This Years Finest 2016: The Ten Best Artists

We’ve done covers, characters and new series; not it’s time for the artists. This is the best of the best for the hardest working comics professionals in 2016. 

Honorable Mentions: Declan Shalvey, Frank Quitely, Emma Rios, Russell Dauterman, Dustin Nguyen, Paul Azaceta, Erica Henderson, Dave McKean, James Harren, Steve Epting, Gabriel Hernandez-Walta, Adrian Alphona, Michael Lark, Bengal, Stuart Immonem, Joelle Jones, Christian Ward

image5310. Jamie McKelvie of The Wicked + The Divine

Jamie McKelvie is a wonder. He somehow manages to make every single character he draws be the coolest looking person in the room. This year he continued to wow us in the pages of his–and frequent partner Kieron Gillen’s–pop spiked, deity-laced uber drama, The Wicked and Divine. Whether it be his crisp, clean style, his ability to craft wonderfully playful page layouts or his uncanny eye for impeccably curated design, it’s certain that McKelvie is a very talented man.

In a time where heavily detailed, often gritty and frenetic artwork is all over most comics, Jamie McKelvie has gone the opposite way. His art has the feel of a modernized mix between Dan DeCarlo and Jamie Hernandez. Bright and beautiful people, boldly drawn, with exquisitely rendered facial expressions fill the pages of his work. He has a strong point of view, and it will not be sacrificed to fit an aesthetic trend. This glamour is wonderfully contrasted by the gruesome violence that can erupt regularly in Wic+Div, and its effect is even stronger because of it.
With no end in sight for Wic+Div and its well deserved success, we can count on gorgeous pages of violent, pop-star Gods and Goddesses fighting for power and glory for many more issues; and thank goodness for that-Tyler

Shutter 20 young Chris Leila Del Duca

9. Leila Del Duca of Shutter, Scarlet Witch #11 & American Vampire Anthology #2

Shutter covered a wide range of ground this year, both thematically and tonally. The book called for scenes of quiet introspection, as well as viciously intense combat. Del Duca rose to the challenge, ably tackling each of the series’ various registers. Her clear, expressive line is well-suited for a narrative which often wears its heart on its sleeve. Her figures quiver with emotion. She poignantly portrayed the joys of intense love, along with the bitterness of heartache and the longing for lost families. At the same time, she brought a vicarious thrill to the action sequences, especially #22’s climatic melee, which grabbed the reader by the heart and squeezed till it hurt. Throughout it all, she continued Shutter’s exquisite world-building, filling the pages with imaginative flights of fancy. Mastering any of these artistic elements would have been impressive, but Del Duca’s sure hand at uniting them all was key to Shutter’s outstanding 2016-Creighton

capture18. Cliff Chiang of Paper Girls

In Paper Girls, Cliff Chiang is relentless in the scope and consistency of his imagination and ability. As an artist that was primarily known for his superhero work earlier in his career, Chiang’s most recent comics have been a revelation and that was even more so in 2016 as the parameters of his world building continued to expand. Chiang has a sharp line that contrasts with the style of a cartoonist while being an expert in perspective and dimensions. His skill set has proven apt for Paper Girls in that it has so much flexibility, which in turns allows the comic to explore so many different settings while still being anchored in the central cast from Chiang’s insightful expressiveness. In terms of skill, imagination & aesthetic; Cliff Chiang remains a master of the form-Pat

20160128_1927457. Sana Takeda of Monstress

Monstress has a feel to it which is unique. Naturally part of the credit for this is due to writer Marjorie Liu, yet Takeda’s gorgeous art plays a large role in it as well. Takeda has imbued Monstress with a very specific atmosphere which combines the naturalism of a war drama with the imagination of a fantasy yarn. Arcane technology blends with sorcery in a compelling manner while avoiding any of the trite cliches of steampunk. This ambiance is strengthened by Takeda’s lush coloring. Green tones dominate the book, emphasizing the role of nature. At the same time, Takeda does not let the beauty of her art weaken the harshness of Liu’s narrative. Some of the most memorable pages from Monstress are stark depictions of the cruelties and deprivations which follow in the wake of warfare. The landscape of Monstress is a blasted one, its people scarred by conflict. Takeda never softens this truth, while at the same time finding the beauty that exists within the world. Despite all its harshness, there is hope in Liu’s story, which Takeda conveys through her art. In such a way, Takeda has mastered a style which is distinctly her own-Creighton

image86. Nick Dragotta of East Of West

Another East of West year in the books. Each year I have the same thing to say about it as the last, “This is the best year for East of West. This book has no ceiling.” While I think this is a great credit to Jonathan Hickman for building the foundation of such a compelling world and story this year’s success is rooted in the beautiful art of Nick Dragotta. Dragotta has always been strong on East of West; from the very beginning his pages have impressed. However, there is something different about this year. I can sense a higher level of focus in the layouts and more strategically placed big moments. Reading East of West has become an experience. I would not call it my favorite book, yet every week it comes out I find it standing a head above the rest. That is an experience only an artist can create. I don’t know how to exactly pin point what has gone on this year for Dragotta but his work on East of West has been perfect. If an issue ever gets released without Dragotta, I will riot-Dean

20160602_1824035. Wesley Craig of Deadly Class

Wes Craig exploded on to my radar with the glorious, gut-wrenching, punk rock saga that is Deadly Class. Along with collaborator Rick Remender, Craig took a book that could’ve ended up being only great, and through his inventive layouts, visceral action, and outstanding vision, created one of the most unique and amazing comics I have had the pleasure to read. His character designs alone are some of the coolest ever, but he was not content to stop there, so he made a book that punches you in the face with it’s dynamic visuals. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve just stopped reading, and stared–mouth agape–and admired the page in front of me.

His style is cartoonish, but with enough realism to make whatever happens affect the reader profoundly. This year, the story was awash with betrayal, Battle Royale-style murder, character building, and tragic outcomes. It is because of Craig’s work supporting the narrative so well, that this outlandish and insane comic manages to grab your heart and mind so violently. I don’t know what this book would be without the artwork of Wes Craig, and I suspect Remender doesn’t either. It would be a completely different experience without Craig’s contributions, even with the outstanding writing from Remender.

As far as I know this is Craig’s only book for the foreseeable future, and I’m just fine with that, by the end of issue 1 I knew I was a fan for life. Anyone who has somehow missed out on the ridiculously grand things Wes Craig has been doing here needs to go pick up a copy of Vol. 1 immediately, you will not be sorry-Tyler

 

image934. Eddy Barrows of Detective Comics & Martian Manhunter

Did anyone know who Eddy Barrows was before this year? I don’t read a ton of DC so all I knew was he pencilled that pretty cool Martian Manhunter book. Nothing extraordinary, but a solid artist. But in 2016, Eddy Barrows joined James Tynion IV on Detective Comics and the world found out he is a star. Barrows brings a completely refreshing feel to Detective Comics. It must be hard dealing with such a large cast of characters who each need to command the page in their own way, but Barrows has taken the opportunity to shine. He has used panel construction to bring this book to life; from full page art with slanting panels dispersed throughout to bat symbol outlines with high paced action inside. I can’t tell you if Barrows has drastically improved over the years or if he is just now drawing something I am interested in, but what I do know is this guy is the future of DC comics. There are a few names on this list that work heavily with DC but in my books Barrows is the top-Dean

20160714_00262314. Nicola Scott of Wonder Woman & Black Magick

One of the most enjoyable aspects of comics in 2016 has been Nicola Scott’s return to prominence in ongoing comics after a short hiatus following her time on Earth 2. After closing out the opening arc of her excellent Black Magick at Image earlier in the year, Scott teamed with writer Greg Rucka for the year one storyline in DC comics Wonder Woman title during their Rebirth initiative. Scott has incredibly clean line art with a dynamic and visceral fluidity in her movement, making her the ideal artist for a supherhero title. She is a master in visual storytelling to the point that her attention to detail and style can almost make the actual text feel superfluous. Overall, Scott was one of comics best and brightest illustrators in the medium for 2016-Pat

image42. Fiona Staples of Saga

As Saga continues to be among comics best ongoing titles four years since it’s debut, Fiona Staples remains a fixture in the medium as one of it’s best and most important illustrators. Handling art and colors, Staples lush and imaginative details consistently defy expectations. Her design aesthetic, individual character work and acting all remain singular in their excellence. For over four years, Saga has been among the best ongoing comics series and in those four years, Fiona Staples has been among the best and most innovative comic’s artists and that remains so today. She is in a class all her own as one of the art forms leaders in innovation-Pat

image31. Sean Phillips of Kill or Be Killed, Criminal & The Fadeout

Sean Phillips has long been lauded in the world of comics. His collaborations with Ed Brubaker have led to some of the greatest comics of the last ten years. His unique style that homages the past, but is confidently contemporary in its execution, is a huge part of why. His versatility has allowed him to jump around different time periods as well, and most all of the books he has drawn rely on this ability; Criminal and Fatale specifically moved across multiple eras, and it is Phillips’ artwork that made it all work so well.

Another quality of Phillips’ work that is unmatched is his remarkable ability to set a distinct and thematically appropriate mood in the matter of a few–sometimes only one–panels or pages. Whether it be a dingy, smoke filled bar of gangsters, or the rain soaked streets of Seattle in the 90’s; his art works so well to immerse us in the world of the story, and the sooner and more dramatically it happens, the greater the reader’s experience. Crime, sci-fi, horror, drama, suspense, often a mixture of all; Sean Phillips never ceases to amaze with each and every issue.

Phillips was the only unanimous choice for our list this year, and anyone who follows his comics knows why. He’s a diligent artist whose books most always arrive on schedule. He immediately place’s you in whatever world they take place while his deceptively simple style oozes cool from every panel. He is not afraid to experiment with layouts and page progression, as is most evident with his last two books; The Fade Out and Kill Or Be Killed, two starkly different comics that prove he is always going to push himself to be better–even when it seems impossible to us readers. As long as Sean Phillips keeps making comics, we will all be treated to his masterful artwork and storytelling ability, and I personally hope he never stops-Tyler

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