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Month of Art Stars: Artist’s Choice – John Paul Leon

Every day this month I’m going to feature the work of a great artist, only instead of me picking the artist to feature, they will be picked by their peers, fellow professional comic book artists who are picking out artists (from the past and present) who they think deserve special attention. Do note that most artists I asked about this gave me multiple answers and I picked out one choice out of a number of suggestions, so these are not definitive answers, like “Artist X likes Artist Y and he thinks all other Artists are terrible!” Here is an archive of the artists featured so far!

Today, we have the pick of Sean Chen, who’s drawn tons of big comics for DC and Marvel Comics over the past decade or so. Most recently, Sean has been drawing Dark Reign: Fantastic Four. Here‘s his studio website.

Sean’s pick is his studio mate, John Paul Leon.

This time around, things are a bit different. Sean will be handling the discussion of John Paul and John Paul himself is sharing sample pages with us!

Here’s Sean…

John Paul Leon’s skill harkens back to the time of the mighty illustrators. He applies that skill along with a complete understanding of the comic art form of storytelling with amazing results.

He is a favorite of many within the comic artist community, probably because only we can truly appreciate how difficult it is to achieve that level of draftsmanship and storytelling. Most readers will
evalute his work based on the superficial “style” and take it or leave it. However, most of what makes him a master of the medium such as storytelling and draftsmanship is less visable to them.

Most artists are only able to achieve realism by piling on surface detail and full tonal gradations. John Paul, however, employs an economy of expressive, gestural lines that manage to accruately capture
a true to life figure.

It’s hard to tell which portions were photo-refrenced and which were conjured from scratch since he has an uncanny ability to depict lifelike figure and scenes. Each scene is informed by his ability to
totally recall moments and details he’s observed in real life, and capture them with simple india ink and brush.

He’s not afraid to build the scene with heavy black areas since he’s adept at maintaining clarity, and an expert at leading the eye to the salient portions of a scene through page/panel design.

He swings with ease from very quiet moments to the larger than life explosive action scenes. In fact some of his best stuff are the quite moments before the action builds to a fever pitch.

“The Wintermen” is so thoroughly reasearched that it invites the reader to totally immerse themselves into the Russian culture mileu and completly blurs the line between historical fact and the farther fetched superhero yarn that spins out of it.

If you’ve ever seen, or are lucky enough to own, one of his convention drawings, you will see that they are far from the ordinary fare. They are one-of-a -kind personal comic vignettes that belong in a frame.

Here is a gallery of John Paul’s work, selected by John Paul himself directly from his personal collection!

First, black and white work

A page from Challengers of the Unknown…

A couple of Ex Machina pages…

A Scalped page…

A page from Tom Strong…

A number of Winter Men pages…

Now some color work

Three DMZ covers…

A recent Static Shock cover…

And finally, a Die Hard cover for Boom!…

Thanks so much to Sean and John Paul for their time and effort!

And Sean’s right, John Paul’s work is amazing.


JPL is one of the most under appreciated (and, for my money, under appearing) artists in comics today, a guy who values substance over flash (I can’t say over style, because his work has plenty of that). Artists who understand that comics are first and foremost a storytelling medium (as opposed to each panel being a mini-gallery exhibition) seem to be increasingly hard to find in the world of big-time, mainstream comics. Leon’s work is a breath of fresh air. Now if only there were more of it.

(And speaking of great ,underrated artists whose work doesn’t appear enough, how about some love for Brian Stelfreeze in a future edition?)

Big fan of John Paul Leon!

I’ve loved John Paul Leon’s work since Earth X.

Tom Fitzpatrick

June 17, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Definitely a GOD among artists.

I’d take his work over Alex Ross’ any day.

Why in the hell didn’t MARVEL have him do the second and third part of the Earth X trilogy is beyond me.
The first part was sooooo way much better than the second and third part put together.

And, one more “John Paul Leon is awesome” comment. :) Challengers of the Unknown was decent with fill-in artists, but it was great with JPL. And he made “Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix” way better than it would probably have otherwise been. Genius.

Wasn’t he going to illustrate one of Warren Ellis’ phantom projects from years back, Black Horses or something like that?That would also have been awesome.

Very much a fan of John Paul Leon. Those inks…! Mmm.

This guy kick ass. He is one of the best in the industry.

you know what…I like JPL but I like Sean Chen more…someone ought to choose him.

I first saw JPL with Static. He’s never disappointed me. How can someone draw New X-men, Earth X, gritty westerns, and Tom Strong and still maintain a coherent style? I want to see him do Archie vs. Judge Dredd. i bet he could pull it off.

I gotta admit I love any artist that knows how to do good photo swiping.

I’ve always liked his work. Good choice

Why did you have to post this today? Now you’re going to drive up the price of his original art just before I was going to buy a piece at HeroesCon? :)

John Paul Leon is absolutely amazing! Someone once asked Brian Stelfreeze what he thought of John Paul Leon’s work. Stelfreeze just barked a short, sharp laugh, shook his head in resignation and said, “Man, that guy’s blowing the curve for EVERYONE.” That says it all.


June 18, 2009 at 11:06 am

John Paul Leon is one of the few artists whose work I pick up regardless of writer (Mike Mignola, Frank Quitely and Paul Pope being among the few others). It never ceases to amaze me how he never seems to catch a break. He is easily one of the top five artists doing work-for-hire today, but unlike the others (JH Williams, Frank Quitely, Michael Lark, Bryan Hitch) he always seems to wind up on fill-ins and series that are cancelled within ten issues. Wintermen was amazing, but it was a sheduling farce.

Why is JPL not on Batman? Or Daredevil Captain America or Wolverine or any of the many books whose quality would multiply tenfold by him doing the art?

The inability of fans and publishers to recognize amazing work when they see it is the biggest reason to worry about the future of the medium.

Well I’m sure it’s more than people going “let’s not use John Paul Leon.” He has the style and fluidity that a lot of writers probably wish their book had, and I doubt that he would not be able to garner praise from just about anyone over 18 if they were exposed to his work.

Oh and I’m glad someone mentioned New X-Men, I remember wishing very badly that he did the whole run.

Why is JPL not on Batman? Or Daredevil Captain America or Wolverine or any of the many books whose quality would multiply tenfold by him doing the art?

Is it possible he doesn’t want to do those books? Maybe he doesn’t want a monthly schedule, or maybe he’s just not interested in the books or the possible alterations he might need to make to his style.

It’s possible there are other standards of success than “drawing Batman.”

JPL can have all my money. I wish he worked more in comics, because he is nothing short of amazing. Wintermen (IMO) is one of the high water marks just for the medium in general.

Here’s a good audio interview with the guy – (http://tinyurl.com/labbf6)


June 18, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Ryan Day: That’s a fair point. As I said, Wintermen was great, and if he could be on a monthly or at least semi-regular book, it doesn’t really matter to me if it’s the big two or creator owned. My point was simply that Leon does what the artist on the top books do, just better. And in this industry, getting to draw the best-selling books and iconic characters is one of the main ways respect is given and success measured, however hackneyed that might be.

Big Two books also pay a lot better then most indys.


Wish I could draw that well.

He’s in my personal pantheon of all-timers with Alex Toth, Garcia-Lopez, Jordi Benet, Sean Phillips, Los Bros Hernandez, Joe Kubert and Sean Phillips (among others).

Oops! I mentioned Sean Phillips twice.

Not a bad thing, tho’.

Leon blows my mind every time. I keep expecting an announcement that he’ll be working with Morrison on something, but it never seems to come. Their issue of New X-Men was my favorite of the non-Quitely bunch. Leon’s Scalped fill-ins have been excellent as well.

I’m clearly missing out by not having picked up Wintermen. Is there a trade out or in the offing? ‘Cause I’ll have to order that. Today.

JPL is the One-Above-All when it comes to negative space and moody dark shadows. This guy is, I don’t know, but it is a wonder to behold.

And high praise from Sean Chen who’s Salvation Run poster is hanging on my wall.

To everybody who reads this – do yourself a favor and go to the ends of Earth if you have to and find The WinterMen. While I’m ordering you all around – on an Image forum somewhere there was a Dr. Doom art challenge – find JPL’s submissions and weep at awesome defined.

@Ian A.

There is a Winterman trade coming out towards the end of the year (December or November on Amazon, I believe, but they usually get theirs a few weeks after the shops.)

Another addition to the list of JPL’s greatest hits: Superman Annual # 4: Year One. It’s a re-telling of Superman’s first meeting with the founding JLA members. Some great stuff and a rare look at how well his stuff translates to big stage superpowered action.

The highest point of being at Fanexpo back in 06 was meeting Sean Chen, Tommy Lee Edwards and John Paul Leon.

Sean Chen was cool, Tommy Lee quirky ( in a very good way) and JP came accross as the guy next door that you have known forever.

I have always loved Sean Chen’s work and JP Leon was just the bee’s knees, but who really blew me away was Tommy Lee Edwards.

I love em all though and got sketches from all 3

Quick head sketch from JP Leon

Quick sketch from Tommy Lee Edwards

and finally one from Sean Chen

[…] Month of Art Stars: Artist’s Choice – John Paul Leon Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources – PeopleRank: 50 – June 18, 2009 …Tom Strong… A number of Winter Men pages… Now some color work… Three DMZ covers… A recent Static Shock cover… And finally, a Die Hard cover for Boom!… Thanks so much to Sean and John Paul for their time and effort! And Sean’s right, John… Cited people : John-Paul Leon  + vote […]

My favorite artist in black and white

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