I CAN MAKE LISTS TOO YOU KNOW
1.) Jerry Siegel. For superheroes in general, but also the idea of superhero “families,” lifespan histories (remember: he invented Superboy as well, not to mention tons of the Superman mythos) and the idea if not the rigorous application of continuity, which has extended beyond superheroes to all aspects of comics, for better or worse. Mort Weisinger gets a lot of credit (sometimes I think too much) for things Siegel initiated.
2.) 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 of them plus Bill Everett so he certainly isn’t chicken feed. Like it or lump it, the melodramatic dialogue style that more or less dominated comics for thirty plus years is down to Stan Lee; more importantly, so is the notion of “lasting change” in an ongoing comics narrative. (This is the “it wasn’t Jack Kirby who killed off Gwen Stacy” argument.)
3.) Osamu Tezuka. It blew my fucking mind that Tezuka didn’t merit so much as a single mention even in comments on Andrew’s post. What are you all thinking? The guy was the father of modern manga! Astro Boy, Adolf, Black Jack and Buddha should earn anybody a slot on this list as it is, but one as enormously important and influential as Tezuka could be on it for a hundred more reasons besides.
4.) Chester Gould. Dick Tracy introduced true hard-boiled crime and noir pacing to the comics world, where it has made itself a comfortable niche ever since; Gould’s dedication to details of law enforcement marked the genre’s love of verite that has marked it from the beginning; when you thrill to the details in an Ed Brubaker crime comic, it’s because of Gould. Furthermore, his penchant for colorful and even freakish villains was one that superhero comics of the time soon copied; Batman’s rogue’s gallery in particular owes a debt to Gould.
5.) Bob Kanigher. You want war comics? Bob Kanigher gave you war comics. Just about every long-lasting war comic of the 20th century has Kanigher’s stamp on it, everything from standbys like Sgt. Rock and The Unknown Soldier to the freakish outliers like The Haunted Tank and the Creature Commandos. He wasn’t the only one, to be sure, but he wrote war comics for so long that anybody during the time or since imitates or is influenced by his style. And of course, he was also responsible for creating the Metal Men. And Black Canary. And Poison Ivy. And…
6.) Carl Barks. Barks isn’t just responsible for creating great work, but for the idea that funny animals and light, cartoony stories could nonetheless have serious dramatic heft. Herge, Goscinny and Uderzo, and most of the major European comics community will all tell you that Carl Barks was the fucking man and that they slavishly worship him. And this is obvious; they do.
7.) Bill Gaines. Justin pegged both Gaines’ birthing of the incredibly important horror genre and his cultivation of early fandom, but let’s not forget the third important reason to put Bill Gaines on this list, and I’d argue the biggest: motherfucking Mad Magazine, am I right? Damn straight I’m right; Mad’s cynicism and satirical outlook is so pervasive you might almost forget you see it everywhere you look.
8.) Charles Schulz. Because duh.
9.) Will Eisner. Eisner’s influence is hard to track mostly because a lot of it comes out of his intersection with his work as an artist; the extent to which his two disciplines overlapped and fed upon one another is one that I think hasn’t been seen since. I’d argue that Eisner’s premiere influence as a writer was his vast bag of narrative and visual tricks into which every good comics writer dips on occasion.
10.) Robert Crumb. Some might argue that Crumb is more influential as a publisher of underground and alt-comix than as a writer, but I disagree: Crumb’s oft-abrasive, up-front style (but one from which he could shift effortlessly when he felt the need) has been almost copied to death.
11.) Alan Moore. Blah blah Watchmen reinventing superheroes with modern-day story requirements blah blah constantly imitated blee blee blah you know this shit already.
12.) Chris Claremont. Soap-opera plotting married to comical books? It was a revelation back in the day and one that has since been done again and again and again until you just wish they’d all give up and go write slashfic instead sometimes.
13.) Harvey Pekar. Justin said it best: Pekar might not have invented biographical comics (the alt-comix movement was already cranking them out before Pekar ever picked up a pen), but his popularization of the form led to its explosion in the independent comics movement. No Pekar means, I think, no Alison Bechdel, no Marjane Satrapi, no Joe Matt, no Guy DeLisle – or at least, not as we’ve seen them work. And that would suck.
14.) Rumiko Takahashi. Imagine if J.K. Rowling had written and drawn Harry Potter as a comic and achieved the same level of success. Now imagine if she had done it four separate times. That’s what Rumiko Takahashi did with Lum, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2 and Inuyasha. Tezuka might be the godfather of manga, but it was Takahashi started the true and lasting popularization of manga outside of Japan with her lengthy romantic comedy-fantasy adventures (a formula since imitated by constant mangaka).
15.) Roy Thomas. Other comics writers might be continuity creators or continuity fiends, but Thomas was the first to treat continuity as a purpose in and of itself: stories generating stories with a sort of terrifying rock-rolls-downhill momentum. Nobody has quite approached it the same way since, and it isn’t for lack of trying.
16.) John Byrne. Dislike Byrne all you like (and you have good reason to do so), but he’s dramatically impacted just about every major comics franchise there is and usually in ways that remain memorable and lasting. She-Hulk as a fourth-wall breaker, Doom as noble despot, his powerful reinterpretation of Krypton – the lasting popularity of all of these (even in an era where desperate reattachment to “original concepts” are growing more and more fevered) and more are proof that Byrne, in his glory days, was almost unstoppable.
17.) Dave Sim. Re-envisioned comics storytelling as a marathon rather than a set of sprints. Comics like Y The Last Man or The Invisibles or even The Punisher being obviously intended as one long story arc, told in smaller chunks? That’s on Sim.
18.) Howard Chaykin. Chaykin’s dark, nihilistic work is the spiritual brother of Alan Moore’s at times, but where Moore ultimately still has faith in his protagonists for the most part, Chaykin absolutely doesn’t. Chaykin brought realistic sex and violence into ostensibly superheroic works and changed things.
19.) Frank Miller. Specifically popularized noir as a specific superhero subgenre and one that’s remained popular ever since.
20.) Neil Gaiman. I have Gaiman this low because he’s inspirational rather than influential; nobody really apes his storytelling style or “does it like in Sandman.” That having been said, he popularized the idea of a multiple-protagonist long-form comics story and the use of unconventional points of view. And that’s not nothing.
21.) Grant Morrison. Morrison is in the same boat as Gaiman: more inspirational than influential. What’s more, a lot of reaction to Morrison’s work has been to sharply reverse it rather than revere it (see: New X-Men). On the other hand, it seems like it’s been more than fifteen years since anybody wrote Batman as anything other than Grant Morrison’s version of Batman most of the time (for good or ill), and his vision of Superman seems to similarly be taking hold. Some people can make things stick.