Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dork Awards 2010: Best Artist

Arguments abound over whether writing or art is more important to the creative success of a funnybook, and, much like politics, the industry tends to swing back and forth on a pendulum between the two extremes. We’ve been very much experiencing a decade of the writer in the last ten years, a sharp response to the decade of the artist we went through in the 90s. It’s always going to come back to the writing for me in the end, but honestly… I think it really takes good writing and good art to make a true funnybook classic. And tonight, we honor the artistic side of that equation with the Dork Award for…

Best Artist

Frazer Irving

Irving has a truly unique style, one that combines rock-solid cartoon realism with a love of inventive camera angles and a lush coloring sensibility that gives his line-art the feel of something painted. His primary work this year came on Grant Morrison’s Batman, with both the “Pilgrim Batman” issue of Return of Bruce Wayne and the closing story arc of Batman and Robin under his belt.

Michael Avon Oeming

Oeming is among the most dynamic artists working in comics today. His character designs are strong and contemporary, and he has a free, fluid line that seldom gets out of control. But his best feature is layout and page design. Panels careen around the page, as kinetic as the action they’re depicting, and his absolutely fearless use of black space is uncannily appropriate, hanging voids over oppressed characters and setting off important story points with seeming ease. Powers is his best work on this front, and is seldom less than stunning to look at.

JH Williams III

JH Williams has always been a favorite of mine, but in recent years -- specifically, since his work on Promethea with Alan Moore -- he’s risen to the level of one of the all-time great funnybook stylists. Reading his work (which, this year, has primarily consisted of the excellent Batwoman strip), I finally know how it must have felt to read Jim Steranko’s work in the late 60s.

Eric Powell

A lush illustrator of the Frank Frazetta school on the one hand, Powell also takes inspiration from more straight-up cartoony artists, a combination that makes his work unique. This year, his two major works each concentrated on one half of that equation: the very cartoony Chimichanga, and the sword-and-sorcery mini-epic Buzzard.

Dave Stewart

A dark horse entry into this race, Stewart gets the nod not for his pen-and-ink artwork (which is nice), but for his work as a colorist. Of course, saying that Stewart is a colorist is kind of like saying that Shakespeare was a writer. It’s technically accurate, but really doesn’t convey the talent at work. Stewart’s hues greatly enhance any book he works on, but this year I was specifically blown away by his work over JH Williams on Batwoman, Eric Powell on The Goon, and the team of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon on Daytripper.

Darwyn Cooke

Cooke is another cartoon realist and superb stylist. But unlike Mike Oeming, whose work has a cutting-edge feel, Cooke is old-school in his approach. You’ll get interesting camera angles from him, but his layout is very meat and potatoes, and his storytelling instincts rock-solid.

And the winner is…

JH Williams III!

Williams’ inventive layouts, ability to draw in any number of different art styles, and most of all his talent for choosing images that convey so much more meaning than what’s written on the page, all combine to send him home with the Dorky. More than anyone else in the last couple of years, I felt like Williams was pushing the boundaries of comics art forward. It’s always exciting to see such innovation at work; the last time I felt like this about an artist, it was Howard Chaykin on American Flagg in the 1980s. Chaykin invented a whole new set of storytelling tools on that book, tools that have since been absorbed silently into the way comics artists (and writers) work. I’d love to look back in 20 years and be able to say the same thing about JH Williams.

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