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Kurt Busiek. He’s the other possible response to Moore: sincere, mature stories about Superheroes that acknowledge faults, contradictions, and the insanities of many of the old assumptions, but still stand staunchly for the idea that they’re, on balance, a net positive and “good people”.

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Stump Rockjaw said on August 10th, 2009 at 10:03 am

I’d replace Geoff Johns with Jim Shooter – his cosmic space-opera superhero comics were influential in merging superhero themes with sci-fi and giving us a pretty good Legion era to boot.

Plus, best EIC Marvel’s ever had.

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TimLehnerer said on August 10th, 2009 at 10:03 am

Thank you for putting Steve Gerber on that list. I’ve felt that he’s been an unsung talent for decades, possibly because it’s hard to imitate his style and partly because his stories were so goddamned odd. Still, one of the absolute greats.

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[...] Creators | Playing off of a recent article at The A.V. Club, Justin Zyduck considers 21 writers who changed mainstream comics, for better or worse. Among them: Brian Michael Bendis, Chris Claremont, Gardner Fox, Geoff Johns, Stan Lee and Harvey Pekar. [MightyGodKing] [...]

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Stump Rockjaw said what I was going to say. Geoff Johns can’t be influential until he has an influence, and he hasn’t yet. Shooter deserves a place on the list.

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Garth Ennis?

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Jim Shooter should definitely be on the list – for better or worse most of what’s going on at Marvel & DC right now can be traced back to him as much as it can to Warren Ellis.

I’m not sure that Morrison actually should be on the list. To be influential your work has to be having an impact on those around you, and most writers in the mainstream don’t seem to be taking influence from Morrison’s work. They aren’t copying it, they aren’t incorporating aspects of it into their own work, and they aren’t even reacting to it. They mostly ignore it.

As for Johns – his vision right now is very influential on DC comics current direction, so his point of view bleeds into the entire line via editorial direction – kind of like Roy Thomas’s point of view ended up bleeding into the entirety of Marvel’s output in the 70s. Time will tell if his influence is long standing, but as a snapshot in time – right this minute – I’d have Johns on that list. It’s basically the same reason I’d have Bendis on the list. It may or may not be a long lasting impact, but at this moment the influence is there.

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Stan Lee should be tied right alongside with Jack Kirby as the #1 spot. It wasn’t just Lee that created the Marvel universe. Kirby played just as big a role in creating all those characters.

Thanks to the “Marvel way” of writing at that time, there were no scripts; it was just Lee talking it over with his artists about the general idea of the story, they would draw it all and then he write all the dialogue and such. So, Kirby had a BIG role in the writing process and sure as hell deserves the co-sharing role with Lee.

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I’d argue that Johns, at his best, takes a step backwards in order to take a giant leap forwards.

Someone said that he’s become the go-to guy for making DC’s properties “movie-ready,” which means clearing away the messy cobwebs of decades of continuity in order to return things back to basics for new readers and old(er) fans alike.

So I think Johns deserves criticism only if he stagnates in the past. But consider what he’s done with GL. Took a big step back in bringing Hal back, but in doing so, he was able to bring in a shit-ton of new readers and set the stage for the Sinestro Corps War and onward, which took the GLC mythos further than it’s gone in, what, twenty years!

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This is a good list.

I’ll concur with ThatNickGuy and suggest Jack Kirby be listed along with Stan Lee.

I think Paul Levitz’s influence in the 1980s and in subsequent eras cannot be understated.

And in a less mainstream way, Will Eisner absolutely belongs on this list.

–hza

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Garth Ennis – deserves inclusion for Preacher alone

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While I cheerfully acknowledge that Jack Kirby did more than just draw (look at what he did with the New Gods and the Demon for irrefutable proof of that), I think he is mostly remembered for his drawings over his scripts. In that sense, it would be a little bit off to put him and Stan Lee in the same entry for highly influential comic book writers. Stick him in his own entry instead, then you can talk about his solo work as well as his collaborations with Lee.

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Jim Shooter was on at least one of the brainstorming lists I’d scratched out on scrap paper — sometimes in place of Giffen/DeMatteis, sometimes in place of Morrison.

I sometimes feel Morrison isn’t ignored, but outright rejected (which is, in its way, an influence), but that may just be my pro-Morrison bias showing. Ultimately, I think it’s significant that Marvel gave him the keys to the X-Men for a couple years, and DC seems to want him to take point on the new multiverse.

Putting Kirby on the list was also a consideration, but I didn’t want to pair him with Lee and open up that whole can of worms. And his solo work (I say “solo work” like he’s George Harrison or something) is rightly celebrated for its feverish intensity and earnestness, but I don’t know how influential it’s been. His biggest solo contribution to the comics landscape was New Gods, but I sometimes think they’re really using the characters and not so much Kirby’s intent.

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Allegretto said on August 10th, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Why isnt Will Eisner on the top 4(Or anywhere!)?

Jack Kirby should be up there as well.

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Ennis, certainly. He’s spurred on the misanthropic culture of comics far more than anyone else.

You could also make the argument for Mark Millar. Even though just about everything he’s done is derivative of either Bendis or Ellis, he’s done the ‘Writer as Celebrity’ bit bigger than anyone else.

And Gail Simone, although I hate to say not for any reasons related to her writing. Despite being preceded by regular writers like Jo Duffy and Louise Simonson, she’s probably the most high profile female writer ever, and something of a figurehead about how, yes, girls can work in comics.

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[...] At Mighty God King, Justin Zyduck suggests 21 Influential Mainstream Comics Writers (For Better or Worse), as a conversation starter. [Via Robot [...]

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“I’m not sure that Morrison actually should be on the list. To be influential your work has to be having an impact on those around you, and most writers in the mainstream don’t seem to be taking influence from Morrison’s work.”

Whoa now, I’d disagree with that. Jason Aaron’s cited Morrison as an influence, while creators like Joe Casey clearly borrow straight from the Morrison playbook. Plus, look at how everyone tried to mimic the scope Morrison brought to JLA.

One more guy I’d add to this list is Mark Waid. In a decade where grim ‘n gritty anti-heroes, convoluted stories and controversial stunts reigned (the 90s!), Mark not only kept classic, optimistic heroism alive, but modernized it. Also, like Busiek in Astro City, Mark showed that you could portray superheroes as realistic human beings without being irredeemably flawed or psychologically damaged. JLA: Year One is a particularly strong example of Waid’s approach to superhero characterization.

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I’m sorry, but I do not see John Byrne on this list. Say what yo want about him now but in the 80s the only writer that could leave his stamp on any mainstream character was Byrne. Be it FF, Hulk or Superman John Byrne wrote the most fun comics of the 80s!

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jim starlin

say what you want about his current writing,
his work is what most of cosmic marvel is based on. he set the standards for cosmic stories.

i would also have to say harvey kurtzman whose work was a forerunner to the underground and alternative comics

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Out of Curiosity: What about Brubaker?

He helped make Captain America worthwhile and proved you could take fad character like Iron Fist andmake it one kick ass story by exploiting the elments that made it a fad in the first place.

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jimmy palmiotti said on August 10th, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Garth Ennis , will Eisner and Don McGregor.

We are talking about “influential” correct?

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Dave Sim.

For pioneering the extremely long-form story (all of those 60-70 issue Vertigo comics? Wouldn’t exist without the examples of High Society and Church&State [and the promise of the overall Cerebus narrative]), and again for inventing decompressed storytelling with Jaka’s Story and Melmoth long before Bendis did anything of the like.

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Great list (and I agree that “influential” is more interesting than “best,” even if they overlap).

I’d add, off the top of my head, Kurtzman, Hergé (though I know there are many more influential European comics writers I’m ignorant of), Frank Doyle (the 10,000 stories he wrote created all kinds of structural/pacing/dialogue formulas that have had pervasive influence on all non-superhero comics), and maybe Walt Kelly – I know comic strips are supposed to be a different thing, but a lot of his work was in comic book form.

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Out of Curiosity: What about Brubaker?

What about him? He’s a great writer, but who’s imitating him or aping him? His Cap run is great to be sure, but come on – it’s a great modern-day reflection of what Roy Thomas would have done, back in the day.

Do people know what “influential” means?

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Garth Ennis’ run on Preacher has certainly been an influence. For instance, he’s imitated it in everything else he’s ever written.

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Speaking of Roy Thomas, he’d be high on my list. The dude practically invented long-form superhero storytelling on Avengers.

I think a lot of the more recent guys on the list fall into the category of really good writers, but influential is a stretch. I’d give you Ellis, considering the brand of comics he evangelized in the 90′s became the dominant trend in the 00′s, but Bendis and Johns aren’t reinventing the wheel, and Morrison’s best work was so far out-there in terms of structure and character that no one’s really bothered to draw from it. His influence, near as I can tell, has been to make later X-writers use Cassandra Nova to do the same things he did with her, and to be a part of the widescreen movement that Ellis was the point man for with JLA.

If you want to list contemporary writers, I think you’d be hard-pressed not to include Kurt Busiek, whose work on Marvels and Astro City helped rescue postmodern superhero comics – one of the dominant uses of the form since Watchmen – from grim-n-gritty redundancy; Garth Ennis, who inspired a ton of late-90′s/early-00′s writers to miss the point entirely and inject mean-spiritedness into everything they did; or even Greg Rucka, whose noir take on superheroes in Detective paved the way for Bendis’ big Daredevil run (which, in turn, set up Alias and New Avengers) and Brubaker’s whole career.

–d

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Here’s another voice for Roy Thomas. The work he did during the 1970′s was incredibly innovative and he was doing the soap-opera stuff long before Claremont came onto the scene. In fact, I’d knock off Claremont and put Thomas in his place.

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Howard Chaykin…American Flagg was ahead of its time and ahead of Watchmen.

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I agree with Dave Sim; “Cerebus”‘ impact on the comics market is, I think, very underappreciated by a lot of fans (though Sim has no one but himself to blame for that). The sorts of long-form non-superhero storytelling he was doing there was hugely influential, and he pioneered trade paperback collections before the term ‘trade paperback’ was even in use (hence, Sim referred to them as ‘phonebooks’).

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I’ve got a twinge of regret about not putting Eisner on here. Sim was another close one. With Ennis I still need someone to sell me on his influence beyond the fact that Preacher was one of the most entertaining comics of its time. And Waid and Busiek … man, Waid is probably in my top five favorite superhero writers of all time, and there’s no question he’s influential, but keeping it to 21 is hard. It’s a smaller number than it looks like!

Okay: Eisner, Sim and the rest. Who would you knock out of my 21 to make room for them (or the dude or dudette of your choice)?

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Ah, Stan Lee. The man who’s major accomplishment was to have been Kirby’s editor.

OK, I’m being snarky. Stan was not untalented. But the people who say Kirby deserves his own entry aren’t even going far enough. Kirby deserves Stan Lee’s entry. Because Lee’s billed as the “writer”, we tend to attribute many of the ideas in Marvel comics to him, but it’s clear that Kirby did at LEAST half the work, conceptually. Even Stan admits that Kirby came up with the Silver Surfer with no input from him, for instance. And based on their accounts of the event, I think Kirby pretty much created the FF solo, with Stan’s major contribution being to make the Thing a loveable Brooklynite after the fact. (Read the first FF 8-pager that retells their origin sometime. It’s pure Kirby, and the Thing has a totally different personality.)

Stan’s a nice guy and he did help comics in innumerable ways…but mostly as an editor, not a “writer” per se. As a writer, his only real innovation was to give superheroes down-to-Earth, relatable personalities (which is still pretty big, I guess, but I’m sure SOMEONE would have thought of that eventually…)

Put it this way: without Stan Lee, Jack Kirby created Captain America, the genre of romance comics, The Challengers of the Unknown, the Fourth World, OMAC, and the Demon. Without Jack Kirby, Stan Lee created the wordiest comic book cover of all time, and a comic in which the Backstreet Boys become superheroes.

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A couple of quick additional points: I think the Fourth World has been HUGELY influential, in that it introduced (or attempted to introduce) the idea of closed story arcs that could be collected in trades and sold in bookstores. Given that the Fourth World was originally meant to develop out of the Marvel Universe, which would have suffered a “Ragnarok” that would have destroyed the “Thor” characters and introduced the New Gods, you can argue Kirby originated the idea of “nothing will ever be the same”-style game-changing universe cross-overs via this series as well.

I would also disagree that Alan Moore’s influence has been mostly destructive. I think most of the things you can point to as being directly influenced by Moore aren’t very good (though Astro City owes him a big debt, I think) but in a sense Watchmen represented a refinement of the Marvel Comics style of the 60s, bringing personalities and humanity to superheroes. Anytime a superhero is written naturalistically, for good or for ill, you have Moore to thank. And for all his grim ‘n’ grittiness in the 80s, Moore also played a big role in the opposite “Neo-Silver Age” trend in the 90s–his Supreme is, with Astro City, the defining comic for that era.

I’d also argue that a few of comics’ new young turks like Jeff Parker, Matt Fraction and Tom Casey are all heavily influenced by Grant Morrison, along with Gerard Way’s “Umbrella Academy”.

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No mike mignola?

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Without Jack Kirby, Stan Lee created the wordiest comic book cover of all time, and a comic in which the Backstreet Boys become superheroes.

And Spider-Man, Marvel’s #1 character.

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“I’m sure someone would have thought of it eventually” doesn’t mean that the person who did wasn’t an innovator. Especially because superhero comics had been around for a few decades when Stan Lee decided to give those heroes relatable problems and personalities, and no one had made a point to do it until he showed up. Plus, the dude did create Spider-Man without Kirby – and Doctor Strange and Daredevil. It doesn’t take anything away from Kirby at this point to give Stan Lee his due.

–d

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I’d probably take Giffen/DeMathis off to make room for Sim. Because although I really wish it were otherwise, they didn’t influence much. I can’t think of any imitators or takers-to-the-next-level of note…

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You’re right, Dan, I was being a little too dismissive. Still, it plays into what I was saying, where the lines between “writer” and “editor” were extremely blurred in Lee’s case. Lee’s input was often so vague and loose that it can be said to fall under editorial dictat rather than “writing” per se. Which is not to disparage it at all–the man had good ideas. But I’d argue that a big chunk of the nuts-and-bolts writing–the plotting, certainly–were done by Kirby. Lee’s most hands-on job was to fill in the speech bubbles (although even THAT is sometimes questioned).

As for Spider-man, etc., well, let’s not forget those had artists as well. Ditko seems to have been as involved in “writing” Spider-man as Kirby was in “writing” the FF, to the point where he left the book over an argument with Lee over where the story was headed. And for the record, Kirby seems to have had a hand in creating Spider-man too–he’d drawn a number of stories featuring characters named “Spider-man” and “the Human Spider” and so on before coming to Marvel, and he apparently did a design sketch for Spider-man before Ditko came on board. And Kirby frequently claimed to have created Spider-man in interviews after the fact, but admittedly he was pretty unreliable about that kind of stuff. But then so is Lee. It’s all a bit of a mess.

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Wesley Street said on August 10th, 2009 at 4:31 pm

I would kick off Warren Ellis. If only because I’m tired of seeing his name on every influential comics scribe list and, like Garth Ennis, he only imitates himself these days with his cigarettes and cam girls and his I’m-so-British-ness. I’d replace him with Howard Chaykin: without American Flagg!, The Shadow and Black Kiss there would be no Transmetropolitan, Planetary and Strange Kiss/Killings/Gravel.

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kaptin scuzgob said on August 10th, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Rob Liefeld. You never said they had to be good influences…

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I’d be much faster to kick off Bendis and Johns, who, regardless of their merits, haven’t been writing long enough to be truly influential (and I honestly don’t think they ever will be). Eisner and Chaykin belong on this list far more than they do. I guess, this being “mainstream” comics, Dave Sim and Los Bros Hernandez don’t belong, but overall they’ve been way more influential too. And if there’s another spot opening, I’d give it to Jeff Smith, who’s pretty much the godfather of the modern kid’s comic.

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MGK said:
“His Cap run is great to be sure, but come on – it’s a great modern-day reflection of what Roy Thomas would have done, back in the day.”

Not Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart.
If Brubaker’s run on Captain America has roots in that of any other writer to handle the character, it’s Englehart.

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Is there a category for people we’d like to see BECOME the most influential on mainstream comics? Because in that case, I’d like to nominate Brian K. Vaughn. His work on Lost doesn’t seem to translate into any noticeable comic book influence, and his mainstream superhero stuff, while good (Ultimate X-Men, Logan, and the pick of the crop, Runaways) is generally acknowledged to be on the lower end of his canon, quality-wise, so I don’t think he can go up there now, but… I guess I just want more comics like Ex Machina and Y.

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I would take great issue with the idea that Eisner may have been a “close one”, in that his was one of the most influential voices of the medium. Much of what is cited as reasons for many of the creators on the list can be directly traced back to Eisner’s doing it (for an assigned value of “it”) twenty or thirty years before.

Also, I would make a case for Mike Grell being added to the list. His Jon Sable Freelance was groundbreaking in its treatment of violence, relationships, and much more.
Also, much as in the case of Kirby (DEFINITELY a needed inclusion), Grell as an artist influenced the way writers and artists looked at the page, picking up where Neal Adams left off.

(As I wrote the above paragraph, I realized that Adams was the forerunner, and should be included on the basis of the reason I gave above for Grell. Still, Grell’s writing on JSF was the beginning of realistic writing about, and using, personal interrelation, believable doubt, and much more.)

Also, if you include Carl Barks, you HAVE to include Walt Kelly, for the many comedic tropes he introduced in POGO.

Lastly, I would argue for Peter David’s inclusion; without his work on many properties, there would not BE a Geoff Johns’ attempts to reinvigorate stalled or insignificant characters.

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Dave Ziegler said on August 10th, 2009 at 11:01 pm

I’d drop Johns and add Mark Waid. To clarify, I like Johns, and I wouldn’t necessarily put Waid in the #21 spot (esp. since it’s not a rank, right?), but many of the things that Johns is doing now, Waid did first. And, as someone else mentioned above, he took a lot of things that had been sort of dismissed and modernized them, making them relevant again while retaining the core elements and polishing ‘em up a little.

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I would agree that Alan Moore’s influence has been mostly destructive for superhero comics, but argue differently for this other work. Specifically, his work on Swamp Thing lay the groundwork for Vertigo Comics. Not to mention Moore helped Neil Gaiman break into comics, showing Gaiman his first comic script plus Karen Berger got Gaiman to write Black Orchid and Sandman mainly because of Moore’s success of Swamp Thing.

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Person of Consequence, excuse me but Runaways is well on par with BKV’s creator-owned titles, and has the added advantage of being fun.

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PoC, you left out The Escapists. Leee, are you saying his creator owned titles aren’t fun? What do you guys think of the new Hood miniseries written by someone else?

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I don’t think you can include Ellis without including Ennis. If nothing else, they have each had tremendous influence on each other, which falls in line with your qualifier. The reason he doesn’t seem too influential on many of the mainstream writers is that anytime someone else tries to do an ennis story, they fail and develop something completely subpar. It takes a special kind of crazy to turn something an Ennis-level of dark (Punisher, battlefields), quirky (Kev, Hitman), or whatever the fuck Preacher falls into (seriously, can somebody classify Preacher as a genre for me).

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Also, and I find this odd, nobody is mentioning Morrison’s work on Animal-man, which pioneered a number of story-telling techniques, and somehow managed to do it in a mature way.

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I don’t think “influential” is as interesting as trying to figure out who is going to be the big influence on the NEXT generation. To which Geoff Johns, BMB, etc. all belong, along with BKV, Dan Slott, etc.

Just my $0.02.

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Lairdofdarkness said on August 11th, 2009 at 6:44 am

From a British Perspective, I would have to add Pat Mills, Alan Grant and John Wagner. Their stories in 2000ad influenced many people whose only access to comics was the weekly Brit ones. Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Garth Ennis all added to that but then went onto American success. Those three may have only had limited success over the pond (Alan Grants Batman run was brilliant though, helped by the wonderful art of Norm Breyfogle) however they have produced consistently high work for decades and continue to do so today.
Not sure who I would remove from your list to add them in though…

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I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Steve Englehart. He wasn’t that great a writer but, yes, he was hugely influential. His Dr. Strange run? People were trying to copy that for decades afterwards.

Doug M.

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[...] Stan Lee. There was a ferocious debate in Justin’s post about how much credit Stan deserves versus Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby, but The Man worked with both [...]

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I’d definitely drop-kick Geoff Johns off the list in favor of Eisner. This is like deciding to put Kelly Clarkson on a “Most Influential Singers” list and leaving off Tina Turner. :)

Other than that…hmm. You’re right. 21 is a small number. :) I feel like Marv Wolfman narrowly edges out Len Wein, mainly because I think “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was a helluva gutsy call, and I’d say that Jim Shooter should replace his mentor, Mort Weisinger, but those are both such tough calls that I wouldn’t complain about it going the other way.

And to Prankster and anyone else who wants to bring up the “Lee or Kirby/Lee or Ditko/Lee or Heck/Lee or Colan/Lee or whoever you want to arge had all the real talent” debate…comics is a collaborative form. Stan Lee’s respective collaborations, on Spider-Man, X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Daredevil, and so many of the Marvel comics of that era worked an alchemy that made the resultant comic better than the sum of the parts of the creators that made it. Stan Lee was blessed to work with some of the most talented artists in the industry, and they were blessed to work with a brilliantly imaginative writer with a gift for dialogue. “And”, not “but”. It is not a contest as to who was better, but a joy to read the collaboration that resulted. We might list Kirby or Ditko in the “artist” category, but any good comics artist has a tremendous influence on the story as it’s told and acts as a second writer in a lot of ways. The distinction is purely an arbitrary one, and should in no way be seen as diminishing their contributions to the story.

In short, hurray for everyone! :)

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On the matter of Lee/Kirby: I don’t think anybody would deny that Kirby was ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to the FF being a success. John put it best at calling it “alchemy”: From newsprint into solid gold imagination.

But Stan’s not on the list “because he wrote Fantastic Four” (although, to refute one of Prankster’s points above, Stan’s two-page outline for the first Fantastic Four still exists, and while Kirby certainly hammered it into a streamlined shape, most of the intial concepts do seem to be Lee’s). It’s for the specific *elements* that the book pioneered that you can point at as being Lee’s contribution — the casual shared universe, the creeping reality, the self-referential dialogue, the superhero as a blessing and a curse.

I could also argue that Lee putting so much faith in Kirby was innovative and influential in and of itself. Even EC’s Gaines and Feldstein, who seem to have treated their artists pretty well, put the words on the page first and told the artists to fill in around ‘em. The Marvel Method may have been born of necessity, but Stan institutionalized it when he realized artists had more to contribute that just pictures to a script.

The final nail in the coffin of “Kirby is everything and Lee is nothing” is, of course, Spider-Man, which Kirby even got a crack at but go rejected.

I am totally not putting Kirby down, because then I’d have to hit *myself* with rocks. But it’s a list of writers, and I had to ask myself “Was Jack Kirby’s greatest contribution to comics the unprecidented grandeur and scope he brought to the page, and the pure vitality that poured from his pencil every time it touched papeer, and the bold experimentation that forced his collaborators to step up their game, or was it what he brought to the writing?” And that’s no contest.

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Let’s be clear here: I’m not saying Lee did nothing. Just that Kirby (and Ditko, and the rest) did a LOT of the storytelling on their respective books. The Kirby-Lee (and Ditko-Lee) relationship was not the usual writer-artist relationship.

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Dominic Delemanske said on August 11th, 2009 at 3:23 pm

I would have thought that Marv Wolfman would have made the list as well since you had Chris Claremont. Drop Johns in favor of Wolfman since he really did set the stage with the original Crisis and his work on Teen Titans during the 80′s which at the time was a top selling book that was rivaling X-Men for sales and just some superb writing with storylines like the Judas Contract.

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Herge.

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[...] inspired at least one T21L. It could be argued that Bird’s list was itself a direct response to another list of the top 21 most influential comics writers, and therefore shouldn’t receive the credit for influencing the creation of the T21L you’re [...]

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[...] 21 Influential Mainstream Comics Writers (For Better or Worse) by Justin Zyduck. You can do much worse than use this list of comics writers as an entry-point into [...]

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Come to think of it, Lee could keep his place on the list if you argue that “taking credit for things and hyping your image” is itself a point of influence.

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[...] there, special internet friends. Justin again. I can do more than just make lists and slight Will Eisner’s contributions to comics as a medium, you know! I can also talk a little bit about the superhero comics that grabbed my imagination by [...]

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Mark Gruenwald.

John Ostrander.

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[...] …21 writers who changed mainstream comics for better or worse. [...]

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