We're just barely two weeks into the new year, and most of the big best-of lists and things have already come and gone. Awards show season is in full swing and, while comics don't celebrate our 2013 until July due to the demands of the Comic Con schedule, a look forward at 2014 is pretty exciting. One of the biggest things we enjoy doing is looking at some of the talent that's just ready to pop; last year, we talked a lot about how Aaron Kuder was primed to take off, and then about midyear he got the job drawing Action Comics with Greg Pak, which was pretty vindicating. This year, we figured it could be fun to take a look at a handful of creators we figure are prime to take their career to the next level. Not all of these will be "rookies," but nobody here is going to be a lapsed superstar or anything. It's just a question of artists whose talent is there, and who seem to be in the right place to be a household name in 2014. One last thing to bear in mind: This is my no stretch meant to be any kind of exhaustive list of the many people in comics deserving of wider recognition. This is more like a list of people deserving of wider recognition and standing on the precipice of actually getting it. Let us know in the comments who you think is ready to blow up this year!
Jason Copland The Kill All Monsters artist (check his work out for free here) has gone full time drawing comics for the first time this year, taking off from his day job to pursue the armloads of work he's had coming his way recently. His was the first new preview art fans saw from Daredevil after the announcement that Waid and Samnee's run on the title was ending (it's coming back, don't worry), as he did a fill-in for Samnee that simultaneously had everyone saying "That's beautiful work!" and "Why use a fill-in if it's being cancelled in a minute?" Copland was a great fit, though; he's got a that same kind of clean, crisp feel that focuses on storytelling and is actually better in sequential form than it is in pin-ups and splash pages. KAM is the rare webcomic that can capture and keep my attention, particularly without a familiar name attached (at the time when I discovered it anyway). The place where he's really impressive is managing to pull off that kind of style while simultaneously being able to draw any insane thing you ask him to. He reminds me a bit of Mike Allred in that way. Copland and writer Curt Pires have a project underway called POP!, and that's going to be their big thing this year. I've pieced together that much information--and possibly a publisher, but I'll keep that under wraps until I know for sure--from social media posts, and I'm already asking my retailer to keep an eye out for the title.
Leila del DucaThe Pantheon Project was great fun, and like Copland, her storytelling is top-notch. It's an underrated thing to say about artists, but frankly it's been a while since big, bombastic art was really the in-thing with writers and publishers. It might look good on covers to have somebody whose every character is posing for the cover of something, but indies and Vertigo titles figured out a decade or more ago that it's better to have the Sean Phillipses and Darick Robertsons of the world and be assured somebody reading your book for the first time can figure out what's happening. And that's really the thing that's impressive about del Duca; she reminds me a bit of Robertson, in terms of her ability to tell a clean and compelling story while still including a ton of detail that impresses without crowding the image. It's a neat trick and only a few people can pull it off. She's got a new fantasy-adventure series coming from Image Comics this year with prolific writer Joe Keatinge, and it looks gorgeous. Keatinge is also one of those guys whose work is a blind-buy for myself and a lot of people I know, and the fact that Image is coming off a two-year-long string of hits doesn't hurt a bit, either. The Pantheon Project #1, a Kickstarter-funded story she worked on with writer Erik Taylor, is just 99 cents on Emanata, so you should really check it out and be ahead of the curve.
D.J. Kirkbride and Adam P. Knave These guys are kind of a cheat, since their work has already appeared on a bunch of best-of lists in the last couple of years...but they're hardly household names yet. Still, the increase in their output and things like the critically-and fan-praised Never Ending at Dark Horse have these guys on pace to do something really special this year. You can check out their work on Amelia Cole at ComiXology. The pair work separately from time to time, but they're a little Giffen and DeMatteis; they seem to enjoy working together, and arguably their most marketable work has come along that way. Don't be too surprised if these guys are offered some big property one day, probably together. Personally, I'd love to see what they could do with Donna Troy, but that's a whole other thing.
Christina Blanch Blanch had a pretty impressive 2013, to be fair. The college professor and newcomer to professional comics writing taught a massively successful "SuperMOOC" on gender in comics, during a year that those issues took center stage in a big way. She's respected and liked by just about everyone who deals with her, and around the time she launched the MOOC, she also launched The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood, a webcomic through John Rogers and Mark Waid's Thrillbent imprint. Later in the year, she and Waid went on to invest heavily in brick-and-mortar comic book stores, offsetting some of the criticism that digital comics supporters "hate" the direct market. Lost in all of that activity is something key: The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood is really, really good. And the fact that Blanch is turning out a terrific comic at a time when her visibility is so high (she's got a second SuperMOOC launching soon) is just begging somebody to offer her another gig. We hope she takes it.
Evan "Doc" Shaner This one, we'll acknowledge, is a late addition. Only because, honest-to-God, it got cut off at last publish and I didn't notice it until I went to share it with someone who is a big fan of Shaner's work. Apologies all around, and yes, we know that this one makes six technically, but we're treating the entry for Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride like it's one name because it's one entry. Doc is a favorite of our contributing writer Michael Brown, and he's a dude whose opinion on comics I tend to listen to. Shaner's style is clean and dynamic, and he's got a really fluid sense of motion to his work that makes him really well suited for adventure and action comics. We would have put our money down on superheroes (and did in the original draft of this paragraph) since he's done some Marvel work recently, but just this morning, Shaner was announced as the new penciller for Flash Gordon. That's a great gig for him, and we're looking forward to seeing what he brings to it.