Comic-Con 2014: 12 vital comic and graphic novel creators to watch

July 18, 2014 | 2:00 p.m.
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Brothers and comic titans Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez will be appearing at Comic-Con 2014. (Stephanie Rivers)

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Ed Brubaker, writer of "Fatale," "Velvet" and many more will be appearing at Comic-Con 2014. (Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

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Nominated for an Eisner Award this year for her work coloring 11 titles including "Pretty Deadly" and "Nowhere Men," Jordie Bellaire will be appearing at Comic-Con 2014. (Courtesy of Jordie Bellaire)

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A panel from Becky Cloonan's "Demeter," which received an Eisner nomination for best single issue or one-shot this year. Cloonan will be appearing at Comic-Con 2014. (Becky Cloonan)

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The creator of "Any Colony" and ongoing Koyama Press series "Lose," Michael Deforge will be appearing at Comic-Con 2014. (Robin Nishio)

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The creator of "Hellboy" and current scribe of "Hellboy in Hell," Mike Mignola will be appearing at Comic-Con 2014. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)

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A panel from Ed Piskor's "Hip-Hop Family Tree" (Fantagraphics). Piskor will be appearing at Comic-Con 2014. (Ed Piskor)

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Emma Rios, who is up for an Eisner Award this year for her work on "Pretty Deadly," will be appearing at Comic-con 2014. (Courtesy of Emma Rios)

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Chris Samnee, who picked up an Eisner Award for his work on "Daredevil" will be appearing at Comic-Con 2014. (Laura Samnee)

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Fiona Staples, the artist behind the Image ongoing series"Saga" will be making an appearance at Comic-Con 2014. (Courtesy of Fiona Staples)

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Gene Luen Yang, up for an Eisner Award this year for his work on "Boxers" and "Saints," will be appearing at Comic-Con 2014. (Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times)

Over the course of four decades, San Diego’s Comic-Con International has grown from modest roots to become a powerful marketing machine for Hollywood — so much so that the A-list actors and filmmakers who attend can overshadow the creative professionals doing groundbreaking work in comic books and graphic novels. That’s especially disappointing given that the medium is thriving as never before.
With the annual pop culture expo expected to draw more than 125,000 visitors to downtown San Diego this week, the following is a look at 12 vital creators working in different areas of the industry: writing, drawing, coloring and cartooning, some of whom are vying for prizes at the annual Eisner Awards — essentially the Academy Awards of comics — which are handed out at Comic-Con each year.

Jordie Bellaire

A first-time Eisner nominee this year for her work coloring 11 titles including “Pretty Deadly” and “Nowhere Men,” Jordie Bellaire has quickly become one of the industry’s most prolific color artists. “My comic work is all about color and storytelling with color, so I hope the books that I color feel like films — inviting and atmospheric,” Bellaire says. After cutting down to a more manageable list of coloring projects, Bellaire has begun a writing career and will have a few short stories published this fall. Amid all this, she’s also found time to be a leading advocate for gender equality in the industry, co-founding the “Comics Are For Everybody” campaign to improve the visibility of underrepresented creators and fans.

Ed Brubaker

A creator who made his name in independent comics before writing big-name superheroes like Batman and Captain America, Ed Brubaker does his best work when he has complete control. “I follow my own obsessions down their dark paths,” Brubaker says. “I’ve always been trying to tell stories I can feel passionate about and create characters I hope readers will care about and empathize with.” Brubaker’s contract with Image Comics gives him the freedom and the resources to put out comics exactly the way he wants them, and the relationship has already produced two riveting pieces of genre fiction, “Fatale” (with artist Sean Philips) and “Velvet” (with artist Steve Epting), and this fall, Brubaker will be reteaming with Philips for “The Fade Out,” a crime drama set in 1948 Hollywood.

A panel from Becky Cloonan's "Demeter," which received an Eisner nomination for best single issue or one-shot this year. (Becky Cloonan)

A panel from Becky Cloonan’s “Demeter,” which received an Eisner nomination for best single issue or one-shot this year. (Becky Cloonan)

Becky Cloonan

It’s difficult to make time for personal projects while working for major publishers, but Becky Cloonan has evolved as a cartoonist by devoting herself to one self-published story each year. Cloonan’s latest independent effort, “Demeter,” has earned her an Eisner nomination for best single issue or one-shot, the award she won last year for “The Mire.” “I really just want to create stories that stick with people, that move people,” says Cloonan. “Where right after you put the book down, you immediately want to pick it back up and start at the beginning.” Already holding the honor of the first female artist to work on “Batman,” Cloonan will be returning to DC Comics this fall as the co-writer of “Gotham Academy,” teaming with co-writer Brendan Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl for the kid-friendly new series.

Michael DeForge

One of the most exciting and unpredictable cartoonists working in comics, Michael DeForge has a unique perspective that juggles humor, tragedy, whimsy and horror to create unforgettable stories. His graphic novel “Ant Colony” and ongoing Koyama Press series “Lose” showcase a brilliantly imaginative art style that is always growing, morphing to suit the needs of his writing while striving for more streamlined visuals. “I just want each new comic to be different from the last one,” DeForge says. “Each new project should seem like a challenge, and I want to keep pushing myself.” DeForge regularly releases new content online while working on print publications, but the majority of the public sees his work on “Adventure Time,” the Cartoon Network series for which he designs props and characters.

Gilbert Hernandez

There are few creators who can top Gilbert Hernandez when it comes to the sheer quantity of annual output. Last year saw the release of five new works from Hernandez, garnering him three Eisner nominations, and each project has showcased a different side of the incredibly multifaceted cartoonist. “I hope to make comics simply to please any readers that might enjoy my peculiar way of storytelling and characterization,” Hernandez says. “One story might be an all-ages story about kids innocently reading comics books and the next about transgender homemakers robbing banks.” There’s no way of predicting where Hernandez’s creativity will take him next, and after 30 years in the industry, it’s even more impressive that his work consistently surprises and astounds.

Jaime Hernandez

Jaime Hernandez doesn’t take as many risks as his brother Gilbert, but that’s because he’s so skilled at doing what comes naturally. Jaime’s half of the ongoing “Love and Rockets” series primarily focuses on Maggie Chascarillo, exploring her relationships with the people and places around her. “I’m trying to tell a story that will last longer than the 10 minutes it took you to read,” Hernandez says, and nowhere is that philosophy more apparent than his graphic novel “The Love Bunglers.” A narrative that had been developing since the beginning of “Love and Rockets” in 1981, “The Love Bunglers” solidifies Hernandez’s place as a cartooning master, and he continues to sharpen his talent with each new endeavor.

Mike Mignola

After stepping away from drawing “Hellboy” for six years, Mike Mignola has returned to his signature creation to do the best work of his career in “Hellboy in Hell.” The ongoing Dark Horse series is a place where Mignola has total freedom to follow his creative urges, resulting in captivating developments like puppet shows and fairy-tale adaptations done in Mignola’s distinct neo-gothic style. “I would like to put something out there that hasn’t been done before,” says Mignola. “Hellboy” is very much the comic I would have loved to have read had somebody else done it.” As Mignola delves deeper into Hellboy’s afterlife, he continues to expand the rest of Dark Horse’s B.P.R.D. titles, building a sprawling comic book universe for horror fans.

A panel from Ed Piskor's  "Hip-Hop Family Tree" (Fantagraphics). Piskor will be appearing at Comic-Con 2014. (Ed Piskor)

A panel from Ed Piskor’s “Hip-Hop Family Tree” (Fantagraphics). Piskor will be appearing at Comic-Con 2014. (Ed Piskor)

Ed Piskor

The cartoonist behind “Hip-Hop Family Tree,” Ed Piskor has created one of the industry’s best gateway comics with his retro-styled history of hip-hop music. “I just want to create the best body of work I possibly can,” says Piskor. “There are some pretty ostentatious things I want to accomplish, but I have to keep those to myself for now.” Imagining the early days of the hip-hop movement with writing and art that intentionally evoke the bombast and energy of an early ’80s Marvel comic, Piskor has introduced scores of music fans to comics by serializing the series for free on Boing Boing, but these stories look even better in Fantagraphics’ printed collections, the second of which is set for release this year.

Emma Rios

In the pages of “Pretty Deadly,” Emma Rios brings Kelly Sue DeConnick’s script to life with visuals that emphasize all the magic, beauty and terror of the unconventional western narrative. She’s received her first Eisner nomination this year for her graceful, detailed linework and innovative layouts. Regarding the guiding philosophy of her work, Rios says, “Have fun creating worlds, stories and people to reach others and myself.” Rios hopes to continue doing creator-owned work while refining her skills, and each new project sees her pushing visual experimentation to find new ways to convey information through graphic storytelling.

Chris Samnee

The spiritual successor of legendary draftsmen like Alex Toth and Milton Caniff, Chris Samnee regularly produces breathtaking superhero artwork in the pages of Marvel’s “Daredevil” with writer Mark Waid. “I like to keep the storytelling clear and the art free of excess, so I only put down on paper what is absolutely necessary,” says Samnee. “Every day I’m pushing myself to improve my craft while having as much fun as possible.” Samnee won an Eisner Award last year for “Daredevil.” For his next challenge, he’ll jump into the writer’s seat with the intention of pursuing a creator-owned project soon.

Fiona Staples

Fiona Staples was already an incredibly promising artist before she partnered with writer Brian K. Vaughan on the Image ongoing series “Saga,” but that creative relationship has elevated Staples to new creative heights. The wild sci-fi world of Vaughan’s story allows Staples to show off her ingenious design sense and slick action choreography, but it’s her deep understanding of emotional storytelling that makes her the ideal artist for the title. “I want to deliver stories that are new and exciting and get them into the hands of people who have never read a comic before!” Staples says, and that enthusiasm has helped make “Saga” one of the industry’s best titles for new comic readers who want to see the medium’s full potential.

Gene Luen Yang

With a gift for interpreting mythology and history in ways that appeal to a wide age range of readers, Gene Luen Yang uses his Chinese heritage to create engaging comics that are deeply personal yet rooted in centuries of stories, fictional and true. “I want to tell stories that keep the reader with me from the first page to the last,” Yang says. “Everything else is icing.” “Boxers” and “Saints,” Yang’s pair of graphic novels detailing the Boxer Revolution from opposing points of view earned him an Eisner nomination this year, and this summer sees the release of “The Shadow Hero,” a graphic novel by Yang and artist Sonny Liew that details the life of a forgotten Chinese American superhero in the golden age of comics.

– Oliver Sava | @LATHeroComplex

[For the record, July 20, 4:21 p.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly gave the title of Michael DeForge's "Ant Colony" as "Any Colony."]

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One Response to Comic-Con 2014: 12 vital comic and graphic novel creators to watch

  1. Ben says:

    oh and please dont forget Phi3 COMICS and Spiralmind

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