Art galleries and museums are filled with paintings created by brilliant artists. People come from all over the world to see masterpieces that were painted centuries ago. Creatives like Van Gogh, Picasso, Warhol and Rembrandt have established themselves as famous artists. In the modern day, I’d argue comics have become the masterpieces of our generation. The history of comic art is still relatively new, but there’s been so much innovation.
Tracing the early pioneers
Over the last century, comic art has experienced highs and lows. The beginning of the popularity goes back to 1938, when the American comic book market opened with the launch of Action Comics #1. The introduction of Superman defined the image of a superhero, setting the tone for all the characters that followed. Publishers were able to print original material and the industry thrived until it lost popularity in the 1950s.
During the 1960s, Marvel stepped up its game with a slew of original characters, reestablishing comics as a medium to be taken seriously. Pioneers like Jack Kirby were able to draw art that grabbed people’s attention. Kirby came up with his own distinctive style by disregarding panel borders. For example, a character may have been drawn in one panel, but their arm would extend outside the border. Kirby’s panels overlapped, allowing him to innovate.
In the 1980s, Frank Miller came along with a gritty, realistic style of art that became synonymous with characters like Wolverine and Daredevil. His style was characterised as ‘film noir,’ with one journalist describing Miller’s depiction of Daredevil.
“Daredevil’s New York, under Frank’s run, became darker and more dangerous than the Spider-Man New York he’d seemingly lived in before. New York city itself, particularly Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood, became as much a character as the shadowy crimefighter; the stories often took place on the rooftop level, with water towers, pipes and chimneys jutting out to create a skyline reminiscent of German Expressionism’s dramatic edges and shadows.”
Pioneers like Kirby and Miller could be described as the Van Gogh and Picasso of the comic world. Their art is the kind that will live on.
Modern day masterpieces
Comics are more popular than they’ve ever been and the industry has spawned a variety of talented artists. The likes of Greg Capullo, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Kenneth Rocafort, Dexter Soy and Jim Lee all have unique styles. All of them are worthy of being called outstanding.
Capullo has emerged as the definitive Batman artist. His style has a hyper-realistic touch that makes each panel stand out. His use of light is impressive, especially when it’s combined with a dark cityscape like Gotham.
Comic covers have also evolved into works of art. In my opinion, Stephanie Hans is one of the finest comic covers artists around. Her style incorporates a watercolour effect that renders her subjects in beautiful detail.
Comic art allows for iconic characters like Batman, Superman, Iron Man and Captain America to be immortalised on the page. Without good art, stories like The Dark Phoenix Saga or Batman: The Long Halloween wouldn’t have stood the test of time.
In the future, it wouldn’t surprise me to see comic art treated with the same reverence as paintings. Comic related museums do exist, like the Belgian Comic Strip Centre. There needs to be more of these venues to showcase the work of talented creatives. Having galleries dedicated to people like Kirby, Miller, Moore, Morrison, Simone, Cloonan and Conner will help the next generation appreciate a different kind of art.