Hero Realm’s Best Writers

Some guy at Hero Realm (Robert Taylor, who shares a name with my favorite old movie actor) has listed his Best Writers of 2005 (link no longer available).

First problem: he includes both Grant Morrison and Jeph Loeb (describing his Superman/Batman as “every fanboy’s dream come true”), which suggests two things to me:

  1. He reads only superhero books.* This doesn’t really surprise me, given the site’s name, and it’s ok that they have a more limited vision. I could quibble about accurate terminology — “Best Superhero (or Mainstream) Writers” would be more correct — but that’s probably an unspoken assumption for that site.
  2. His definition of good writing is so inclusive as to be useless to me. Jeph Loeb is a terrible writer and doesn’t belong anywhere near a “best of” list.

Then it gets even more amusing. Ron Marz makes the list with the praise “His revitalization of Witchblade took me by complete surprise, giving readers the most distinct and strong female character in the industry.” This makes me wonder if Taylor is insane, even if by “industry” he really means “superhero comics”.

What about the work Gail Simone has done with Black Canary, Oracle, and the Huntress? Or Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman (even though I disagree with the plot direction, the character work is good)? Or that new girl Kate from the Young Avengers?

*He goes on to include Brian K. Vaughn in his list, citing Ex Machina and Y the Last Man among his credits, but these titles are close enough to superhero books as to not change the point.


27 Responses to “Hero Realm’s Best Writers”

  1. Barry Says:

    This depresses me on several levels. Firstly, it’s clear this guy’s idea of a great writer and great fiction, superhero or otherwise, is pretty narrowly defined. Secondly, I can’t even think of 5 great comicbook writers, as I think most of them are pretty awful and those that aren’t have a long way to go before I catagorize them as anything other than ‘good’.

  2. Jake Says:

    Johanna,

    I enjoy your site because you offer insightful reviews and commentaries that go beyond the Superhero “mainstream” (which doesn’t interest me much anymore, either), but this post comes across as distateful and completely unnecessary. A site that only really covers superhero comics picks superhero writers as the top 5– big surprise. The site makes no pretense of supporting comics diversity, nor is it their duty to do so. Linking to a fanboy-strawman’s list just to criticise his taste (in biting words) just seems mean. Taylor’s opinions may be useless to you (and me), but so are posts like these.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Barry, I can think of any number of great comic writers — but most of them are writing books, not continuing serial fiction, making it hard for them to stay top of people’s minds.

    Jake: Even keeping their limited mission in mind, [much content moved into main post].

    I’m sorry you found this post distasteful. I’ll keep your comments in mind in the future, and I hope future ones are more to your liking.

  4. Jake Says:

    Yes, but people who visit this site don’t need reminding that there’s more to comics than superheroes– that’s why they read your site. An e-mail to Mr. Taylor or a comment in the Hero Realm forum (which is down now) would serve your purpose. This is just preaching to the choir.

    If the stuff in your comment was in the original post, I wouldn’t have minded. But the post was just a character attack, and that’s why I felt moved to comment. I read your site daily–I know you can do better.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Good point — I moved the explanatory continuation into the main post.

    I wouldn’t comment at Hero Realm, because I don’t think it’s fair for me to visit there just to criticize them, and because (selfishly) it’s a lot easier for me to keep up with conversation here.

    And I do hope more people visit here than just those that share my tastes or agree with me — I’ve always aimed to talk with those with more diverse opinions than that.

  6. Kevin Melrose Says:

    Best-of lists are always weird beasts. Unless they’re compiled by a group of contributors with varied tastes, they almost always boil down to, “this is the best of what *I* like to read.”

    Back in the Mezozoic Era, when I was writing Thought Balloons, I considered doing a big best-of list, focusing on writers, artists, issues, etc. But I realized my reading list was not nearly long enough or varied enough to give an accurate picture of the best of what’s being produced.

  7. Jake Says:

    Thanks for updating it! Much better post now.

  8. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for your help!

  9. Barry Says:

    Maybe it’s just the format of comics, but I can’t really think of any truly great writers, other than Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman and I’m not sure I’d even categorize them as ‘great’. Some of my favorite living writers are Andy Runton, Adrian Tomine, Seth, Chester Brown, Matt Wagner, Kazuo Koike and Alex Robinson, to name a few. But I’m still not sure I’d elevate any of them to the same status of greatness that I would writers in other mediums, like prose or film. I think the truly great writers in comics are yet to come, as the artform is still in it’s relative infancy. Here’s hoping they show up in our lifetime.

  10. Johanna Says:

    I think part of the discussion is determining what we mean by “great”. This started as a “best of 2005″ list, and that’s a little different from “all-time best over decades”, which you, Barry, seem to be leaning towards. They’re both interesting discussions; they’re just not the same discussion.

  11. Ed Cunard Says:

    But I realized my reading list was not nearly long enough or varied enough to give an accurate picture of the best of what’s being produced.

    I like what John Jakala did last year–his list of “pretty good comics I enjoyed in 2004.” It lets the writer play the listing game while admitting that his/her choices are by no means catholic. I may steal his idea and do one of my own this year.

  12. James Schee Says:

    While I think that when one publishes a piece, which Hero Realm as a comic news/review site is doing, it opens it up to be discussed and or dissected.

    I didn’t really have much of a problem with his list so to speak, to each his own when it comes to that really.

    The thing that stood out to me the most was Witchblade being one of the strongest female characters in even superheroes.

    With what I read of it, writer Ron Marz has changed the character fairly significantly. And while DC and Marvel have done away with or quite frankly screwed up a number of their best female characters. There still are some that come to mind that I would have to put ahead of Witchblade.

  13. Barry Says:

    Fair enough, but the reason I bring it up, is that I can’t think of 5 writers who published books this year that I could list. Which brought me to whether there really are any exceptional writers in comics.

    That said, what would your list be?

  14. Johanna Says:

    I think Grant Morrison’s a fair choice for a great writer, although he’s not one of my favorites.

    I think Carla Speed McNeil is astoundingly talented.

    Andi Watson is a long-standing favorite of mine, working in areas not typical of American/European comics.

    Matt Madden is highly underrated because he hasn’t yet had his breakout hit.

    Some of my favorites, like Linda Medley and Scott McCloud, are due to publish next year or the year after.

  15. Kevin Melrose Says:

    Andi Watson is a long-standing favorite of mine, working in areas not typical of American/European comics.

    He’s consistently good (Namor aside), but too often overlooked.

    Some of my favorites, like Linda Medley and Scott McCloud, are due to publish next year or the year after.

    Did you see the announcement that plans to relaunch Castle Waiting next have been canceled? The hardcover collection will still happen, though.

  16. Johanna Says:

    NO! I hadn’t heard that. It didn’t start well, with Medley saying she didn’t know Fantagraphics was going to announce that, but I had hopes that it would still happen. Bummer.

  17. Barry Says:

    While I think Morrison has some interesting ideas, he’s way overrated, but I do like Linda Medly and Andi Watson quite a bit and think Matt Madden is or has the potential to be, a great writer/cartoonist. I interviewed him years ago and his approach to cartooning was both enthusiastic and scholarly, so I think he’s capable of great things. Odds Off definitely makes my list of all-time best OGNS and can’t recommend it enough.

  18. James Schee Says:

    The odd thing is that there are some great writers who have written comics, who have come in from other media. Unfortunately they often tend to not be great comic writers, as they have trouble adapting to the medium.

  19. Barry Says:

    I agree. Which makes me wonder if it takes a certain skill set to write comic books that some prose writers don’t have. Or if it’s any limitation of the medium, characters or publishers. I’m also curious as to whether or not Steven King and Jonathan Lethem will make the transition well or also find it a struggle.

  20. Johanna Says:

    I think writing comics requires slightly different skills than prose (because you have to think about what the picture looks like instead of giving enough information for people to visualize it themselves), and I’m not sure the distinction is apparent to many prose writers.

    For instance, it’s not immediately obvious to a prose writer that in comics you can’t have someone shake their head “no” without taking up at least three panels. Or that you have to specify a clock on the wall to let people know what time it is, if that’s important.

    It’s really a matter of training, and some prose writers may not realize they need it.

  21. Barry Says:

    I agree and I like the examples you gave regarding why comics writing is so different than prose writing. In addition, while certain writers can ‘show off’ with beautiful, lyrical sentances in a prose novel, it may not have the same effect in a comic, or even be appropriate to the scene or story.

  22. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    Comics writing is more akin to poetry, IMO, requiring concision in dialogue and exposition, and a strong grasp of detail and metaphor in communicating one’s vision to the artist. One also has to be intimately familiar with a serial/episodic structure, which probably explains why the TV/Film guys seem to have an easier time crossing over. Being an excellent prose writer is simply that, guaranteeing no proficiency in any other form of writing.

    As for “Best of” lists, disclaimers and equivocations simply serve to lessen one’s opinions. I prefer an authoritative voice, no matter how much I may disagree with it. (ie: I can’t stand ADD, but you’re never unsure of how he feels about his favorites.) Taylor’s pretty clear about his list being his own favorites, and his intro focuses specifically on the Big Two – suggesting, among other things, that he knows his audience – so taking him to task over his choices does come off as a bit of an unnecessary cheap shot. Comments like “This makes me wonder if Taylor is insane, even if by ‘industry’ he really means ‘superhero comics’.” when it’s clear that’s exactly what he means don’t help, either. Tch.

  23. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    PS: Love the redesign!

  24. Johanna Says:

    Poetry… interesting comparison, since that’s perhaps the only literary field where it’s even more difficult to earn a living than in comics.

    I specifically used the word “insane” to suggest outrageous, thus humorous, exaggeration. I’m sorry the joke didn’t work for you.

  25. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    Poetry… interesting comparison, since that’s perhaps the only literary field where it’s even more difficult to earn a living than in comics.

    Yeah, my wife has pointed out my knack for picking passions with little income potential! ;-)

  26. Alex Hamby Says:

    Old, yes, I know, but coming across this as I have, I find myself unable to not say something. I find it interesting how you took the time to criticize someone for their opinion… by sharing yours.

    I hope you’ve evolved beyond that.

  27. Johanna Says:

    Not every opinion is equal … or valuable.

    And really? You thought posting an insult was a useful contribution a full four and half years later? You must be a buddy of Taylor’s.




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