By Molly Jane Kremer, Arpad Okay, and Jarrod Jones. They are the storytellers, the gatekeepers of myth. They relate epic stories of heroism, of bravery, of generally being awesome. They are the stewards of legends, and they’re pretty cool people from our reckoning. DoomRocket is thrilled that we get to share with you our choices for the Best Writers of 2016.
THE BEST WRITERS OF THE YEAR
Tom King (Sheriff of Babylon, The Vision, Batman, Omega Men) This is Mr. King’s second year within DoomRocket’s hallowed Best Writer rankings, and while 2015 saw King as the burgeoning new hotness, 2016 has seen the writer truly come into his own. A DC Comics exclusive kicked off King’s year back in February, followed a few months later by the announcement that he’d be succeeding DC’s Bat-darling Scott Snyder in an attempt to fill those imposing shoes on the flagship Batman title. Though the first Batman storyline’s art team wasn’t to my tastes, now that King has reteamed with his matchless Grayson co-conspirator, Mikel Janin, the series is truly starting to cook. A worthy heir to the Snyder/Capullo juggernaut.
As if an ascension to the annals of the highest profile Big 2 writers in such a shockingly short amount of time wasn’t enough, King concluded three of the most affective and startling miniseries of the year, all of which debuted well before King got that fancy-schmancy exclusive (but certainly helped him earn it). From DC to Vertigo to Marvel, Omega Men, Sheriff of Babylon, and The Vision rocked and rolled our brains this year, with finales that left us shaken, emotionally raw, and marveling at both this guy’s talents, and the talents of his collaborators. Though this may be the second year we’ve called out Tom King’s skill and craft, it certainly won’t be the last. — MJ
Jody Houser (Faith, Mother Panic, Max Ride: Ultimate Flight, Orphan Black) Two characters: one a superhero, one a murderous vigilante. They’re both extraordinary people in their own right, and yet what drives them to fight the evils of the world couldn’t be further apart. One loves Firefly and the other doesn’t seem to love much of anything at all. They should scarcely occupy the same comic store shelf, let alone the same head space. One person has weathered that mental tempest and has done so with aplomb. Her name is Jody Houser.
Faith Herbert and Violet Page represent two sides of a whole. They’re both misfits in their own way, as all costumed avengers are. When the sirens are silenced and the gunfire is abated, when Zephyr and Mother Panic are at peace, those around them — those who care enough to get within proximity to them anyway — are often left wondering why they’re so goddamned off. It’s the only similarity they share. And Jody Houser has been juggling their wants and desires, their pains and failures, their entire worlds just behind her eyelids this entire time. — JJ
Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward (Ancestor). Powerful as a serialized release in the anthology Island and beautifully collected under its own name, I bring you Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward’s Ancestor. It starts out a few generations from now and moves to the fringes of humanity. A handful of friends go to the wrong party. What should have been a night out amongst artists hooked into the now becomes something bleak and terrifying and unexpected. Grisly Cronenberg stuff. Then it’s a story about the next stage of evolution, the evening when human beings break through to what’s next. But what makes a utopia is a point of view, and perspective comes with a price.
Sheean and Ward have created a story that is monumentally ambitious. With its roots planted so plausibly in our near future, Ancestor’s take on how culture in 2016 will influence technology in 2066 would have been worth exploring even if the horror hadn’t come rolling in. As it stands, it is just eerie enough to make the reader feel at home in a world that is immediately thrown into flux. Try to picture the painter with anxiety from chapter one as a mountain. By chapter four, he is a pebble, his indivduality honed, shined, condensed by the ages. Real characters who are placed in utterly unreal circumstances, like in the classic Scanners Live In Vain, find the urgency in their decisions swell in proportion to their dwindling resemblance to homo sapiens.
It is a crazy book. Stunning. Surreal. Impossible and relatable. Ward and Sheean share the writing credit on Ancestor, as they built up the story and script together, but they also collaborated on the art direction and the colors. Matt does the pencils and Malachi does the inks (and the lettering). These guys bring the story, they finely craft the look, and they mess with the scope of what a writing credit on a comic book actually is. — AOK
Jeff Lemire (Descender, Black Hammer, Hawkeye, Plutona, Moon Knight, Extraordinary X-Men, Death of X, Bloodshot, Old Man Logan, Thanos). For a few years now, Jeff Lemire has been one of the most versatile, hardest working people in comics, writing (and even, every once-in-a-while, drawing) series after series for DC, Vertigo, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, and Valiant. Even though he’s become so quietly ubiquitous in this industry, his work–and its quality–can’t help but stand out. This year his books have been increasingly high-profile, his output especially stellar–across four of the major publishers–from rollicking team superheroics, to thoughtful and moving sci fi, to spoopy insane asylums, to cosmic dictators, to a farmhouse full of retired vigilantes. In the middle of all this, he even made time to create the companion graphic novel to Gord Downie’s Secret Path album, and to illustrate a collaboration with Scott Snyder, A.D.: After Death. (Lemire’s got a time-turner, right? Only explanation.)
I’ve always connected most with Lemire’s creator-owned works like Black Hammer, Descender, and Plutona (co-written with series artist Emi Lenox), and those three comics were nothing less than absolute knock-outs this year–all three excellent examples of his noticeable penchant for writing incredibly authentic kids into moving, often unsettling, storylines. Lemire is a quiet, humble, unstoppable force, and I can only hope that he continues at the same breakneck pace: his diligence and vision made for some of the very best comics of 2016.
Paul Dini (Dark Night: A True Batman Story). When you read a Vertigo title, it’s normal to expect a bit of cerebral tomfoolery. Some emotional tampering. To set a Vertigo book down on the coffee table only to feel somewhat gutted on the inside, that’s par for course. But then there comes a book like Dark Night: A True Batman Story, written by Paul Dini and illustrated by Eduardo Risso, a book that packs the same visceral punch as anything that ever came from the fabled DC Comics imprint, only you realize that the character with whom you’ve walked through this emotional gauntlet wasn’t a work of fiction — they were the very person telling you the story in the first place.
Of course, you know that going into Dark Night. From page one, there he is, Paul Dini, as rendered by Risso, narrating one of the most grueling moments of his life. And yet it’s not him; it’s more — an extension of him, his consciousness stripped bare for all to see. This year we had the honor of perceiving the streams of that consciousness, those fluid areas Dini populates with Superman, Woody Woodpecker, Harley Quinn, and countless other cartoon characters (and yes, Batman too).
It was a piece of Kaufman-esque metanarrative, only instead of subverting the creative process to snag a few cheap yuks, Paul Dini invited us into the chaos of his mind to share in the darkest hour a human being could ever endure. For the duration of Dark Night we stood in front of one person’s… everything. That’s when we found that those who create the stories that make people happy, give them catharsis, even hope — they’re really not that different from the rest of us. Sometimes, they just want to talk about life too. — JJ
(Where we made room to love all over a few more.)
Jason Aaron (Doctor Strange, The Mighty Thor, The Unworthy Thor, The Goddamned, Southern Bastards, Star Wars, Star Wars: Vader Down). Fun fact: Mr. Aaron is only an honorable mention here because our delightfully curmudgeonly EIC disallowed me to have the same best batch of writer picks for the third year in a row. And while I can both appreciate and understand spreading the love around a little more equally, when anyone asks me who my favorite writer is (and working in a comic shop, I get asked it quite a bit), my reply is always, always Jason Aaron. (We also we sell a lot of copies of Southern Bastards. These things might be connected.) This year, Eisner Award voters saw fit to join me in my admiration, bestowing him with their Best Writer honor as well.
His work in 2016 has been just as fantastic as 2015’s award-winning output: from Star Wars, to the aforementioned Bastards, to the Thors both Mighty and Unworthy, to The Goddamned, to Doctor Strange, Aaron’s versatility, perfectly-paced plots, breadth and depth of characterization, and peerless talents in collaboration, leave me continually in awe every time I read them. You deserved the hell out of that Eisner, sir, and it’s assuredly the first of many to come.
Eric Stephenson (Nowhere Men). Eric Stephenson, the publisher of Image Comics, has a pet project. A comic called Nowhere Men. The world, already rocked by positive cultural change at the hands of an OG scientist gestalt, is shaken for real when the same group creates a superhuman pandemic. The Away team, infected research scientists, is dispatched all over the Earth. It falls on the four friends who started it all to own their mistakes. The danger to the masses is never downplayed, but the panels stays fixed on the cast and their story. Nowhere Men spends its pages making all the players involved in the game feel more and more real as the stakes rise.
There are space suits and monsters and explosions and none of it stands in the way of this character drama. And with more robust characters comes a more complete world. The way in which Nowhere Men is put together feeds into this. One page might be panels, the next a full-page ad for books the characters have written, or a magazine with a character slapped on the cover, an interview excerpt, an indie comic of ever-growing significance. Learn about the parent by learning about the child. A rush of understanding when a face is finally put to a name. Stephenson’s script is the kind storytelling that can only be done through comic books. The art needs to meet the quality the story demands, and it does. It’s fantastic. The layout needs to be in sync with the unorthodox visions of the writer. Nowhere Men is ultramodern slick from cover to cover. Stephenson has a complicated dream of what comics can be, and he works to make that vision real. The promise of payoff is great and the debt is honored. — AOK
James Tynion IV (Detective Comics, The Woods, Constantine: The Hellblazer, The Eighth Seal, The Backstagers, Batman/TMNT, Batman and Robin Eternal). Bill Finger, Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Grant Morrison, Denny O’Neil, Alan Grant, Frank Miller, Greg Rucka, Steve Englehart, Jeff Loeb, Scott Snyder.
James Tynion IV. — JJ
Other writers we loved in 2016: Marguerite Bennett, Greg Rucka, Alex de Campi, Ed Brubaker, Marjorie Liu, Chip Zdarsky, Aaron Sparrow, Paul Jenkins.
Who was your favorite writer of 2016? Let us know in the comments section below!