It was a banner year in comics, one filled with astonishing work by the writers, artists, colorists, letters, cover artists, and beyond of the medium. That work resulted in remarkable works from all sides of the comic industry – which we’ll get into next week – and is worth celebrating. That’s what we do here at the end of the year, as The SKTCHD AWRDS, my totally real, absolutely not made up series of awards that highlight the year that was, launched this week by touting my Creators of 2022. All in all, 25 awards were handed out, with each focusing on something specific that stood out about each creator’s work in the year that was, and each is collected here into a single feature.
We’re going to get into those award winners here in a second, but before we do, let’s break down the rules to The SKTCHD AWRDS so you’ll know what you can yell at me about and what you shouldn’t.
- These aren’t the “best” creators of the year. I don’t feel as if I can speak to that. I can speak to my favorites, and precisely why they stood out. That’s what this is.
- This only considers work released in 2022, but if I read it in single issues (or some other format) in 2021 and beyond, it didn’t factor in to my process. Apologies to all trade paperbacks released in 2022, basically!
- Cartoonists were omitted from this if their only work of the year makes the cut next week…that is, unless they did other things I loved that ensured they’d make the list on those merits alone. So who was omitted, you might be wondering? Find out next week!
Without further ado, let’s get to my Creators of 2022, with each being in alphabetical order of each creator’s last name.
Also: this full version is open to non-subscribers. If you enjoyed my perspective on these creators or this feature at all, consider subscribing to SKTCHD for a whole lot more like it!
The Beating Heart Award: Sara Alfageeh
2022 Work: Squire
Why They Earned This Award: I knew I was going to love Squire as soon as I saw its cover.
There was just something perfect about it, something that made me feel as if I understood how it would feel to read it, even if I didn’t know precisely what it was about when I first saw it. It evoked a mood, hooking me as it did. That’s a tall order for any artist to execute. And yet, that’s emblematic of Sara Alfageeh’s work throughout Squire. Whether its the heart, soul, and passion of the title’s lead Aiza, how each character is given the same love and care as its main character, or the rigorous training sequences throughout, Alfageeh excels at not just telling the story but immersing us in it. That’s particularly clear in a chapter that finds a quartet of characters writing home, a sequence that could have slowed the pace and lost the reader, but instead is riveting thanks to the energy its given because of how the artist delivers it as a montage. It’s a marvel.
That’s not to say writer Nadia Shammas didn’t play a massive part in this — I suspect you might see Squire again next week, where we’ll discuss their wonderful work together more perhaps — it’s just Alfageeh’s work is the beating heart of this graphic novel, something that helps us understand and empathize with everyone in this story, even if we quietly loathe them through gritted teeth at the same time. Alfageeh’s a conductor of our emotions — something that’s amplified by her colors, with assistance by Lynette Wong and flats by Mara Jayne Carpenter — and one that brings a clarity of storytelling that allows each beat to breathe, making the visuals pop all the more. That cover wasn’t just a phenomenal piece, it was a mission statement, acting as a promise of things to come within Squire’s pages. It’s remarkable work throughout.
The Model Cover Award: Jen Bartel
2022 Work: She-Hulk, a million other covers
Why They Earned This Award: I may have mentioned before that I’m a fan of Jen Bartel’s She-Hulk covers, but that’s for good reason: I’m a very big fan of Jen Bartel’s She-Hulk covers! There are many reasons why that’s true, but one of the biggest for me is this: no covers this year better fit a project. Whether it was Nightcrawler and Jen Walters conversing over high tea or a flexing She-Hulk popping off a striking yellow background, each exemplified the feel and vibe of the series in a singular image. Pair that with the consistent visual themes for each arc — the solid backgrounds of the first one followed by the more full scene look to the second — and the corner boxes that make this series feel like a throwback and modern marvel in equal measures, and you have the recipe for a model cover to a series.
That said, it helps that each just looks good. Bartel’s gifts as a designer, figure artist, and fashionista fuse perfectly on each cover, and they found an apt muse in Jennifer Walters, a character as defined and uniquely her own self as any in Marvel’s oeuvre. When paired together, it results in a series of covers that match the project they’re connected to. Bartel did a ton of work this year, whether it was for covers or fan art that captures her enthusiasm for something. All of it was exceptional. But her She-Hulk covers stood out from the rest, an exceptional marriage of subject and artist that deserves to be celebrated.
The Perfect Fit Award: Jean-Francois Beaulieu
2022 Work: Twig
Why They Earned This Award: Beaulieu undoubtedly colored other comics, but my focus will be on Twig for this award, because that’s where the perfect fit lies. I’m not going to say he was the best colorist of the year — although his work on Twig is exceptional — but I will say no colorist found a better fit of project and artist than he did with Twig and Kyle Strahm respectively. Beaulieu’s a capable colorist on other projects and with other artists, but there’s never been a project that seemingly better matched him, and it resulted in just unbelievable work throughout. Beaulieu’s ability to turn everything, from a tourism-like page where Twig and Splat wander through their world to smaller moments of heartfelt discussion, into something that pops off the page while inviting readers in is astonishing throughout.
In fact, while Strahm and writer Skottie Young excel at their own roles, I might argue that no one defines the project like Beaulieu, whose candy colored hues and wildly imaginative palettes help this miniseries feel as imaginative and personal as it does simultaneously at every turn. Beaulieu’s work is the first thing I think of when I close my eyes and imagine Twig, capturing the energy and spirit of the project through his color choices alone. It’s a remarkable effort, and one of the defining performances by a creator this year for me.
The Vibe Delivery Award: Jordie Bellaire
2022 Work: Ant-Man, The Nice House on the Lake, The Thing, Batman (the Leo Romero backup), Gotham City: Year One, a billion other comics
Why They Earned This Award: You know what I appreciate about Jordie Bellaire’s colors? Beyond the fact that they’re always pristine and perfectly suited to whatever project she takes on? They always feel right. I know that’s not a “useful description” or “technically descriptive,” but with colors, great work doesn’t have to be about that. It’s about evoking a feel, delivering a vibe that guides the reader’s emotions and reactions in a way that’s sometimes obvious and other times not.
No one is better at that than Bellaire, someone whose work on endless projects ranging from superhero throwbacks like Ant-Man and The Thing to macabre dramas like The Nice House on the Lake always achieve the right energy. It’s storytelling through color choices and application, where everything looks incredible and amplifies beats in just the right way. She’s in rarefied air, a singular talent who elevates every project she takes on with her gifts, ensuring each of her artistic partners’ work and the comics she is coloring live their very best life.
The Big Step Award: Matías Bergara
2022 Work: Step by Bloody Step, unreal commissions
Why They Earned This Award: It’s hard to do a silent comic. You’re asking readers to follow precisely what’s going on and to believe the visuals are special enough to make them the primary, if not the entire, component of the comic. To do that, you need an artist who is both an effective storyteller and capable of show stopping panels and pages. That’s just for one issue. To do four oversized ones, you need someone special, an unusual talent that can guide the reader’s eye with ease, convey emotion at an apex level, and astonish readers so much that they can’t help but stare slack-jawed at it for a while before moving on.
In short, you need Matías Bergara.
Bergara’s the type of artist that is so good that when he reveals a commission, it isn’t a quick appetizer like they often are, but a four-course meal with complex flavors and subtleties throughout. And when he puts his all into a monster undertaking like Step by Bloody Step, his four issue miniseries at Image with Si Spurrier and the electric Mat Lopes (his impact cannot be underrated either), you get something that’s beyond compare. You could get every artist in comics to draw the same book and it wouldn’t look the same, both because each artist is a unique storyteller and because Bergara is a singular talent. He took a massive step to the top of the artist ranks this year, with Step by Bloody Step acting as his new magnum opus…for now.
The Immersion Award: Álvaro Martínez Bueno
2022 Work: The Nice House on the Lake
Why They Earned This Award: There are a lot of things that work, and work well, about The Nice House on the Lake. The idea is a banger, with it continuing to evolve and shift the deeper we get into it. The history between the cast members form the foundation for the misery to come, with much of the weight of the story — beyond the apocalypse of it all — coming from Walter’s relationships with his friends/captives. Each aspect of the project is executed exceptionally well, from James Tynion IV’s scripts to Jordie Bellaire’s colors and AndWorld Design’s lettering. But the element of the project that turns a title that in every situation would have been a good comic into a great one is Álvaro Martínez Bueno’s art.
With this story being about a group of 12 people (or…people-adjacent beings) having a get together at an unbelievably nice house on a lake as the world ends — with their location protected for plot reasons —the book needed an artist that could get the most out of the space given to them. It needed to feel spacious and mysterious while also being claustrophobic and restrictive. More than that, you needed to not just be able to see it, but feel it, as the best version of this story is one where readers experience it as much as anything else. That’s what Bueno brings to these events. Everything feels completely immersive. That’s true whether it’s the glorious and then frightening fun The Comedian — aka David — has while toying around with their ability to order things via the Apocalyptic Amazon-like service available to them or the tour of the controls to the nightmarish fun house they’re all in that The Artist — aka Ryan — takes us on as she snoops around the area. We’re there with them, and the experience haunts us as we read it.
Bueno grounds a big, crazy idea in reality, as if he’s the Norah or Reg to Tynion’s Walter, the one who takes the dreams of a utopia within a hellscape and turns it into something real. That’s not the only thing he thrives at, of course. Bueno’s been a revelation, delivering on each aspect of the book, especially with Bellaire’s colors amplifying each beat. But that immersion is something this book truly needed. Bueno delivered, and then some.
The MacGyver Award: Al Ewing
2022 Work: X-Men Red, Venom, Defenders: Beyond, Ant-Man, We Only Find Them When They’re Dead
Why They Earned This Award: The thing you need to know about Al Ewing is he can make anything work.
Need a tie-in to do something very specific while upping the drama 1000x? Want someone to build off a previous run and amplify it to a scale previously unimaginable without losing the idea’s roots? Want a tour of the entirety of Marvel existence and/or history? Want a story that makes you think and pump your fists in equal measures? There’s one person for the job, and it’s all the same one: Al Ewing. Give him a paperclip, a battery, and access to Roberto Da Costa and you’re going to get a page turn that transitions into a single page splash that is immediately tattooed onto your soul. Offer him Javier Rodriguez, a motley cast of characters, and unfettered access to everywhere and everywhen in Marvel besides the here and now, and you’ll get one of the most imaginative reads of the year. Whatever the base is, Ewing’s going to maximize it.
That’s what always impresses me most about Ewing. Restrictions aren’t restrictions for him; they’re opportunities. His work in the superhero space is particularly impressive in that regard, most notably how he has perfected the event tie-in form. X-Men Red #5 might well be the greatest issue of an exceptional event in A.X.E.: Judgment Day, and it’s the electric read it is at least in part because it somehow moves the larger universal thread forward while keeping the wheels turning on his own narrative. He isn’t bogged down by the needs of Marvel; he’s emboldened by them. That’s a rare gift, and something that makes him as exciting as anyone working in the genre today.
While my comparison point here in MacGyver, he also approaches writing like his recent muse in Abigail Brand. Like Brand, it often feels like Ewing’s the only one who can see the entire board, making moves and countermoves that constantly excite readers while surprising them at every turn. The good news for us is unlike Brand, he uses his powers for the forces of good, delivering uniformly strong work throughout 2022 while getting the most out of the tools available to him.
The Writer of the Year Award: Kieron Gillen
2022 Work: Eternals, A.X.E.: Judgment Day (and assorted tie-ins), Immortal X-Men, Once & Future
Why They Earned This Award: I hate repeating myself, both in life and in these awards, but sometimes the shoe fits. Speaking of, Kieron Gillen wins my vaunted, illustrious Writer of the Year Award for the second straight year. But could there really have been another choice? Here’s a spoiler alert for next week’s podcast: When you listen to that breakdown of my 20 favorite comics of the year, you’ll realize that Gillen didn’t just have one comic on that list, or even two, but three (and it could have been four if I really had guts). I genuinely don’t know if that’s ever happened before!
That’s the kind of year Gillen has had, though, one that’s a continuation of the past couple years. He has the Midas Touch right now, with everything he does — whether it’s his more line/character-specific superhero writing like Eternals or Immortal X-Men, the immensity of the 2022 Marvel event A.X.E.: Judgment Day, or the glorious, blockbuster insanity of Once & Future — living its very best life. These books deliver on everything I want from comics. They’re fun, funny, thoughtful, action-packed, emotional, and endlessly surprising, with each existing at the zenith of the specific genre or concept they’re trying to execute. You’re just as likely to be moved by the life and times of a poetry loving kaiju death machine as you would the death of an all important character. Equally — and crucially — both are executed exceptionally well, just like everything is by the writer these days.
Gillen’s always been one of the strongest, most uniquely him writers in the medium. Lately, though, there’s a little something else in his formula that’s popping for me, a twist or zest of something that has taken him to another level. I’m unsure as to what it is. It could simply be the passage of time, experience sharpening what had already been sharp. Whatever it is, it’s resulted in back-to-back wins of one of my top awards, and a position as the writer whose work I’m most excited to read on any given week. I don’t see that stopping any time soon either.
The Degree of Difficulty Award: Asaf Hanuka
2022 Work: I’m Still Alive
Why They Earned This Award: While I’m not going to say that Asaf Hanuka was the best creator of the year, what I will say is he might have had the tallest task of anyone this year. His job was to take the life, times, and words of author and journalist Roberto Saviano, one that’s largely defined by being stuck in single locations for significant periods of time because he’s under police protection thanks to threats from the Italian mafia, and to turn that into a graphic novel. More than that, Saviano isn’t a comic-centric person by any means, so working off a foundation provided by him means Hanuka didn’t just need to tell a story, but translate one to a different medium altogether effectively. There is every reason for I’m Still Alive, the graphic novel that this pairing resulted in, to be an impactful yet staid work.
And yet, it’s one of the most exciting releases of the year visually, a tour de force in which Hanuka busts out every narrative trick in the book — while inventing others in the process! — to give Saviano’s story the sense of tragedy and danger that defines it.
Hanuka was already one of the best of the best in comics, but I’m Still Alive is truly an astonishing effort, one that finds a master at the peak of his powers while he turns one of the world’s most interesting people’s story into something even more riveting. The degree of difficulty of getting there must have been off the charts. In Hanuka’s hands, you never feel that. You just see that while there were many answers for the pages and panels of this release, there were none better than what Hanuka brought to it, resulting in a project that reaches the potential of its remarkable subject — and then some.
The Never Misses Award: Faith Erin Hicks
Why They Earned This Award: As far as I can tell, Faith Erin Hicks has written, drawn, or redrawn (in the case of the re-released One Year at Ellsmere) 21 graphic novels in her career to date, with the majority being written and drawn by Hicks. While I haven’t read every one of those, I’ve read most of them, and let me tell you this: Faith Erin Hicks never misses. There isn’t a bad release amongst them, with each bringing the trademark pitch perfect character work and the heaping handful of heart we’ve rightfully come to expect. Hicks’ floor is good and her ceiling is excellent. She primarily lives at her ceiling, which is part of the reason she’s my favorite cartoonist. To steal the title of one of her works, nothing can possibly go wrong in her hands.
2022 was no different, as her latest First Second graphic novel Ride On — a lovely, charming work about friendship, growing up, and how loving things can bring us to together (or tear us apart) — finally spoke up for the hordes of horse fans out there, adding another strong release to her always growing bibliography. If that was all she did, she’d deserve this slot. But that wasn’t all she did. Hicks also unleashed two of the most relatable mini-comics of the year on Instagram, with one being about the sense of helplessness she feels when everything is going wrong in the world and she makes comics for a living, while the other examines her complicated feelings about Twitter falling apart. Both subjects were something many felt in their own ways, but in typical FEH fashion, she nailed the sentiment in a way that was somehow both universal through her individual perspective and entertainingly endearing. They’re wonderful works for what could have otherwise been throwaway strips.
In short, they’re even greater evidence that Faith never misses, and the world of comics is all the better for it.
The Blockbuster Award: Jorge Jiménez
2022 Work: Batman
Why They Earned This Award: I think you could make an argument that in this specific moment, Jorge Jiménez is the best superhero artist active today. It’s not necessarily because he’s my favorite artist of the year – more on that later! – or because he’s the best overall. It’s just no one else defines the genre as well as Jiménez does, with his work creating the vision of what it means to be a blockbuster superhero comic in 2022. He’s 1995 to 1998 Michael Bay but for 2022 cape comics, 1 someone who wears his influences on his sleeve but somehow makes them all feel electric and new. More than that, he’s capable of so much more than just explosive action, with his sense of the moment being something few can rival in the genre these days. When he wants a beat to hit, it hits you in a way you’ll never forget, as shown in the above page from Batman #127, which was easily one of my favorites from 2022.
One thing that I find interesting is that Jiménez isn’t new to Batman, or to superhero comics for that matter. He’s always been one of the best. But there’s something about his pairing with writer Chip Zdarsky that has has helped elevate his work to a new level, as this opening Failsafe arc has given Jiménez space to find even higher heights for his work. Sometimes that means he’s given the chance to slow down. Other times it’s speeding up. Occasionally it’s about going bigger than ever before, or finding panels and pages to bask in the smaller beats. Whatever the situation needs, Jiménez is given space to find it, and he’s found the best version of his own art within it. It’s been incredible to see — and read.
The Teamwork Award: John Paul Leon, with Bernard Chang, Shawn Crystal, Mitch Gerads, and Dave Stewart
2022 Work: Batman/Catwoman Special #1
Why They Earned This Award: When John Paul Leon, one of the most masterful artists in the history of the medium, passed away in 2021, it left a void behind. Something many felt acutely, whether it was family, friends, or even just fans. It was a major loss for comics, and the world. He was a great guy and a remarkable talent, and one that will forever be missed.
But in one way, there was an even more specific void: his final issue was unfinished. JP had completed the first 13 pages of the Batman/Catwoman Special, a story he was doing with writer Tom King that highlighted Selina Kyle’s Christmases from her youth to her death, with each highlighted holiday earning a single page. He had also drawn the masterful cover you can see above, as well as breakdowns on pages 14 through 20. That meant that over half the issue was either complete or on its way. That meant there were two options. One was for DC to never finish and release the issue. The other was to find a way to complete it. Thankfully, the publisher chose the latter, and the solution to the problem was perfect: they got a little help from JP’s friends.
Leon’s pals Bernard Chang and Shawn Crystal teamed up to finish the pages that had breakdowns, while King’s primary collaborator and friend Mitch Gerads stepped in to complete the final 18 pages, with colorist Dave Stewart tying it all together with his typically exceptional work. Each artist has their own style, their own look, their own vibe. And yet, they kept themselves out of it as much as possible, honoring Leon by both finishing the issue and doing everything they could to deliver a look and feel consistent with the pages the artist did complete.
The result is one of my favorite issues of the year, a heartfelt, insightful, wholly unique issue that features one of the titans of the art form’s final work, and one of the great collaborations in recent memory to ensure it was completed. It was a perfect showcase of how comics are a team sport, and a wonderful goodbye to one of the greats of the art form from his peers and pals.
The Team Supreme Award: Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente
2022 Work: Friday
Why They Earned This Award: Marcos Martin is one of the greatest comic artists of this century, an unbelievably flexible, unique, and brilliant storyteller that astonishes on the regular. Muntsa Vicente is an elite colorist, bringing the best out in her collaborator’s and making everything sing in just the right way. Any time one of them works on a comic, it’s worth noting. And yet, the two are collaborating once again on Friday, the Panel Syndicate and then Image series they’re doing with writer Ed Brubaker, and it feels like the noting is rather limited these days.
That’s a shame, if only because this is the finest work they’ve ever done, either together or separately. Friday, the story of college-age detective Friday Fitzhugh who is working to solve one more case despite the absence of her constant collaborator Lancelot Jones, is a visual marvel, a wall-to-wall highlight reel of tone, atmosphere, and electric storytelling. This comic asks everything of Martin and Vicente, whether it’s to make a snow storm one of the most engrossing environments in recent comic history (they did) or to stagger us with fear when a tentacle-laden monster shows up (success once again). Whatever the series requires, they deliver on, resulting in an incredible looking comic.
This isn’t diminishing Friday as a comic, a series I absolutely love, or Brubaker as a writer, who kills it on the series himself. But it takes a special duo to turn a classic prose concept – the teen detective – into something that pops as a comic. It’s a genre that’s not often touched on in the medium, perhaps because our view of what genres comics are capable of is often and oddly limited. But Martin and Vicente make this story not just pop, they make it sing, delivering a visual tour de force that readers find themselves immersed and invested in thanks to their remarkable craft. It’s a wonder from a pair of wonders.
The Roy Kent Award: Dan Mora
2022 Work: Once & Future, Batman/Superman: World’s Finest
Why They Earned This Award: “He’s here/He’s there/He’s every-fucking-where.”
If you’ve watched Ted Lasso, you’re likely familiar with the song of support for Roy Kent, the end-of-his-rope former superstar of football (or soccer, as us Americans call it) that viewers can’t help but love despite (or because of) his gruff nature. While the days have gone where he truly was here, there, and every-fucking-where, Roy Kent will always be Roy Kent, so that’s how the song goes out of love.
While Kent may no longer be at the peak of his powers, the days have certainly not gone by for Dan Mora. In fact, he’s just getting started, and comic readers are loving the ride. Similarly to Kent, though, Mora is seemingly everywhere, somehow often drawing two titles at once without losing any bit of quality. Whether it was Once & Future and Detective Comics at the turn of the calendar year or Once & Future and Batman/Superman: World’s Finest through the bulk of 2022, Mora’s been doing double duty, with covers coming quite often because I presume he became bored from all his free time. And like the pinnacle of Kent, Mora isn’t just everywhere, he’s one of the best of the best, delivering energetic action sequences, exceptional character work, and pitch perfect storytelling at every turn. Mora isn’t just one of the busiest artists working today; he’s one of the best, full stop.
It sometimes makes me wonder what his art would look like if he was only drawing one book at a time. Could he be even better? Maybe. Maybe not. But whatever Mora has been choosing to do is clearly working so far, so let’s just leave him to his own devices and watch him cook. It’s been working for us so far.
The Artist of the Year Award: Javier Rodriguez
2022 Work: Defenders: Beyond
Why They Earned This Award: I believe I am on the record as being a fan of Javier Rodriguez.
This likely isn’t news to you.
But to make it even more clear, there’s this award, one that’s deserved: Javier Rodriguez is my artist of the year. Defenders: Beyond is an enormously fun five-issue miniseries, a tour of Marvel history and concepts that astonishes and thrills at every turn. Writer Al Ewing does remarkable work in it. But if it’s a showcase of the inner workings of the Marvel Universe, it’s equally one of Rodriguez’s art, as he pencils, inks, and colors his work, delivering outrageously incredible craft throughout. The formalist experimentation, the concepts and execution, the character work, the joy he brings to the read, all of it is comes in its most elite form. Rodriguez feels like he’s having a blast telling this story, and it’s impossible to not bask in that as a reader.
One of the things I appreciate the most about Rodriguez, though, is that every time I read something he draws, it feels like he’s the only person who could have done it. That’s not to say that other artists are fungible, interchangeable talents. But Rodriguez’s mix of gifts and abilities makes him singular, someone who sees the steep challenges of Defenders: Beyond – a tour of anything and everything Marvel, and one that’s always on the fringes of breaking the universe – and says in response, “That’s it?”
There’s no one else like Rodriguez, an artist that delivers astonishing work every time he takes on a project. That certainly was the case in 2022, which is why he’s my Artist of the Year.
The 2 Fast, 2 Furious Award: Chris Samnee
2022 Work: Fire Power, Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters
Why They Earned This Award: Not unlike yesterday’s award winner Dan Mora, Chris Samnee is drawing multiple books these days. Unlike Mora, though, Samnee isn’t just drawing them, he’s also co-writing one in the just concluded Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters. That alone is an impressive feat, especially when you overlay all the covers he does on there (to say nothing of the work he did in a recent anniversary issue of Daredevil). Being busy isn’t necessarily award worthy on its own, though, even if it is remarkable.
What is award worthy, however, is the fact that he’s managing that workload and still producing some of the strongest art in comics these days.
Which project is your preferred flavor of Samnee is up to you, though. As much as I love the electric action scenes and massive dragon battles he’s depicted in Fire Power – something that’s genuinely astonishing in both scale and storytelling – give me Jonna any day of the week. It feels like Maximum Samnee in all the best ways. The joy, the energy, the pacing, the storytelling…all of it is elite, and the purest form of the artist’s work we’ve ever gotten. Sure, always being colored by Matthew Wilson is as close as this medium has to a performing enhancing drug for an artist, but as we’ve seen in his Batober work and beyond, there isn’t a version of Samnee’s art that isn’t exquisite.
Next year won’t see Samnee working on Jonna, as that series has wrapped. I suspect it’ll still be a good year for fans of the artist, even with him only working on one comic at a time. Be it one, two, or (preferably not for his sake) twenty, it honestly doesn’t matter how many projects he’s working on. Whatever he produces will be wonderful, as this year – and each preceding one in his career – has proven.
The Problem Solver Award: Valerio Schiti
2022 Work: A.X.E.: Judgment Day
Why They Earned This Award: Drawing an event is difficult, I imagine. Drawing any comic is difficult, really, but events are monster undertakings that have a scope and scale other comics struggle to match. That’s baked into the DNA of the idea. They’re typically giant crossovers that touch on more characters, more locations, and more of everything. In my opinion, though, an event like A.X.E.: Judgment Day is even more of a challenge, because while it goes big with the best of them, a considerable portion of its focus is on the ground, as it explores the impact these apocalyptic events have on normal humans nearly as much as the super variety. You need an artist with a versatile skillset for something like this, someone who can solve whatever problems may arise.
In short, you need someone Valerio Schiti.
That versatility is the thing that impressed me most about his work on Judgment Day. That event prominently featured a giant Celestial, six normal humans and their thoughts on what was going on, a cast of dozens, the mass devastation of a people on an entirely different planet, montages largely built on whether peopled earned a thumbs up or thumbs down, extensive conversations, and even more extensive battles featuring forces both human and kaiju sized. I’m not sure an event could ask more of an artist. Schiti delivered on every aspect of it, making us feel the weight of moments both big and small. That’s not easy to do, but it’s something Schiti has always excelled at. This project just gave him a bigger showcase to do so, and he thrived when given the opportunity.
The Many Hats Award: Declan Shalvey
2022 Work: Old Dog, Time Before Time, varying covers
Why They Earned This Award: The funny thing about this award is that it was given to Declan Shalvey because of both the quality of his work and the amount of it, just based off what I was actively aware of within his year. But after reading his most recent newsletter, I realized that he did far more than I even realized! Here I was thinking he had at least three hats in 2022 – three very busy, very striking hats – and apparently there were even more than that!
That’s the kind of year he’s had, though, one where Shalvey’s popping up in every corner of comics and crushing it in each one. That was certainly the case on his covers, whether it’s for his own books like Time Before Time and Old Dog or other projects like Star Wars (or Trek) related ones and sneaky greats like Arrowsmith. Every time I thought I had a grasp on his work, a new cover would pop up and wow me completely unexpectedly. Shalvey’s long been one of the better talents in the covers game, and this was a strong year for those who carry that belief.
But his most impressive work were in his two main projects, Time Before Time and Old Dog. The latter is a spy-fi series that he’s writing, drawing, and coloring, one that’s two issues deep and already showing significant promise and a real sense of identity. The former is a time travel crime series he co-writes with Rory McConville, and despite the loss of series artist Joe Palmer, Time Before Time found its footing in 2022, delivering its strongest year yet well into its run. Shalvey carries quite the burden on those books, between co-writing or writing both, drawing some or all the issues, providing covers for each, and generally being the emcee of both.
He continues to thrive on both, with each delivering more and more with the passing of issues. That’s hard to do, especially with so many other responsibilities. And yet, Shalvey continues to impress, proving himself adept at wearing as many hats as one can handle, without losing any bit of what makes his work great to begin with in the process.
The Artist’s Artist Award: Greg Smallwood
2022 Work: Human Target
Why They Earned This Award: When I was receiving perspective on the year that was in comics from creators for a pair of pieces on SKTCHD, several things stood out as repeating fairly often. It was clear people were rather fond of Kate Beaton’s Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands. Zoe Thorogood’s It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth saw similar levels of celebration. And if those were two pillars, the third was the fact that artists really, really love what Greg Smallwood has been doing on Human Target. The guy generated stunning enthusiasm amongst his peers, awing them in a rare way. It seems as if he’s the artist’s artist of the year, someone who makes everyone else equal parts astonished and angry at just how dang good he is.
It’s hard to disagree with that take: he really is that good. Smallwood being a remarkable talent isn’t new, of course. I remember first coming across his art in the first volume of Dream Thief and just being floored by it. He stood out as different from the jump, elevating whatever project he was working on at the time. Human Target happens to be his latest, and it finds Smallwood reaching a new apex, as all of his talents – his storytelling, his character acting, his ability to infuse mood into every panel, page and issue – are firing on all cylinders. For a maxiseries about a murder investigation by the person who is slowly dying, it’s an inviting, welcoming experience, one you luxuriate in as much as read.
That’s Smallwood. He’s someone who takes readers in to the heart of the story, almost like we’re in the room with Christopher Chance, Ice, and the rest. This isn’t new for the artist. He’s always been able to do this kind of thing. But Human Target finds him doing so at a new level, and more readers are discovering just what he’s capable of in the process. If he keeps it up, he won’t just be the artist’s artist; he’ll be everyone’s. And it will be well deserved.
The Another Level Award: Fiona Staples
2022 Work: Saga
Why They Earned This Award: One of the fascinating things about Saga’s 3.5 year absence is, perhaps understandably, most people focused on the negative of it. “Where’s Saga?” “Why isn’t it coming back?” Those were just two common questions amongst many others, many of which were even more upset than that. But one thing that no one seemed to consider – beyond the human part of the equation, and why these fine folks behind the book may have needed a break – was another question altogether: “If they’re taking this time off and artists tend to get better with time, just how good will Fiona Staples be when Saga returns?”
The answer, it turns out, is “even better than ever before,” as the first arc back for the book found Staples’ work improving on an incredibly impressive foundation. It wasn’t that her style changed, or that there was something showy to her evolution. It was more about refining, as the first page from Saga #1 (on the left above) and Saga #55 (on the right above) show. There’s a cleanliness to the line that just makes the whole thing pop even more, as Hazel on the run from #55 maintains all the energy in Staples’ art while just being tighter and clearer in its storytelling. That’s what you’ll see throughout the arc, as nothing that worked was lost, it was just added to, refined, enhanced, and improved on in a variety of subtle yet impressive ways. The raw energy of the early work was just focused into something even more impressive.
While I’m certain Staples leveraged that time between issues to take care of many important personal milestones, it’s clear she also used that stretch to find ways to fine-tune her work. It resulted in her finding another level on Saga, something I didn’t believe to be possible before, but was pleased to discover upon the happy return of that standout Image series.
The Questing Award: Kyle Strahm
2022 Work: Twig
Why They Earned This Award: There are constants to any great quest in fiction. A strong lead, someone we’re invested in following. A great hardship, obstacles in the lead’s path as they go along. An exceptional supporting cast, characters who aid and/or prevent the lead from reaching their desired goal. Twig is, perhaps above all, a story of a quest, or more specifically, the quest before the quest, as that lead’s role as a Placeling is to deliver an item to a specific place at a specific time to ensure the world continues on and the natural order of things plays out. But there’s one other leg any great quest with visual elements needs: a remarkable artist to bring it to life.
Kyle Strahm was just that for Twig, one-half of the whole that defined this series for me alongside day one award winner Jean-Francois Beaulieu. Strahm’s visuals built the foundation of this series for me, investing me in the characters and astonishing me with the world in the process. That latter idea is one of my favorite parts of the series, as this team as a whole knew it was necessary to not just act as constant plot delivery devices, but to ensure we had a better look at and feel of the world Twig was going through. That helped readers develop a sense of place throughout Twig’s quest, and montages through alien yet wondrous landscapes made the proceedings feel that much more magical.
It also helped that Strahm’s character work was remarkable throughout. While series lead Twig was a relatively familiar shape and size, albeit blue and furry, the other characters within – namely Splat, his trusty sidekick (that honestly is quite often more competent than he is) and Lobee, the last Horned Beast – aren’t quite as traditionally expressive. That’s particularly the case with Splat, a character with no face or rules to how its limbs work in any sense of the word. And yet, Strahm brings them to life all the same, with Splat in particular being an energetic, engaging addition to the mix, someone who you always understand and empathize with despite the fact that…well, all typical shortcuts to emotions are absent from his species. As much as a great quest is defined by its visuals, we can only care about that grand journey if we care about those on it. And Strahm made each work, and work well, ensuring Twig reached the high heights it did in the process.
The Angry Onigiri Award: Sana Takeda
2022 Work: The Night Eaters: She Eats the Night
Why They Earned This Award: The funny thing about the first book in The Night Eaters trilogy is the part that stood out the most to me from artist Sana Takeda’s wondrous efforts wasn’t the potent character work, the remarkable colors, or even the horrific dolls I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion. Instead, it was the logo to the restaurant the twins from the book, Milly and Billy, owned. Called Spam I Am, the entire face of the restaurant was a masterpiece by Takeda, with an effective logo and a giant mask-wearing Elvis to even further our understanding of the scene’s time and place. But the angry onigiri – or a triangular rice ball, something they serve at Spam I Am – that acted as its logo’s mascot-ish aspect was the pièce de résistance, an exquisite, iconic addition to that shop’s entire vibe.
In another artist’s hands, that might not have been a focal point, a quick scene that was delivered and moved on from with little thought or detail. Not in Takeda’s, though. The artist made a meal of it, delivering a standout beat out of a panel that both established the setting and a vibe of the book and characters. That’s kind of Takeda’s whole thing, though. The thing I love about her work is how her values as an artist are always evident on the page, resulting in added impact for readers who enjoy the details of art. Whether it’s helping us understand the twins through the design of their restaurant, scaring our pants off in rather frightening, Junji Ito-esque visit to a home for seniors, or turning Ipo’s obsession with cigarettes into part addiction and part performance art, Takeda never misses the opportunity to enrich her stories visually. The fact that she’s always adjusting her work to better fit the project just makes it all the better.
That’s where the wonder of her work lies. You can always trust that when Takeda’s working on a comic, she’ll find the right solution and look for every panel and page. That means a lot to this reader, and it’s why she’s one of my Creators of 2022.
The Newcomer (To Me, At Least) of the Year Award: Tri Vuong
2022 Work: Everyday Hero Machine Boy
Why They Earned This Award: Tri Vuong’s someone whose work I had never experienced before, so when Everyday Hero Machine Boy was announced, my urge to dive in was there, albeit muted. That was despite the fact that trusted people over at Skybound – the parent company of Skybound Comet, the all-ages imprint over there – suggested to me that this entire book was a revelation, particularly Vuong’s work. That was enough to ensure I’d get there eventually, but tie goes to the creators I was already jazzed about reading. The up-and-comers would wait until my end of the year push.
As per usual, I am an idiot and should listen more.
That’s because this whole book, but Vuong’s work in particular, was remarkable. What stood out the most about it was Vuong’s characters, as every emotion – joy, heartbreak, fear, doubt, etc. etc. – was worn on the sleeve, face, and body of each cast member. That was particularly the case with the titular lead himself. Vuong’s muse was clearly Machine Boy, a character who is so electric and alive that he immediately becomes someone you want to follow and defend to the end of time. While the whole book looks great, with potent action sequences, a sense of style few can match, and the storytelling of a 30 year pro, that character work was the heart of this book for me. Vuong’s so effective at that side of the job that he controls our emotions in the process, resulting in a graphic novel we feel as much as read.
That’s veteran artist stuff. That’s best of the best type stuff. That, apparently is Tri Vuong, my newcomer of the year (with apologies to his preceding work I have not experienced yet!).
The Orchestrator Award: Michael Walsh
2022 Work: The Silver Coin, The Oates & The Elphyne
Why They Earned This Award: There are a lot of things I love about The Silver Coin, Michael Walsh’s horror series drawn by him while featuring a rotating cast of writers (as well as Walsh stepping in to the writing role for the finale to each arc). One is that it genuinely scares me, even if I only like that part of the time. Another is that every issue is a different flavor of horror, with the cast of creators that join Walsh guiding the series down a shockingly wide mix of subgenres. But my favorite is its very structure, and how it inverts the typical single issue concept of the writer being the constant while artists rotate. Walsh imagined a new direction for this book, and it has been all the better for it.
Walsh as The Silver Coin’s orchestrator has been a thrill for this reader, as his casting of his collaborators has resulted in a constantly surprising, exciting read. But that would all have been for naught if he couldn’t deliver on his end, and the artist has done so in both roles. Each arc’s highlight, at least for this reader, has been the finales he writes and draws himself. They’re the larger, lore driven issues. They’ve been standouts because they take the work in the other issues and build a foundation out of it, creating a big, interesting, and engrossing overarching plot out of what otherwise could have been a fun horror anthology filled with entertaining one-and-dones. That makes The Silver Coin even better, and it speaks to Walsh’s vision as a creator.
And it’s worth noting that the cartoonist somehow – somehow! – also crafted an entire all-ages graphic novel that was released this year in The Oates & The Elphyne, a real charmer of a book for Humanoids’ line for younger readers, BiG. Walsh is going big of late, making the most out of an array of opportunities, and readers are being rewarded for it.
The Busiest Man in the Comics Business Award: Chip Zdarsky
2022 Work: Daredevil, Batman, Stillwater, Newburn, Kaptara, Public Domain
Why They Earned This Award: One of my favorite random things from the past couple years in comics was how James Tynion IV left Batman to focus on his Substack comics, while Chip Zdarsky also took a grant through the email newsletter platform, and then later on signed up as the new writer of Batman. While that’s an accurate yet oversimplified version of that story, it’s an amusing anecdote of the musical chairs nature to certain for-hire gigs in comics.
It’s also a reflection of how Zdarsky has become one of the busiest and most in-demand creators in comics. The rigors of the first year of Substack asked a lot out of the creators involved, so some dialed back their workloads. Not Chip! He’s both writing Batman and tackling Public Domain and Kaptara on Substack, but he’s also writing Daredevil for Marvel, Newburn at Image, and Stillwater over at Skybound. Truth be told, he’s so busy that I actually forgot Newburn initially, despite the fact that this crime series with artist Jacob Phillips is a very good one with an elite pair of leads. That’s pretty busy, as my brain is typically a steel trap about all of this.
As is a common tale in this section of The SKTCHD AWRDS, though, Zdarsky doesn’t get this award just because he’s busy. Busy doesn’t mean good, and thankfully, Chip is absolutely delivering. In fact, this has been the strongest year in his career in my opinion, with Daredevil building to impressive levels (both in how it became an event for a minute and with everything that’s happening with The Fist right now), Batman being the most entertaining that series has been in years, Stillwater getting gloriously insane as it nears its end, Public Domain in particular standing apart from the rest of the work. Zdarsky’s busy, but more than that, he’s crafting some of the finest comics in each of the genres he’s working in today. He’s one of the best creators going right now, and 2022 was his most impressive year yet.
And I genuinely mean that as a compliment!↩