Nothing But Comics has hit our three year mark and in observance of the site’s anniversary, every Tuesday from now until we finish, one of our staff members will list off their favorite comics creators all time. Last week was Cosmo, this week is Itho.
Honorable Mentions: Brian Azzerallo, Eduardo Risso, Lee Bermejo, Mark Millar, Denny O’Neil, Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Sciver, Mark Texeira, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Nobuhiro Watsuki, Tsugumi Ohba/Takeshi Obata, Masashi Kishimoto, Carmine Infantino, Jack Kirby, Brian Micheal Bendis, Doug Monech.
One of my favorite creators who’s worked on two of my favorite Marvel characters. Way was one of Marvel’s more low-key but reliable writers from 2003-2013, writing their darker and sales challenged books. Starting off on comics like Wolverine, Bullseye, and Venom; Way wrote one of my favorite runs for the Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider which helped give the character longevity he hadn’t had in quite some time before handing the reins to Jason Aaron. After that, I waited for news of Way’s next series and when he was announced as the writer of the relaunched Deadpool series (another character who had fallen off the map at the time) I eagerly put the book on my pull-list. I followed it for years, as did many others, as Way put Deadpool back on the sales charts and was instrumental in his subsequent comeback which he is still enjoying today. After that Way was tapped to continue writing Deadpool and others in Thunderbolts for Marvel’s initial Marvel NOW! relaunch. After 11 issues of that, Way would leave that series for Charles Soule to bring higher acclaim. Daniel Way’s writing has drawn ire from many fans for reasons I don’t entirely understand, but I’ve often enjoyed how the tone of his writing was able to fit characters who were pigeonholed and adds darkness or humor to them as needed. For both Johnny Blaze and Deadpool, Way was able to fit inside convoluted continuity and add to the characters histories in subtle ways that objectively were successful. Way’s track record is such that whatever project he takes, he has my trust it will be to my tastes and be worth my dollars.
#14. J. Micheal Straczynski:
Another controversial choice, but for reasons I can sympathize with. J Micheal Straczynski (or JMS) started out in television before Marvel brought him on to write for Spider-Man. It turned out to be a smart move as JMS carefully added pathos and drama to Amazing Spider-Man while also updating a few things. Peter and MJ were separated, Aunt May learned of his dual identity and let go of her distrust of Spider-Man, etc. Storylines involving Peter Parker becoming a high school teacher at Midtown High and being hunted by mythical Spider-themed deities from his earlier writings illustrate why I enjoyed that run so much: JMS mixed the mythical with the mundane. Spider-Man was a character who walked the line between those two realms, trying to reconcile with his wife Mary Jane and help Asgardian trickster Loki save one of his human children from a chaos goddess. JMS would make some missteps in his run, like Gwen Stacy sleeping with Norman Osborn and giving birth to two Goblin formula enhanced twins or following editorial in undoing Peter and MJ’s marriage in One More Day. Still, JMS would move on to Thor and despite a much shorter run that was equally as engrossing and inspired, leaving many others until Jason Aaron stumped to compete with.
#13. John Romita Jr.
The son of legendary artist John Romita, John Romita Jr also made a name for himself drawing for much of JMS’ tenure on The Amazing Spider-Man. JrJr has also worked on Iron Man, the Avengers, Daredevil (for Frank Miller), Black Panther, the Eternals (for Neil Gaiman) and Captain America. He was at the ground floor of Millar’s creator-owned rebirth for the Kick-Ass saga. Recently, he’s moved to DC and already drawn their two biggest icons, Superman and Batman. All-Star Batman proved to be a feast for the eyes, and that JrJr can still draw with the best of them. For me, he is THE artist for the Wall-Crawler and part of the reason I love the 2001-2007 run of ASM. JrJr has a simple line but recognizable style with his use of anatomy and expression contrasted with detailed backgrounds. His style fits almost any character, but never feels the same project-to-project. Perhaps his greatest skill is his imaginative eye, as the scenes he draws are filled to the edge with action/movement/tension as JrJr’s standards don’t let him skimp on the quality. His art has a classic feel to it without being outdated. As his career is only now entering its second phase even though he’s been in the industry since 1978, I can’t wait to see where it takes him.
#12. Clayton Crain
I first saw Crain’s art on Garth Ennis’ Ghost Rider minis. It’s gorgeous, visceral, and stylish. I often refer to it as digital painting, as his art is layered and lit like a painter capturing a still-life. Crain’s art feels like the natural evolution for comic art, purely digital but still within the traditional methods of design. What Crain can achieve with a tablet and stylus is beyond belief and literally brings new life to characters we’ve seen for decades. Besides GR, he’s drawn X-Force and Carnage for Marvel while currently handling art duties on Valiant’s Rai. Crain is sure to be an artist we’ll be talking about and seeing more of in the years to come.
#11. Kevin Eastman/Peter Laird
Obviously these two created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and got famous. What was a parody of Marvel’s Daredevil with mutant animals, turned into an evergreen epic of Ninjas, mutants, everything and the kitchen sink. What I really admire most about this duo (aside from creating my favorite teenage turtles) is that these two paved the way for so much else. These two guys were complete unknowns and self-published their way to fame and merchandise deals. Without them we may not have an Image Comics or an Indie scene as strong as it is now. Against all odds, these two made it big and made something that continues to reinvent itself for several consecutive generations. Part of that is luck, but it also hinged on Eastman’s vivid imagination and Laird’s gritty, cartoonish visuals.
#10. Steve Ditko
Yet another artist who has drawn Spider-Man, but also bares the distinction as co-creator. I choose Ditko for two reasons. One, his instrumental part in Marvel’s Silver Age and creation of characters like Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and the Question. Like fellow Stan Lee collaborator Jack “King” Kirby, Ditko often was overshadowed and mistreated by Lee and Marvel which was a shame considering his talent. Ditko had a vibrant imagination and eye for illustration, drawing Spidey’s agility and the Astral Plane equally well. His characters brimmed with angst and emotion and his art would stretch the boundaries of human comprehension like MC Escher. That creativity would contrast strongly with Ditko’s serious personality and uncouth personal philosophy. Ditko was an Objectivist , a system which vaules rationalism and self-concern to awkward degrees. That’s only half of why he grew tired of working for Marvel, possibly the biggest issue was that he believed he should own all of the work he did. In the 1960’s, this was a revolutionary concept in every sense of the word. Two decades before, Siegal and Shuster had sold DC the “rights” to Superman for under $100. Ditko thinking Marvel “owed” him for all his hard work and that he deserved more respect eventually grew to a level of resentment that Ditko almost entirely left the comics field. Yet, Jack Kirby would later fight a similar battle with Marvel and ultimately lose (with Marvel storing mountains of Kirby’s artwork and only returning a small portion of it to him) which only adds credibility to Ditko’s argument. Despite his characters dabbling in the Arcane, or pseudo-science of radioactive spider bites and miracle gases, Ditko’s characters were endowed with parts of his personal beliefs (the Question’s stark ideas of justice, Peter Parker’s constant struggle for his own happiness weighed against the needs of others) which are arguably integral to their foundations. There are other, more popular artists who have worked on his characters and get more recognition, IE Stan Lee, but Ditko has resolved himself to a figurative hermit in the industry until such a time as he feels his work is rightfully recognized. His impact on the medium continues to be largely ignored, which is ironic considering the rise of creator-owned work and the proliferation of Image’s approach to making comics. Steve Ditko’s impact remains a complex part of comics history, but one which offers important lessons on both sides of the art table.
#9. Neal Adams
One of the living legends in comics, Neal Adams work still draws eyes to the page after decades in the field. Comics is a visual medium and once one that had low expectations and low pay. Gradually, profits grew and so did the quality. Adams’ work was a major shift in taste, bringing dynamism and perfect anatomy to characters that once were colorful blobs on newsprint. With Adams’ pencil, they turned into flesh and blood people almost sculpted from the Renaissance artists of old. He was famous for the amount of detail put into Superman fighting Muhammad Ali, fitting cameos galore into the spectator stands page after page. He was a marque name for characters in the 70s like Batman, Green Arrow and the X-Men. Having mastered the realistic human form, there was nowhere else for Adams to go but towards abstraction much like the Ancient Greeks. After all his time working in comics, he’s earned the chance to write and draw whatever he wants. However, there is almost no one working today that can match his classic work in its near perfection at drawing the human form moving and fighting.
#8. Garth Ennis
Guys like Seth Rogen and Kevin Smith act like a fart joke is the epitome of writing, while Ennis can write a fart joke that makes you laugh AND cry at the same time. Truly a singular talent, Ennis is able to write the human condition at its best and worst, sometimes simultaneously. He takes us to depths we dare not gaze at, that horrify us to consider, then brings us back to the classic notions of honor, love and friendship. It’s no small task to write each category well, but another to manage both seemingly without effort. Ennis’ work has flat-out disgusted me at times, but it was his intention to do so, just as it was to inspire in me the general faith that there is goodness to be found in men and women. Sharp as battery acid, poignant as Shakespere and as American as an Angry Scot can be, Ennis’ understanding of the USA has resulted in fascinating works that have yet to be outdone.
#7. Bill Sienkiewicz
The Yin to Neal Adams’ Yang, Sienkiewicz isn’t just a really hard name to pronounce. It’s also a name that has built up a solid reputation in the industry. If Adams was about realism, Sienkiewicz is about abstraction and atmosphere. Thankfully there’s room for both. Sienkiewicz’s line can be delicate but also brash as it forms shadows and bodies made of smoke. His art almost blurs at times to accentuate movement and madness, like they’re caught in nouveau French Cinema. Instead of pretending the characters are moving, it’s almost like Sienkiewicz captured snapshots of them in action and his art barely hints at anything beyond the one moment on the page. Visually, Sienkiewicz is as creative as they come and unpredictable as well. He’s an artist I always want to see more of, as he seems to evolve constantly in strange, new ways.
#6. Takehiko Inoue
Writer/artist Takehiko Inoue is an impressive talent. Not just in Manga, but in comics period. I’m not sure where he ranks in popularity for Manga readers but his skillset is undeniable. His art combines Jim Lee’s obsessive detail with Neal Adams’ eye for movement and anatomy, while his scripts are like Brian Micheal Bendis channeling Akira Kurosawa. I’m a huge fan of Inoue’s series Vagabond, capturing a semi-realistic look at Japanese samurais and Miyamoto Musashi with just a touch of cinematic romanticism. It’s a world where people live and die by the sword, but each blow is swung by a person with their own demons and dreams against another’s. It’s completely changed how I think about Manga, even though it’s not my favorite representation of comics. If you can keep an open mind and want something more out of comics, Takehiko Inoue is a name that will surely capture your eye and imagination as he pushes the medium while staying true to the concepts it embodies so well.
#5. Brian K Vaughan
I may not like every book Vaughan has written, but I defy you to name a bad one. I honestly don’t think one exists, Vaughan is too talented to craft one. Vaughan is a major name in comics, for good reason. I can’t think of many other writers that share his use of intrigue, humor, romantic relationships,\ and drama. His most famous works could be described as a “one-in-a-million” and “I wish I thought of that!”, and he’s done several: Ex Machina, Y the Last Man, The Private Eye and of course, Saga. His works are largely composed of and/or lack the elements of more mainstream titles and I think that’s part of his success in using the medium to tell original stories instead of brawny guys punching each other. His comics are accessible, yet layered in rich detail that merits hours of speculation. His characters may be over the top or down to Earth, but most are often so relatible you crave more time with them. Through it all, his stories are about people in complex worlds and their journeys often parallel our own in fascinating ways. With Brian K Vaughan at the top of his game and two Image series ongoing (as of this writing), he’s surely only going to become more renowned for his talent and the talent of collaborates who bring their own unique take to his works.
#4. Darwyn Cooke
The late Darwyn Cooke was a genius. Artistically, literally, however you want to quantify it, the man was on a level all his own. We may never see another star like his and that’s a shame. Darwyn Cooke was known for his clean, retro like style that was a perfect fit for many DC characters if not the DCU itself. His art gave everything a nostalgic splendor, but never lacked the complexity we expected from modern storytellers. Cooke liked to do the basics, but do them well: his Parker books were hard and fast crime dramas distilled into straight-forward narratives, while his superhero work would blend the new and old into a timeless marriage. He had a natural instinct for how to present a story and always seemed to have one to tell. Cooke’s work was one that almost didn’t need narration or word balloons, the art itself told you everything you needed to know.
#3. Dwayne McDuffie
Dwayne McDuffie occupies a special place in comics history. He was often ignored for his race despite his talents and he often favored fun stories over bowing to continuity. It was only after adapting his Milestone character Static to animation that McDuffie would gain greater respect and later join DC’s writing team on Justice League/Justice League Unlimited. His work on animation writing (including Teen Titans, What’s New Scooby Doo? Ben 10: Alien Force) allowed McDuffie to write bigger comic titles such as Justice League and Fantastic Four, perfect showcases for his creative voice on these familiar characters. As previously mentioned, McDuffie created Static and other diverse characters for Milestone Media alongside Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle. One of McDuffie’s final projects was integrating Milestone characters into the DCU. He was a rich voice for diversity and understanding of what makes comics great and although his efforts in life didn’t see full fruition, his work has been a foundation for driving more diverse representation in the medium. There’s even a Writer’s Guild of America Award named after him, appropriately for writing in animation. The world and the industry is much poorer for his loss, even more so because his talents went unappreciated and ignored for so long.
#2. Paul Dini
When you think about the Dark Knight, Dini’s name may or not appear on your list of favorite creators. That is a mistake, as Dini is one of those responsible for much of Batman’s good fortune for the last 20+ years albeit not entirely because of comics. Dini started out scripting animation shows like He-Man: Masters of the Universe and Tiny Toons before he was brought on to write for Batman the Animated Series. He and Bruce Timm created Harley Quinn, another currently famous character and wrote many stories bringing Batman’s rich history and lore to young viewers’ TV screens every Saturday. Even Batman Beyond has Dini’s fingerprints on it. With such strong and acclaimed work under his belt, it’s only natural DC would bring him in to write on Batman again, but also Justice League: World’s Greatest Heroes. His comics work is comparatively shorter than most, but very good. Dini’s brief run on Detective Comics fit seamlessly into continuity years deep, but he still brought the same energy that enriched Batman the Animated Series. He wrote two concurrent titles during Grant Morrison’s bat epic pre-New 52, Batman: Streets of Gotham and Gotham City Sirens focusing on Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn causing trouble all on their own. He even managed to salvage Hush as a character in Heart of Hush after Jeff Loeb had tried to repeat his success with the character and left him in a bad state. When it came time for Rocksteady Studios to completely redefine video games based on comic books, Paul Dini was brought on to write for Batman Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. With such a powerful breadth of work, it’s no surprise Dini’s name should be held in high esteem.
#1. Mark Waid
When I think of comics, I often think of Mark Waid’s writing. He’s prolific, talented, knows when and where to honor continuity, and has a way with redefining characters for modern times. Starting out as a editor, later for DC comics during much of its post-COIE work, Waid would leave that for free-lance writing which most of us remember as his legendary run on The Flash. After that he would move back and forth between DC and Marvel, working on X-Men, Captain America and writing Kingdom Come for DC. Then, he and Grant Morrison would reinvent the JLA for another legendary run, after which Waid and Barry Kitson created the series Empire. Following that with one of my favorite runs on Fantastic Four with artist Mike Wieringo who he worked with in the 90s on The Flash. Waid reunited with Kitson for the “Threeboot” iteration of the Legion of Superheroes and wrote the maxiseries Superman:Birthright. Waid’s accomplishments kind of go on and on like that, a timeline of great comics. 52, Irredeemable, Incorruptible, Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil. Not to say his body of work is perfect, but if you threw a dart at it you would more than likely hit half a dozen gems. It’s that kind of consistency and quality that put him at the #1 spot, he’s written dozens of my favorite stories and left indelible marks on iconic characters, even the trickier ones like Superman and the Flash, and pulled Matt Murdock out of his constant Frank Miller rehashing cycle without removing the stories that defined him for the last couple of decades. Waid continues to impress and it’s through a workmanlike approach that’s a rarity in these days. We’re lucky to have a creator like Mark Waid working today, as he still hasn’t seemed to hit a stopping point in his career. While we often crave new and exciting in our monthly comics, it’s nice to see someone use a back-basics approach that doesn’t leave the characters feeling dated but right where they need to be to live on.