As the Glass Eye winners for the best comics and graphic novel of 2011 get their pictures taken backstage and get scrummed by the Hollywood media, we ought to soldier on and continue to dole out these imaginary and meaningless awards. The time has come for Eye on Comics to turn its attention to the creators who crafted great comics, whose work was always at the top of our reading piles and who had a great year in 2011.
Obviously, readers should be cognizant of the fact these are just personal preferences based on the material I read through the year and what I recall. Furthermore, my choices are also based in part on how creators fared on multiple issues and/or projects in 2011. Your mileage not only may vary, it definitely will vary. As was the case with the first part of the Glass Eye Awards, I offer several “nominees” in each category with one singled out as the “best” of the short list.
Best Artist: The biggest development in mainstream comics was DC’s New 52 line, and while it was a mixed bag, there was some outstanding work to be found. Coming as little surprise to anyone, J.H. Williams III offered some riveting work. His realistic style is tempered by the surreal, flowing and ghostly elements and atmosphere that mirror the tone of his writing on the book. But really, what sets it apart from other fare even moreso are his inventive panel layouts, often across several double-page spreads. Another artistic standout of the New 52 line was Francis Manapul. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his work since noticing a shift in his style in 2009 with Adventure Comics, but it was with his work on Flash in 2011 where he really started to show us what he can do. His inventive layouts, dense pages, incorporation of text into the artwork and his soft linework all give the series a unique and striking look.
It was a great year for Eduardo Risso, as he reunited with 100 Bullets collaborator Brian Azzarello not once but twice, delivering some powerful work with two engaging limited series. His noir style and intense characters were a perfect fit for Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance, featuring a more driven, angrier incarnation of the Batman, while Spacemen allowed him to flex slightly different artistic muscles. It’s a quieter, more introspective story far less driven by action or more extreme emotions. It’s a subtler book, but his creativity and storytelling shines through all the same. Another artist who shone, albeit under the Marvel banner as opposed to DC< was Chris Samnee. The year got off to a start with, unfortunately, the final issue of Thor: The Mighty Avenger, the all-ages series that really brought his work to the attention of a wider audience, but it wouldn’t be long before we’d get to see more of his simpler, expressive and iconic artwork. He handled the art on Marvel’s main Free Comic Book Day comic (continuing his Thor: The Mighty Avenger work), and then he followed up with several issues of Captain America and Bucky. The World War II stories in the latter title featured darker fare than his previous assignment, but they played to his strengths as an artist.
When it came to narrowing my pick for the best artist of 2011, I have to admit it wasn’t all that difficult. As great as the efforts of the four aforementioned artists (and many others) were last year, no one came close to having the impact Marcos Martin had on his readers. He reminded us of the genius of Steve Ditko with his efforts on Amazing Spider-Man while also showing us what an inventive artist and page designer he could be, and then he deservedly earned critical acclaim with his contributions to writer Mark Waid’s new Daredevil book. One of the most disappointing bits of news late in 2011 was the announcement Martin would be leaving DD, but it was accompanied by the revelation he was working on a new creator-owned book with writer Brian K. Vaughan for Image Comics. I can’t wait to see what Martin has in store for us next.
Best Writer: DC’s promotional efforts for its New 52 line weren’t the only factor that led to such strong sales for the initiative early on. In select instances, the storytelling bolstered properties that once saw much weaker sales, and some of my picks for the best writer of 2011 were responsible for that strong storytelling. Grant Morrison breathed new life into Superman in Action Comics by revisiting his origins as a rebel and outsider, and with the Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! one-shot, he gave us another taste of what he’d done in the scuttled Batman Inc. series and what he’ll offer in the second volume in 2012. He also wrapped Joe the Barbarian, dazzling his fans with a reminder of the unusual and challenging things he can do with his original ideas. Jeff Lemire also contributed to the New 52, following in Morrison’s footsteps by delivering a mature, surreal and critically acclaimed take on Animal Man. Furthermore, his more basic, action-oriented plots for the new Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. are elevated with his Warren Ellis-esque sci-fi ideas and scripting. Of course, he’s still maintaining his credibility as an indie-flavored, oddball writer/artist with his creator-owned Sweet Tooth series from DC/Vertigo.
Speaking of Vertigo, writer Scott Snyder continues to please a niche audience with American Vampire, and while I didn’t follow that book, I certainly see what he has to offer his audiences on a couple of other titles. His “Court of Owls” storyline in the new Batman series has brought a novel new idea to the Dark Knight’s world, but more importantly, I’m enjoying his exploration of Gotham City’s culture as one of politics, avant-garde architecture and conspiracy. He’s also reinvented Swamp Thing as something more akin to a traditional super-hero story adorned with the horror-genre elements we’ve come to expect from the property. Now, the writers I’ve mentioned so far have contributed to the New 52 line, but the next writer on my list has his own line all to himself. Mike Mignola, both on his own and with co-writers, consistently crafts great comics in his own “Mignola-verse.” All of his brands — Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson — stand out as thoroughly entertaining comics, and while he owns them all, he’s adept at finding collaborators to add their own unique flairs.
My choice as the best writer of the year is another one who’s reinvigorated a property with DC’s New 52. Brian Azzarello‘s darker take on Olympian gods and myth in Wonder Woman has really helped to set the property apart from different interpretations and made people take notice of it moreso than they have in recent years. Furthermore, as I’ve noted before, he set the bar impossibly high for other contributors to DC’s Flashpoint even/brand with Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance. And even better, he’s offered up a novel take on the blue-collar worker and a biting commentary on celebrity culture with his creator-owned Spaceman.
Best Colorist: There’s always some great work unfolding in the pages of black-and-white comics; I never miss an issue of The Walking Dead or whatever Terry Moore is up to, for example, but there’s no denying colorists add a lot to the storytelling in the medium as well. Techniques have changed radically in the past couple of decades, so computer coloring is the norm. Colorists add texture, enhance the mood and even provide some of the art in the form of glowing energy or hazy auras and the like. Justin Ponsor did some solid work for Marvel Entertainment. He brought some crisp, vibrant tones to such titles as Ultimate Spider-Man and the new Captain America series. He’s well suited to enhancing the linework of artists with detailed styles. Jose Villarrubia is well respected as one of the industry’s top coloring talents these days, and for good reason. I liked the ghostly but bright colors he brought to bear in Captain Atom to convey the title character’s unstable but powerful nature, and conversely, he used flatter, darker tones on such titles as Sweet Tooth, Secret Avengers and Frankenstein in keeping with the darker, edgier or weirder elements in those books.
Dave Stewart was another in-demand colorist, as is usually the case. He’s always busy working on Mignola’s Hellboy comics and various spinoff titles. He did lovely, moody work on Joe the Barbarian, but I’d have to say his best work of the year was on Batwoman. He added so much to the melancholy and spectral characters populating that weird and sorrow-filled corner of Gotham City. Alex Sinclair clearly has the respect of people at DC Comics, as he seems to be the go-to colorist for its highest-profile projects. He injected and fun and energy into such comics as Justice League and Green Lantern with some great, over-the-top color effects. Nuance isn’t really his niche, but he adds a lot of power, literal and figurative, to the super-hero comics on which he works.
My choice as the best colorist of 2011 has to go to Brian Buccellato. He did an excellent job with the bright, traditional tones that helped bring the New 52 incarnation of Superman to life, but what really sticks out in my mind was his work on Flash, which he co-writes with artist Francis Manapul. I absolutely loved the soft colors, both warm and cool, he added to the washes Manapul’s been employing his artwork. Together, they’re presenting DC’s Scarlet Speedster has he’s never been seen before. Buccellato’s colors are part of the reasons the super-hero comic looks so non-traditional and fresh.
Best cover artist: We got a couple of rare treats in 2011 in that Mike Mignola illustrated interior artwork for two Hellboy stories, but for the most part these days, his art is limited to covers for his Hellboy and other Mignola-verse comics. Fortunately, those images are so strong, it’s actually enough to tide over us Mignola art fans. His deceptively simple, gothic style manages to convey iconic elements from the story inside each issue and graphic novel while fostering an air of mystery about the stories. Speaking of dark mystery and intrigue, Sean Phillips didn’t break his track record of crafting richly textured, moody paintings for the cover images for his various collaborations with writer Ed Brubaker. The covers for Incognito and Criminal always seem to tell a story on their own.
My pick for the best artist of the year also turns up as one of the “runners-up” for cover artist of the year as well. Marcos Martin‘s cover images for Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil are some of the most memorable in the two titles’ recent histories. He always seems to excel with a less-is-more approach, and his covers always catch the eye, even in a sea of hundreds of other comics on display. Ryan Sook crafted a number of effective and attractive covers, especially late in the year as the cover artist on both DC Universe Presents and Justice League Dark. It’s easy to see why he was selected to those cover assignments in particular, as his realistic style works well with dark, supernatural elements.
But the best cover artist of 2011 is a man who knows so much about what works well for a cover design, he’s got a blog dedicated to critiquing recent comics covers. Dave Johnson offered great work on such titles Batman – Knight of Vengeance, Spaceman, PunisherMAX, numerous Mignola-verse comics and a couple of issues from DC’s Green Lantern family of comics. He has a sense of design similar to Mignola’s, and he’s willing to play it straight and to experiment with silhouette and symbols to achieve the best eye-catching effect possible.
And with that, the 2011 Glass Eye Awards come to a close. Feel free to sound off in the comments about your picks.
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