One of my coolest finds flipping through the dollar bins of recent note was coming across the first issue of Wizard Magazine. I never owned the first issue of Wizard, but I did start reading relatively early. I remember being around for some of the single digit issues and all through the Image/Valiant booms.
Wizard was great for a good long time. They had full-color posters, price guides, interviews, everything a pre-internet comic fan could want. It was also the place to go for comic news, how to draw segments from Bart Sears, and even better, the hot lists—top creators, issues, etc. that ended up gracing each issue.
Wizard magazine itself had an irreverence that made it a perfect fit for the comic reading audience…until it got a little too full of itself, spreading itself too thin and fading into obscurity. But that’s for another day.
Today, we’re going to remember their hot writer and artist lists, which ultimately, were pure bull shirt, as those rankings are totally subjective. But they were fun, so today, I’m going to come up with My Totally Subjective Top 5 Writers from the Last Decade!
As the 2010’s wind down, much like many other folks, I’m definitely prone to reflection. It’s weird to me, as this decade didn’t feel like a lot changed in my life—even though it had. The changes from 20-something me (now grown up! With a real job! And rent!) to 30-something me (still grown up but achier now! With multiple jobs! And mortgage! And kids! And a podcast!) seemed lesser than the decade changes before. 20 years ago, I was in college, and the decade before that, I was just a kid, so those changes are much more dramatic. I’d say the only constants throughout each decade have been comic books and GI Joes. Still, like sand through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives. Much has changed since 2009, including my favorite comic creators. In 2009, it was still all about Bendis, Brubaker, Fraction, and maaaaaybe those Hickman or Jason Aaron characters.
Unlike Wizard that would track month by month, I’m going with the long con here, examining my favorites from the last decade. And even at that, not my favorite favorites, just my new favorites. Bendis is still on my favorite list, as is Matt Fraction. Their work on the DC brings me as much joy as the best of their Marvel efforts a decade ago.
Still, there’s always room for more great comics. So here are the names at the top of my “watch out for these guys” list.
5. Nick Spencer: You may know his work from The Amazing Spider-man, Morning Glories, The Fix, The Superior Foes of Spider-man, and that time Cap was a Nazi. His Cap work is a bit of a blind spot for me, but I don’t think I’ll be revisiting it any time soon.
Avoid Nick Spencer if you’re looking for hard-hitting grim and gritty style comics, as his fare traditionally skews lighter and more playful. You’ll notice Nick is no longer on Twitter, as the toxic fan reaction to his more serious Cap storyline practically drove him away. You can still follow him on the insta, if your heart really desires.
My favorite pairing with Spencer has to be from Superior Foes of Spider-man with Steve Leiber. Their book was the closest I’ve come to the Giffen/Dematties JLI run in terms of pure fun and beautiful artwork. Still, Spencer is a great writer month-in and month out. His books bring that level of playful consistantly that’s great for new and old comic readers alike.
4. Tom Taylor: You may know him from DCeased, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man. He seems like the guy who’s really good with characterization, and frequently given his own universes to run around in as a result.
He’s not a headliner—yet, but he should be. For now, he’s relegated to the side projects that end up being surprisingly quality affairs. Injustice is a video-game tie-in book, yet Taylor’s adept characterization of DC’s primarily players makes it a joy to read. Friendly Neighborhood Spidey was a side-book that sprouted out of nowhere that managed to tell some really emotional Spidey tales—check out issue 6 in particular. If it doesn’t make you cry, then you’re missing something important inside.
I still have to read DCeased, which is a dumb DC Zombie story—or at least it should be. Instead, Taylor takes the time to make more poignant character examinations to go along with the Zombie fun. Or so I’ve heard. I know his characterization was on point during Injustice, so I have no reason to doubt him here.
3. Chip Zdarsky: You may recognize his name from his current runs on Daredevil, Invaders, or past work on Howard the Duck, Marvel Two In One, Spider-man: Life Story, Starlord, Sex Criminals, White Trees, and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-man.
He’s actually farther down on the list than he would have been two years ago, as I prefer irreverant, side-title that not many people are noticing Chip. He wrote some really touching issues of Spectacular that never skimped on the fun. Spider-man bombing at stand up, or the issues with JJJ ran the emotional gamut. Even his Howard the Duck run mixed humor and sadness in a way that really makes you feel for that duck!
Today, they’ve handed him the reigns of some of Marvel’s main titles, and it seems like some of that joy and silliness has been brushed aside. I liken it to professional wrestling, when they finally gave Chris Jericho the title belts—the unified championship no less, but they cut his character off at the knees and he wasn’t able to win a match cleanly. I feel like Zdarsky (and he may be doing it himself to prove he’s not just the silly guy) is hampered right now by seriousness and action. We know you can do real books that mix humor and heart and silliness—so get back to that sooner rather than later, please. Or don’t. I’m still really enjoying Zdarsky’s books enough that I can frequently be found taking a double Chip dip at the comic shop with the likes of DD or White Trees or Invaders.
2. Mark Russel: You may know him from The Lone Ranger, Red Sonja, Wonder Twins, Second Coming, the Flintstones, Snagglepuss Chronicles, Random DC issues of Swamp Thing The Riddler, etc. I still have to read Wonder Twins.
Russel is thoughtful with a capital T. His social commentary is the best kind—considerate and deep, yet simultaneously fun and shallow enough on the surface. Russel’s books are like the best kind of Onion articles—they make you laugh at society and how dumb it is, but they cut deep enough to expose what’s really broken. You can walk away and days later still be thinking about a Mark Russel book. They change how you see interactions in the world. It’s interesting to see most of his work coming with licensed characters, that can traditionally be a mixed bag. He’s making biting commentary through the Flinstones and Snagglepuss, for heavens to megatroid. The only book he has that has original characters co-stars Jesus! Still, Russel seems like he brings his all every time, whether he’s working on Fred Flinstone, Swamp Thing, or Jesus, and he’s definitely worth it to keep on your radar.
1. Tom King: Sheriff of Babylon, Mister Miracle, Vision, Batman, Superman: Up In the Air, Omega Men.
Tom King: Probably my frontrunner for the idea that comics can be complex, nuanced literature as opposed to fantastical escapism. Tom King treats every series as his opportunity to write his coda of what makes that character work. His Vision work cut to the quick of the android trying to be human, his Superman deftly explains why Superman could win every fight, but he doesn’t need to, his Batman breaks down how and why Batman is what Batman is… and don’t get me started on Mr. Miracle and what it means to escape. His stories have humor and heart and humanity throughout, and I tend to notice more and more each time I read through a Tom King book. Whereas Mark Russel is great for using characters to expose themes in life, King succeeds at showing the life in his characters. Both are great and exciting prospects. King’s books tend to stick with me long after I’ve read them and re-read them. Mr. Miracle and Vision are both on the tops of my favorite books from anybody, let alone a new creator.
So there you have it: not just favorite books, but some of my favorite creators to emerge in the last few years. There is a big white elephant in the room, however: I noticed the list is very dude and very white. At least there are some Australians and Canadians and whatnot mixed in. That’s not to say that all comic book writers need to be white dudes, as there are plenty of great people of all tribes, genders, and orientations making great comics today. It would be patronizing for me to put down a handful of women or minority writers–so I don’t want to do that. I also don’t want to give the impression that only white dudes can make good comics. That’s not the case by a longshot. The names on this list have earned their spots, so I don’t want to take anything away from these guys, either.
Still, I’m thankful not just for the folks I listed but the others out there, too, that are out there making great comics and bringing me joy, excitement, and/or thoughtful examinations of my existence. I’m thankful for all of them. Hopefully the trend of increasing opportunities for people of all stripes continues on the upswing and future lists can be much more diverse.
Let me know if you have a favorite that I glossed over or may be missing. Maybe you discovered somebody recently you had passed on earlier. I hear that Stan Lee guy wrote some good stories.
Until next time,
I’ll be re-reading some of my favorites from these folks just because!