Yep. It’s that time of year again…
It’s Black Future Month.
Truth be told, I dreaded making this list. I know some people are gonna be mad at me for this. Some people are gonna be like, “What about so and so?” or “You forgot so and so.”
I can’t let the naysayers get to me.
First and foremost, I am an artist. Comics are my medium. With that being said, there have been many artists that I looked up to, admired, envied, and been intimidated by. In other words, I have learned to be a better comic book creator by observing and studying how they have approached the craft of comics. This is a list of some of my favorite Black comic book artists. If your favorite artist isn’t on this list, make your own. Let’s get started:
PARIS CULLINS & CHUCK PATTON
These two brothers were the first comic book artists that I knew of who were Black. They both worked for DC Comics in the early 80s with Patton working on Justice League of America and Cullins drawing Blue Beetle. In terms of solid, steak and potatoes comic book illustration, these two brothers couldn’t be beat. Their mastery of the fundamentals captivated me. Knowing that they were Black inspired me.
DENYS COWAN & KYLE BAKER
In the 80s, there was a lot of experimentation happening in comic book illustration. This was the era when cats like Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin emerged, turning sequential art on its ear.
I fell in love with Cowan’s art when he was working on The Question with Denny O’Neil. I would say that his work has an “African” quality that you just don’t see with other creators. I’m not talking about the use of African iconography in his work, but rather the mark-making itself has a sensibility that reminds me of the continent. His illustration is almost like mud cloth to me. I feel the history of every artist who came before him in his linework. It’s damn near ancestral. He was the man who, when looking at my first comic book portfolio in 1994, said: “You want to make your own comics, don’t you?” He is the main reason why Griot Enterprises exists today. Yeah, most cats would mention his legendary status as a co-creator of Milestone Media, but it was The Question that made me a fan.
I became aware of Kyle Baker’s work when he followed Sienkiewicz on The Shadow. I thought it was an interesting choice to follow such an impressionistic art style with a more whimsical one, but Baker won me over very quickly. He’s a master cartoonist, doing things in illustration that I’m still trying to figure out. His graphic novel Why I Hate Saturn made me laugh out loud. His comedic timing is unparalleled. Again, Baker will get major love because of Truth: Red, White and Black, but to only know him for that book barely scratches the surface of this brother’s amazing body of work.
BRIAN STEFREEZE & LARRY STROMAN
As the 80s became the 90s, I officially decided to make comics my career as an artist. The birth of Milestone Media and Image Comics laid out the path before me.
Before Larry Stroman co-created the monolith of Black Comix known as Tribe, he did a lot of work for Marvel including, the equally-legendary Alien Legion and, my personal favorite work, X-Factor. I love Stroman’s work because he illustrates more like a graphic designer that a classic comic book artist. He has a way with shape and composition that is fascinatingly geometric, kinda like the “clean line” version of everything that I love about Denys Cowan’s work. When the “Mighty” Larry Stroman popped up at the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape exhibition back in 2013, I definitely felt like I was blessed by a master.
Quite simply, Brian Stelfreeze is a zen master of illustration. I became a fan when he was the cover artist for Batman: Shadow of the Bat and he has consistently gotten better with every project he’s worked on. I’m a fan of Matador, Day Men, The Ride and so much more. When he was tapped for Ta’Nehsi Coates‘ relaunch of Black Panther, I thought to myself, “Finally.” He is the most gracious of teachers. I learned more from him in five minutes than I learned in a semester of grad school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
JASON PEARSON & SHAWN MARTINBOROUGH
“I’m gonna whup your bony ass as thin as my patience.” When I read those lines in the first issue of Body Bags, I knew that Jason Pearson was a brother. His artwork work is kinetic, seamlessly blending the cartoon with the realistic. His interpretations of characters from the “Corporate Two” are some of the best I’ve ever seen. I think I have at least three of his sketchbooks that I picked up throughout the years of going to conventions. His output isn’t as prolific as some other creators. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s so special to me. Every time I see him on a project, it’s a treat and I do love my treats.
Shawn Martinborough is a master of noir. I really became a fan of his work during his stint on Detective Comics. Again, his graphic language manifested in his black and white work is astounding. From Luke Gage: Noir to Thief of Thieves and beyond, each page is a mini-education. He is also, quite possibly, the best-dressed man in comics. I have nothing but the highest respect for this artist.
So ends Part One of this series. Come back for Part Two when I shed a spotlight on more Black artists in the game that inspire me to continue putting the work in.