona’s style makes them realer than real, charming in the way the strange folk from a Wes Anderson sketchbook would be, cooler than possible. So Alphona is rooted in her world, but there are no limits to where his pen can go. The gang can be considered normal but still get as bendy and distorted as the mood fits. Choosing to draw them larger than life matches their uncontainable spirit. The artwork reminds me of my first grown-up comic book love, Sam Keith and The Maxx. More specifically, Friends of Maxx, a comic about normal people in very strange situations trying to fix mundane problems. I love stuff like that and Alphona delivers 100% — AOK
(Where we made room to love all over a few more.)
Alexis Ziritt. (Space Riders) Full disclosure: I’ve been trolling Alexis Ziritt’s Flickr page for years now. And I have to say that it’s been an absolute pleasure hyping his output this past year, if for no other reason than I get to oogle his retina-scorching wares for hours and I’m still able to call it “work”.
Ziritt would be an asset to any comic company that dared to shake his hand. And while it’s plenty selfish of me to daydream about the artist taking on the Batman (at least there will always be this), or even some whacked-out space saga featuring Superman versus the dread Braniac, Ziritt’s presence at Black Mask Studios is the best possible outcome for all involved, up to and including the fans who eagerly soak up every piece of imagery the man can conjure. Who knows whether or not Space Riders II is coming sooner or later (it’s only an inevitability); if Ziritt packed up his pens and markers and called it a career, we would always have one of the finest comic works of this or any year. — JJ
Tula Lotay. (The Wicked + The Divine, Supreme: Blue Rose, Zero) Tula Lotay has one of the most distinctive styles in comics today, and there’s no other way to say it: she creates the prettiest sequentials of any current artist in the industry. Also a relative newcomer to comics, her first major work was the dizzying Supreme: Blue Rose with Warren Ellis, an unusual but startlingly beautiful read thanks to Lotay’s pages.
Her work on The Wicked + The Divine #13 (my favorite single issue of the year) was revelatory; though many could have made main character Tara look “pretty”, Lotay imbued her with emotional depth and complexities matched by her physically statuesque appearance. Lotay’s painterly, impressionistic style and soft flourishes pair with an impressive grasp of storytelling. That makes her a talent to watch, and one to certainly follow. — MJ
Brandon Graham. (Island, Multiple Warheads, The Wicked + The Divine) There are a million folks that deserve this slot, so I instinctively made my decision based on pure principle. Graham is doing some really amazing work, bringing together his favorite creators for haunting one-offs and inspiring small series. The result isn’t always pristine, but it is inarguably raw and unmistakably real. Island doesn’t have a perfect issue yet, but each one has been a fascinating look at the indie comic community. We get to view the results of some of the weirder minds in comics without traditional rules applying. The curation of Graham is very present, as the issues tend to hold together with coherent themes and styles, even if the adhesive isn’t always readily apparent.
His appearance throughout the Image catalog is a testament to his abilities and his jack-of-all-trades approach to comics. It’s impossible to nail down Graham’s style, and with complete creative freedom, I don’t know that he even understands what he’s putting out there. Brandon Graham is one of the most positive forces in the progression of comics, and I’m overjoyed with the amount of control and content he’s had in 2015. — SS
Jill Thompson. (Beasts of Burden) Jill Thompson has established herself as the unparalleled master of watercolor a long time ago. From simple to complex, she can make anything look good; she can adapt from any kind of content and yet the finished page is always unmistakably hers. She can go from sweet to real to visceral to shocking in the same work — and the work of latest note is Beasts of Burden. What a joy it is to see her paint dogs and woods and monsters, all these things I love. In the hands of anyone else, supernatural dog detectives just wouldn’t go. Too cute. Too macabre. Thompson keeps everything real and raw, borderline Audubon, but she also captures expressions and body language bursting with character and humanity.
Not only is her painting exquisite, its quality elevates the story. Her talent allows for better writing because she can make all those crazy ideas work. Grant and Frank did We3 and it was horrifying and heartbreaking. Evan and Jill go to there with Beasts of Burden and further to places beautiful and occasionally hilarious. Thompson is a legend who continues to raise the bar by hurling it into space. — AOK
Who was YOUR favorite artist this year? Let us know in the comments section below.