by Arpad Okay, Brendan Hodgdon 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 2019.
Ram V. (‘These Savage Shores’, Vault Comics; ‘Justice League Dark Annual’, ‘Catwoman’, DC) A balletic dance of violence and passion. A war for peace. It’s the human experience, writ large, poetic, epic—and this year, it was scripted best by Ram V.
Ram doesn’t go half-way. It was with a roar that These Savage Shores came to its conclusion. Fill-ins of Catwoman cut deeper than anticipated. His entry into the crowded capes scene (in an annual edition of Justice League Dark) was a tragic, frightening horror tale told with eloquence and vision. Ram’s best work is still ahead, somehow, and at the precipice of a new year, my primary resolution is to read all of it. — JJ
Lucy Knisley. (‘Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos’, First Second) I was touched and I was enraged by all I learned in Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos. Lucy Knisley wrote two books, really, one a brave and vulnerable pregnancy memoir, one a pocket history of the culture of birth, though she would be the first to remind me that the politics and the personal of being a parent are inseparable. Fascinating. Devastating. Specific! Knisley writes of a world where women struggle for a voice, in medicine, over the governance of their own bodies. She does it by telling her story, Kid Gloves a true account of baby born. — AOK
Scott Snyder. (‘The Batman Who Laughs’, ‘Batman: Last Knight on Earth’, ‘Justice League’, DC; ‘Undiscovered Country’, Image Comics) Throughout his extended and concluding time with DC’s Dark Knight Detective and his super-friends, Scott Snyder has certainly not shied away from the portentous or the gothic, and his work in 2019 was no exception. But what makes Snyder’s work so remarkable and cathartic is how he uses such darkness to illuminate the hope, grit, and determination at the heart of these iconic characters, in addition to his own original creations. In doing so, his stories offer inspiration and affirmation as we fight through our own darkening world, thus confirming Snyder’s place as a leading storyteller in modern comics. — BFH
Magdalene Visaggio. (‘Doctor Mirage’, Valiant; ‘Strangelands’, ‘Oh S#!t, It’s Kim & Kim’, ‘Sex Death Revolution, Black Mask Studios; H1/Humanoids; ‘Calamity Kate’, Dark Horse Comics; ‘Morning in America’, Oni Press; ‘Marilyn Manor’, IDW Publishing; ‘Ms. Marvel Annual’, Marvel) Think about people. Wants, wishes, hopes, dreams… foibles, flaws. Magdalene Visaggio knows people. She throws us straight into her subjects and we crash into their pretenses, occasionally breaking their fragile wrists in the process. Sometimes they return the favor. It can be chaotic, and things can get messy. That’s what it means to read Mags’ work. You’re going to feel something, and that’s worth everything.
The stories she tells are often those we know only too well, human no matter how alien the backdrop. The Deadside, outer space, the actual White House—regardless of the setting, Mags always finds the heart at the center of it all and lets it bleed. She writes about people as they are—and, at times, as they could (or should) be. It’s not even brave, it’s real. — JJ
Liz Valasco. (‘The Seeker’, Tinto Press) Did Liz Valasco write the perfect Halloween comic? Cast a spell on your pumpkin bucket, no take-backs. Half suburban kids being kids, half finding what they’re looking for: magic. The Seeker is a pocket tome full of mystery, prophecies of dirt and sacrifice, a world that drifts away from the familiarity of a night drinking in the woods. Valasco is a powerful storyteller, her comic full of instantly charismatic characters and gratifying apocalyptic turns. The writing has personality, whimsy, and severity. Valasco is a natural, and took me straight to the spot. Flannel shirts, old photographs, dead leaves, ghosts. — AOK
Carlos Giffoni. (‘Strayed’, Dark Horse Comics; ‘Space Riders: Vortex of Darkness’, Black Mask Studios) Carlos Giffoni arrived to the comics scene in 2019 with two prime examples of his range, two books that existed on far ends of a spectrum that were decidedly his own. Giffoni has a voice. And after reading Strayed and the latest dispatch from the spaceship La Santa Muerte, I know I want to read more of it.
First, Strayed. About an orange cat named Lou who can astral-project his fuzzy self across the cosmos. Believing he’s helping the humans in his life, in actuality he’s a primary cog turning within a cruel machine of industry and power and death. All Lou wants is happiness, and his joy gets exploited. Tough stuff. Yet Giffoni gives Lou agency, and I swear—if you read the entirety of Strayed—Lou will be complicit in the breaking of your heart.
Then there’s the latest Space Riders. Ardent DoomRocket readers know I’m a fan from way back. Giffoni had big biker boots to fill, a loyal fanbase to woo. And it’s clear he seized this opportunity—and he went out of his way to inject a bit of mythological badassery and narrative velocity to what was already a primal win. Giffoni entered comics this year a rookie and he will absolutely decimate comics in the new decade as a lauded veteran. I promise you. — JJ
Kelsey Wroten. (‘Cannonball’, Uncivilized Books) Cannonball is a simple story—simple as any life is simple, plus some wild dreams, and a wilder world for their author. Cannonball is a direct shot. Kelsey Wroten tells a real, shitty life, straight up. Wroten’s genius is in the many facets of meaning that surround the story, which resonated strongly with me, a garbage writer person like the hero of the book.
Writing about what you want to write about is a struggle. But struggle is something the public isn’t as interested in reading about as magic, or whatever the kids like now. Voices are selected in a managed-by-men market to tell the stories they want to sell.
Wroten does a great job of stepping to and from and lucid, dreamy experience (our hero bumbles across something marketable) but also addresses how messed up the publishing machine can be. Writing about writing. Wroten’s not a book to tell you how many panels a comic should use, but what it is like to be a writer. No sleep, no security, no peace; no problem. — AOK
Jeff Lemire. (‘Ascender’, ‘Gideon Falls’, ‘Family Tree’, Image Comics; ‘Inferior Five’, ‘The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage’, ‘Joker: Killer Smile’, ‘The Terrifics’, DC; ‘Black Hammer’ titles, ‘Berserker Unbound’, Dark Horse Comics; ‘Sentient’, TKO Studios) On volume alone, Jeff Lemire has more than earned his spot as one of the best writers of this year. That amongst his vast list of publications, Lemire has given us rural family fantasy, epic space adventure, grungy existential horror, Canadian slice-of-life drama and a parcel of dynamic superhero tales, only furthers our appreciation of his talent and skill. But it’s the sense of melancholic humanity that links all of his work that really makes Lemire one of the best, and that will continue to draw us to his work like moths to a beautiful and sad flame. — BFH
Jordie Bellaire. (‘Redlands’, Image Comics) Jordie Bellaire writes a comic that could only exist on the cusp of 2020. Redlands is an examination of what happens to women to make them kill monsters, told with surgical discomfort, framed as a serial horror story. Redlands is an evolving series about witches who have grown independent of their obligations, trapped between men who want to use them to death and moral debts coming up long overdue. Bellaire’s writing this season has shed perspective on the story, deepened the mystery, and maintained the uncomfortable, hands-on approach to body politics that started the series smoldering. — AOK
Dan Watters. (‘Coffin Bound’, Image Comics; ‘Lucifer’, ‘House of Whispers’, ‘Ocean Master: Year of the Villain’, DC) To somehow write something that causes the reader to suddenly stop reading is a form of creative death. But not always. It’s a different kind of skill to make the reader pause. To ruminate on what they just read. To gasp. (In delight, in horror, it makes little difference.) It’s a skill Dan Watters has in abundance.
Read certain pages in Coffin Bound, and try not to halt in place, stupefied by the sheer audaciousness of it. Eyeballs in the garbage disposal. Self-excoriation. Monologues that should be uttered center stage, the spotlight fixed, the auditorium caught in rapt silence. Watters’ humor is blasphemous. His stories make our hearts beat just a bit faster. That’s not just a skill, it’s power. — JJ
Who was your favorite writer of 2019? Let us know in the comments section below!