DC Comics isn’t as widely known for its ground-breaking artists as its cross-town rival Marvel Comics, but over the years they had their fair share of artists who helped redefine and revolutionize the medium. The following artists reshaped stylistic norms, influenced future series and creators and gave us iconic creations that last to this day.
10. Jack Kirby
Placing the King of Comics at the number 10 spot may seem like sacrilege, but there’s no getting around the fact that Jack Kirby did the lion’s share of his work at Marvel. But two decades before he and Stan Lee metamorphosed Marvel Comics in the early 1960s, Kirby worked for what was then known as National Comics, creating characters like the Manhunter and the Newsboy Legion, along with the best-selling Boy Commandos series.
It was his work when he returned to DC in the ’70s that cemented his legacy. Working at a frightening pace, Kirby released a whopping four monthly titles (The New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen) that interconnected to form what’s known as the 4th World Saga. A monumental space opera, the Saga introduced several elements into DC Comics’ mythos which remain to this day: the twin planets of New Genesis and Apokolips, the war-hungry hero Orion, the crafty escape artist Mister Miracle and his wife the mighty Big Barda, the mysterious Anti-Life Equation, and the enigmatic tyrant Darkseid.
9. Curt Swan
Curt Swan may not be the most famous name, and in truth his art may not have been the most influential or groundbreaking. But what secures his place was his indelible impact on DC Comics’ greatest property: Superman. If you read a Superman comic at any point from the late 1950s to the ’80s, chances are that Swan drew it. He illustrated hundreds of comics and covers during his tenure at DC. His clean-cut, ordered artwork became synonymous with the Man of Steel for generations of readers. Additionally, Swan co-created several of Superman’s most iconic Silver and Bronze Age villains. These include Terra-Man, the 1970s incarnation of Toyman, Master Jailer and Vartox. Some have claimed that Swan was more of an artistic technician than an actual “artist.” But Swan’s legacy as a craftsman responsible for decades of consistent, high-quality work is undeniable.
8. Jerry Robinson
During the 1940s, Batman became one of DC’s hottest titles. One of its most infamous characters is the Joker, the insane Clown Prince of Crime. In the ensuing decades, the Joker would become as important to Batman’s mythos as the Batcave and the Batmobile. We have Jerry Robinson to thank for the character.
Basing his design and fiendish smile off a character in the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs, the Joker became an instantly recognizable part of American pop culture. But the Joker wasn’t Robinson’s only artistic contribution. A master of striking, eye-catching designs, he worked throughout the 1940s on Batman. He helped create Batman’s sidekick Robin, Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth, and the dastardly villain Two-Face. Though long overshadowed by the credit-stealing antics of Batman co-creator Bob Kane, Robinson has finally started to receive the respect and admiration he deserves.
7. Gil Kane
Though he began his career laboring as a penciller and inker during the 1940s, Gil Kane came into his own as a legendary artist and creator in the late ’50s at the dawn of the Silver Age of Comics. Dividing his time between DC and Marvel, Kane helped revitalize several series including the Atom, Plastic Man and, most notably, Green Lantern. A master of anatomy and layout design, Kane helped introduce a new level of kinetic dynamism in his super-powered characters. Kane would later move on to Marvel in the ’60s and ’70s, where he co-created such popular characters as Iron Fist and Morbius the Living Vampire as well as penciled “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” one of the most important Spider-Man storylines in history.
6. Joe Shuster
All this entry really needs is a single sentence: Joe Shuster helped create Superman. The very first comic book superhero, Superman’s impact on the genre cannot be simplified or understated. Drawing from sources such as pulp magazines, mythological heroes and the outfits of circus performers, Shuster and writing partner Jerry Siegel pioneered a ground-breaking iconography that informs the superhero genre to this day: the bold, colorful costume; the billowing cape; the trademark “S” logo; outrageous feats of superhuman strength and stamina; and an urban, working class setting.
After a brutal legal battle over Superman’s copyright with DC, Shuster tried his hand at other series such as Funnyman in an ultimately vain attempt to recapture the greatness of his earlier creation. He spent much of the 1950s and ’60s drawing horror comics, illustrations for sadomasochistic erotic novels and freelance cartooning before his failing eyesight forced him to quit.
5. Frank Miller
While perhaps his best work was his Daredevil run over at Marvel, Miller helped revitalize DC in the late 1980s with The Dark Knight Returns. Along with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, TDKR was largely responsible for jump-starting the Dark Age of Comic Books, the era that has continued to the present day. Mixing experimental paneling and layouts, a grittier take on Gotham City and Batman, and a much darker tone and atmosphere, TDKR is one of the single most influential comic books ever made. He returned to DC in 2001 to release a sequel entitled The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Though the series sold incredibly well, it received very poor reviews.
4. Joe Kubert
Few artists had as long and varied a career as Joe Kubert. Beginning when he was 11 years old, Kubert worked steadily until his death in 2012. Narrowing down his greatest accomplishments is by no means an easy task since he worked in so many different genres, formats and styles. Superhero fans know him for his pioneering work with Hawkman in the 1950s. Unlike many other comics from the era, his Hawkman run has aged well and remains a touchstone both for the character and for Silver Age comics.
His other towering achievement for DC was his sensational work for their war comics, particularly G.I. Combat and Our Army at War. In these titles Kubert co-created characters such as Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace. In later years he would found The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, a leading technical school for sequential art, comics, and commercial illustration that would pave the way for luminaries such as Amanda Conner, Stephen R. Bissette, Steve Lieber and Rick Veitch.
3. George Pérez
Has there ever been an artist more skilled at cramming in as many detailed characters into a single page or panel as George Pérez? While the artwork of most other artists becomes cluttered, overly busy, and unpleasant to look at when so much detail is stuffed into such a small space, Pérez’s characters always look distinctive, crisp and clean. Nowhere was that more apparent than in his magnum opus for DC, the mega-crossover known as Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Published from 1985 to 1986, the series was commissioned to celebrate DC’s 50th anniversary. Accordingly, nearly every major character from DC’s past made some kind of appearance. But beyond Crisis, Pérez left his mark on several other series thanks to his impeccable eye for complex yet uncomplicated lay-outs, and his mastery of character design. These include his stunning five-year run on Wonder Woman, which many fans still consider to be the definitive interpretation of the character, and The New Teen Titans.
2. Carmine Infantino
Not many artists can be credited with jump-starting an entire art movement. But with a single comic Carmine Infantino not only revived the superhero genre after a long period of stagnation in the early 1950s, he also kicked off the Silver Age of Comics. That comic was Showcase #4 (Oct. 1956), the issue that introduced the new-and-improved Flash replete with his now-iconic red and yellow uniform and a new visual language which emphasized his incredible speed with the use of motion lines.
He didn’t stop at breathing new life into the Flash. He also rescued the Batman series from the shallow camp and silliness that had come to define it for so many years. Returning the Caped Crusader and his sidekick Robin to their detective roots, Infantino threw out the more ridiculous elements of Batman’s mythos. What’s more, he would also co-create the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl.
1. Neal Adams
Neal Adams hit the late 1960s comic book scene like a gunshot. Having whetted his teeth on properties like The Elongated Man and The Brave and the Bold, Adams began a run on the Deadman series that would change the face of American comics forever. Utilizing bold depths of focus, disorienting compositions, and a new emphasis on dramatic lighting, superheroes had never looked more immediate and compelling.
From Deadman he moved on to collaborate with Dennis O’Neil on the Batman titles, where they gave the titular character the most dramatic stylistic facelift until decades later when Frank Miller took charge. Driving Batman further towards his gothic, detective roots even more than Infantino had, Adams helped make him darker, more obsessive and more violent. Later he would team up with O’Neil again on the series Green Lantern/Green Arrow where they introduced real world social problems into a genre that largely eschewed them, including racism, drug addiction, and environmental issues. He capped off his work for DC with the triumphant Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, one of the most famous Superman stories of all time.