Sunday, January 5, 2014

Super Writers: The 10 Best Comic Book Writers of All-Time

Since I am a comicbook aficionado, or should I say a sequential art aficionado, from way way waaay back (my first loves were The Avengers and X-Men of the mid seventies, and Mad Magazine), it was only a matter of time until I put my list-making obsession to work for a subject such as this. So here goes. First off, please allow me to mention the multitudes of talented comicbook writin' folks (both of the superhero and non superhero variety) that did not make the list. And remember, many of these guys and gals (though being the rather misogynistic artform that it is, not many gals) have acted as both writer and artist, but this list is just for their respective writing talents. We'll get to the best comicbook artists in another, future list.  

So, these runners-up are, in no particular order, Jim Starlin (Captain Marvel, Infinity Gauntlet), Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, The Authority, Marvel's Civil War), Marv Wolfman (Tomb of Dracula, Crisis on Infinite Earths), Ed Brubaker (Captain America, Criminal, Incognito, Gotham Central), Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man, Alias, New Avengers), Walt & Louise Simonson (Thor, Fantastic Four, X-Factor, Superman: Man of Steel), J. Michael Straczynski (The Amazing Spider-Man, Ten Grand, Twilight Zone), Scott Snyder (American Vampire, Batman, The Wake), Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), Warren Ellis (Hellblazer, Transmetroplitan), Denny O'Neil (Green Lantern/Green Arrow, The Question), Joss Whedon (Runaways, Astonishing X-Men), and my current fave writer, Matt Fraction (FF, Hawkeye, The Immortal Iron Fist).  And yes, there are many more (Brian K. Vaughn, Peter David, Garth Ennis, Mike Mignola, Gail Simone, Gardner Fox, Jim Shooter, Jay Lynch, Spain Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Jeff Lemire, et cetera), but I'm tired of typing, so let's move on.

To type a little more, there are three rather famous comics writers/artists that many will probably question why the fuck they are not on this list. But alas, I could only find room for eleven comicbook writers on this top ten list (yeah, I cheated a little to squeeze in an extra), so these three goodfellas had to accept honourable mention status. The first is Art Spiegleman. The importance and historical significance of his books Maus and Maus II, would make him a good candidate for this list, but alas (again) he just missed out.  The second is Will Eisner, author of The Spirit and Contract with God.  Hell, he even has an award named after him, but still, he just misses out.  The other just-misser is Robert Crumb. Yeah, I know, he's a legend, but his talent tends to go more toward the drawing rather than writing side of things (drawing for other writer's works), so he is left on the cutting room floor. But enough of this. Let's get a-goin'.

And awaaaaaaay we go...

10. Los Brothers Hernandez
(Love and Rockets)

Gilbert, Jaime, and sometimes Mario, created one of the most enduring, elaborate series' in alternative comics history. First published in 1982, and still going strong today with brand new stories, Love and Rockets was a groundbreaking work in the early days of the 1980's alt comics scene. A love story to the punk movement of the day, as well as an extremely intricate comic book world.

9. Harvey Pekar
(American Splendor, Harvey Pekar's Cleveland)

Often described as the Poet Laureate of Cleveland, Harvey Pekar is most famous for his ongoing American Splendor comicbook series. Drawn by an array of underground comix artists (including Robert Crumb and Spain Rodriguez), the series tells the story of Pekar's harried life and times. Hey, and the movie adaptation with Paul Giamotti, ain't half bad either.

8. Harvey Kurtzman
(Mad Magazine, Little Annie Fanny, Jungle Book)

Best known for being the creator, editor, and oft times writer of the satiric and quite iconic Mad Magazine back in the rag's early days, Kurtzman, who has a comics award named after him (The Harvey), was one of the great innovators, one of the great movers and shakers, one of the great auteurs of the comic book scene. Oh yeah, and he did comics for Playboy too.

7. Chris Claremont
(Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants, God Loves Man Kills)

From 1975 to 1991, Claremont didn't just write the Uncany X-Men - he was the Uncanny X-Men. Creating some of the best stories in comics history (I grew up loving these pre-saturation days mutants), as well as being the creator of some of the best characters in Marvel's gallery (Rogue, Psylocke, Kitty Pryde, Phoenix, Gambit, Sabretooth, are just some of the man's creations) gets this guy on any list worth reading.  

6. Daniel Clowes
(Ghost World, Eightball, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron)

  Writing and drawing stories that young people of all ages can relate to, the sadly little known Clowes' quirky narratives, non-linear storytelling, and wry humour (as well as his unique artistic style), make him the best indie, non-superhero comicbook writer around. Fun stuff indeed. He did have a bit of a run-in with Shia LaBeouf recently, so maybe that will get his recognition up. He deserves to be read by more people dammit!

5. Neil Gaiman
(Sandman, Marvel's 1602, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?)
Enter Sandman. Gaiman, one of several Britons on this list, and a Hugo and Nebula award winner, was brought on by DC Comics, via their Vertigo imprint, to re-invent an old and forgotten character. I guess he did okay with these stories. Yeah, just a bit. His Sandman stories are now some of the best and most important works in modern comics. And he created Coraline as well.

4. Grant Morrison
(Animal Man, All-Star Superman, Batman Incorporated)

Comic book writer, playwright, and occultist, this Zen-like Scottish guru put his formidable narrative sequential art skills to bear, and did major revamps on everyone from Animal Man (Buddy Baker has never been better than under Morrison's wing), to the JLA, to the "New" X-Men, as well as incorporating the Caped Crusader. Plus he was also the main creative force behind my all-time favourite Superman story.

3. Frank Miller
(The Dark Knight Returns, Daredevil, 300, Sin City)

Credited as being the guy who gave Batman his balls back in the seminal Dark Knight Returns (possibly the greatest superhero comic book of all-time), badboy Miller is also the man responsible for doing the same with Daredevil, as well as the man who created, then killed, then resurrected Elektra. He also did a little series called Sin City. You might have heard of that one.

2. Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
(Fantastic Four, The X-Men, New Gods, Newsboy Legion)

Yep, that's right. Stan and Jack were the guiding forces behind the reinvention of the superhero comic book that ushered in the Silver Age of Comics. Without these guys (Stan as writer and Jack as artist, and uncredited co-writer) there would be no Marvel Comics. There would be no Fantastic Four. No X-Men. No Incredible Hulk. No Marvel Comics. They were the Dylan and Elvis of the comic book world.

1. Alan Moore
(Watchmen, The Killing Joke, Lost Girls, Swamp Thing)

This cat may be delusional as all get out, as well as more than just a bit batshitcrazy (and I love him for it), but when it comes to writing comics, from superheroes to anti-superheroes, to every twisted beast in between, Alan Moore, the Shakespeare of sequential art, is more than just the creme de la fucking creme of the whole goddamn crazy bunch of 'em. Much much more. Much much Moore.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.


  1. Grant Morrison > Alan Moore. Otherwise it seems pretty legit :)

  2. Actually, as a started to compile this list, I had Morrison tentatively resting at number ten. Then, as I started delving into everything each of these guys had done, I kept pushing Morrison up. From ten to seven to four. I never realized quite how much I like Morrison's work. His All-Star Superman is my favourite Man of Steel tale. The artwork of Frank Quitely (on that as well as on New X-Men) helps that along of course. But seriously, I never knew how much I liked the guy. But alas, I just could not raise him above Miller or Moore, or Stan & Jack.

    Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Killing Joke, his work on Swamp Thing! I just had to put the crazed Mr. Moore at number one.

    Thanx for stopping by, Alex. Come back again sometime.

  3. Great list! being immersed in EC comics as a collector (I have almost the entire New Trend comics!) Kurtzman is tops on my list as both writer and artist. His work on FRONTLINE COMBAT is truly genius. His stories focus on the mundane in combat as humans attempt to hold onto their humanity in the face of brutal violence. And it is brutal. His style was deceptively simple but each panel was like a "beat" in a film, sometimes using the same image in consecutive panels that bring the reader a step closer each time. I'm reading an analysis on Speigleman called META-MAUS and he describes Kurtzman's influence on his work and the medium as a whole. If you have never read any of his FC stuff pick up one of the EC collections.

    I would probably add Al Feldstein to the list (but I'm biased, of course!) because he wrote or plotted most of the EC horror and science fiction comics. I've read many pre-code comics and rarely did the other companies come close to the maturity of his writing style. Coupled with the legendary artists of EC it made for exciting comics! So exciting that the government forced a self-imposed code so out went the gruesome and in came to wholesome.

  4. I haven't read Clowes, Pekar, Kurtzman or Hernandez. And, I'm not a big fan of the old school guys like Lee and Kirby. I know they were important, but not a big fan of the character depth. But, I'd have put Ellis. He just wows me with the worlds he creates. And, Spider Jerusalem even got me to read Hell's Angels to learn more about Hunter Thompson. Maybe I'd put Ennis up there. Dangerous Habits(Hellblazer) had me in awe for weeks. I'd probably have Mike Carey and Peter Milligan up there. A little surreal/mythical. I was thinking about it the other day and probably my 6 favorite comic book writers are British, even though they might be writing for American companies.

    I've not read all that much of Frank Miller, but I'd probably have him up there.

    Definitely Alan Moore #1, Neil Gaiman #2.

    Charlie, not wanting to sign in

  5. Alex - I haven't read that much of the old EC stuff, but I would like to remedy that. As for Spiegelman, I would be interested in Meta Maus. I am getting ready to re-read Maus soon.

    Charlie - How ya doin' in China? Yes, there are lots of good Brits writing comics these days. I like both Ennis and Ellis, but I forgot all about Milligan. I love his work on X-Statix and Shade, the Changing Man.

    Thanx for stopping by guys. It's nice to open up conversations on my blog.

  6. Well, I'm in China. China calls Taiwan part of it, but apparently they do that for large parts of Asia that nobody else agrees about. I'm still teaching English. My Chinese sucks. Iris and I want to have a kid.

    Apparently, I was combining Milligan and Willingham in my head. I was giving Milligan credit for a lot more books I like. I love Shade, although it's dropped in quality since about #30. The only other book I think I've read by him was Human Target, which I liked but not enough to affect his Top Ten status. Apparently, he's been writing Hellblazer for a while, but I'm just on issue #157.

    My comic book reading isn't as broad as it could be-as a kid $2 for a comic, or however much they were was a lot of money. Even now, I'd find that expensive for most comics. Most, I just download, read, and delete. A few like Moore and Gaiman, I plan to buy.

  7. Charlie,

    China would do that.

    I wasn't sure who Willingham was, so I just looked him up. Hey, watta ya know, he's the guy behind Fables. I've only ever read the first collected edition (seven issues?), so I don't know that much about it, but it is yet another title I have on my must-read list.

    Take care, and good luck on the wanting to have a kid part. We all miss ya over here in the Western World.

  8. I would put Mr. Eisner at number one, in part because he wrote with images as much as with words and married the two better than anyone ever had before or has since. But otherwise, yes, a great list and absolutely true on the Lee-Kirby synergy.

  9. My Top 10 Writers.
    10. Garth Ennis- I think we forget how great "Preacher" was from start to finish, not to mention "Transmotroplis." Also let's not forget the fact Ennis had the greatest run on "The Punisher."
    9. Harvey Pekar- "American Splendor" is a gate way drug to indy comics. Pekar has a very unique view on the world that has led to the likes of the Los Brothers Hernandez and Daniel Clowes.
    8. Denny O'Neil- O'Neil not only brought Batman back to his roots in the 70's but he also made Green Lantern and Green Arrow relevant for the first time. In fact whenever you think of Green Arrow as a social crusader, as he is in the hit show "Arrow", thank O'Neil. And the next time you sit down and watch "The Dark Knight Trilogy," remember that O'Neil create Ra ' al Ghul.
    7. Frank Miller- If O'Neil brought Batman back to his roots, than Miller gave him his balls. Miller is responsible for the two greatest Batman stories ever written... As well as the two worse. What keeps him on the list are his run on Daredevil and his work at Dark Horse (Sin City and 300).
    6. Harvey Kurtzman- Kevyn nailed it on this one in my opion. So I have nothing to add.
    5. Grant Morrison- Much like Miller, Morrison is hit or miss. What puts him so high on my list is because his far more hits than misses. "All-Star Superman", "Arkham Asylum", and his runs on "X-Men" and "JLA" are among the best stories every written on these characters.
    4.Neil Gaiman- If he would have stuck with comics he would be number 1. "The Sandman" is probably the best monthly comic ever written. It not only did it change mainstream hero comics but it paved the way for series like "Unwritten" and "The Walking Dead." And let us not forget his work on the Superheroes as well. I have a hard time finding anything Gaiman ' written that I don't like.
    2. Alan Moore- If you're reading any comicbook that focuses on Superheroes, than you are reading a response to what Moore did in the 80's. "V for Vendetta", "Watchmen", "The Killing Joke"; these works change comics forever. Making them darker and edgier than before. While I'm not sure if this is a good thing, you cannot take away fromv the fact that Moore is the father of the modern comicbook.
    1. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby- Even if remove the creative productivity from these two giants, they would still be number one on my list for one reason; they made their character human. Look down the line of there creations and you will see human characters. This is why we love these characters, because we can relate to them.

  10. Sean - Eisner almost made this list...almost. Maybe if I had read more of his work, he would have. Who knows.

    Ryan - Great list, and I'm not just saying that because seven of these are on my list as well. Although I did notice you skipped number three. I do love both Ennis and O'Neil, just not quite enough for the top ten. I just re-read O'Neil's Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and it is some damn good stuff.

    Thanx for stopping by. Hope to see you again.

  11. Oops, 3 was Will Eisner. He changed the way a comic book flowed and created the grain novel format. Also he was deal with adult themes in the late 40's and early 50's. Also Frank Miller has said numerous times that he stole his entire Elektra story from a story that ran in "The Spirit.".

  12. Kevyn - I highly recommend META-MAUS before you revisit his books. I picked it up just after Xmas and the book has opened up a whole new level of understanding and appreciation of the MAUS work as a whole. The cd that comes with the book contains both volumes cross-referenced with transcripts of his father's interviews, sketches and other notes on each page. I'm just about ready to crack open the books and enter his world once again. It also put me in the mood to revisit SHOAH: I purchased the Criterion Blu-ray during the last B&N sale.

    Just an idea - I got to thinking about this list which led me to thinking about some of my favorite stories. I was talking to a buddy last week about the single greatest comic story ever written (like I've read everything) and referred him to Frank Miller's DAREDEVIL #191. Best. Story. Ever.

  13. Ryan - Eisner is great, and I'm beginning to think that maybe I should have cheated a little more, to fit a twelfth writer onto the list.

    Alex - I guess I'm going to have to check out Meta-Maus now. As for the best single comic story, that sounds like a good idea for a future list. I'm going to have to do some real research to pull that one off though. But yeah, something Daredevil (my fave character) is surely going to be in there.

  14. I will redact my previous statement as DARDEVIL #191 best "superhero" story ever written. It's a critique of the genre itself written by the master Frank Miller. The absolute best single story ever written in the medium (to include any genre!) is Bernie Kriegstein's story in EC's New Direction comic IMPACT #1: the story is titled MASTER RACE. You should be able to find it online as it has been reprinted many times. If you decide to research and make a best story list I believe this one will be in your top ten!

  15. I'm going to have to check that one out. My knowledge of the old EC comics is pretty low on the ole knowledge pole, so I should probably check out more than just that one.

  16. I wanted to add to my list, so here goes. If I were to extend things to a top 20, it would look something like this.

    11. Will Eisner
    12. Art Spieglelman
    13. Scott Snyder
    14. Matt Fraction
    15. J. Michael Straczynski
    16. Ed Brubaker
    17. Denny O'Neil
    18. Warren Ellis
    19. Marv Wolfman
    20. Brian Michael Bendis

    So there!

  17. Never been much of a fan of Pekar. He kinda bores me. Claremont's okay. Not great, but doesn't deserve the hate I saw him get when ya linked this post to good ole Facebook. Love Moore and Miller - of course. Like most of Morrison, and all of Kirby - even if Stan da Man did take most o' the credit. Gaiman is good at times (Sandman's kinda overrated in my opinion. Love love love Love & Rockets. I woulda put them higher. Kurtzman? Honestly, haven't read Mad much in my life, and what I did was probably after Kurtzman's run.

    I would toss in Brubaker, Azarello, Ellis, Ennis, and Straczynski, amongst the new guyz.

  18. Pretty cool list. Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison I love. But hey, where are all the women!? Yeah, I know, there are fewer women in the biz to choose from, but there are some good ones.

    My pick would be Kelly Sue DeConnick. Her run on Captain Marvel was great, and Pretty Deadly is one of the best books going right now. Perhaps she is rather new to be involved with such greats, but some day damn it.

    Just a thought, babycakes.

  19. I do like DeConnick. Pretty Deadly is one of my faves right now. Female-centric comics seem to be my thing these days, as Rat Queens, Wonder Woman, Miss Fury, and Harley Quinn all join Pretty Deadly in my pull list. Still though, as much as I like her, she is still too young to be compared with such long-time greats as are on my list. Hell, her hubby, Matt Fraction (my fave current writer) doesn't make the list, and his oeuvre is significantly larger than the missus.

  20. Glad to see Harvey Pekar getting some recognition. I would probably add Garth Ennis to the list at #4.

  21. Thanx for stopping by oh mystery caller. I like Ennis enough, but I would probably have to stretch my list to 25 or so to fit him in. Actually my top 40 or so would still be some pretty remarkable writers.

  22. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, & Todd McFarlane with honorable mentions to Alan Moore, Frank Miller, & Erik Larsen

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