You know what’s funny? There so so few “best Superman artists” of all time listings online, it’s kind of a crime. I found only two when I searched Google. I mean, there have been hundreds of artists who have drawn the Man of Steel – it’s surprising how little appreciation there is for them. Now of course when most people think of Superman, they think of John Byrne’s seminal Man of Steel series, or perhaps the art of Curt Swan. I found that the Fleischers also ended up on both lists that I found. While I agree with all those choices, the below list (after the jump) is going to be the listing of the artists I have enjoyed the most since I’ve been reading Supes (I was born in 1979), so you’ll find some more recent choices and, I’m sure, some you’ll disagree with. Also, I primarily stuck with comic artists, rather than designers for animated interpretations (with one exception you’ll see). So please feel free to talkback in the comments section below, as I’m sure I’ve missed some of the greats!
The Death of Superman was a huge event during my comic collecting in the 90’s. An event unlike any we’ve seen since. Sure characters have died, and there have been big media pushes. But this was the death of SUPERMAN. It was unprecedented and, at the time, superhero deaths lasted more than a couple of months. Hell, some even stuck. And then there was a break in the series, and of course the four Superman. It really seemed like Superman was gone. One of the artists during this pivotal time in the Man of Steel’s history was Jon Bogdanove. Actually, he was even the initial artist for the series, Superman: The Man of Steel, and one of the main artists when Superman came back with long hair. Bogdanove’s style is unique amongst all the artists on this list. His characters are bulky and cartoonesque, but never feel “fat,” which is hard to do. In addition, his Superman is positively iconic and his villains and monsters seem straight from the pen of Jack Kirby. While Kirby himself isn’t on this list, Bogdanove’s Kirby-inspired visuals, and unique flair made him one of my favorite Superman artists growing up. Though comic art tends to lean away from this type of art currently, I miss his style and would love to see his take on Superman again.
Despite some health related issues that delayed his first big DC work, the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner written “Last Son,” Adam Kubert knocked it out of the park and made every delayed issue of Action Comics worth the wait. From his very first cover (seen above) to some truly stellar visuals inside, Kubert’s art was breathtaking. And while this was during the time in the series where artists were trying to make Clark Kent/Superman look like Christopher Reeve, Kubert managed to keep his Superman looking like a comic book, and not a photorealistic interpretation of Reeves. It doesn’t hurt that “Last Son” is just a damn fine storyline, and features some spectacular action sequences. Adam Kubert would have been in the top 5 for me had he stayed on the title longer.
A lot of folks don’t realize that DC Comics hired Aspen Comics to help boost their sales in the early to mid 2000’s by bringing in their staple of artists to make their books more visually interesting. One of the most popular examples of this collaboration was Superman: Godfall, which featured an amnesiac Superman fighting injustice in the Bottle City of Kandor. While most of the credit goes the Michael Turner for the collaboration, the interior art was actually done by Talent Caldwell. While inspired of Turner, Caldwell was just as strong, and with a stronger ability to make deadlines. While primarily a cover artist now, Caldwell has done some beautiful interior work (including a couple of issues of Spider-Man), and his extra muscley Superman is just an amazing sight. Godfallis out of print now, but if you can get your hands on a copy, it’s a pretty decent read, and well worth it.
If you haven’t read “What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” (recently adapted into animated as Superman vs. the Elite, then you are doing yourself a disservice. Written by Joe Kelly, with art by current Green Lantern artist Doug Mahnke, you get to see a side of Superman you’ve never seen before. Mahnke drew for the Superman titles (primarily Action Comics) right around the time of Our Worlds at War, and was blessed (some would say cursed) with being on the title when Superman changed the yellow on his “S” shield to black to honor those who fell in the war. I, for one, loved the look and think no one drew it better than Mahnke, who’s darker style brought an edge to Superman rarely seen. Superman was good, but had an anger and sadness after the war, and Mahnke drew the hell out of it.
File this one under “duh.” It’s a shame that Jim Lee followed his hit “Hush” storyline in Batman with the poorly received and honestly really not all that great “For Tomorrow” in Superman. While the story may have been lacking, no one can argue that Lee produced some gorgeous artwork for the book. What I admire most about it is that, if you read the extras, Lee tried VERY hard to notice every minute difference between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent to ensure that no one could accuse him of just taking the same body and putting it in a different suit (right down to the shorter cape). Lee did fantastic work on Superman, and is currently drawing Superman in the pages of Justice League. When people think of modern day Superman, it’s typically Lee’s art that comes to mind from it’s presence in media and, of course, the iconic cover above.
Alright, so I’m cheating a bit on this one because Bruce Timm has done some Superman comic art, but is primarily known for his designs for the Superman animated series that followed the popular Batman one, and led into the Justice League. There simply is no better interpretation of Supermanin the media for me than this animated one, as it worked on all aspects. Fantastic voicework (from Tim Daly and later George Newbern), great writing, and, when it comes right down to it, an absolutely perfect character design made the character more true to the core concept than almost anything fans had seen before. I love Timm’s art in general, but I adore his Superman design for its simplicity and impact.
Almost every iconic image of Superman either comes directly from the pencil of, or is an interpretation of something drawn by Joe Shuster, one of the original co-creators of the Man of Steel. While, of course, dated by today’s standards, the Man of Steel is drawn as…well, a man, something many modern artists forget. Shuster’s Superman wasn’t a big pile of muscles, he was instead drawn as a realistic strong man, something young boys would be inspired by, rather than know they could never match the physicality of. Many of my favorite Superman drawings are done by Shuster, and I’ll be damned, but I don’t care if they look dated, they are truly iconic. Look at that image above – doesn’t it give you chills?
And on the opposite side of the coin, we’ve got the guy who does draw Superman like a pile of muscles. Ed McGuiness had a successful run on both Superman and Superman/Batman, primarily partnered with writer Jeph Loeb. McGuiness’ art, to me, feels like a cartoon slapped on a comic page. Everything is exagerrated, and characters are more muscular than humanly possible. I actually own a run of action figures designed on McGuiness’ interpretation of the Justice League. His art on the title (one again during “Our World At War,” and continuing through Superman/Batman) was an acquired taste, sure, but fit perfectly in with the “American Way” feel of the title that Loeb penned. His interpretation of many DC characters felt like actio figures on the page, and appealed to the kid in me. It was like playing with those He-Man toys as a kid – you knew they were all the same bodies with different paint on them but dammit if you didn’t love them. That’s how McGuiness’ Superman is to me. Like comfort food and playtime – the perfect feelings for reading about the Big Blue Boy Scout. (it should be noted that McGuiness draws a hell of a Joker – see Emperor Joker, which you can buy using the Amazon link below)
One of comic’s greatest artists period, Alex Ross has a true iconic view of the Man of Steel. Every image he draws of Superman is poster-worthy, and his reinterpretation of classic images (in his Normal Rockwell-inspired painting style) is never less than breathtaking. Without him, Kingdom Come may have well just been a well written novel. Instead, it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of modern comic storytelling. Painted art in comics is rare nowadays, but Alex Ross has managed to elevate the medium. When you see an Alex Ross painting, you knowit’s an Alex Ross painting. And when you see an Alex Ross Superman painting, you can’t help but feel like Superman is real.
I’m sure many folks will disagree with me (I’d imagine this is a generational thing to me), but Dan Jurgens is Superman to me. His art in the Death and Return saga, and his many passes at Superman since, make him the quintessential Superman artist for me. Though his art may not always be awe inspiring like Alex Ross, or as fun as Ed McGuiness, or as unique as Doug Mahnke, his style has defined Superman in my eyes, from Death, to Return and now in the New 52. I quite simply can’t imagine another artist surpassing his interpretation of the character. Even more than that, his books are on time, and he’s a reliable, consistent artist and write. When Dan Jurgens draws Superman, I’m first in line to buy it. How about you? Who’s in your Superman top 10?
This week’s additions to the Superman Collection: Funko Superman POP Heroes Vinyl Figure
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