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?
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.
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.
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.
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 Sword, The 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.