As promised, here's a list of 21 influential mainstream comics writers I've concocted in a similar vein, if not a similar tone, exactly, to this Onion AV Club article.
Things to keep in mind:
1.) These are not ranked in any order, although the top four are set apart as being, I think, almost impossible to argue.
2.) These are going to be superhero-heavy because the original article says "mainstream," and I tried to keep to that.
3.) This is not what I would cite a definitive list because I'm only one guy, I'm not a proper hsitorian, and I did this in a couple of hours.
4.) Like the original list, this is a "for better or for worse" situation. There's writers on here I don't care for and writers I do, writers whose work I like but influenced a lot of lesser writers, etc.
5.) There's going to be editorializing, but it's a list I picked of people I think are influential. There's going to be editorializing whether I mean for it or not.
1. Stan Lee
To no one’s surprise, I’m sure. Again, these aren’t really ranked, but I don’t really think there’s a bigger game-changer than Lee. His once wild innovations and experiments have become the very basic building blocks of mainstream superhero comics. He’s the Beatles of comics writers; you’re influenced by him even if you do not intend to be, and there will probably never be another quite of his like.
2. Alan Moore
Introducing new levels of literary sophistication to mainstream comics, Moore’s almost inarguably number two behind Lee. Obviously influential, though I think (and Moore seems to agree in interviews) that his influence has been mostly destructive. To me, Watchmen demands that you either reject superhero comics for their disconnect from real life and their inability to tackle complex situations, or you accept the trade-off of simplicity for symbolism and power. The third option, however, has been the most prevalent, and that is to simply graft “mature” themes onto “immature” superhero comics and hope that the resultant birth favors the mature side. It usually does not.
3. Chris Claremont
Things Claremont was one of the early pioneers of on X-Men: 1.) “Voice” in comics, no matter how hideously purple his prose and dialogue can seem today. 2.) Plugging his own interests (Japan, etc.) into the work, often veering into self-indulgence. 3.) Bringing themes to the forefront. 4.) Moral ambiguity, resulting in villains who are sympathetic (Magneto) and heroes who cross lines traditional superheroes after the '40s never would (Wolverine, Gambit). 5.) Probably most importantly, the long run of comics, with character arcs taking years to pay off.
4. Neil Gaiman
Like Alan Moore, mostly influential for literary sophistication, but with some distinct differences. For one, Gaiman wore the literary business on his sleeve a bit more, to the point of threatening to become overly showy. For another, Watchmen, for all its achievements, is still a superhero story (or at least a story about superheroes), while Sandman is a fantasy comic. His mature-readers work showed that comics could once again reach a different audience (including that elusive, nigh-mythical female reader, depending on who you talk to) that might not be as into superheroes.
Those are some of the more obvious ones. Here’s some that I’d think could invite a little more debate.
5. Jerry Siegel
For inventing, along with Joe Shuster, the most basic building blocks of the superhero myth – the costume, the secret identity, the powers, the very name "Superman," which begat the word “superhero.”
6. Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson
Because everything that we associate with Batman comes pretty much from them (and I’d say it’s probably the most powerful mythos in all of comics), but I suppose primarily for the advent of the hero with motivation in tragedy.
7. Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
For essentially inventing the horror comic with EC’s New Trend, creating a craze that really only lasted a couple years but is still immensely influential. For being one of the reasons why there was/is a Comics Code. For the “We’re all pals here” approach they took to fan interaction, which would pave the way for Stan Lee’s jocular narration and editorial style.
8. Harvey Pekar
If American Splendor wasn’t the first autobiographical comic, it’s the first one anybody seems to remember. Alt comics are almost nothing but autobio comics these days. I even kind of do one on this blog, however unserious it may be.
9. Warren Ellis
I don’t actually think Ellis gets enough credit for being influential. When superhero comics seemed mostly to be trying to do some sort of Silver Age revival in the late '90s, Ellis gave the middle finger to nostalgia and invented “widescreen comics” with The Authority. I enjoy Ellis comics, but Ellis’ Authority begat Mark Millar’s Authority, which begat Millar’s Ultimates, which begat Millar’s Civil War, which begat all the massive crossover business they’re doing now, so basically half of the most awful stuff at Marvel these days is traceable back to Ellis, unfortunately. Not that he’d care, I suppose.
10. Gardner Fox
Stan Lee created the first comics “universe,” but might Fox’s Earth-1/Earth-2 stuff have been the first comics cosmology? For good or ill, the idea of complex continuity you can actually catalogue stems from him.
11. Mort Weisinger
Not technically a writer, but all that wacky '50s stuff we associate with Superman reportedly came from him (and, if rumors are to be believed, as some sort of odd therapy), and '50s Superman is arguably the most infamous of all Supermen. Writers keep trying to shy away from the Fortress of Solitude and Super Pets and multicolored Kryptonite, but Weisinger’s mythology inevitably creeps back in.
12. Len Wein
Perhaps less for his work itself and more for what it led to. He created, after all, Wolverine, the X-Men, Swamp Thing and others, and as an editor helped bring Watchmen into being. Grant Morrison credits him as a big influence, and hey, speaking of him…
13. Grant Morrison
For being superhero comics’ foremost re-imaginer, freshening up stagnant properties by reintegrating elements that might have been dismissed as outdated seamlessly into a modern aesthetic, while at the same time taking the franchise in uncharted directions. His ultracompetent Batman is still the standard characterization for Bruce Wayne, and he made people believe that you could do an A-list Justice League roster again. Even on books like X-Men where his work is largely undone after he leaves, the abrupt break from years of wheel-spinning gave creators a new starting point, if only to reject everything Morrison’s done.
14. Brian Michael Bendis
The other half (along with Mark Millar, who’s not on the list largely because his work is an extension of Warren Ellis’) of the shape of Marvel today. His superhero work seems to de-emphasize plot; villains and fights are really only MacGuffins to facilitate characterization and interaction, and then shuffling around the status quo. However you feel about this approach, and the rise of “showrunners” at Marvel and DC, it’s here to stay for a while longer, at least. Bendis works long-term on a scale Claremont couldn’t even have conceived of.
15. J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen
People still use “Bwa-ha-ha” to describe superhero comics like their Justice League that lampoon conceits of the genre while still playing by their rules. At best, DeMatteis and Giffen let the air out of the tires and keep us from taking our beloved superhero narratives too deadly seriously. At worst, it makes us complacent, believing that laughing at the occasional goofy third-string character is all it takes to make a comic book “mature.”
16. Roy Thomas
Plok lays it out, but in short, Thomas set a precedent for how a writer follows up on the Stan Lee stories that make up the foundation of the Marvel Universe (and thus defined how DC writers would eventually make use of their newfound continuity).
17. Steve Gerber
For bringing personal politics and satire into it, and showing that superhero comics could be a vessel to explore greater themes (while still being good superhero comics in their own right).
18. Denny O’Neil
O’Neil introduced “relevance” to superheroes (which we usually mean “superheroes dealing with real-world issues”) to modern comics with Green Lantern/Green Arrow, however hamfisted. Also, I guess, for his '70s refocusing of Batman as a grimmer sort of chap.
19. Frank Miller
His development of the “grim ‘n’ gritty” approach alone would make him on the list, as would Dark Knight Returns, but both of them together?
20. Carl Barks
He’s on the Onion’s list for the art, but he wrote all those stories, too! Aside from his contributions to Disney’s catalogue of trademarks, he showed that sheer quality could rise a comic creator from anonymity … that the people working on the comic were just as important, if not moreso, than the characters themselves.
21. Geoff Johns
I’m not totally confident on this one; I suppose it’s still too soon to know. His singular approach to comics is becoming very influential, but he seems so backward-looking that I can’t say what new he really brings to the table, you know? Part of my hesitancy is that I don’t really feel that I understand Johns. Like, I don’t like Bendis’ comics, but I feel that I can see where he’s coming from. Even the much-reviled-of-late Jeph Loeb … I believe I understand what he’s trying to do, or what he wants to do, and it’s just not to my taste. But Johns is a mystery to me. What is he thinking when he has Red Lanterns vomiting up blood and Black Hand licking Bruce Wayne’s skull and Black Adam gouging out Psycho-Pirate’s eyes and tearing people in two? I think I'd know what Bendis or Loeb or Morrison or Mark Waid were doing (or trying to do), but I have no idea why Johns thinks this is a good idea. I suspect his drives and goals are more complex than he’s usually given credit for, but then again perhaps not. I’d absolutely love to read a really in-depth interview with him, not just talking surface stuff and “what’s your favorite character/book/creator/universe?”, but process and intent. I want someone to ask, not in a hostile bitter-fan way but in a journalistic way, why he does these things, what he hopes to accomplish, how do you respond to critiques of your work, what his intended audience is, etc. But he holds a lot of clout (he may or may not be influential, remember!), so I could see a comics journalist not wanting to offend him and close himself off. I’d still like to read it.
Well, that was an unexpected sidetrack. I’d have saved that Johns stuff for a later post, but this pretty much sums it all up.
Back on topic … how does this list stack up, internet visitors? Any egregious oversights?