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The 25 greatest comic book artists from the last 25 years

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Sep 11, 2017

September 2017 is Syfy’s 25th anniversary, so we’re using it as an excuse to look back and celebrate the last 25 years of ALL science fiction, fantasy, and horror, a time that has seen the genres we love conquer the world of pop culture. For us, that means lists! ALL THE LISTS! We’ll be doing two “25 greatest” lists per day all throughout September, looking back at the moments, people, and characters that shaped the last quarter century. So keep checking back. Please note: Our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.

What items in our lists were your favorites? Did we miss something? We welcome respectful debate and discussion, so please let us know in the comments!


To celebrate the last 25 years in comics, we're looking back at the greatest comic book artists from the last quarter-century. Before anyone cries outrage on why George Perez or Walt Simonson are not on this list, despite continuing to produce amazing work, please remember that we're just talking about seminal works from the last 25 years, and the legendary works we are highlighting only go back to 1992.

We based our criteria on a balance of unique creativity, distinct or influential style, longevity, and impact, as opposed to quantity or how big the profile was of said project(s). Their interior artwork had to be their biggest contribution (even though their cover art may be depicted below or be fondly celebrated) during this era, and it must inspire, evoke emotion, and/or transport the reader to a far-off vivid world and keep the reader dreaming when they close the book. Now, without further ado ...

Mike Allred

Notable works: Madman, Red Rocket, The Atomics, Sandman, X-Force/X-Statix, Silver Surfer, Wednesday Comics, iZOMBIE, Fantastic Four, Batman ’66

Allred’s pop style is clean and slick, that feels like Jack Kirby smoothed around the edges, mixed with Steve Rude and the inking of Charles Burns or Kevin Nowlan. The best way to describe Allred’s art is that it’s playful and fun.

There’s something also very commercial about it that makes it merchandise-friendly and recognizable at a quick glance. The wackier the story is, the better Allred is to do the gig. This is why Madman was his creator-owned project for years and that’s why The Atomics, X-Force/X-Statix, and iZOMBIE were all perfect fits for Allred’s strengths. 

Greg Capullo

Notable works: X-Force, Spawn, Batman, Haunt, The Creech, Dark Knights Metal

It was hard to believe that the same guy who took over X-Force from Rob Liefeld would take over art chores from Todd McFarlane, but that’s exactly what he did and, within a few years, Capullo became a superstar and a model of consistency, penciling a total of 8-9 years worth of Spawn (he took a year off to concentrate launching his own creation, The Creech) before he finally went back to work-for-high pairing with Scott Snyder on Batman for the New 52 in what was one of the few must-read titles of that DC initiative, reinventing the Joker to a new terrifying height.

John Cassady

Notable works: Planetary, Astonishing X-Men, Desperadoes, Star Wars, Captain America, Lone Ranger

Artists are tasked to do many things and, sometimes, it’s making the unbelievable believable. That’s what Cassady’s art did in Planetary, taking Warren Ellis’ twisted concepts and making them lifelike. His Lone Ranger covers put you right into action and his Captain America often threw Steve Rogers into iconic, cinematic poses. Unfortunately, the comics world has to share Cassady with film and television, but whenever he puts his pencil to the page, it’s worth noting, whatever the project may be.

Becky Cloonan

Notable works: American Virgin, Demo, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, By Chance or Providence, Channel Zero: Jennie One, Batman

With the popularity of Manga overtaking American comics amongst younger readers at the turn of the century, Becky Cloonan would bridge the gap between the old world of comics and the new world order of comic artists. On November 2003, Cloonan had her first big break, drawing the indie hit, Demo, which focused on the supernatural powered lives of random youths and evolved into something greater as audiences connected with the characters and their emotional turmoil. From there, Cloonan would always be on the edge of mixing genres of horror, metal, fantasy, Vikings, manga and science fiction in her art. There’s no classifying her art in any kind of category but the one labeled: awesome. Recently, Cloonan has been testing her writing skills (Southern Cross, Punisher) but we still get the random one-shot or cover and that’s enough to feed our need…barely.

Darwyn Cooke

Notable works: DC’s The New Frontier, graphic novel adaptations of Richard Starking’s Parker, Batman: Ego, Twilight Children, The Spirit, Batman/The Spirit, Catwoman, Jonah Hex

In an era when darkness was cast over the superhero world, Cooke’s art always brought a bright light of hope. His art style transported the reader to an era when there was still innocence in the world, when heroes still acted without cynicism. Even his adaptations of Starking’s pulp novels brought you back to the back seat of a 1959 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. Unfortunately, that pigeonholed him to Silver Age-era stories. For example, why DC Comics could never find a reason to hire him onto a regular Superman title is beyond us, but it would have sold like gangbusters. Cooke’s stylized characters were timeless, his redesign of Catwoman’s costume was perfect, and his use of color was ingenious. Despite all the riches he left us, his untimely passing in 2016 left us with too little to savor.

 

Geoff Darrow

Notable works: Shaolin Cowboy, Doc Frankenstein, Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, Conceptual designer for The Matrix and Speed Racer

Geoff Darrow knows how to fill a page with such an ungodly amounts of detail that looking at one panel of his art could occupy hours. While we can’t add Hard Boiled (1990) to Darrow’s list of accolades, it was the project that led him to meeting Frank Miller, with whom he collaborated again on Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, conjuring all of the childhood memories of Kaijus attacking Japan and giant robots coming to save the city of Tokyo. Hard Boiled also caught the eye of the Wachowskis, who snared Darrow to become a conceptual artist for The Matrix. Notice Darrow’s ultra-detailed art used when Neo is in biomechanics sleep and when he’s fighting the mechanoid-insect creatures. Darrow’s latest creator-owned series, Shaolin Cowboy, mixes the genres of westerns, martial arts, and the trademark gonzo-violence seen in Hard Boiled.

Steve Dillon

Notable works: Preacher, Punisher: Marvel Knights, Punisher: MAX, Hellblazer, Supreme Power

Some may wonder why the late Steve Dillon appears on this list, but his art brought life to something that cinema and television still have a problem translating—Garth Ennis’ work. It’s a blend of violence and dark humor, with religious and sexual gags. Dillon could be grossly dramatic one moment, and hilarious the next. It’s a walk along the tight rope and one that Dillon lived on as he did his best work with Ennis, but is a real challenge to replicate.

Francesco Francavilla

Notable works: The Black Beetle, The Black Coat Detective Comics, Zorro (Dynamite), Afterlife with Archie

Like Darwyn Cooke’s work, Francavilla’s art transports you to a time when radio dramas were the thing around which to gather families together and movies were still shown on 70mm. When Francavilla wants to go highly detailed (for example, in his reproductions of the classic movie monster posters), he’s meticulous with every line. He can loosen up, too; his interior art can be a bit more expressive than in his sequential art.

Perhaps Francavilla’s most clever task was taking the beloved art of Don DeCarlo’s Archie comics and translating it through his realistic filter for the Afterlife with Archie, which made purists angry but brought a whole new group of readers to look at Archie for the first time.

Tony Harris

Notable works: Starman, JSA: The Liberty Files, Ex Machina, Star Wars Special: C-3PO

Tony Harris’ work on two long-running fan favorite series is largely what landed him on our list. Starman is the reluctant hero set in a world that we can recognize. Harris dressed him in clothes we can imagine someone actually wearing, and faced him with relatable problems on top of the supernatural affair. Ex Machina is another story grounded in the politics of New York City. Mitchell Hundred’s homemade tactical gear when dressed as The Great Machine is depicted through Harris’ art as something you can almost touch, smell, and feel. 

Jae Lee

Notable works: Namor: The Submariner, Hellshock, Inhumans, Sentry, Hulk & Thing: Hard Knocks, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born, The Long Road Home, Treachery, The Battle of Jericho Hill

While the comics world was marveling at the over-rendered art of the Image founders, Jae Lee arrived as a fresh breath of air and brought new life to a dead character in “Savage” Namor. His angular and silhouetted style went off like a bomb to the early ‘90s art scene as he refined it and left it more open for the mastery of colorist Jose Villarubia. The two of them repeatedly made magic, including the groundbreaking mini-series The Inhumans and The Sentry. While we are lucky enough to get a peppering of his art on an occasional cover, Lee’s most regular work is seen in Marvel’s adaptations of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.

Jim Lee

Notable works: Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Volume 2, Superman: For Tomorrow, All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, Batman: Hush, WildCATS, Deathblow

When you watch Jim Lee work, there’s no one who is more technically sound at creating the big budget action scene or the big super hero moments. He’s so influential that the industry began to fill creative teams with Lee clones or proteges. His position helping run DC Comics now as their Co-Publisher has made getting consistent monthly work out of him a rarity, but his contributions on Batman: Hush, X-Men Volume 2, and the Uncanny X-Men will forever live on as some of the biggest moments in the lifespan of those respected, long-running series.

Alex Maleev

Notable works: Daredevil, Spider-Woman, Scarlet, Infamous Iron Man, Moon Knight, International Iron Man, Sam and Twitch, The Crow

Maleev managed to do something that few other Daredevil artists have succeeded in doing:  create a look to Daredevil that wasn’t some derivative of Frank Miller vision. Maleev’s gritty and dirty-looking art in Daredevil serves as the blueprint for how the Daredevil Netflix series is produced. You want to feel the urban setting all around you and frankly, all around Matt Murdock. Readers could feel the rain pouring down on Murdock, but also the pain of the central character. His torment and anguish is apparent throughout Maleev’s long run with Brian Michael Bendis and set forth the definite run in the modern era. Maleev and Bendis would go on to work on other urban-based characters like Moon Knight, Spider-Woman and Scarlet, and that’s where his work has performed the best.

Mike Mignola

Notable works: Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Amazing Screw-On Head and the rest of The Mignola-Verse, Baltimore

Mignola’s blocky, geometric art style took some getting used to in the superhero world, but his greater contribution to the comics world would be his creator-owned book, Hellboy, and the Mignola-verse. It was an innovative choice for the macabre and gothic setting of his paranormal detective, and Mignola is a master at setting the mood and “soundtrack” of his story; the emotion of his characters have carefully designed line work. No one can build such vast worlds with such economy, and his open space allows for big swaths of color to stand out. 

Frank Miller

Notable works: Sin City, 300

Miller made his name already by the time 1992 came around, and he already developed his signature style from the Dark Knight Returns and Elektra. More brush work would be in his future, however, as the bulk of his Sin City work would lie in front of him. Miller playfully used his understanding of negative space and light to build a limitless canvas of crime. He didn’t use color much in Sin City, but when he did, like in That Yellow Bastard or A Dame to Kill For, it often drew the eye like an exclamation point. This work especially has been influential to many comic book artists and, while his work in the 2000s (Holy Terror and DK2) isn’t as strong, his work always provides teaching moments. The standard size of a comic book would prove too small to view Miller’s art, which is why 300 looked even greater in the 10” x 13” hardcover and accentuated Miller’s cinematic eye.

Michael Avon Oeming

Notable works: Powers, Bulletproof Monk, The Mice Templar, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye

If you want to see one of our best visual storytellers, look no further than Powers, where Oeming’s talent struggles, blossoms, and flourishes in a short period of time. Oeming’s slightly-animated style mixed with noir visuals give Powers a standout look on the racks. Oeming's strength is in how well he tells a story with his noir layouts, while leaving enough room for Brian Michael Bendis’ dense dialogue. Perhaps his best moment in the series is the infamous monkey-f*cking flashback issue, which features very little dialogue. While Powers is still ongoing, Oeming’s dynamic art can be seen regularly on the Young Animal book, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye.

Sara Pichelli

Notable works: Ultimate Spider-Man, Runaways, X-Men: Pixie Strikes Back

Having come from the world of animated films and anime, Pichelli won the 2011 Eagle Award for Favorite Newcomer after she drew Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man on a regular basis, during the Miles Morales period. Her Miles and Ganke Lee set the tone for the entire series and set the bar for anyone who dares follow her. Pichelli's art has a glossy, unique look and is in its own class. She can do big-budgeted action really well, which is important in Spider-Man, but can also depict the dramatic moments of two teenaged friends worrying about how to handle the magnitude of being crime fighters.

 

Paul Pope

Notable works: THB, 100%,, Battling Boy, The Fall of the House of West, The Rise of Aurora West, Escapo, Batman: Year 100, Heavy Liquid

The special look of Paul Pope’s art is the end result of European and Japanese manga art, old Disney movies, and silent films, mixed with pulp fiction and science fiction. There is always movement in Pope’s panels; some big action or reaction as opposed to the over-posed affair of countless superhero comics. Pope’s stories are never boring, even if they’re not always clear, and since the days of THB and Escapo, he is brave to take stories where readers don’t expect them to go. Pope’s art has such a distinct graphical flair that is consistently present, whether it’s someone larger than life like Batman or one of the many cast offs in the Battling Boy universe. While Pope has the chops to easily jump onto any mainstream book at any given time, you have to admire him wanting to explore his own world with the Battling Boy line, which is geared at younger readers.

 

Frank Quietly

Notable works: All-Star Superman, We3, New X-Men, Flex Mentallo

As a frequent collaborator with Grant Morrison, Quitely, born Vincent Deighan, is pushed to draw some outrageous stuff. But the fellow Scotsman must mind-meld with Morrison, because the stuff they come up with is memorable. All of it. Since his first work in America in 1996, Flex Mentallo, Quitely’s made a name for himself working on visualizing Morrison’s insane imagination. It took his award-winning work in All-Star Superman and New X-Men to become a household name amongst comic readers, but he has been thrilling us with his economic line work and exaggerated body forms for years.

Eduardo Risso

Notable works: 100 Bullets, Brother Lono, Spaceman, Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #4, Dark Night: A True Batman Story, Moonshine

Describing Eduardo Risso as a modern-day Will Eisner is not just hyperbole; it’s an entirely apt description. Risso always looks for the most dynamic camera angle from which to establish a scene and knows just when to break out into a panel grid to slow down the story for the biggest impact lurking around the corner. It’s authentic, but exaggerated and pleasing to the eye. The light and shadows are his best friends and there is no better visual storyteller in the game today. In fact, his most regular collaborator Brian Azzarello would often leave room for Risso to tell additional mini-stories within the main 100 Bullets narratives.

John Romita, Jr.

Notable works: The Amazing Spider-Man, Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, Daredevil: Man Without Fear, Iron Man, Uncanny X-Men, All-Star Batman, The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade, Wolverine, Thor, World War Hulk

If you’ve read superhero comics at any point over the last 25 years, there’s a high probability that John Romita Jr. drew at least a significant percentage of them. There can’t be many characters that Romita Jr. has yet to draw in his storied career but it’s interesting that, despite his blocky style, his rendition of the sleek and spry Spider-Man is a favorite of many. It’s not easy having one of the all-time greats as a father, and yet, Romita Jr. managed to establish his own style working on classics like Daredevil: Man Without Fear, Uncanny X-Men, Punisher War Zone, and Thor. Later, he would collaborate with Mark Millar on Kick-Ass and Hit Girl, inspiring two movies that cemented him as one of the more successful comic artists in recent years.

Tim Sale

Notable works: Batman: Haunted Knight, Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Dark Victory, Superman: For All Seasons, Daredevil Yellow, Spider-Man: Blue, Hulk: Gray, Superman: Confidential, Grendel, Deathblow

Working as Jeph Loeb’s personal drawing hand, Sales has been a collaborator on numerous memorable stories, including the Marvel color books (see above) and three epic Batman tales. Sale’s trademark ink washes, exaggerated jawlines, and lumbering version of the Hulk are equally beautiful and haunting at the same time. The beauty of his visual cues on these books is that you could be a newcomer to these characters, read these stories and know everything you need to know about them and come away being a more knowledgeable fan.

Fiona Staples

Notable works: North 40, DV8: Gods and Monsters, Archie, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, The Secret History of the Authority: Hawksmoor, Saga

Staples was one of the early inceptors who chose to work digitally, creating a workflow that doesn’t produce a physical page of art, but that hasn’t stopped her from fast becoming one of the most in-demand artists in the business. Currently she’s happily illustrating the biggest science fiction comic in a decade in Saga. War and sex and space (specifcally, sex in space), have never looked more beautiful than in Staples’ hands. Brian K. Vaughan throws a lot of wild stuff on the walls, and Staples renders every imaginative concept and the characters reactions to them in the best way. 

Jill Thompson

Notable works: Scary Godmother, Sandman, Lil’Death, Beasts of Burden, Wonder Woman: True Amazon

Whether it’s drawing anthropomorphic pets, The Endless, or a certain Amazonian, Thompson has done it all, and in three different styles. Her early work with DC’s Wonder Woman earned her a job to illustrate the “Brief Lives” story in The Sandman, arguably one of the best in the series. She then drew in a manga-inspired style for Death: At Death’ s Door and The Little Endless Storybook. She then tweaked this with her work in her creator-owned Scary Godmother, to the painted style she works in now, which can be seen in Beasts of Burden and Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. Thompson draws and paints with power, femininity, action and expression; she can illustrate the full range of emotions, even in her animals, and has found a way to make comics consumable and appealing to younger audiences. Thompson’s work spans three decades and, for her efforts, boasts 13 Eisner Award wins.

Chris Ware

Notable works: Acme Novelty Library, Jimmy Corrigan, Building Stories, New Yorker

No cartoonist has done more to expand the boundaries of what comic books can be (or the format itself) from a narrative standpoint than Chris Ware. He has 22 Eisners to show for it, too. Ware challenges the reader to see if they feel the same way he does, and he does so through a series of suburban protagonists, tackling darker and more depressing sides of the human condition, Social isolation, deep depression, and emotional wreckage are all explored in Ware’s graphic novels. He does all this while celebrating graphic design, typography, model making, and the art of creating and consuming comic books. 

Skottie Young

Notable works: The Wonderful World of Oz, Rocket Racoon, I Hate Fairyland

Going in a completely different direction is Skottie Young, who is one of the brightest talents on our list. Landing The Wonderful World of Oz was the best thing for Young’s career, because it came at a time when younger readers needed something to transport them to something fresh and, while The Wizard of Oz is familiar ground, L. Frank Baum’s other books are not. Young got to play with people’s ideas of Oz and make it his own. Ultimately, it also provided a style with which to juxtapose his gnarly creator-owned book, I Hate Fairyland;  a dark comedy about a 10-year old girl stuck in Fairyland who never ages, resulting in her becoming a grim psychopath. Young plays delightedly in these fantasy worlds, swinging a bloody axe all the while and giving off a Tank Girl vibe. 

Those were OUR choices from the last 25 years. What are yours? Keep in mind in your comments that these lists are a celebration of sci-fi and fantasy in film, TV, and comics since 1992. Let us know in the comments which artists of the last 25 years you’d put on your list? And check out our complete collection of "25 Greatest" lists here.