Dec 31, 2018

50 Comics Creators, Duy's List

I'm choosing to end 2018 by naming 50 writers, artists, and cartoonists, off the top of my head, that have meant something to me in terms of my enjoyment of comics. Whether it's having created a story that's affected me personally, drawn things that made me wish I could draw like them, or just given me hours of entertainment, they're eligible for the list.

This is not a thoroughly thought-out list, meaning you can probably expect the top 10 to be my actual personal top 10, and the last 40 or so being in any order, but that's kind of the nature of lists. I'm 36 years old, so if you asked me to rank every year of my life, by the time I get to the 15th item, we're really just picking nits.

This is a list I made at the end of 2018. I'm not the same person I was in the past, and I won't be the same person in the future, so this is kind of a time capsule of the kind of person I am now.

So let's go with my...

50 Favorite Comics Creators
by Duy

If you click on a creator's name, it'll take you to an Amazon link for a book I'd recommend done by that creator.

50. David Petersen. Fresh on my mind for 2018 because of an interview we did this year about Mouse Guard, David Petersen is probably the best artist, in the classical sense of the term, on this list. Except maybe for the next guy.



49. Bill Sienkiewicz. What can I say about Bill Sienkiewicz that hasn't been said before, and been said better? Nothing? All right, here's some art.



48. Michael Cho. My favorite cover artist of the modern era.



47. Gary Frank. For his Superman.



46. Ta-Nehisi Coates. A friend of The Cube, who only recently started writing comics, and has only gotten better since he started.



45. Stan Lee. Why is Stan so low? Because I did this list from 1-10 first, and for whatever reason, the moment I put down Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, I think my brain told me I had already put in Stan. Which isn't true, obviously. Stan was the glue of the Marvel Universe, the guy who sold everything. I think Jack and Steve did the brunt of the work on each individual title, but selling that stuff, tying it together — that was Stan, and that can't be denied, and should, in fact, be celebrated.



44. David Lloyd. For V for Vendetta, always.



43. Dave Gibbons. Watchmen alone would be enough to get him on this list, and I want to point out that all the best parts of Watchmen came from his head.



42. Craig Thompson. Blankets and Habibi are both great, but Craig Thompson is on this list for Good-Bye Chunky Rice, still one of the most emotionally affecting comics I ever read.



41. James RobinsonHe's here for Starman, which I once took a week to write about daily. When I do that for a comic, you know it made an impact on me.



39. Garth Ennis

Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon did Preacher, the longform comic I was most invested in, ever. They never did anything after that that even came close to affecting me as much. But he wrote that. 




These two get here for Criminal. Brubaker ranks a bit higher because I've read and enjoyed Brubaker works without Phillips and not the other way around. By the way, the Criminal ranking goes (6) Bad Night, (5) The Dead and the Dying, (4) The Sinners, (3) The Last of the Innocent, (2) Lawless, (1) Coward. Coward is far ahead of Lawless.



36. Dana Simpson. Phoebe and Her Unicorn is kind of in the vein of Calvin and Hobbes, just as charming, and nearly as good. Hell, maybe over time, it'll be even better.



35. Tim Truman. I love Westerns, and Tim Truman is a master.



34. Chris Sprouse. Even I underrate him, but I pretty much love any comic I see with his name on it.



33. Gene Ha. I'll always love him for Top 10, and he continues to be a go-to pick for me when it comes to backgrounds and architecture.



32. Mark Waid. For me, a modernized version of my number 11 pick.



31. Paul Gilligan. The cartoonist behind Pooch Cafe, which puts a daily smile on my face.



30. Paolo Rivera. So damn good at what he does.



29. Ty Templeton. Always a treat, and the best thing is we get some regular stuff from him in his Bun Toons.



28. Sana Takeda. The artist of Monstress. Look at that.



27. Tula LotayI first saw her art on Supreme: Blue Rose, and I thought it was a revelation. She just does beautiful work.


26. Stephan Pastis. Every day I get an email from GoComics, sending syndicated comic strips my way. The one I look forward to the most each time is Pearls Before Swine, by Stephan Pastis.



25. David Mazzuchelli. Whether it's superheroes such as Daredevil and Batman, postmodern realism such as in Paul Auster's City of Glass, or him just doing something both human and dreamlike like Asterios Polyp, something Mazzuchelli has never done is disappointed me.




As I get older, my taste in comics get more specific, and I like particular eras of characters more than the characters themselves. For Archie Comics, I only really make time for these three now. DeCarlo is the best artist on this list, but Lucey's work had more personality. And Schwartz defined Jughead for me so clearly. I can't separate them on any list. And they come in that order. For what it's worth, DeCarlo is a better draftsman than Lucey and created way more. Lucey's stuff just moves better, so he wins out for me.

Samm Schwartz
Dan DeCarlo

Harry Lucey

21. Will Eisner. When I was in college, I borrowed The Spirit Archives from the library. At first it was dated and hard to get through. When Eisner came back from the war in 1945, it started a stretch that I could not stop reading. I see so many techniques in Eisner's work that no one was doing then, that are commonplace now. I think in terms of just flat-out making a comic, he's the most influential Western artist ever.



20. Grant Morrison. He's here for his straight-up superhero work in JLA and All-Star Superman. He's not here for the other things he's probably at this point more famous for. Morrison is the ultimate "I should like this guy better, but I don't" guy for me, but his peaks are sublime.



19. Neil Gaiman. Probably the biggest name in comics when it comes to non-comics fans. I don't think Neil Gaiman walks on water and I tend to like his ideas more than his actual execution. But there's always been something about the way he put words together that has always inspired me.



18. Otto Binder. Not the creator of the Shazam Captain Marvel, but the writer and co-creator of many of the things that would make him special. He'd also write, and contribute to, a huge portion of the Silver Age Superman, including his now-very-famous cousin.



17. CC Beck. Whimsy. Shazam. Captain Marvel. In a way that wouldn't have worked with anyone else.



16. Grant Snider. The artist of Incidental Comics and author of The Shape of Ideas combines brainstorming, motivation, and inspiration in his webcomics. Each one is a pleasure to read.



15. Jeff Smith. Even if Bone were the only thing Jeff Smith ever did (and it isn't), he'd already be a groundbreaker. He combined Carl Barks–style funny animals with Tolkien-style fantasy. And Bone will stand the test of time.



14. Jason Aaron. Thor is my second-favorite Marvel superhero, and Jason Aaron is currently writing the third best run on the character ever. His first run on Thor Odinson was epic and drew me in; his next phase with Jane Foster was one of the most moving stories I've ever read.

I really wanted to put a scene instead of a cover, but all the best parts are too spoilery, and you should really read the book.


13. Walt Simonson. The greatest Thor creator ever, the closest thing to Jack Kirby comics ever got afterwards in terms of raw power, and an artist who somehow, in one way or another, just got better over time.



12. Dan Slott. My favorite Spider-Man writer ever since the next guy I'm gonna name.



11. Roger Stern. Stan Lee and the Marvel Bullpen very crudely, very experimentally tried to set a template for anything superhero-related. Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and company tried to break that mold. Everyone since then has drawn from outside of the superhero genre to try to inform their writing. But all that only works because we got to a point where the superhero template was perfected, and that happens between Stan and Alan, and the person I think perfected it the best was Roger Stern. In addition to just being really good at his craft, Stern knew — he just knew — what made any character he was working on so special. 



That's it for 50-11. Like I said, it wasn't really a thing where I thought too hard about it. But these next 10, you can consider them the Pantheon of my comic sensibilities. With these next 10, I may not want to end up owning everything they've ever done. But I would want to own a humongous portion of it.

10. Marcos Martin. My favorite superhero is Spider-Man, but there was an eight-year span in which I was not reading him because the line was spearheaded by a writer whose style I legitimately, truly do not enjoy reading. What drew me back in 2008 was Marcos Martin's art, working on a story with Dan Slott. In 2018 when I felt like I'd overstayed my welcome on the character again, Dan Slott left Spider-Man, and Marcos Martin drew his last story, and it was amazing (pun intended) and fitting. At one point Marcos Martin drew twelve double-page spreads called Spidey Sundays, a tour de force of comics techniques featuring Spider-Man. But most importantly for me, there are certain comics you buy off the shelf, and you think, "I've never read anything like that before" and you're grateful for having been able to read that comic as it came out. Amazing Spider-Man #655, "No One Dies," is such a comic. And it's nowhere near the same without Marcos Martin. By the way, Marcos Martin is a name you have to type out in full every single time, like "Kurt Cobain" or "Axl Rose" or "Nicki Minaj."



9. Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. The man whom I will always associate all of DC's characters with. The face of DC Comics. And I think the best draftsman in the history of the business.



8. JH Williams III. JH Williams III has worked with Neil Gaiman (Sandman: Overture), Alan Moore (Promethea), Warren Ellis (Desolation Jones), Greg Rucka (Batwoman), and Grant Morrison (Seven Soldiers). He doesn't do a lot of interior work anymore, to the point that when he does, it's an instant buy from me.



7. Jack Kirby. When I was growing up, I hated Kirby's art, but couldn't stop reading comics he drew. There was such a primal power to them. Now that I'm older, I not only appreciate them; under the hands of the right inkers (Joe Sinnott is #1, Chic Stone is dead last), I love them. The larger-than-life quality of it all. The bravado of the ideas. And that thing I said about not putting a Kirby book down? Still true. I started reading his Thor run some years back, and I finished it in days. I don't think he's the greatest cartoonist of all time, but I do think he was the most groundbreaking. He worked on Westerns, he created romance comics, and you can feel his work come to life multiple times a year when you watch a superhero movie. By the way, the best Kirby book is Thor, with Stan Lee, followed by The New Gods — not Jimmy Olsen, Mister Miracle, or The Forever People — just the New Gods. Then Fantastic Four.



6. Steve Ditko. My favorite of the Marvel Big Three is also the most underrated. But it's not just because he co-created my favorite superhero of all time in Spider-Man; it's also because his work was the most neurotic. Under Ditko's pen, Spider-Man had an edge that he wouldn't ever really have again. And he was the most psychedelic, which is always a plus. Ditko's non-superhero stories, such as his twist-ending stories in Amazing Fantasy, are also my favorite ones done in that style. 




I think Carl Barks is the greatest cartoonist of all time, bar none, easily. This can be debated — Kirby, Tezuka, Herge, Eisner, Schulz, Watterson — and all points will be valid, but in my mind no one was ever as subtly impactful across the globe as Carl Barks. Having said that, the greatest story ever featuring Barks' most important creation, Uncle Scrooge McDuck, uncle of Donald Duck, was a fan's labor of love, and that fan was named Don Rosa. I think Rosa's peaks were higher, but his valleys also lower. Barks was more consistent in terms of quality, and at the end of the day, very simply, there is no Don Rosa without Carl Barks. So Barks over Rosa in my rankings. Today. It may change tomorrow.

Barks

Rosa
I will also add that Don Rosa was offered to draw comics for other companies, and chose not to, because all he really wanted to draw was the Ducks. So because of that, here's his take on Spider-Man's greatest villain, J. Jonah Jameson.



3. Bill Watterson. Calvin and Hobbes isn't just my favorite newspaper comic strip; I also think it's the greatest of all time, a perfect blend of art and fun, of wisdom and entertainment. There have been things like it before, but this was better, and there's been things that have tried to copy it since, and it's still better. 



2. Alan Moore. Sometimes I think Alan Moore has dated himself, and yes, it's true some things don't age well, and even age horribly. And then sometimes I'm reminded of a sequence he tightly scripted, and a string of words that changed my life. In this case, "This is an imaginary story... aren't they all?" massively influenced the way I view fiction.



1. George PerezI doubt will ever move from the top spot of this list. He's meant so much to me in terms of getting me into comics and keeping me there. From Crisis on Infinite Earths to Wonder Woman to Avengers to JLA/Avengers to CrossGen Chronicles to Legion of Three Worlds, he's rarely ventured outside of the superhero genre, which I both see as a missed opportunity and also not really something I'm gonna complain much about. He's pretty much retired now, his vision having affected his ability to draw, but he'll never not be my favorite. He's not the best draftsman on this list (even number 9 is better than he is, and their styles are very similar), but he draws the way I always wish I could. (An added bonus here is that George Perez is the nicest man in comics, and has drawn women to the hobby more than any man not named Neil Gaiman.)




Man, that's a lot of people. And there are a lot of people I didn't name either, like Brian Bolland and Frank Miller. Maybe I should have had this go to 100. And this was an easy one to write too; just a lot of artists and writers whose work I've loved at one point or another. Comics has given me so much. I'm looking forward to more. 

Happy New Year, folks.

Dec 27, 2018

Marvel UK Is the Best

As a kid, I read Marvel UK a lot, because other than a few Alan Moore-related comics, it would end up in the quarter bins. Even the new stuff, quickly found its way to the cheap boxes, the ballast of the comics shop. Now, I can look at the US releases from the same eras, and I was luckier reading Marvel UK.

Marvel UK Is the Best
Travis Hedge Coke

Marvel UK, the imprint, lasted 1972-95, reprinting Marvel Comics and quickly producing its own material, for over twenty years. The Marvel UK sub-universe, identifiable by original and shared characters, and a unique cosmogony within the larger Marvel Universe, has continued to make appearances or be invoked, from the ongoing (but canceled two years in) Captain Britain and MI 13, to the Revolutionary War miniseries, that isn’t critically lauded but damn sure ought to be (I’m lauding it right here, so now it is; Marvel, republish the collection and tell’em I said it’s fantastic). Marvel UK published early Alan (Watchmen) Moore, early Grant (Happy!) Morrison, Steve (Preacher) Dillon, and Dave (Watchmen, too!) Gibbons, the imprint was early on overseen by women at a time that was particularly unusual for what was, front and center, a superhero outfit, then later by one of the Pet Shop Boys before there was a Pet Shop Boys, Dez Skinn, and at the end, one of the most identifiable inkers in comics history, Paul Neary.

By the time I was reading, they had a backlog of Doctor Who stories, Care Bears that are somehow still charming enough to read with a kid, Blake’s 7, an almost astonishingly good Black Knight series, extremely quality Night Raven, an always fun Captain Britain, Transformers, and a silly/smart Zoids. And, by the time I was ten, Neary having become editor, they launched a world of superhero and superhero-adjacent titles that were both ludicrously of their era and delightedly not serious while being serious about real things that matter, in the way the best kids entertainment ought to be.

Warheads sort of looked like 90s superheroes, with big guns and underwear with slogans on the crotch, but they were almost-naive mercenaries, bounced from job to job and dying for a paycheck and false promises from bosses who did not care. Motormouth’s title character was a teenage runaway with teleporting shoes, who used this fantastic gift to avoid being killed by evil corporate jerks and to steal some nicer clothes and better food for herself and her friend, the child-in-a-monster-body, Killpower. Liam Sharp, Carlos Pacheco, Dan Abnett, et al, made these feel emotionally valid and vibrantly harmless and they were just fun to read.



American superheroes, and earlier Marvel UK characters who had succeeded in becoming American superheroes, like Psylocke of the X-Men, would guest in these Marvel UK comics, pretty consistently, and they were not always written all that great (Wolverine talks like Wolverine has talked in no other comics… a lot), but they were also there to shout out that this was the Marvel Universe, and because it was funny to make fun of them.

Shevaun, whose initial title was Hell’s Angel, before a legal flap with the biker organization, then Dark Angel, was brilliant, talented, stylish, a little thoughtless, overly high powered, and she ran circles around X-Men. That was the sum of her gag: have excellent hair and make fun of Wolverine or Psylocke. And, she was great at it.



Motormouth was like a real kid, a cool older sister who could get away with things.

Nikki Doyle, protagonist of Wild Thing, posed like a fashion model, went through withdrawals on panel, constantly looked starved, stressed, and on the verge. And, she kept trying to help people despite it usually making her throw up. Addict superheroes were not necessarily new with Nikki, but it is often only addiction in metaphor or something overcome by potent willpower and rarely addressed again. Nikki Doyle was addicted all the time, and her job was using. She was the junkie the police put back into the drug trade, just with virtual reality, and the police are SHIELD.

Very well, because SHIELD are the police.



We never saw Nikki’s end or even a catharsis in English. The followup to her solo, Wild Angels, was published only in Italian through Marvel Italia and Panini. Which has always made me casually ponder, what was Marvel Italia and what else are we anglophone folks missing out on?

This was how Marvel UK was. Spotty but loud. Superhuman but humanly heroic. Occasionally they just vomited regularly or stole everything they owned.

Is it any wonder that Death’s Head II was the breakout property? And, that even he is pretty niche?

Death’s Head and his sequels and spin-offs are big cyborg bastard mercs and strong arms. Death’s Head was going to be a Transformers character, but they published him in another Marvel book first, because he was too cool to give up to Hasbro. Rock’n’roll.

Death’s Head II was an already very metal design turned up to Jesus and Mary Chain/Madchester willful absurdity. Lofi bigness. Death’s Head II speaks not in catchphrases or soliloquies, but in verve and self-reference. When he made his big comeback towards the end of Captain Britain and MI 13, he shouted right out to the reader, “Surprise appearance!"



Death Wreck was Death’s Head with the dial turned in the other direction, confused, alcoholic, and helpful. More flesh, more little big guy. The Terminator in a rough job market after a tough and bemusing life.

Death Metal slaughtered alternate realities and tore up Toronto trying not to be the kind of over-armed robot you would name Death Metal. Memoirs of a Dutiful Deathbot, turning his shiny metal teeth and claws towards self-actuating suicide.

Death, corporate leeches, and Acorn Green. That was Marvel UK, which knew some secrets: The more you say “death” the sillier death is. Heroism isn’t beating everyone else up every time, but once in awhile it helps illustrate the point. And, style never goes out of fashion, even when it’s out of favor.
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