by Aaron Lightfoot, Comic Columnist
The ability to tell a story in a way that can resonate with the intended audience can be an extreme challenge. Although it isn’t easy to write a book, it is especially difficult to write a story for a comic book. It takes a lot of composition and work to convey a storyline continuity that can be portrayed properly throughout a series of issues, making sure each comic has an appropriate ending without sacrificing story elements. There are many great writers, past and present, in the comic book industry so join CMN as we take a look at the top 15 comic writers of all time.
We are going to kick things off with an unconventional selection. Art Spiegelman’s name is one you either know and respect, or don’t know at all – and if that is the case then you should rectify it. Spiegelman wrote an independent graphic novel called “Maus” that depicts the stories his father told him about surviving the holocaust.
Tackling very heavy subject matter, Spiegelman boosts his father’s story with his wondrous art style and makes the reader feel every euphoric high and, mainly, abysmal low. The graphic novel was so well regarded that it received a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, becoming the first graphic novel to do so.
The surge in feminism has been very prevalent in the comic industry. Comic publishers have been giving the task of creating a strong female-led story to some fantastic women writers and not many, man or woman, can trump the work of Gail Simone.
Most known for her runs with “Birds of Prey,” “Wonder Woman,” “Red Sonja” and “Batgirl,” Simone really helps portray kickass women who aren’t all about their appearance. She takes Red Sonja, a scantily-clad warrior, and evolves the heroine into a true badass warrior, making the reader not even question the attire. Simone’s touch on comics helps push feminism to the forefront and will make anyone rethink their opinion on women superheroes.
Measuring the quality of a writer can be a difficult thing to do because there is no system to do so. Mark Millar should be included on any list of top writers due to the sheer amount of his works that have been or will be adapted to film.
Millar’s work that has been adapted includes “Wanted,” “Kick-Ass,” “Kick-Ass 2,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “Fant4stic Four,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Logan” and “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” The sheer popularity that came from the “Old Man Logan” series is enough to put him on this list, but all the rest of his masterpieces don’t hurt either.
12. Jonathan Hickman
The selection of Jonathan Hickman is entirely based on a desire to get his work noticed by more people. Hickman is a highquality writer but, especially when compared to people on this list, has low popularity or priority.
It is generally accepted that when someone reads a story they like that they will seek out other stories written by the author. If deep, unique storytelling is something you desire, then seek out his works “East of West” and “The Manhattan Projects.” It is also necessary to add that Hickman was somehow able to tell a fantastic story for Marvel’s “Secret Wars” in 2015, despite how awful Marvel handled all of the delays and releases.
As mentioned in the previous entry, when someone reads something they enjoy they will look at the rest of the author’s works. Jason Aaron has become a major reason why I read any Marvel comic.
Although previously having major success with his series “Scalped,” it was actually his “Weirdworld” run during Marvel’s “Secret Wars” event in 2015 that made me pay more attention to him. Also beginning series such as “Southern Bastards” and Marvel’s “Star Wars” and “Doctor Strange” in 2015, all of which helped him win an Eisner Award for Best Writer in 2016, has helped cement Aaron as one of the best Marvel writers.
All comic companies want to make sure their poster child is treated well in comics. Batman is arguably the most popular superhero ever, and DC has been able to give quality stories for the Caped Crusader for years now thanks to Scott Snyder and his predecessor Grant Morrison. Snyder has taken Batman through one of the most popular recent series with the assistance of the fantastic art of Greg Capullo.
Going through “The Court of Owls” series and ending with the plot for “Bloom,” Snyder’s writing shows character depth that is seldom seen. His work on “Batman Eternal,” “Batman and Robin Eternal” and his current series “All-Star Batman” and “Dark Knights: Metal” show how making a character your own work-in-progress can truly benefit storytelling.
Try, if you can, to imagine writing a story for nine years. That is what Brian Michael Bendis did for Marvel for his run with “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Running for a total of 133 issues from 2000 to 2009, Bendis established himself as the go-to writer for the friendly neighborhood web slinger. On top of his long run with Peter Parker, Bendis ended up creating many people’s favorite variant of Spider-Man, Miles Morales.
Bendis also has the reputation of being Marvel’s go-to writer for stories that begin to stagnate, and that on its own is an incredible feat. Winning several awards for writing, including two Eisner Awards, Bendis has cemented himself as a writing powerhouse for Marvel.
There is a debate over who has written better Batman stories between Scott Snyder and Grant Morrison. The general consensus is that even though both have great stories, Morrison barely gets the edge. His name being higher on the list is also due to his work with other stories like “All-Star Superman,” “JLA,” “Final Crisis” and the various stories, all written by Morrison, in “The Multiversity.”
He is also responsible for Vertigo’s “The Invisible” as well as working for Marvel’s “New X-Men” series. He has even been depicted in comics, with his most humorous appearance being in a Simpsons comic where he fights Mark Millar over the title of “Writer of X-Men,” which for those who may not know is not far from the truth because Millar and Morrison have not had the best of relations. Also, who else could turn Santa Claus into a badass superhero?
I’ve been asked what comics I would recommend and without fail the first series I suggest is “The Wicked and The Divine.” This is in large part due to how beautiful the art is, but that doesn’t mean the story is lacking. Kieron Gillen has been able to tell a fantastic story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and always hungry for more.
When Marvel acquired the rights to print “Star Wars” comics, they released “Star Wars,” “Star Wars: Darth Vader” and “Star Wars: Princess Leia,” with the first two being released to much praise. Gillen wrote for the Darth Vader series and showed a side of the titular character that people yearned for. Keeping Vader a calculative villain helped carry his brutal reputation when transferred to the comic medium. Keeping the core of the character alive makes the story seem like it truly belongs among the already established storyline. Gillen also didn’t have to stoop to the “dad joke” Vader that was shown in “Star Wars Rogue One.”
The fact Geoff Johns created every single Lantern Corps, with the exception of Green Lantern and Star Sapphire, is more than enough to justify him being this high on the list. With his name on almost every major project for DC, it is almost impossible to avoid his work. Helping to rebuild Flash and Green Lantern, Johns solidified himself as a top DC writer and has subsequently climbed up the ladder to become President and Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics.
Heading projects like “Flashpoint,” “Blackest Night,” “Brightest Day,” “Infinite Crisis,” DC’s current “Rebirth” series, and the upcoming “Doomsday Clock” series where DC Comics will unite the DC world with the Watchmen world, Johns shows his writing prowess. There’s always one thing I keep in mind when I’m looking at a creative team: if Geoff Johns is in it, I’m interested.
As with many of the writers on this list, one series is enough to put Brian K. Vaughan on this list – “Saga.” “Saga” was an immediate success and has quickly become a fan favorite for its wonderful art and storytelling. Vaughan has been quoted as saying he “still knows exactly how the final page of the last issue will be, but [he] hopes that won’t be for many years to come.” Even though there is a chance for a long wait for the series to end, readers will still flock to the series until that end.
“Saga” has helped solidify his position, but there are several other series that helped bring his name to the mainstream. “Y: The Last Man,” “Paper Girls,” “We Stand on Guard” and “Wildstorm” are some more of his successful titles. The fact I didn’t have to mention his work for Marvel or DC, with the exception of “Y: The Last Man” being published by Vertigo, should show how great of a writer he truly is.
While some everyday people may recognize the rest of the list, the top four writers are ones everyone is familiar with. Frank Miller, although not always recognizable through his name for everyone, has work that everyone has appreciated. Arguably 2 of his most recognizable pieces are “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and “Sin City,” but he also created “300” and “Ronin,” which was used as inspiration for the popular “Samurai Jack” series. All four of the mentioned stories were turned into an adaptation for either tv or film, with “300” and “Sin City” each having sequels.
Miller was also responsible for creating Marvel’s Elektra. It was originally intended for one run, but due to how well he wrote, Elektra came back thanks to popular demand. He also created Carrie Kelley, the female Robin depicted in “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.” Miller was inducted into the Eisner Awards Hall of Fame in 2015, solidifying him as one of the best writers of all time.
It takes true talent to be able to write for both comics and books, but somehow Neil Gaiman makes it look easy. Gaiman’s “Sandman” series has been declared as one of the best series ever, with the series and subsequent spin-offs winning more than 26 Eisner Awards, which span the course of more than 25 years. Gaiman also became close to legendary writer Alan Moore, picking up Eclipse Comic’s Mirable series after Moore’s run, but Gaiman was unable to finish due to the publisher going bankrupt.
Gaiman has also shown his prowess for writing by publishing the books “Stardust”, “American Gods” and “Coraline.” If there is any question as to how well Gaiman writes, search how many awards he has won or been nominated for.
It’s hard to be the face of an organization, but when you are responsible for the majority of what that organization is known for, it is understandable why Stan Lee is so prevalent. Helping to create Marvel superheroes like Spider-Man, Hulk, Doctor Strange, Thor, Daredevil, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, it is hard to find a hero that hasn’t had Stan Lee’s mark on them. He has even created “Guardians” for each National Hockey League team, and even though the idea never got too far, many fans appreciated the unique version of each of their respective team’s mascots.
Thanks to being so monumental for Marvel, Lee has been in almost every Marvel movie since 2000, with only 12 where he did not make a cameo. Lee was even brought into the DC Comics project “Just Imagine”, in which he takes on DC’s most popular superheroes, putting his own twist on each and every one of them. Lee has won several awards for lifetime achievement and was inducted into the Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1994 and Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1995. The impact Stan Lee has had on the comic industry is undeniable and may never be replicated, just showing how important he has been.
Very few creators have been as profound as Alan Moore has been in his stories. Being able to portray dark themes in his stories has brought Moore’s name to be synonymous with greatness. Moore added depth to Swamp Thing that had never been seen. He made Swamp Thing go from a human who became a plant into a plant who thought he was human, which, although a subtle difference, opened up tremendous possibilities as to questioning humanity as a whole.
Human nature is something Moore has openly criticized in “Watchmen,” “V for Vendetta,” “Swamp Thing” and “Batman: The Killing Joke.” “V for Vendetta” has even become a rallying cry for the group “Anonymous” and the Occupy Movement, both of which dawn on a Guy Fawkes mask, representing the idea people shouldn’t be afraid of their governments.
Moore has also won the most Eisner Awards for both as creator and for the works he has written, totaling more than 30 awards. His influential writing style and message as well as the sheer amount of prestige that comes with his work is enough for Moore to take the No. 1 spot on CMN’s Top 15 Comic Book Writers of All Time.
Honorable Mentions: Todd McFarlane, Brian Azzarello, Matt Fraction, Will Eisner and Garth Ennis.
What did you think about our list? Do you think we missed anyone, or do you have any changes? Let us know in the comments below and follow CMN on Facebook and Twitter for more news and information on comics, movies, music and much more. Also be sure to check out our Top 15 Comic Artists of All Time.