Friday, June 8, 2012

List-y List #1: My Favorite Writers, aka, The Writing Gods

Starting off my series of lists, I thought I'd do the one that was most thematically relevant to me on a personal level.  Wanting to be a writer, I've studied and observed a number of them, from a variety of mediums, with a particular focus on comics.  I'd like to think that they would be happy to know that their works and efforts have helped inspire me not only to write, but to start and maintain this blog, which I've so far managed to do at a daily clip.  They are, in short... my writing gods.

These kinds of lists tend to be a matter of personal taste, and are in no way meant to disparage anyone else's favorites.  They are simply my favorites, my gods of writing, and there are plenty of other excellent writers who didn't make this iteration--Chris Claremont, Alan Moore, and Ed Brubaker come immediately to mind, as will doubtless others.  

The writers who have had the biggest effect on my reading experience, and who hopefully influence my writing the most, are:

1. Neil Gaiman - Sandman.  Neverwhere.  The Graveyard Book.  Coraline.  Marvel 1602.  American Gods.  An episode of Doctor Who.  If there's a medium for which Neil Gaiman can't write, I have yet to experience it.  Truly one of the most imaginative and culturally aware writers of this day and age, his ability to take the fantastic and marry it to the mundane with such effortless aplomb never fails to amaze and surprise me, even when I'm expecting it.  He's resurrected comic book characters, and reinterpreted mythological and historical figures with a deft touch that makes you wonder from where his insightful characterizations come. It's no wonder his work translates well to comics, television, film and prose works.  I can only hope to come anywhere near matching the depths of his fertile imagination.

2. Joss Whedon - Another master of many mediums, Joss Whedon had actually made a big impression on me long before I knew who he was, and impressed me less when I started to realize who he was.  Some of his episodes of Roseanne are among my favorites of the show's run, long before I cared who was scripting individual episodes.  My first "knowing" exposure to his name and work was the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which at the time, didn't impress me.  Then along came Firefly, and I emerged a Whedonite converted.  Film, comics, television... especially television.  There's nothing the man can't do well.  Whedon's witty dialog, strong women characters, and clever subversions of storytelling tropes are things I admire about his writing, and hope inform my own.  I particularly adore the Firefly and Serenity comics he's worked on, and the Buffy continuations as well.  All this before any mention of The Avengers, to boot!

3. Steve Moffat - The first non-comics writer on my list, Steve Moffat rates highly for his amazing work in television.  I first got acquainted with his writing on Coupling, a clever British comedy series about sex and the  thirtysomething characters trying to get it.  I loved its clever humor, occasionally imaginative plot structures, and the evenness generally portrayed when the sexes battled it out.  When I started watching Doctor Who, appropriately during the Matt Smith episodes, I didn't even realize at first that this was the same guy writing and running it!  It was a delightful treat.  Now this guy has gone and put a fantastic series together called Sherlock... perhaps you've heard of it?  He's a magnificent bastard of a writer, whose talent for suspense, adventure, and comedy are that rare blend that make for amazing television.  If you haven't seen any of the TV shows I've mentioned here, do yourself a favor and check them out.

4. J. Michael Straczynski - Most of JMS's writing work is stuff I've only been tangentially familiar with: the occasional episode of Babylon 5, a glimpse of an issue of Thor he worked on--and did you know he also wrote for the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon in the 1980s?!  But the two works that have stood out most starkly for me have been his run on Amazing Spider-Man--in which he took bold, imaginative risks in interpreting Spidey's powers and his relationships with those closest to him--and Superman: Earth One, a dynamic and insightful retelling of Superman's origin story and debut as the Man of Steel.  I don't often go in for Superman, but then again, I don't often go in for Thor or Babylon 5, either.  Yet I've never been anything but awed by the stories this man tells.  An excellent writer, of whose works I need to read more.

5. Scott McCloud - Though I've only ever read his most famous work, the graphic book Understanding Comics, I still hold Scott McCloud in immeasurably high regard for his insightful, playful, and easy-to-understand handling of the material.  In a clever sequential art style that matches the content and subject of the book, McCloud explains with simple thoroughness and plenty of visual aides how comics are made, and how writing and pictures are used to create this most wonderful of mediums.  That level of dedication alone is worthy of admiration; that he does it so eloquently and passionately is what makes him great, in my opinion.  It was after reading Understanding Comics that I was inspired to start writing my own comic scripts and even drawing some of my own pages occasionally.  And while I'll probably never draw as well as I'd like, I'll credit my own start as a writer of comic scripts to him.

6. H.P. Lovecraft - Though occasionally verbose and a little archaic in his diction, Lovecraft is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in modern horror, serving as the inspiration for such modern masters as Stephen King, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, and John Carpenter--not to mention the aformentioned Neil Gaiman.  His stories about otherworldly cosmic horrors, ghoulish cults and creatures have had an undeniable effect on the collective psyche of horror writers and readers--not to mention my own sensibilities.  I think what intrigues me the most is the inescapable dread that infuses his stories, which seem to generally hinge on the idea of man's general cosmic insignificance, and that there is knowledge out there that we simply can't handle.  It doesn't make for the most uplifting of storytelling endeavors, but it does make for interesting and challenging storytelling.

7. Brian K. Vaughan - Having only read Y: the Last Man of his works, I can say that there are plenty of other titles out there that Brian K. Vaughan has worked on that have either been highly recommended to me by friends and family (Runaways), or that I just can't wait to read, based on that title alone (Pride of Baghdad, Saga, Ex Machina).  He clearly has a talent for taking supremely unenviable situations, thinking them through, and creating great opportunities for character development and exploration from them.  My little sister has started reading his run on Runaways, and given me the best feedback you can get about a writer's title, namely, "Buy me more of these, please!"  I'm aching to read his current series, Saga, but am currently waiting to get my hands on issues 1 and 2 before I can start.  It's a bit of a torturous undertaking, but some things are worth waiting for.

8. Terry Moore - A Houston institution, Terry Moore's strong depiction of women characters has set him apart as a writer who understands that beauty goes far beyond physical perfection.  Both a skilled writer and a good artist, his Strangers In Paradise strikes emotional chords in both the touching love story it tells as well as the expressiveness of the characters that populate it.  Moore can take a simple situation, such as a break-up, put a humorous spin on it with just the slightest clever twist, and make it unforgettable, just as he can shatter your expectations with a single, well-drawn look of pain on his heroines' faces.  His women, who tend to be his main characters, have a range of imperfections and flaws, from self-loathing to body image issues, but his ability to imbue them with humanity and depth make him an unforgettable writer and an amazing storyteller.

9. Scott Snyder - If there's been a best side to reading the New 52, it's that it's enabled me to discover Scott Snyder.  His deft guidance of Batman through the mystery of the Court of Owls saga and the subsequent (and current) Night of the Owls storyline have left me with my jaw hanging open more times than I can honestly remember.  Whether he's doing creepy nightmare illusions, mind-bending labyrinths, or unbelievably taxing physical trials, Snyder shows that he's not afraid to put heroes through the ringer, physically, mentally, or emotionally--and it makes for amazing storytelling.  I've yet to read any of his other titles, but I know he's got several projects going, and I intend to sit down and check them out as soon as time allows.  For now, the Court of Owls and Night of the Owls storylines alone have made Snyder one of my fastest-rising writing gods.

10. Dan Slott - I'm primarily familiar with Dan Slott through the recent and current issues of Amazing Spider-Man, but I'm very impressed with what I've seen so far.  He's taken different approaches to telling Spidey's story--some humorous, some dramatic, and some that are off the scales epic--and made them all very successful.  He obviously knows the characters, and I've been particularly amused at his banter and thorny relationship between Spidey and Mayor J. Jonah Jameson, as well as his writing of the supremely bright and quirky individuals at Horizon Labs, who serve as Peter Parker's colleagues and oftentimes as Spider-Man's allies.  With the current Ends of the Earth arc, we're seeing Spidey at his most serious, as well as his most resourceful, as he effectively takes on the Sinister Six with the entire world turned against him.  If that's not gutsy storytelling, then I don't know what is.

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