The 15 Best Comic Artists of 2016

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Emma Ríos

Artist Of: Pretty Deadly, I.D.

Emma Ríos' art in the first volume of Pretty Deadly neatly captured two disparate sensibilities: the grittiness of an Old West setting and the unearthly, mythical figures drawn to conflict there. With her work in the book's second volume, which jumps forward in time to World War I, Ríos' style has clarified itself further: she's equally at home depicting the horrors of trench warfare, the movement of supernatural figures through a fluctuating space or the ways in which the battles between them are paralleled in human clashes. Her work, assisted by master colorist Jordie Bellaire, allows for harrowing moments of violence and breathtaking scenes of the sublime, and for the two to uneasily coexist; it's a style that's like nothing else out there. Tobias Carroll

David Rubin

Artist Of: Ether, Beowulf

Ether, David Rubin's Dark Horse collaboration with writer Matt Kindt, only just began, but the end-of-month import of his Beowulf adaptation with writer Santiago Garcia should silence any naysayers who doubt his place on this list. The Spanish illustrator filters a healthy obsession with Jack Kirby through a more fluid, animated lens, resulting in expressive visual acting and panels that pulse with motion. In Ether, Rubin plumbs the depths of the book's science vs. magic pitch, effectively realizing both ends of the spectrum. In Beowulf, however, Rubin finds new vitality in one of our oldest tales by hewing close to the story's original setting. It's not SFW by any means, but the first encounter between Grendel and Beowulf, charged with an unexpected sexuality that the book never puts into words, may be one of the finest visual storytelling moments of the year (even if European audiences got to see it before 2016 reared its ugly head). Steve Foxe

Fiona Staples

Artist Of: Saga

It's often hard to tell who did what, from a conceptual standpoint, on a comic book. Contributions to character design may come from the writer, the editor or the artist, or a permutation of these three individuals. Sometimes the character is fully formed by one member of the creative team before the team has even assembled. There have even been cases, in the long history of comic books, where an idea comes from someone completely disconnected from the actual creation of the book in question. But the truth remains that there is only one person responsible for the actual rendering of a concept, the actual placement of it on a page. That person is the artist. Books will live and die at the mercy of this fundamental truth. Some of the best writing in the world cannot save a title when the art does not communicate effectively with the reader.

In that context, Fiona Staples has far exceeded the expectations and achievements of her peers. The world building and general aesthetic of Saga, her book with Brian K. Vaughan, are second to none. She has crafted a universe that is both alien and familiar, filled with creatures and spaceships and whole worlds that do not fit easily into one science-fiction category. But none of it would work if it were not for her ability to give life to the characters who occupy the narrative. Each character who steps onto the page smiles, cries, winks and nods themselves into a 2D reality most artists can only hope to create in their work. Saga is the story of a family on the run, of war for war's sake and of the need to find hope is the most dire of situations. But it is also a book filled with TV-headed royal robots, bipedal seals and ghost babysitters. Someone needs to sell all of this stuff to the reader. And even if the book received less attention in its fourth year, Fiona Staples is a saleswoman we're lucky to have. Jakob Free

Sana Takeda

Artist Of: Monstress

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda's Monstress was not only one of the best comic releases to come out this year, it's also inarguably one of the most beautiful, owed entirely to the fastidious craftsmanship that defines Takeda's illustrations and colors. Already well known for her past collaboration with Liu on X-23, Takeda's work on Monstress is astounding, forging a world of equal parts opulence and desolation through memorable character designs and evocative color palettes. One would need only to look at the series' covers to realize the scope of Takeda's talents: each one resembles a sprawling mandala of steampunk artistry, intricate latticeworks of gold and copper tones suffused in flourishes of purple and blue. It's Takeda's mastery of lighting that brings the look and feel of Monstress' world to fruition, with the scenes inside the Cumaea stronghold city of Zamora flushed with a careful balance of lavender and bronze accents. The flashbacks of protagonist Maika plotting her revenge are virtually sapped of any hint of excess, reflective of Maika's stoic and emotionally spent state of mind. Monstress is one of the most affecting and well-written series of the year, and Takeda's work on the book easily earns her the status of one of the best comic illustrators working today. Toussaint Egan

Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Artist Of: Vision

The advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has enticed Marvel Publishing to both cash in on the staggering success of Marvel movies and educate the casual audience on some its lesser-known characters. It's counterintuitive for some, but often the best way for a comic book to tie into a movie is not a shot-for-shot adaptation, but rather something that illuminates character or contains a similar through-line to a film or show. Since Paul Bettany's Vision arguably represents one of the more out-there elements of the Marvel Universe and also turned out to be a fan-favorite for moviegoers, it makes sense that Marvel wanted to release a series to give audiences a modern Vision tale to pick up after seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron or Captain America: Civil War. Enter writer Tom King, artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta and colorist Jordie Bellaire's Vision.

This is a book that, with all we know about the mainstream superhero market, probably shouldn't work. But it does more than just work: truthfully, Vision is more of a suburban capital-T Tragedy than a straight-up punchy superhero monthly, and though it may not have the bombastic action many crave, Walta creates a feast for the eyes in each and every panel. He renders Vision and his family of synthezoids with a sense of humanity, despite the fact that they're robots who can't seem to get the whole "personhood" thing right. But perhaps Walta's most important part to play in all of this is the way in which he sells Vision's downfall as the conflicted patriarch of his little manufactured American family. There's the smiling wife, the two kids, the dog and the white picket fence. But none of it is meant to last. Vision's hubris, his belief that he can create his own happiness, is a lie. All of his wisdom, all of his power—none of it can give him what he wants. And he is doomed to fail from the very beginning. Walta understands this. Every false exterior, every reassuring smile, every calculating lie is rendered succinctly and expressively with Walta's assured linework. Vision may not have been the book readers were expecting after a trip to the movies, but it certainly raised the bar for what is possible with these lesser-known characters in our modern Nerd Renaissance. Jakob Free