8 examples of exceptional art in comics: Part 2
Welcome to the conclusion of my 8 examples of exceptional art in comics. Continuing in the same vein as Part 1, this is a list of 4 more comics that succeed in providing a distinctive mix of originality and excellence in their illustrations.
With this list I have tried to keep a steady balance of both popular and underrated books. Now obviously, with only eight examples, I cannot help but leave out many noteworthy mentions that have more than earned their right for attention. These are not the absolute eight best drawn books ever published; they are simply a collection of beautiful comics that help showcase the talent behind the medium. For every comic listed here there are hundreds more, all equally worth a recommendation—behind them, dozens of unique artists that deserve acclaim. The comics industry has provided a wealth of impressively rendered titles over its lifetime—these are only a few notable examples.
5. Batwoman: Elegy
Elegy was a 6-issue story arc featured in DC’s long-running Detective Comics title. The story took place between issues 854-860, and featured the return of the long-shelved DC character, Batwoman. Though first featured in DC’s year-long 52 comic title, Kate Kane truly got her first big break during this Greg Rucka written arc. The character benefitted greatly from having such an experienced writer behind the helm, and the story has since earned almost universal acclaim from both fans and critics. But the greatest boon to Batwoman’s return was unquestionably the brilliant art from, the one and only, J.H. Williams III.
Williams has long been praised for his masterful illustrations in the realm of comics. He has partnered with big name writers such as Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, and Grant Morrison on some of their most influential works. His art always proven a compliment to any book that housed it; however, no previous comic had ever been granted as stunning a treatment as Batwoman was.
Williams’ illustration on Elegy can be summed up in one word—revolutionary. This was a comic that forewent any semblance of subtly; it had amazing artwork, and it made damn sure you noticed. These brazen visuals were furthered still by Dave Stewart’s bold colours, which helped to emphasise Williams’ style with their pronounced contrasts of red, white, and black. The comic approached superhero in an entirely new fashion by applying and accentuating Batman’s innate gothic trappings to its style in a way that results in something entirely new and individual. Williams' greatest contribution to the abberant look of this arc is provided in the form of his ingenious compositions, which effectively highlight the returned hero with her own distinct art nouveau trademark that has since become a staple of DC’s New 52 relaunched Batwoman title.
J.H. Williams’ Batwoman art belongs on a centre pedestal in a museum—it’s the apotheosis of comic illustration.
Page Examples: http://imgur.com/a/PHWKC
6. Elektra: Assassin
The second Elektra title to make this list, Assassin was a limited Marvel series published in the late 80’s. The comic was written by none other than Frank Miller himself, and presented the famed anti-hero in a struggle to stop nuclear war using all of the ninja skills at her disposal. It was a surprisingly political book in comparison with Miller’s previous works at the time. The story centred heavily around political intrigue and corruption; focusing heavily on the cold war tensions of the era. The comic tackled some pretty mature subject matter and was thus restricted in its original release. This is a shame because it stands to date as one of Miller’s greatest works, in my honest opinion. But this comic’s greatness wasn’t solely the product of the Frank Miller’s excellent writing—in fact, Miller’s writing could be argued as being only the secondary draw of Elektra: Assassin. The primary reason I still hold this book so fondly is the gorgeous original artwork of Bill Sienkiewicz.
Sienkiewicz is not an unknown name in the industry; he is an Eisner award-winning artist whose beautiful works can be found throughout the medium. His art has always avoided much of the commonalities shared by other comic illustrations; opting instead for a more unique approach. I could easily recommend any of his works under the theme of this list, but I have chosen Elektra because of the distinct power that the artwork holds in the development of the story.
Assassin is special because it effectively showcases how illustration can dramatically affect writing. Sienkiewicz’s abstract and unorthodox imagery has a definite effect on Miller’s style, and the story ends up mirroring much of the illustration in its approach. Once again we are given an Elektra title that throws all convention out the proverbial window. Neither Miller’s controversial content, nor Sienkiewicz’s stylised art are bound in any rules of the time. The visuals take whatever form they need to convey the story, and the story works to not overtly anchor the illustration. What results is a comic worth remembering.
Page Examples: http://imgur.com/a/jiR3p
Here is a book that I don’t expect to draw much recognition. Siegfried is a French comic, originally published in 2007. The title was the product of writer, artist, and French native, Alex Alice. Siegfried achieved critical acclaim in its original release in 2007, and continued to garner local support throughout its 3 album run, which finished in late 2011. Though not originally available in English, the comic’s beautiful artwork translated easily for foreign readers, who created a noticeable demand for a localisation. This demand was met by American publisher, Archaia Entertainment; the first book of Alice’s trilogy was released earlier this year, preceded by a fully animated video trailer (linked below.) The other two entries are also set for a near-future release, and an animated movie is in the works back in France.
Siegfried is a visual retelling of Richard Wagner’s epic opera, the Ring of the Nibelung. It is a story centring on a boy’s desire to find his parents, and the realisation of the epic destiny fate has decided for him. It presents many of the fantastical themes of the Norse mythologies; including gods, dwarves, and dragons among its cast of mythic characters. Siegfried is a captivating tale that transports the reader to a land of heroes and legends; it is a superbly successful modernisation of the epics of the long past. Alice’s story is well worth the wait, but his art can be enjoyed immediately.
Alice does not stray as far from the traditional styling of the medium as the other entries on this list. His lineart is distinct, and reinforced by bold inking; colours work to support the illustration rather than lead it, and characters are exaggerated in style—make no mistake though, Siegfried is unquestionably unique. The art may seem conventional at first glance, but that impression proves quickly false; Siegfried does not simply utilise the comic style, it perfects it. The whole comic is positively breathtaking in its imagery; every page serves to convey the story perfectly. The meticulously detailed illustrations never let up, and the reader is successfully invested in the world the whole way through. The supporting colours emphasise the various set pieces fittingly, and manage to further accentuate dimensions of the story.
Siegfried is an amazing book that does not even require a full translation to enjoy—the art alone is more than enough to tell the story and justify a read.
Animated Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDoJMwjs0I8&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Pages Examples: http://imgur.com/a/TiLGL
8. Shazam! the Power of Hope
I have to confess, I’ve never considered myself a true fan of DC’s Captain Marvel. The character always felt like something of a cheap Superman substitute; an overly exaggerated hero, so stereotypical that he almost came across as satirical. I just could never shake that forced goody-two-shoes stigma; reminiscent of the false ideals of a bygone era. And so the Captain’s recorded adventures often went ignored by me as some sort of silent personal protest against a falsity I perceived him as representing. It was Alex Ross and Paul Dini who finally managed to draw me under the influence of Shazam! with their DC hero collection, the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes.
The Power of Hope was released as Captain Marvel’s contribution to Dini and Ross’ memorable series. It focuses on adolescent hero Billy Batson’s duty as a beacon of hope for all those less fortunate. The story starts off predictably, with Batson forced to cancel his baseball plans in order to go care for sick children; all the while teaching them the meaning of good, and hope, and stuff. This comic comes equipped with all it needs to succeed as nothing more than another sickly sweet lesson of truth, justice, and all that other junk that makes up the fabled moral fibre of society. Luckily, it also has something else—a fantastic creative team.
Shazam! the Power of Hope knows what it is; the book intentionally embraces the tropes of its past. Dini writes a story that, while cheesy, never comes across as totally disingenuous. It works to chip away at the cynical shell of its reader; desperately trying to flame any dwindling spark of optimism that may be buried under layers of harsh, accumulated pessimism. While it might not wholly succeed in convincing every reader; it does try its damndest. Dini’s story packs some real emotion behind the overt themes. However, it is Ross’ artwork that makes this book in the end.
Alex Ross has long been held as one the masters of the comic art world. His paintings have always managed to capture a distinct spark in the characters he illustrates. His photorealistic painting style has fluctuated only slightly during his twenty year-long career, and has since become widely recognisable. Though any of his stunning works could easily be included on this list, the Power of Hope comes to mind as the book I most want to mention. It’s corny, it’s sappy, but most of all it’s beautiful.
And really, I don’t think we need yet another Kingdom Come recommendation… Unless of course you haven’t read Kingdom Come; in which case, go do that. Seriously.
Page Examples: http://imgur.com/a/N5Kw2
And that concludes my 8 examples of exceptional art in comics. I tried to keep my selections diverse, and hopefully I managed to turn someone onto a book they had previously missed. If you have any other suggestions for superbly illustrated comics, feel free to mention them below.
Happy Holidays, everybody!