The 15 Best Comic Artists of 2016

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The 15 Best Comic Artists of 2016

We’ve done our best to fairly highlight all creative contributions in our lists of the Best Comics of 2016, the Best Reprints of 2016 and the Best Kids Comics of 2016, but just in case we slighted anyone on the visual end, we’ve broken out our picks for the top 15 comic artists of 2016 into a standalone (alphabetical—we’d be foolish to try to rank these talents) list. The ink-slingers and color-wranglers in the gallery above either elevated their books to best-of status or stood out as exemplary even when the comic as a whole missed our top 25. From the lush digital painting of Mike Del Mundo to the fisheye linework of Kengo Hanazawa, the sweeping mysticism of Emma Ríos to the unflinching realism of Mitch Gerads, the women and men on this list blazed new trails in sequential art this year and raised the bar for the medium going into 2017.

Ian Bertram

Artist Of: House of Penance

In some stories, the setting is as much a character as any of the humans found therein. That's certainly the case with House of Penance, set in and around the sprawling house built by Sarah Winchester in the late 19th century. Bertram's artwork captures the spirit of an unconventional structure in a constant state of construction, and his illustrations of the humans populating this story are equally evocative. This is a story where obsession, violence and secrets abound, and he captures the body language and facial expressions of a cast haunted by their pasts. There's just a touch of stylization there as well, in the vein of Frank Quitely and Moebius, creating a pervasive sense of dread and horrors to come. Tobias Carroll

Natacha Bustos

Artist Of: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

In the past few years, Marvel has become saturated with new titles starring quirky young women; while objectively a good thing, it's left titles fighting to differentiate from each other and find their own audience niche. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur was successful in no small part because of the dynamic art of Natacha Bustos, especially her grasp on how to make slapstick work in a comic. The book could easily get bogged down in the very serious issues that main character Lunella faces: dismissive parents and teachers, bullying classmates, the fear of Inhumans—not to mention a massive red dinosaur that appears in her life along with a troop of humanoid apes that chase after it. Bustos' kinetic, animated style keeps the plot moving forward. Panels filled with elongated shapes and pages with complex backgrounds set Lunella's story apart from Kamala, Cindy, Gwen, Patsy, Doreen and Riri, another genius black girl with access to a lot of technology. Together with colorist Tamra Bonvillain, Bustos turned a decent book into a great one. Caitlin Rosberg

Wes Craig

Artist Of: Deadly Class, Black Hand Comics

In the neon halls of King's Dominion High School for the Deadly Arts, artist Wes Craig doesn't just capture characters, emotions and feverish action sequences—he embodies an entire era. Craig works alongside colorists Lee Loughridge and Jordan Boyd to distill the '80s in the decade's brazen, greed-is-good electric obnoxiousness, articulated in scathingly bright fills and storytelling unafraid to work from steep vertical perspectives or worm's-eye views. That boisterous aesthetic dovetails immaculately with the broken boys and girls it defines—a host of kids fucking and fighting in a school designed to train assassins. No subtlety exists in the perpetual onslaught of fists and hormones, and Craig takes that form-is-function approach to new heights. The clean, calligraphic figures are almost a brutal subversion of Patrick Nagel's work, most famously seen in Duran Duran's Rio cover art. But Craig can also distort his line when approaching flashbacks or even play with lush ink washes for surrealist dream scenarios. He's become a maestro of mood and story in Deadly Class, and Rick Remender's caustic narrative breathes with refined weight under each ink stroke. Sean Edgar

Eleanor Davis

Artist Of: Libby's Dad

Eleanor Davis continues to amaze with the variety of her talent, especially (but not exclusively) when it comes to her visuals. Libby's Dad was a small book, issued by a tiny press, but its few pages were deep and fascinatingly beautiful. Lately, Davis seems to be playing around with loose patches of colored pencil, placed side by side. She uses a similar technique in watercolor, but these newer pages call to mind the folk art revival of the 1930s and artists like Ilonka Karasz, who weren't afraid of what color and simplicity could do. Davis also posted pages on her Instagram based on her then-ongoing long, solo bicycle trip, which should come out as a proper book in 2017. Spare and monochromatic where Libby's Dad is bright and lively, they show more of what she can do. Hillary Brown

Mike Del Mundo

Artist Of: Weirdworld, Avengers

Mike Del Mundo is good at his job. It's impossible to argue otherwise when you take a look at the covers he's been doing for Marvel in the past few years. Before 2015's Elektra, it wasn't a certainty that he'd dive into regular interior pages, and for good reason: his style is so rich with detail it can't help but be time consuming, particularly since he does everything from pencils to colors on his own. Del Mundo's style is painterly and layered, and what really sets it apart from so many other comics is its general lack of lines. It leaves everything soft and textured and a little psychotropic, especially when he's bringing the denizens of Weirdworld to life alongside Sam Humphries' words. Del Mundo's skill is engrossing, lush, deep and sometimes a little distracting from whatever it is that the characters are saying. He exercises a masterful handle on how to push exaggeration without breaking the audience's understanding of what they're looking at and what they're supposed to be paying attention to. In the case of Weirdworld in particular, he manages to draw the kind of Narnia or Hogwarts that many of us would want to discover, bright and vibrant with new things to see. Caitlin Rosberg

Brecht Evens

Artist Of: Panther

Brecht Evens' work has always been a joy to look at: unswervingly committed to his narrative while also frame-able, page by page. His sense of color can evoke Stendhal syndrome, if you like to be swept off your feet. The way he marries color palette and sinuous line with the increasingly dark story of Panther is admirable. Who needs the restrictions of panels or black outlines? It's riskier to chuck them, but it's also freeing. Hillary Brown

Mitch Gerads

Artist Of: Sheriff of Babylon, Batman

Our country is more divided than ever, but at least our comic critics are on the same page: just about everyone agrees that Sheriff of Babylon was one of the best comics of 2016. While writer Tom King has been rightly praised for this series (and his other recent instant-classics Omega Men and Vision) artist Mitch Gerads hasn't quite gotten his due. That ain't right. Without Gerads' powerful compositions, expressive faces, painstaking accuracy and dingy texture, Sheriff would not have packed the same punch.

Gerads' job on this series is to present events, often horrific ones, without obvious commentary or sensationalism. He doesn't make anything look "cool," which is paradoxically very cool. Some comic artists make violence gorgeous, especially artists in the Kirby tradition like Walt Simonson and Tom Scioli. But Gerads, much like Michael Lark on Lazarus and Jason Masters on James Bond, portrays violence as the painful, awful reality it is. Gerad's work isn't quite photorealistic, but it does have a documentary feel, putting readers right in 2004 Iraq, where anyone could be tortured or killed but no one could be trusted. We should all be grateful Sheriff is getting a sequel. Mark Peters

Kengo Hanazawa

Artist Of: I Am a Hero

It feels a bit cheap to put I Am a Hero creator Kengo Hanazawa on this list, if only because he completed the work contained in Dark Horse's two gorgeous omnibus collections years ago, but we're adjusting for English availability and Hanazawa's deserving talent. Hanazawa (and, no doubt, a fleet of capable assistants) upends the horror-manga formula American readers know primarily from Junji Ito's legendary output by rendering I Am a Hero's unfolding zombie apocalypse in something close to photorealism. Immaculately detailed backgrounds and the frequent use of fisheye framing give the reader the sense that she or he is watching this all unfold through a security camera, helpless to intervene…or look away. Hanazawa's more exaggerated turns come from the series' moments of surprising comedy—a goofily drawn rival manga-ka, for instance—while the speedy, cannibalistic infected look real enough to sprint off the page and take a chunk out of the audience. Selection bias—a trend toward importing similar series—can prevent manga creators from standing out amidst a varied artistic field. Hanazawa's flesh-eating excellence makes sure he doesn't suffer the same fate.

James Harren

Artist Of: Rumble

James Harren should be legally obligated to only draw books full of monsters and big-ass swords. From Conan to B.P.R.D. and now Rumble, Harren has distinguished himself as the master of that particular confluence of elements through dynamic layouts, geysers of inky blood and an inventiveness in creature design that takes inspiration from Mike Mignola without cribbing the Hellboy creator's style. When Rumble's scarecrow barbarian, Rathraq, cleaves through a beast, Harren imparts the feeling of stone being carved in two, with viscera to spare. If Harren were great at conveying violence alone, Rumble wouldn't be half the kooky must-read that it is, though; his adeptness at visual comedy—a not-quite-right cat, a pet hydra, a bartender way out of his depth—transforms a compelling fight comic into something entrancingly off-kilter. Writer John Arcudi has one of the most consistently enjoyable track records in comics, but it's Harren, aided by colorist Dave Stewart, who makes the book. Steve Foxe

Erica Henderson

Artist Of: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe, Jughead

Doreen Green has become something of the elephant in the room when it comes to comics these days. Arguably at the heart of the new push for sincerity and positivity, she's been a juggernaut for Marvel longer than anyone might have expected, capable of crushing both overpowered supervillains and sales numbers. A huge part of that success is Erica Henderson's consistent, crisp, peppy art, heightened by colorist Rico Renzi's bright pop sensibility. Ryan North may deliver the script every month, but Henderson imbues the characters of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl with their heart. Distinct personalities show through in fashion and facial expressions that fall on the right side of caricature. The fact that she manages to draw hundreds of squirrels without any apparent trouble is nothing short of miraculous, and the way she uses visual cues to shift from Doreen's overblown superhero world back to the mundane is smoother than Tippy Toe's fur. It really is those facial expressions that make Squirrel Girl so much fun. Henderson briefly gave Jughead the same sense of wonder and joy, and it'll be exciting to see where she takes her skill next. Caitlin Rosberg