Top Ten Comic Writers of 2012

A column article, Top Ten by: David Fairbanks, Nick Boisson, Danny Djeljosevic, Daniel Elkin, Steve Morris, Chris Kiser, Shawn Hill

 

More lists! More lists I say! We're going to tell you about all the best things about 2012 even though it was a shitty year by most indications. This time we're running down the Best Comic Book Writers of 2012. Some of these writers just came into prominence with multiple projects, some continued to be as awesome as they were last year and the rest just wrote one or two things that were super-duper strong.

Read on and let us know in the comments who YOU thought was the best.

- Danny Djeljosevic

 

Ryan North

(Dinosaur Comics, Adventure Time)

 

Ryan North is a name you might not be too familiar with, especially if the only comics you read are printed on paper and sold at specialty shops. That's because, while he's delivered an outstanding 10 issues on Adventure Time, he landed that gig after years of working on Dinosaur Comics. Also, he's the man behind the terrifyingly successful Kickstarter for a choose your own adventure version of Hamlet.

So, while I'm eager to get that Kickstarted book in my hands and have enjoyed reading Dinosaur Comics for years, I'm going to focus on North's contributions to Adventure Time, because that's presumably what you'll be most familiar with. That's also my way of saying that if you aren't reading his Adventure Time stories, you're missing out on some of the year's best comics.

 

 

For those unfamiliar with the series, it's a post-apocalyptic comedic adventure story about a boy and his dog. There's quite a bit more to that, but it's based on the cartoon of the same name. And the comic manages to give a very similar experience to the show while telling new stories and taking advantage of things you can really only do in print. It's also one of the select few comics I can think of that has not had a bad issue in its print run.

One of the things that puts Adventure Time at the top of my "to read" pile every week it's out is the fact that it is consistently surreal, offering up a reading experience that I just don't see in anything else being produced. When you add in the alt text that accompanies almost every page and underused ideas like a choose-your-own adventure one-shot, it's clear that North is writing comics that demand to be taken in, rather than just breezed through in a few minutes.

 

 

So, while North has been making comics for some time now, his debut into the traditional monthly comics scene this year was beyond epic. I'd even say it was mathematical.

- David Fairbanks

 

Jeff Lemire

(Sweet Tooth)

 

Now, I have been a huge fan of Jeff Lemire since I had discovered his Essex County series on Top Shelf. But Lemire has truly been killing it in monthly comics comics as of late! He has worked on three New 52 series for DC -- Animal Man, Justice League Dark (after Peter Milligan left at issue #9) and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. (before Matt Kindt took over at #10) -- and those series were easily some of the best that DC was putting out this year. But where Lemire truly shines is on his creator-owned Vertigo title, Sweet Tooth. Gus, Jeppard and the gang are on their way out at issue #40 and Lemire has been leading up to that end note with a bang!

 

 

Lemire has a talent for taking characters on a page and making them human (or hybrid). Every character he writes has emotions that just pour off the page and you cannot help but care for a character that you would not have otherwise taken a second look at. Don’t believe me? Read his current run of Justice League Dark.

- Nick Boisson

 

Joe Keatinge

(Glory, Hell Yeah)

 

Image Comics has always been a sort of counter-programming to Marvel and DC, going where the Big Two publishers cannot -- not just in content but also creator ownership of said content. That said, they've never avoided the superhero genre -- at the beginning they had Spawn and WildC.A.T.s. and now they have Invincible and Haunt. Which brings me to the work of Joe Keatinge, who is both an Image guy and a superhero guy.

 

 

Glory reimagines a previously dormant Rob Liefeld property, transforming a Wonder Woman-type character with typical exaggerated comic book anatomy into an alien warrior with atypical comic book anatomy -- she's huge and muscly, like a tank with hair.   It's an ultraviolent book in the classic Image mold, but one with a variety of strong female characters. Not only is it the other great Wonder Woman reboot of recent years, but Keatinge uses elements from both Liefeld and Alan Moore's iterations of the character to put his own stamp on the unlikely property, making it a shining example of how you can take any character and spin a great story out of her and don't have to completely throw out what came before. 

 

 

His other ongoing, Hell Yeah, is the result of a lifetime reading superhero comics throwing all recognizable tropes together -- it's a comic with multiple alternate universe iterations of our hero and has the "what if superheroes suddenly appeared in the real world?!" springboard in its backstory -- remixing the familiar components superhero comics into something new. That kind of historical alchemy everyone attempts when writing superhero comics, but with the added trick of incorporating no pre-established characters. It's all indicative of Keatinge's obvious love for comics overall -- never forget that he started off an issue of Glory with a Fantomas pastiche.

Also, he's a really nice guy.

- Danny Djeljosevic

 

Becky Cloonan

(The Mire)

 

Sure Becky Cloonan is best known as an artist and her art is, hands down, some of my favorite being produced in comics today. But Becky Cloonan also knows how to write. Her 2012 self-published book The Mire is as much a treat for the story it tells through Cloonan's writing, as it is a treat for the eyes through her art. It is a success in its intersection between idea and execution – and the idea in this book, the story it tells, its writing, is a tale that amongst other things is about storytelling itself. 

After all, here's a book that opens on the first page with the "SKRITT" of ink on paper, words being formed, a story, perhaps, being told. It demands that you pay attention to the act of writing. It draws attention to itself, to its words, through this conceit. And through this Cloonan, the writer, stands before you. She is not afraid of you trespassing through her swamp, wandering the maze of her castle, or pulling back the curtains of her canopy bed. See, she wants to tell you a story.

 

 

Cloonan has tight rein over the tale she tells through her pacing and her reveals. The Mire may be "no place for a daydreaming boy," but it sure is a playground for craftsmanship, for imagining, for storytelling, and for writing. As with her previous book, Wolves, Cloonan writes a novel in 22 pages of black and white panels thick with her ink and her intent. As with Wolves, in The Mire Cloonan plays with time seamlessly, layering her narrative with shifts from the present to the future – a future looking at the past – a past filled with secrets that are slowly revealed. And really, isn't that the heart of storytelling, this revelation of secrets? Cloonan's secrets are hidden behind thick curtains, enclosed in  envelopes sealed with a personal insignia, and dreamed of in the shadows of a fecund Mire. It's all there in the writing.

What is all this, then, if not great storytelling? What is all this, then, if not some of the best writing of 2012?

- Daniel Elkin

 

Kieron Gillen

(Uncanny X-Men)

 

Oh, is there any chalice more poisoned than that of Uncanny X-Men? It may well be the flagship title of the X-Men franchise, one of the biggest in comics, with a cast of A-List characters you loved from childhood and the likelihood that the industry's greatest talents will be working alongside you on your stories. But it is POISONED. You have to address everything that everybody else writes, cross over with low-selling titles to boost them, offer grandstanding stories which don't actually challenge the status quo. You have to keep everything in line, make sure you tie in to every crossover and keep up to whatever demands your editors make. And even if you do take over the book, there's no guarantee that Marvel won't just saddle you with Greg Land and laugh.

 

 

Uncanny X-Men has swallowed many great writers over the years, with Joe Casey, Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker all defeated by the demands of the book. And that's why Kieron Gillen's run with the series is so miraculous. Despite crossing into Uncanny X-Force, following the aftermath of Schism and being trapped in Avengers Vs X-Men's story for almost half the run, Gillen somehow managed to assemble a fascinating team of characters and take them somewhere all his own. He revitalized villains like the Phalanx and Mr Sinister, before turning everything on its head with an astounding final few issues. His dialogue was at once funny but deadly serious, with a dangerous tone hovering over the book at every turn. This was the X-Men with one foot crossing the moral boundary, and half the cast desperately trying to hold the other half back from the brink.

It was a brilliant run, which ended sharply, with incredible twists for characters like Magik, Kate Kildare, and Cyclops. While some characters fell to the wayside - sorry Storm -- Gillen ultimately managed to write the first great Uncanny X-Men run since Chris Claremont left. 

Oh -- and he also wrote some book called Journey Into Mystery this year, too.

- Steve Morris

 

 Brian Wood

(The Massive, Conan the Barbarian, X-Men, Ultimate X-Men)

 

The writers selected for our Best of 2012 list certainly represent a wide scope of types of and approaches to comics storytelling, but it's probably fair to say that none of them demonstrated as much individual versatility in the past year as Brian Wood. Whether you're into  superheroes, post-apocalyptic sci-fi, or sword-and-sorcery fantasy, Wood is your go-to guy. Come to think of it, even if you aren't into that last one, Wood still might be the guy for you. More than a few of us here at CB had never even considered picking up a Conan the Barbarian book -- outright avoided it even, in my case -- but now that Wood is on the title, we can't stop talking about how much we love it.

 

 

Wood's work this year has essentially made him into living proof of one of the big, key points in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics: comics are a medium, not a genre. He's also the perfect ambassador between factions in the often fractured world of the comic reading population, showing time and time again why the art form is capable of breaking down just about any wall you could ever attempt to build around it. For those with a narrow mindset who only read about spandex and capes, Wood has produced a ton of great arguments for trying something new. For the fiercely indie-minded who can at times get a little stuck-up (not that any of us here would ever be like that…), Wood can remind us that superheroes like the X-Men can still be great when they're handled well.

 

 

At this rate, maybe next year he'll get that Star Wars thing to finally catch on.

- Chris Kiser

 

Kelly-Sue DeConnick

(Captain Marvel, Ghost, Avengers Assemble)

 

It's been awesome to watch Kelly-Sue DeConnick's star rise over the last few years as she's gone from short comics (Girl Comics) to one-shots (Rescue, Sif) to miniseries (Osborn) and now to ongoing series like Captain Marvel. One of Marvel's more prominent (albeit historically problematic) female superheroes, we get Carol Danvers sporting a new moniker and a new costume as she's (so far) gone on a wild time-travel adventure featuring female soldiers World War II and her own origin and exchanged barbs with Monica Rambeau (the other Captain Marvel) on a boat. It's just a solid solo superhero series that keeps getting better.

 

 

Her other work ain't too shabby, either: Ghost weaves a compelling mystery based on a character who I never followed previously, but whose costume I always thought was cool. And, while Avengers Assemble is only two issues deep as of this list, it's not just a purely entertaining Avengers comic -- an antidote, one imagines, to readers who just want old-school superheroics over mutants and cosmic battles. It also has a sharp sense of humor and fun that caused me to hail it as a potential second coming of Justice League International, as is required when a superhero comic makes me laugh out loud. It's a title that doesn't necessarily need to exist in a market flooded with titles bearing the word Avengers in them, but DeConnick makes it a surprising must-read.

- Danny Djeljosevic

 

Jonathan Hickman

(Fantastic Four, FF, Manhattan Projects)

 

What can one say about Jonathan Hickman that has not already been said this year? Frankly, the man can write a whole slew of books and each one’s quality is even better than the last. Forget the fact that he is now writing Avengers, but look at his work helping to reshape Marvel’s Ultimate Universe in The Ultimates before his departure (so he could write Avengers). Even his issues on Marvel’s big crossover event -- Avengers vs. X-Men -- stood out from the pack. And do I even need to mention his work on Marvel First Family with Fantastic Four and FF? I think not! But, while his Marvel work is exemplary, Manhattan Projects has to be the one title that truly gives comic readers a large dose of what Hickman can truly do in 25 pages. A science fiction series with the scientists that created the atomic bomb in a way that you never quite pictured them, Manhattan Projects was easily one of the best ongoing series that came out this year and I dare you to find a book weirder, funnier or more enjoyable.

 

 

Jonathan Hickman is a master at taking a different look at the world around us all and sharing that warped vision in not only a fun, but enlightening way. And with his Image miniseries/graphic novel -- Feel Better Now -- and more of his Avengers books coming up, 2013 is going to be another hell of a year for Hickman and I just hope that the world doesn’t end so that I can see it.

- Nick Boisson

 

Brandon Graham

(Prophet, Multiple Warheads)

 

There are some creators that it gets tough for me to write about anymore. After you read enough of the works of someone, after you write a fair bit about them, it can get really difficult to feel like you're saying much original, especially if they're a creator whose works you really enjoy.

It's never been hard saying something about Brandon Graham, though.

 

 

If I stuck solely to his work on comics, his writing of Prophet, his cartooning on books like Multiple Warheads and King City, there's plenty to talk about. Like how Prophet is this beautiful mixture of violence and idea-rich sci-fi that it seems impossible not to enjoy it. Or how King City feels much closer to poetry than it does the typical narrative comics on bookshelves and in comic shops. 

This has been a great year for him too. King City was collected in an amazingly affordable package, Prophet has received an incredible level of praise and only seems to be going up. Multiple Warheads is off to a great start, and he's got an art book in the works as well.

The thing is, I don't have to stick to his work on comics to talk about why he's one of the most important creators in the business. When so many people seem worried about offending others, and those who aren't worried are flat-out offensive (see: Tony Harris), Graham tears into comics. He calls out bullshit when he sees it, praises things he thinks are amazing, and he has no shame about it. 

 

 

When I spoke with him early on in my time here at Comics Bulletin, he talked about the importance of a community for comics, a group of people you could trust to be honest with you about the work you were producing, about how important that is for a creator to develop and improve.

Graham writes amazing comics, he doesn't settle for your shit, and from everything I can tell, he seems like a pretty nice guy too. In short, he's what comics needs.

- David Fairbanks

 

Mark Waid

(Daredevil, Indestructible Hulk, Steed & Mrs. Peel)

 

Daredevil was all about losing his senses this year. The blind hero, so frequently misunderstood, so dedicated to fighting evil in his dark little corner of New York, has never had his faculties tested to this extent before. His faith, sure. His capacity to love, over and over. But his very physicality, the enhanced senses he depends on to swing through the air like Spider-Man? Kind of helpful when you're swinging through the air WITH Spider-Man. The Omega Effect crossover saw visits to and from Punisher and Spider-Man, all searching for a MacGuffin hard drive in what could have easily become a tedious quest. Mark Waid's funny words and inventive plot twists kept that from happening.

 

 

So far this year the master writer has trapped Matt in the Mole Man's tunnels; had Dr. Doom infest him with nerve-deadening nanites, so even his limbs weren't his to command; and had an old foe literally separate his head from his body! Some of this could have been laughable, but instead it was eerie, creepy and thrilling (or any other pulp titles you can think of). This is the most entertaining Matt Murdock has been in years, and Waid hasn't forgotten to give him a supporting cast who are torn between attraction and disgust for the extremes of Matt's life, and a reckless but brave personality profile that can also justify his Avengers membership.  

 

 

All more than enough, but let's not forget that Waid is now doing the same thing for Indestructible Hulk; that is, creating a back-to-basics approach that is also a fresh angle on just what makes the hero in question tick. Over on the indie side, Waid debuted a fresh take on the non-Marvel Avengers, preserving the perfect poise and stylish banter characteristic of Steed and Mrs. Peel (if coping with some dodgy art and inscrutable plotting). Daredevil, luckily, has attracted a stylish set of artists who effortlessly keep pace with Waid's twists and turns; once thought of as the expert on all things Kryptonian, it’s great to read Waid at home with Marvel’s stable of far from perfect stars.

- Shawn Hill

 


 

For more of our Best of 2012 coverage, check out:

 

Community Discussion