In the comic book community, we are truly living in an age of the writer. Not that artists are getting short shrift. Far from it. But in today’s atmosphere, the writer is king (or queen). This is in sharp contrast to the 1990s, when comic book titles were bought primarily because they featured such blockbuster names as Jim Lee (1991’s “X-Men” #1 sold over eight million copies and is still considered the highest-selling single issue of all time). Readers, it appears, have become more discerning when it comes to writing and are looking for the entire package in their comic books and graphic novels. Without a great story, great art is simply just that: an art book. Writers, in the last ten years or so, have become the rock stars in comicdom and have pushed boundaries that have captured the imaginations of readers. Writers such as Robert Kirkman of “The Walking Dead” fame and Scott Snyder ( current writer of popular books “Batman”, “American Vampire”, and “The Wake”) are rushed at conventions as often, if not more so, than the artists. There is a reason for this admiration from comic book lovers: a renaissance of superb writing is happening before our very eyes.
In the past, artists were snatched up by companies and tantalized with attractive exclusive contracts. Now, independent writers are pursued by the big two (DC and Marvel) so that they may invigorate the legacy characters (such as Batman and Spider-Man) with the same unique voice and creativity they give to their own creations. Writer/artist Matt Kindt has said in interviews that if it wasn’t for his ongoing series “Mind MGMT’, he would not have been pursued by DC and Marvel. He has proven, according to him, that he could write an ongoing title. Before, Kindt was writing and doing the art for his own stunning graphic novels that were loved by his ardent fan base. Now, he can continue doing the creator-owned books he’s passionate about and gain a larger audience because of his steadily growing output for the big two.
Jeff Lemire is another example of a highly successful writer (who also happens to be an artist as well), who went from working on his own creations with much acclaim to gaining steady work with a big company. His DC titles, such as “Animal Man” and “Green Arrow”, are as unique and varied in genre as his creator-owned work (“Essex County” and “Sweet Tooth”). He even worked side by side with superstar writer Geoff Johns (who can truly be considered one of the blockbuster writers of today) on DC’s “Trinity War” crossover that led into the “Forever Evil” miniseries event. Lemire proves that a great writer’s unique voice can adapt to any genre, whether it be a personal tale or a superhero yarn. Lemire, like many of today’s impressive writers, possesses the quality of versatility. Another vital writer who defies genre is Jonathan Hickman. He writes his own books, like “Manhattan Projects” and “East of West”, that meld many styles and genres which are difficult to define and easily categorize. Concurrently with his vast output of original works, Hickman also works within the Marvel universe, stamping his own unique Hickman “style” on books such as “Avengers”, “New Avengers”, and the “Infinity” miniseries.
Because many of today’s writers began writing original stories with original characters, they were not held back by editorial edicts set out by a company that owns a specific character. Many were content (and still are) with solely writing without any connection to the big two. The main reason for this being that today’s writers are writing because they want to, not because it’s simply a “job.” Some, like Robert Kirkman, are content and highly successful with working exclusively on books they own themselves. Others, like Scott Snyder, bring as much passion to their company books as they do to their “babies.” Snyder’s past run on “Detective Comics” and current run on “Batman” with artist Greg Capullo is just as exciting and fresh as his work on his (and artist Rafael Albuquerque’s) book “American Vampire.” The main reason, besides his passion for the character and mythos of Batman, being that he is given pretty much free reign to do as he pleases on the book. Fans have responded, bestowing upon him success with his own characters as well as a nearly seventy five year old one. The generation of writers today are truly enthusiastic about the art they are creating.
An artist renaissance is taking place concurrently with the age of the writer. Artists are able to improve and grow because they are given such amazing material that inspires and pushes them to places they have never gone before (or places they didn’t think possible). Artist Greg Capullo has said working with Snyder has transformed and improved his art, with both saying they have grown into a cohesive artistic duo. Both writer and artist can learn from each other, which only improves the overall art form of the comic book. The same can be said of writers who do double duty, such as Jeff Lemire. For his current miniseries “Trillium”, Lemire has said he has stretched his wings and experimented artistically. He does what every great writer (and artist) does: steps out of his comfort zone and simply unleashes his imagination. Writers, many times, also get to choose the artists they want to work with and also work multiple times with the same artist. Grant Morrison has worked with many of the same artists and has attested to the symbiosis that can occur between writer and artist.
The age of the writer shows no sign of abatement. The importance of the writer can be seen with Image Comics bestowing upon Robert Kirkman the title of their fifth partner. A company founded by artists, and one that focused on artists in its infancy, is now known for their plethora of books that contain wondrous writing, as well as amazing art. Recently, reader outcry resulted when James Robinson quit writing “Earth 2” and “Batgirl” writer Gail Simone was let go by DC. Simone was rehired, more likely than not, because of her fervent fan base. Readers are just as passionate about their writers as those writers are about their own writing. There are many great writers that deserve this kind of attention and acclaim who are writing for corporate and indie company alike. Stories and genres (and amalgamations of genres) abound in an art form that will never leave us. As long as there are great writers with intense passion for what they do and the talent to accompany that passion, then comic books will endure and thrive for centuries to come.