OK, we’ve doled out the Glass Eyes for the best comics and original graphic novel of 2009 (click here to see those awards), so now it’s time to turn our attention to the people who craft those works. We only have another four more Glass Eyes to award, to the best writer, artist, colorist and cover artist of the year.
Caveat time: Readers should bear in mind these picks are just personal preferences. There’s no way for one person to read all the industry has to offer in a given year, even if writing about comics is one’s job (which it ain’t in this case). Furthermore, these choices are based in part on what I remember as the strongest work of the past year, and my memory isn’t perfect. Finally, some may notice a bit of disconnect between the picks for the best creators and the works mentioned in the first part of the 2009 Glass Eye Awards. That’s because the picks for the top creators are based somewhat on creators who offered consistently good work through the year.
Best Artist: The entry on my short list for this category is actually two names, as these artists work so closely together and boast such similar styles that either name attached to a project is enough to grab my attention. Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon worked on an interesting variety of projects in 2009, including Umbrella Academy: Dallas, B.P.R.D.: 1947 and Daytripper; these Brazilian artists never disappoint, and they really merit an even higher profile than they enjoy already. Roger Langridge has been cartooning for some time, even doing work for Marvel in recent years, but it was his work on The Muppet Show from Boom! Studios in 2009 that really made people take notice of his artwork. His reinterpretation of the iconic Muppets was true to the originals but still boasted a different, organic approach to the characters. His page and panel layouts also allowed him to adapt the TV sketch comedy of the original TV show for the comics medium surprisingly well.
2009 was also a significantly important year for artist Amanda Conner, whose work with DC’s super-heroines — in Wednesday Comics, Power Girl and Terra — really allowed her to shine. She brings such energy, personality and fun to every project she works on, not to mention cheeky or titillating qualities as well. Meanwhile, artist J.H. Williams III earned plenty of admiration for what he did over in another DC title in 2009. His panel layouts and demonstrations of versatility in his style on the Batwoman serial in Detective Comics merit those kudos (though those of us who saw his work on Promethea earlier in the decade certainly aren’t surprised).
But my pick for the best artist of 2009 goes to a man who wrote and illustrated one of the best graphic novels of the year and still found the time to illustrate one of the best issues of DC’s Jonah Hex. Darwyn Cooke wowed us with his storytelling on The Hunter, especially with how he’d shift narrative approaches from chapter to chapter in the book. What’s amazing about Cooke is how he explores such mature and dark so successfully with a simpler, even cartoony style. He can say so much with an assembly of just a few lines and shapes.
Best Writer: It was an important and successful year for Mark Waid, not only because his influence as editor-in-chief was finally being felt at Boom! Studios, but because he delivered such interesting work in the form of Irredeemable, Incorruptible and some of the best story arcs on the almost-weekly Amazing Spider-Man from Marvel Comics. I haven’t read his Strange mini-series from Marvel yet, as I’m waiting on the trade, but I do plan to check it out. While I haven’t been all that taken with the plotting in Reborn, I have to admit that Ed Brubaker stood out as one of my favorite writers of the year. His stints on Captain America and Daredevil remained strong, and of course, his best work of the year could be found under Marvel’s creator-owned Icon banner, with the deliciously noir Incognito and Criminal: The Sinners.
One can’t deny that the year — not to mention the entire decade — was a good one for writer Grant Morrison. His wrap-up of Final Crisis kept us talking for months, he rejuvenated DC’s Batman franchise with a new premise in Batman and Robin, and he returned us to a surreal world of semi-retired super-heroes in Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye. But when it comes right down to it and I have to pick my favorite writer of the year, I have to go with Roger Langridge, and the reason is quite simple: he had me giggling like an idiot out loud in my own home. His work on his various Muppet Show comics was outstanding, and he merits the Glass Eye in this category for his Swedish Chef dialogue alone.
Best Colorist: Speaking of The Muppet Show comic, Langridge was aided a great deal in that title’s success by the bright, cartoony tones provided by Digikore Studios. The tones of the various Muppets’ “skins” was vital in convincing the audience that this was a faithful facsimile of the characters we all watched on TV so many years ago. Paul Mounts also did some great work in 2009, not only bringing eerie tension to the visuals in Marvel’s Reborn, but brighter tones. His standout work of the year was on Amanda Conner’s linework; he especially did well in maintaining a bright and energetic tone on her Supergirl strip in Wednesday Comics by adapting the color art to the duller, lower-quality paper of the newsprint.
Alex Sinclair also had a great year. He’s clear DC’s go-to color guy for major projects; among his 2009 credits were the Neil Gaiman/Andy Kubert “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” two-part story and Batman and Robin. But perhaps the most obvious evidence of the strength of his color work can be found in Blackest Night. The colorful, eerie glow of emotions emanating from the characters served as a great visual that helped to define the event and made the plot more memorable. But the colorist who offered the most consistently amazing work in 2009 might be the busiest one in the business. Dave Stewart made a major contribution to the visuals of Cooke’s work on Jonah Hex #50, enhances J.H. Williams’s Batwoman work and establishes the eerie atmospheres of the various titles set in the Mignola-verse. He’s demonstrated time and time again that he’s an innovator, and that was apparent in his output in 2009 as well. That earns him my nod as the best colorist of the year and a Glass Eye Award.
Best Cover Artist: Dave Johnson’s always among the best cover artists of any given year as of late, and 2009 was no exception. For a while, he was best known for his covers for 100 Bullets, but that series came to a close in 2009. Other efforts stood out as well, including his illustrations for the covers of The Mighty and various Mignola-verse titles from Dark Horse Comics. Meanwhile, other than his work on the long-delayed Planetary #27 last year, artist John Cassaday continued to move away from regular comics illustration and focused more on cover art. His photorealistic style suits cover art, and he offered some strong images in 2009, not only for the cover of the Planetary issue, but for Irredeemable, S.W.O.R.D. and various comics from Dynamite Entertainment.
Some of the most striking covers I saw in 2009 came late in the year, and they were the result of a strong collaboration between a designer and an artist: Rian Hughes and Salvador Larroca. Hughes completely overhauled the look of Invincible Iron Man with a new design approach that was simple, conveyed the high-tech nature of key plot elements and incorporated Larroca’s art perfectly. As strong as that collaboration was, though, my pick for the best cover artist of 2009 goes to a relative newcomer to the world of mainstream comic art, and that’s Yuko Shimizu. Her cover images for DC/Vertigo’s The Unwritten were reminiscent of the style of Yoshitaka Amano. Now, the clearly Asian influences in her cover artwork didn’t really jibe with the content of the book, but they did connect with the magical elements and the dark, tense tone of the plot. They also did an excellent job of standing out against the backdrop of countless of other comics on store shelves.
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