Saturday, December 11, 2010

Top 10: Writers


Credit Walter Simonson with a lot of things. Making comics cosmic in a way that hadn't been accomplished since Kirby first introduced his New Gods? Check. Turn Thor into one of the most important characters in the history of comics, essentially making him as pivotal to the Marvel Universe as Superman was to the DCU? Check. Be prolific and groundbreaking for two plus decades? Check. Be one of the first creators to break the traditional "work for hire" model in comics and pave the way for creator owned properties to become a mainstay of the industry? Check. Marry the coolest girl to ever pen a comic? Check. Be the most important comic book creator of all time? I suppose that's debatable, but you'd have to give me a damn good argument against it.


Two writers got me back into comics as a young adult. I'd read Marvel comics pretty exclusively as a child but over the course of my pubescence, I somehow pulled away from them. I started dating a girl in high school who loved comics and she and her sister (along with a few other friends) made a concerted effort to get me back into them. It was a slow but successful process that really only took off when I discovered those two writers. One was Alan Moore and the other was Frank Miller. Miller's Daredevil run is without compare and remains to this day the definitive statement on the character. His neo-noir, knuckle busting epic Sin City is visceral storytelling at its best. But it was Miller on Batman that made me fall in love with him. As I mentioned in my post about Bruce Timm, Batman was a pivotal figure in my young life, but my exposure to the character had come largely through television and film. Miller changed all that. The brutal and powerful The Dark Knight Returns showed me a Batman different than any I'd ever seen, a Batman dark, frightening and almost god-like. A tragic hero for a tragic decade and the perfect hero for an angst-ridden boy in his late teens. But it was Batman: Year One, with his Daredevil co-creator David Mazuchelli (who narrowly missed the artist list) that made me love the Bat more than anything before or since. You'll hear me gush about Denny O'Neil and Grant Morrison's takes on Batman later in this post, but if asked, Batman: Year One will always be my favorite Batman story.


To be a Grant Morrison fan is to be patient. He's the master of the slow burn, the prestige, the, "I assure you I know what I'm doing so you're just going to have to wait for it." While Morrison is one of the more polarizing figures in comics, the overall quality of his body of work cannot be denied. On Doom Patrol, he reinvented the modern team book, then he went to Marvel and did it again on New X-Men. One of my favorite Morrison tropes though, is his blurring of the lines between our world and the printed page. The theme comes up heavily in much of his work, from his visit to Animal Man, to the allegorical epic Final Crisis to his excellent fantasy work Joe the Barbarian, Morrison tries to teach us that the world we live in is never so far from the one we create. Ultimately though, it's Morrison's Batman stories that have forever endeared me to the man. Now I'll be the first to admit that if you're not immersed in the epic history of the 70+ year old character, Morrison's Batman can be a bit hard to follow, but for those of us that love the Bat there can be no better run. I admitted above that Miller's Batman: Year One is my favorite single Batman story and that's certainly true, but Morrison's run on the character is my favorite collection, more so even than the classic run by Denny O'Neil. Why? Because there is a place, somewhere in the ether, where ideas spring from and the ideas that Morrison has about Batman are the same ideas and theories that I've had since I was a kid. I spend a lot of time thinking about Bruce Wayne and it's obvious that Grant Morrison does as well, and I appreciate that.


Oh Neil, you dreamboat you. Comics first (and only?) true literary rockstar, Gaiman is integral to the growth of the industry. While Alan Moore may have made some people stand up and notice that comics weren't just for children with Watchmen, it was Gaiman's Sandman that really removed the "funnybook" tag from the medium. I became a fan of Gaiman's in a backwards sort of way. I read his first couple of novels, the Terry Pratchett collaboration Good Omens and the excellent Wizard of Oz allegory Neverwhere, before I ever picked up an issue of Sandman. So I was already a pretty big fan before I started reading Gaiman's epic tale of the Dream King and his fascinating siblings. Sandman just felt different. There was something about reading it that screamed, "this is something new, this isn't the same thing that's come before," and it was honestly one of the first non-superhero comics I ever truly enjoyed. Gaiman contributed a lot to the broadening of my horizons and for that I am very grateful. I'd argue that Sandman is the only truly great thing he's ever done in comics, that he is a better author of literary fiction than sequential, but if Sandman were the only thing the man had ever written he'd still find himself on this list.


Garth Ennis is on this list for one reason and one reason only: Preacher. It's not that Ennis has never written anything else that I've enjoyed. His war comics are fantastic, his take on the Punisher was my favorite until Rick Remender came along and I still have a soft spot for The Pro, but it was Preacher that really changed my life. I was a young, angst-ridden guy full of spit and vinegar, a real 10-feet tall and bulletproof sort of kid, when Jesse Custer came into my life. There could be no better icon, no better hero for me to idolize at the time than the conflicted, passionate, romantic, flawed and loyal badass that was Jesse Custer. For years I read and re-read Preacher, every time finding something new, every time finding some new inspiration, not just as a writer but as a man. Jesse was complex, yet uncomplicated, tough, yet sensitive, intelligent yet simple. I could relate. Hell, I still can. Preacher also had a secondary effect on me; it was the first Western I ever truly loved. That love would grow to obsession over the years (I have tattoos commemorating the Old West), and would even come to influence my storytelling in a huge way. Without Garth Ennis, without Jesse Custer, that influential aspect of my life and my writing may never have flourished.


Planetary and Transmetropolitan. Two series in my top five favorite comic book series of all time. Two of five. Well done you crazy English bastard. Also, Ellis wins the, "Creator I'd Most Like To Get Drunk With," award. I'm keeping this one brief because I could write a book about how much I love Planetary alone. I'll reiterate and move on; TWO of FIVE favorite comic series of all time.


Denny O'Neil is on this list because he broke ground with all three of my favorite superheros (Batman, Green Arrow, The Question). His contributions to Batman, not the least of which is the creation of Ra's al Ghul, are myriad, what he did with Oliver Queen completely changed the character (he's still written in much the same way that O'Neil wrote him when he revamped the classic DC archer over thirty years ago), and his take on the classic Charlton character The Question remains one of my favorite superhero yarns of all time and served as the main inspiration for Alan Moore's portrayal of Rorschach in Watchmen. When you're talking about the most influential writers in the history of the DCU, you'd be hard pressed to find one more influential than Denny O'Neil.


Peharps the most fanboy-esque choice on this list, Busiek makes the cut because he understands superheroes better than just about anybody to ever take a stab at them. Astro City is excellent and you could argue that it's the most consistent comic title ever written. It's been good from the beginning to the present. He also wrote my favorite crossover of all time, JLA/Avengers, which can only be described as fanboy porn at its best. That scene where Captain America and Batman are talking about losing a partner alone is one of the coolest moments in comics history. And Superman carrying Captain America's shield into battle? C'mon! Add to this that the man is a diehard BoSox fan and you've got a perfect formula for some serious PING! motherbox PING! love.


It almost seems academic to sit here and talk about Alan Moore and why he appears on this list. He appears on this list because he's Alan damn Moore, that's why. The man is the most important writer in the history of the medium. If all he'd ever written was Watchmen, he'd still hold a place as one of the most important comics scribes ever, but we all know he's written a damn sight more than that. He's a legend and there's nothing I can say about him that could come close to doing him justice. Thank you, you creepy looking madman. You inspire us all.


Mike Mignola is my favorite comic book writer of all time. There, I've said it. More than Alan Moore, more than Grant Morrison, more than Denny O'Neil, Mike Mignola inspires me. Hellboy is the most consistent comic book I read each month and the ONE book I absolutely refuse to miss. I could be destitute, living in a van down by the river, and I'd still find a way to make sure I could follow Hellboy. And that's just Hellboy. I've said nothing about the dynamite spin-offs, the incredible one shots, the genuine epic nature of B.P.R.D. (yes, I know he doesn't technically write it anymore) and how it perfectly compliments its flagship title. Hellboy is the best comic book I have ever read and by proxy, Mike Mignola is the greatest comic writer I've ever read. If I can find an ounce of the talent and devotion he pours into everything he does, I'll live a damn fine life.

Well, that does it for my Top 10/Top 10, but that's far from the end of the event. Next up will be lists from friend and collaborator Jon Burr, followed by a host of other friends and fellow creators. There's still room to get in as well. If you read the blog and want to add your own list, just comment and let me know. PING! motherbox PING! is for everyone!


  1. And, just so Jon Burr won't throw a fit, here are the rankings.

    10. Neil Gaiman
    9. Garth Ennis
    8. Kurt Busiek
    7. Walter Simonson
    6. Frank Miller
    5. Denny O'Neil
    4. Warren Ellis
    3. Grant Morrison
    2. Alan Moore
    1. Mike Mignola

  2. Fit well avoided, friend. I'm STUNNED Moore was knocked from the top spot, but I am well aware of your Mignola fandom. I'm not surprised by anyone being on the list, but I am a little surprised Jim Starlin didn't find a spot, considering your adolescent love of Marvel's Cosmic Stuff. I'm willing to bet Paul Cornell finds his way on here, if his Batman run continues to be as excellent as his first issue. It's a good time to be a Bat-Man fan.

  3. Jim Starlin is definitely the first alternate. I just couldn't come up with anyone to boot out in place of him. I almost left Gaiman off in place of Starlin, but honestly, Sandman influenced me as a writer far more than anything Starlin ever wrote. So for the sake of the craft, I put nostalgia aside and allowed Gaiman to sneak in the back door.

  4. Ha!! Brett's letting a 'Gaiman' sneak in the 'back door'.