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Top 25 Black Comic Book Artists #10-1

by  in Comic News Comment
Top 25 Black Comic Book Artists #10-1

Here are the top ten artists that you voted as your favorites of all-time.

10. George Herriman

As noted in his entry in the Top Writers countdown, George Herriman produced Krazy Kat for three decades, one of the most acclaimed comic strips in the history of the medium. Working with a basic concept that seemed almost TOO simple (Krazy Kat swoons over Ignatz Mouse, who attacks Krazy Kat all the time with bricks and Offisa Bull Pupp tries to arrest Ignatz and protect Krazy), Herriman came up with some of the most innovative strip ideas that you could ever imagine. His offbeat artwork fit this surrealistic world perfectly. Here are some sample strips…

Krazy Kat was one of the first comic characters to be animated and he was an immense visual influence on the world of cartoons.

9. Keith Pollard

Like Arvell Jones, who showed up earlier in the countdown, Keith Pollard was one of a group of notable comic book artists who came out of the Detroit area, following in the footsteps of their fellow artist, Rick Buckler, who broke in first as a star artist and then slowly but surely brought his friends along, as well.

Pollard had significant stints on a number of major Marvel titles, from Daredevil to Thor to Iron Man to Amazing Spider-Man (Pollard drew the landmark 200th issue of Spider-Man – Gil Kane, Todd McFarlane, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., JRjr again and Humberto Ramos is pretty good company to be in for drawing a centennial issue of Amazing Spider-Man) to the Fantastic Four. In fact, Pollard not only drew the 200th issue of Amazing Spider-Man, but also the 300th issue of Thor and the 200th issue of Fantastic Four, including the epic Dr. Doom/Mister Fantastic fight (written by Marv Wolfman, inks by Joe Sinnott)…

Pollard also had runs on Green Lantern at DC and then returned to Marvel for another run on Fantastic Four and stints on Eternals and Micronauts.

After spending much of the early 1990s drawing all of the characters for Marvel’s Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe Master Edition, Pollard left comics entirely in 1994.

8. Billy Graham

Billy Graham’s start in comics was a fairly unusual one. Soon after he began drawing books for Warren Publishing (he drew at least one story in the first dozen issues of Vampirella), he was hired by James Warren as the company’s art director!

Early in the 1970s, he moved to Marvel, where he was part of the creative team on the launch of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire (Graham inked George Tuska). He continued as either inker or penciler for the next dozen and a half issues, even getting to the point of co-plotting the book during Steve Englehart’s run.

He then became the regular artist on the second half of Don McGregor’s classic run on Black Panther, beginning in the pages of Jungle Action. Here’s some of that work (inked by Klaus Janson)

He reunited with McGregor in the 1980s on Sabre. He was out of comics, though, by the time that he passed away in 1999.

Go to the next page for #7-4!

7. Brian Stelfreeze

For over three decades, Brian Stelfreeze has been thrilling audiences with his striking, distinctive work. As a painter, Stelfreeze’s art has graced the cover of probably over a hundred comic books, including an astounding fifty issue run on Batman: Shadow of the Bat.

While Stelfreeze is perhaps best known for his painted covers, his pencil work is excellent, as well. He has drawn pretty much every character for both of the “Big Two,” plus a bunch of projects for Image, as well.

Here he is drawing the excellent Joker story “Fool’s Errand” from Detective Comics #726…

Stelfreeze is going to be the regular artist on Marvel’s highly-anticipated new Black Panther series, which will be written by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

6. Trevor Von Eeden

Few artists have had quite the first issue as Trevor Von Eeden. As a young artist in the late 1970s, Von Eeden co-created Black Lighting with Tony Isabella, and they launched the character in Black Lightning #1, Von Eeden’s first major comic book credit (inks by Frank Springer)…

After that series wrapped up, DC and Marvel kept Von Eeden very busy over the next decade, as he had regular stints on a number of books, typically back-up features starring characters like Green Arrow (he drew Green Arrow’s very first #1 comic in a 1983 mini-series) and Catwoman (he also had short stints on Power Man and Spider-Woman for Marvel during this period).

In the 1990s, he drew the acclaimed Legends of the Dark Knight storyline that introduced the drug Venom to the DC Universe. He also drew a well-received Black Canary mini-series that led to a new Black Canary ongoing series.

About ten years ago, he wrote and drew an excellent graphic novel series about the boxer Jack Johnson. Just a couple of weeks ago, he did a variant cover for the first issue of Power Man and Iron Fist.

5. M.D. Bright

Mark D. Bright (often called either M.D. Bright or Doc Bright) had been drawing professionally for a few years, mostly fill-ins, before serendipity took a hand. Paul Smith dropped out of a Falcon mini-series after the first issue and Bright took over for the rest of the four issue run. The writer on the book, Christopher Priest (then going by the name Jim Owsley) clicked instantly with Bright and brought him over to Power Man and Iron Fist the following year where the two men had roughly a year’s long run. That got him on the map as a regular series artist, and when Power Man and Iron Fist ended, he moved to Iron Man, which he drew for roughly 20 issues, including serving as the series artists during the famous Armor Wars storyline. He reunited with Priest on the Green Lantern feature in Action Comics Weekly.

When that wrapped up, he did some fill-in work for Marvel, including a stint on G.I. Joe. He then hooked up again with Priest on Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn (while still drawing G.I. Joe, which is impressive as all heck). He remained on the project even when Priest was removed and replaced by Keith Giffen and Gerard Jones. He drew the sequel mini-series (also with Giffen and Jones) and then transitioned over to the regular Green Lantern series (which had been relaunched following Action Comics Weekly coming to a close) with issue #13 of that title. Except for a short break from #20-24 (during which time he helped launched Green Lantern Corps Quarterly), Bright remained on Green Lantern until basically Emerald Twilight, even as he launched Icon for Milestone Comics (Bright co-created Icon and Rocket with Dwayne McDuffie). He stayed on Icon for the book’s entire run (with a fill-in issue here or there, of course).

Once Milestone closed down, Bright and Priest got back together and co-created and launched Quantum and Woody for Valiant (inks here by Greg Adams)…

After drawing Marville for Marvel, Bright’s comic book work has not been frequent. He recently revisited Quantum and Woody with Priest for the new Valiant, though.

4. Matt Baker

Matt Baker got his break in comic working for Jerry Iger’s packaging studio, that is, a studio of artists who would supply comics directly to publishers so all the publishers would have to do was print the comics (obviously, eventually over time it was just easier and cheaper to pay the artists themselves). It was through this interesting system that you would have stuff like Phantom Lady debuting at Quality Comics but then end up at Fox Comics, as Quality turned down the strip so Iger just offered it to another company.

Baker, one of the kings of Golden Age “Good Girl” art, made his debut on Phantom Lady, the character he is probably best associated with these days (mostly from a Baker Phantom Lady cover that was printed in Seduction of the Innocent as an example of the lasciviousness nature of comic books), in All Top Comics #9, as shown here…

For any era, that’s strong work, but in the Golden Age, in the era of packaging studios and a whole pile of forgettable artwork, he really stood out. That’s why when the comic book bubble burst in the late 1940s, Baker continued to get work for a variety of publishers, mostly drawing either “Good Girl” stories or western adventures.

He went to work for Atlas Comics in the mid-to-late 1950s, and was working for Atlas when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1959. Can you imagine what his profile would have been like if he had lived a few more years and been around when Atlas became Marvel? You know Stan Lee would have used him on a Marvel title. It really sort of boggles the mind (Baker’s death and Joe Maneely’s death – two major Marvel comic book history “What If…?”s involved creators taken from us too soon).

Baker was inducted to the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2009.

Go to the next page for #3-1!

3. Olivier Coipel

Olivier Coipel sprang on to the scene with an out of the box approach to the Legion of Super-Heroes, but after polishing off the hard edges a bit, he quickly became one of the most prominent superhero artists working at Marvel. They tend to use him for only big projects. For instance, he just helped launch the Spider-Verse crossover in Amazing Spider-Man.

His first Marvel work was a stint on Avengers with Geoff Johns where he quickly showed how powerful his work can be. The concept is that a deadly virus has been released in Mount Rushmore and the Avengers show up with the United States military…

One husband and wife valiantly try to save their son. The husband dies and the wife drives away with the son covering his face with a cloth. She succumbs to the chemicals and her son seems to be nearing death, as well, when, well, someone shows up…

It practically leaps from the page.

Coipel has been an indispensable member of Marvel’s staff ever since, working on high profile project after high profile project, from House of M to J. Michael Straczynski’s return of Thor to Siege to Avengers vs. X-Men to Brian Wood’s X-Men to Spider-Verse, he’s one of the artists who practically encapsulates the face of the Marvel Universe.

2. Kyle Baker

Kyle Baker began work for Marvel Comics as an intern in the 1980s. He slowly began to work as an inker (after working as an assistant to the great Joe Rubinstein) before beginning to get assignments as a penciler by the end of the decade, most prominently on DC’s The Shadow series, which he drew for the end of its run. Hot off that project, which clearly showed the world just how talented he was as an artist, he got to show off his writing skills, as well, in the independent graphic novel, The Cowboy Wally Show. DC soon gave him a chance with his creator-owned Why I Hate Saturn, which won awards, as did You Are Here, a graphic novel Baker did for DC’s Vertigo line of comics. Baker did a number of works for Vertigo.

Baker’s striking artwork has a beautifully manic feel to it, as he pays tributes to legends from cartoons and early comics (like Jack Cole). Baker works as “just” an artist on projects, as well, like his stunning work on Marvel’s Truth: Red, White and Black, which introduced an otherwise unknown black Captain America…

See how dynamic his work is, and how he varies the form of his characters to create distinct effects – like when he’ll make characters grotesquely big or ugly, all for effect. It’s powerful work. After Truth, he wrote and drew a highly acclaimed Plastic Man reboot for DC Comics.

He continues to write and draw his own work, while also doing projects for DC and Marvel (he has found in Deadpool a character that fits his art well, as he has done a number of Deadpool comics in the last decade).

1. Denys Cowan

After breaking into the comic book industry in the early 1980s, Cowan worked for a number of years on a variety of books for DC Comics, while also enjoying a stint as the regular artist on Power Man and Iron Fist for Marvel Comics. His career went to a new level, though, when he launched The Question with Denny O’Neil (and inker Rick Magyar – later Malcolm Jones III). That run was highly acclaimed, leading to multiple Eisner Award nominations for Cowan and Magyar (Cowan also drew a Black Panther mini-series for Marvel around this time).

O’Neil brought Cowan to Detective Comics as the artist on the highly-anticipated storyline leading into Detective Comics #600 that was written by Sam Hamm, screenwriter of Tim Burton’s Batman.

He followed that up with a short stint on Mike Grell’s Green Arrow (Cowan had done a couple of Green Arrow/Question crossovers, so it was a natural fit). At Marvel, he helped finish the Deathlok mini-series that launched a Deathlok ongoing series, which Cowan also drew. It was at this point that he first worked with the great writer, Dwayne McDuffie.

In 1993, Cowan co-founded Milestone Media with McDuffie and some others, helping to design a number of major characters, including Static and Hardware, whose comic he also drew for most of its run.

After Milestone Media ended, he later worked as a producer on the Static Shock TV series.

He also had a brilliant run on Steel with Christopher Priest (inks by Tom Palmer). I know his Question work is his most famous run, and his Milestone characters are also very important, but dammit, I just really loved his Steel run so much that I am going to use that run as his sample art – it shows his striking mixture of gritty character designs with powerful action sequences – he’s a hell of a storyteller…

Cowan has remained busy in comic books since Steel ended (while also pursuing other endeavors, like a stint at BET Entertainment working in their animation department), drawing Brian Wood’s Fight for Tomorrow for Vertigo, a Batman Confidential stint, the Django Unchained mini-series and a recent Convergence mini-series for DC Comics. His work is as sharp today as it was 30 years ago. He’s a master in the field.

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