Well we have reached the end, comic fans…after four days of great artists we have reached the final ten names in our countdown…these are the best in the business. Each one is a legend in their own right. I wanted to quickly share just a bit more about how the list was put together. Ad mentioned we polled some 150 – 200 people, many of them current and former comic book professionals. We kept a spreadsheet of every named that was mentioned at least once and also tracked the number of times a name was mentioned. From this we had an initial pool of about 150 names. We quickly checked off about 20 – 25 names that we knew were definite, no doubt about it automatics. We also eliminated a good portion of the list that had only been named once or who we knew simply didn’t have the credentials to make the Top 50. That left us with a list of about 60 names that we had to pare down to get our back 25. It was by far much harder to do the bottom 25 than the top 25 as frankly so many of the artists were so close together. In the end, many factors played a role in determining the list. The criteria we laid out in part one, the number of times names were mentioned, and things like the number of awards they won to help break any ties.
Of course this is all subjective and certainly there are people questioning why their favorite was left off the list but I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the list all week.
10. John Romita, Sr.
In our entry for Curt Swan, we mentioned how Swan’s version of Superman was the one used throughout the 1960s and 1970s on all manner of merchandising. The same can be said for John Romita and Spider-Man. If you saw Spider-Man’s image in that time period it was Romita’s version of the Web Crawler. John broke into comics in 1949 and like so many of the artists on the list, he was given his first big break by Stan Lee when Marvel was still known as Atlas Comics. He worked on various types of comics including the 1950s revival of Captain America. Romita had a 12 issue run on Daredevil before taking over Spider-Man in 1966 after Steve Ditko left Marvel.
Romita would work on Spider-Man for seven years, missing only a handful of issues along the way. In addition to the interior art he also did dozens of covers. Romita was named Art Director at Marvel in 1973 and helped design many iconic characters including The Punisher, Wolverine, Mary Jane Watson, Bullseye, The Rhino, and The Kingpin. John went on to work on many of Marvel’s titles in the 1970s including The Hulk, Marvel Team-Up, Captain America, and Astonishing Tales. As Art Director he helped establish the look of Marvel’s books in the 1970s. While largely retired today, he still does the occasional cover for Marvel.
Notable Works: Daredevil, Spider-Man, Art Director at Marvel
9. Frank Miller
Frank Miller might not be the most purely talented artist on our list but no one can argue the influence and impact he has had on the business. Miller is the artist most responsible for ushering in the grittier, modern era of comics. Miller did some minor work for both Marvel and DC before being assigned to Daredevil on issue #158. On issue #168 Miller took over the writing chores and created Elektra. He transformed a third-rate villain named Bullseye into one of the top villains of the day leading to his killing Elektra in issue #181. Miller’s next major work was the milestone Wolverine four issue mini-series that expanded the character’s background. Besides doing the art, Miller co-plotted the series and produced four memorable covers.
But Miller would forever change how the world looks at comic books with the 1986 series Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It was the shot heard ‘round the world in the industry and, along with The Watchmen, one of the most important and influential comic titles of the past 30 years. For the next several years Miller focused on writing, including Batman: Year One, and returning to Marvel to again work on Daredevil. Miller’s next major project as an artist was the creation of Sin City for Dark Horse, a violent crime noir epic that was adapted into a 2005 film. Miller followed the original series with several mini-series sequels.
Sticking with Dark Horse, Miller produced the five issue series 300, based on the historical Battle of Thermopylae as a small group of 300 Spartans stood against an invasion force of thousands of Persians. This too, was adapted into a major film in 2007.
Notable Works: Daredevil, Wolverine, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, 300
8. Barry Windsor-Smith
If comic books were fine art, Barry Smith would be Rembrandt or Picasso. In the early part of his career Barry would largely mimic Jack Kirby on fill-in issues of the X-Men and The Avengers. You began to see him developing his own, exquisitely detailed style on Avengers #99 & 100. Thomas then gave Windsor-Smith the job as Conan artist in 1970. He worked on the first 24 issues of the breakthrough title which introduced many comic fans to Robert E. Howard’s barbarian pulp hero. Barry won over a dozen industry awards for his work on Conan which included several adaptations of Howard’s most well-known tales.
Windsor-Smith left comics in the 1970s to concentrate on producing fine art and established his own Gorblimey press to publish prints and portfolios of his work. He returned to comics in the 1980s and to do several guest stories as well as a four issue Machine Man mini-series in 1984. Likely few people even cared what the series was about as by this time Windsor-Smith was simply head and shoulders above any other artist of the time. In 1991, he wrote, drew, and even colored a 13 part Weapon X feature in Marvel Comics Presents with a highly original take on Wolverine. He would go on to work for Jim Shooter’s Valiant Comics on Solar, Man of the Atom, and Archer and Armstrong.
While Barry Windsor-Smith has produced little work in Comics over the past decade, if you were say he was the most purely talented artist to ever work in the business, I would not argue the point.
Notable Works: Conan the Barbarian, Weapon X, Gorblimey Press
7. Will Eisner
Will Eisner’s place on this list is not only due to his remarkable creative ability but also due to his influence on many of the great artists of the Golden Age. Eisner, along with partner Jerry Iger founded the Eisner & Iger Studio in 1936. They were not a publisher themselves but their studio produced on-demand work for various comic publishers including Timely, Fiction House, Fox, Quality, and others. Among the artists who got their starts in the comic business through the Eisner & Iger studio were Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Lou Fine, and Wally Wood. Eisner is credited with creating or co-creating Dollman, Blackhawk, and Wonder Man.
Eisner left the studio in 1939 and created his long-running newspaper strip/comic hero, The Spirit. The masked vigilante debuted in 1940 and became one of the most popular strips of the day. Part of the charm of the strip was that it was many things at many times…sometimes many things at the same time…crime/action, horror, mystery, comedy, romance. It became noted for its wonderfully madcap rogue’s gallery of villains and even more for its sexy femme fatales like Sand Saref, Silk Satin, and P’Gell. The strip ran until 1952.
In the 1970s Warren Magazines and then Kitchen Sink Press began reprinting the stories featuring new covers by Eisner and several new Spirit stories. In 2009, DC began producing hardcover archive editions of the Spirit as well as new stories. The strip would inspire a big screen film in 2008. Will Eisner would influence many artists over the decades including Jim Steranko, Paul Gulacy, and Frank Miller.
Notable Works: The Spirit, The Eisner & Iger Studio
6. Joe Kubert
If the only thing Joe Kubert had ever done in the comic business was work as an artist he would still have made the list. But what elevates him to an even loftier position was his tremendous influence on the industry by his establishing the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in 1976. The graduates of Kubert’s school reads like a who’s who of great comic book artists: Stephen R. Bissette, Tom Yeates, and Rick Veitch (all in the first graduating class); Dave Dorman, Karl Kesel, Kim DeMulder, Jan Durrsema, Alex Maleev, Rags Morales, Tom Raney, Eric Shanower, Tim Truman, and Joe’s sons Andy and Adam.
Kubert worked for DC most of his career, starting in 1943. His would begin his long association with Hawkman in 1945. There were a number of artists who were especially great at war comics, notably John Severin, Russ Heath, and Harvey Kurtzman, but none were better than Kubert who worked on titles like Our Army at War, G.I. Combat, and Sgt. Rock, whom he co-created. Joe also co-created the Silver Age version of Hawkman. In the 1970s as DC’s Director of Publications, Kubert produced titles like the Edgar Rice Burroughs characters Tarzan and Korak, Son of Tarzan. He combined his love of war and horror on Weird War Tales as both artist and frequent cover artist.
Later in his career he did two critically lauded pencil art graphic novels that dealt with his Jewish heritage, Yossel: April 19, 1943 (2003) and Jew Gangster (2005). His last work was in collaboration with his son, Andy, on Before Watchmen: Nite Owl.
Notable Works: Hawkman, Sgt. Rock, Tarzan, G.I. Combat, Tarzan, The Joe Kubert School
5. John Buscema
“Big” John Buscema joined Timely Comics under Stan Lee in 1948. He worked for a variety of publishers throughout the 1950s including Dell, Quality, St. John, and Hillman but got into advertising in the late 1950s, seemingly leaving comics behind. But with the Silver Age comics boom he was lured back to Marvel by Stan and soon became one of Marvel’s top artists. He did early work in Marvel’s anthology titles like Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish. He took over as artist on the Avengers in 1967 and remained on the title for nearly a decade in a run that many compare to Jack Kirby’s 1960s run on the Fantastic Four. This run saw Buscema co-create such characters as Ultron, The Vision, Valkyrie, The Lady Liberators, and more. His cover for Avengers #57, with the first appearance of the Vision remains one of the most iconic in history.
Buscema would do all but one of the 18 issues of the first Silver Surfer title which featured another iconic cover, Silver Surfer #4 with The Sufer hurtling towards a hammer-swinging Thor. Following Barry Windsor-Smith’s departure, John became the regular artist on Conan, as well as The Savage Sword of Conan. He remained on both titles for most of the next 14 years on over 100 issues of each title. His Brawny version of Conan is the most well-known next to that of Frank Frazetta’s.
Known for his ability to work fast, Buscema AVERAGED two titles a month for years, always maintaining a high quality. He would have long runs on Thor with some 75 issues, and over 50 issues on Fantastic Four. He was the primary artist on the first ongoing Wolverine series in 1988. His special projects included a Superman/Spider-Man cross company book in 1981, Conan the Rogue graphic novel, and the comic book adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Notable Works: Avengers, Conan, Thor, Silver Surfer, Savage Sword of Conan
4. Steve Ditko
Steve Ditko is without a doubt the most mercurial artist on the list. Best known for co-creating Spider-Man and Doctor Strange for Marvel, many fans will tell you that Ditko’s best work was his pre-superhero work in the 1950s. Let’s just agree that it’s all good! Ditko started his career working in the Jack Kirby/Joe Simon studio in the 1950s. Early on he worked for both Charlton Comics, where he co-created Captain Atom, and worked for Atlas Comics. He worked on virtually all of Marvel’s horror titles. Of course, the Comics Code was still in full enforcement so none of the titles had “horror” in their name but instead had titles like Strange Tales, Journey into Mystery, Strange Worlds, Tales to Astonish, and Tales of Suspense. These books typically featured weird Sci-Fi or monster stories which were utterly disposable, except for Ditko’s art. One of Ditko’s great skills was producing beautiful art with gorgeous, but shocking covers that managed to stay within the bounds of the Code. His work from this period compares with very best artists from EC.
Ditko co-created Spider-Man in 1962 and he has gone on to become Marvel’s flagship character appearing TV films, theatrical films, numerous animated series, videogames, and more. Along the way Steve co-created many of Spider-Man’s notorious villains like The Green Goblin, Elektro, Doctor Octopus, The Lizard, Kraven the Hunter, The Scorpion, and Mysterio. Next up Ditko co-created Doctor Strange in Strange Tales #110 in 1963. Working on Doctor Strange allowed Dikto to experiment with many new abstract and psychedelic techniques. Ditko co-created Strange’s arch-foe Dormammu, as well as Nightmare, Eternity, The Ancient One, and love interest Clea.
Ditko left Marvel in 1966 over creative differences and returned to Charlton where he had more creative freedom and worked on Blue Beetle, The Question, and Captain Atom, two decades before DC would get the rights to the characters. In the 1970s he worked for DC on Shade, The Changing Man. He returned to Marvel for a short time in the 1980s on Machine Man and Speedball but largely has not done much for the Big Two since then. Today the reclusive, 85 year-old primarily has been working on his own solo work and publishers like Fantagraphics has been publishing archived collections of his 1950s stories.
Notable Works: 1950s Atlas titles, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Captain Atom
3. George Perez
If there is an artist who might be called the ‘modern Kirby’ it would be George Perez. During his incredible 40 years in the business, Perez, like Kirby, has shown the ability to work on any title, and do so with speed and flair. While some artists are intimidated by working on team books because of the number of different characters, Perez seems to relish and do his best work on team titles. He started as an assistant to then Fantastic Four artist Rich Buckler He did the short-lived Inhumans series in 1975 before being given the Avengers on #141. Perez’s art was like 60s Kirby crossed with Gil Kane…powerfully dynamic yet sharp and clean. After the Avengers he moved on to the Fantastic Four until 1980.
As strong as his work was for Marvel his best was yet to come at DC. In 1980 he and writer Marv Wolfman revived the Teen Titans and did for that title what Chris Claremont and John Byrne had done for the X-Men. It quickly became one of DC’s best-selling titles. During the nearly six-year run Perez co-created Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, as well as the villain Deathstroke: The Terminator during one of the most popular story arcs of the series, “The Judas Contract”. Perez again teamed with Marv Wolfman on Crisis on Infinite Earths…and if you want to know who to blame for every company-wide crossover event that has happened since then, you have your culprits. But don’t hold it against George…how could he know that nearly 30 years later DC still can’t figure out their universe. But I digress…
After finishing Crisis, Perez handled DC’s reboot of Wonder Woman as both artist and writer from 1987 – 1988. George would bounce back and forth between Marvel and DC, returning to the Avengers for the third volume, and working on Action Comics. Neither company minded sharing his talent and when the long-rumored Avengers/JLA crossover finally happened in 2003, it was Perez who had the honors of doing the art. He continues to be busy working Infinite Crisis, Brave and the Bold, Superman, Green Arrow, New Teen Titans Graphic novel. He has won over a dozen awards for his art.
Notable Works: Avengers, New Teen Titans, Wonder Woman, Crisis on Infinite Earths, JLA/Avengers
2. Neal Adams
While Jack Kirby was busy doing his thing for Marvel in the 1960s, DC had their own secret weapon and there was no more talented artist than Neal Adams. Adams got his start in newspaper strips in the early 1960s working on Ben Casey. Because Adams’s main goal was to get into advertising, his work has always been instilled with the highest degree of photo-realism. His first extended assignment was working on Deadman for Strange Adventures doing both covers and interior art. His work created such a stir in the industry that a special Alley Award was given to him in 1967 for, and I quote, “the new perspective and dynamic vibrance he has brought to the field of comic art". Talk about hitting the ground running!
Neal began working for Marvel in 1969 doing several short but memorable runs. The first was a 9 issue stint on X-Men which earned him Alley Awards for Best Pencil Artist and Best Inking Artist. His run was highlighted by maybe the most memorable battle between the X-Men and the mutant-hunting robotic Sentinels. He also co-created Havok. His next assignment was on the Avengers where he, along with writer Roy Thomas, and John Buscmea created one of the most famous storylines in the history of Marvel Comics, “The Kree-Skrull War”.
Back at DC he began his successful partnership with writer Denny O’Neil by re-tooling Batman…Out were the silly stories involving aliens and other 1960s nonsense and in were darker, edgier storylines that would go on to influence artists like Frank Miller, Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, and many others. He co-created Man-Bat and Ra’s al Ghul. In Batman #251 Adams and O’Neil revitalized the Joker from a foppish nuisance to the lovable mass-murderer we know today. But the best was yet to come for Adams and O’Neil. They took over the slow-selling Green Lantern/Green Arrow book and set the comic world on its ear with a 12 issue run that ranks with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and The Watchmen as one of the most important and influential stints in DC history. The stories dealt with subjects previously deemed taboo such as drug abuse, racism, and religion. One of Adam’s memorable covers depicts Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy bending over a table where he has just injected himself with heroin.
In 1976 he completed the oversize comic book Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali. Adams would go on to form his own studio Continuity Studios who put out their own comics and also produced work for other publishers. In recent years he has returned to do work for both Marvel and DC. Adams has also been active in the business as a champion for creator rights, helping Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster get their due credit from DC as the creators of Superman.
Notable Works: X-Men, Avengers, Batman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow
1. Jack Kirby
The other 49 artists on the list are all extremely talented but there is only ONE king and that is Jack Kirby. Kirby is responsible for creating more well-known comic book characters than any other artist. Kirby worked on newspaper strips and for the Fleischer animation studio in the 1930s. In 1940 he partnered with Joe Simon to create Captain America for Timely. The character was an immediate hit during the wartime era. Believing they were underpaid by Timely publisher Martin Goodman (they were) the pair jumped to National Comics (the Golden Age precursor of DC) where they created The Boy Commandos and The Newsboy Legion, both in 1942. Kirby was drafted into the Army and landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy a couple of months after the D-Day invasion and worked as an advance scout drawing maps.
After the war, Kirby worked for numerous publishers including Harvey, Hillman, and Crestwood. He and Simon created The Fighting American at Harvey in response to Timely/Atlas reviving Captain American without them in the 1950s. But he would return to Atlas soon to work on anything Stan Lee had to offer from westerns and weird Sci-Fi to romance and war titles. Then it happened…Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 and the comic industry was forever changed. Lee and Kirby revolutionized the business, creating stories that featured a depth of character development previously unseen. It would almost be easier to list the characters Kirby didn’t create than the ones that he did…But the laundry list includes: The Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, The X-Men, The Avengers, The Silver Surfer, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, The Hulk, Ant Man, Dr. Doom, Galactus, The Inhumans, The Black Panther, The Eternals, and Machine Man. Kirby worked on the first 102 issues of the Fantastic Four and the first 90 plus issues of Journey into Mystery/Thor.
Kirby left marvel for DC in 1970 where he was given unprecedented creative control. He created his Fourth World saga handing both writing and art chores on New Gods, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People. He would also create OMAC, Kamandi, and The Demon. He returned to Marvel in 1976, going back to the character he created, Captain America, and working on several new creations like The Eternals and Machine Man. While he never quite regained the form and success he had in the 1960s, his legacy was already carved in stone as the single greatest creator in comics history. Kirby died in 1994
Notable Works: Captain America, Fantastic Four, Thor, Silver Surfer, Boy Commandos, The X-Men