Best of 2013: Best Artist

2013 best artist

The comics industry might have trained us incorrectly. We’re meant to gobble up as much story as possible, as quickly as possible. That way we buy more comics, and Batman and Spider-Man can continue to punch dudes into perpetuity. But the books we read are far from disposable — they contain some truly astounding artwork from some of the most talented storytellers out there. They’re our directors, our actors, our choreographers, our set and costume designers. These are our top 13 artists of 2013.

13. Chris Samnee

Samnee has been sharing the storytelling credit on Daredevil with Mark Waid for years, and even when he’s not actually drawing the issue, his fingerprints are all over it. His action is stellar, clear and just shadowy enough to evoke the character’s classic darkness without wallowing in it. Samnee’s greatest strength is his ability to express Matt Murdock’s non-visual senses in a purely visual medium. This year saw Daredevil confronting the source of all his trouble over the last three years, and Samnee’s urgent action drove the story right to an incredible conclusion.

Chris Samnee

12. Jamie McKelvie

Young Avengers gets a lot of credit for Kieron Gillen’s sharp, witty dialogue, but McKelvie’s the real star of the show. As the rag-tag team of teenage superheroes tumbled through alternate versions of reality, McKelvie mastered the thankless task of rendering some of the most abstract ideas on the page — including a world that appeared to be made of rough drafts of comic book pages. Never content to merely tell an impossible story well, McKelvie injects at least one show-stopping spread into each issue — something that expands what the medium is capable of, like this awesome schematic fight sequence.

Jamie McKelvie

11. Michael Allred

FF has been a tonal anomaly — a goofy series that basks in its Bronze Age nuttiness while remaining stubbornly honest about its characters. Allred brings that “gee whiz!” honesty in spades. Plus, he manages the unwieldy task of corralling an enormous cast, imbuing even the physically identical characters with distinct personalities. It’s light and happy and never loses sight of what’s fun about this absurd situation. Over at DC, his covers for Batman ’66 have captured the intended tone of the series even better than the stories within. Allred brings a rare infectious enthusiasm to every page.

Mike Allred

10. Francesco Francavilla

I love the idea of Francesco Francavilla as a sort of hired gun that editors bring in when a series needs an extra dose of ’70s horror. All of his work is incredibly stylized, and feels suitable for just about any story, so long as it’s prepared to take a darker turn. When Hawkeye began its discursive exploration of the events leading up to Grills’ death, the first player under scrutiny was the killer himself, whose story is masterfully rendered in Francavilla’s gritty grindhouse style. It’s a signal that — while we’re still having fun — shit is getting real.

Francesco Francavilla

9. Cliff Chiang

This year of Wonder Woman has all lead to Diana reluctantly taking on the mantle of God of War — a conclusion as unlikely as it is impossible to avoid. Diana is a peaceful, loving character that will not hesitate to level her enemies when her friends are threatened. That’s a duality wonderfully encompassed by Chiang’s art, which is capable of such subtlety and such bombastic spectacle. He’s always finding new and novel way to floor us — whether he’s depicting a meticulously choreographed battle, the otherworldly beautiful of New Genesis or just this amazingly executed funeral sequence.

Cliff Chiang

8. Francis Manapul

What makes The Flash special isn’t just his ability to move so damn quickly, but the sheer joy he takes in doing so. Francis Manapul is always careful to bring that joyous momentum to the page — and 2013 found Barry dealing with Kid Flash, The Reverse Flash and a handful of other Speed Force-powered civvies. Entire issues became series of two-page splashes that emphasized uncontrollable motion over anything else. Well, almost anything else: The Flash maintains a Looney Toons sense of humor, relishing moments like this one where Flash can obviously disarm Dr. Elias before getting shot. Obviously.

flash claims an easy win

7. Mateus Santolouco

When you’re telling a story about ninjas, you’d better get someone that can draw one hell of an action sequence. When you’re telling a story about armies of warring ninja factions, you better get Mateus Santolouco. He finds the sweet spot between chaotic and clear and delivers some of the best action we’ve seen all year. Santolouco is also incredibly adept at distinguishing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — beyond their color and weapon differences, they wear their personalities in their faces, their posture, even their choice of disguise.

Fisheye turtle fight6. Jae Lee

Batman and Superman are legends — modern day epic heroes like Odysseus or Aeneas — and any book featuring the pair should treat them with that level of reverence. And reverence is the name of the game for Jae Lee, who brings his obsession with baroque lines and shadows to bear on the most iconic heroes in the medium. With Batman/Sumerman, Lee carefully distinguishes the gothic architecture of Gotham with the clean deco lines of Metropolis, grounding what turned out to be kind of a weird story about Earth-2. Plus, it’s damn fine art to behold. No one draws like Jae Lee.

Catwoman fight5. Andrea Sorrentino

When Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino took over the reins on Green Arrow, the message couldn’t be clearer: this is one of the Important Books coming out of DC’s offices right now. And while Lemire made some pretty drastic changes to the story right off the bat, Sorrentino imbued the series with a much-needed sense of style. Not only are the majority of the drawings sleek, sexy and exciting, but he gives special graphic attention to heighten dramatic moments. Life or death split-second decisions turn into high-contrast inserts, drawing our attention to each blow, and making every arrow exciting.

Green Arrow4. Sean Murphy

The scale of The Wake is positively enormous, reaching back to before the dawn of man. Sean Murphy has drawn all of these surprises with shocking confidence, and there’s no part of this slowly-evolving mythology that appears to be outside of his wheelhouse. City-terrorizing sea-giants? Neanderthal scientists getting their eyes gouged out by alien technology? Claustrophobic corridors in a crippled underwater rig? All perfectly rendered with Murphy’s noticeably hands-on approach. Literally — his toolbox of textures (which includes everything from zip-a-tone to dry brush techniques) makes regular use of his own fingerprints.

the big one

3. J. H Williams III

By our count, Williams only drew two comics this year: Batwoman 17 and Sandman Overture 1. Even with just those two issues, it’s hard to see where the hell he finds the time to craft such mind-blowing images in such alarming detail. No matter how crazy his fantastic stuff is — and it gets pretty crazy — it’s all grounded in astonishingly compelling acting. And no single panel is composed in isolation, every page is a cohesive whole, telling the most beautiful and moving versions of the story. We have to wait until the end of February for the second issue of Sandman, but for work like this, it’s absolutely worth the wait.

book that is everything

2. David Aja

Hawkeye took a lot of risks this year, perhaps the biggest of which was exploring something as emotionally difficult as the death of a friend through Aja’s design-minded art. The image below is from the largely schematic pizza dog issue, which saw Aja flexing his graphic talents in their rawest forms, using everything from floor plans to flow-charts. Somehow, this never veers too cold or too detached. In fact, those same techniques that might seem mechanical actually express clear emotional truths about his characters. Of course the space between Clint and Kate is rendered as an empty outline — there’s nothing keeping them together anymore.

A rift between Hawkeyes

1. Fiona Staples

Brian K. Vaughan has said that he gives Fiona Staples zero visual reference for Saga. That means that she invents these character designs on her own. Every issue brings a handful of amazing designs that run the gamut from the adorable to the grotesque to the mundane, often combining all three into one fully realized character. More importantly, she manages to convey clear (and subtle) emotions from these bizarre designs, such that every moment lands perfectly. The most recent pastoral arc of the series has allowed all of our characters to chill out on some beautiful planets, all of which provided warm, inviting backgrounds which Staples draws in loving detail. Basically, Staples nails every aspect of the storytelling.

The Stalk and GwenWant more Best of 2013 lists? Check out our Best Issues, Best Covers, Best Twitter Personalities, and Best Writers lists!

10 comments on “Best of 2013: Best Artist

  1. For me, this was the most heartbreaking category. There are so many absolutely phenomenal artists in titles that we’re reading, and it’s just im-fucking-possible to narrow them down comprehensively. I mean, look at the kinds of guys that didn’t make this list: Capullo, Burnham, Immonen, Rios, Pitara, Pugh, Shavley, Albuquerque, Andrade, Gleason – it’s just insane. I had fantasies of including a few excellent colorists on this list (namely Brian Buccellato and Jordie Bellaire), but there’s honestly not even enough room for the pencilers.

    Guys, my point is: we are spoiled.

  2. Samnee or Allred…. who should get it… going to say Samnee.

    I am not sure there is a better story telling artist in the big two right now. He is not the most amazing illustrator but his story crafting is leagues above the rest. I can see why Waid works with him when he can. He also seems to be getting better and better and can hit his monthly schedule, that alone makes his some kind of superman.

    • I do loves me some Samnee. Like you said, he’s an incredible storyteller, and I actually really like his style. Still, part of what I love about the art in Daredevil is Javier Rodriguez’s colors, and it’s hard for me to separate Samnee’s work from it (which I guess just goes to show how difficult this category really is to judge).

  3. I echo the sentiments of…everybody in the comments section that this is a really hard category. Here’s the original list I compiled, and I was really satisfied with it at the time, but looking at the above list, I’m surprised by how many obvious entries I seemingly overlooked. Oh well, everything is subjective:

    Jamie McKelvie
    Francis Manapul
    Andrea Sorrentino
    Mike Deodato
    Sean Murphy
    Greg Capullo
    David Aja
    Cliff Chiang
    Mike Allred
    Chris Burnham
    Ivan Reis
    Jae Lee
    Dustin Nguyen

    runners up: Patrick Gleason, Nicola Scott, and Doug Mahnke

  4. Lot of great artists this year! Here’s my list, in the name of art appreciation 🙂

    1 Mikel Janin
    2 Ivan Reis
    3 Cliff Chiang
    4 John Cassaday
    5 Greg Capullo
    6 Chris Burnham
    7 Andrea Sorrentino
    8 Francis Manapul
    9 Doug Mahnke
    10 Cary Nord

    And a huge shout out to Mike Allred who was barely edged out of a spot, to Ryan Sook and Alex Ross who barely did any interior work, and Darwin Cooke who barely had any work on the shelves, but whom all have a gigantic place in my heart.

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