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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)