Spider-Man was one of my first, if not my first superhero comic book obsession. Despite all the crappy nonsense the character has been dragged through post-One More Day, the ol’ Web-Head remains my favorite hero to this day. Nobody, not even Mephisto, can take away all the enjoyment this character has brought me. I know one day the powers that be over and Marvel will realize just how badly they’ve messed up and fix it so I can go back to enjoying the best hero in comics in his own book again.
Until then, as I said, I only have my memories and all the great stories of old to revisit. Without a doubt, part of what has made Spidey so great is the long list of talented artists who brought Peter’s adventures to life. So in honor of them, I decided I’d count down the best of the best. Now this is my personal list, I’m not arguing whose the biggest name or the most influential. This is just a simple list of the five artists above all else whose version of Spidey comes to mind when I think of him and whose work on the character most excites me. As such, just because an artist is a big name like Steve Ditko or Todd McFarlane doesn’t mean they make the cut. This isn’t about sales figures, historical significance, or popular opinion. It’s about my love and nostalgia for the character and the artists who painted that vision in my head. So let’s swing into my mind and see who we find!
5. Mark Bagley
The first Spider-Man comics I ever bought were Mark Bagley’s comics. Without him, who knows when or if I would have started reading Spider-Man. His covers seemed so dynamic and expressive that I just had to know what was going on inside. Looking back, Bagley’s run on a Spider-book came right after Erik Larsen left and his earliest work pretty much aped McFarlane and Larsen. By the time I got to him, he had started to forge his own identity with the character.
Unfortunately, The Clone Saga was upon us and Bagley was right in the middle of it. I quickly became tired of the disaster that this event was. With no bright spot of the Marvel U to retreat to, I became so disillusioned with the House of Ideas that I quit them for two years straight, losing track of Bagley in the process.
I didn’t hear much from Bagley for years until he finally hit it big teaming up with Brian Bendis for their hit run on Ultimate Spider-Man. This was a more free and sure of himself Bagley who got to cut loose and show what he could do. I dare anybody, Bagley fan or not, to look at all the work he did on that book and not be impressed.
Bagley’s work outside of Spidey has been hit or miss with me. It never has been bad, but I never see the level of inventiveness and passion like he showed with Spider-Man. This has led to some rather bland art at points. Sadly, I don’t think Bagley will ever return to do another long run with the Web-Head, but a boy can dream, can’t he?!
4. John Romita Sr.
While Ditko may have the man to first put pen to paper and bring us the Spider-Man we all know and love, it was his successor, John Romita Sr. that wrote the book on how Spidey was done. His version of Peter Parker’s world was (and is) so iconic that it took until the late 80s/early 90s for artists to start breaking away from it.
While Sr.’s art may not have all the crazy poses or wild panel layouts modern Spidey fans are used to, there is an undeniable ease of flow to his layouts. You always know what’s happening and where everybody is in relation to each other. Moreso than anyone I’ve ever seen, Jazzy Johnny knew how to stage even the simplest of poses to make them feel dynamic and exciting.
Romita Sr. is the man who got to draw the world’s greatest comics reveal ever as Peter Parker and the audience were first fully introduced to my favorite female character of all time, Mary Jane (see above). Sr. also co-created and to this day draws the quintessential Kingpin. Even if you took away everything else the man accomplished with Spider-Man, those two points alone would be enough for him to make this list.
3. Humberto Ramos
This is going to be the most divisive choice on this list as comics fans tend to be either love or loathe Humberto Ramos’ art. Count me in the love camp. The interesting thing is that what seems to drive those who don’t like his work crazy are the very things that draw me to it. The proportions and anatomy of Ramos characters are very rarely realistic and often shift wildly from panel to panel. His drawings have more in common with Gumby or a Stretch Armstrong Doll than any real person walking this Earth.
What many people don’t seems to realize is that every squash and stretch is planned and intentional. Ramos bends the rules for all they are worth to try and deliver the coolest and unique shots and angles he can manage from panel to panel. Spidey allows him to push himself in ways no other super-hero could. Ramos’s characters are bold and expressive and always have a sense of motion to them, making him one of the beat visual storytellers in the industry today. Whenever I see Ramos’s work, I just get an overwhelming sense of fun. I feel like the artist had the time of his life making these pages, so why not jump in and enjoy the ride with him? It saddens me that I haven’t been able to enjoy Ramos’ most recent work with the wall-crawler due to the comic, y’know sucking since OMD, but Ramos has a lot of years left in him. I suspect I’ll once again be able to enjoy his work on ol’ Webs one day in the future.
2. Mike Wieringo
Mike Wieringo is the very reason I wanted to do this list in the first place. In the years since his tragic death at 44, not many people are really remember how insanely talented and important ‘Ringo was in the industry. People who go on these days about how much Mark Waid and artist Chris Samnee are in sync on Daredevil need to check out just how powerful it was when the twin Ws of Waid and Wieringo got together for runs on both The Flash and years later on Fantastic Four.
Getting Back to Spidey, ‘Ringo’s art was, well just look at it, it’s gorgeous.
What made him so great was that he able to capture that classic feel of Romita Sr. while injecting modern elements into it to make something distinctly his own. He knew how to make Peter/Spidey look both cool and dramatic and yet still somehow dorky in a way that I’ve never seen any artist manage to do since. Wieringo not only got it, he excelled at it; why they never gave him a run on the main book is simply beyond me.
One of the local movie theaters in my area has a large cardboard cutout of a Wieringo Spider-Man. Every time I see it I hope that everyone else enjoys seeing it as much as I do.
1. John Romita Jr.
If ever there was a man put upon this Earth to draw Spider-Man, than John Romita Jr. is that man. JRJR is so good at drawing Spidey that I consider every moment he spends drawing anybody else a mild letdown.
A lot of my appreciation stems from how JRJR draws New York, both on the ground and swinging from the rooftops. Truth be told, I’ve never made it to NYC, but Romita Jr.’s artwork makes me feel like I have. I believe his New York, which makes it all the easier to believe his Peter Parker living in it.
JRJR is a guy who keeps tweaking and refining his skill so that each time he shows new depth and complexity. Every issue he does is fresh and cool and leaves me wanting more. While Romita Sr. was the first to set the standard on how Spidey should be done, his son now carries that same torch for the modern era.
You can currently see JRJR’s killing it over at DC on Superman, but I have no doubt he will return to Marvel and Spider-Man soon enough. Thankfully for his fans, he’s too much of a professional and a workaholic not to.