Make his debut in comics Journey into mystery #83, Thor is one of the most recognizable heroes in all of media. The God of Thunder has starred in 3 feature films, appeared in several more, and is set to hit theaters again on July 8 at Thor: Love and Thunder.
Although the character has been around for 60 years, he wouldn’t be where he is today without the artists who brought his multi-dimensional exploits to life. From Jack Kirby to Walt Simonson to Nic Klein, nearly every penciler and inker who has drawn the Odinson has done so with aplomb. But not all artists are created equal. Whether it’s the design choices they implemented, the iconic fights they drew, or the characters they created, some illustrators have had a more lasting impact than others.
The first artist to portray the character following the departure of Jack Kirby from Marvel Comics, John Buscema’s contributions to Thor lie in his choice to maintain the status quo. The artist could have completely shaken up the look and tone of the comics, staying true to the fundamentals of the character’s world while subtly adapting it to his sensibilities.
While some might argue that Buscema’s partnership with writer Roy Thomas left the character in a stagnant state, it’s important to recognize that the two solidified the canon established by Lee and Kirby. Consider some of the iconic stories Buscema penned such as “The Day the Thunder Failed” and it’s clear the artist’s work was fundamental to future creative teams.
After drawing the Thor comics in the late 80s and early 90s. Ron Frenz’s contributions to the book can be seen in creating characters like Eric Masterson and helping to put together the New Warriors. Although the former character hasn’t had a major comic book appearance since the ’90s, his time as the god of thunder is well-regarded.
While none of Frenz’s characters have yet been seen in the MCU, it seems his design for the Thunderstrike character influenced one of Thor’s new costumes in the film. It’s pretty subtle, but the sleeveless leather jacket and ponytail clearly evoke Thunderstrike’s unforgettable aesthetic.
The only artist to ever draw a solo Thor title, Bryan Hitch’s rendering of the character in The Ultimates is influential for the liberties he took with the character. It was the first time Thor had been rebooted for new readers, and Hitch’s choice to remove the cape and helmet influenced other properties.
The most notable aspects of Hitch’s work can be seen in the MCU. Thor’s Confrontation With Hulk In The First Avengers Movie Is Inspired By A Similar Fight In The Ultimates (Thor’s gaze during this part of the movie even drops the cap). Most notably, Thor’s actual hammer in the movies, Thunderstrike, is clearly derived from the battle ax version of Mjolner that Thor wields in the Ultimate comics.
Having illustrated the character as part of several different creative teams, Olivier Coipel’s most notable contribution to the God of Thunder can be seen in the chain mail that covers Thor’s arms. The choice to enhance Thor’s warrior aspect has been picked up by other artists in the comics and replicated squarely in the MCU, where a bare-armed Thor is used sparingly while chainmail is the norm.
Beyond this aesthetic flourish, Coipel also helped redefine how Asgard looked when transported to Earth. The decision to move the fabled realm of the gods allowed Coipel to contrast the fantasy of the series with a more grounded approach. More importantly, the plot would continue for several years in the comics and eventually influence the creation of New Asgard in the MCU.
Succeeding Walt Simonson, Sal Buscema brought a more traditional look to the Thor comics that emphasized the fantasy elements of the characters in favor of the science fiction that Simonson had toyed with. Beyond that, Buscema has also illustrated some of Thor’s best numbers, such as “The Gift of Death” and “Journey Into Mystery.”
Perhaps the most memorable moment of Buscema’s time as a cartoonist is when he helped introduce the gold and blue power armor to the series. This design is so distinct that few artists have returned to it, but that hasn’t stopped Taika Waititi from lifting the chest piece for the new Thor: Love and Thunder.
The first artist to draw Jane Foster as the God of Thunder, Dauterman’s influence can be seen in the way he and writer Jason Aaron flipped the character without angering (reasonable) fans. Dauterman gave Jane as much respect as other cartoonists put into their illustrations of the Odinson, and that respect for the character is why readers have stuck with the title.
Another argument for Dauterman’s influence lies in his stylistic inclinations. Departing from the sacred, painted tones of Esad Ribić and the grounded approach of Olivier Coipel, Dauterman brought the comic book dynamism that the title had lacked for some time (a dynamism that was picked up by the artists following). In short, Dauterman brought the fun back into the book.
Drawing inspiration from the painted comic book covers of Alex Ross, Esad Ribić offers some of the most elegant illustrations for the god of thunder. Its pages are breathtaking and help bring out the majesty of the Nine Realms.
The serenity of Ribić’s pages are juxtaposed with the stories to which he contributed. His work with Jason Aaron gave readers Gorr the God Butcher, one of Thor’s most brutal villains, and a character who has become entrenched in myth despite only being around a decade. With him finally making his MCU debut in love and thunder, only time will tell if he’ll live up to his deadly comic counterpart.
As a writer and artist, Simonson has some of the best Thor comics under his belt. His name is synonymous with the God of Thunder, and his pencils have breathed new life into the character and his rogues gallery.
Simonson may not have created the characters of Skurge, Surtur, and Hela, but when someone thinks of these deities, it’s usually because of what Simonson did with them during his run. And then there’s Beta Ray Bill. Perhaps the biggest character in Simonson’s run on the book, Bill remains a staple of the Thor canon, one of the select few characters to garner as much love as Thor.
Having illustrated the character from 1962 to 1970, Jack Kirby remains one of the longest-serving artists of the character he helped adapt for Marvel comics. He’s the man who designed Thor’s iconic costume and the first to conceptualize Asgard, Hel, Jotenheim and everything in between.
Kirby could have kept the character strictly grounded in fantasy, but his choice to incorporate sci-fi elements proved key to the comics’ success, and it’s that look that continues to inspire. artists to date. Without Kirby, there would have been no Rainbow Bridge, Warriors Three, or Destroyer. Without Kirby, Thor wouldn’t be Thor.
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