When you watch a movie, is the acting more important than the script?
It’s weird how that is never really a consideration, right? Like nobody ever postulates “Would you rather watch a movie with Oscar caliber performances of a bad story? Or wooden, unfeeling actors portraying a brilliant story concept?”
And yet, it’s something comic fans have always debated.
If you had two books to choose from–one with a great story but an artist you don’t care for, or one with truly inspiring art over a nothing tale–which would you read?
It boils down to being a conversational way to ask… which is more important (to YOU, because this can only ever be subjective)? The art or the writing?
It really shouldn’t be a choice, though. Because there is almost an implication there that writers and artists are working against each other rather than with each other. Why do they have to be oppositional? Depending on how the book is put together, each talent is usually at least a little in the other’s fridge.
In the traditional “Marvel Method”, the artist almost is the de facto writer, basically drawing out the entire story from only a plot, then letting the writer in to just fill in speech bubbles.
In other comics, the writer can almost be the artist if the script layout is so intensive that it describes everything the artist will do, down to the number of panels and where the word balloons go.
So why do we insist on splitting these talents up more than they actually are in the artistic process?
(Rhetorical answer: Because it’s still a fun debate. I like to think pondering the Artist/Writer question isn’t a way of besmirching either talent, but more as taking an in-depth, introspective look at how each of us reads comics)
I do want to say there is a lot more consistency in artists. Obviously year-to-year, issue-to-issue quality can go up and down, but generally, you either like an artist’s style or you don’t. The discrepancy between their peaks and valleys is typically not enormous.
With writers, though…?
Man, when I made my Top
Ten Twenty Artists list, I just kept coming up with name after name. For writers? It was more difficult, and I unfairly kept holding incredibly talented people up against a measuring stick of “Well, I really liked [X], but I wasn’t a big fan of [Y]. What is the average here?”.
That’s dumb. I’m dumb. I should stop being dumb.
They’re all better than I am, so who am I to judge?
So I wrestled with this for a while. And here is the Top Ten I came up with.
10. Scott Lobdell
I wrestled so hard at the #10 spot before finally deciding it had to go to Scott Lobdell. He had the unenviable task of taking over for Chris Claremont on the X-Books and did a great job keeping them going. He wrote the first few dozen issues of Generation X, which I loved, and he handled the above-pictured Flash Forward mini-series, which picked up from where Heroes In Crisis had torn down Wally West and began his rebuild.
This is all to say nothing of his cinematic work, which gave us Happy Death Day, and I unabashedly love that flick.
Lobdell at his worst got a bit wonky on some dialogue, but really? So did Claremont, and no one ever gave him crap for it. But at his best, he told immensely poignant, heartfelt, character-driven stories in between some brilliantly humorous ones.
9. Frank Miller
Yeah, okay. It’s Frank Miller. I mean… I’m not breaking ground by pointing out that Frank Miller is a great writer. His run on Daredevil alone is one of the greatest runs in comic book history. There are so many fantastic issues in that run.
He also did Sin City, which suffers a bit from being more gratuitous than it needed to be at times, but was also a beautiful, impactful book.
Batman Year One (which is far superior to The Dark Knight Returns, and I can say that because this is my article; feel free to trash me in the comments) is a grounded tale of two men trying to find themselves amidst the hell of the world around them.
Sometimes he does sequels to The Dark Knight Returns or he does All-Star Batman & Robin. But that’s okay. I can re-read those Daredevil comics.
8. J.M. DeMatteis
I love J.M. DeMatteis. I have gone on and on historically about what a game-changer his Spectacular Spider-Man run was for me. I was just a few years into reading comics as a little kid, and The Child Within was seriously like someone showed me secrets about comics that I never knew existed. Because of J.M., comics went from “These are fun” to “Oh, this make me feel things”.
His entire run on Spectacular was full of stuff like that. And then I would back up in time and finally get around to reading Kraven’s Last Hunt, which is the easy answer for most people on the “What is Spider-Man’s best story?” question. AND he wrote Amazing Spider-Man #400! All of his Spidey stuff is so stand-out.
I wasn’t as big of a fan of his Justice League run as many others, but even in recent years he was written the enjoyable Impossible Inc mini-series.
7. Brian Michael Bendis
People love to badmouth Bendis these days. And I’ll be honest–I’ve long said there is Good Bendis and Bad Bendis. BMB has some of the wildest discrepancies in his stuff of anyone out there.
But my god, his good stuff.
Ultimate Spider-Man was just marvelous. There’s almost not a bad issue in the run, and for a while, it was the only Marvel book I read.
It’s more divisive, but I really enjoyed his work on New Avengers.
Alias, a great book.
His work on Superman has been pretty good.
His Young Justice has been solid and allowed me to remember why I love those characters.
So there’s some stuff I think is a bit out-there and poorly planned out. But the guy writes approximately 48 books a month. What do you want? The stuff of his that I have liked, I have LOVED.
6. Nick Spencer
Nick Spencer is a guy who I have not read anything of his I haven’t at least liked.
Superior Foes of Spider-Man was one of the best books of the last 20 years. The Fix is fun, if a bit unrestrained. Secret Empire was FAR better than it gets credit for. And the guy has returned Amazing Spider-Man to greatness.
He is a writer whose books bubble over with fun most of the time. I’m very eager to keep up with everything else he puts out going forward.
5. Alan Moore
Alan Moore wrote Watchmen and For The Man Who Has Everything. I barely need to care about anything else beyond that, but he also wrote V For Vendetta and The Killing Joke.
And so, so, so much more.
This is like on my artists list when I named Jack Kirby. There’s little to explain here. At his best, Alan Moore wrote multiple A+ level comic books, and he is maybe the most influential talent in the industry that isn’t Jack and Stan.
4. Peter David
Spider-Man 2099. The Incredible Hulk. Young Justice. X-Factor.
Peter David is a really consistent writer who wrote some books I have absolutely loved at various points in my life. He definitely has a style, and I have no issue with that when he makes so many great comics.
He is one of those guys who can pinball between humor and heartfelt pretty seamlessly, too.
3. Geoff Johns
Geoff Johns, for a while, could do no wrong.
So much of the reason I consider myself a DC guy is from Johns’ work on The Flash, JSA, Teen Titans, Superboy, and others. He was just hitting homerun after homerun in the very early 2000’s.
When I was finally getting into DC in my college years, Johns was starting to become their utility man, and he made the company I always viewed as the flavorless whitebread alternative to Marvel feel so rich. It’s amazing to me how high a quality of work he kept up there for so long.
2. Mark Waid
Kingdom Come is the greatest comic book ever written.
Watchmen might be smarter. Maus might be more important. But Kingdom Come is the best encapsulation to me of what a comic book is supposed to be. It is a book of MOMENTS that just shook me as I read it, and still shake me to these days when I re-read it.
Did Alex Ross’ art help? Obviously. But I’m telling you: I could have drawn Kingdom Come, and it would still be powerful.
This is all to say nothing of Waid’s top-notch runs on The Fantastic Four (honestly, my favorite F4 run is Waid’s), The Flash, Daredevil, and others.
1. Kurt Busiek
Someday, I may read a Kurt Busiek penned comic that I don’t think is, at worst, excellent.
But it’s never happened YET.
(To be fair, I’m not a creator completionist, and he has a lot of stuff I haven’t gotten around to! It’s bound to happen)
In my experience, whether it is Astro City, Marvels, Avengers, Thunderbolts, or others, Busiek just has the best damn batting average in comics. He makes books that aren’t just good; they are exceptional.
ALL THE TIME.
How does someone do that?!
TOO MANY HONORABLE MENTIONS!
I say this hoping that it doesn’t come across as a knock on Scott Lobdell because I enjoy his stuff a great deal (obviously): the making of that list resulted in a very definitive Top Nine of unimpeachably fantastic talents. And then there was what felt like a solid secondary tier right below them. I placed Scott as the king of that tier for the #10 slot, but there were several names nipping on his heels.
In no particular order…
Leah Williams – I excited to read more of her work because she is the writer with whom I have the least experience. I did LOVE X-Tremists, though. As of this writing, X-Factor has just started. I’m only an issue in, but it’s definitely joined Marauders and Excalibur as the only X-books in my regular rotation.
Kelley Sue DeConnick – Bitch Planet is great. Captain Marvel was great. I just need to get more into her bibliography now! And now that I am looking at it… she had something to do with adapting the Black Cat manga? I never knew that!
Brian K Vaughan – Brian K Vaughan needs to slow down and leave some ideas for everyone else on the planet. The guy just writes EVERYTHING. And while he has some misses, his hits are Y The Last Man and Saga and Ex Machina, so who cares? All three of those books are superb.
Chip Zdarsky and Matt Fraction – I have a hard time separating these two due to Sex Criminals. But even aside from that, they have good solo work (Hawkeye, Spectacular Spider-Man).
Gail Simone – I friggin’ love Gail. Hell, I would put her here just for her Twitter account. But Gail is a great writer and an even better personality.
Rick Remender – Remender is a writer I really enjoy, but just haven’t LOVED anything by yet. His Agent Venom and Fear Agent books were good. I also enjoyed X-Force and Captain America.
Chris Claremont – Where do you put the guy who had the single best run in comic book history–one that lasted two decades–but nothing else I’ve ever cared for? He still has to rank pretty damn high. He kept X-Men so strong for almost twenty years! That’s nuts!
I tried really hard for this to not be “just list every book I liked by each writer”, but it turns out I ended up doing a lot of that. Sorry! It’s not particularly engaging to read. Like I said, all of these men and women are better than I am and would have done this list better!
I’ve rambled on enough, though. Who are YOUR ten favorite comic book writers? Let me know in the comments. What are your favorite books they have worked on?
Until next time… take care!