Five new comic book artists who I like

Last month I was over at Jim Hanley’s Universe for one of their creator signing events. It just so happens that standing right next to me in line was Fabrizio Fante, author of the excellent WordPress blog Fate’s Inferno.  As we were waiting on line, Fabrizio and I got to talking about a whole bunch of topics.  One of the things that came up was new comic book artists.  Specifically, Fabrizio was curious to know which new artists I was a fan of.  And, y’know, I immediately started drawing a blank.  Every single name I could come up with off the top of my head was someone who had been working professionally for more than a decade now.  It was actually really bothering me.  Surely there had to be at least one artist who had broken into the biz after 2003 whose work I enjoyed?

I guess my subconscious mind was dwelling on the subject, because over the past few weeks several names did gradually come to me.  Yes, there are definitely a number of really good, talented individuals working in the comic book field nowadays.  I am going to spotlight some of those artists here.

Rocket Girl 1 cover signed

AMY REEDER

I first discovered the work of Amy Reeder on the Madame Xanadu series written by Matt Wagner and published by DC Comics / Vertigo.  To be perfectly honest, when I first learned that Reeder had broken into comic books via Tokyopop, I might have sighed in exasperation, figuring that she was yet another of the Manga-derivative individuals to flood comic books in the last two decades.  But actually looking at her art for Madame Xanadu, I was floored.  First of all, Reeder has this amazing storytelling sense, the ability to really lay out pages in a dramatic fashion.  Second, her first story arc “Disenchanted” was set over a millennia-long period, which required that she conduct an extraordinary amount of research to obtain an authentic look for numerous historical eras across the globe.  I was really impressed by the work she put into those ten issues.

Reeder has drawn a couple of really stunning books written by Brandon Montclare, her former assistant editor at Vertigo.  The first was the whimsical fantasy one-shot Halloween Eve, published last October.  The second is the sci-fi Rocket Girl, the first issue of which just came out.  After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the series was picked up by Image Comics.  Rocket Girl #1 looks great, and I’m very much anticipating upcoming installments.

Star Trek Doctor Who 3

J.K. WOODWARD

Working on a number of books at both IDW and BOOM! Studios over the last decade, J.K. Woodward first caught my attention when he produced amazing painted artwork for the Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation 2 miniseries written by Scott & David Tipton.  This eight issue crossover saw Captain Picard’s crew working with the Eleventh Doctor, Amy & Rory to face the combined forces of the Borg and the Cybermen.  On the early issues, Woodward did full artwork, while on the later ones he was paining over Gordon Purcell’s pencils.  In both cases, the results were fantastic.

Especially striking was Woodward’s cover artwork to issue #3, which contained a flashback to the Fourth Doctor meeting the crew of the original Enterprise and fighting some old-school Cybermen.  As someone who grew up watching Tom Baker and William Shatner on re-runs of Doctor Who and Star Trek in the early 1980s, I thought that was a super-cool addition to the story.  Woodward has stated that his childhood was spent watching many of those same reruns.  He did a stunning job on this piece.

Captain America 625 cover

FRANCESCO FRANCAVILLA

Italian artist Francesco Francavilla made his debut in 2006.  His style is quite reminiscent of the legendary Alex Toth.  I first noticed Francavilla’s work when he illustrated several issues of Captain America for Marvel Comics.  He’s also worked on Black Panther and Hawkeye, as well as rendering numerous amazing covers for a variety of publishers.  Most recently he’s been the cover artist on Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time for IDW.

Amongst the current crop of “hot” artists who seem to have defaulted back to early Image Comics-inspired work full of over-rendering and excessive crosshatching, Francavilla’s retro pulp leanings are a breath of fresh air.  It has often been observed that it is the seemingly “simpler” styles of art that are actually much more difficult to pull off.  An artist does not have all the fancy bells & whistles to hide behind, and must rely on genuine talent & storytelling ability. I think that is true of Francavilla’s work.  In any case, his art has a very noir sensibility, with a palpable atmosphere to it.  He also possesses a really amazing design aesthetic, a talent for knowing exactly how to lay out a cover or a page for maximum dramatic impact.

Supreme 64 cover

CORY HAMSCHER

I’m probably bending the rules a little here, since I think Cory Hamscher has been a professional artist for slightly more than a decade.  But he’s really come into prominence in the last several years.  I first noticed his work when he illustrated a back-up story in Savage Dragon #150 that spotlighted Mr. Glum, the diminutive alien dictator from Dimension X.  Shortly after, Hamscher did an absolutely superb job inking Tom Grummett’s pencils on X-Men Forever and Chaos War: Dead Avengers.  Last year, Hamscher provided very detailed finishes to Erik Larsen’s layouts on Supreme.

Hamscher has an inking style that immediately appealed to me.  It reminds me quite a bit of the amazing embellishing of Terry Austin, who is one of my all time favorite inkers.  Hamscher just makes the pencils or layouts he is inking pop off the page.  He’s amazingly talented.  Recently on Facebook, Hamscher has expressed a desire going forward to do full artwork, i.e. both pencils & inks.  I really hope that he has that opportunity, and I’m looking forward to further announcements about his upcoming projects.

Vescell 6 cover

JOHN UPCHURCH

First becoming a professional artist in 2011, John “Roc” Upchurch has been doing stunning work on Vescell, a sci-fi / fantasy / noir series written by Enrique Carrion and published by Image.  I did a full-length review of the latest issue, #8, on my June 13th blog post, so go check it out!

Upchurch has this beautifully polished, slick quality to his work that perfectly matches Carrion’s imaginative, darkly humorous scripts.  What is especially noteworthy about Upchurch’s art is that, yes, he can draw these really stunning covers and dynamic action sequences.  But he has also demonstrated that he is a good storyteller.  Carrion’s stories have frequent “talking heads” segments where important plot points & philosophic issues are discussed.  Upchurch does a masterful job rendering these, drawing multi-panel pages which engage the reader’s attention and keep the flow of the story going.  I definitely hope to see more from Upchurch in the future, as he continues to grow & develop.  He has a hell of a lot of potential.

(By the way, I was actually able to think of at least twice as many new comic book artists as I profiled here.  But I chose to spotlight these five because they are among my favorites.  And, of course, I can always save the others for a future blog post!)

The Week in Erik Larsen

This past week’s new comic book releases saw two issues published by Image Comics which contained work by one of my favorite creators, Erik Larsen.  The first was the latest issue of Savage Dragon, Larsen’s long-running creator owned series.  The second was Supreme #63, which was the first issue of that title’s revival after a twelve year absence.

I previously wrote up an in-depth review of Savage Dragon, covering the epic “Emperor Dragon” story arc.  Since then, Larsen has continued to write & draw some exciting, fun stories in the pages of Savage Dragon.  Nowadays the series is once again at the very top of my “must read” list.  At a time when financial considerations have forced me to drop a lot of titles, I purchase Savage Dragon religiously.

The latest issue, #179, features a long-running minor subplot, namely the space war between the Kalyptans and the Tyrraneans taking place at the opposite end of the galaxy, often alluded to but never actually seen until recently, exploding into life.  The Kalyptan hero Vanguard, a long-time cast member in the series, learned to his horror that the Tyrraneans had finally won the war.  They were now hunting down the last surviving Kalyptans.  Tracking Vanguard to Earth, they found a world ripe for conquest.  Cue massive alien invasion by a horde of unstoppable rampaging monsters.

Supreme #63 is quite a different book.  The character of Supreme was created by Rob Liefeld as a Superman pastiche.  Liefeld saw the character of Supreme as a way to examine what would happen if Superman was unencumbered by society’s laws and morality, if he felt he knew better than everyone else.  It was a grim, ultra-violent book.  To be honest, I never was a fan, and I own maybe two or three issues from the first couple of years.  I especially remember an issue of another Liefeld title, Bloodstrike, which saw Supreme violently dismembering the anti-hero black ops title characters.

But then a strange thing happened.  Liefeld approached award winning writer Alan Moore to take over Supreme.  Moore, who had written a few excellent Superman stories in the 1980s, re-imagined Supreme as a fantastical meta-textual examination of superhero comic books through the ages, featuring a number of whimsical Silver Age homages.  I did not become an immediate fan of the series, but I picked up several issues, which I enjoyed.

Moore’s stories appeared in Supreme #s 41-56 and Supreme: The Return #s 1-6.  Due to financial difficulties, the book was canceled.  I also suspect that Liefeld’s notorious short attention span, which has often led him to over-commit to various projects, may have played a role in his publishing efforts folding up prematurely.  In any case, after the end of Supreme, there were rumors floating about that Moore had written one last script for the series which was never illustrated.

Fast forward a dozen years.  Apparently conditions had come together for Liefeld to revive a quartet of his titles with new creative teams.  The books’ editor Eric Stephenson got together with Erik Larsen to discuss his taking over one of the four.  They eventually settled on Supreme.  This was an excellent choice, given Larsen’s unabashed love of using the tropes of Silver Age comics as a starting point and then putting modern, unconventional spins on them.

Larsen drew pencil layouts from Moore’s unpublished script, with Cory Hamscher providing the finished pencils and inking.  I really enjoyed Hamscher’s inking on X-Men Forever and other projects.  He has a style akin to legendary embellisher Terry Austin.  The collaboration between Larsen and Hamscher is very strong.  They go together very well.

Supreme #63 is a wild, incredibly cosmic story by Moore.  It also ends on a massive cliffhanger.  Starting next issue, Larsen is taking over as writer.  He has the unenviable task of following in Moore’s footsteps, but I cannot wait to see what he does with the series.  Larsen has one of the most ambitious, unrestrained imaginations in comic books nowadays.  If anyone can take the seeds planted by Moore and run with them in an interesting yet different direction, it’s Larsen.

By the way, I also appreciate that Supreme, along with the other three revivals spearheaded by Liefeld & Stephenson, reverted to the original numbering, rather than starting with a new issue #1.  Call me overly traditional, but I really like it when a comic book series has a long, uninterrupted run, instead of getting a rebooted first issue every few years for the sake of a brief spike in sales & publicity.

It’s also great to see Larsen on such a high-profile project.  I hope that people who read Supreme will give Savage Dragon a chance.  It really is a great series.