Who are the 50 greatest comic book artists of all-time? We could argue about it all day but we’re going to take a stab at it anyway. Let’s first talk about comic book art in general. Comic book art has changed tremendously over the past 20 – 25 years. Advances in paper and printing technologies have been a boon to modern comic artists for many reasons. Today, artists are able to take advantages of higher quality paper, high-tech printing processes, not to mention the advent of software programs like Photoshop and Corel Draw.
In part four of our countdown of the 50 greatest comic book artists of all-time we look at the artists at numbers 20 to11!
In 1994 he produced Hellboy, his creator-owned character for Dark Horse. Mignola would soon introduce the Hellboy spinoff the B.P.R.D., The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Mignola would go on to write and/or draw literally dozens of Hellboy and related titles over the next two decades. The success of the character resulted in two live-action and two animated films. A heavily in-demand cover artist, Mignola has done covers for Deadman, The Spectre, Dark Horse Presents, and Starman. Mignola has won some 20 Eisner, Harvey, Eagle, and Inkwell awards for his art and several more for his writing.
Notable Works: Cosmic Odyssey, Death in the Family, Hellboy, B.P.R.D
Well, what would this part of our list be without yet another great talent from EC Comics. Ingels specialized in EC’s horror titles and even would begin to sign his name as “Ghastly Graham Ingels”. He worked in both comic books as well as doing pulp magazine covers in the 1940s for Fiction House, Dell, Hillman and Magazine Enterprises. As art director at Better Publications, Ingels gave the great Frank Frazetta his very first assignment in comics.
When EC introduced its three horror titles: Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear, it was a match made in Heaven. Ingels excelled at the creepy and ghoulish, particularly in rotting zombies, long before anyone had ever heard of George Romero. Ingels created the character of the Old Witch who became the host for The Haunt of Fear. When the founding of the Comics Code Authority resulted in the end of virtually all horror magazines, Ingels found the going rough and never again found a regular assignment in comics. He went on to become an art instructor in Florida. He would influence many modern artists, notably Bernie Wrightson and the Ghastly Awards, formed in 2011 for excellence in horror comes, was named for him.
Notable Works: Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear
18. Jim Lee
Jim Lee was one of the collection of hot young artists who left Marvel in 1992 to co-found Image Comics and he is arguably the one who has enjoyed the greatest success over the past 20 years. Lee had guest stints on the X-Men during the “Acts of Vengeance” storyline before becoming the regular artist on issue #267. Lee then teamed with Chris Claremont on the monumental X-Men #1 in 1991 which remains the best-selling comic of all-time with over 8 million copies sold. During his run Lee co-created Gambit and Omega Red.
Lee formed the Wildstar imprint at Image and created WildC.A.T.S., Deathblow, Gen 13, and Stormwatch. In 1998 Lee sold the Wildstar imprint to DC Comics so he could concentrate more on creating comics. Lee worked on a string of hugely popular series and storylines at DC including Batman “Hush”; Superman “For Tomorrow” and All-Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder. In 2010 he became Co-Publisher of DC Comics. In 2011 he helped design DC’s New 52 re-launch of their universe, personally handling the art on the new Justice League title. Lee remains one of the most popular artists working today having won numerous awards as best artist.
Notable Works: X-Men, WildC.A.T.S., Wildstorm, Batman “Hush”, The New 52
17. Jim Starlin
You might be able to accuse Jim Starlin of a certain degree of single-mindedness throughout his career when it comes to doing stories of a cosmic nature but damn…nobody does them better! On one of his first jobs for Marvel, Starlin created the mad God Thanos in Iron Man #55 in 1973. Thanos has gone on to become one of the biggest villains in comics and will appear in the Guardians of the Galaxy film as well as the Avengers sequel. Starlin revamped Marvel’s version of Captain Marvel and later took over another cosmic character, Warlock, incorporating Thanos into both runs. Starlin also co-created Shang-Chi, The Master of Kung-Fu. In 1982, he produced Marvel’s very first graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel.
In the 1980s he created Deadstar for Marvel’s Epic imprint, later moving it to First Comics. Much of Starlin’s work in the 1980s and 1980s was as a writer as he wrote the pivotal “Death in the Family” storyline in Batman; Batman: The Cult with Bernie Wrightson; Cosmic Odyssey with Mike Mignola; and the Infinity Gauntlet/War/Crusade/Abyss series for Marvel. Starlin was both artist and writer for his creator-owned series Breed which began at Malibu Comics and later moved to Image. In recent years he has worked on Mystery in Space, Strange Adventures, and Death of the New Gods as both writer and artist for DC. Starlin’s art has always seemed to crackle with the power cosmic, perfectly matching the stories he has worked on for 40 years.
Notable Works: Warlock, Death of Captain Marvel, creation of Thanos, Dreadstar, Breed
16. Alex Toth
One of the most enjoyable aspects of doing this list was the hope that we could turn comic book fans onto artists that they may not as be familiar with and that is certainly the case with Alex Toth. Even if you were not familiar with his name you are familiar with his work. Toth worked at DC during the Golden Age on characters such as Green Arrow, The Flash, and The Atom until 1952 when he was drafted into the Army. After being discharged in1956, Toth worked for Dell comics on a wide variety of comics including Westerns, Zorro, and TV/film adaptations.
Toth was hired by the Hanna Barbera animation studio to do storyboards and character designs. He created several of the most popular Saturday morning animated cartoons of the 1960s including The Herculoids, Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, and his most famous creation, Space Ghost. Space Ghost gained new popularity in the 1990s when the show was revived on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block. Toth would also create the character designs for The Super Friends animated show. He returned to comics in the 1970s doing mostly odd jobs for Marvel and DC on titles like The Witching Hour and Zorro. He died in 2006.
Notable Works: DC Comic, Dell Comics, Space Ghost, Super Friends
15. Mike Kaluta
If Mike Kaluta had dedicated himself solely to comics he might very well have been in the Top 5…He is THAT good. Few artists have ever so mastered the sense of mystery and adventure that Kaluta has in his work. Kaluta’s first major work was for DC on The Shadow in the 1970s. His work flawlessly captured the look and feel of the 1930s pulps and he produced several fantastic covers. Many consider Kaluta’s masterpiece to be Starstruck, the Sci-fi series that has been published by Heavy Metal, and then later by Marvel’s Epic imprint, and still later by Dark Horse and IDW.
Like his former studio partner Bernie Wrightson, Kaluta excelled in horror comics and his work could be found throughout the 70s and 80s in House of Mystery, House of Secrets, and Secrets of the Haunted House. In the 1990s he returned to The Shadow as both artist and writer for a new Dark Horse series. More recently, Kaluta did dozens of stunning covers for The Books of Magic, Lucifer, Zombie’s Christmas Carol, The Spectre, Madame Xanadu, and Aquaman.
Notable Works: Starstruck, The Shadow, Extensive Cover Work
14. Jim Steranko
There has perhaps never been an artist who has had such a major impact on comic art with such relatively few credits than Jim Steranko. Early in his life Steranko wasn’t a comic book artist at all but rather worked as a commercial artist in advertising. He also moonlighted as a magician and escape artist and had his own rock band in the 1960s. His first professional comic work did not come until 1966 when he was nearly 30 years old. He showed his work to Marvel and immediately was hired to work on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
While initially Steranko was heavily influenced by Jack Kirby, he soon began instilling many groundbreaking techniques into his work that had never been seen before. Steranko became the Andy Warhol of comics bringing pop art and psychedelic methods to his work. Steranko crafted his panels much the way a film director crafts a scene. Steranko would move from Strange Tales to a regular Nick Fury series. He had short but memorable stints on Captain America and The X-Men. His cover for the Hulk King-Size Special #1 with the Hulk holding the logo on his back has been duplicated by other artists numerous times over the years. Steranko edited Marvel’s fan magazine FOOM. Jim left comics in the early 1970s as he found advertising work to be far more lucrative despite being one of Marvel’s top paid artists along with Jack Kirby and John Buscema. In addition to advertising Steranko painted covers to numerous book covers including a series of two dozen Shadow paperbacks from Pyramid books. Steranko was a concept artist for Raiders of the Lost Ark and is credited with designing the look of Indiana Jones.
Notable Works: Strange Tales, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Shadow Covers, Captain America
13. Alex Ross
If superheroes really did exist, chances are they would look like an Alex Ross painting. Ross’s first comic work was on Terminator: The Burning Earth for NOW Comics in 1990. But, more importantly, produced his first painted comic work for the cover of Superman: Doomsday and Beyond…and a star was born. Ross’s work brought a regal, even God-like quality to the characters he painted. His first full series was Marvels in 1994 retelling the history of Marvel’s heroes through the eyes of a reporter.
Ross followed that up with Kingdom Come for DC, presenting a haunting, alternative history of the DC Universe. Ross returned to Marvel to produce a similar alternate history storyline with Earth X, Universe X, and Paradise X. He worked on the 12 issue limited series Justice from 2005 – 2007. He has also produced extensive cover art for both Marvel and DC. Outside of comics he has done poster work including for the 2002 Academy Awards as well as book and album covers. DC Direct produced a line of Kingdom Come action figures based on his art.
Notable Works: Marvels, Kingdom Come, Earth X
12. Gil Kane
Gil Kane’s art seemed to be charged with energy that never seemed to dissipate during his nearly 50 year career in comics. His first comic credit came in 1941 for Zip Comics and did his first work for Marvel in 1944, and his first work for DC in 1945. Kane was at the forefront of the Silver Age reemergence of Superheroes. Gil worked on Green Lantern for a decade including doing the art on Showcase #22, the first appearance of the Silver Age version of the character. He was the artist on the first 37 issues of the 1960s Atom series.
Kane jumped to Marvel in the early 1970s and took over for John Romita, Sr., as artist on Spider-Man. Kane, and along with Stan Lee, produced the three issue story arc which featured a story about drug abuse and was published without the Comic Code seal, which today is still regarded as one of the most important comic book storylines ever. Kane was also the artist on the Death of Gwen Stacy story. At Marvel he co-created Iron Fist and Morbius, the Living Vampire. He had runs on Warlock, Captain Marvel, and Marvel Team-Up and remained active until his death in 2000.
Notable Works: Green Lantern, Atom, Spider-Man, Iron Fist
11. John Byrne
John Byrne is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of comics. He was noted for feuds with several fellow creators and particularly took heat for his criticism of Jack Kirby in the 1980s. But there is one inescapable fact…for over a decade 1970s until the 1990, Byrne was the biggest name in comics. It seemed that whatever he touched turned to gold and he touched a lot of titles. Byrne got his start in the early 1970s working for Charlton Comics but caught the eye of X-Men writer Chris Claremont. His first work for Marvel was doing an Iron Fist story in Marvel Premiere and then worked on The Champions.
But when Byrne joined Claremont on The X-Men in 1977 he began to cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats. Byrne worked on some of the most pivotal stories in X-Men history including “Days of Future Past” and “The Dark Phoenix Saga”. During this time he created the character of Kitty Pryde. Byrne left the X-Men in 1981 and took over The Fantastic Four. His five year run on the title is regarded by many as the best stint next to that of Lee and Kirby’s run of the 1960s. During this time he also worked on Alpha Flight for the first 28 issue of the series.
In 1986, DC had just completed Crisis on Infinite Earths and was going through one of those reboots that they so love to do every few years. They hired Byrne away from Marvel to revamp Superman which he did in the six issue mini-series, The Man of Steel. Byrne then followed the series up by working on the new Superman ongoing series as well as Action Comics. Byrne returned to Marvel and worked on one of the most enjoyable series of the early 1990s, The Sensational She-Hulk, a rousing and whimsical title that featured as much humor as action. Byrne has not worked for Marvel since the 2001 cancellation of his X-Men: The Hidden Years series.
Notable Works: X-Men, Fantastic Four, Superman, Alpha Flight, Sensational She-Hulk