The Nexus Best Of 2012: Top Artists Of The Year

Columns, Features, Roundtables, Top Story

How’s 2013 treating you, everybody? Anybody feeling nostalgic for 2012 yet? A few of us still are! Did you check out our Top Writers of 2012 list? Well, we’re committed to bringing you the best of the year that was, and today the topic of choice is….top artists! Now, what surprised me was the limited turn out compared to our piece about top writers, but then I tried to make my own list and, well, artists are hard! Especially at Marvel!

Now let’s get started, I’m thinking with the Demythifier himself, Babos!

Babos’ Top 10 Artists in 2012

10.  Jim Lee – Like with Johns and Bendis on the writer’s list, everyone’s “best of” artists list will likely include Lee. His work on Justice League is first rate and his Team 7 #1 variant cover was probably one of the best covers produced by anyone in 2012. In many ways he transcends this list as well as I focused on some more risky and surprise artists on the list. This list would not be complete with Jim Lee on it. I’m eager to see what he and writer Scott Snyder deliver with their 2013 Man of Steel Superman-centric comic for the New 52.

9. Stuart Immonen – Another industry veteran makes the list. Immonen is collaborating on All-Next X-Men with Brian Bendis for Marvel Now. Immonen continues to grow and evolve his style despite having solid veteran cred. I have enjoyed his ANX work so far and think his pairing with Bendis works well for the type of story they appear to want to tell.

8. Tom Feister – Feister does some of the best art in the business. His covers for IDW’s G.I. Joe comics are works of art that you could easily frame and hang in any office or entertainment room. Well done sir!

7. Robert Atkins – One the biggest reasons for the success of G.I. Joe at IDW has been the capable pencils of Atkins. He gives each character their own unique charm and makes key Cobra figures all the more conflicted and frightful. As long as Atkins is doing a G.I. Joe comic, I will be reading a G.I. Joe comic.

6. Eddy Barrows – While I was not a fan of Eddy’s earlier work pre-Flashpoint work on Teen Titans, I was blown away with how well his style fit with his New 52 Nightwing series. He gets the details right in facial expressions and in action. It has been a joy to watch the creative marriage of Higgins and Barrows on the costumed adventures of Dick Grayson.

5. Tony Harris – Any fan of Starman and Ex Machina know that this Effing (his self-given moniker) artist is one of the best artists of the medium ever. Harris’ latest offering is with writer B. Clay Moore on JSA Liberty Files: The Whistling Skull mini-series. I loved the debut issue of this Elseworlds-type tale and despite years of solid success, I can say Harris is still firing on all cylinders.

4. Moritat and Clayton Henry (Tie) – If you are not reading All-Star Western, you should be. Moritat’s art is unique and captures the grittiness of a Western era Gotham City. His Jonah Hex is successfully rendered as a beautiful-ugly fusion and it just works! His moody art is a joy to behold and his ladies are quite fine. Also, Clayton Henry is doing some amazing high octane art for Valiant’s Archer and Armstrong. He does big action, impactful drama and facial details all well. Like Moritat, his work includes the challenge of portraying a different era(s) as Armstrong is an immortal and a key part of A&A are the flashbacks. A solid artistic effort monthly from Henry.

3. Greg Capullo – Capullo has done the unthinkable and made owls menacing and made the Joker even creepier than expected. An industry veteran, Capullo is a reliable visual master who has made is mark on the Dark Knight. He delivers action and drama in equal measure. His art is so expressive that you don’t need the clutter of words. Batman has not looked better.

2. Brett Booth – I’ve liked Booth’s art back to his WildStorm days. However it is with the New 52 Teen Titans that he really rocked out. It is a clean and energetic style that has elevated the Titans to a must-read visual feast.

1. Kenneth Rocafort – Rocafort has a unique style that fits the quirky storytelling sensibilities of his writer partner Scott Lobdell. First on Red Hood and the Outlaws and now on Superman, Rocafort has proven that his style can work well in both the dark and light corners of the DC Universe. His unique page layouts are just breathtaking month in and month out.

Jim Lee at number ten? Blasphemy! Oh, what am I saying, he didn’t even make my list! Oh well, let’s dig into Joe Smith‘s favorites!

7. Fiona Staples

She’s really grown as an artist.  I didn’t care for some of her earlier stuff (Done to Death), but her work in Saga is excellent.  She’s taken a really good writer like Vaughan and made his book better with her art.  There is so much story that is told with her visuals that goes beyond the scripted words.  We’ll continue to see her go some great work in 2013.

6. Khari Evans

I really liked his stuff on Harbinger this year.  He was also a part of me wanting to continue taking a chance on the rest of the Valiant universe.  I definitely want to see more of his work in the upcoming year as he’s had a strong outing this year.

5. Doug Mahnke

When Reis left this title some time ago, I was a little bit concerned.  However, Mahnke has been a machine for Green Lantern.  I actually feel that Mahnke’s work is better suited for Green Lantern and he’s been one of the more consistent ongoing artists that I can think of with being able to stick to a schedule.  I continue to be a big fan of his work and look forward to more of it in 2013.

4. Ivan Reis

He’s continued to put out some great work this year.  His presence on Aquaman helped to make the book a success and now he’s charged with providing the work for Justice League.  This is well-deserved and he’s going to continue to make this book important and I’m not bothered at all by Lee’s departure on the title.  

Sometimes I see the quality in titles decline after a major change in the creative team, but I don’t see any slide happening here.  I think in some ways this book will look even better with him on board.

3. Patrick Zircher

Shadowman has easily been one of the very best looking ongoing titles this year.  If a couple more issues came out then I could easily see him being number one.  His work makes for some slow reading because I’m busy looking at his art.  His exposition scenes are nice to look at and his horror scenes are really creepy.  In other words, his range as an artist is impressive.  When I looked at the first page of Shadowman I literally said, “Wow” out loud.

2. Lee Bermejo

His work this year on Rorschach was beautiful and didn’t look static (as can be the case with really detailed comic art sometimes).  He actually provided Rorschach with a little more depth when he’s out of costume.  His appearance made him more sympathetic and more than just a jaded vigilante.  Bermejo has easily been the highlight of Before Watchmen for me this year.

1. Cary Nord

His artwork in the FCBD offering made me take notice and want to try out X-O Manowar, which I had zero interest in prior to seeing it.  I saw Nord’s work and it really made me want to check out the upcoming title. His art and storytelling abilities did not disappoint.  He was able to do a great job of showing pain, anger, hopelessness, fear, and love with his artwork this year.  I enjoyed Garbett’s work on the title as well, but I was really happy to hear that Nord would be returning to the title again in 2013.  I’m making it a personal quest of mine to acquire a piece of artwork from him this year.

And last, but never least, we’ve got my top ten artists, or, to be arrogant about it….The Gold Standard of artists by moi!

10. Adam Kubert – I’m a Kubert fan, and I have been for the majority of my comic reading tenure. There’s an inherent bias for me, and I’ve been known to look at books that I normally would ignore just because of the contributions of one of the brothers. Now, with Adam this year it wasn’t quite the case, as I was going to be buying the book (begrudgingly) anyway, but the handful of issues he contributed were far and away the best the series had to offer. I’m talking, of course, about Avengers Vs. X-Men. Adam was able to go into that mass of big moments for the sake of big moments, and he was able to easily accomplish that. Marvel doesn’t have a better big time artist in their stable, so it really did add a lot to their star studded crossover to let him come in and end the series with the real Mighty Marvel Style.

9. Tom Grummett – With Marvel’s current release schedule it’s REALLY hard to pick a monthly artist to represent them (well, not counting the two big names coming up). I spent a lot of time researching the books on my top Marvel lists trying to figure out who to give credit to, and what killed me is how few artists really managed meaningful contributions to any titles this year.

Tom Grummett is one of the few guys who turned in a boatload of work without having the uncanny ability to turn in three books a month. He also could teach a class in how to draw teenage characters, because Avengers Academy was a lesson in doing so. He captured the school element perfectly, with adults who looked like adults, and teenagers who looked like teenagers. A lot of artists will take a book with teenage characters and make them look similar in age to the Spider-Man and Human Torches of the world, especially when partnered with older characters. Tom, a true veteran, gets my thumbs up for his ability to really sell the book for what it is.

8. Ryan Ottley – I go back and forth between loving and hating Invincible due to Robert Kirkman’s love of shaking things up, but one thing I never take issue with is the art. Ryan brings an entire universe to life every month in Invincible, and has been for something like eight years now? Nine maybe? Underappreciated, but absolutely awesome. Ottley is one of the unsung heroes of Image, and really, superhero comics as a whole. The big two would be lucky to get someone like him on their payrolls, but I’m really much happier with him right where he is….about to usher in the next new status quo of Invincible with next month’s number one hundred.

7. Nicola Scott – Earth 2 has been the rebirth of James Robinson, but it’s also been the biggest showcase Nicola has ever had for her art. She’s designing an entire universe, and a new version of some of the most classic characters DC has to offer. It’s a big task, one that could scare off lesser artists, but she’s doing an amazing job at it. For all those who complained about her non-presence at the start of the New 52, she was very much worth the wait.

6. Cliff Chiang – Wonder Woman is not only readable, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The successful revamping of DC’s premier female character deserves a very special note, because it’s the first time in my twenty plus years of reading that I’ve been able to maintain interest in Diana. Chiang brings the book to life, and his designs for the Greek Pantheon have been absolutely phenomenal. At the rate he’s going, another year on Wonder Woman, and i’d be hard pressed to not rank him even higher. The book is absolutely must read, and it’s equal parts the amazing writing and gorgeous art.

5. Dustin Nguyen – Formerly of anything and everything Batman, Dustin spent 2012 helping build an entire new medium for DC. Providing the art for Justice League Beyond, he’s also writing it, and added L’il Gotham to his list as the year came to an end, and provided covers for Batman Beyond and Justice League Beyond. His impact most likely wasn’t seen by most readers, as it’s incredibly easy for print readers to overlook the Batman Beyond Unlimited book that collects the various digital Beyond titles, but for those of us who read it? Dustin is a real show stopper that is bringing some of DC’s coolest animated characters to life on nearly a weekly basis (thanks to cover duty). Plus, he sneaks in Steph wherever he can, and for that, I thank him.

4. Stuart Immonen – I might have spent most of my year evading Bendis, but to ignore the talents of his most frequent collaborator these days would be absolutely criminal. Stuart Immonen is the same kind of work horse that Mark Bagley used to be when he and Bendis did Ultimate Spider-Man, helping Brian get his books out two or three times a month, the difference being that…well, I actually prefer Stuart’s work. Not a knock on Mark, but I doubt I would have put up with Fear Itself for his art like I did for Mr. Immonen. Thankfully his art has moved on to a book that I can’t resist, which happens to be yet another Bendis title. All-New X-Men is the gem of Marvel NOW! so far, and Stuart’s ability to keep the book out two or three times a month is what is truly carrying it to success.

3. Doug Mahnke – I went back and forth in heavy debate trying to figure out where to place Doug Mahnke on this list, as he’s easily deserving of top honors due to just how much better Green Lantern is on a regular basis just because he’s there. He’s one of the most consistent artists in the industry, turning in high quality work on a regular basis, and in recent years taking his pen to some of the biggest names in the industry (well, Green Lantern, but that’s still a top franchise, right?). To say that he’s made GL his own is putting his contributions lightly, as his fill in artists are not really taken too kindly (EVS aside), and one thing that becomes obvious in those issues is that his work truly does carry the issue. Really, the only reason he isn’t number one is because of Green Lantern #12, where he was solicited but when the issue hit we had two sets of fill in artists, and the issue completely fell apart. That’s literally his only flaw in 2012, and the only thing keeping him out of the top spot.

2. Ivan Reis – Ivan is what you call a ‘big time’ artist. He drew the absolute hell out of Green Lantern at its absolute hottest, got promoted to event duty for Blackest Night…which he was absolutely brilliant on, got to take a breather with limited duty on Brightest Day, and then returned to monthly duties to help make Aquaman into a big deal. Like I said, a big time artist. Anything he touches is instantly elevated to must read status…though being constantly teamed with Geoff Johns really doesn’t hurt. He’s a man of consistency; working primarily with Geoff Johns, and always inked by Joe Prado and colored by Rod Reis. He’s one of the few pencillers I know of who has their own team that they work with seemingly exclusively, though I’d imagine it’s due to them being friends. Ivan and Joe are always next to each other at conventions, and it’s incredibly possible I’ve just overlooked Rod sitting next to them. You always know what you’re going to get out of Ivan because he’s a great artist who always brings the same great art team to the table, and that’s why we were treated to his new job at the end of the year, arguably the biggest job of his year. 2012 ended with Ivan drawing Justice League.

1. Chris Bachalo – “OMG You Got A Text!”….it will all come back to that at some point, really, there’s no other way things could go. I’ve been a fan of Chris Bachalo’s since 1996 when I first started reading a lot of Marvel, and he was drawing a LOT of X-Men related books. He’s got an unmistakable style to his work, and there really is no other artist in the industry quite like him. He hasn’t had the same sort of frequency to his year as some of the other artists on here, as I’m pretty sure Doug, Ivan, and Stuart all turned in more interior work than he did, but none of them did one thing that Chris did for me this year. Sold me a book on their name only. “OMG You Got A Text!”, I wasn’t going to buy that issue of A+X until I saw the cover and that the book would feature his work. I literally bought a book just for him. Wolverine and the X-Men is a series I’ve only stuck out with because his art was used frequently enough to keep me coming back until the series actually hooked me with the writing. Chris Bachalo is one of the VERY few artists in the industry that will sell me a book regardless of who is writing it, or even what the book is. It’s an exclusive elite list made up by him, George Perez, and the brothers Kubert. It just so happens that Chris worked from that list this year to put out some absolute must check out material, and he’s more than worry of the recognition.

A lifelong reader and self proclaimed continuity guru, Grey is the Editor in Chief of Comics Nexus. Known for his love of Booster Gold, Spider-Girl (the real one), Stephanie Brown, and The Boys. Don't miss The Gold Standard.