Last Thursday (the last comic release of 2019, damn that flew) Venom #21 was released with the iconic Spider-man artist Mark Bagley doing the artwork, and as much as I love Bagley’s artwork, I realized that Ryan Stegman was my favorite artist of 2019. Its not fair to compare Bagley and Stegman because the art in Venom #21 is still amazing, but Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman created magic together on Venom and Absolute Carnage.

As certain friends would call me a walking contradiction, I am aware that there are better artist out there who dominated 2019 as well. For example what Jamal Campbell has done with Naomi and Far Sector is nothing but breathtaking. Ian Bertram had me drooling over Little Bird (which if you have not read yet, do yourself a favor and read it. It is a damn masterpiece) and as I have These Savage Shores sitting on my bookshelf to be read soon with beautiful art by Sumit Kumar, I have to admit that Stegman had a lasting effect on me.

Before Venom #1 in July 2018, I knew of Ryan Stegman but truthfully I would say I was not a die hard fan. I was going into Venom with the idea that Donny Cates was going to write a crazy ass story like he did with Thanos Wins. Little did I know I was about to fall in love with the artist. From just the cover alone, it had a sense of beautiful action horror, the way he drew Venom was perfect.

Throughout the series, Stegman would continue to create a haunting rendition of a character that was pretty well established. In Venom #3, the evil deity of Knull is introduced in the story and Stegman’s art makes the character unforgettable. The first volume of Venom is the Stegman show and his partnership with Donny Cates, made the book one of the best surprises of 2018. Stegman couldn’t surprise me again, can he?

Cates and Stegman would continue to dominate Venom and turn the series into the second best series coming out of Marvel. (Immortal Hulk is the best, if you are curious) Then in March 2019 at C2E2, Marvel would announce the comic event of Absolute Carnage. We were at the show and I remember looking Nora straight in the eyes and saying “Holy shit, this book is gonna be huge.”

Sure enough the first taste of Absolute Carnage came in the form of the Free Comic Book Day exclusive Spider-Man and I needed more. The way that Cates and Stegman changed Carnage was crazy, he became this creature that would induce nightmares and yet it was so damn beautiful. Carnage went from being kind of scary to “shit my pants” scary with Cates and Stegman turning him into a monstrous skeleton like god. I am sure other artist could had pulled it off, but there was something to Stegman’s artwork that made this version of carnage unforgettable. As some critics would say, Stegman was born to draw the book and they were not wrong, for the entire event, Stegman went crazy and crafted the most insane artwork of the year.

The thing that makes Stegman’s artwork so enjoyable, is that it’s so messed up, I can pick up a issue of Absolute Carnage or Venom and show a non-comic fan and they would be grossed out. It reminds me of Spawn and the work of Todd McFarland and Greg Capullo in that sense, the insanity of the art causes an emotion. McFarland and Capullo are among my favorite artists due to growing up loving Spawn and Batman, and it is obvious that they had a impact on Stegman through his artwork and that could be a reason beyond my love for his art this year.

Is his frenetic style for everyone? no, but it he is the perfect artist for Absolute Carnage and Venom. It will be interest to seeing what he does next after Venom. I have to ask, what type of craziness would Cates and Stegman think of on a creator own book, if they ever got the chance to do one. I look forward to the future of Stegman and Cates, as they work together and other projects.

Also his podcast, “Stegman and his amazing friends” is a blast to listen to. It is a lot like Venom and Absolute Carnage, you never know what is going to happen next.

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