Our Favorite Comics Artists of 2014

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Picking ten notable comics artists in 2014 is like picking ten favorite Beatles songs; approaches may vary, but the excellence is overwhelmingly consistent. We mentioned last year that the the concept of the house style — publisher guidelines to ensure a similar aesthetic between different titles — was slowly dying; if that was a burgeoning realization then, it’s a known fact now. How else can the exaggerated cartoon revelry of Skottie Young exist in the same universe as the cinematic realism of Declan Shalvey? Image has also continued to foster some of the most imaginative examples of world building in genre storytelling, while independent imprints have introduced talented multi-media artists who dare to stretch the trade past traditional pen and ink. So yeah, 2014 has been a pretty great year. Let us know your favorites in the comments.

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10. Brecht Vandenbroucke
White Cube

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White Cube is far from the most subtle comic released this year, but there’s no denying that Belgian Brecht Vandenbroucke has a powerful style. His array of wild, dynamic colors should hurt one’s eyes; instead, they compose a fantastic dance, giving his visuals life beyond their immediate context. Profane, unruly and surprisingly lovely, Vandenbroucke’s art smacks you right in the face rather than waiting for your attention to turn its way. Hillary Brown

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9. Farel Dalrymple
The Wrenchies , It Will All Hurt, Prophet

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In The Wrenchies, Farel Dalrymple’s art is given its fullest showcase to date. He’s already proven deft at magic-realist cities (Pop Gun War, Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream) and surreal science fiction landscapes (Prophet). In this tome depicting a post-apocalyptic war between juvenile gangs and grotesque fairy tale demons, he includes both, along with devastated fantastical countrysides, horrific monsters, and heroic warriors young and old. Tobias Carroll

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8. Greg Tocchini
Low

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After Image introduced Low’s first teaser image earlier this year, it became abundantly clear that Greg Tocchini wasn’t going to hold back. From schools of sea life to super-weird sex scenes, Tocchini’s art has a magical way of bypassing the verbal center of the brain and jumping straight to primal, silent awe. And while it’s easy to get caught up in his astounding depictions of an oceanic metropolis, he never lets us veer too far from the emotional core. With an eye-poppingly vibrant color palette and an impeccable eye for design, Tocchini consistently transcends the surreal and ventures into the downright trippy. Robert Tutton

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7. Sean Phillips
The Fade Out , Fatale

Only one illustrator flexes the versatility to pivot from scenes of cosmic astroid sex to the glitz of vintage Hollywood with seamless ease. And that doesn’t even cover tentacled gangsters with Tommy Guns. World building aside, Sean Phillips’ greatest strength may be the absorbing storytelling he adds to the the intoxicating fictions of The Fade Out and Fatale. Working in tandem with scribe Ed Brubaker, Phillips has assumed the role of master choreographer and director, working in chiseled blacks and rotating perspectives to paint a new age of noir with sterling clarity and fascination. Sean Edgar
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6. Declan Shalvey
Moon Knight

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When Declan Shalvey partnered with Warren Ellis for a psycho-noir Moon Knight arc, the result was a comic as daring as it was weird. Whether drawing the lunar vigilante in a suit and tie or bird-faced bone armor, Shalvey took chances. And they paid off. Like a creepy ghost-punching sketch — rendered in pure white, no color, no shading — Moon Knight constantly pops off the page. Shalvey’s art especially shines in issue #4, when Moon Knight enters a fungus-laden nightmare, which, at the time, the artist called “the most insane thing I’ve ever fucking read.” Robert Tutton

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5. Eleanor Davis
How To Be Happy

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Eleanor Davis could be on this list every year, but with her first collection — How To Be Happy —out this year, it’s an especially appropriate time to laud her aesthetic and skill. Davis works in a wide range of media and styles, from quick black-and-white outlines to richly-colored watercolor washes. You can see her output not only in comics (she’s been featured regularly in collections like Mome), but also in her illustrations for The New York Times, The New Yorker and Oxford American. Her visuals evoke wistfulness without sentimentality, fear and pain without overkill and the wide range of human experience while maintaining specificity. Hillary Brown

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4. Sean Murphy
The Wake

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Swarms of marauding aquatic creatures and a tricked out sonically-enhanced dolphin. A post-apocalyptic water world. A pirate ship made from the massive carcass of a dead sea monster that fights giant squids. Sean Murphy’s artistic feats throughout the (short) ten issues of The Wake were varied and many. But to sum up, in one image, why Murphy’s pencils kicked so much ass, look no farther than that first glimpse of the creature at the end of issue #1. The confluence of details and the deep murky inks, the striking silhouette and the page-turn shock of that briny monstrosity bearing down on us, creates one of the most resonant visuals of the entire series. And for something as mind-blowing as The Wake, that’s saying a lot. Robert Tutton

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3. Skottie Young
Rocket Raccoon , Marvel Variant Covers

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Somewhere out there in places I’d rather avoid, I’m sure humorless trolls gripe about Marvel’s habitual publishing of what Google Images refers to as “baby variant covers; “Wolverine is a brutal, beer-guzzling, butt-kickin’ alpha-man with way too much hair on his nethers,” they say. “How dare this Skottie Young person make Wolverine look like an adorable toddler.” I’d argue that Wolverine is dead, and the X-Men just tried to blow up New York City, so things on Earth-616 are a little too “real” as is. In an era where the company formerly known as Timely has grown self-serious and bottom-line obsessed, Young’s “screw it, it’s fun!” stratagem reminds us that all this superhero business is very goofy, albeit gloriously so, and we should be grateful for this. Oh, he’s also doing a really good job with the Rocket Raccoon book, too. Barry Thompson

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2. Jillian Tamaki
This One Summer

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Characterized by a delightful lyricism and a joy in movement, Jillian Tamaki’s gift for beautiful panel construction and the gorgeous action within was on full display in This One Summer, a collaboration with her cousin Mariko Tamaki. Rendered in blue and white, the book traces the friendship between two adolescent girls who vacation together every year, and Tamaki’s artwork plays a key part of what makes the narrative work so well. Sure, the writing is strong, but the images sock you right in the heart with the complex emotions and memories that encapsulate escapism and growth. Hillary Brown

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1. Fiona Staples
Saga

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To say that Fiona Staples can conjure and interpret any manner of alien beast or sci-fi entity may be missing the point of what makes her work so enchanting. There’s a resounding sense of communication and interaction between the characters of Saga that belies Staples’ less obvious gift: she illustrates relationships unlike anyone else. It’s found in the way Ginny slowly unfolds her body language to flirt with Marko. It’s found in Alana’s unravelling physique as her pupils contort under the strain of drug addiction. It’s found in wandering eyes and searching hands. And it’s found in every panel Staples touches, lending a kinetic life and emotional delivery that transcend two dimensions. With Staples, writer Brian K. Vaughan can rely on a ferociously skilled artist to convey the subtleties of love, hatred, and fear without articulating them through more obvious means. With Staples, the alien has never felt so beautifully human. Sean Edgar

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