My 6 Favorite Comic Book Writers
Writing comic books is my dream job. It’s what I want to do with the rest of my life. But like any dream, it requires hard work, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears; which is why my lazy butt is making due with just a simple comic book blog instead of actually doing it himself. But let’s not dwell on why I’m such a schlub, let’s talk about comic book writers!
I’ve written before that the No. 1 reason why I read comics are the characters. I love following the adventures of my favorite superheroes, and will read my favorite characters even in a bad comic. But I’ve been a comic book geek long enough to learn and appreciate the business. And there are now creators I will follow because I love their work and want to read more. And considering my dream job, I guess these 6 guys and girls would be some of my idols.
Honorable Mentions: Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughn, Neil Gaiman, Greg Rucka, Mark Millar, J. Michael Straczynski, Grant Morrison, Kristi McDowell.
6. Peter David
Peter David almost single-handedly created and fleshed out my favorite comic book character: Multiple Man. David – or PAD, as he’s known to his many fans – has been writing comics for decades, as well as novels, TV shows and a whole host of other projects. He is most famous for a very popular run on The Incredible Hulk in the 90s, but I know him best for his two different runs on X-Factor, both in the 90s and in the 00s.
My love for PAD is tied almost completely to the way he sculpted Multiple Man from a minor X-Men supporting character into a real and whole human being. PAD took a character with a unique power and found new and creative ways to explore that power, and how it might affect Multiple Man as a person. And through it all, he maintained the character’s sense of humor and humanity. PAD does it for all of his characters, and when he’s really in the zone, when his comics are about the people behind the powers, they are some of the best I have ever read.
5. Gail Simone
I don’t read enough Gail Simone. That is a failure of mine. Simone is probably the most famous female comic book writer working today, in an industry with notoriously bad relationships with women. The world needs to wise up and understand that women read comic books too. And they play video games. And they can be geeks. Simone started out as a fan ranting on the Internet like all of us – she’s the one who coined the term ‘women in refrigerators’ with her own blog – then got hired to work in actual comics. Sounds like my kind of strategy.
Simone is currently writing Batgirl for DC Comics, and has been writing the character of Barbara Gordon for more years than I care to count. I read a little of her work on Birds of Prey, but Simone’s real standout title was Secret Six, which I mention frequently on this blog. Simone’s work on Secret Six opened my eyes to the true strength of a team book. I’ve never before felt the strength of true brotherhood and teamwork as I did reading Secret Six. She writes great characters and knows her drama. I would consider Simone’s character work in Secret Six to be Whedon-esque, and that’s quite the compliment!
4. Matt Fraction
A common theme you’re going to see in this list, and in my blog in general, is that I want to read about characters first and foremost. My mantra is: ‘people first, superheroes second’. Some people like big action scenes, dazzling costumes and watching their favorite heroes punch the bad guys. But I like quiet, introspective looks at what it means to be a superhero and how that effects the characters on a personal level. I would rather read about Batman struggling to cope with the weirdness of his life than see him take on the Joker for the umpteenth time. And when it comes to character work, Matt Fraction is one of the best.
Right now, his Hawkeye and FF series are two of my favorite comics. As far as I’m concerned, he has created a whole new genre of comics with his very human, street-level look at the private life of Hawkeye. More writers should follow his example, and they already are. But Fraction has been writing strong characters since the very beginning. I don’t read any of his independent work (my loss), but I remember when he launched The Order for Marvel a few years ago. Brand new characters, brand new concept, and he made it work. But, of course, it was quickly cancelled because comic book fans never recognize quality.
3. Geoff Johns
I think success has gone to Geoff Johns’ head. Nowadays, he’s one of the big cheeses at DC Comics, in charge of their creative direction and spear-heading some multimedia projects. He’s also the mastermind behind the Justice League and Justice League of America series, both of which he’s struggled with, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think Johns handles these big projects well. But when it comes to him tackling a single hero with a single vision, the man is unstoppable.
Johns first exploded into mainstream comics with his work on Green Lantern, which should go down in history as how to revitalize an old character for modern audiences. Green Lantern was a nobody before Johns came along, but his brilliant stories and strong writing transformed the emerald warrior into a character popular enough to support his own big budget Hollywood movie. And considering DC has only made movies about Batman and Superman, Green Lantern getting one was a big deal. Johns first came to my attention with his work on Teen Titans, instantly catapulting that comic to the top of my reading list because of his strong characters. Johns has similarly be working his magic on Aquaman since the New 52 reboot, and Aquaman, of all people, has one of the best comics at DC right now.
Unfortunately, Johns has left both Green Lantern and Aquaman to focus on, I guess, his Justice League work. Or maybe just running DC. I don’t know what personal projects he’s going to have next, but I’d like to see him rejuvenate Hawkman. If anybody can do it, Johns can!
2. Garth Ennis
There is no writer more brutal or hard-hitting than Garth Ennis, at least that I’ve read. The man knows how to use violence, swearing and mature themes better than anyone else to tell a fulfilling story. Famous for books like Preacher, I know Ennis best from his run on Marvel’s The Punisher and his independent series, The Boys. Both series are about hard, brutal men living in a world where their brutality is the only answer to the harshness of life. And in exploring that brutality, Ennis has created masterpieces. His Punisher series is one of the greatest stories I have ever read, in comics or otherwise.
But even through all the brutality and cussing, Ennis finds the humanity in his characters. No matter how strong, silent and deadly the Punisher was, he was still very much a human being. And that is what I love most about Ennis’ work. His characters are hauntingly human, even when they’re breaking skulls or killing the wicked. The man turns violence into poetry of the soul.
1. Brian Michael Bendis
The man. The myth. The legend. Brian Michael Bendis is Marvel Comics. This man has my dream job, and I respect him all the more for it. Bendis has been one of the chief architects of Marvel for more than a decade now, and I couldn’t be happier. Bendis is a master of two things: dialogue and decompression. His stories take a long time to build, but he fills that time with wonderfully snappy banter and deeply personal character moments. The best parts of this Ultimate Spider-Man series have always been when Peter Parker is out of costume and interacting with the people in his life. And that holds true for almost every comic Bendis writes.
It’s when he’s forced to focus on the superheroes – like in his various Big Event comics – that Bendis falters. House of M, Secret Invasion, Age of Ultron and more have been a mess, but when Bendis focuses on the people first, his stories are second to none. There’s a reason Marvel let him reshape and control the Avengers franchise for as long as he did, and there is no doubt that his work helped contribute to the success and pleasure of The Avengers movie.
Brian Michael Bendis is exactly the kind of writer I want to be. It’s personality and humanity that makes a compelling character, not just the costume and the super-powers. Bendis knows this, and my life is richer for having read his work. Maybe he’ll get to read something of mine someday.
Who are your favorite comic book writers? I’m sure my list could be longer than 6, and I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two, but those six are all heroes to me. I can only hope my career has a fraction of their skill and success. Let us know who you like to read in the comments!