"My not-terribly insightful comic book epiphany of the day: right now, we've got a bunch of top-flight writers in the field, and the next generation on the horizon. But what we could really use is a new, young generation of break-out artists. Don't get me wrong, we've got a lot of excellent artists. But who was the last hot young guy who just exploded into the field? I feel like the pump is primed for one or more fresh young artists to just explode in a major, commercial way. When was the last time that happened? We could use an infusion of visual excitement in the books--across all companies."
--Thus spoke Tom Brevoort, Marvel Senior VP - Executive Editor, on Twitter last night. Personally, I think he's probably right to wonder about this. Like he says, the point isn't that there are no good or even great relatively young/relatively new artists right now -- there are plenty. Personally I've been knocked out by Gabriel Hardman's work on Atlas and Hulk over the past year or so, just for example. But what Brevoort is looking for is an artist who just skyrockets to superstardom more or less out of the blue. That requires quite a delicate alchemy. The artist in question must be young enough or new enough or have been working far way enough from the Big Two's audiences for their work to have "the shock of the new" when fans first see it. They must bring something different to the table than what established artists are doing, so that their work stands out, but they must also be working in a style that's recognizable and acceptable to large numbers of superhero fans. Their work doesn't necessarily have to be to your taste, but you should at least be able to understand what others see in it, even if you don't see it yourself.
With those standards in mind, do you sense a potential breakout star in the making anyplace in the industry? I've got a few candidates. Frazer Irving's work on Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin was luminous and stunning, handling one of comics' most demanding scripters with style and skill and looking like pretty much nothing else on the stands. On the other hand, while that book sells very well and Irving got a lot of attention, I'm not sure there's a groundswell of appreciation for what he's doing among the "mainstream"-comics masses; it's not as, I dunno, muscular as most superhero fans like. James Stokoe of Orc Stain fame seems to floor people anytime he turns his maniacally detailed and wild art to anything superhero-ish, like that Galactus poster that burned up the internet a while back or his Strange Tales contribution; but even though I think superhero fans could grow to really appreciate the energy what he's doing, he doesn't strike me as someone who's dying to spend a couple years drawing the Avengers or the Justice League. Ditto his equally impressive, though less prolific, fellow Strange Tales contributor Rafael Grampa. I've been saying Cafu is something special ever since seeing his diamond-edged art in the Captain Atom back-ups that ran in Action Comics during the New Krypton storyline, and he's currently teamed up with new-hotness writer Nick Spencer on THUNDER Agents, but I haven't seen enough people react to his work to gauge his commercial potential.
For a while, starting in the mid-2000s, it seemed like Marvel and DC could catapult anyone they chose to the top tier of artists with a well-chosen event title. One by one, I heard fans talk excitedly about artists as varied as Rags Morales, David Finch, Phil Jimenez, Jim Cheung, Ethan Van Sciver, Steve McNiven, J.G. Jones, John Romita Jr., Ivan Reis, Leinil Yu, Doug Mahnke, and Olivier Coipel, and more besides. But with line-wide events taking a back seat, and stars like Bryan Hitch, John Cassaday, Frank Quitely, Jim Lee, and the Kuberts working at a remove from the month-in-month-out conversation, there does seem to be an open slot. Who do you think will step in?