Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My 10 Favorite Comic Artists

10. Bill Everett
9. Will Eisner
8. Barry Windsor-Smith
7. Frank Frazetta
6. Lou Fine
5. Jim Steranko
4. John Buscema
3. Steve Ditko
2. Jack Kirby
1. Alex Raymond

Four on that list are exquisite draftsmen with flawless anatomy: Frank Frazetta, Lou Fine, John Buscema and Alex Raymond. The other six are more cartoony but possess the visual imagination that made comics what they are: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Jim Steranko, Will Eisner, Barry Windsor-Smith and Bill Everett.

My absolute favorite is Alex Raymond. He drew the Flash Gordon comic strip in the 1930’s. I never saw his art until I was 30. Walking through a comic store, I came upon a picture of Flash Gordon fencing with Ming the Merciless. It stopped me in my tracks. “That’s the way it’s supposed to look,” I thought. Since then I’ve bought many reprint books of his strips. His bodies are tall, heroic and beautiful, as no other artist has quite been able to imitate, although in the ‘40s they all tried. His thick brushstrokes are enough to make a comic art lover swoon. The worlds he created in Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim are the most romantic in the history of comics.

Alex Raymond created the superhero comic. His influence is all over Golden Age comics. Even in the Silver Age of the ‘60s you could see traces of his influence in Buscema, Kirby and Al Williamson. If he has a weakness, it would be that his characters are a bit too 19th century by the standards of what comics became with the great visionaries Kirby, Wally Wood, Ditko, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino and others. Raymond’s characters lounge around in beautiful, relaxed poses like you might see in classical paintings. Superheroes need more dynamic, powerful poses.

One thing I regret about today’s comics is that they have gotten away from the thick brushstroke style of Raymond, with deeply spotted blacks that give realistic shadows. Contemporary style uses a thin ink line instead. (Windsor-Smith is one of the pioneers of the thin line, along with Neal Adams and George Lopez, but I give him a pass because the world he created in Conan is a triumph of imagination.)

And then there are those bleeping manga eyes that make comics look like Saturday morning cartoons. I can’t stand that; it’s un-American. Between the deterioration of the art and the influence of naturalism in the stories, the superhero comic is dead. Fortunately, we still have the product of comic art’s efflorescence, around 1935-1975, in reprint.

UPDATE: Rewrote this a bit.


zama202 said...

Great post. Two questions. What do you think of Frank Miller and what do you mean by Manga eyes?


Jennifer Snow said...

I'm thinking he means the vastly over-large, disproportionate, almost squared-off eyes that bad artists and animators ganked from the Japanese.

Personally, I'm a fan of the art from The Authority, at least from when Ellis was in charge:

Myrhaf said...

Yes, manga eyes are those big eyes you see in Japanese cartoons. In the American tradition, eyes were more like slits -- see Milton Caniff and my hero, Alex Raymond.

Frank Miller is a brilliant artist. His Daredevil was the most interesting comic of the early 1980's. But in Sin City and his Dark Knight Batman, he is far too cynical and brutal for me. His Batman is a tormented soul. I prefer the Bob Kane version, which is simpler and more for children, but more heroic.