4 Comic Book Writers

 If you’ve been listening, watching, or reading iFanboy for a while, you’ll probably have noticed that we do have a sweet spot in time where many of our collective favorites were published. There was a golden age from about 1998 to 2002. Personally, that was the time when I came back to comics from a lot of time off. The big difference for me, in coming back was that I suddenly became aware of the people making the comics, as much, or more than the characters featured in the book. The only two names I’d really been aware of as a young reader were John Byrne and Todd McFarlane. When I came back to comics, I looked for them, but I didn’t want Spawn, and something about Byrne had changed. So it was quite by chance that the following names grabbed me so. But I can tell you that I wouldn’t be doing this site or even still reading comics today, were it not for these writers. Some of them might surprise you.

1.  Mark Waid – There was a time when Mark Waid was my favorite writer. I’m not sure if he changed, or if I did, but these days, that’s not so much the case. What’s interesting is that the things he’s most well known for doing in the 90’s weren’t even books I read. I didn’t read Kingdom Come until much later, and I only got to reading The Flash right when Waid was nearly off the book. No, for me, Mark Waid made his mark on JLA: Year One, and his run on Captain America (which was collected in August’s Book of the Month). When I came back to comics, these were the books that most impressed me, and pulled me in. It was a perfect blend of reverential characterization, fun imaginative stories, and a more modern storytelling, meaning that they weren’t corny. Being corny was a conceit of some comic books, because of the way comics were done in the past, and I was so glad to not have to deal with it. Moving forward, I didn’t really stay a Waid fan. It’s not that I don’t like him, but my sensibilities moved along a bit. But most of the time I can appreciate what Waid brings to the table. He has an incredible imagination, and the most comprehensive knowledge of comic book history out there. I have no doubt that his part in the 52 formula was integral, and part of me thinks he probably didn’t get enough credit on that. Mark Waid, not Grant Morrison, is the guy who made me care about Green Lantern, and the rest of the Justice League. Mark Waid is the guy who made me love Captain America. If not for him, I might not have read many of the excellent stories that followed after.

2. Paul Jenkins – Paul Jenkins was supposed to be one of the big guys, up there with Mark Millar, Brian Bendis, and Grant Morrison, but it didn’t quite happen. When I first discovered him, I thought I’d found someone I’d be sticking with for years. Jenkins’ 12 issue Inhumans series changed my world. It was a story that took the enormity of characters like the Inhumans, and got into their heads, making them real people. He did an entire issue from Lockjaw’s point of view, and to this day, that’s one of the best issues I’ve ever read. After that, Jenkins and Lee collaborated on The Sentry, which in retrospect, wasn’t that bad. Yes, I said that. It was an ambitious concept, and I love the intent behind it. Then Jenkins wrote Spectacular Spider-Man, which was re-named Peter Parker: Spider-Man for about 3 years. I still remember his issues with Humberto Ramos, a Green Goblin story, as some of my favorite modern Spider-Man stories. The shine came off a bit for me when Origin began, and they tried to fill in the story that shouldn’t be told, which is the backstory of Wolverine. The thing is, I don’t know if there’s a writer anywhere who could have made that work, and satisfied the fans with a good Logan history. And we all remember Civil War: Frontline, which pretty much closed the lid on my Jenkins fandom. Still, the fact that he produced Inhumans, and some very good Hellblazer stories before that, tells me that he’s got gold in him, even if it’s not a home run every time.

3.  Warren Ellis – Warren Ellis is one of my favorite writers. Warren Ellis was my favorite writer. These days, I don’t really like his mainstream work, but he’ll do work from time to time that shows you what he’s really capable of, and if another issue of Fell ever shows up, we’ll see it again. But the man who ushered me in to the world of Vertigo Comics did so with the resplendently vile Transmetropolitan, a mix of political and social anger, wrapped in nihilistic science fiction futurism, was Warren Ellis. Who knew comic books could be like this? You can tell stories other than Marvel and DC Comics, and they can be amazing. He can feature a disgusting comedic beat, and a moment later, he can fill your eyes with tears. The Authority took the gritty concepts of Miller and Moore, but added in energy and action, literally changing the way comics were written afterwards. In those days, the Warren Ellis Forum was the place to be on the web, and Ellis was a guy who was nearly building a cult around himself. But eventually, I tired of the “I hate doing work for hire” rants, which was always followed with the announcement of a work for hire project. But there are certain kinds of stories he does which are as good as, or better than anyone else out there. If you have a terrible world, and a sympathetic tough guy in the center of it all, Warren Ellis will create a story that sticks with you, and no one does that better than he does.

4. J. Michael Straczinski – While I’ve become wary of JMS comics, I feel like I will owe him for all time, if for no other reason than the first 8 issues of Rising Stars. I’ve never gone back and re-read them, but believe it or not, these were one of my primary entries into indie comics. I know they don’t seem that indie now, but at the time, I didn’t imagine that you could do superhero comics that weren’t Marvel or DC. And they could be better than comics from those companies. And they could start a whole new world. It seems so obvious now, but everything must be learned for the first time. This was Ron’s first suggestion to me in the early days of our friendship, and he nailed it. Imagine all the people you know who watched and enjoyed Heroes, or Lost, or any of the big superhero movies, but had no history with these kinds of stories. That’s what reading Rising Stars felt like, as if you’d discovered something you never knew existed, but was so much fun you wanted to tell other people about it. Unfortunately, a little while later, Rising Stars also introduced me to something I wish I’d never learned about, which was ridiculous delays and disappointing follow through. But, I can complain about all of that, and it won’t change the fact that Rising Stars, for eight glorious issues, opened the hell out of my eyes. Plus, the guy’s latest film was directed by Clint Eastwood, so he must be doing something right.

I’ve complained about books from all these guys, and now looking at them, I wonder if I’m harder on them because of the things they showed me early on in my discovery of comics, and they can’t possibly hope to live up to that early time, when things were new and full of wonder. But I wait, and watch for the next spark of genius to catch and light, proving that they never lost it, but just had a little while to wait between producing amazing stories. Maybe it’s just “early album” syndrome, where it’s never the same as the first time, and it never will be. Whatever it is, I thank these writers for showing me what I love about comics at a time when I needed to be hooked, lest I might wander away from comic stores for good.

 

Comments

  1. THE CHAIR LEG OF TRUTH!! I clearly remember sitting on my recliner and spitting out my drink when I first read that panel. That panel alone gives Ellis a pass for all time in my book.

  2. I think writers are like musicians.  They can release 4 or 5 classic albums but eventually they hit a creative wall.  I’ll give an example, I’m about to admit something that I am very ashamed of, but I am a huge Metallica fan.  I’ve been a fan since I was 8 years old (which says something about the accusations of them seling out being true), their first 4 albums a classics and highly regarded by any metal fan (well, most) but eventually they lost that drive that made them buck the system and make their own music the way they wanted to.  But as fan, you always keep believing that they reclaim that old glory they once had (Death Magnetic, new album comes out September 12th, I’m currently praying it’s good).  Sorry for the long post so I boil it down to this, when writers or creators first start out they are hungry for noteriety (I think that’s spelled right) and they are full of ideas.  But then they get recognition and start making a comfortable living and the hunger goes away, and so does the drive and they can get a bit lazy in what kind of art they put out there. I’m probably wrong in my theory though, shutting up now.

  3. Black Summer #0 is the biggest reason I started reading comics regularly.

  4. Great post! Enjoyed it immensely. 

    Never really was a big fan of John Byrne. I read Next Men – it was okay. I guess if I had read any of his X-Men, I might have immediately thought that his Dark Horse stuff, along with Lab Rats and X-Men: The Hidden Years was work past his prime. Tod McFalane was someone I discovered on Infinity, Inc. – never read his Adjectiveless Spider-Man. I read Spawn until I couldn’t stomach the anger and hate in his letters pages. Really.

    I read Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. I’ve read the first two League of Extraordinary Gentlemen mini-series. I wouldn’t neccesarily go out and track down something just because it had Alan Moore, or Frank Miller, or Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis or Mark Millar’s name on it, Although I have picked up some pretty good stuff by them. I read H-E-R-O until it was cancelled based on Geoff Johns recommendation, then followed Will Pfieffer over to Catwoman until recently.   

    Thanks for sharing yours, here are mine –

    1) Marv Wolfman. It’s a shame I don’t see much more of his stuff. I was reading his New Teen Titans with George Perez while just about everybody else was reading Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men. I read Crisis on Infinite Earths, and History of the DC Universe and both were amazingly incredible. After that, he just kind of dabbled here and there and was replaced the next latest greatest thing. I remember picking up a Legends of the DC Universe where he revisted Barry Allen during Crisis, and how disappointed I was that it just didn’t seem to fit or work.

    2) Mark Waid. I followed most of his run on The Flash, then picked up Marvels after the excitement was mostly over and then read Kingdom Come. I followed him over to CrossGen for Ruse. His JLA: Year One was pretty good, but a little pale compare to his previous stuff. I still re-read his and Garney’s Cap and his and Weringo’s Fantastic Four – but both were all too short-lived. I only have a couple of nitpicks about what he did on The Brave and The Bold. On the whole, I enjoyed what he was doing there.

    3) Kurt Busiek. His relaunch of The Avengers with George Perez was great. But, his Astro City has been phenomenal. His Avengers Forever was okay; JLA-Avengers is still a great read. I haven’t picked up his Thunderbolts, but I heard that was pretty good, too. I’m giving Trintiy a try because of what he’s done in the past, and so far the only complaint I have is that it is a bit slow.

    4) James Robinson / Brian Michael Bendis / Geoff Johns. I’ve only read The Golden Age and Starman by Robinson. Both still stand up to several re-readings. I read Ultimate Spider-Man and I picked up a couple of issues of Powers. I read Green Lantern, and probably will give The Flash a try because he’s involved.       

  5. Why would you be ashamed of being a Metallica fan?

    Anyway, cool article. I’ve been meaning to check out Inhumans for a while now… and Warren Ellis is quickly becoming one of my favourite writers. Fell, Planetary, Doktor Sleepless… sooo good! Can’t wait to read  Black Summer, Global Frequency and Scars too. And lets not forget FreakAngels. Awesome stuff. I’m pretty sure Ellis would be able to work full time with say Marvel and make a great living but he keeps putting out his own stuff with Avatar and other small indies (and even free comics where FreakAngels is concerned) and that makes me love him more.

    (Though sometimes I wish he’d concentrate on less titles so we could get Fell a bit more regularly *ahem*… and I’m just now wondering if it will be able to continue with Ben Templesmith drawing because he recently signed an exclusive deal with IDW. Hmmm that would suck if Templesmith couldn’t do Fell anymore :(… ) 

  6. @deadspace- I get lots of flak for it.  But I try to own it whenever I can.

  7. I am gaining huge respect for JM Straczinski, largely because of the way The Twelve just hits me in the sweet spot.

     

    Are Morrison, Bendis, and Millar really the "big guys"? Morrison is fine, but there are times I can take him or leave him (often in the same book, as in his Doom Patrol). He seems to me more to be a guy who is prolific and is good at getting his way. Millar is very good, but I do not see him at the level of Brubaker, Johns, or Busiek (who knows how much that guy would have gotten done had he not gotten sick).

     

    And it’s hard to get that excited for anyone whose last name is E**is.

  8. Jenkins’ Inhumans is absolutely amazing.  I recently read it, and it blew me away.

  9. I think I might be in the minority, but I really like Woverine: Origin. I think Jenkins went downhill after that though and Civil War Frontline was atrocious.

     

  10. @coltrane68 – Bendis, Millar, and Morrison have carte blanche, or so it seems, to do any project they want.  So yeah, I think those names are bigger than Brubaker and Johns.  Busiek isn’t even in the picture anymore, I fear.  Brubaker and Johns are just about there, but not quite.  But hey, until I see paystubs, I can’t prove a thing.

  11. I still think Origin was a really good story and if it had been an "Elseworlds" type of thing, I think it would be highly regarded.  What you say is true, though, the origin of Wolverine should not be told.

     Civil War: Frontline was really good for just over half the series, too.  It completely fell apart at the end, of course, but goes for most things associated with Civil War.

  12. When I was a kid, I wasn’t concerned with writers or artists of comics. It was all about the character and the story.

    Alan Moore was the first comic book writer that made me recognize the importance of the writer. I read his work in trades from the late 80’s on, but never bought any single issues until 2006 nor did I read any other comics other than Maus.

    Warren Ellis was the writer that brought me back to casually reading non-Alan Moore trades in 2002.

    Robert Kirkman upped me from a casual reader of comics to a dedicated reader of comics (still in trades)

    Bendis got me reading Marvel comics (still in trades).

    And iFanboy turned me into a comic junkie . . . (reading trades and monthly issues and posting on this site!)

  13. When I got back into comics 2001-2002 or so my favorite writers were:

    Jeph Loeb–  My first book getting back into comics was The Long Halloween, which remains my favorite Batman story of all time.  Loeb and Sale were (and kind of still are) my favorite creative team.  After Long Halloween, I bought Daredevil: Yellow which is still one of my favorite Daredevil stories.  Then I got Spider-Man: Blue and Dark Victory and I loved those books.  I really enjoyed how Loeb could inject a kind of "classic" feel to his stories without it feeling hokey or cheeseball.  Loeb was my favorite writer for a good long while until about the time he jumped back to Marvel after Superman/Batman.  What happened to that guy?

    Brian Michael Bendis– I’ve been somewhat ragging on Bendis since he became "the Avengers guy" but in ’02, I was eating up his stuff with a spoon.  Somebody directed me towards Ultimate Spider-Man after the movie came out and I really enjoyed it a lot, especially those first four trades.  That led to me jumping to his stuff on Daredevil and I loved that even more.  Then, I jumped to Powers and I liked that, too.  I always enjoyed the kind of wit and interplay he wove into his books.  I almost (well, not almost, I DO) wish Bendis would drop the Avengers books and go back to the street-level stuff I loved seeing him do on Daredevil and the like.

    Frank Miller– Speaking of Daredevil, Bendis’s run (along with the Log Halloween) then piqued my interest in seeing Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Elektra Saga in Daredevil.  Miller’s run on DD (the first run where Bullseye killed Elektra) remains one of my favorite all-time trades that I adore.  I also really enjoy Dark Knight Returns though Year One is now my favorite Miller Batman story.  I also love Born Again and some of the Sin City yarns I’ve read from time to time.  I really like his grit and the humanity he brings to his stories.  Yet again, after reading All-Star Batman and Dark Knight Strikes Again, what the heck happened to that guy?

    Grant Morrison– Of all my early favorites, I think Grant Morrison is the only one still occupying the list today.  I picked up the last trade of his JLA run (World War III) liked what I saw a lot and then went back to the beginning with New World Order and worked my way back up.  That then led to my getting his New X-Men, still my favorite X-Men run (regardless of what Ron or others may think of it).  Then, I started reading his stuff like We3 and All-Star Superman while going back to stuff like Animal Man and Arkham Asylum.  His imagination and his boldness has always made his stuff a real joy to read, especially when complimented by Frank Quitely.

  14. it was Mark Waid’s Fantastic Four that kept me coming back month after month.

  15. Really enjoyed this piece.   

    It’s so interesting how an emotional connection to writing can be so strong, but it’s wholly dependent on timing.  so much of it seems circumstantial.  You could look at the piece of writing being eternal and the reader changing over time.  But then again, sometimes a good book is only a good book in its own time.  That’s a bigger question I guess.  A great piece of writing could be relevant forever, but are there stories that achieve a significance or emotional power for a only a short time that outweighs the former?  That Green Arrow/Green Lantern book for example.  

  16. I disagree that the origin of Wolverine shouldn’t have been told. I don’t think the "mystery" of Logan’s background was a particularly important part of his character. If it was, it would mean that he was a shitty character.

     

  17. Darwyn Cooke. His vision and art style is everything I love and want in comics. 

     

    Great post, Josh.  

  18. I love JLA: Year One.  If you liked that, you should also scope out The Brave and the Bold.  It’s the same team from JLA, but focuses mainly on Barry and Hal.  It’s friggin’ awesome.

  19. Bendis, Morrison and Millar… i find it pretty cool that 2 of them are from Glasgow 🙂

    Just sayin.

  20. I think ‘early album syndrome’ is an interesting comparison to make, because it’s easiest to see in music, but it’s true in any medium.  Sometimes a creator just gets it right at the beginning of their career, or what they’re doing is so new and different you have to take notice, or it just happens to catch you at the right time in your life.   And, well, if that first encounter is so perfect, what are the options?  They do something different and it isn’t as good or it just doesn’t connect in the same way.  Or they do the same thing (maybe it turns out that’s all they know how to do) and once you’ve seen the trick enough times, you start to notice the wires and the thing that used to be so refreshing, surprising, and inspiring is just more of the same.

    I’m not sure if there’s an answer for this besides acknowledging that creators and audiences sometimes grow apart, and it’s still worth remembering what their work has meant in the past — and could mean again.  Meanwhile there’s always another first album to try. 

  21. @ohcaroline- you said it better than i ever could.

  22. The album analogy is spot on. I could list my top 4 albums of recent times, and it would be totally different than this time last year.

    Current favourite writers, in no order; Geoff Johns, Joss Whedon, Greg Rucka, Mark Millar and G-Mo (that’s 5, I know, sorry).

    Great article as always, Josh! 🙂

  23. Well at first this sounded simple but upon reflection to narrow the list to four was difficult.  Thus mu list is:

    Geoff Johns, he makes the DCU happen and his characters really come to life

    Brad Meltzer, Identity Crisis is what I use to get peole back into comics, a truly perfect story.

    Robert Kirkman, consistent and always well presented and looked forward to.

    Ed Brubaker, I love his characterization on the Crime-based works, but I did not get the same satisfaction out of his X-Men that I get from his other works

  24. Mark Waid was the guy who really created the sense for me that there wasn’t just some comic book story generating machine cranking the stuff out every week. He’s the first writer that put the idea in my head that I didn’t have to stick with a character if I didn’t like the story. I could follow the writer instead. Sadly, he also taught me last summer with his return to The Flash that sometimes you can’t go home again. I still enjoy some of his other stuff, though.

    James Robinson was a big one, too. Starman was the first comic that I felt comfortable sharing with non-comic people and not needing to explain myself.

    I guess Garth Ennis is the other one that really sticks out for me. Preacher absolutely blew my mind. I bought it for the Fabry cover, and I remember being pretty sure I was going to go to hell because I read that first issue. Didn’t stop me from buying the second one, though.

    Can’t think of a number four, so I’ll add that while it’s not a single writer, I have a serious guilty pleasure complex for the Maximum Carnage crossover in Spider-Man back in the early 90s. That was when I was first collecting, and I remember going to the shop each and every week to get each part. Terrible story, but wonderful times.

  25. Heh.  Carnage.

  26. @k5blazer: Didn’t even think of Brad Meltzer (largely because I don’t know his work well), but Identity Crisis is one of my favorite books of all time. Is the rest of his work that good? Is there something else you would recommend?

  27. josh, i really like this format of post, naming a disciple or topic of comics than discussing a few examples.

    and have to completely agree with the Ellis statement, bak in the day i picked up the first authority trade… than the second… then half his stormwatch run… than the other half…. than the first three transmopolitian trades…  than i had to wait for the issues.

    good times, good times

  28. i likes this post. its great. i liked the authority and then it kinda died down. i did enjoy transmetropolitan.