Top Ten Living Legends – Comic Book Artists
Lists are fun, aren’t they? They allow contributors and readers alike to share their experiences and opinions. They are nostalgic, and informative. Here at The Splintering, we’ve decided to open the doors for some “Top Ten” lists, both to give our contributors a chance to share their voices and to allow our readers to do the same. So please, review the list below and then feel free to share your own ranking in the comments below.
For this list we are focusing on the “Top Ten Living Art Legends in Comics”. We’re focusing purely on artistic contributions to the comic book medium. For those of you looking for names like John Byrne, Stan Sakai and so on, some of those names will possibly appear on future lists… Possibly!
#10 – Brian Bolland
Brian Bolland’s contributions to UK titles such as 2000 AD and Judge Dredd in the 1970s led him to be part of the “British Invasion” of talent in American comics in the early 1980s. He worked on several projects, including Camelot 3000, before he found the two projects that in succession cemented him as one of the true comic art greats. Batman: The Killing Joke was first published in July 1989, followed closely by the long-running DC series Animal Man in September 1989. Bolland’s interior work on The Killing Joke and his ongoing cover contributions to “Animal Man” really set him apart from several of his industry contemporaries at that time.
Mr. Bolland has had several other noteworthy contributions to the comics field since then, including cover work for Wonder Woman and Zatanna and most recently a cover for the Joker: Year of the Villain. It’s tough to decide which of these career defining moments are his finest. Luckily, we don’t need to. We can just enjoy his work and be thankful he chose art as his profession.
#9 – Bill Sienkiewicz
Bill Sienkiewicz achieved early success in his career thanks to an incredible run on Marvel’s Moon Knight series, followed by time spent on New Mutants. Yet it was back to back collaborative efforts with Frank Miller in 1986 that led to him achieving legendary status. Elektra: The Assassin and Daredevil: Love and War were released just months apart and dominated the talk of the industry at the time. Sienkiewicz’s unique watercolor style bordered on abstract and really brought attention to the comic book medium.
Sienkiewicz has gone on to produce hundreds of projects since that time. One of his most recent projects The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage reunites him with the amazing Denys Cowan, whom he collaborated with on their original run of The Question for DC.
#8 – Ron Wilson
Ron Wilson got his start at Marvel in 1973 working on horror titles. He spent some time working on the Marvel UK line of books, before finally finding the character that would cement him on this list. Marvel Two-In-One #13 had a cover date of January 1976, and it featured Mr. Wilson’s artistic rendition of the Thing. From there, he would spend the next 10+ years illustrating the Thing in titles such as the Fantastic Four, The Thing and the aforementioned Marvel Two-In-One. Oh, and along the way, he managed to produced two Marvel Graphic Novels Super Boxers and The Wolfpack, with the latter spinning off into a 12-issue series he worked on as well.
It was his time on The Thing however that I’ll never forget. He gave that character a unique personality that still resonates with fans today. There is an unofficial trilogy of stories that are brilliantly connected that are a must read for any fan of Aunt Petunia’s blue-eyed boy. Marvel Two-In-One #86, Annual #7, and #96 read in that sequence will show you why Ron Wilson is a true living legend. The emotions he can evoke, the sequencing of his panels, and his raw talent will always draw the reader in and immerse them in the story.
#7 – Ron Lim
Some things are just meant to go together. Peanut Butter and Jelly, Movies and Popcorn, and Ron Lim and Cosmic stories. Mr. Lim started his career working for independent publishers on titles such as Ex-Mutants and Badger, but it was when he joined Marvel and began his run on Silver Surfer that really garnered him his well-deserved attention. With the publication of Silver Surfer #15 (1988), Ron Lim would go on a 6+ year run on that title (ending with Silver Surfer #92 in 1994) that many to this day say is the definitive run of that character. Along the way, Ron Lim partnered with his frequent collaborator, Jim Starlin, to illustrate the Infinity trilogy (Gauntlet, War, and Crusade).
Ron Lim is still producing work for Marvel, providing covers for recent Spider-Woman, Thor and Iron Man 2020 series. For me, it will always be his cosmic stories like those from his time on Silver Surfer and the Infinity events that’ll make him one of the great living legends of comic art.
#6 – José Luis Garcia-Lopez
If the previous two entries on our list are considered predominately Marvel artists, then be prepared to meet the person that defined DC art for a generation. José Luis Garcia Lopez has been working with DC comics for 45 years and is responsible for creating the character art in the DC Comics style guide that was used for all of their licensed merchandise in the 1980s. He’s contributed to characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Deadman, and Jonah Hex. He brought the cult favorite Atari Force to life, and illustrated the underrated Star Raiders graphic novel from DC as well.
However, his time on the various Superman titles is what places him on this list. Garcia-Lopez worked on every major Superman title at one point or another (Action Comics, Superman, Superman Family, and more) including the Superman team-up book DC Comics Presents. He’s still producing work for DC to this day, with his art appearing in the Batman Wedding, Swamp Thing Winter Special, and a cover for The Flash #750 event. At an age where most folks would be considering retirement, here’s hoping that Garcia-Lopez continues to produce work that’ll be treasured for generations to come.
#5 – Jill Thompson
If you are reading this list in the proper order from 10-1 then this entry will be the first of a recurring theme. Jill Thompson is the first of our artists that appeared in the Sandman comic book series from Neil Gaiman and Vertigo (This is a trend that will repeat itself with 4 of my top 5 artists). Thompson had runs on Wonder Woman, and Black Orchid for DC, and has done several independent/creator-owned projects such as Badger, Beasts of Burden and Scary Godmother. It’s her work on Sandman as well as her two children’s book spinoffs, The Little Endless Storybook and Delirium’s Party, that really garnered her international attention.
Thompson still produces beautiful painted works to this day. 2016 saw the release of a 120-page fully painted graphic novel Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. She’s recently released a Scary Godmother omnibus through Dark Horse, and if you’re a fan of Halloween or whimsical monsters, then this is the book for you.
#4 – Barry Windsor-Smith
Barry Windsor-Smith was originally credited as Barry Smith in his early days, and has had a long-running relationship with Marvel, dating back to the 1960s. Early in his career he worked on titles such as X-Men, Daredevil, and The Avengers before he began his ground-breaking run on Conan the Barbarian. His most famous Marvel work however may be the epic Weapon X storyline that appeared in Marvel Comics Presents in the early 1990s. His other notable works include Rune for Valiant, Freebooters and Adastra in Africa. He has illustrated covers for titles such as Daredevil and New Mutants, but it’s his cover for Epic Illustrated #7 which to this day I consider the greatest cover in comic book history.
Barry Windsor-Smith was part of the legendary “Studio” along with Michael W. Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson, and Jeffery Catherine Jones. His work has transcended the comic medium, but it’s his comic book work alone that has landed him in the top five living legends.
#3 – Mike Allred
I didn’t see Mike Allred’s artwork until the 1990s – whether that’s because he’s the youngest entry on this list or because I dropped the ball on some of his earlier works is unknown. What I do know is that his work is absolutely stunning. First gaining prominence with his creation Madman, Mike Allred has been known to both work in the mainstream and maintain focus on his own personal dream projects. Titles such as Bug: The Adventures of Forager for DC and Silver Surfer for Marvel were interspliced with Red Rocket 7 and Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams, which at the time of this writing is the finest graphic novel of 2020.
Another veteran of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (Issue #54), Allred’s work looks like how I think art would look in a dream. He’s currently working on X-Ray Robot at Dark Horse, and anything with his name on it is worth checking out.
#2 – P. Craig Russell
P. Craig Russell has been working in the comic book industry since the early 1970s and has worked for numerous companies including Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and several smaller independent publishers such as Eclipse, Pacific, and First (to name a few). His artwork has run the gamut of genres, from super heroic characters such as Batman, The Spectre, and Doctor Strange to the adaption of classic characters such as Elric and Conan. He’s also worked on adapting operas and classic fairly tales with works such as Night Music, The Ring of the Nibelung and The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde.
Russell seems to be a fond of collaborating with Neil Gaiman. Not only did he work on the original Sandman series (with issue #50 of the Sandman being one of the greatest individual comic books ever created), but he’s also collaborated with Mr. Gaiman on Sandman: Dreamhunters, Sandman: Endless Nights, Coraline and the upcoming Norse Mythology. Russell also releases fine art editions of his books, which he crowdfunds on Indiegogo and Kickstarter. There seems to be no stopping P. Craig Russell’s artistic output, and we are all the better for it.
#1 – Colleen Doran
Colleen Doran has been working professionally in comics since 1983, which coincidently is the year I bought my first comic book. In that time, her work has graced every conceivable genre of comic book. If you’re a fan of superhero books, Ms. Doran has worked on Wonder Woman, Captain America, and The Legion of Superheroes. If you prefer science fiction, then her creator-owned A Distant Soil is something special. If you’re more interested in dramatic themed stories, then look no further than her graphic novel Gone to Amerikay. She’s worked on charming titles such as Power Pack and horror titles such as the graphic novel Orbiter. She even illustrated the Stan Lee biographical novel Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Doran has worked on multiple issues of the original Sandman series (#20 & 34), and that she’s collaborated with Neil Gaiman since then as well. First, she adapted Troll Bridge into a beautifully illustrated 64-page masterpiece, but she was only getting warmed up. In 2019, we saw the release of Snow, Glass, Apples, another adaptation of a Neil Gaiman short story. This time however, Ms. Doran took her art to another level. In Snow, Glass, Apples Colleen Doran states that her work was influenced by Harry Clarke, the famed Irish stained-glass artist and illustrator. You can see that vividly in Snow, Glass, Apples as each page looks like a piece of art you can hang in your window. There’s a feel of contemporary manga to the book but there’s also a throw-back illustrative feel to it as well. How she accomplishes this, I have no idea. All I can tell you, and I say this with 100% certainty, is that Snow, Glass, Apples is the finest graphic novel of the 21st century.
Colleen Doran to me is a living legend in comics are we are fortunate she has chosen this field to express her creativity. From the bottom of my heart, Ms. Doran, thank you.
Perhaps my next list will feature the Top Ten writer/artist creators. You know, the folks who “do it all”, so to speak. Do you agree with the list of “Living Legend” artists? Please feel free to sound off in the comments below to let us know how 100% correct the list is, and thank you for reading!