Most top 10 lists suck. They’re horribly subjective and are usually there, especially on most other silly media sites, as clickbait or filler designed to enrage readers by leaving out their favorite or almost favorite addition to the list so that they can whine and troll in the comments section. That’s not why I’m doing this.
I made this list to hopefully point out to aspiring comic creators and comic fans, in general, a few names that I think they should look at for potential inspiration, guidance, and entertainment. All of these guys are dead, but their work lives on in the hearts and shelves and long boxes of old fogies like me who don’t feel that you have to be the next Jim Lee clone or Greg Capullo worshiper in order to do great sequential art.
If you’ve never heard of some of these dead guys I feel both sorry and happy for you at the same time. I’m sorry you missed out on some GREAT comic work, and at the same time HAPPY in the hopes you will look up these artists’ creations and enjoy them. Also, this isn’t every dead comic artist out there that I like or admire, these are 10+ that I feel that if you’re really into great comics that you absolutely NEED to know and hopefully enjoy as much as I do. As this column goes on, I hope to introduce you to MANY more artists and aspects of this business you may not have known about, so IF your favorite dead artist isn’t mentioned here, just keep reading this column.
Number 10 is a sad, recent addition, and one you likely are aware of, and that is DARWYN COOKE (11/16/62 – 5/14/16).An artist with a unique animated style who drew an incredibly large range of work, mostly for DC, but is well worth your time to find and read. His New Frontier series is easily to me some of the very best superhero work to be done by a major company in a long time, and I recently acquired his art book that DC kicked out shortly before his passing and was again blown away by his style and ability. I wish I had gotten to meet him. His Parker adaptions from IDW are also well worth your time.
Number 9 it’s a childhood favorite and that’s VT HAMLIN (5/10/00 – 6/14/93) who worked on the Alley Oop comic strip for many decades. An amazing storyteller, incredible craftsman, an incredible inker, easily the entire entertainment package. One of the MANY comic strip creators out there that are overlooked and buried by the sands of time. Because of his deep love of history what started out as a caveman and his buddy dinosaur comic turned into a historical time travelling/ Sci-Fi comic of EPIC proportions. If you are into creating comics and are lucky enough to find an Oop strip collection, especially in the later time-hopping years, I sincerely hope you buy it. It’s worth the price in entertainment value alone, but the craftsmanship and artistry is equally incredible.
Number 8 for me is ALEX RAYMOND (10/2/09 – 9/6/56). If you ever want to learn how to Ink in a beautifully gentle brush style there’s no way you’re going to be able to escape studying Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon work. I never thought much of him as a writer, and a lot of Flash Gordon is pretty disjointed and clunky story-wise, but it sure is a pretty drawing style, and especially his inking style or amazing.
Number 7 is RUSS MANNING (1/5/29 – 12/1/81), who worked on Tarzan for quite a few years, created a character called Magnus robot Fighter, and did a lot of work over a long period of time during the 60’s and 70’s. He also started the Star Wars comic strip and worked on that for a couple of years before his death. There’s nobody out there with a cleaner and crispier art style than Manning, look him up. The IDW Tarzan strip collections are especially nice.
For world wide influence in sequential art there’s nobody that comes close to number 6 which is JEAN GIRAUD “MOEBIUS” (5/8/38 – 3/10/12). His influence and his work will be as close to eternal as any comic artist out there, and has been written about and studied by much smarter people than me. With two individual, distinctive styles, one serious and more grounded in reality and the other the exact opposite, filled with wonder and fantasy. You need to see his Blueberry work as well as his Incal and Arzach work (among so many others) to realize the true genius that this person was. It’s well worth your time to look at both and study both.
Number 5 is ALEX TOTH (6/25/28 – 5/27/06) and if you’re any kind of a comics or character creator and you aren’t aware of Alex Toth’s work, you are missing out on some key parts of your education. More than a comic artist (though he also has a large body of comic work from many, many publishers), his animation creations and character sheets are a lesson in genius. No one was more stark, more stripped down and more ingenious and consistent than Toth. Again, IDW has some GREAT books out on his work, and there has been many other volumes of his work available, and again, well worth your time to look them up.
Number 4 is the seemingly ignored but highly influential VAUGHN BODE (7/22/41 – 7/18/75). Incredibly cartoony, very adult, with a very unique collection of work that has nudged graffitti artists from around the world. Look at his Cheech Wizard, look at his collections that Fantagraphics has put together, sure it was during the drug filled 60’s and 70s, but it’s all creative genius. When his art style didn’t fit in with the modern comics of the time, Bode’ found his niche’ in adult magazines like Cherri and Swank and did a number of underground comix. He drew women the way most any heterosexual male wanted them to be, and had a sequential art format and style that is uniquely his own. His son Mark, currently carries on his look with comics, murals, prints, toys, and tattoos
Number 3 is actually two people and that is CARL BARKS (3/27/01 – 8/25/00) and FLOYD GOTTFREDSON (5/5/05 – 7/22/86). The creative comic artists responsible for the early Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse comics and comic strips. Don’t dismiss these guys just because they’re doing “funny animals”, but take a look at their style and technique. Crisp, clean, direct to the point, always moving the plot along and doing some really ingenious and incredibly entertaining material.
Number 2 is the obvious choice, and that’s JACK KIRBY (8/28/1917 – 2/6/94). I’m sure you’ll see a lot about Jack this year especially with his hundredth birthday this year, and all the billions that he’s made for Marvel Studios over the last decade or so, so I don’t have to tell you about how great he is, except to admit that growing up I HATED his stuff. But once I got older and actually LOOKED at what he’d done and the entire body of his work, nothing short of groundbreaking and amazing. No matter how goofy you think his art is look at it, and take the time to consider the stuff of GENIUS.
For me, number 1 will always be WILL EISNER (3/6/17 – 1/3/05), and if you consider the body of his work, and what he did before, during, and after his main creation, The Spirit, you’ll see an Incredibly large and diverse body of work. DC has released the entire run of The Spirit in hardbound Archives and highly recommend you pick them up, especially the last 10 or so volume when he was really at his high-point of his abilities, THEN pick up as many of his later graphic novels as you can. He was there right as comic books began, and was not afraid to trail-blaze through content and format (pioneering educational comics, as well as the home spun graphic novel), the man KNEW the power of sequential art and wrote many a textbook about them as well. I only met the man a few times before his passing and was shocked and awed at the fact that he not only knew me, remembered me, but was also aware of some of the work I had done. I wish I had taken him to dinner.
So there you have it that’s my top 10+ dead comic artists. They had a big influence on me growing up and still influence much of my work today. There’s some names for you to look up and hopefully enjoy some work that doesn’t look like the majority of the crap that you see out today. Hope you learn some stuff, sorry if this column was a little long-winded, I did cut quite a bit down to get it this short, so if you’ve read me this far, let me say “THANKS for being here, and see you next time.