I got excited when I saw that someone else was talking about “the definitive artist“. I can’t take credit for that since my blog was written but not published when I saw the Facebook post: Who is your definitive X-Men artist? The answers fell along familiar lines for the question: Jack Kirby, John Byrne, and Jim Lee all tallied many votes. I’ll tell you at the end who I voted for. But recognizing there are so many X-Men Artists that rock, who would you identify as your definitive X-Men artist?
Roll Call of Uncanny X-Artists
It’s a no-brainer to start with X-Men co-creator Jack Kirby. Knowing how prolific Jack Kirby was, we might assume Kirby penciled all the Silver Age X-Men tales. In fact, he had art credits on just the first seventeen stories contributing layouts for issues 12-17. Kirby provided cover art for these and some others as well. Besides the X-cast of heroes, Magneto and other notable X-villains were introduced during Kirby’s stint on the title. (Note: original comic art is often a collaboration of artists doing layouts, pencils, inks, fix-ups, etc. The artistic pedigree of a page is rarely available due to age, deadlines, and the failure to recognize that 4 or 5 decades later people would even care.)
Four original art pages from the iconic X-Men 1 (1963) sold in 2018. Bidders paid from $72,000 to $90,000 for that incomparable art. The splash page from X-Men 4 fetched $132,000 in July 2020. You might recall that issue introduced Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.
Before highlighting other original X-artists, I want to take that so-called evolutionary leap to artists of the new X-Men. Dave Cockrum and Gil Kane both deserve buckets of genetic kudos, but I want to focus on the contributions of John Byrne and Jim Lee for their unique X-styles.
New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, just plain X-Men and other things that happened
John Byrne, beloved among X-Fans, first penciled the X-Men title in issue 108. (If you own X-Men art by Byrne, why not leave a comment. We’ll try not to be jealous and accuse you of gloating!) John Byrne’s run (with able writing by Chris Claremont) was impactful and aesthetically pleasing. How about these spectacular art sales:
- Fate of the Phoenix two-page splash sold in 2019 for $204,000 (issue 137)
- Two other individual pages from issue 137 sold for over $40,000 each (2019/2020)
- Bargain shopping on X-Men 120 Page 5 that sold for $18,000, but featured the X-Men in their street clothes
Jim Lee’s artistic style infused the X-Men with enough juice to spin off a title simply called X-Men. Don’t come with an empty wallet if wanting to pick up some of Lee’s X-Men art. A few recent sales include:
- Uncanny X-Men 248 cover art sold in 2018 for $65,725
- X-Men 6 Page 20 interior art sold for $16,200 in 2020
- Several interior pages sold for around $5,000 in 2020, however, the pages were light on X-Men action
Other X-Men Artists that Rock
Besides Colossus-sized names in the X-artist roll call, many other artists have laid a foundation for outstanding X-Men tales. And in doing so, their art commands huge prices. First, I’ll go back to (drum roll please) the artist that I voted for as definitive X-Men artist. Let’s drag this out a bit. Neal Adams is my favorite artist. I’m going to give him some mention, but he didn’t win my vote. In my Modern Masters price guide, I include solid artists Paul Smith and Marc Silvestri; but no, I didn’t pull the lever for either. How about legend Dave Cockrum who contributed with art and cool costume designs for the X-people? Not him, either. Likely I am overplaying this… the ‘academy’ selected early X-Men artist Werner Roth. Not a glamourous name, but a foundation player for the team back in the days of homogenous blue and yellow costumes.
The X-Men surely must have been considered the C-team back in the sixties. Of course, Jack Kirby worked on the Fantastic Four. The Avengers assembled Marvel’s biggest solo characters not named Spider-Man. Despite the Avenger’s fluid lineup, X-Men must have been number three. So, how did they become number 1 among ALL comic book teams including DC’s JLA? The artist (and writers) that renovated the characters deserve the credit. As mentioned earlier, Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum were definitely X-Men artists that rocked. But even before that, I feel three huge artistic stars with relatively minor quantities of work, also played a role.
A Foretaste of better days with Art that Rocks
In X-Men 49-51, Jim Steranko brought his unique style to the mutant team. I think his bold artwork planted a seed that the X-Men could stand toe-to-toe with the other Marvel teams. The X-Men also briefly enjoyed the artistic stylings of Barry Smith. The Conan artist did his first comic art on Issue 53. And, as mentioned before, Neal Adams lent his unique style to the uncanny team on nine issues. Unfortunately, the X-Men swirled in the abyss of mostly reprints for a period until the New X-Men were introduced in Giant-Size X-Men 1.
Don’t be shy. Who are the X-Men artists most impactful for you?