When a character has been around as long as Peter Parker, there are multiple “best” eras of his history. That goes for the art, as well… Welcome to Ten Things: Ten Great Spider-Man Artists!
Whooshman-Bicarbonate Films, in conjunction with An Amateur Comics Historian and an emphatic reminder that Ten Things is a collection and NOT a ranking, Presents:
TEN THINGS: TEN GREAT SPIDER-MAN ARTISTS!
10) JOHN ROMITA
A comics veteran since the late 1940s, it’s Romita’s Spider-Man that really defined the modern Wall-Crawler, especially for those of us of “a certain age.” Taking Ditko’s scrawny, eerie Spidey and filling him out to more heroic (and handsome) proportions, Romita also designed Mary Jane Watson, a now-iconic character talked about but never seen during the Ditko era. Promoted to Marvel’s Art Director in 1973, he got to apply his design sense to the greater Marvel U, having a hand in the art concepts for Wolverine, The Punisher, Luke Cage and more, as well as the definitive Spider-Man merchandising designs, making his Spidey ubiquitous for years.
9) STUART IMMONEN
Beloved (by me, at least) for his work on the Volume 4 ‘Five Years Later’ Legion of Super-Heroes, Immonen’s Spider-Man is somehow more glossy, providing a shinier Spider-Man costume that feels more vinyl than fabric. That’s not a bad thing, though, and his layouts and anatomy are always dynamic, delivering a Spider-Man who twists and turns without the stylization or bone-shattering anatomical shortcuts of some modern Spider-Man artists. The most fascinating part for me is seeing how much difference there is between his Ultimate and 616 versions of Spidey, giving each Peter Parker their own life and differentiating easily between adult and teenage Web-Heads.
8) ROSS ANDRU
Yes, my friends, we’re talking Deep Cuts today… Known for his long run on Wonder Woman, Andru drew ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ for five years, including the first appearance of The Punisher in #129. The reason that I associate him so much with Spidey is the tabloid-sized madness that is ‘Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man’, the first real DC/Marvel crossover and one of the first Spider-Man books I ever read. Having previously drawn Superman as well (making him one of the few who had worked on both characters circa 1976) Andru’s art makes the meeting of the two men in red-and-blue memorable in all the right ways.
7) SAL BUSCEMA
For over 100 issues starting in 1988, Sal Buscema delivered the Spider-Man goodness issue after issue, providing rock-solid visuals with great storytelling and dramatic punch. (Often times, literally.) During a time when the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ comic was constantly rotating artists, some good, some less so, Sal kept the rudder of the Spider-Verse steady. Even when Amazing’s sales were up, I often found ‘Spectacular’ to be the superior Spider-Man book, at least in terms of the art. The vitality in his work makes for incredible facial expressions and, aside from his work on the Hostess Fruit Pies ads back in the day and/or ‘ROM’, Sal’s Spider-Man art is my favorite of his career.
6) MIKE ZECK
With his barrel-chested figure work and jawlines that could cut glass, Mike Zeck might seem like an odd choice for a Spider-Man book. That didn’t prevent him from delivering the harrowing visuals for one of the greatest Spidey tales of the modern era, ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt.’ As the designer of the black Spider-Man costume from 1984, Zeck knew how to use the high-contrast suit to great effect, adding a moody, horror undertone to Web-Head’s adventures. Even when he was drawing the red-and-blue suit, as in ‘Secret Wars’, Zeck’s Spider-Man was always in motion, bouncing off surfaces, skittering down walls but never standing still.
5) JOHN ROMITA, JR.
Another artist whose Spider-Man is always in motion, most of my favorite JR Jr. Spider-Man images show him in mid-leap. Able to make dynamic moments out of even the dullest of foes (his Mister Hyde issue takes a chunky guy in a cheap green suit and turns him into an implacable, almost animalistic foe), Romita, Jr. also did wonders for Peter Parker and his supporting cast, finally bringing their styling and looks into the 1980s. His second run on a Spider-Man book featured the nonsensical first Morlun story, which made not a lick of sense, but was beautiful and visually exciting even so…
4) GIL KANE
With his utterly unique drafting style and excellent execution of human anatomy, Gil Kane was a sought-after cover artist, even handling Giant-Size X-Men #1. His work has all the power of Jack Kirby’s work with the lean, lithe bodies of Steve Ditko, and his Spider-Man is, once again, always on the move. It was Kane that created several of the most iconic Spider-Man images ever: Six-Armed Spider-Man horrified at his mutation; The Punisher targeting Spidey’s heart on the cover of his first appearance, even poor doomed Gwen Stacy plummeting off the bridge, all Gil’s work. And if you’ve ever seen somebody flying at you after being punched so hard they backflip, you’re probably reading Gil Kane.
3) SARA PICHELLI
The relaunch of Ultimate Spider-Man as Miles Morales circa 2011 included a lot of hand-wringing about tradition, which overshadowed the incredibly talented artist chosen to draw his book. Pichelli’s work is utterly amazing, featuring dynamic and clear storytelling, with special attention to facial expressions. Her Spider-Man feels as much like a creepy spider as Ditko’s original take, with special attention given to hair and textures, and her take on clone Spider-Woman/Black Widow made me want to read her solo book as long as Pichelli was drawing it. Also important: Her scenes of destruction and carnage are as good as anyone in the business, which important when you’re in the disaster-prone Ultimate Universe.
2) MARK BAGLEY
I love the original New Warriors comic like my own child, and much of that is due to Mark Bagley’s artwork. And even though I wasn’t always on-board with the stories being told, Mark’s take on Spider-Man is one of the iconic modern Spideys. Not only did Bagley deliver over 100 consecutive issues of Ultimate Spider-Man (which I am not personally a fan of, but have to admit is impressive work), he also handled 90s madness like ‘Maximum Carnage’ and the robot Parker parents saga, adding gravitas and visual excitement to some reeeeeally dumb stories. Bagley’s angular Spider-Man has a little retro Ditko, a little crazy contortionist McFarlane, and perhaps his greatest achievement: Non-squinty eyes! The fluidity of motion in a Bagley Spider-Man is matched only by the sheer expressiveness of his body language and expert layouts.
1) STEVE DITKO
The standard-setter, Ditko’s Spider-Man starts out feeling almost like a horror-movie monster, with thin limbs flyin’ all directions, and tons of web detail everywhere. All the familiar Spider-Man poses (swinging at the camera, hanging upside-down, crouching weirdly? All Ditko’s creations. Best of all, his Spider-Man always has web-pits, an absolute necessity for proper Spider-Manning. Modern audiences seem to have soured a bit on Ditko’s work, but his classic Spider-Man work is full of emotion and energy, with even random background characters full of life and character, making it possible for Spider-Man to have survived since 1963.