Seven Comic Writers That Inspire Me

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08/14/10Seven Comic Writers That Inspire Me(Blog) (Forum) (List)Erik Larsen(Back) (Next)

I have aspired to be a writer for years, and feel I do a fair job at it, although I have drawn royalties exactly once. My desire has always been to break into comics, but I have a sneaking suspicion I will have to write elsewhere before I can do that. Still, I have spent years developing a list of characters, adding notes here and there, and finding the writing and creativity that most appeals to me in comics. Here's the list of the top seven, and what I like about them:

1) Erik Larsen
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Larsen is the first comic writer of my adulthood to excite me. Savage Dragon is one of the best rides in the comics amusement park. You never know which way it's going to go. Early on, Dragon comes face-to-face with his top foe, Overlord, and is utterly beaten. He fights him again, and a different foe breaks in on the fight, snatches Dragon and flies away, later sending him to hell. Two girlfriends and a wife have died, his daughter has been lost in another dimension, and his son stolen just after birth. As cops deal with one crisis in the department, a second crisis erupts as a group of supervillains bust in and start killing everyone.

I find this to be top notch writing. People age, change and die. Relationships come and go. The hero is not immune to tragedy. Sometimes, a few crises happen at the same time, rather than waiting their turn. Crossovers happen, and the events are held onto as part of the continuity. Currently, Dragon's not even the good guy. He's regained his memories from when he was the despotic tyrant of an alien race, and he is wreaking havoc. Larsen has said from the beginning that no one is safe in his book, including Dragon. He's always held that one day, Dragon will die and someone else will have to take over the starring role. I have my guesses, like anyone, of where things will go, but have never been disappointed to be wrong - and that's a frequent occurrence with this book.

One other thing that Larsen does: when he uses someone else's character, he tries to stay true to the character, and not write them badly to make his own character shine. He has crossed over with Superman, Madman, Hellboy, Wanted, the Amazing Joy Buzzards, Shadowhawk, 10th Muse, Spawn, Backlash, Invincible, and my personal favorite, Destroyer Duck. There are surely others that I have forgotten, and not once have I ever felt the guest character was out-of-character. Maybe I'm gushing, but I find this to be a true mark of professionalism, because he treats others' properties with as much or more respect than his own.

2) Robert Kirkman
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I think it's in one of the first Invincible trades that Kirkman remarks that he stole all of his writing techniques from Erik Larsen. To me, it shows. I've commented on the sudden changes that take place in Larsen's writing, and somehow, Kirkman's made the style his own. One thing about this style is that it tells a complex story, but in a somehow simple way. Things don't often seem convoluted or contrived - just "Of course, that had to happen." It may not be something I saw coming, but when it happens, I say, "Yeah, it was all there," and I marvel at how he's kept the story together all this time.

What amazes me about Kirkman is that he doesn't do it in just Invincible. Larsen's been content to just do Savage Dragon, with the occasional mini-series or one-shot. Kirkman, on the other hand, writes Invincible, Astounding Wolf-Man, Brit, Walking Dead, Youngblood, and probably more I don't know about. When I was first discovering his work, he was also writing Marvel Team-Up. I don't automatically like a story, because it has a favorite writer on it, but I have yet to read a bad one by Kirkman.

3) Jay Faerber
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I know Faerber's writing through Noble Causes and Dynamo 5. I'm hoping D5 survives the poor economy, because I like this book almost as much as I liked New Teen Titans in the Eighties. Again, I find his writing similar to Larsen's and Kirkman's, but there's something faster about the pacing. I can breeze through a D5 trade in nothing flat, and almost be vexed that I spent the money on the thing, because it went so quickly. Only "almost" though, because I always enjoy the story. He does some nice things with characterization - characters actually stay true to their personalities, even when it might be more convenient for them not to. It kind of lent a soap opera quality to Noble Causes, and a family quality to the dysfunctional Dynamo 5. Also, you can't help but be intrigued in the "lecherous Superman" of Captain Dynamo, or what I wish Lois Lane was, in Maddie Warner. Nice stuff.

4) Mark Waid
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Mark Waid was probably one of the first writers whose name I started looking for in the credits. I loved his run on Flash where he defined Max Mercury as "the zen master of speed." Kingdom Come and Kingdom drove my imagination for months (and I highly recommend the Absolute edition that includes all the companion material for KC, including a listing of every single character appearing in the book). Empire should be required reading for any aspiring writer as they try to figure out why Golgoth's forces build a bridge in plain sight of the enemy. His current works, Irredeemable and Incorruptible, I don't know as well. I've read the first few issues of Irredeemable, and loved them, but haven't been able to keep up with them since (my wallet has not been inexhaustible). In a two part video interview with Babs of Comic Vine, Waid states that he'd like to teach writing to up-and-coming writers. Personally, I hope that happens at some point. I would sign up in a heartbeat if at all possible.

5) Kurt Busiek
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I don't have a ton to say about Kurt Busiek, because I think Astro City pretty well speaks for him. It includes one of my all time favorite stories, called "The Scoop" (Astro City #2, Sept. 1995). Busiek's mother gave him a real newspaper article, about shark remains found on a subway track, and he turned it into a reporter's epic superhero story. The problem is the reporter couldn't prove it, so he wrote a very short article about shark remains found on a subway track - the only evidence that anything had occurred there. Extrapolating such an extreme story from such a simple but odd article is pure creativity. The kind that takes me back to when I was a kid, coming up with outrageous ideas on the tiniest scraps of information. That almost gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

6) Brian Michael Bendis
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This guy's been picking up some hatred lately, but I think that's just because his name is on so much stuff that people are sick of seeing it. I don't have that problem. I wish I was as prolific in writing as this man. When asked how he can write so much, his answer is simple: he does the work. Or as he puts it in his letter columns for Powers, he has "no life." Comics aren't just a job for him, he enjoys them, so he spends his time writing. He's not wasting work time on playing video games or whatever other stuff tends to distract guys that mostly make their own schedule.

The thing that inspires me the most about Bendis is that he isn't just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks. He's actually researching. Articles I read about Secret Invasion said that when he pitched the series, he went through the entire Marvel history of the Skrulls, and laid out how everything connected and culminated in this invasion. I think that's basically what we got in Secret Invasion Saga.

7) Rob Liefeld
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This probably comes as a shock to most, because Liefeld is probably the most popular whipping boy in comics, but he truly is one of my favorite writers in comics. NOT because I necessarily think he's a great writer, but because of the sheer amount of books and characters he has put out. I ran across an interview with Crazy Cat Com Comics, posted on Comic Vine, where Liefeld said, "About twenty years ago, it's like my head exploded," and all of these characters came out. Entire teams - Youngblood (in two or three versions of the team), Bloodstrike, New Men, and Brigade - as well as solid solo characters Supreme and Glory. Nevermind stuff he did at Maximum, like Avengelyne. And lest we forget, he created Cable and Deadpool for Marvel - characters that, love 'em or hate 'em - have carried at least five titles each.

I don't care about "tiny feet" and whatever else might be said about his art. As I have trouble drawing better than a twelve year old, I think his art is teriffic. The thing with Liefeld is that he seems to have trouble getting books out on time, if at all. Still, when Marvel tried to sue him over Agent America, he managed to get the rights to Fighting American, effectively thumbing his nose at Marvel, and with a nice bit of historical symmetry. If you don't admire him for that, you have no soul.


What probably draws me to all of these guys is that they've created a large amount of characters for their books, and I always love seeing new characters. Their enthusiasm for comics is infectious, and their creativity seems to know no bounds. To me, these are the guys that have learned their lessons from Kirby, Lee and other predecessors. Like them, these seven throw even the craziest ideas on the page, and make them work.

Also, more often than not, these are the guys who cause me to have to strike a name from my list of characters, and that just challenges me to come up with something else. While it always gives me chagrin to one degree or another, I enjoy it too. It makes me feel like, "Yes, this idea was good enough for someone else to use in comics, so I must be on the right track." Then I try to come up with the next thing.

There are other writers I like, sure - Chuck Dixon, Bill Willingham, Geoff Johns, - but these seven always give me something to smile about, even if it's a sly smirk of "Man, they beat me to it again." You have to find your inspirations as a writer though, and these are a few of mine. I hope you enjoyed it.

Follow-Up:.Answering SumoSlamMan: Non-Capes Writers That Interest Me.

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