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CSBG Archive

Top 25 Black Comic Book Artists #10-1

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Here are the top ten artists that you voted as your favorites of all-time.

10. George Herriman

As noted in his entry in the Top Writers countdown, George Herriman produced Krazy Kat for three decades, one of the most acclaimed comic strips in the history of the medium. Working with a basic concept that seemed almost TOO simple (Krazy Kat swoons over Ignatz Mouse, who attacks Krazy Kat all the time with bricks and Offisa Bull Pupp tries to arrest Ignatz and protect Krazy), Herriman came up with some of the most innovative strip ideas that you could ever imagine. His offbeat artwork fit this surrealistic world perfectly. Here are some sample strips…

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Krazy Kat was one of the first comic characters to be animated and he was an immense visual influence on the world of cartoons.

9. Keith Pollard

Like Arvell Jones, who showed up earlier in the countdown, Keith Pollard was one of a group of notable comic book artists who came out of the Detroit area, following in the footsteps of their fellow artist, Rick Buckler, who broke in first as a star artist and then slowly but surely brought his friends along, as well.

Pollard had significant stints on a number of major Marvel titles, from Daredevil to Thor to Iron Man to Amazing Spider-Man (Pollard drew the landmark 200th issue of Spider-Man – Gil Kane, Todd McFarlane, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr., JRjr again and Humberto Ramos is pretty good company to be in for drawing a centennial issue of Amazing Spider-Man) to the Fantastic Four. In fact, Pollard not only drew the 200th issue of Amazing Spider-Man, but also the 300th issue of Thor and the 200th issue of Fantastic Four, including the epic Dr. Doom/Mister Fantastic fight (written by Marv Wolfman, inks by Joe Sinnott)…

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Pollard also had runs on Green Lantern at DC and then returned to Marvel for another run on Fantastic Four and stints on Eternals and Micronauts.

After spending much of the early 1990s drawing all of the characters for Marvel’s Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe Master Edition, Pollard left comics entirely in 1994.

8. Billy Graham

Billy Graham’s start in comics was a fairly unusual one. Soon after he began drawing books for Warren Publishing (he drew at least one story in the first dozen issues of Vampirella), he was hired by James Warren as the company’s art director!

Early in the 1970s, he moved to Marvel, where he was part of the creative team on the launch of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire (Graham inked George Tuska). He continued as either inker or penciler for the next dozen and a half issues, even getting to the point of co-plotting the book during Steve Englehart’s run.

He then became the regular artist on the second half of Don McGregor’s classic run on Black Panther, beginning in the pages of Jungle Action. Here’s some of that work (inked by Klaus Janson)

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He reunited with McGregor in the 1980s on Sabre. He was out of comics, though, by the time that he passed away in 1999.

Go to the next page for #7-4!

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34 Comments

Had to say “Wow, I had no idea he was black” multiple times in that post. Some awesome art there–and Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man is the only one I’ve liked since Jack Cole’s original work.

Keith Pollard sure drew a lot of comics I loved. He had a memorable run on Iron Man including a beautiful issue inked by Alfredo Alcala.

There are some immense talents on this list.

Glad to see Cowan made it as number one. The guy is truly amazing.

I’m with Fraser, this one had a couple of surprises. (Though I don’t know if I’m more surprised that I didn’t know Pollard was from Detroit). Probably the best compliment though.

That Graham art I hadn’t seen, but it’s some really beautiful stuff. And I’ve always loved Bright’s work. Cowan’s Question is one of the all time great runs though.

Like Fraser, I didn’t know all of these creators were black. Anyway,y Keith Pollard is my favorite black artist.

Old… computer… coloring… Pain!

Herriman’s cartooning has always such beguiling charm, even his button eyes can get so expressive! And the relentless experimentation and inventivity.

As the story goes, he was terrified of disappointing readers and get booted from the paper, so he always tried to cram more things and add more levels. Such as giving out for free a second gag strip, a short horizontal one drawn under his main-page strips… which is where the Kat originated under another strip!

Later, he’d crank that to eleven in KRAZY KAT. Many pages are artistic compositions to be taken in slowly, anticipating Eisner’s own “meta-panel” developments. Even the title usually gets a different original typography!

The ever-changing Arizona landscapes could include potted trees, but would retain the props necessary from one panel to the next: an incongruous outdoor couch can morph into a tree trunk, since the cop can still sit on it! Various meta devices would remind us it’s just an ink theater, and literally so when a panel is abruptly framed as if an indoor stage — something maybe comparable to Magritte’s “This is not a pipe”?

Also, after two decades B&W, the KAT sundays went fool-kolor for its 1935–1944 leg. Some are visible full-sized at http://www.georgeherriman.com/

I really had no idea that George Herriman and Matt Baker were black.

Trevor Von Eeden is one of my all-time favorite artists. I highly recommend “The Original Johnson,” his graphic novel biography of boxer Jack Johnson.

That Geoff Johns and Olivier Coipel scene always gets me

I knew Cowan would be ranked No. 1. I would have ranked Pollard No. 2.

The one at number 2? You got to be kidding. Keith Pollard should be there. Have no qualm with Number one though.

Kyle Baker is far and away one of my favorite comic artists (and writers). He’s played with a lot of different styles over the years, and his approach to Truth isn’t one of my favorite examples of his work, but he’s earned enough goodwill from me by this point that he can play around with styles as much as he wants as far as I’m concerned.

The Mad Monkey

March 1, 2016 at 6:22 pm

Although I do agree that Mr. Cowan should be on this list, I don’t agree with him being #1. But, that’s just a personal choice. I’ve never cared for his art style. I do, however, have the utmost respect for everything he’s done for the comic book industry. And, yes, Keith Pollard deserved to be higher on the list. I was just thinking about him a couple days ago. The man who took on the Marvel Universe Handbook (binder format) and knocked it out of the park is the man I would get to be my Art Director if I ever had the opportunity to start a comic company.
For the most part, I think this list is about as Top 10 as it can get (very happy to see Billy Graham get some love). I would have included other highly notable artists, such as Darryl Banks and Paris Cullins, as Honorable Mentions.

M. D. Bright has always been criminally underrated, IMHO. Emerald Dawn was just a gorgeous book, and Bright has always been terrific at doing action that’s both dynamic and smooth. He lays out a great page, does covers that really pop…He’s just terrific. He really understands storytelling, I think.

Jonathan Allen

March 1, 2016 at 7:24 pm

Listen, you can’t talk about Trevor Von Eeden without at least mentioning his groundbreaking work on Thriller for DC. Some day it’s going to get the recognition it so richly deserves, but in the meantime showcasing his babysteps on the negligible Black Lightning does him a real disservice. Show the people what he was capable of at the peak of his powers! His Batman stuff was also among the very best interpretations of the character ever, but forget that Venom thing, for which he only did the layouts (and which, finished by Lopez, looks good, but not at all like Von Eeden) and get yourself a copy of Batman Annual #8 to see the real deal. Better yet, track down the classic Thriller #1-8 to see some of the very best comics of the 80’s…

@Ben Herman

I remember reading histories of Herriman 20 years ago where it was in dispute. He was bi-racial, but that at the time that made made working in the mainstream difficult. So, he ‘passed’ as white and avoided discussion of the subject. So, officially he was white, but in truth he wasn’t. That’s an old memory of mine, so I can’t say how active he was at hiding it, or even denying it.

Great group here. My personal picks would have #1 and #2 in reverse order (same with the writers), but it’s hard to argue with Cowan’s importance as a black artist as well as the sheer awesomeness of his work. As for Kyle Baker, I recently found out that he did some storyboard work for Phineas & Ferb, so he would still be a hero even if he never drew a single comic.

Travis Pelkie

March 1, 2016 at 9:06 pm

I must have read some of the same histories as def, and I certainly had the impression that it wasn’t a definite thing that Herriman was black. I believe what I read said that he may have acknowledged having some African blood, and that his hair was “kinky”, but what I read, anyway, didn’t seem to decide one way or another. If there was something more definite in the last 20 years or so, I haven’t come across it, but I’m not a Herriman scholar either.

He certainly belongs this high on these lists, though, if he was black, mind you.

Jeet Heer’s essay “The Kolors of Krazy Kat” about Herriman’s ethnicity was in Fanta’s collection KRAZY & IGNATZ 1935–1936: A WILD WARMTH OF CHROMATIC GRAVY. (Appropriately, it is the first volume in color.)

See also the articles grouped under http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?tag=george-herriman

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

March 1, 2016 at 11:50 pm

Huh, I never realized Herriman was black (and I see Travis Pelkie has pointed it isn’t that clear-cut). Krazy Kat should dominate any “Top whatever” list it appears in, and I really should get those Fantagraphics editions.

Then again, Denys Cowan is nearly the only artist on this list I knew for sure to be black. I’m probably just bad at this “knowing what people who work in comics actually look like” thing.

Simon, thanks for the links. While my library has a lot of comic strip collections (the early great Thimble Theaters for instance) it doesn’t have any of the Herriman stuff.

Having just finished the Masterworks collection of the 1970s Black Panther, yes, it’s nice to see Graham get some attention.

Jonathan I agree with you the early Thriller run was outstanding, both art and storywise. It’s a shame it didn’t do better.

Is it me or is there no mention of Olivier Coipel anywhere on this list ?

sorry i hadn’t seen the whole list
(runs and hides in shame)

There’s also 500+ KRAZY KAT strips at http://www.comicstriplibrary.org/browse/results?title=1

It’s very early dailies (most of 1916–1919 and 1921–1922), but it’s some of the stuff that’s never been available. (Except for that LOAC ESSENTIALS: KRAZY KAT 1934 from last Previews.)

For the Sundays, I have all the Fanta softcovers and they’re great, with crisp remastered scans and goodies galore. For dipping a toe, the 1930s B&W then FC stuff is better.

Their entire 1916–1944 run of Sundays is also in three hardcover “bricks” for the library market. Bug your librarian!

(P.S.: The site above has also splendid amounts of classic LITTLE NEMO Sundays.)

I’m a fan of all of these artists, but Keith Pollard most of all. I think, mainly, because he drew so many books that I read as a child when I was in my greatest fanboy stage.

I always knew I was in for a good time with Keith Pollard on art.

Olivier Coipel is one of my favorite artists, he makes regular stories feel like big time events.

I always saw Cowan as a bit of a mix between Simonson and Sienkiewicz, which is obviously high compliment. Sadly, I’ve read very little of his work. I’ve never really been into the titles he was on, and it seems odd he never got any major assignments on high profile projects.

But I have been collecting his Question run from dollar boxes, and I’m looking forward to finally reading it one day.

M.D. Bright would have been my number 1, followed by Baker., then Coipel and the rest. James Fry would have made my Top 10, as well.

Good stuff, as always!

I remember buying quite a few Keith Pollard Spider-Man issues way back when they were released. You know, in those dark-age, pre-internet days, when we didn’t know what anybody looked like. Always loved his art.

I feel like I owe Kyle Baker an apology.

When he released his satire of Identity Crisis in Plastic Man, I didn’t care much for it. I thought it was exaggerated and self-righteous. I had a more positive view of Identity Crisis at the time, I thought it was interesting that they had an event that was structured around a murder mystery, instead of a “big” and bland cosmic event. I still had some misgivings about it, but I honestly thought it would herald more “psychological” events.

But pretty soon, I realized Baker was absolutely right. When they had evil Mary Marvel, evil Wonder Dog attacking Marvin and Wendy, the whole dreck that was Cry for Justice, and other such “gems”, I noticed that Baker’s satire had been prophetic. That made me look back at Identity Crisis and wonder how I could have liked it in the first place.

Agreed with Jonathan Allen, the artwork that Trevor Von Eeden did on Batman Annual #8 was amazing.

A decent-sized selection of Von Eeden’s wonderful work, including a few pages from that annual, can be viewed on Michel Fiffe’s blog…

http://michelfiffe.com/columns/trevor_von_eeden/index.html

So much talent here.

The Milestone revival can’t come soon enough.

You should’ve put a more better example of Kyle Baker’s work. This one just ain’t doing him any justice.

I loved Cowan’s work on Question and had him as my #1
Keith Pollard, Billy Graham and Olivier Coipel were also among my picks

I believe Olivier Coipel may be the only black creator who was included in the top 100 from the Christmas 2014 vote
(and I believe Jim Lee was the only asian)

Of course I know the top 2, but those other guys are lost to time for me. Feels good to be considered young in my 30s for once.

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