Comic Book Moonlighting

Comic publishers are always in search of new fans. One method to entice the public, nearly as popular as reboots and events, is the big writer from outside the world of comics. Kevin Smith and Jodi Picoult, for example, were huge names in pop culture that brought mass market attention to comics.

Though the introduction of writers unfamiliar with the medium can bring some clunky writing and amateurish storytelling, it can also lead to exciting, innovative books. Brad Meltzer, for example, was best known as a novelist when he came to DC in 2004. His first story, Identity Crisis, is a modern classic. Before writing Sandman, Neil Gaiman’s literary output was a mix of journalism, short stories, and a Duran Duran biography. These are guys we have no problem thinking of as dyed in the wool comic writers, despite their origins outside the medium.

Looking to the modern crop of writers, there’s no shortage of examples. Comics wunderkind Scott Snyder kicked off his writing career with a short story collection, but now works primarily in comics. Dial H scribe China Mieville has nearly a dozen novels under his belt, and continues to put out a novel a year while dabbling in comics. In fact, Mieville is an author that I’d hoped would try his hand at comic scripting for years, and the guy that inspired this column.

The cross-pollination of comics and other media (and my day job as an indie bookseller) got me thinking about what authors I’d love to see come to write at Marvel and DC. Though I don’t doubt that any of these writers could pen a fantastic original story, I’m assigning this fantasy team to books with established characters. What decades-old heroes could use a bit of a bump from a fresh writer?

Lev Grossman

The Magicians, The Magician King

Put him on:  Thor

Grossman, a Time magazine book critic and author of The Magicians, has a knack for combining the worlds of literary and genre fiction. In The Magicians, the author created a book that read like “Harry Potter: The College Years,” a smart mash-up of classic fantasy tropes and jaded kids who were very aware of them. Grossman is an incredibly energetic writer – he seems to be excited about what he’s writing, and his passion for all aspects of geek culture is infectious. He’s particularly adept at writing super-charged teens and young adults, folks adjusting to their powers and adulthood simultaneously. I think Lev could write a killer version of the Mighty Avenger-era Thor, a kid dealing with a world that is brand new to him. Grossman has expressed interest in writing comics before, so maybe a leap to superheroes isn’t a big stretch.

Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Telegraph Avenue

Put him on: Superman

Most comic fans are familiar with Michael Chabon, thanks to his Pulitzer-winning Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. In all his work, Chabon is fantastic at capturing nostalgia and creating an empathetic nostalgia among readers. Somehow whatever he’s looking at retains the grandeur it had in youth, in a way that seems sincere rather than rose-tinted or cloying. There’s no character I can think of that’s suffused with as much nostalgia as our old pal Clark Kent. I have no doubt that Chabon could give Supes the gravitas he needs, and tell some fantastic stories. The author created a vital, rich world of heroes and villains for The Escapist in Kav and Clay, and it’s fun to imagine what he could do in the DC sandbox rather than starting from scratch. Chabon has one promising comic story under his belt (JSA All Stars #7), and rumors occasionally swirl about publishers looking to bring him into the fold. Hope springs eternal.

Justin Cronin

The Passage, The Summer Guest

Put him on: X-Men

Cronin jumped onto my radar with The Passage, a dystopian epic reminiscent of King’s classic The Stand. The most surprising thing about the book (other than a vampire novel coming from a “literary fiction” writer) was how handily the author juggled a massive cast. Not only that, but Cronin masterfully shifted voice from character to character. The cast didn’t feel like ciphers; gender, age and personality varied wildly, and some of the villains’ minds were downright frightening to inhabit. Cronin also writes complex (and straight-up badass) female characters, a talent we could stand to see more of in comics. Given his  experience managing a large cast and a chameleon-like ability to switch characters, a team book would be a great fit. I think X-Men would be the best home for Cronin, especially given his penchant for writing killer redheads. If Jean Grey returned, she’d fit write in the The Passage‘s Amy Bellafonte and Alicia Donadio.

Cat Valente

Deathless, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Put her on: Wonder Woman

Catherynne Valente is a master at crafting new takes on ancient myths and folklore, called (somewhat jokingly) mythpunk. Starting with mythology and adding a modern storytelling spin, the subgenre allows for an examination of myth from around the world. In The Grass-Cutting SwordThe Habitation of the Blessed and Deathless, Valente tackled Japanese, Christian and Russian stories with aplomb. With the character of Wonder Woman so steeped in Greek and Roman mythology – especially in Azarrello’s current series – I have no doubt that Valente could bring a unique take to the character that draws from the panopoly of gods. Her poetic prose could work beautifully in the mouths of the WW cast, and the right artist would do justice to the imaginative worlds she builds within her stories.

Of course, this is just a handful of authors that I would match with specific characters. There’s loads of others – Gillian Flynn, Nick Harkaway, Glen Duncan, and Tana French, off the top of my head – that I couldn’t think of a character to assign. And I’m woefully underread in a few genres, and in many contemporary authors. Tossing out the question “what novelist would you like to see work in comics” on Twitter, names like Neal Stephenson, Charlie Yu and Chuck Palahnuik came up.

What authors would you like to see in comics, and which books would you put them on?

 Josh wants all his favorite authors to write books and comics. Is that too much to ask? Follow him on Twitter for plenty of talk about beer, books, bookselling, and even comics.


  1. Someone get John Scalzi or A. Lee Martinez on the phone.

  2. How about Jonathan Lethem? He did have a (great) novel titled “The Fortress of Solitude,” after all.

  3. chabon = yes. a thousand times. based on yiddish policeman’s union, i’d pay good money for a crime comic written by him, too.

  4. Margaret Atwood, Junot Diaz, Aimee Bender, Ben Loory, Karen Russell, all would be great, I think. Comics need more writers that will take advantage of its capacity for wondrous visuals, and all these folks would more than qualify, I think.

    • I second all of those, but Diaz and Russell in particular. Junot obviously has a great love of comics, and Russell’s creativity blew me away when I read Swamplandia.

  5. I still think Paul was dead on the money about putting Christa Faust on Catwoman

  6. I would love to see John Scalzi take on the Fantastic Four.

    I also think Jim Butcher doing some kind of high fantasy, JL: Dark, or even something more ‘urban’ like Spider-Man would be cool.

    Neal Stephenson doing basically anything would be beyond my wildest dreams.

    And it goes without saying that any that have been mentioned doing an ORIGINAL comic series would also be more than welcome!!!

  7. Matthew Pearl (The Dante Club) could write a story for Ruse. Daniel Wallace (Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician) as scribe for Zatanna.

  8. I’d love to see a manga written by Haruki Murakami.

  9. Great idea for a post, Josh.

  10. I’d like to read a Punisher MAX written by David Wellington.

  11. “…Identity Crisis, is a modern classic….” Charitable description, no?

    • Nope.

    • It’s certainly controversial. The comic that retroactively brought rape to the Justice League… there are a lot of critics who hate this story. Calling it a classic might be a stretch., but then again we all have different ideas on what that is.
      I’m not trying to pick a fight conor, just a conversation. I feel like we’re always butting heads and it makes me uncomfortable as a fan of your stuff.

    • No one’s in any fight here.

      You’re correct that everyone has different opinions on what is and isn’t good and what is and isn’t a classic. There are people who hate WATCHMEN.

    • stop fiiiiiiiighting!

    • I wouldn’t argue that it’s a book that every reviewer or reader will love. That said, it was a phenomenal sales success when released, continues to be a top seller on DC’s backlist, has remained in print since its publication (no small feat), and sits on a number of recommended book lists by critics, booksellers and libraries. It’s a book that, as far as I’m concerned, will be a part of the “canon” of comics for years to come, for a number of reasons. It had an impact on the medium and readership will endure, which is enough for me to call it a modern classic.

      There’s certainly an argument to be made for its quality, but that’s true of any popular title. I used “modern classic” more for its impact and endurance than anything else.

    • Whether or not Identity Crisis is a classic might be debatable. But even if it isn’t a classic I still think its a good thing the author describes it as one because I would bet this article gets someone to give the book a try. I honestly had written Identity Crisis off long ago but ended up reading it after the guys said it was good on one of their Video Podcasts and really enjoyed the book.

  12. Rick Moody for Fantastic Four
    Nick Hornby for Spider-Man
    Irvine Welsh for Hellblazer
    Jennifer Egan for Doom Patrol
    Salman Rushdie for Doctor Strange
    EL James for Catwoman 😉

  13. I love this article.

  14. Elmore Leonard for something like Grifter, maybe Punisher.

  15. Paul Auster for the Question

  16. I would love to see Sherman Alexie, maybe on (a modern re-interpretation?) The Lone Ranger or something like that.

  17. i want to see david sedaris on something… but i’m not sure what. so i’ll just say catwoman.

  18. Michael Chabon on Superman would be one of the greatest things to ever happen in comics. Such a perfect fit. With Doc Shaner on art, I think.

    Lev Grossman would write a killer Loki! I also think he’d be great on an X-Men title, maybe New Mutants or X-Factor?

    Also, everyday I hope and pray that Nick Harkaway will write a comic. I’m pretty sure he’d be awesome at anything. He’s be one of the few writers who could get me interested in the Fantastic Four. And I think he’d write a killer Black Widow or maybe Batwoman.

    Oh! And Charlie Yu! I want to say Booster Gold because Yu’s great with time travel but I think he’d be better on Guardians of the Galaxy or a space opera.

  19. Tom Clancy on Captain America and G.I. Joe.

    Elmore Leonard writing Jonah Hex.

    Dale Brown on Iron Man.

    Stephen King on Batman.

    Michael Shaara on Sgt. Rock

  20. What a great ideal for a column! Now that you say it, I’d be surprised if Lev Grossman doesn’t end up writing at least a limited series in the not-too-distant future. Maybe something magick-y like Doctor Strange or Madame Xanadu.

    I never see Walter Mosley’s name come up in these conversations, but he wrote a super essay about the Fantastic Four a few years ago and I’d love to see him try that. Or Heroes for Hire, that seems like a natural fit. I think Dennis Lehane is on record not being interested in doing superhero comics, but I’d still love to see what he’d make of Daredevil as he does working class protagonists who are intense without being one-note or humorless (and Daredevil often suffers if a writer isn’t capable of that lighter touch.)

    Seriously, though, I know this is a fun hypothetical but I think with the direction of the industry, writers who want to take a serious stab at comics — rather than writing a few issues of a favorite hero for fun — might take the Joe Hill or Caitlin Kiernan route and go with a creator-owned book.

  21. Patrick Rothfuss on… hmm, something. He’s smart enough to pull off something like Sandman, but that’s spoken for. I could see him following his “master” Joss Whedon to X-men, but that’s been done. How about Spiderman, or maybe a Batgirl/ Supergirl team-up. To be honest he might just do a creator owned series with a new ip, that could be real fun.

    Oh, and a second on Scalzi. Maybe on a Bizarro trade? It would have to be something a bit irreverent, but with a bit of history to it. To be honest with his writing style, interests and relation to the “geek community”, I’m a bit surprised he hasn’t tested the waters yet.

  22. Great article!

    What about a twist and suggest writers from the past taking on comics…
    Washington Irving writing Doctor Strange. How about Edgar Alan Poe on Batman/Detective?. Ernest Hemingway on the Incredible Hulk…man of short, powerful phrases on a man with short, powerful phrases. Thoughts?

  23. I’d love to see some underground horror authors…Gina Ranalli is phenomenal, or Sheri Priest on a steampunk comic.

  24. I thought Meltzer’s run on Green Arrow came before Identity Crisis.