Jun 28, 2010

Top Five Most Important Spider-Man Artists of All Time

Welcome to the first installment in our Spider-Man Week! Today, we list the five most important Spider-Man artists in history. These are the five artists that redefined Spider-Man, for whichever generation it was they drew him in. Ready? Let's go!

5. John Romita Jr.

John Romita Jr., or, as he's called, JRJR, is on this list not because I like his work (I don't), but because he's made an impact on Spider-Man consistently for the last thirty years. In the 1980s, he illustrated Roger Stern's spectacular run on Amazing Spider-Man, a run that a lot of people still feel is the best run on Spider-Man to date. In that run, he illustrated some classic stories, such as the epic Hobgoblin saga and the much-talked-about-but-to-the-best-of-my-knowledge-never-reprinted "Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut!"

In the 1990s, at the nadir of the dreaded Clone Saga (I still think Ben Reilly and Kaine are awesome characters and the Clone Saga could have really gone somewhere, as evidenced by the recent remake), it was John Romita Jr. that they turned to for the mega-finale, and the return of the Green Goblin:

And even today, with Amazing Spider-Man shipping three times a week and therefore, by necessity, being done by a rotating team of writers and artists, it's JRJR they turn to for the long stories:

Even though I don't like his work, no one can argue with his work ethic - he's one of a rare few who never misses a deadline and can draw two books a month - and his impact!

John Romita Jr. is currently drawing Avengers and the occasional issues of Amazing Spider-Man!

4. Mark Bagley

What can you say about Mark Bagley, a man who broke into the business with the Official Marvel Try-Out Book and then made his career on various iterations of Spider-Man? In the 90s, Bagley was already a solid storyteller with a very captivating version of the webbed wall-crawler, so good that he not only redesigned characters like the Black Cat and handled practically every Venom story of that era, but he was also the one tasked to draw this particular piece of money-making business:

And then, years later, when Marvel decided to reboot the Marvel Universe under their Ultimate banner, basically coming up with new, contemporary versions (most of which completely missed, as far as I was concerned) for a modern audience (which, as far as I was concerned, meant a movie-going audience), they got Brian Michael Bendis to write a teenage Spider-Man, one that was so clearly a teenager, and to draw it, they got Mark Bagley. Never mind how hard it is to draw teenagers (I can name a handful of artists who have been able to do it), when an entire generation of fans think of Spider-Man, this is the Spider-Man they think of:

This version has been on various licensing products and merchandise, including its own video game. No other Spider-Man comic version has ever had a game where the graphics were based on the comic art, except Ultimate Spider-Man.

I don't know how long it'll last, but it's there.

Mark Bagley is currently drawing Justice League of America!

3. Todd McFarlane

Speaking of redefining for a whole generation, the influence of Todd McFarlane simply cannot be denied. In addition to creating Venom, Toddie Mack also changed the look of ol' Webhead! For one thing, he made the costumes on Spidey's webs closer together, creating an even creepier, sinister feel. But most notably, he enlarged Spider-Man's eyes and invented what is now known as "spaghetti webbing," all building toward the same effect. No doubt about it, when yet another generation of fans think of Spider-Man, this is what they think of (in addition, this is one of the most homaged covers ever):

Todd McFarlane also brought a contortion to Spider-Man that really accentuated his uniqueness and weirdness in the pantheon of superheroes. When McFarlane drew him, you knew there was no one like him. Such an eccentricity hadn't been seen since the web-slinger was drawn by the next guy on our list!

Todd McFarlane went on to create Spawn, which gave way to McFarlane Toys, a movie, an HBO series, and a merchandising empire. He even bought a historic Barry Bonds baseball. In short, Todd McFarlane is richer than you.

2. Steve Ditko

Steve Ditko is the artistic creator of the one, the only, the amazing Spider-Man! In addition, he also created most of Spider-Man's most important villains and supporting cast, including J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy, Dr. Octopus, the Green Goblin, Electro, the Sandman, the Vulture, the Lizard, Kraven the Hunter, the Chameleon, and many, many more - all in just 41 issues!

When Ditko drew Spider-Man, he stood out because he was so eccentric, so weird, so creepy. The neurosis, the feeling of being an outsider, of not belonging was so palpable, because Ditko's style was so perfect. No one drew Spider-Man quite like Steve Ditko.

In addition, Steve Ditko is responsible for many a classic Spider-Man moment, including not only his origin story, but the classic moment in Amazing Spider-Man #33, where Spidey lifts a ton of rubble off of himself. Neil Gaiman calls it definitely one of the three most important superhero moments ever.

I see a considerable Steve Ditko influence today, ranging from Marcos Martin's work in Amazing Spider-Man to Greg Weisman's treatment in the animated series Spectacular Spider-Man. The cartoon even paid tribute to the aforementioned classic moment.

Steve Ditko, reclusive as he is, went on to create the Blue Beetle and the Question for Charlton Comics, which eventually led to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen. He also created Mr. A (the ultimate inspiration for Rorschach), and now works somewhere in New York City. He does not wish to be disturbed.

If you're lucky, you can watch In Search of Steve Ditko, as narrated by Jonathan Ross before they decide to take it down:

1. John Romita Sr.

As much as I love Steve Ditko, it's very hard to discount the importance of John Romita Sr. While Ditko created Spider-Man, it was John Romita that made him famous. Romita, a romance artist prior to taking over Amazing Spider-Man, had a cleaner and more generic style than Ditko's (not that there's anything wrong with that - he did it very well) - all his men were handsome, and all his women were beautiful. So I guess at the time, people were put off by the eccentric nature of Ditko's art, and then were drawn in by Romita's cleaner, crisper art style.

John Romita Sr. was a very solid storyteller, and illustrated some classic images, not the least of which is the introduction of Mary Jane Watson:

and the Green Goblin's unmasking of Spider-Man:

Because of Romita's capacity for drawing women and soap operatic situations, Stan Lee wrote more and more for Romita, making Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy a focal point in Peter Parker's life. But in general, it was John Romita's style that really catapulted Spider-Man to the top, complete with cartoons and merchandise and everything. When I was younger, the first Spider-Man product I ever bought was a sticker book, and years later, I realized they were all Romita drawings - 20 years after he drew Spider-Man.

Yep, until Todd McFarlane came along and reintroduced some Ditko effects, pretty much every artist who handled the wily wall-crawler took his cues from John Romita Sr. Nowadays, the majority of them still do.

John Romita Sr. became art director of Marvel Comics and had a son, who happens to be number 5 on this list!

That's the list! Agree? Disagree? Comments welcome! And check back tomorrow for five Spider-Man stories you should take the time to read!


Olivier Agustin said...

McFarlane had a funny way of getting back at his most famous Spider-man cover. http://www.headinjurytheater.com/spwn%20mcfarlane%20spawn%20cover%201.jpg

Duy Tano said...

It's one of the most homaged covers ever; I can think of four covers off the top of my head that pay tribute to it. I'm probably even missing some. I should do a feature on this.

The Professor said...

Nice list. I was quite proud that even though I'm a geezer, I would have compiled the same Top Five. I'd have had less reservation about Romita Sr, though. I love the Romita stuff.

Maybe you should add a day six to your Spider-Man Week: Top Five Villians. You don't have anything else to do next Saturday, right?

Duy Tano said...

Romita Sr. is cool for me; I just happen to like Ditko more and generally think he was unappreciated. It's Romita Jr. I'm not a fan of, and sometimes I think he ended up getting lucky because he's a Romita and he ended up drawing Roger Stern's run.

Top Five villains is a good idea... Let me see if I can whittle it down to five without forcing Electro in. (I love Electro, apparently I'm in the minority). I would assume the top four are obvious, though I guess the order is debatable.

Duy Tano said...

Oh, also, I think the pickings for this list were really slim. Aside from Ross Andru, I couldn't think of anyone else that could conceivably knock anyone off this list. And even then, he was really just working off of Romita's work.

Anonymous said...

I think Erik Larsen was a little overlooked since Mark Bagley's Style was based in Erik's, when Mark came to fill in when Erik went to persue Image.

snowkatt said...

uh dont you mean just 41 issues instead of 33 ?

ditko left with asm 38
so he drew asm 1-38
amazing fantasy 15
and the first two annuals

so that makes 41 issues

Duy Tano said...

Nice catch! I dunno why I wrote 33 -- must've had Master Planner on the brain!

Anonymous said...

I would've also considered Charles Vess, for the list. I remember reading the letters section of Amazing Spiderman as a kid (around 250-260) and everyone was raving on how CV drew the black costumed webslinger. He also did the covers for Web of Spiderman, and I remember his work on "Kraven's Last Hunt" (though that could've been someone else)

Da Prophet said...

Good list. Agreed. You summed it up exactly the way I tell people, "Ditko created Spider-Man, but Romita made him a star."

Post a Comment

All comments on The Comics Cube need approval (mostly because of spam) and no anonymous comments are allowed. Please leave your name if you wish to leave a comment. Thanks!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.