Don’t let any snobs tell you drawing fan-art isn’t worthwhile. A quick look at the “#fanartgotmepaid” hashtag should tell you all you need to know about how important doing fan-art can be for developing both the talents and careers of countless artists. For those working for big companies in the American comics industry, fan-art is in many ways direct preparation for work, as artists in the superhero field will be spending much of their time drawing characters they did not create themselves but in many cases grew up obsessing over. In a way, a lot of published comics could technically be considered “fan-art.”
This list isn’t about that, though, but rather examples of professional artists doing drawings of their favorite superhero characters outside of official work assignments. Given how many artists in comics do work for both DC and Marvel and thus have the opportunity to work professionally with the majority of superhero characters, this list by its nature leans heavier towards professionals who work primarily outside of the DC/Marvel circuit, in indie comics, international comics and animation. The following 15 works of fan-art by professional artists will show you some of your favorite superhero characters presented in all new lights.
15. BRUCE TIMM’S WOMEN OF MARVEL
Marvel might have the more successful live-action cinematic universe, but when it comes to cartoons, there’s no contest which of the Big Two has had the advantage over the past 25 years. Bruce Timm’s animated TV series have been one of the definitive takes of the DC superheroes for multiple generations, and many fans have wondered what it would be like if he did a Marvel cartoon. Thanks to Timm’s fan-art of the Marvel superheroes, you can get a glimpse at what such a theoretical cartoon would look like.
This painting features many of Marvel’s most iconic female characters as well as some more obscure ones. From top to bottom and left to right, the featured women are Tana Nine, Wasp, Lady Dorma, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Sif, Invisible Girl, Marvel Girl, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, Medusa, Agent Carter, Clea, Hela and Crystal.
14. BRUCE TIMM’S WOLVERINE
There’s a lot of fan-art by Bruce Timm out there for your viewing pleasure on the internet. He’s drawn Buffy, he’s drawn the Evangelion girls, he’s drawn a ton of Marvel characters. Of all these characters he’s presented his redesigns of, though, perhaps the one who feels most at home in Bruce Timm’s distinctive angular, minimalist, cartoony yet mature style is Wolverine.
This painting presents Wolverine in a tense action pose, ready to mess some bad guys up with those huge adamantium claws. The clenched square jaw is reminiscent of Timm’s designs of Batman and Superman, yet Logan’s gruffer, more volatile personality distinguishes the character from just being a case of lazy “same face” design. The shading on the costume looks fantastic, keeping the right balance of grit and bold stylization.
13. GEOFF DARROW’S BATMAN
In his professional life, Geof Darrow has two degrees of separation from Batman. He’s never written or drawn any Batman comics and rarely draws anything for DC, but one of his major claims to fame is working with famous Batman writer Frank Miller on the comics Hard Boiled and Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot. DC might not have asked him to draw the Caped Crusader, but if you run into him at a convention and have money for a commission, he might draw you something like this piece.
This drawing presents Batman facing off against the Shaolin Cowboy, one of Darrow’s original characters from the comic series of the same name. People on the internet can have strong opinions about mixing fan-art drawings with “OCs” (original characters), but it clearly works out for a professional like Darrow.
12. STJEPAN SEJIC’S SUPERMAN AND LOIS LANE
Stepjan Sejic, best known for the BDSM-themed comic Sunstone, presented his own humorous and mildly NSFW twist on the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane in the fan comic “First Time is Always Awkward.” Without getting too explicit, this fan comic presents Lois with a reminder that, handsome as he is, her boyfriend is still an alien, and sometimes alien biology is… uncomfortable, by human standards.
Sejic enjoys drawing Superman and Lois, and has expressed a desire to work with these characters in the future, but he wants the next time he does so to be on an official assignment from DC rather than as a fan comic. With his busy work schedule, he’s had less time to do fan-art and wants to be paid for his art.
11. BRYAN LEE O’MALLEY’S ROGUE
As of this publication, Bryan Lee O’Malley, the creator of Scott Pilgrim and the writer of Image’s ongoing Snotgirl series, has worked with the Big Two publishers exactly once: to do an alternate cover for Young Avengers #1. In terms of writing and drawing comics, he’s stuck to the independent world where he creates his own characters. Occasionally on social media, however, he’ll post fan-art of others’ characters.
He particularly seems to enjoy drawing X-Men fan-art, always in his distinctively cute, somewhat manga-inspired art style. If y’all were confused by the giant “y’all” caption on this drawing of Rogue, it’s a silly reference to the character’s Southern accent, y’all! O’Malley’s also posted drawings of Psylocke and Danielle Moonstar.
10. FRANK QUITELY’S DOCTOR STRANGE
A winner of four Eisner Awards and three Harvey Awards, Frank Quitely is celebrated for his collaborations with Mark Millar and Grant Morrison. Considering the latter writer’s strong ongoing interest in the occult and psychedelics, it seems weird that Marvel never commissioned Morrison and Quitely to work together on a Doctor Strange series. It would be right up their alley!
Based on this sketch done at a convention in 2008, Quitely is more than up to the task of drawing Stephen Strange. Convention commission drawings like these are somewhat different than other forms of fan-art given the subject matter is determined by someone other than the artist, but since Quitely is in fact a fan of Doctor Strange and it wasn’t Marvel commissioning him, this piece and pieces like it count as fan-art for the purposes of this list.
9. ERICA HENDERSON’S BATMAN AND ACE
Here’s a fun idea if you want to collect some crazy and inspired fan-art: when you’re at a convention and buying those blank cover editions of comics, ask someone completely unrelated to the comic in question to illustrate your blank cover for you. That’s how you end up with something like this mini-masterpiece of an All-Star Batman cover by Erica Henderson.
Henderson has presented her irreverent takes on much of the Marvel universe in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but she has yet to do the same in any official capacity for the DC universe. In this picture, however, she displays her unofficial and utterly silly take on Batman taking Ace the Bat-Hound for a walk and dealing with all the indignities that come with that mundane responsibility.
8. KAZUKI TAKAHASHI’S HELLBOY
How’s this for a sweet story? Kazuki Takahashi, the creator of Yu-Gi-Oh, is a huge fan of American comics. In 2004, a couple years after Viz started publishing Shonen Jump in the United States, the magazine asked Takahashi to draw his favorite American comics character. He drew this illustration of Hellboy with Yugi’s hair, a Millenium Puzzle, and a duel disk.
But that was only the beginning of the story. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, was so flattered by this piece of fan-art he did his own drawing of Hellboy with a Millennium Puzzle and a Yu-Gi-Oh T-shirt. Mignola and Takahashi participated in a drawing exchange with each other. In this case, fan-art was the impetus for an artist meeting his greatest hero, and that hero was, in turn, a fan!
7. SUSHIO’S WONDER WOMAN AND SUPERMAN
As studios increasingly embrace collaborations with fan-artists, the line between fan-art and promotional art sometimes blurs. The art from the “Wonder Woman Creators Collaboration” in Japan falls under this blurry area, because these pieces of art were showcased on exhibition by Warner Bros. Japan to celebrate the release of the Wonder Woman movie. However, as uniquely styled works of art created by fans of the character that were not used in any comics or movies, the works of art qualify for this list.
Many of these unique renditions of Wonder Woman are stunning. This entry by Sushio, the character designer of Kill la Kill, gets singled out on this list due to both its fun style and for giving us two superheroes in one work of art (three, if you count the second Wonder Woman in the background flying her invisible jet).
6. JHONEN VASQUEZ’S BATMAN
Sometimes the worst fan-art is the best fan-art. Case in point: Jhonen Vasquez’s scribblings on social media. The creator of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Invader ZIM can certainly draw well, but when just doodling something for the sake of a quick joke, he often choses to draw poorly for the sake of enhancing the absurdity of whatever joke he’s making.
Jhonen posted this drawing on Twitter on July 15, 2015, shortly after Arkham Knight‘s release, with the caption, “I only have my trackpad right now, but here’s pretty much what Batman in the games looks like.” Is this NOT what Batman looks like in the Arkham Asylum game series? Clearly no one has ever better illustrated the thought process behind Rocksteady’s character designs for Batman. Bravo, Jhonen!
5. IAN JONES-QUARTEY’S BLACK CAT
How’s this for some obscure fan-art? Marvel fans can probably tell that this drawing by Ian Jones-Quartey, creator of the Cartoon Network series O.K. KO: Let’s Be Heroes!, is not of the same Black Cat who’s been a presence in the Spider-Man comics since the ’70s and is set to get a team-up movie with Silver Sable. So who is it? You’ll have to go further back in time in the history of comics to recognize this character.
This Black Cat was one of the star characters of Harvey Comics in the ’40s, a stuntwoman-turned-crimefighter whose comic adventures spread over a variety of genres from mysteries to Westerns to horror. Since the Golden Age of Comics, she’s fallen into obscurity, but Ian JQ has a wide range of influences and is clearly still a fan of this character.
4. HIROYUKI IMAISHI’S NEXTWAVE
If you want to look at some of the best fan-art in Japan, you might want to take a look at the doujinshi circuit. “Doujinshi” are self-published comics that are often fan-fiction. Many professionals in the anime and manga world got their start doing doujinshi. The people at Studio TRIGGER still publish doujinshi books regularly. They might be professionals, but they’re still huge fans!
The TRIGGER crew are also, somewhat unusually, as obsessed with American pop culture as the most obsessive weeaboos are about Japanese pop culture. That’s why director Hiroyuki Imaishi made a full on tribute to Cartoon Network/Adult Swim cartoons with Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, and that’s why he drew this awesome piece of fan-art for Warren Ellis’ Nextwave for one of TRIGGER’s doujinshi publications.
3. YASMIN LIANG’S DEATH AND DEADMAN
Yasmin Liang, a comic artist based in Hong Kong, has had her art published in comics such as BOOM Studios’ Steed and Mrs. Peel and IDW’s Star Trek. Before she was drawing for major publishers, however, she was posting fan-art on DeviantArt, and to this day she continues to draw extremely high quality fan-art of superhero characters amidst official art assignments.
This evocative piece, titled “October Wanders,” shows Deadman and Death of the Endless, two characters from the dark fringes of the DC universe, hanging out on Halloween and watching a group of kids trick-or-treat. The kids’ halloween costumes invoke some more favorite characters: one kid is ready to join the Bat-family while another goes as the 11th Doctor from Doctor Who, trusty sonic screwdriver in hand.
2. KO TAKEUCHI’S JUBILEE
Ko Takeuchi’s become so famous for his fan-art, many lovers of his work might not even know he’s a designer for Nintendo, the developer of the WarioWare and Rhythm Heaven game series. Knowing that, his art style is easily recognizable in those games. But even if you don’t know his games, you’ve probably smiled coming across his art on Twitter, where he posts his cute interpretations of pop culture characters and dank memes.
Takeuchi’s drawings come fast and furious, often posting multiple drawings in a day. The same day he posted this Jubilee, he also posted this Porg! Jubilee might be a controversial character, due to her bratty personality, unimpressive powers and the whole vampire thing, but even her detractors have to admit this drawing is adorable.
1. TED NAIFEH’S JOKER
This is the dream of any fan-artist: to draw fan-art so good that you get hired to draw those characters officially. Such is the case with Ted Naifeh, the author of the Courtney Crumrin and Princess Ugg series. Throughout 2009 and 2010, Naifeh filled sketchbooks with Batman characters, drawings from which he’d post on his official website. They’re worth looking through. This Joker notably stands out as creepy and inspired.
It’s fan-art, but it reads as an audition to draw Batman for DC Comics. And what would you know? DC ended up hiring Naifeh as one of the many artists to work on the Batman ’66 digital series and the official Batman: Arkham City graphic novel, as well as an inker for the Batman 80 Page Giant 2011!
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