Top Ten Greatest Horror Artists in Comics History (Festival of Dread Special)

Welcome back to the Festival of Dread, The Splintering‘s month-long celebration of all things harrowing and horrific!

In honor of our month’s festive theme, we’re spotlighting the Top Ten Greatest Horror Artists in comic book history.  Read on and be sure to let us know who we may have left out in the comments below. 

Onward! If you dare!

#10 – Kelley Jones

We start our countdown with the youngest member of our list.  Kelley Jones was born in 1962, and began working professionally in comic books in 1983.  He’s worked on several horror titles including Swamp Thing and Sandman for DC as well as Aliens for Dark Horse.  What’s garnered him a spot on the top 10 though is his tendency to redesign well known characters and turn them into something more terrifying.

Kelley Jones worked on two Deadman mini-series’, where he took the standard trapeze garbed character and turned him into a more emaciated skeletal figure.  For his iconic Batman graphic novels, he turned Batman into a frightening vampiric creature of the night.  It’s no wonder that when the great Bernie Wrightson (more on him later) was unable to finish the final issue of Frankenstein Alive, Alive, that Mr. Wrightson personally selected Kelley Jones to complete the work.

Mr. Jones is still active today, most recently working on the DC Black Label series Daphne Byrne.  His work is instantly recognizable, be it a horror comic or a standard superhero tale.  No matter the subject however, Kelley Jones has established himself as a tremendous sequential storyteller, and has earned his spot on this top 10 of horror. 

#9 – Graham Ingels

Graham Ingels was born in 1914 in Cincinnati, OH and began working as an illustrator at the age of 16.  He started his art career by drawing theater displays and illustrating for pulp magazines.  Mr. Ingels began working for editor Al Feldstein at EC Comics in 1948 but didn’t gain notoriety for his artwork until EC converted their line of comics to the horror genre.

Graham Ingles provided work for Tales from the Crypt, and The Vault of Horror for EC, but is best remembered as the lead artist for The Haunt of Fear where he contributed both interior work and covers to the classic series.

Once EC Comics cancelled its horror line, Mr. Ingels worked sporadically in comics but was not able to maintain the level of success he had at EC.  He moved to Florida and became an art instructor, refusing to acknowledge his horror art past.  Graham Ingels passed away on April 4, 1991.  Although gone, his art is not forgotten and we are fortunate to have moments like this to look back at Graham Ingels career and his incredible body of work. 

#8 – Mike Ploog

This list is focusing solely on horror comic book art.  If we added in horror art in general, Mike Ploog would definitely rank much higher.  Mr. Ploog has split time between comic books, trading card art and storyboarding for Hollywood, which has led him to working on such great horror classics as John Carpenter’s the Thing, and Little Shop of Horrors.  For this list though, it’s comic books only.

When the Comics Code Authority loosened several horror restrictions in the 1970’s, Marvel Comics took advantage of that and began launching several monster titles.  Among them were: Man-Thing, Ghost Rider, Werewolf by Night, and The Monster of Frankenstein.  They all had one thing in common; Mike Ploog illustrated them all at one time or another. 

In his later years, Mr. Ploog worked with FPG, creating trading cards, and most recently funding successful Kickstarter campaigns to create two retrospectives of his artwork; The Art of Ploog Volume One and Two.  It’ll always be his comic book horror art that caught the public’s eye and created lifelong fans of his dynamic work. 

#7 – Johnny Craig

Our second EC Comics artist on the list (with more to come) Johnny Craig was born April 25, 1926 and began working in comics in the early 1940s.  After spending time in the military during the war years, he returned to comics and began working for EC in 1947.  It was at EC Comics that Mr. Craig would earn national recognition and notoriety. 

Johnny Craig worked on every major EC Comics title including Tales from the Crypt, the Vault of Horror, the Haunt of Fear and more.  Unique to some other artists on this list, Mr. Craig also wrote several horror stories as well.  He illustrated both interiors and as well as covers, but it was his cover for Crime SuspenStories #22 that caused a stir at the 1950s senate hearings on juvenile delinquency.  After EC Comics ceased publication, Johnny Craig stepped away from comic book art.

In his later years, Mr. Craig worked in advertising but always held a fondness for his comic book art days.  He continued to work on private commissions for fans of his horror-themed work well into his retirement years.  Johnny Craig died September 13, 2001 at the age of 75 and left behind him a proud legacy of horror artwork that’ll be appreciated for years to come. 

#6 – Jack Davis

Jack Davis led an absolutely incredible life and career.  Finding success in every single avenue of art he pursued, Mr. Davis worked in comic books, advertising, magazine covers, album covers (where he produced covers for the likes of Johnny Cash and The Guess Who), and also film posters (such as The Bad News Bears and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World).  As stated previously however, this list is strictly focusing on horror art, so let’s take a closer look at that.

Mr. Davis was part of the legendary stable of EC artists in the 1950s working on such titles as Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Crime SuspenStories and Shock SuspenStories.  The absolute flagship of those books was Tales from the Crypt and many consider Mr. Davis to be the quintessential Crypt artist.  He redesigned the Crypt Keeper look to the legendary image we still see today, and illustrated every cover for the series from issue #29 to the final issue #46.

When his time at EC ended, Mr. Davis never slowed down and worked continuously until he retired and moved back to his home state of Georgia in the 1990s.  Jack Davis died in 2016 at age 91, with a body of work that is hard to match.  If you look back on his career, there are so many diverse subjects you could view, but it’s his horror work alone that puts him on this list today. 

#5 – Mike Mignola

Eagle-eyed readers will note that this is the second time I placed Mike Mignola on one of my top 10s, the other being on my living legends theme of Comic Book Writer/Artist/Creators, where he placed second.  This time the focus is just on horror art, and it encompasses the entire history of comic books, and still Mr. Mignola manages to land in the top five!

Mike Mignola was born September 16, 1960 in Berkeley, California.  Prior to his development of the Hellboy Universe of characters, you could see Mr. Mignola’s affinity for the horror subject in some of his mainstream work, including Batman: Gotham by Gaslight and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  It’s his Hellboy franchise that lands him in the top five however.

Mr. Mignola’s creation of Hellboy has led him to spin-off that success into so many other horror themed works including Abe Sapien, Lobster Johnson, B.P.R.D. and Frankenstein Underground.  There really seems to be no stopping Mike Mignola’s creative output.  Whatever he has plans next, I am quite sure it’ll be horrific, and I’m dying to see it!

#4 – Wallace Wood

Wallace Wood is the final of our four EC Comics veterans to make this top 10 list, but stands out from that incredible pack of artists because of all of the horror work he did outside of EC.  Born in Minnesota, as was fellow top 10er Mike Ploog, Wally Wood enrolled in art school following his time in the military in 1947. 

By the 1950s, Wally Wood would begin his long-storied career as a premiere horror comic book artist, working on such titles as Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear and Weird Science for EC, Creepy and Eerie for Warren Publishing, and House of Mystery and House of Secrets for DC, just to name a few.  He is also well remembered by fans of horror art for his contributions to the Mars Attacks series from Topps Trading Cards.

Wally Wood died on November 2, 1981 at the age of 54.  It is staggering to see the amount of work he produced in such a short amount of time.  2016 saw the publication of Life and Legend of Wallace Wood from Fantagraphics Books, a 300+ page retrospective of his career, with a second volume produced in 2018 following the success of the first.  Published 30+ years after his passing, you can see the impact Mr. Wood had on the art community, and will continue to have for years to come. 

#3 – Richard Corben

Richard Corben has definitely led a career in comic book creation that you could describe as unique.  Beginning with his first published work in 1969, Mr. Corben has spent the last seven decades producing projects he’s felt passionate about across an array of publishers.  At one time or another, Richard Corben has worked for: Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Heavy Metal, Warren, Pacific, Mirage, just to name a few.  He also established his own publishing imprint, Fantagor Press.

In that time, he’s worked on some of the best contemporary horror titles being produced today, including Hellboy and Aliens for Dark Horse, Hellblazer and Swamp Thing for DC and Bigfoot for IDW.  He’s adapted horror classics from writers such as Edgar Alan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Harlan Ellison, and has written several of his own horror classics as well.

2017 saw the release of Richard Corben’s series Shadows on the Grave, a five-issue mini-series from Dark Horse which he had complete creative control.  Not only did Mr. Corben provide writing, penciling and inking credits, but he also lettered this black and white series himself as well.  His work has been reprinted heavily over the course of the last few years, with Dark Horse releasing archive editions of both Creepy and Eerie from Mr. Corben’s Warren days, as well as omnibus editions of his Hellboy work. With not enough room in these paragraphs to list all of his work and accomplishments, it’s no wonder that Richard Corben is thought of as a true renaissance man in the comic book industry. 

#2 – Frank Frazetta

No matter which genre you’d choose, be it Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Horror, you’d find Frank Frazetta’s name at or near the very top of any list of artists, comic book or otherwise.  In this instance, Mr. Frazetta makes it all the way up to #2.  Frank Frazetta was a true art master and has received every prestigious honor one can be bestowed in comic book art, including being a member of the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame, Will Eisner Hall of Fame, Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. 

Frank Frazetta’s cover work for Warren Publishing on titles such as Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella in the 1960’s and 1970’s were instant fan favorites.  Many of the greatest creators since that time have listed Mr. Frazetta as their inspiration for getting into the field of art. 

Frank Frazetta died in 2010 at the age of 82.  His family has worked hard to preserve his legacy, including operating the Frazetta Art Museum in East Stroudsburg, PA.  His artwork is in constant print.  Dark Horse released the Creepy and Eerie Archives in the 2000s, in which Mr. Frazetta was heavily showcased.  More recently, Dynamite released facsimile editions of the original Vampirella issues from Warren, and those saw a resurgence in interest in Mr. Frazetta’s work.  Seems like no matter the era, Frank Frazetta is constantly inspiring future artists, and we’re all the better for it. 

#1 – Bernie Wrightson

Bernie Wrightson was born October 27, 1948 in Dundalk, MD.  He grew up reading the classic EC horror comics of the 1950s and was inspired to become an artist by the likes of Graham Ingels, Jack Davis and Frank Frazetta.  Mr. Wrightson’s first professional work was credited as House of Mystery #179 at DC Comics, in 1969. That issue would be the beginning of a six-decade career in horror comic book art.

In the 1970s Bernie Wrightson would work on several different horror titles, including House of Mystery and House of Secrets for DC, and Creepy and Eerie for Warren Publishing.  He would also create his most famous character (along with Len Wein) when House of Secrets #92 would be released in July 1971.  Swamp Thing would generate so much fan feedback, that it would garner his own series, which Mr. Wrightson would illustrate through issue #10.  Swamp Thing may have been Bernie Wrightson’s most famous creation, but it wouldn’t be his most famous work.  That would come next.

In 1983, Marvel Comics would publish a graphic novel formatted adaption of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which contained 50 detailed ink illustrations that Bernie Wrightson spent years drawing during his own time because of his love for the story and character.  This adaption has gone on to be praised by artists, historians, and fans alike.  A recent auction of one of the pages from this adaptation, which was also featured as the Marvel adaption cover, fetched an incredible $1.2 million dollars. 

Bernie Wrightson continued with his passion for comic book horror, working on projects such as the Stephen King adaptions of Creepshow, Cycle of the Werewolf, and the Stand.  He collaborated frequently with writers such as Jim Starlin and Steve Niles, the latter of which would write Mr. Wrightson’s final work, Frankenstein, Alive, Alive.  Mr. Wrightson began working on this sequel to the original Frankenstein adaption in 2012, but was unable to finish the last issue on his own, enlisting Kelley Jones to see his vision completed.   Bernie Wrightson died on March 18, 2017 at the age of 68 leaving a legacy of horror art that is unmatched.  When it comes to comic book art, a lot of people say that Jack Kirby or Frank Frazetta are the greatest that ever lived, but when it comes to horror art alone, it’s Mr. Wrightson hands down.  Bernie Wrightson is sorely missed, but fondly remembered, and it’s times like this during the year where we remember him the most.

What do you think of the list? Be sure to tell us in comments if we missed any of your favorite horror artists!

Thanks for reading! You can check out more of our Festival of Dread content here!

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