There's a difference between critics and reviewers, although the two overlap quite a bit, especially when it comes to comics commentary. But when trying to discern the difference between the two, one rule of thumb is how visually adept the writer is in discussing the comics work under discussion as a whole.
Often many paragraphs will be spent rhapsodically recounting the writer's brilliant wordplay and plotting acuity, recounting the intricacies of the plotting and celebrating the wit and energy that shine through in the dialogue. Finally, and almost certainly often as an afterthought, the review will throw a bone to the artist, often with trite, cliched observations that tell the reader little more than that the reviewer doesn't have even a beginning grasp on the visual language of comics.
I'm sure I've been guilty of such hackneyed, facile dismissals myself on many occasions, and I regret each and every one. Being a comics artist is perhaps one of the most solitary and difficult careers one can imagine, and the rewards are hardly commensurate with the level of committment one must possess to have even the most rudimentary of successes in the field. The very least we as critics owe them is a relevant and intellegent discussion of their effort.
"Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures," writer Harvey Pekar once noted; in the very best comics, those words and pictures are holistically united to give the reader a complete experience of the work that at least momentarily makes them forget that they're looking at words and pictures; instead, they've transcended the elements of comics and are immersed in what seems like a genuine life experience filled with drama, passion, laughter, sadness, sensuality, or whatever it is that the creator or creators wants them to feel.
The very best cartoonists -- those who do it all, write, draw, letter and maybe colour the work -- are the ones best able to integrate such holistic principles into their comics work. They have an instinctive understanding of the interrelationship between the words and the art and use all their creative power and understanding of craft to make the two work seamlessly together to create a complete and complex interaction that approximates genuine life experience with all the emotion and power that suggests.
But separate from the writing, comics is a visual artform like no other, with its own rules, language and currency. In this article, I want to look at some of the artists whose work has most impacted on my perceptions and expectations of comics art over the past three decades. I want to show you what I see in their very best work, and my hope is that you'll seek out some of their comics and graphic novels and see if you don't begin to understand why I think these are ten of the greatest artists ever to work in the medium of comics.
Notes: Clicking on the image accompanying each entry will open a new window with a larger image. Click the link at the end of each entry for even more art by each creator. Thanks to Comic Book Galaxy's Chris Allen for suggestions and input during the creation of this article.
#10 -- Jaime Hernandez
For a couple of decades, readers of Love and Rockets have good-naturedly divided themselves into "Jaime fans" and "Gilbert fans," in the same way that Beatles fans are either "John fans" or "Paul fans." The point of view of a particular creator within the group gives you entry into their mutual efforts, but deep down you have a special affection for the work of one of the creators over the others. And yeah, "George fans," would be "Mario fans," I guess.
The thing that excites me most about any new issue of L&R is the writing of Gilbert Hernandez, but the artistic development of Jaime Hernandez has been a wondrous thing to behold. Clearly the brothers share influences, but their styles are instantly discernable to the practiced eye, and over the years Jaime's style has become more and more economical to the point now where he can express a myriad of emotions with just a perfect line here, one there, and voila, comics! A thing of beauty.
This is not to disparage Jaime's writing, which I enjoy very nearly as much as Gilbert's; Maggie and Hopey were formative companions on my journey into the wider universe comics has to offer, and the subtle seasoning their relationship has achieved after all these years is a wonder to behold every time we get a glimpse of them in the current L&R series.
But at the heart of it, my love for Jaime's work is visual; the way he splashes black around on the page and creates entire moods, set pieces and universes of passion and enchantment. He makes it look so easy, as if anyone could do it, but only he can. His people, places and things interact in his comics in a way that seems both highly stylized and as real as the street where I live. That's the sort of talent that comes from living a life and having the passion and intellect to commit one's self to a lifetime of translating what you see and feel into a form others can fully immerse themselves in, and therefore fully understand. In Jaime Hernandez's case, the end result is comics at the purest, featuring genuine people doing things we can imagine are really happening, in ways we could never have imagined.
Recommended: Locas (hardcover; to be published Fall, 2004); Love and Rockets Vol. 2 (ongoing comic book series)
#9 -- Frank Quitely
Warren Ellis has said "People dislike [Quitely's] art because he draws people as they are, not as we want them to be." I'm sure Ellis meant "People who dislike his art," because most people seem to like it. I know I do.
My first exposure to Quitely was a spinoff issue of The Kingdom focusing on Plastic Man's son, The Offspring. His style perfectly suited the pliable, rubber-faced characters within, but he also imbued the father and son with a depth of humanity entirely in keeping with the somber nature of the story's plot, essentially involving the end of the world.
Quitely's career high to date was probably The Authority, where he brought life to Mark Millar's over-the-top reinterpretation of the series in the wake of Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch's departure. Quitely preserved the sense of scale and pacing that Hitch established, but he added a seedy, decadent feel that once again meshed perfectly with the scripts he was illustrating. With deceptive ease Quitely imbues his superheroes with a sense of power and arrogance, the apotheosis of which remains his Authority #13 cover.
Quitely has the ability to make the most wild conceits seem real, from the bizarre worlds created in Grant Morrison's Flex Mentallo to the ingenius variety of freaks, weirdos and oddities Morrison pumped into his New X-Men storylines. Perhaps it's the extraordinary detail he puts into his best work; perhaps it's the perfect sense of scale and perspective Quitely utilizes, perfectly arranging his characters within an utterly convincing three-dimensional space. Or, perhaps it's just as Ellis says -- Quitely draws the world and its inhabitants as it really looks, with minimal exaggeration or distortion -- without sacrificing the sense of enormity needed to make you believe a man can fly, or cast reality changing magick sigils, or grow to giant size only to have his legs cut off out from under himself. Whatever it is that makes his art so compelling, he makes every project worth waiting for. And when you're a Frank Quitely fan, waiting is a part of the package. But the final product is almost always worth it.
Recommended: The Absolute Authority Vol. 2 (hardcover); JLA: Earth 2; New X-Men Vol. 1-2 (hardcover)
#8 -- Wallace Wood
I think the first Wood art I ever saw was in a 1976 issue of All-Star Comics, where his inking totally dominated young pencilers like Ric Estrada and Kieth Giffen, in service to mind-bending stories reviving the Justice Society of America on an alternate world where Superman, Green Lantern and The Flash were greying icons of a previous era and hot young heroes like Power Girl (Superman's cousin on this strange new world) and The Star Spangled Kid were joining up with all these alternate old heroes. Even at the age of 10, Wood's art was captivating -- looking back on that exciting, if more naive era now (as Movie Poop Shoot's Scott Tipton recently did), I see that Wood was, deliberately or not, evoking the look of decades previous, especially in his portrayal of Superman; as Tipton points out, Wood was clearly trying to bring Joe Shuster's original design to mind, giving the stories verisimilitude for older readers and suggesting a world of exotic artistic possibilities for younger ones. In retrospect, discovering Wood's lush, highly stylized art was a formative experience in my then-developing sense of what is possible in comic art.
My appreciation of Wood reached its apex with the serialization of The Outer Space Spirit in Denis Kitchen's 1980s Spirit reprint magazine. There I saw Wood illustrating science fiction environments filled with all-too-human protagonists and their shifty enemies. From there I was only too ready to begin exploring Wood's EC art of the 1950s, his brief but glorious Daredevil run (some of the most beautiful Marvel comics ever created), and even his witty, naughty adult comix of the late 1970s.
Wood died by his own hand a couple of decades ago. Whatever demons haunted him, and anecdotally it appears they were many, he left behind a legacy of comic art that will be studied and appreciated for centuries. Whether it was prehistoric dinosaurs, socially revelant suburban horror stories, or slam-bang '60s superheroes, Wood could do it all -- and he did.
Recommended: The Outer Space Spirit; Marvel Masterworks; Daredevil Vol. 1 (hardcover)
#7 -- Darwyn Cooke
From Batman: Ego to Catwoman to DC: The New Frontier (and a few Marvel one-shots, fill-ins and mini-series in-between), former animator Darwyn Cooke has proven himself fully schooled in the less-is-more school of comic art, refining his style so that a minimum of linework expresses a maximum of emotional power and dramatic punch.
His joyous scenes of Catwoman (in the criminally-underappreciated first four issues of that title with writer Ed Brubaker) in motion across the skies of Gotham City, fearlessly leaping between the monolithic landmarks of the night on her way from adventure to adventure, that's where I first fell in love with Cooke's style. Clearly working in the mode of such classic comics stylists as Alex Toth and Jack Kirby, Cooke adds a flair for '50s retro kitsch into the mix, giving his pages a freewheeling confidence and a charming, unashamed hipness. It's an addictive mix of styles and motifs that are at once classically comforting and thrillingly modern.
Cooke's body of work isn't large yet, but it is undeniably impressive. His four wondrous issues of Catwoman, thrillingly gorgeous Catwoman: Selina's Big Score, and most recently the mammoth and massively entertaining New Frontier have been note-perfect in their depictions of flawed heroes, sexy dames, and a tactile respect for the greatest traditions of comics art. Lately he has interjected more and more of a Jack Kirby influence, not aping Kirby's Cosmic Dotz or square kneecaps, but rather seeking inspiration from the man who understood the visual elements of boy's adventure comics perhaps better than anyone else who ever lived.
In New Frontier and other works, Darwyn Cooke makes the decades-old icons of the comics corporations fresh and new again, and at this late date, that's no mean feat. True students of comic art recognize Cooke's stuff for the treasure that it is, and gobble it up like the sweet, nutritious candy that it is.
Recommended: Catwoman: Selina's Big Score ; Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street; DC: The New Frontier; Batman: Ego
#6 -- R. Crumb
Crumb's work took me many years to warm up to -- it was probably David Lynch's name as producer on Terry Zwigoff's brilliant film Crumb that got me into the theater to see the man's life story, and to begin a deeper appreciation of his singular contribution to comics. His increasing willingness to explore his own life and obsessions over the decades may also have played a role in my ever-growing admiration of his body of work; his earliest comics, while entertaining in their own right, often were funny and even inspired but did not speak to Crumb's at-times melancholic view of the world and his place within it. A darkness has descended over his observations over the years, and that darkness has infiltrated the man's artwork -- as a friend recently noted to me, his early bigfoot-style characters have surrendered to Crumb's obsessive crosshatching, which in some artists' work serves to mask their inability to depict the world. In Crumb's case, his crosshatching serves to define the world as he sees it, with a master artist's flawless accuracy that cannot be denied.
Crumb's comics are distinctly and uniquely his own, and passionately and neurotically human. His enormous body of work has been collected to date in well over a dozen editions of The Complete Crumb Comics from Fantagraphics, collecting all his work, and they're still about 15 years behind. He's prolific enough that one wonders if they'll ever really be able to catch up to him. That Crumb has retained his copyright on most (if not all) of his art points up one of the enormous benefits of creative freedom -- he's able to reach agreement with one publisher to gather a lifetime of comics under one title, and it happens. Students of Crumb's art -- and really, we all should be just that -- are privileged to see the evolution of his style in these volumes, and while I find the most worthwhile and visually arresting works in Crumb's later efforts, it's all historically valuable and worthy of your attention.
The books themselves offer among the most complete insights you'll ever see into the creative process of a cartoonist, the decades of growth into Crumb's current, certain confidence that you want to know every worry, every perversion, every amusement and every rage that posesses him. Crumb's cartoons, at their best, set free his id on the page to embrace all that is alive and not always well within him, the personal and the political dancing around each other in some stories, perfectly blending in others. Whether it's the dumbing down of America or the acceptance of one's own sexual needs as life-changing revelation, Crumb has always been decades ahead of the rest of the world, both heralding and spurring change, sometimes for the better, always for the unexpected.
Crumb's art has changed over the decades, as he has experimented with different tools and different looks. His line seems both nervous and confident, his depictions of America's overgrown, undernourished cities so completely reflective of our experience that they seem more real than what we really see. His fascination with women is legendary, and his lust for certain types of women demonstrates a unique ability to make you understand and feel his own particular predilictions -- in a way I don't think any other cartoonist has ever quite achieved.
His range as a cartoonist and chronicler of life experience is profound, from the pithy philosophies of Mr. Natural to his more naturalistic autobiographical material, to his very recent comics journalism in the pages of The New Yorker in concert with his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb. In these later years, his piquant, sardonic and sometimes resigned observations are often leavened by his love for his wife and daughter, but his gift has sharpened and refined itself so that Crumb, the man, is always present in the work -- a comforting and wiser presence that guarantees that ultimately, whatever the subject, the truth will be told here. That is the promise and the lure of Crumb's work, and we should be profoundly grateful that that is so.
Recommended: The Complete Crumb Comics (all volumes); Art and Beauty Magazine #1-2; Gotta Have 'Em (hardcover art book)
#5 -- Barry Windsor-Smith
In 1999, while working for an all-news radio station that doesn't exist anymore, I contacted Barry Windsor-Smith about his then-new hardcover art book Opus. I had been amazed by the quality of the book, and knowing Windsor-Smith's studio was only an hour's drive from the radio station, I was able to arrange an in-person interview at his studio. It goes without saying this was one of the most exciting moments of my life, but as I talked to Barry about comics amid the thousands of dollars in amazing originals that hung on his studio walls, it dawned on him that I knew more about the subject than the average radio news guy probably would. As the lightbulb metaphorically popped on over his head, he said to me, more than a little tongue-in-cheek, "My God, you're a fucking fanboy!"
I don't think I've ever told this story on Comic Book Galaxy before, but now's as good a time as any, as it serves to explain why anything I say about Barry's art must be understood through the filter of knowing that I became friends with Barry that day, and my although my love of his art began years before we ever met, I can hardly be considered a disinterested observer when it comes to what he has contributed to comics art: Grace. Beauty. Elegance. Wit. Intelligence. And always, the unexpected.
Barry's art first gained attention in the U.S. when he began drawing for Marvel Comics in the 1960s. He started out as an energetic and convincing student of the Jack Kirby style, but quickly evolved, and on his best and most singular effort at Marvel, Conan the Barbarian, he paradoxically took on the chores of adapting the decades-old tales of a pulp fiction writer and created within that context one of the most visually arresting and personal works Marvel has ever published.
"Red Nails" is rightly celebrated as a highwater mark for Windsor-Smith's run on Conan; as he recounts in Opus, his life underwent monumental changes during the creation of the story, and from its beginning to its end you can almost see Barry's style begin to evolve, becoming ever more complex and intricate, ever more gorgeous and seductive, ever more evocative of a time that never really was but should have been. Most significantly of all, you can see him let go of the comics traditions he had been following, and you can see the very beginning of his growth into one of the most recognizable and inimitable comics artists of the past forty years.
He's done so much to revolutionize comic book artwork that it's hard to know what, exactly, to focus on. I personally think the most personal and affecting expression of Windsor-Smith's art and soul was on the tragically cut-short series BWS: Storyteller. Within its pages he took free reign to tell the stories he wanted to tell, in precisely the way he knew they should be told. High comedy, eerie, off-kilter science fiction and high adventure were all to be found within each and every issue of the series; Barry did virtually everything on the book, and what he didn't do, he closely oversaw to make sure it met his exacting standards. His willingness to experiment within the three features the book carried was something to behold. One issue saw a lead character move into The Jetsons' living room. In another story, the plot wasn't working out, so BWS injected himself as a character and talked it over with the cast until things were settled more in the right direction.
The oversized pages of Storyteller were the perfect showcase for Windsor-Smith; any artist would be envious of the generous, ad-free format and thick, glossy paper stock. Barry used it to full advantage, creating vivid worlds of wonder across which his characters romped, stomped and wised off.
You can experience a little of the thrill of Storyteller in the recent Young GODS and Friends volume from Fantagraphics, collecting one of the features from the series along with notes and previously unseen artwork. I'm proud to say I assisted in some small way in the creation of the book, and even prouder of the way it stands in defiance of the stupidest instincts of the comics industry and proclaims its creator's continued, unwavering dedication to doing things his way; because when you're an artist, any other way is just bullshit.
Recommended: Young GODS and Friends; Opus Vols. 1-2; Adastra in Africa
#4 -- Dan Clowes
I can think of few cartoonists whose work has generated as much psychological speculation as Dan Clowes has. Not speculation about himself, necessarily, but about his characters and their true motivations, perceptions, and even, in his most recent work, exactly what it is that his characters have done?
Clowes's art has a fevered discomfort that comes through in the certainty of his line -- many of his characters seem frantic, but the confidence with which his inkwork brings them to life often suggests (correctly or not) a certain contempt for their pathetic concerns. Enveloping all this is the marvelous use of '50s hipster iconography in much of his work, which lends it an ethereal, otherworldly tone even as the words on the page play against that atmosphere with sarcasm and barely-controlled rage.
As a longtime reader of Eightball I have a fixed idea of Clowes's artistic style in my mind, but I have to remind myself just how little that perception reflects the actual reality; certain themes and cues resonate throughout Clowes's artistic body of work, like a long, meandering symphony. But examining his art from issue to issue, from story to story, there's an astonishing variety of mood and method. The stark black and white of Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron is difficult to reconcile, visually or thematically, with the deeply conflicted humanism of Ghost World. The lush, inviting look of David Boring is strikingly at odds with its own text, never mind other stories by the same author; Clowes is large, he contains multitudes.
My favourite art by Dan Clowes is almost always his most recent; I loved the look of "The Darlington Sundays" in McSweeney's #13, which clearly had its visual roots in Eightball #22 and pointed the way to the most recent issue, #23. The story in that issue, "The Death Ray," is a harrowing autohagiography by a lifelong serial killer reflecting on what he believes are his good deeds. Clowes uses varying styles to suggest an unreliable narrator, and subtle colour shifts point up where the truth of the story is most likely to be found. As stories go, it's probably Clowes's most narratively challenging, but much of his intent can be interpreted by careful observation of the shifts in the art; in "The Death Ray" the earth is always moving under your feet, and Clowes the artist is all too happy to disorient the incautious, casual reader.
Of all the artists mentioned here, Clowes is probably the one whose work energizes me most; his writing is intellectually stimulating and viscerally enchanting. His artwork, his design sense, the very details of his line fascinate me in a way that few comics artists ever have. Thankfully his chosen publisher (Fantagraphics) never allows budget restrictions, experiments in technology or inattention to quality to get in the way of the very direct connection between Clowes's artwork and my soul. What you see in any given Clowes project is exactly what he wants you to see; the rest is entirely up to you.
Recommended: Eightball #22-23; Ghost World; Caricature
#3 -- Gil Kane
I probably first noticed his work on Spider-Man; his wide-eyed, drug-addled Harry Osborn, sweaty and lost to the world, remains an icon of comics art in my mind. Kane's long-limbed (and sometimes multi-limbed, as well) Spider-Man would engage in bone-crunching battles with his foes, limbs flying off in all directions, hard-sculpted antagonists nearly wrenched asunder by the force of their blows, ever thrown backward toward the horizon. As inconographic superhero art, Kane's work is indeed in rarified territory, and second only to that of Jack Kirby.
Kane's characters stalked their way through the world, always lunging ahead at the reader, determined and very often grim with the import of their mission. Sure, his '60s DC work, such as his classic run on Green Lantern, was brighter and lighter -- but that was a relic from another era; interesting, sure, but I became addicted to the power of Kane's style in the 1970s and continued to view it with awe and wonder right up until the time of his death. He drew very nearly to the end, and among all the comics artists who have ever lived, he was one of the few who just got better and better and better and better.
Part of that was the struggle. Implicit in his art and explicit in his many interviews was the effort Kane made to always improve his art; to better represent his vision, usually heroic, always extraordinarily powerful and energetic. He was bound to corporate comics, despite efforts at side projects -- he is best known as a superhero artist and always seemed to come back to that.
My favourite Kane story is reprinted in Marvel Visionaries: Gil Kane, from What If? #3. The tale, written by Jim Shooter, posits a team of Avengers all armoured by Tony Stark and locked in conflict with each other and with the Hulk and Sub-Mariner. The story is inked by Klaus Janson, Kane's best inker other than himself, and it fairly explodes with life -- and life-or-death battles -- on every single page.
The passion Kane brought to this story was truly amazing, and the nuance and electricity inker Janson brought forth in his embellishment truly has to be seen to be appreciated. It's probably one of my favourite superhero stories of all time, and almost entirely because of what Kane and Janson managed to accomplish within the context of an almost throwaway gag in what was certainly a throwaway title. Kane's characters could seem cold and distant when he was inking himself, but Janson brought warmth and humanity to the conversational scenes here that contrasted wonderfully with the staggering crunch of the fight scenes. The final moments of the story are about as moving as you can ever imagine a superhero story getting, especially one that purports to be merely an alternate universe, a simple...what if...?
Gil Kane is rightly remembered as one of the greats in comics art, not just for what he wanted to accomplish, but for what he did. He left behind a staggering body of work that reveals, on virtually every page, the towering intellect and singular talent of a true artist always trying to grow out of the parameters of his context, and very nearly always succeeding.
Recommended: Marvel Visionaries: Gil Kane; The Last Heroes (with writer Steven Grant); His Name is Savage
#2 -- Jack Kirby
There's little I could say about the life's work of Jack Kirby that hasn't been said before, and over and above that, who am I to judge what is no doubt the single most impressive achievement of corporate comic art in North American history? When it came to superheroes, nobody did more, or did it better, than Jack Kirby.
Jack Kirby invented American superhero comics; if he didn't, he invented how people think and feel about them. From Captain America in the '40s to romance comics in the '50s to the complete reinvention of comics in the 1960s, Kirby -- probably not even knowing it until much later on -- defined and expanded what it was possible to do in the context of a superhero story. His artwork throughout most of his career did only what it needed to do to tell the story. Perhaps it was his Depression-era upbringing that led to the economy evident on his pages; he didn't use any more than he had to, but what he used was the powerful expression of a unique mind bringing his own spectacular vision of heroism to the page, and to the world. In the real world, superheroes would look nothing like Kirby's square-jawed monoliths -- but Kirby's art provided striking proof that if there ever were superheroes, it would be the world that would have to change to meet his vision, not the other way around.
Kirby's drawings, at the very best, worked on too many levels to count. The big, powerful and often hulking heroes duked it out on colour-splashed vistas that demanded the attention of children. The soap opera elements invited the interest of adults, and the dazzling, almost unearthly page design and figure work fascinated outsiders who instantly saw a true artist working in, of all fields, funnybooks. If Jack Kirby hadn't existed, someone would have had to invent him.
It's one of the great, instructive tragedies of comics that Jack Kirby and his family were never properly rewarded by the industry for his contribution to comics. Literally thousands of people have benefited personally and directly from what Kirby created, from the wealth generated in the motion picture industry to the fortunes made on TV series, action figures, and of course, comic books. Every time his name is celebrated by this or that publisher or creator, I always wonder, will you back that up with action? Will the next big tribute to Kirby's art, a massive hardcover planned by Marvel, result in one dime going to Kirby's heirs?
Anyone with illusions that the corporate comics industry or any company within it will ultimately Do The Right Thing need only look to the disgrace that is the industry's failure to provide even the most basic of rewards for Jack and his heirs. His contribution to comics can no more be overstated than can the contribution of the sun to life here on Earth. He shined just as bright, and he shines still, today -- despite it all.
Recommended: Jack Kirby's New Gods; Jimmy Olsen Adventures by Jack Kirby; The Comics Journal Library: Jack Kirby
#1 -- Bernard Krigstein
There is no artist in the history of comics that I hold in higher esteem than Bernard Krigstein. No other artist understood the inherent potential of the artform better and no other artist ever demonstrated such a grasp of what was needed in order to reach and exceed both his own limits and those of his chosen medium.
As influential as Kirby was on American corporate superhero comics (and others), Krigstein's influence was more profound. Subtle, yes, but generations of artists have seen comics through Krigstein's eyes and come away from that revelation understanding that Kirby, as great and fabulous a creator as he was, was the beginning of understanding. Bernard Krigstein and his battle with his art and with his publishers (particularly EC), represent the maturing and growth of the artform. Out of Krigstein's influence you can trace the artistic struggles of other notable masters on this list, like Gil Kane, like Dan Clowes. You can hear Krigstein's voice whispering in Frank Miller's ear, both in the times of his greatest successes (Batman: Year One), and even -- perhaps especially -- when he falls on his face (The Dark Knight Strikes Again). Anyone who thinks Krigstein holds no dominion over modern comics has not a clue what they are talking about. His influence is everywhere, for those of us who seek out comics made with passion and seeking to express truth.
A study of Krigstein's genius must include careful immersion in his EC work. For it is here where he met his greatest victories, and his greatest struggle. It's my belief that the intersection of these elements created a moment of artistic growth as yet unequaled in comics.
Krigstein has been quoted as saying of that time, "I wanted to edit a book. I wanted to devote one book to a single story." Today it is nearly unthinkable that any qualified artist would be denied this opportunity, but in the 1950s this was unheard of. Despite Krigstein's sublime ability to demonstrate movement through space on the flat surface of his drawing board, despite his magnificent, forward-looking design aesthetic and unique, lovely line quality...he was not allowed to create a single story that could occupy a full issue. In the regressive, oppressive era in which he toiled, it was just too much to ask. No editor or publisher could see past their own limited perception of the industry or even begin to comprehend the progressive vision Krigstein implicitly suggested.
In an era when graphic novels (both real and so-called) are issued on a weekly basis by writers and artists with not even one-tenth of one percent of Krigstein's profound understanding of comics' potential, this is among the greatest crimes the industry of comics has to answer for -- not that it ever will. We should be eternally grateful that Krigstein, despite these obstacles, still gave us "Master Race," "The Catacombs," "Key Chain," and other awe-inspiring works. In almost every one of his best works, you see him playing with the form, experimenting with page design, panel arrangement, and perhaps most famously, subdividing EC's restrictive pre-set panel layouts in order to expand his own storytelling territory within the defined parameters. He was, in a very real sense, a fractal genius of comic art. Where he was not allowed to grow out, he grew inward -- demanding, as a true artist must, that he be allowed to grow in whatever way humanly possible.
In my review of Greg Sadowski's landmark biography B. Krigstein. Vol. 1, I called the artist "perhaps the greatest artist ever to work in comics," and suggested that readers consider him in terms of "Alan Moore, as an artist instead of writer." As the years wear on and my appreciation for what Krigstein left us to consider grows ever stronger, more and more I am certain that comparison was apt.
In the same way that Moore's words and ideas over the past couple of decades revolutionized the standard by which comics would be perceived by both reader and creator, Krigstein overthrew the stagnant visual paradigm American comics had been mired in since its inception early in the century. The vast, unmapped canvas Krigstein's body of work not only suggests but demands still lay primarily before us, unexplored, waiting. The revolution will not be paralyzed.
Recommended: B. Krigstein Vol. 1; B. Krigstein Comics
-- Alan David Doane
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