2020 was a challenging year for so many people worldwide. With the coronavirus pandemic going on, a lot of us were stuck inside. The end of the year saw the Comicbook.com crew decide to get together to hash out their favorite moments across movies, television, games, and comics from the past year. We managed to cut each field down to five nominees, and each staff member gave their input on these choices before landing on the winners.
Art is the primary method that comics move readers. Story is important, of course. Lettering, inking, and all of those other factors are crucial too. But when the rubber hits the road, the image has to carry the day for anything in a visual medium. The profile of comics has exploded over the course of the last decade, but a lot of fans get their start by seeing some cover work that speaks to them. You pick up the book and then page through before deciding to purchase a title, or you scroll social media before a single splash page grabs you. Tone can be crucial in establishing an art style. Is a work indebted to the past of the medium, or is it looking forward? Are you trying to push the envelope with mixed media, or are you going for something noir-focused in black and white? There is no question that 2020 continued to raise the bar for comics as a whole, but particularly for the art.
And the winner of the 2020 ComicBook.com Golden Issue Award for Best Artist is…
Daniel Warren Johnson!
Johnson's DC work in 2020 - both in the Black Label miniseries Wonder Woman: Dead Earth and in the anthology one-shot Dark Nights: Death Metal: Legends of the Dark Knight - really leaned into how wild the multiverse could be, and delivered thought-provoking takes on characters that will live on in fanart and other projects down the line. Time and place are constant tenants of the sequential art medium, and you can really tell when you’re in a world that Johnson is creating.
Wonder Woman: Dead Earth plops readers down into a world that is familiar, but fascinatingly hostile. The world as DC Comics fans know it is but a memory now, and Wonder Woman has to try to help a post-apocalyptic world evade complete destruction. Johnson’s art is just raw and gorgeous. The world might be in ruins, but it can still inspire wonder. Every time Diana looks out upon the ruined world, you can imagine the lives that used to be there, or the mighty struggles that led this world to the brink of destruction. But even with that kind of desolation on display, there is a marked sense of playfulness in every panel.
The Dark Knights: Death Metal event was kind of like an artists’ dream, with the DC Multiverse completely open for you to pick and prod at however you see fit. However, Johnson’s specific skill set fits right in with the sort of dark tone the flagship series carries with it. Death Metal Is truly a funhouse mirror, and every corridor offers a different reflection on another DC staple -- in Johnson's case, a story about "Batmobeast", an alternate version of Batman whose consciousness had been absorbed into a monster truck. Even amid the darkness of the event, the true wealth of possibility comes into focus, with the help of weird Batmen, feral Robins, and deep cut supporting characters that will make you break out your DC Comics Character Guide.
A lot of ink has been laid down in comics concerning possible futures, spiraling timelines, and the nature of heroism in our current place in history. But, Johnson's art communicates that getting people invested is the easiest way to facilitate emotion and resonance with an audience. So, as the world heads into 2021, Daniel Warren Johnson holds the throne for best artist, and with his work for this year set to include a Beta Ray Bill series for Marvel, we're very excited to see what the future holds.
- Daniel Warren Johnson (Wonder Woman: Dead Earth) -- WINNER
- Joe Bennett (The Immortal Hulk)
- Mike Huddleston (Decorum)
- Pepe Larraz (X of Swords)
- Stephanie Hans (DIE)