WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO WRITE COMICS?
I have a confession to make. As much as I love writing and editing comic books (hard to believe that I started as a wet-behind-the-ears 20-year-old scripting stories for Charlton back in the 70s), when someone asks me what I do for a living, I almost always just say, "Well, I'm a writer."
Then, if they push and ask if I write fiction or non-fiction, I say I've been a journalist for several newspapers, but what I really love most is (gulp!) writing comic books. Then I wait for the reaction. To my surprise, most of the time, it's positive. They think it's cool I write comics.
Well, to that end, I'd like to pay homage to several stellar comic book authors who inspired me to follow this crazy path. Now, I'm not worthy to reboot the computers of these guys, but I tried to learn as much as I could from them and I encourage you to read and re-read as many of their books as you can find.
In no particular order, my Top Five Comic Book Writers are:
* Stan Lee. OK, I know, a no-brainer. Except for my parents and my maternal grandmother, no one had a greater impact on my life than Stan Lee. I never had the privilege of meeting the man, but his presence has permeated my life for more than a half-century. He's the reason I wanted to become a writer, specifically a comic book writer. All his scripts, all the incredible characters he created were so vitally important to me growing up. He saw comic book super-heroes as real people, with real problems and foibles. What he was really saying, I believe, was that anyone could be a super-hero. When you think of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the Avengers, the X-Men and dozens more, you think of Stan. May he forever rest in peace. Excelsior!
* Gardner Fox: DC Comics' equivalent of Stan Lee. The single most important writer for DC in the 50s and 60s, Fox scripted more than 4,000 comic books during his long career. The only reason I didn't hold Fox is as much esteem as I did Stan was that back then, DC was lax in giving their writers and artists credits on Page One of their comics. I didn't know who he was until much later in my life, but, boy, did I appreciate his contributions then. Fox helped create the Flash, Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Zatanna and the original Sandman, and teamed up those and other heroes as the Justice Society of America and later recreated the team as the Justice League of America. Whew! Somewhere he and Stan are dreaming up another great character right now.
* Roy Thomas: It has been written that as great as Stan Lee was, his most important contribution to the comic book world is that he hired Roy Thomas. Roy's writing brilliance was quickly recognized by fans and collaborators alike and he moved up to the editor in chief's chair at Marvel to lead the brand to new heights. He took Stan's beloved characters and story lines and stretched them in directions never dreamed of. His work on the Avengers and Conan (among others) made him a household name. His stunning dialogue and revolutionary captions caught my young eye and had a great influence on my writing style. Arguably the best comic book wordsmith ever, "Rascally Roy" can flat-out write.
* Denny O'Neil: A legend in the industry, O'Neil is best known for revolutionizing the Batman titles and creating the award-winning Green Lantern/Green Arrow series in the turbulent 1970s. He brought a breath of realism and hard-hitting everyday living to several DC characters, traits they had been sorely lacking until then. His work with star artist Neal Adams on both Batman and GL/GA are stellar examples of comic book story and art. And if these contributions to DC's legacy to readers like me weren't enough, O'Neil never wrote a mediocre story. I learned so much from him about script structure, character development and storytelling. A true professional.
* Chris Claremont: What can you say about the writer who made the X-Men into one of the most popular titles in the history of comics? His long and storied run on the X-titles with artist John Byrne cemented their place in industry lore along with other outstanding writer/artist teams like Lee/Kirby, Thomas/Buscema and O'Neil/Adams. From Claremont, I learned the importance of writing important captions (not just the usual "Meanwhile..." or "Back at the Daily Planet..." or "Later"). Claremont used captions to further the story and give readers a better insight into the characters and their feelings. Simply put, he wrote comics like no one had before him.
I'd be remiss if I stopped at these five giants and didn't at least mention a few others who influenced me and thrilled millions of comic book fans everywhere. Writers like Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, Geoff Johns and so many more. The comic book world has indeed been blessed with so many gifted writers whose greatest talent is their love of comic books themselves. I'm proud to have read their stories and, in some small way, to be doing what they did so well.
Thomas A. Tuna,