Given the popularity of comic book characters today, and their prevalence in movies and on television, it is important not to forget about the enormous influence of the people who actually write for comics. Once considered on the fringe of science fiction and fantasy, comic book writers today enjoy mainstream success and lucrative careers as many of their creations make the leap to the silver screen and pop culture immortality. And a handful of comic book writers have proven to be especially influential, as they have created some of the most popular and enduring characters of modern times. Here is a list of the 10 most influential comic book scribes:
10. Todd McFarlane
While lauded for his drawing ability, Todd McFarlane is also a great writer and imaginative force in the world of comic books. After making his mark at Marvel in the late 1980s and early 1990s by revamping classic titles such as Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man, McFarlane broke away to form his own brand, Image Comics, and created his most influential character, Spawn. Spawn has had a huge impact on writers and artists who have come up in the world of comics over the past two decades. Dark, brooding, and violent, Spawn took the comic book antihero to an entirely new realm. Other notable writing credits include work on D.C. Comics’ Batman – Year Two limited series, and the creation of ultimate Spider-Man villain Venom.
9. Neil Gaiman
British writer and illustrator Neil Gaiman isn’t your typical comic book author. He likes to refer to himself as a “graphic novelist,” and many of his most popular creations such as Coraline and Stardust have been made into movies in recent years. However, Gaiman has proven to be hugely influential in the world of comics and graphic novels, due mostly to the ambitious The Sandman. Published by D.C. Comics between 1989 and 1996, The Sandman tells the story of “Dream of the Endless,” who rules over the world of dreams. Spanning 75 issues, The Sandman won numerous awards and was included on Entertainment Weekly’s list of “100 best reads from 1983 to 2008.” For his comics and graphic novels, Neil Gaiman has won prestigious awards including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals. His 2013 book “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” was voted Book of the Year in the British National Book Awards.
8. Jim Shooter
Jim Shooter was a teenage prodigy in the world of comic books, having broken into the business as a writer for DC Comics in 1965 at the tender age of 13. Heavily influenced by Stan Lee at rival Marvel Comics, Jim Shooter adopted a similar approach to telling personal stories in his work on the DC title Legion of Super Heroes. Making the jump to Marvel in the late 1960s, Shooter worked as an assistant to Stan Lee and wrote many different comic books, including influential story arcs for characters as diverse as Daredevil and The Avengers.
A tireless worker, Jim Shooter rose steadily through the ranks at Marvel, eventually becoming Editor-in-Chief, all the while continuing to take on writing projects such as the immensely popular Marvel Secret Wars limited series in the mid-80s, and the less successful but more interesting Star Brand New Universe title. Fired from Marvel due to the failure of the late 80s New Universe series, Shooter formed Valiant Comics, where he succeeded again in creating and writing new and exciting characters such as Solar and Magnus Robot Fighter, the company’s lead titles. Jim Shooter has most recently written for Black Horse Comics, and remains an influential figure in the industry.
7. Brian Michael Bendis
A winner of five Eisner Awards (the equivalent of an Oscar in the comic book world), Brian Michael Bendis has made his mark by revamping popular Marvel titles and bringing them into the 21st Century, such as Ultimate Spider-Man, New Avengers, and the relaunched Secret War series. Known as a turnaround expert, Bendis is the guy who gets called in to rescue stale titles and help once popular superheroes regain their mojo and again rise to the top ranks of the comic industry. While at Marvel, Bendis also revitalized The Fantastic Four and Daredevil. He has also written multiple issues of the popular Sam and Twitch book for Image Comics, and has been called in to do rewrites on screenplays for many of Marvel’s movies. Bendis is a true renaissance man for the 21st Century.
6. Grant Morrison
A self-proclaimed “occultist,” Scottish writer Grant Morrison`s work leans towards the dark side, which explains why he has proven to be so influential with his work on DC titles such as Batman and the Vertigo imprint The Invisibles. Many fans and critics consider Morrison’s work on the early 90s title Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight to be among the best ever for that character. He also revamped the moribund Justice League of America in the mid-90s, recasting the superhero teams as JLA, as well as creating the original and highly influential comic title The Invisibles, about a secret organization battling against physical and psychic oppression using time travel, magic, meditation, and physical violence. Grant Morrison returned to writing Batman in 2010 with issue number 700 of the series, and his work with that character continues to inspire.
5. John Byrne
Many of the storylines we see in comic book movies and TV shows today sprang from the pen of writer and artist John Byrne in the 70s and 80s. These include the Jean Gray / Phoenix arc in the X-Men films, the focus on a young Clark Kent in the TV show Smallville, and pretty much anything decent you’ve ever read or seen involving The Fantastic Four. John Byrne has proven to be hugely influential; his writing for The Fantastic Four is considered a golden age for the title, while his storylines for the X-Men in the 70s continues to be re-purposed by other writers today. In 1986, D.C. Comics hired John Byrne to recast and relaunch Superman – arguably the most iconic superhero of all time. John Byrne has also written for comics such as The Avengers, Incredible Hulk, and Alpha Flight. Each time he has brought gritty stories full of love and loss to the heroes and their worlds.
4. Mark Millar
Not only is Mark Millar the writer of Marvel’s popular Civil War arc, which is being adapted into a movie year with Captain America: Civil War, but he is also the creative mind behind influential comics such as Wanted, Kick-Ass and Marvel Knights: Spider-Man. In the contemporary world of comic books, few writers have been more influential than Mark Millar. In fact, the Scottish-born Millar was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in June 2013 for his services to film and literature, and bestowed with the title of “Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.” His other writing credits include Swamp Thing and Superman: Red Son, a wildly popular three-issue mini-series that tells the story of an alternate universe where Superman’s rocket ship lands on a Ukrainian farm rather than in Kansas, and the Son of Krypton ends up working for the Soviet government rather than fighting for truth, justice, and the American way.
3. Alan Moore
He looks like someone out of Game of Thrones and is known for being extremely cantankerous; yet, few comic book writers have been more influential than Alan Moore. The British scribbler is alternately called “The best graphic novel writer in history” and “One of the most important British writers of the last fifty years.” This is owing to his original and influential work writing comics such as V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman and, or course, his masterpiece Watchmen. The limited series Watchmen, published by DC Comics between 1986 and 1987, is the only graphic novel to appear on Time magazine’s “All-Time 100 Greatest Novels” list. Alan Moore also wrote Batman: The Killing Joke, widely regarded as one of the best Batman stories of all time, and the definitive story involving arch villain The Joker. Alan Moore began his career writing for Swamp Thing, which he resurrected from the dustbin at DC. Nearly every single one of Moore’s comic stories have been made into a movie. Yep, even Swamp Thing.
2. Frank Miller
Frank Miller secured his place in the comic book pantheon by drafting Batman: The Dark Knight Returns alone. But the guy has done so many other influential things in the comic realm, including developing original creations Sin City and 300, as well as shaping and then reshaping the Marvel character Daredevil. A master of dark, gritty storylines, Miller began his career by taking over the then-floundering character of Daredevil and making him one of the Marvel universe’s most popular superheroes. He created the characters of Elektra and Bullseye, and took the Daredevil storyline into dark, painful territory where it continues to reside today. Miller then simultaneously rewrote the legend of Batman and showed the power of graphic novels with the four-part miniseries Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, which is routinely voted the most influential and best graphic novel / comic book of all time. Not content to rest on his laurels, Miller then branched out on his own, creating dark and violent original titles such as Sin City and 300. His writing helped take comic books into darker and more adult areas, and proved that the medium is not just for children.
1. Stan Lee
Is there anyone who has had more influence over comic books than Stan Lee? This is, after all, the guy who created Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor and the X-Men. It may seem unbelievable now, but all of these characters sprang from one man’s mind; each of them different, unique, and unlike any other superhero. Stan Lee is also credited with taking comic book stories in new directions in the 60s and 70s, telling important narratives that focused on his character’s flaws, problems, and contemporary issues in society.
While other comic book companies were introducing superhero pets and scrawling “Pow” and “Bang” across comic book panels, Stan Lee was writing about love, loss, belonging, and urban decay. His characters, above all else, were outsiders in a world that didn’t accept them. That they still chose to protect the regular people who derided them for being different is what made Stan Lee’s characters superheroes. He forever changed the comic book landscape and ushered in the superheroes we enjoy on the big screen today. Excelsior!