by Molly Jane Kremer, Arpad Okay, Clyde Hall and Jarrod Jones. They are the storytellers, the gatekeepers of myth. They are the stewards of legends, and they’re pretty cool people by our reckoning. They are the best writers of 2018.
THE BEST WRITERS OF THE YEAR
Christopher Sebela. (‘Crowded’, ‘Shanghai Red’, ‘House Amok’) Not just a trifecta of excellence, Christopher Sebela’s scripted a Triple-A crown of manifold stories this year. It’s hard to imagine a more divergent set of titles. What reckoning would you seek as a crimping victim in 1800s Seattle? What happens when insanity runs in your family, but your parents and siblings are marathoners while you’re at most a sprinter? How much would people crowdfund to see you killed? Sebela’s deftness with wide-ranging characterizations in these titles could place any one of them on ‘Best of 2018’ lists but Crowded is a personal favorite. It’s a Midnight Run for tomorrow. Smart, inventive, and despite a gritty concept, fun.
It’s also a premium canvas for Sebela’s strengths in constructing a narrative. Nearly every character, whether protagonist, enemy, bystander, or collateral damage, has his or her own story to tell, one without a vital part in the greater scheme. They’re seamlessly folded into that ongoing storyline, however, and blended into a read made rich and fulfilling by their inclusion. To manage this without the reader feeling dragged off onto some disconnected tangent requires major chops.
Read the first issue of these titles sans credits, and it’s questionable you’d imagine them being the work of the same scribe. That also requires major writing chops. And he can play in larger sandboxes just fine, too. His two issues of Harley Quinn (#43 & #44) were among the best representations the character had in 2018. Sebela’s work this year has exhibited everything required to leave the label ‘Eisner-nominated writer’ behind. — CH
Pornsak Pichetshote. (‘Infidel’) From director to screenwriter to editor to comics writer and working back and forth and beyond, Pornsak Pichetshote has proven time and again that he is an essential creative voice no matter the medium. It’s fortunate, then, that he decided to stick around in comics for the past fifteen years, working alongside the finest creators in the industry to ensure such cross-media stunners as The Losers and contemporary classics as We3 made the impact that they did.
Putting together comics with the likes of Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, Grant Morrison, Jeff Lemire and others, Pichetshote, one of the unsung Vertigo editors during the final years of Karen Berger’s tenure, stepped out from under their incredibly long shadows and became a comics giant in his own right with 2018’s Infidel. It’s his work on this stupendous horror mini that secures him a place on our list. People in the industry have known Pornsak for ages. But it’s comics readers who would do well to make some space in their lives for him, not to mention shelf space for what I hope is his many works to come.
Back to Infidel. Mood (and creep-inducing body horror) by Aaron Campbell and Jose Villarrubia, comprehension courtesy of Jeff Powell. The nightmares, both personal and collective, that’s from Pichetshote. He showed us a world many know painfully well, a piece of social survival horror for those who are treated as outsiders in their own homes. Where neighbors distrust one another, hate one another. Where ghosts are born of violence, and have so much more hate to share in death. By acing this methodically paced, hyper-aware social parable, Pornsak Pichetshote effectively became one of the most exciting writers comics has today. — JJ
Eleanor Davis. (‘Why Art?’) I am endlessly awed by the craft that went into Why Art? Eleanor Davis has written a measured treatise from simple satire to complex tribute to actual art itself. What begins as jest will blindside readers with fascinating characters and an undertow of narrative will engulf you by book’s end.
Why Art? isn’t just the tale told but how. The story blooms, and the visuals expand in tandem with the increasing depth of story, growing to fill the page with beauty and darkness. Davis has a master’s grasp on adding details to maximum effect. Her selective simplicity is a cover for a secret world within.
How to describe this book? After laying out the rules for what art can be, we meet some artists. Their projects defy all previously set boundaries. Their work transforms the soul. Transmutes the body. Calamity befalls the artists, they find safety, they find their safety destroyed in circumstances eerily similar to the chaos they fled. Why make art?
The beauty that comes from resisting against despair is the pinnacle of experience. There is art that titillates, art that soothes. But art can be more. It can throw the spirit into turmoil and it can be the Rock of Ages we cling to in windswept waters. To make art that matters is to stand aware against the void.
We need difficult art to shake us into living. Presence in the moment, the ghost of it after it passes. That’s art. That’s Why Art? What at first seemed like a funny little book winds up being a gospel of big truths.
Davis fashions understanding without comprehension. Why Art? passes the intellect by to speak directly to emotions. Open yourself up to the possibility of Enlightenment and she will meet you there among the towering wildflowers. — AOK
Saladin Ahmed. (‘Abbott’, ‘Black Bolt’, ‘Exiles’) A relative newcomer to writing comics, Saladin Ahmed took the industry by storm in 2017 with Black Bolt, his critically acclaimed collaboration with artist Christian Ward. Somehow, Ahmed successfully avoided the all-too-common growing pains of a novelist transitioning to comic scripts, and Black Bolt went on to win the Eisner Award for Best New Series — and all twelve glorious, bombastic, heartrending issues bellow its distinction.
While many of Ahmed’s 2018 comic book accomplishments were under Marvel’s banner (see also Exiles, an Amazing Spider-Man annual and a story in Ms. Marvel), my personal favorite was published by BOOM! Studios, and kept a marked distance from superheroics: Abbot was a supernatural crime thriller, a five-issue miniseries co-created with artist Sami Kivelä which took place in 1972 Detroit. Ahmed’s subtle character development, deft plotting, incisive social commentary, and intricate historical knowledge of his hometown combined for one of the most riveting and magnificent comics I read this year.
And now Ahmed ends 2018 in a somehow even more auspicious manner than he began it, by writing the new ongoing comic Miles Morales: Spider-Man, starring a character currently being introduced to millions of moviegoers as the main Spidey of Sony’s hit animated movie, Into the Spider-Verse. Ahmed is even slated as the incoming writer of the new Magnificent Ms. Marvel series this March, taking the passed torch from none other than Kamala’s lauded co-creator, G. Willow Wilson. Saladin Ahmed is now one of Marvel’s — and comics’ — biggest talents, and with series like these at his pen, his sole Eisner trophy won’t be alone for long. — MJ
Tini Howard. (‘Euthanauts’, ‘Assassinistas’, ‘Captain America Annual’) Few writers awed me in 2018 more than Tini Howard. Last year Tini was coming up, but coming up quick. This year, she planted her flag, broke boundaries, impressed major publishers and made it all look so fucking cool as it was happening. Next year? Who knows. It’s probably going to be even bigger than now. How? Only Tini knows.
I don’t know where Howard finds the words she does. The way she describes things. Like how life after death works. Here’s Tini: “A permanent state of liminal space… Like buying property in Purgatory.” Here’s her take on what that life might look like to us, just getting there: “It’s beautiful. It’s the color of… mothers, to babies. It’s going outside after being in prison. When you get home and finally let yourself cry.” Dunno where she finds these words, but I’m so, so incredibly grateful that she did.
I enjoyed Assassinistas because it was the perfect pairing of writer and artist. Hernandez & Howard. Be still. My heart. Tini could pinch-write a strip for Love and Rockets and we might not be the wiser. Right now, I love Euthanauts. I love it like people. It’s a story that marries my favorite things — some I used to enjoy, others I enjoy still: hedonism, good drugs, existence, the importance of a consistent work ethic, thinking about death. It’s all in there… contradictory, beautiful, mystifying, frightening. At once. Death need not be a frightening concept. All you need is someone there to ease those anxieties. Someone warm, thoughtful, caring, wise. Our guide, in this very instance? Tini. — JJ
(Where we made room to love a few more.)
Steve Orlando. (‘Supergirl’, ‘Crude’, ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘The Unexpected’) Steve Orlando isn’t just a creative writer, or just an ambitious one. He’s one of the best we have, contributing to the current comics zeitgeist his unique brand of imagination, passion, and sass.
With Crude, Orlando delved into the shattered hearts of fathers and sons, of generation gaps that can’t be mended, not now, not ever. With Supergirl, he continued his stewardship of the gilded Superman mythos with grace and even cemented a flourish or two of his own. (Noting Kara’s Kryptonian accent being one I especially appreciated.) His run on Supergirl came to an end this year, but that only made room for other exciting projects.
When DC’s Wonder Woman title languished between the high-profile runs of Greg Rucka and G. Willow Wilson, Orlando jumped in with Laura Braga and his Midnighter collaborators Aco and Hugo Petrus for a stunning arc that paved for the series a golden path towards a brighter tomorrow. But it’s Orlando’s double-whammy of The Unexpected and Electric Warriors that puts him on this list.
Orlando’s exploration of the wider DC Universe, past, present, and future, thrilled me and engaged me in a way I didn’t think was possible now that the brimming optimism of Rebirth has been set aside for an uncertain future. And the writer’s latest maxiseries with Riley Rossmo, Martian Manhunter, promises even grander things to come from the young Mr. Orlando. — JJ
Alex Paknadel. (‘Friendo’, ‘Kino’) He’s not a newcomer per se, but the work that put Alex Paknadel on my radar came late in 2018. His futurist capitalism-gone-mad title Friendo had only three issues in 2018, and his work on Kino is just beginning. But Friendo was a fresh voice in a marketplace full of nightmarish near-future comics and remains on a short list of books wherein I have no idea what’s going to happen each issue. His vision of soon-to-be nightmares wrought by unchecked greed married to vanguard tech comes through as equally repellent and plausible. It teems with concepts and apps probably already on corporate R&D schedules. In Kino, he’s unflinchingly taken a standard superhero title into the realm of governance by way of the Brothers Grimm. Both books are fatalistic, sometimes funny, and always premonitory regarding the direction human racing is headed. Alex is a writer to watch. — CH
Kelly Thompson. (‘West Coast Avengers’, ‘Mr. & Mrs. X’) Kelly Thompson’s comics are the comics I read first. That’s because Thompson’s comics are, above all, fun. Snappy, conversational dialogue peppered within perfectly paced plots and gasp-inducing reveals. She’s perfectly suited to craft perfect superhero comics.
Thompson’s 2018 was a stellar one. She started with the critically acclaimed Hawkeye, with artist Leonardo Romero (starring Kate Bishop instead of Clint Barton for a fun change), which scored a deserved Eisner nomination for Best Continuing Series. She was also handed the distinguished mantle of writing one Ms. Jessica Jones after the character’s original co-creator left for the Distinguished Competition.
She’s been most prolific working on the X-Men line, writing the Rogue & Gambit miniseries which then became the Mr. & Mrs. X ongoing series after the characters’ surprise nuptials this summer. A distinguished co-writing credit on the newly-resurrected Uncanny X-Men title rounds out her year, as well as the news—just in time for the Marvel Studios movie dropping in March—that a new Captain Marvel ongoing series in January will feature her writing talents, as well. Thompson is one of Marvel’s most consistent and best, a writer at the top of her game. — MJ
Carolyn Nowak. (‘Girl Town’) Carolyn Nowak’s collection of short works, Girl Town, is an absolute pleasure to read. The characters are fantastic, lovely, real, us. Her dialogue slays. Nowak fashions stories to lose oneself in. Doing so is a joy.
Girl Town’s stories catch you with wit and grace and then build emotional tension. “Diana’s Electric Tongue” will leave you bright eyed and shook. “Please Sleep Over,” a convincing ghost world.
“The Big Burning House” is an innovative take on the format of comics, a podcast about a movie no one’s seen, told as circumstance and film clips couched in dialogue. The zeitgeist of now, Nowak gets it and makes it beautiful.
Girl Town is written with an experimental spirit, cloaked in professional exterior. Nowak’s choices regarding color and perspective are the informed decisions of a master of the craft. Girl Town made me laugh and pine, my heart trapped in my throat, aglow. — AOK
Who was your favorite writer of 2018? Let us know in the comments section below!