Welcome to what I hope will be a semi-fresh, partly informative, and mildly entertaining new column set in the wonderful world of comics. If you have seen any of my Behind The Panel interviews or heard the BtP Podcast, you know I’m a fan of the four-color arts, past and present.
With that preamble out of the way, let’s jump right into this week’s topic, spoiled right there in the headline: Where are all the great young comic book artists? That’s right, we’re starting with a loaded question! The idea hit me after a recent conversation I had with Todd McFarlane and Greg Capullo after we did an interview surrounding Spawn #300. Todd was praising Greg’s pencil work, and he noted that despite nearly 30 years in the business, Capullo remains one of the top 3-4 guys, not just in talent, but in popularity.
Once I stopped to think about it — after Todd finally took a breath — I realized he was 100% correct. And it was kind of depressing.
Because nothing against Greg Capullo, an incredible artist and storyteller, or Jim Lee, or Clay Mann or Sean Phillips or … well, many other talented veterans, but how in the holy heck are the top-selling artists almost exclusively all pros with at least a decade of experience?
Where is the new blood to carry comics into the next generation?
Looking at the recent charts – in this case, June 2019 comics sales (shown above) – here’s what stood out. All but one of the top six titles in terms of units sold (copies of a specific comic) were drawn by artists with at least a decade of professional comics experience. The exception? Tradd Moore, artist on Silver Surfer: Black #1, who broke into comics with his creator-owned Luther Strode series as a twentysomething and immediately made us all feel incredibly under-accomplished. The other artists on the list are all veteran storytellers: Jock, Travel Foreman, Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Ottley, and Lee Bermejo, who looks like a millennial but has been killing it in comics since before Y2K.
That list and a weekly trip to the LCS will underscore an obvious fact: Comics has no shortage of talent. What it lacks right now is star power.
Where are the artists moving books on sheer audacity and pencil power, like a Todd McFarlane did back in his halcyon Spider-Man days or Liefeld with X-Force, or Youngblood? Part of it may be that we’re in an age in which writers like Brian Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Tom King, and Donny Cates are getting the lion’s share of attention. No argument from me there; each one is great at what they do. But each of those writers will also tell you that they can’t do what they do without their artistic co-creators. So again, I’ll ask: Where are this generation’s Image hotshots?
As I said, there is no shortage of outstanding comics artists right now. Sara Pichelli, Stephanie Hans, Joelle Jones and Pepe Larraz are just four that come to mind while I type this up. But despite their great success — I mean, everything Pichelli draws is GORGEOUS — they haven’t reached that rarefied air of superstardom yet that the '90s stars did. And the comics business is long overdue for a seismic shakeup that history has proven only comes from groundbreaking comics artists.
If you look at the modern history of comics, the arrival of newcomers hungry to make their mark has launched some of the industry’s key creative periods.
The 1970s saw guys like John Byrne, Frank Miller, and George Perez shake things up with their dynamic line work and storytelling chops.
The '80s saw the British New Wave deliver artists such as Brian Bolland, Glenn Fabry, and Dave Gibbons from across the pond.
And then, of course, you had the Image Boys; McFarlane, Lee, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, and Whilce Portacio turned the industry upside down, and they were all in their 20s or just entering their 30s. Even the two somewhat seasoned pros in the original Image 7, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino, were still younger than most of today’s biggest artistic names are. Those guys changed Marvel and the industry with their eye-popping layouts, dynamic compositions, and relentless creative output. They super-charged characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men, the New Mutants, and the Guardians of the Galaxy for a new generation of readers, before turning the industry on its head with Image, as those of you who have seen our documentary, So Much Damage: How Image Comics Changed the World, surely know.
I’m not calling for another Image revolution, although wouldn’t that be nice for the sheer health of the industry? It probably can’t happen again, anyway, given how the original situation benefited from such a perfect storm of circumstances. But comics has to figure out a way to put the shock paddles to its stagnant talent pool. It needs new creative blood.
This isn’t some ageist rant. I’m a child of the Bronze Age, who still buys any title John Romita Jr. pencils because he was/is a superb storyteller. But as an observer of the industry and as someone who wants to see comics as a business flourish, I can’t help but be worried. Because if the past remains more appealing to fans than its present, what kind of future does comics have?
Let me know what you think in the comments below. Got an artist you think is the Next Big Thing? Let me know. Want to castigate me for omitting an artist you love? Let me know. And hit me up on social media. I won’t bite.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.