The world of comics is a lush and diverse landscape of different styles, genres, techniques, and values. It’s one of the main draws of the medium, and it’s what has allowed the writers, pencillers, inkers, colorists, and letters to tell some of the most compelling stories, and create some of the most iconic characters, in the history of pop culture. Nowhere is this more true than the art, where hundreds of artists over the years have injected a fresh perspective, and created some beautiful pictures in the process.

For all that though, there’s been a big push in the past few decades, ever since the early 90s (where it was ‘an artist’s medium’), to develop what has come to be referred to as a “house style.” This approach mimicked the most popular artists of the day, generating big bucks for comics publishers, but stifling creativity by requiring any new pencillers and inkers to draw just like Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld.

Sadly, this trend has continued into the modern day, with emphasis placed on deliberate, single stroke lines that look ‘clean and ‘refined,’ and shading that never dares go outside the lines. And it’s made comic art so boring.

Fortunately, there are a handful of artists who refuse to bow and draw like someone else, just for the sake of getting a paycheck. Not only are these renegades bucking a trend that’s stifling creativity, they’re using their own unique styles and techniques to create some of the most compelling art that the industry has ever seen. Finding their work, and discussing their tricks and techniques, is as easy as joining an online forum or blog network, or creating your own, and compiling the list. To help you get started, I’ve listed some of the most unique artists working in comics today, who aren’t afraid to get a little messy as their deliver some amazing artwork.

1. Sean Gordon Murphy

The newest comer to comics on this list, Sean has had a career marked by short bursts of amazing, inspiring work spread out over several key projects. A graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, he got his chops by publishing with some smaller publishers, such as Dark Horse and Oni, doing some Star Wars work, while also providing the occasional short story or cover for DC. His big break came when Karen Barger, the legendary editor for DC’s Vertigo imprint, recommended him to the equally legendary Grant Morrison, who was writing an original work about a teenage boy with diabetes, who’s ailments launched him into a crazy fantasy world populated by characters based on his action figures.

Not only did “Joe the Barbarian” introduce Murphy to a wider audience, it also saw him really start to embrace the style that would come to be his trademark. Sean loves black, and it graces every single panel he draws, no matter what the lighting is like. While lesser artists would use this technique to inject a ‘grim and gritty’ aspect to their work, Sean instead uses it to highlight the key components of the story, be it an object the character is focusing on, or to establish an emotional state.

And man – does Sean work wonders with a brush! His shadows are thick and dynamic, like he just dipped his brush and got them down at breakneck speed, while his outlines are tiny, barely perceivable lines. It gives his art an almost cartoonish, graffiti look that’s heavily inspired by the European comics he’s drawn from the most, and though it could be seen as ‘messy,’ it never falls apart, and we’re all better for it!

2. Hiroaki Samura

The widely regarded mastermind behind the highly successful and influential “Blade of the Immortal” manga, Samura is a Japanese artist who isn’t afraid to fly right in the face of tradition when it comes to making his incredible art. Though not as prolific as other artists, the sheer power of his art and storytelling alone has solidified Samura’s reputation as one of the masters of the medium.

In his early days, Samura often created his art using pencil shading, eschewing inks altogether, giving his work a unique, elegant edge. As the years passed, he began to embrace ink more and more, with scratchy lines that look like he sketches everything in ink, while also making a very bold use of cross-hatching to showcase shadows and highlights. He balances this lack of ‘refinement’ in his lines and shadows with characters that are so intricately detailed, and accurately proportioned, that they look like they could jump right off the page.

3. James O’Barr

While he’s never enjoyed the kind of mainstream success that industry icons like Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Bryan Hitch, and others have had, James O’Barr is never the less regarded as one of the most influential artists and storytellers in the medium. His magnum opus, “The Crow,” is considered to be one of the most emotionally charged stories to be found in comics, and remains the most successful underground comic series ever created.

Although he’s always been a lover of comics, unlike most artists for ‘the funny pages,’ O’Barr didn’t learn to draw by copying what he found in the comics he read. Instead, O’Barr studied paintings and sculptures from the Renaissance era to gain a solid grasp of dynamism and structure, while a brief stint in medical school allowed him to create some of the most true to life musculture that’s ever graced a comic page.

In contrast to the textbook precision with which O’Barr defines his muscles, faces, and hands, his ink work is as dark, gritty, and messy as they come, and it’s absolutely beautiful. Another heavy user of black, O’Barr makes use of everything from brushes, quills, and micron pens to create deep pools of black, with jagged highlights in the multitude of leather jackets and trench coats that adorn his characters. His use of cross hatching and texture is probably the best I’ve ever seen, and it allows him to create pages that look like they were made with a murderous rage (which, in O’Barr’s case, they were). Even though it looks like many lines were put down as quickly as his hand could fly across the page, nothing looks out of place, and the result is art that doesn’t simply tell a story, but communicates true despair, terror, and hope.

About The Author

What started as a hobby has turned into so much more. The site has changed over the course of the years, but we just try to write about what we enjoy.