Here’s a list of my ten all-time favorite comic book artists. As of today.
I winnowed down a very large list, cutting out many artists I admire and respect. You can tell that my list is heavily skewed towards older artists, which coincides with the years I was an active comic book reader. I am discovering new artists all the time, but these are the ones who are time-tested.
The list is alphabetical, not ranked, and—as always—is subject to future change.
Jim Aparo — Aparo worked in advertising before landing a job with Charlton Comics in the late 1960s, doing some memorable work with The Phantom. But, it was his move to DC Comics that cemented his place in my personal comic book artist pantheon. His work with the characters Phantom Stranger and The Spectre is amazing, but his Batman is the definitive Batman for me. The taller the bat-ears the better, as far as I’m concerned. His 1970s output is some of the best examples of sequential art in existence. For most of his career, Aparo not only penciled his work, but inked and lettered it as well. His artwork is still used as a reference by some who followed him, from his use of light and shadow, and the way he drew clothing, to the overall composition of his pages. This artist was one of the masters of the medium.
John Buscema — “Big” John Buscema’s love of old newspaper comics, such as Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, and Tarzan, led to his beginning his comic book career in 1948 at Timely Comics (which became Marvel Comics, as every self-respecting nerd knows). I fell in love with his work on The Avengers and Conan the Barbarian, but I’ll admit that it was his bestselling book, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, co-written with Stan Lee, that truly earned his place in my pantheon. His Conan is the definitive Conan for me.
John Byrne — Byrne was born in England, but grew up in Canada. Like many comic book artists, he did log some flight time with Charlton Comics, but was soon called up to the big leagues, eventually working on virtually every character owned by Marvel and DC. I initially became aware of his work on the title Iron Fist (which eventually became Power Man and Iron Fist). Byrne’s reputation soared when he took on X-Men in 1977. That’s his artwork during the entire Dark Phoenix saga. He is the reason Wolverine became a superstar character, and I believe he created the Canadian superhero group Alpha Flight. Byrne has gone on to do so much other good work, such as his run on Fantastic Four, The Avengers, his reimagining of Superman and Wonder Woman for DC, that to list only a few examples feels reductive. On the prurient side of things, the man knows how to draw beautiful women, too.
Steve Ditko — The words “weird” and “eccentric” come easily when you start talking about Steve Ditko. Ditko earned his spot on my list by being the co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange during Marvel’s Silver Age. His art style didn’t work for me on a lot of superhero titles (I hated his art on Machine Man, after he took over penciling duties from Jack Kirby), but seemed perfect for the stuff he created or co-created. Ditko had a hand in creating other popular characters, such as Captain Atom and The Question for Charlton, and The Creeper, and Hawk-and-Dove, for DC. His adherence to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is too often talked about more than his comic book legacy, and that is a shame.
José Luis Garcia-López — If I were guessing which name on this list might be least familiar to you, it would probably be Garcia-López, who was born in Spain and raised in Argentina. He worked, for a time, at Charlton Comics (you beginning to sense a pattern?), but then made his move to DC Comics. He supplied much of the Style Guide and licensing model art for DC for several decades. His version of Superman, the grandfather of all costumed superheroes, has always been one of my favorites. When I was going through the spinner racks that you used to find at supermarkets and convenience stores, Garcia-López’s name would sometimes be enough to get me to purchase a title I normally didn’t read.
Jack Kirby — What could I possibly write about Jack “King” Kirby that most of you don’t already know? Co-creator (with Joe Simon) of Captain America. Co-creator (with Stan Lee) of the Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Black Panther, The Avengers, The X-Men . . . ‘Nuff said. And don’t get me started about his work at DC Comics, including Miracle Man, Darkseid and the entire Fourth World saga, Etrigan the Demon, and Kamandi. Many comic book artists (including some on this list) include Kirby’s name among their influences and inspirations. More than any other artist, in my arrogant opinion, Kirby was responsible for the early success of the Marvel universe.
Andy Kubert — Andy Kubert, the youngest son of famed comics artist Joe Kubert, is a relatively new addition to my personal pantheon. I didn’t personally “discover” his artwork until I finally got around to reading Flashpoint. His superheroes always seem to be in motion, the composition of his panels and pages always dynamic. I understand he did a lot of work for Marvel during the years I wasn’t reading any comics. Maybe one day I’ll get around to looking at that stuff as well, but it wasn’t necessary to earn him a spot on this 10-List.
Jim Lee — I, like some of you, I’m sure, completely bought into the hype surrounding the relaunch of the X-Men with the title X-Men #1 way back in 1991. I bought several copies, myself, so that I would have all the variant covers that you could put side-by-side to form a complete picture. That issue remains the bestselling comic book issue of all-time, I think, which means the books probably aren’t worth much. I still have them, though, bagged and boarded, somewhere dark and dry. That was my first exposure to the art of Jim Lee (with inker Scott Williams, of course). And, I was hooked. When Lee left Marvel in 1992 to launch Image Comics with those other guys (one of whom is on this list), I went with him to see what else he could do. He later sold his studio, Wildstorm, back to DC, and, as of February 2020, he become the sole Publisher of DC Comics. The rise of this Korean American artist is the stuff of legends. He seems like a nice guy as well.
Rob Liefeld — Few artists are as polarizing as Rob Liefeld. He seems to inspire the kind of public castigation usually reserved for the likes of the rock band Nickelback. I didn’t discover his Marvel work until after I first saw his work on Youngblood at Image Comics. I agree that his characters are rarely, if ever, realistically proportioned. Yes, he does seem to avoid drawing feet for some reason, and he loves drawing weapons belts and more pockets and pouches than anyone needs in a lifetime, let alone on one uniform. The faces he draws sometimes look pinched and weird. You want me to agree with your criticisms? I probably do. But, allow me to point out that Jack Kirby had a penchant for drawing fists the size of Daisy canned hams, and his character faces looked weird, too. There is something dynamic in Liefeld’s art that calls to me, something more Silver Age than whatever age Liefield is considered to be a part of. I like his stuff, regardless how disproportioned and steroidal it might be. There’s a reason he edged out his Image partner Todd MacFarlane to make this 10-List. Plus, he created Cable and Deadpool. Bring on the slings and arrows.
George Pérez — I’ve been a Pérez fan since his 1970s run on The Avengers for Marvel. I was also there when he launched The New Teen Titans with writer Marv Wolfman. I didn’t get around to reading Crisis on Infinite Earths until a couple of years ago. Pérez was always at his best when drawing a team-oriented book. I enjoy his experimentation with perspective as well. I believe he’s still alive, but suffered a heart attack a few years ago and has since retired from comics. I think.
Now you have my ten. What about you? If you have a favorite comic book artist I haven’t mentioned, let me know. If it’s an artist I’m not familiar with, maybe I can branch out into something new. I may be getting older, but I’m not against change.
Well . . . not all change.