In terms of page count, Aud Koch’s footprint in comics is relatively small; her professional comics debut was only five years ago, and her collective comic book output amounts to only a handful of issues across a number of publishers, including Image Comics, Marvel and Boom! Studios — and, from those companies, projects that are somewhat removed from the high profile, celebrated mainstream titles that everyone has heard from. She’s far from a household name; indeed, she’s almost the opposite, a secret shared amongst Those Who Know, a talent that’s yet to hit the big time and get the respect and adoration she deserves. Make no mistake, however; Aud Koch is a talent that deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as some of comics’ greatest illustrators.
The reason behind my certainty has little to do with her work for The Wicked + The Divine or The Ultimates 2, as beautiful as it may be — her WicDiv material, especially, has a fluidity and tonal quality that acts in opposition to the clear lines and solid nature of the series’ regular artist, Jamie McKelvie; as such, it presents as something outside of the traditional series structure, even as the written text makes it clear that the narrative she’s illustrating is part of the larger story. To properly see what makes Koch so compelling as an illustrator, the best place to turn is her self-directed work, either in self-published releases like 2015’s Chernozem or 2019’s If You Wander in the Badlands, or in the illustrations she releases online as she works on the ongoing Spider Kisses comic project.
There’s something gloriously old-fashioned about Koch’s work; that’s not to suggest that it looks dated, but that it takes influences from unexpected periods and figures in art history — the most obvious, perhaps, is 19th century English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, best known for his Art Nouveau-style illustrations that mixed eroticism with a graphic element that transformed figures and their surroundings into bold shapes that rejected realism in favor of a clearly defined, overarching aesthetic that dominated the page. Like Beardsley, Koch’s linework is precise and bold, with an interest in creating bold graphic textures on the page that is at least as strong as conveying any kind of figurative naturalism. In that, it also feels reminiscent of Gustav Klimt’s work, at times, although Koch is far more capable of restraint than Klimt ever managed.
If these figures seem a little too high brow, a little too fine art, then there are plenty of contemporary comic artists that share some similarity in different ways, whether it’s Joelle Jones, Paul Pope, or Christian Ward, all of whom have some connective tissue with the work that Koch puts forth, despite the seeming lack of connection or shared aesthetic they have with each other. That’s part of what makes Koch’s artwork so interesting, and so worthy of further study; it takes what should be contradicting styles and warring influences, and creates something that is stunning, attractive, and seemingly entirely organic and correct with every single brush stroke.
Whether she’s working in black and white or color, to look at an Aud Koch illustration is to get lost in the detail she’s placed across the page, whether it’s in the patterning of a character’s hair or clothing, or the pastoral information hidden inside the plant life or natural surroundings of any given scene. Koch’s day job is gardener and groundskeeper, which feels somehow appropriate, considering the obvious love her illustrations have for the natural world and the patterns and iconography it presents, from floral petals to the shapes formed by leaves layered against each other.
This is particularly clear in her black and white work, which is full with a masterful balancing of flat spaces — solid blacks, or the negative space of the unmarked white page — and intricate line work that takes up every nook and cranny. Even in her color work, which mixes ink and watercolors, she manages to control the washes of color in such a way that they feel full of life, of variation and detail that compels the viewer to look deeper. The overall effect is nothing short of hypnotic, in its own way.
One of the joys of Koch’s social media is her willingness to share work in progress, or rough sketches towards things that may one day become finished in some form or another; it’s an eye-opening glimpse behind the curtain that makes the final product all the more extraordinary in a way —to look at what could seem messy or hesitant in its earliest form, and then see it grow and become layered and complex as it continues along its journey, is to not only see Koch’s talent in full flow, but also to be given a clue about the ways in which she, herself, sees her art: the details, the life, that she can find inside an idea or a shape on paper.
Today, Koch’s work appears all-too-rarely, outside of her online outlets. She’s serializing Spider Kisses as part of her Patreon account, and will occasionally share art on her Twitter account. Every now and then, she’ll contribute something to someone else’s project (most recently, a cover for James Tynion’s Something is Killing the Children spin-off, House of Slaughter). As with anything that suddenly seemingly all-but-vanishes from view, it’s made what little we do get to see feel all the more precious, all the more important — but it also feels as if the world is starved of her artwork as the demand grows for more. We can but hope that, by the time Koch returns to comics full-time, or at least in a manner more prominent than is currently the case, she’ll get the welcome that she’s deserved all along.