And now– quite possibly the greatest comic artist of the 21st century. (Archive.)
325. J.H. Williams III
Yeah, I’m surprised he hasn’t had his own Reason yet, too. After all, he is, in my opinion, at least, the most proficient artist working in comics. He’s constantly redefining the way in which a reader views a page, and he instills such astonishing craftsmanship into his art that it tells a story all its own. He makes comics become living objects, more than just pop art– but true art.
It also helps that he works with some of the best writers in the business– folks like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Warren Ellis. These are guys who know how to write for their artists, and Williams being excellent at his job, creates a terrific synergy with his co-conspirators.
Williams drew various projects throughout the 90s, but he first popped up on fans’ radar with Chase, a series he co-created, co-plotted, and drew for DC in the late 90s with writer Dan Curtis Johnson. It was about Cameron Chase, agent for the Department of Extranormal Operations. Criminally underrated, it lasted only ten issues, but it served as a showcase for Williams’ fantastic sense of page layout and design. Each issue seemed to bring new visuals with it. And the Mick Gray inks were lovely.
His next major work was Promethea, with Alan Moore. With this series– a study in magic by way of some superheroing and whatnot– Williams utilized a new variety of techniques to produce not just pretty, but fascinating images on the comics page as well as creating homages to numerous classic artists on the covers. Heck, he painted a few issues. With Promethea, JH Williams proved there was nothing he couldn’t draw. Take a look at the image at the top of this post from the amazing final issue, or the following painting, and try to refute me. I dares ya!
Since Promethea, Williams has worked on a few different projects, and I’m going to share my favorite with you. First, there’s Desolation Jones with writer Warren Ellis and colorist Jose Villarrubia. A super-crusty noir tale, Williams makes the reader feel every blow that Jones gives or takes, every sore inflicted on every body. Through a combination of Ellis’ clever script, Villarrubia’s rich colors, Todd Klein‘s magnificent letters, and Williams’ nuanced, gorgeous art, I fell for this book, hard.
Then there’s his work with Grant Morrison on the Seven Soldiers bookends and a recent Batman arc, which Selective Selleck said was the best Batman story in 15 years. I can’t disagree with him there. These works prove JH Williams to be a stylistic chameleon. In Seven Soldiers #0, he draws each major character in a different style, reflecting the era of comics they’re meant to evoke. In #1, he shows off a massive range, drawing in at least a dozen different styles, from fantasy painting to Kirbyesque mania. Each main characters’ segment is illustrated in the style of the artist who drew the mini-series, but Williams also tosses in several other styles, some of which are truly his own. It’s a masterpiece, and easily the best art object the comic industry’s put out in ages.
With Batman, Williams took the liberty to draw each member of the Club of Heroes in a different artist’s style– Gaucho is Chaykin, the Knight’s McGuinness, etc– once again to place each of them in a distinct era of comics. G-Mozz didn’t indicate this type of experiment in the script; JHW3 just went for it, figuring it would give a new layer to the story. It definitely did. He also included his usual astonishing panel work. And since it’s the best thing Morrison’s written for the title yet, it became the best Bat-story in ages.
JH Williams’ art makes comic books bigger and better than they probably have any right to be, but thank God for that. He’s shown us that comics can achieve anything if the creator tries hard enough. He puts a massive effort into seeing just what the form can do, and for that alone, I think he’s the best artist in comics.
Click here to visit his website, and join me in anticipating each new project he undertakes.