Like video games, comics are subjected to two vastly separate forms of art. The story is told in both written dialogue and the action of events in the form of drawn art. Both are equally important, but from my own personal experience, fans tend to praise the writers more than the artist. And from what I’ve seen, when the art is praised, it’s only given to the most realistic looking art. Now I’m sure some reading this will probably throw things at me. I do know plenty of people who this doesn’t apply to, but it’s still more often than not.
Comic book art isn’t about how close to realism you can make something look, but rather how one can capture the visual essence of the story being told. I mean, there’s plenty of great video games that didn’t go for the “as realistic as possible” approach that are still gorgeous and full of life.
Still, writers tend to be much more celebrated for wonderful comics while the artists are either mentioned in a passing thought or ignored completely. Again, I know this does not apply to all fans, but the point I’m trying to make here is that we really need to be talking more about these wonderfully talented people.
From abstract and surreal to pencils and painted, each artist, penciller, inker, and cover artist deserves to have their work talked about. Gushed over. Loved. So it was my thought to try and make sure that these artists’ works are appreciated and discussed. In this monthly series I’ll single out a comic artist to discuss. These can’t all be my favorites so please, if you feel I should include yours, mention them in the comments.
For this month we’ll be talking about Jen Bartel. A rising star in the comics community, Jen has been a force to be reckoned with in the past few years. Already she has an Eisner award for her cover art in the Image Comics series Blackbird, which she co-created with comics veteran, Sam Humphries. Not only has she received such a prestigious award, but she’s lent her talented hand to almost every comic publisher at some point or another. Covers and variants are her main source of credit and she’s done work for Marvel, DC, Boom, Dark Horse, and IDW. However, most of her (best, in my opinion) work is with Image. Her website and Instagram are also loaded with some of the best fan work I’ve ever seen.
Let’s talk about that Eisner first. Like a hipster would say, I was a fan of Bartel’s work before Blackbird. However, once the previews started to roll in, I was beyond excited. Until that point, my experience with her work was limited to her covers and variants, but learning that she was doing all the art for this series was the icing on the cake. Going in, I knew what to expect of the covers, but when it came to the actual in book art. I was pretty blown away. Blackbird perfectly encapsulated her style overall and then raised it to eleven.
The use of her neon colors is a staple of her cover work. In an almost thematic way, the pinks, purples, and blues are delightfully blinding with vividness of the 80’s aesthetic. It screams mystery and fantasy while at the same time a bright darkness. All the covers for this series feature a portrait character, and while the colors are definitely the highlight, one can not ignore the amount of detail used in her lines. From every strand of loose hair to the precise nature of the jewelry, each part is carefully and lovingly created. It’s easy to see why covers are what she is most known for. They sell the entire book. This is not only what I love most about her work, however.
While early on Bartel was known for her cover work, she has dedicated a lot of her time to interior art. For most artists, the differences are there and she’s no exception. Yet, the beauty is still there but in a different way. The vibrant colors and details are still top notch, but she’s given more freedom to use different palettes of color. The neon glow is still there, too, but is enhanced by making it just a bit less bright. Combined with the excellent shading and a show of fluidity in artistic movement, it’s easy to really love what she can do both on covers and within. Here’s to hoping that the seventh issue will be released soon. Please be soon.
Another more recent cover that I really loved was for the one shot Willow issue for Boom’s soft reboot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I could go on and on about Boom’s recent resurgence, playing on the nostalgia of our favorite series long dead. However, the biggest part of this is the artists they’ve hired. Bartel has been featured on a few covers but the Willow is by far my favorite. While keeping a witchy vibe, it also shows some little nods to dark Willow. The colors used feature the standard purple hue that’s seen a lot in Bartels work but matched with gold, orange, and blue, it’s a dark fantasy come to life.
One of my absolute favorite things about Jen Bartel is how much of a fandom lover she is. It’s always great to support your favorite artist by following them on social media. Yet when venturing onto Jen Bartel’s Instagram you’re greeted by an endless amount of her own fan art. This is an absolute treat for fans not only because of the art itself being so good, but also because she posts pieces at various stages, styles, and more. It’s a wonderful feeling to be a nerd and know that one of your favorite artists is as well. Some of my favorite stuff on there has to be all the love she’s been giving the Final Fantasy 7 remake.
I really hope you all enjoyed this first artist spotlight. I chose Jen Bartel first because for me she is one of the most talented artists right now. Her ability to transport us into her own wonderfully neon world is a constant source of pleasure to gaze upon. Hopefully we see more of Blackbird in the near future, but honestly anything is great. Please everyone share your favorite pieces by Jen Bartel and lets discuss them! As I said before, if you have a favorite artist you feel needs to have their own spotlight, please mention them in the comments too! Until next month everyone!
Suggested Artist Picks
Image Blackbird Vol. 1
Image The Wicked and the Divine Issue #24
Marvel Tales (Various titles)
Marvel Mighty Thor: At the Gates of Valhalla
Boom Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow
IDW’s Jem and the Holograms
Featured Image Courtesy of Image Comics