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 three of our countdown of the 50 greatest comic book artists of all-time we look at numbers 30 to 21!
30. Simon Bisley
Bisley might be best described as “The Most Savage Artist of All!” You don’t admire Bisley’s work as much as you hope it doesn’t leap off the page and punch you in the gut. And yet few things that are this brutal are also so beautiful. Bisley is perhaps what Frank Frazetta would have been had he stayed in comics. Like many British artists, he worked for 2000 AD working on the ABC Warriors and Judge Dredd in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Bisley has long been associated with DC’s character, Lobo. While Bisley didn’t create him, he placed his stamp on him like a hammer hitting an anvil with numerous mini-series and one-shots.
Bisley has worked on Batman: Black & White, the Halo Graphic Novel, Hellblazer, Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham, and provided some of the most memorable covers in the history of Heavy Metal Magazine. While Bisley’s credits are much fewer than many of the artists on the list, his powerful style and influence has made an indelible mark on the industry.
Notable Works: Lobo, Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham, Batman: Black & White
Todd McFarlane was the biggest artist in the business in the late 1980s and early 1990s. On the Amazing Spider-Man he became a fan favorite for his new, stylized version of Spider-Man’s costume as well as his rendition of Venom, which made the character an enormously popular anti-hero. This would lead to the creation of a new title simply called Spider-Man with the first issue selling over two million copies. At the height of his popularity, McFarlane shocked the comic world by leading an exodus from Marvel along with several other popular artists to form Image Comics.
McFarlane created Spawn, one of the first Image releases and the first issue sold 1.7 million copies. Spawn is one of only two original Image titles still running and has, uhhh…spawned a big screen film, an animated TV series, several videogames, and a successful action figure series that helped McFarlane launch his own toy company. McFarlane would delve into many non-comic book ventures throughout the late 1990s and 2000’s but in recent years has returned to comics to co-create Haunt with Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman and would come back to Spawn in 2008. While McFarlane’s comic work, particularly artwork is minimal these days, his formation of Image Comics forever changed the comic book landscape in 1992.
Notable Works: Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spawn, Founding of Image Comics
28. Brian Bolland
Brian Bolland is regarded by many comic fans as the definitive Judge Dredd artist. Like most British comic artists he worked for 2000 AD and drew Judge Dredd from 1977 – 1980. Bolland was one of the first British artists to achieve success in the U.S. when he teamed with writer Mike Barr on Camelot 3000, DC’s first ever 12 issue mini-series. Bolland soon joined with Alan Moore to produce one of the most influential and popular Batman stories of all time with 1988’s “The Killing Joke”. Bolland’s cover for the Killing Joke remains one of the greatest ever produced.
Bolland quickly established himself as one of the most sought-after cover artists. He provided covers for the first 63 issues of Grant Morrison’s revival of Animal Man in the 80s/90s, 40 covers for Batman: Gotham Knights, over 30 covers for Wonder Woman, and all 22 issues of The Invisibles vol. 2. If Bolland does nothing other than cover work, it’s doubtful that anyone would ever complain at any chance to see his finely detailed artwork.
Notable Works: Judge Dredd, The Killing Joke, Animal Man
Bill Sienkiewicz got his start at Marvel working on Moon Knight and doing a near perfect imitation of Neal Adams’s art and that is never a bad thing. Before long however, Bill would find his own unique artistic style. Far different than the Adams-like photo realistic style, Sienkiewicz would develop a heavy abstract look that was first seen when he took over The New Mutants in 1984. His new style turned the junior X-Men knockoff into something far more dark and sinister. His style would influence the likes of 30 Days of Night artist Ben Templesmith, and Ashley Wood.
Perhaps Sienkiewicz’s most famous work was the 8 issue limited series Elektra: Assassin that he did with Frank Miller in 1986. His expressionist style set it apart from virtually any other comic of the time. Sienkiewicz worked on The Shadow for DC in the 1980s, following up the modern day version began by Howard Chaykin. More recently he did a six issue Black Widow series for Marvel and he inked Klaus Janson for 2012’s Daredevil: End of Days mini-series. He had done extensive cover work including The Question, Dazzler, and Detective Comics.
Notable Works: Moon Knight, The New Mutants, Elektra: Assassin
26. Gene Colan
Gene Colan’s 65 year in comic books began in 1944. After returning from World War II, Gene went to the Timely offices where he was hired by Stan Lee. Like most artists he was let go in the late 1940s when the industry went through a downturn and did freelancing work for several companies. When Marvel began its resurgence in the Silver Age, Colan became one of Marvel’s top artists. He worked on Daredevil from 1966 – 1973. He teamed with Roy Thomas on the short-lived Doctor Strange series in 1968 that saw Colan create a new, more superhero-like costume for the character which included a mask. Colan’s broad textures and brooding style was a perfect fit for the supernatural adventures of Doctor Strange.
But Colan’s true masterpiece was illustrating the complete, 70 issue run of Tomb of Dracula from 1972 – 1979. The Comic’s Code Authority had eased the restrictions on horror comics and Colan infused his work with the best gothic elements from both the Universal horror films and the Hammer Studios films. Colan co-created notable characters like Blade, vampire hunter Hannibal King, Deacon Frost, and Dracula’s Daughter Lilith. After a fallout with Marvel, Colan moved to DC where he worked on Batman and Detective from 1982 – 1986, co-creating Killer Croc. Colan’s last work was doing Captain America #601 for which he won an Eisner Award. Colan passed away in 2011. Colan also had long stints on Tales to Astonish where he drew the Iron Man co-feature as well as the cover to Iron Man #1, Howard the Duck, Captain America, and Wonder Woman.
Notable Works: Daredevil, Tomb of Dracula, Doctor Strange, Batman, Detective
French artist Jean Giraud was best known by his ‘stage name’ Moebius. Moebius got his start in the 1960s doing American-style western themed comics like Jerry Spring, and “Blueberry” which was patterned after Italian Spaghetti westerns. Blueberry, which began in 1963, continues to be published today. In 1975 Moebius co-founded the slick, illustrated magazine Metal Hurlant, known in the U.S. as Heavy Metal.
Moebius contributed what many regard as his masterpiece, “The Airtight Garage”, a Sci-Fi epic than ran from 1976 – 1980 and has subsequently been reprinted in graphic novel format. Moebius also created “Arzach” a science fantasy tale notable for having no word balloons or captions. The strip inspired the “Taarna” segment of the 1981 Heavy Metal film. In 1988 Moebius teamed with Stan Lee for the two part Silver Surfer: Parable limited series, which gave many mainstream comic fans their first exposure to his work. Moebius worked on storyboards and character designs for several films including Alien, Tron, The Fifth Element, and Star Wars. He has inspired such artists, writers, and filmmakers as Hayao Miyazaki, Ridley Scott, and William Gibson. He died in 2012
Notable Works: Blueberry, The Airtight Garage, Arzach, Heavy Metal Magazine
24. Frank Frazetta
Few names in comic book art and popular illustration are cause for such reverence as that of Frank Frazetta. While he may have fewer actual comic credits than any artist on the list, Frazetta’s influence is matched by few in the industry. Frazetta was just 15 when he broke into comics in 1944. He worked on numerous titles including Buck Rogers for Famous Funnies; The Shining Knight for DC; and even funny animal stories for Coo Coo comics. He soon drew the attention of EC Comics where he would work on Weird Fantasy and Weird Sceince. Frazetta also did extensive work on comic strips such as Li’l Abner and Flash Gordon.
As beautiful as Frazetta’s comic book work was, it was his paintings that made him an icon. Frazetta was hired to paint the covers to a series of paperbacks featuring Conan the Barbarian. His interpretation of the brawny, savage barbarian, standing atop a pile of corpses with a scantily clad woman at his feet became the definitive version of Robert E. Howard’s character, and virtually introduced the character to a generation of fans. The popularity of the paperback book series eventually led to Roy Thomas acquiring the rights to do a comic book version at Marvel in 1970.
Frazetta would go on to do numerous covers for Warren magazines Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. He would also provide cover art for Edgar Rice Burroughs’s books, including the Tarzan and John Carter of Mars series. His paintings appeared on numerous album covers and movie posters. The 1983 animated film “Fire and Ice” was produced by Frazetta and based upon his art. Today his paintings sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Frazetta has influenced a virtual who’s who of illustration including Boris Vallejo, Brom, Simon Bisley, Jeff Jones, Ken Kelly. Roger Sweet, and Joseph Vargo. Frazetta died in 2010.
Notable Works: EC Comics, Creepy, Eerie, Conan book covers
23. Curt Swan
There may be no artist more associated with a single comic book character than Curt Swan is with Superman. Swan was the primary artist on both Superman and Action Comics for some thirty years until the mid-1980’s, guiding the character from the Silver Age and into the Modern Age. When you saw an image of Superman on any product in that era whether on books, toys, games, kites, posters, cups, or even kids pajamas, you were likely looking at Curt Swan’s version of the Man of Steel.
Swan worked almost exclusively for DC Comics in his near 50 year career, breaking in on features like Boy Commandos and Tommy Tomorrow. Swan began working on Superboy in 1949 and then became the regular artist on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen in 1954. He drew the first story featuring a race between Superman and The Flash in 1967. His last regular Superman story was for Superman #423 in 1986 featuring a now monumental story written by Alan Moore called "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” It was his Curt’s “Swan” song to the character which would soon undergo a reboot by John Byrne. Swan was a steady, consistent artist known for his speed and able to handle several titles per month.
Notable Works: Superman, Action Comics, Superboy
Yet another former EC artist makes the list! Crandall’s first work was for Quality Comics working on superhero titles like Doll Man and The Ray. Crandall inked Jack Kirby’s pencils in Captain America Comics #2 and #3 in 1941. Crandall co-created the superhero Firebrand in Police Comics #1 and would work on Blackhawk for DC before joining the Air Force in 1943.
After returning from the war, Crandall went to work for EC. Unlike many of EC’s artists who specialized in a particular genre, Crandall’s tight, clean pencils made him adept at any title from the horror titles like Vault of Horror to crime titles like Crime SuspenStories, to adventure titles like Piracy. After EC folded Crandall worked for Atlas, Gold key, and followed many of his fellow EC artists at Warren magazines working on Blazing Combat. Crandall passed in 1982.
Notable Works: Blackhawk, EC Comics, Warren Magazines
21. Hal Foster
There’s one thing you need to know about Hal Foster…he created the Prince Valiant comic strip in 1937 and it is STILL going strong today, over 75 years later and over 30 years after the death of its creator. Now THAT is the definition of impact and influence. One of the most talented artists to ever put pencil to paper, Foster made a deal with the great newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst for a 50/50 split of the revenue, an unheard of agreement in those days…or these days for that matter.
Foster wrote and drew the strip until the 1970s when arthritis forced him to give up art chores but he would continue to write the strip until 1980. Hal Foster influenced the likes of Frank Frazetta, joe Kubert, Al Williamson, Mark Shultz, and Mike Grell. Since 2009 Fantagraphics has been reprinting the Prince Valiant strips with a single volume covering two years.
Notable Works: Prince Valiant
Read Mania’s Top 50 Comic Book Artists Part 1 here.
Read Mania’s Top 50 Comic Book Artists Part 2 here.