Without artists, all of your favorite characters, scenes, costumes, and locations would just be words on a page. In short, they’re the ones that make comics comics. That’s a lot of responsibility, yet the best artists manage to juggle all of those tasks and inject some meaningful art and style into the proceedings. Whether its a subtle expression or a jaw-dropping action sequence, our favorite artists add the requisite magic to make their worlds and characters real. These are our top 10 artists of 2017.
10. (tie) Jamie McKelvie
At its core, The Wicked + The Divine is a series about fame, and there’s no better artist to bring that aspect of the story (with all its inherent contradictions) to life than Jamie McKelvie. His characters are the best-looking in comics and always, always effortlessly cool. But that slick, shiny exterior hides mountains of pain and dysfunction that break through in McKelvie’s nuanced, detailed facial expressions and body language. McKelvie is also a master of form, slipping seamlessly between standard nine-panel grids and chaotic, balletic action sequences packed with visually stunning violence that somehow never feels gratuitous. McKelvie’s work inhabits the numerous, often contradictory tones that make up WicDiv in a way few others artists’ work ever could.
10. (tie) Sophie Campbell
As a frequent contributor to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Campbell has appeared on our “Best of” lists a bunch of times, and I’d be willing to wager dollars to donuts that we use the word “cute” every time we describe her work. There’s a complex solemnity that comes with that cuteness, but it sure felt like we had a go-to descriptor for her work. Campbell’s “The Path of Karai” and “Prey” stories in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe took that expectation and flipped it on its violent, calligraphic head. Karai led a band of mutants, monsters and misfits to conquer the Yakuza, and Campbell’s art reflected that savagery perfectly. (Oh and she also drew some Pepperoni the Dinosaur back-up stories in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which were also amazing and… damn it… cute as all get out.)
Juan Ferreyra’s work in 2017 is notable for its volume alone — delivering the amount of issues Ferreyra did this year while double-shipping is an accomplishment — but even more notable is the amount of sheer detail Ferreyra crams into every one of those issues. Ferreyra’s style mixes grit with just enough optimism (both in his characters and in his colors) to be a perfect match to Green Arrow’s hard-traveling, bleeding-heart adventures, but it’s smart, detailed compositions that keep drawing us in, delivering spreads that manage to tell three separate stories all at the same time, pages that guide us through entire compounds, and layouts that are as fascinating thematically as they are visually. Issue after issue, Ferreyra never fails to innovate — and stun.
Nadia van Dyne is a lot. Last year’s Unstoppable Wasp cast Nadia as a kind of optimism-tornado, weaving a path of… what’s the opposite of destruction?… everywhere she went. Perhaps it’s an energy best described in D&D terms: chaotic good. Elsa Charretier’s art is the embodiment of this idea, filling each page with the cacophony of her main character’s boundless energy. But under all of that insanity is a solid structure and an adherence to simplicity of design, supporting an ever ballooning cast of cool, diverse girls. Flip to any page in Unstoppable Wasp and you’re going to see characters unlike any you’re seeing elsewhere in the Marvel Universe rendered with Charritier’s characteristic mix of chaos and clarity.
Immonen has long been a master of the form — had we been doing these lists two decades ago, he’d likely have appeared then, too — but we’ll be darned if it isn’t thrilling to watch him tackle Spider-Man. This year was full of transitions in Amazing Spider-Man, as Peter shifted from CEO of a major corporation to the science editor at the Daily Bugle, and as Spider-Man shifted from jet-setting international superhero back to the more friendly neighborhood variety. Fortunately, Immonen is just as at home drawing conversations in a newsroom as he is web-slinging, which made every moment of his Amazing Spider-Man an absolute delight, whether it was the knock-down-drag-out between Spidey and Norman Osborn or just Peter Parker lounging around in Bobbi Morse’s favorite t-shirt.
Handling both art and colors on Godshaper, Jonas Goonface’s illustrations are a visual feast, filled to the brim with oddball characters and designs. The big, show-stopping moments dazzle, such as the “power of rock” spread in Godshaper’s finale that’s as awe-inspiring for readers as it is for the characters present in the story. Yet the small details scattered throughout the series do just as much to inform Godshaper’s world, bringing to life rich inner conflicts, allowing more light-hearted character beats to play out in the background — or simply hinting at events, beings, and history readers may never be fully privy to, making the world of Godshaper feel like an immersive, fully fleshed-out experience that we were itching to return to, even as the story Goonface and Simon Spurrier were telling came to a satisfying end. Nothing else on the stands looked or felt like Godshaper did this year.
5. Sam Kieth
John Layman and Sam Kieth’s Eleanor and the Egret is all about the power and the value of art. But I’m not talking about about politically power or monetary value. Kieth and Layman’s statement is purer than that, insisting on the value of beauty without regard for utility. The villain of the piece tries to steal the art away for herself, and the titular Egret tries to eat the art simply because it likes doing that. Everyone in the series is driven by an intense, unexplainable attraction to aesthetically wonderful things. That’s what artist Sam Kieth has to live up to, and through his mix of aping high and low arti simultaneously, he more than succeeds. Kieth’s influences are legion, and he feverishly crams in so many of his favorite Art History references that he includes in-panel notes about the nods he’s making. Kieth perfectly embodies this sheer joy of art for its own sake, delivering an absolutely stunning product while underlining the themes of the story.
Between the outer space adventures of Silver Surfer and the interdimensional ones of Bug!, few artists have been tasked with drawing quite as many mind-bending concepts as Michael Allred has this year. And he’s carried them all off with his signature grace. Indeed, beyond simply rendering dense ideas (trans-dimensional beings beyond the edge of existence or the creation of our universe as we know it), he managed to imbue them all with heartfelt emotion, lending everything from the effusiveness of a shy little girl to the life and death of a beloved character the kind of ballast to stand up to all of that sci-fi mumbo-jumbo. Those were some of the most moving moments we read this year, though they shared space on Allred’s page with some of the funniest visual gags and most thrilling action sequences, too. Allred is the total package, wrapped up with the kind of slick retro bow we know he’d render in just two or three perfect brushstrokes.
Allén and Martín’s work in Secret Weapons frequently has the mathematic authority of sculpture. There’s a precision to their geometry that just won’t stop asserting itself as both art and reality. The series keeps asking the question, “what value are these people?” and Allén and Martín keep answering with the same, persistent answer. Because they exist and move in this real space which we all occupy. This team seldom warps their camera’s perspective, favoring long flat lenses, representing an almost schematic presentation of the events, rather than a subjective one. Which should never suggest that their work is without feeling; Allén and Martín are also tremendous actors, realizing their subjects faces and body language with the same immaculate precision.
2. Mitch Gerads
As a regular collaborator of Tom King, Mitch Gerads has been tasked with drawing a ton of nine panel grids this year. Gerads clearly has other gears he can shift to — and did so beautifully in his work on Batman — but his nine panel grids are a sight to behold, using every type of panel transition known to comicdom. His moment-to-moment transitions highlight the tiny expressions and gestures that reveal his characters innermost thoughts. His action-to-action transitions propel action scenes, and his subject-to-subject transitions keep the pace up through more dialogue-driven ones, once again relying on Gerads’ flair for detail. Gerads even gets in his share of aspect-to-aspect transitions, showing us the little moments that might reveal how mundane or alien or sexy a scene really is. Then there are the moments where his panel transitions don’t quite behave like panel transitions, making up some larger contiguous image across several panels. These are standard tools for any comics artist, but Gerads wields them so confidently, and flows between them so freely, that his comics feel anything but “standard.”
Leonardo Romero is a storyteller, through-and-through. His storytelling is so clear we’d be inclined to call it “schematic” if it wasn’t also dripping with atmosphere and style. Romero’s chunky brushwork is a perfect fit for Hawkeye’s noir-inspired gumshoing, just as at home casting shadows under the bright L.A. sun as he is under the dark of night. That much style is enough to put any artist on this list, but it’s Romero’s storytelling that really makes him stand out. Indeed, his choices are so specific to the needs of the story, it’s incredibly difficult to typify his style. Closeups, crowd shots, widescreen panels, extra-narrow tall panels — you name the effect, and Romero has likely used it, but only when it served the story. It’s that storytelling sensibility that makes Romero our favorite artist of 2017.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because your list is almost certainly different from ours. Who were your favorite artists of 2017? For more of our Best of 2017 coverage, check out our Best Covers, Best Issues, and Best Writers lists!