Time for a semi-regular post in my series about comic book artists whose work I enjoy, a little bit about their career and my intersections with that career. Today: Adam Hughes, an artist known for his beautiful women but he has a range that is so much more, although he doesn’t do nearly enough interior work now that he is one of the best cover artists working today.
Hughes started in 1985 when he was only 19; his career kicked off in 1988 with a run on Maze Agency, an independent book at Comico written by Mike W Barr, but it would be in 1989 that he would make his mainstream splash on DC’s Justice League by Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis. It might have been a tough job following Kevin Maguire (another artist whose work I love) on the ‘Bwa-ha-ha’ Justice League because Maguire was the perfect artist to sell the sitcom aspect of superheroes, but Hughes didn’t show it. It would be where I would first encounter his work but where he also showed that keeping a monthly schedule is not his strength – he was on the title for 2 years but drew interiors for only 12 issues.
A traditional career would see an artist who breaks out on a mainstream title move to another big title; not for Hughes. He drew Star Trek: Debt of Honor, an original graphic novel for DC that was written by Chris Claremont after he’d been sidelined for the artists at Marvel, and he does fantastic likenesses of the classic Star Trek crew. (His art has a lot of clear inspiration – his Wonder Woman channels Linda Carter, his Catwoman channels Audrey Hepburn, and his Star Wars covers are beautiful renditions of the original actors/characters.) He drew the first appearances of the supernatural character Ghost at Dark Horse, eventually drawing the first three issues of the ongoing series in 1995. Prior to that, he drew a storyline in Penthouse Comix, which is an appropriate fit because Hughes draws beautiful female characters. In 1996, he wrote and drew the two-issue mini-series, Gen13: Ordinary Heroes, and in 1997 he drew the crossover issue WildC.A.T.s/X-Men.
However, it would be in 1998 that he would make the full transition to ‘cover artist’ when he started his 4-year run on Wonder Woman, producing absolutely stunning covers that would lead to his winning the 2003 Eisner Award for Best Cover Artist. He would draw covers for many titles for DC during this time (including Just Imagine Stan Lee Creating titles and a fantastic 4-year run on Catwoman that perfectly encapsulate Selina Kyle) that would cement his position as one of the best cover artists around. In fact, in 2010, DC published Cover Run: The DC Comics Art of Adam Hughes (that I stupidly didn’t purchase), which is now out of print and there was supposed to be a new printing in 2019 that included 100 new pages, but which was cancelled and it’s unsure when it will be resolicited. The world needs that book. I mean, I need that book.
Hughes continues to produce great covers: at DC, he did covers for Batgirl, Zatanna and Fairest, and has been doing variant covers for Superman (see his various covers on my Tumblr, Clandestine Critic); at Marvel, he’s currently doing covers for Invisible Woman and Black Widow mini-series, as well as a huge range of variant covers (in lieu of posting them all, you can see his variant posters on my other Tumblr, Variant Comics Covers).
However, he still does interiors: he drew the four-issue Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan in 2012, which looked absolutely stunning, even if there was no reason for it to exist; he also wrote and drew a lovely three-issue mini-series, Betty & Veronica, for Archie Comics in 2017 that was absolutely charming and hilarious – go see an extended preview here – that makes you want to see him write more often. It would be great to get Hughes’s All-Star Wonder Woman – originally down to drawn All-Star Batman with Geoff Johns, Hughes was moved to doing All-Star Wonder Woman with Johns, then Johns got too busy so Hughes was asked to write as well as draw; however, because his art pays the bills (particularly for his wife’s medical bills), the writing is being done ‘in his spare time’, which means progress is slow; it’s not officially dead but rather in a coma (see this CBR article in 2012).
I think that Hughes gets unfairly labelled as a cheesecake artist – he clearly has art nouveau influences, a sense of humour and a propensity for eye-catching designs that capture the essence of a character. Yes, he gets asked to draw beautiful women, but there is nothing inherently wrong with drawing beautiful women. He’s an old-school artist (he uses pen and ink, then colours in Photoshop) who puts a lot of hard work into his art, so he deserves respect. And how can you not love an artist who signs his work ‘AH!’?