Best Artists of 2011

To wrap up my 2011 best of lists, I present my 5 favorite artists of the year. Be sure and click on the artwork to get a better view.

5. Chris Burnham

I was first introduced to Chris Burnham in 2010’s Batman and Robin #16, the finale of Grant Morrison’s run on the title. I’ll admit that I wasn’t too keen on his style at first. It wasn’t until this year’s Batman Inc. #4 that Burnham really got to spread his wings and show what he was capable of. Burnham’s style shares a lot with that of Frank Quitely, another frequent Morrison collaborator and one of my all time favorite artists. Burnham has been mysteriously absent in the New 52. He was slated to do a batch of covers for Stormwatch but those have yet to materialize. I can only assume that he is hard at work on the last chapter of Morrison’s Batman epic and greatly look forward to seeing more of his work in the coming year.

4. Francis Manapul

Francis Manapul began the year as just the artist on DC’s the Flash, but by the end of the year he had become both writer and artist. After a myriad of delays in the Flash earlier in the year I doubted Manapul’s ability to handle a monthly series all by himself, even with the help of collaborator Brian Buccellato. My fears were put at ease once I had the first issue of the relaunched Flash book in my hands. Not only was the writing well done, but Manapul’s art was better than ever. It takes a writer/artist in the vein of Jack Kirby to truly blend art and story-telling in a way that the product is greater than the sum of its parts, and that is exactly what Manapul is accomplishing.

3. Jerome Opeña

I’ve spoken before about how amazing Uncanny X-Force has been this year, and a major part of the reason is Jerome Opeña. His style is incredibly detailed and life-like, but it carries a whimsical darkness that fits the tone of the X-Force perfectly. He isn’t just drawing a comic, he’s putting down new worlds on the page, ones that seem like they could really exist. If I were to compare his art to movie visual effects, it would rank as high as The Lord of the Rings and Avatar. Some books thrive under certain writers or artists and while Rick Remender’s plots are amazingly strong, the book just isn’t the same when Opeña isn’t drawing it. I hope to see a lot more of Opeña’s work in the future.

2. J. H. Williams III

What can I say about J. H. Williams III? His work transcends the medium for which it is done, existing as a true work of art while at the same time telling a story. Williams has truly become the master of the double page spread. Many balk at the use of double page spreads in comic books, claiming it is an excuse for the writer to “run down the clock”, if you will, when it comes to story telling. However, as is the case with Manapul, Williams is a writer/artist who seamlessly blends art and story. I’ve said it before and I will say it here now, Williams is perhaps the most innovative artist in the comic book industry today.

1. Francesco Francavilla

My favorite ongoing book of the year was the Black Mirror/Skeleton Key storyline in Detective Comics and my favorite writer was Scott Snyden, who penned said story. It is only fitting that my favorite artist of the year was involved with that story as well. Francavilla was specifically involved with the James Gordon Jr. storyline which began as a back up feature but then grew as the story progressed. I can’t exactly express what it is about Francavilla’s art that I like so much. All I can say is look and enjoy. As creepy as Snyder made Gordon Jr., it was Francavilla that sold it. Nothing at all against Jock, whose art I also admire, but I don’t think Snyder’s story would’ve come off nearly as well as it did without Francavilla backing him up. Francavilla also did some outstanding work over at Marvel in Black Panther and Captain America and Bucky. Next year Francavilla will be writing and drawing his creator-owned Black Beetle character in Dark Horse Presents and is lined up to reunite with Scott Snyder on Swamp Thing. Every once in a while an artist comes along whose name on a cover is enough for me to pick up a book. Francesco Francavilla is one of those artists.

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