CBD’S 52Qs | #15: “Who is the most influential person in comics today?”

Every week CBD’s Editor in Chief Pete DeCourcy asks the question and the crew (and special guests) give their answers, we’ll be doing this for 52 weeks. Tip of the hat goes to the gang at Scans_Daily for the inspiration.

Today’s Question: “Who is the most influential person in comics today?”

Scott VanderPloeg (writer of CBD’s Bound Together column; his ramblings can be found blogged at eBabble.)

Kim Thompson from Fantagraphics: his influence is everywhere but it’s just under the surface. He’s co-publisher at Fantagraphics plus he translates European works for other publishers. The books being produced are top quality from creators outside the North American mainstream: Love & Rockets, Prison Pit, Jason. As well their line of classic reprints is going full bore with the likes of Prince Valiant, Captain Easy and Peanuts. Take a look at the books in 2010 that garnered attention from outside the comics world and you’ll see Fantagraphics and Kim Thompson shining through.

Anthony Falcone (Writer of Whosoever Holds This Hammer)

As much as I am loathe to admit it, Brian Micheal Bendis and Geoff Johns get the tie for most influential today. Don’t get me wrong, they are great writers, but they have too much gravitas in the biz.

They both have the power of an editor in chief and have crafted the shape of Marvel and DC respectively, essentially by making large maxi-series big event story-telling a mainstay of the industry and the only thing that sells…

I have written about it before and I don’t like it, but they hold way more sway over the industry than whatever “great stuff” is going on over at Fantagraphics. Sorry Scotty but the creative minds that came up with Blackest Night and Secret Invasion trump the guy who reprinted Captain Easy.

Scott VanderPloeg: Come on Anthony, that’s a complete cop-out picking two: make a choice and justify it. And I think you reinforced my statement “under the surface”. Fantagraphics provides diversity in complete contrast to what’s happening at DC and Marvel: yes Bendis and Johns are influential at their respective companies but is that doing anything outside the fan-boy group?

Anthony Falcone:  Now we are getting into it. The choices that Marvel and DC make shape comic books far more than choices made a small press companies. To say otherwise is disingenuous. I support small press, but Marvel and DC have such market share that they dictate where the industry is going. Picking both is completely legitimate. They are the same being. The super-writer that has gained de-facto editorial control.

Scott VanderPloeg: Come on, that’s fanboy tunnel vision looking at the comics world from a superhero comic collecting perspective. The choices Marvel and DC make shape Marvel and DC superhero genre comics. Yes they’re the two largest comic book publishers in terms of comics published but if you look at the sales charts Scott Pilgrim is the best seller this year and Walking Dead is getting close. Small publishers are selling boatloads of books to people who have never been in a comic store: perhaps the most influential person in comics is Brian Lee O’Malley.

Picking both is tepid. Let me reiterate that the question this week asked “the most influential PERSON” not persons or type or personality or generic make up.

Anthony Falcone: No. It isn’t fanboy tunnel vision any more than your choice is artsy-hipster tunnel vision. Superhero comic books are comic books. We can talk about how it is a great medium that can do great things but it is primarily scantily clad men and women punching each other in the face.
My choice stands with both Bendis and Johns. Would it make you feel better if I give them a Hollywood couple name? BeJo? Jodis? I like Bejo. They shape the way that a story is told, piece by piece, arc by arc. Long, long big event books that can be packaged in pristine coffee table hardcovers. They have the most influence in superhero books. Superhero books are the majority of the industry. Therefore they have the most influence in comics today.
Brian Lee O’Malley and Robert Kirkman are influential in that their single property has hit it big, so we will see many copycats, but Bendis and Johns are shaping a super-hero pantheon.
I don’t like it. I wish that it were different, but that is how it is.
This is not a cheer-ocracy. I am the cheer-tator.

Peter DeCourcy (Editor in Chief)
I partially agree with both of you on this. If only because at this point Geoff Johns has transcended from comic book writer to comic book voice of his generation. It’s not often that we see a comic book writer become a quasi-household name, but Geoff Johns is on his way there. Working at the store I have more people come in asking for Geoff Johns stuff than any other creator – including Alan Moore and Frank Miller. If you’re reading DC Comics right now you are reading Geoff Johns’ blueprint for stories that either a. he is writing or b. he wants to read.

However – is he there right now? Not really. Maybe in a few years we’ll see if he transcends DC Comics – but there’s a limited shelf life for superhero comic creators. I mean, I think we all remember a time when John Byrne was the official voice of the spandex crowd and now he’s little more than a footnote.

Paul Levitz did more for comic books in the long run than either of the above mentioned writers. I think the most influential person is someone who is doing something to educate and expose comics as a viable medium than someone who is just writing a big Flash crossover.

I’ll toss off one other name into the ring: Robert Kirkman. I’m not a fan of his writing, and while his mission statement concerning creator owned work kinda, sorta fell flat. He seems to have inspired a whole generation of up and coming artist/writers who are using his template (genre fiction with a twist!) for what types of stories they plan on telling.

Time will tell.

Greg Hyland (Writer/illustrator of the cult classic Lethargic Lad as well as Lego Star Wars)

The as-of-yet unknown person at Marvel or DC that will finally decide to stop printing monthly comic books and make monthlies 100% digital that eventually all get collected in trade paperbacks.

Kevin Boyd (Director of the illustrious Joe Shuster Awards Committee)

Stan Lee remains our industry’s greatest and most influential name. His characters still dominate the sales charts, they star in major motion pictures, video games, etc. Stan’s name on mediocre books from smaller publishers give the titles a huge boost. Stan’s name at an event brings people in the door.. His presence in a room electrifies the comics people in it. Stan’s company was an asset purchased by Disney to enhance their Marvel purchase. He’s the go to guy when people in other industries come looking for a comics person to work on their project (such as the NHL) as his name on the project gets people to notice. No one currently at Marvel or DC or any other publisher these days has that kind of influence on the public or the community the way that Stan does.

Considering the declining sales the industry is facing these days I’d be hard pressed to consider anyone actively working within it to be that influential. Sure there are many creators and publishers I admire (for example, I think IDW is doing great things) but I’d be more inclined to choose as my backup Steve Jobs, as the Apple iPad is currently revolutionizing a new delivery system for reading (and creating) comics.

That’s it for this week.

Obviously this is a pretty touchy subject and there is no right or wrong answer. Feel free to sound off in the comments below!

Comic Book Daily Staff
Comic Book Daily Staff

Comic Book Daily, discussing the minutiae of comic book collecting. Thanks for stopping by; if you like what you read please take a moment and have a look around.

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Walter Durajlija
13 years ago

Kevin, Stan Lee is very much like the Rolling Stones. The Stones and Stan can fill the biggest rooms and get more money for each ticket than anyone else but both are totally irrelevant now. Circus acts posturing past glory. Of the guys listed above Stan carries the most celebrity status but the least influence.

Laura Thomas
Laura Thomas
13 years ago

It depends on if the question is more about who influences customers or writers and artists , or who influences what sells or who influences what’s being made. The two of course go hand and hand so it’s important to look at them both.

When it comes to getting new customers into the shop, which is one of the most important factors for all aspects of the comic book industry, if you’re the one writing, printing, selling, publishing, it doesn’t matter which part, you need new customers to keep yourself in business. And the one thing that I’ve seen bring new people into the store, more than movies based on books (including Spider-Man, Dark Knight) or TV shows (Walking Dead) is the show The Big Bang Theory. We have had people almost every single day for the past year come in and say they decided to check us out because of that show. “Sheldon wore this” or “Sheldon was reading that” is driving so many people into the shop it really boggles the mind. So when it comes to who is most influential for getting people to check out comic book stores I have to say Sheldon and the Big Bang Theory crew, sad as that is.

As for what’s being written? I have to agree with Anthony and say Bendis and Johns. They’re the major influence for what’s being written by the big 2. This isn’t a bad thing, per say. When you’re a major influence for what’s being written for some, you’ll be an influence for what’s not being written for others. Other writers and artists are bound to buck the trends set by these two, so they still hold a lot of influence, just not in the way one initially thinks.

Anthony Falcone
13 years ago

Sheldon told me to say Bendis and Johns.

Kevin Boyd
13 years ago

I tried to respond earlier but my post did not show up. Walt, I guess it depends on your definition of influential. I agree with the Rolling Stones analogy, as music today is as fragmented as comics to the point where the old giants still dominate the minds of the general public. Keith Richards has a recently released bestseller! So to say Stan is irrelevant is to discount the role he still plays in popular culture as the most recognizable comics figure (the celebrity factor at play) and how his previous work still looms precipitously over the heads of everyone working at Marvel today, including Bendis, as they are playing with the toys he made for them.

Laura, Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory is an excellent choice that had not occurred to me, although I don’t think anyone on or working on that show is actually in the comics industry.

Ditto for my Steve Jobs example, he isn’t in comics, although his company is making the tool that is changing the accessibility to digital comics which is revolutionizing the industry for good or bad.

Peter DeCourcy
13 years ago

I approve Tony’s message.

Peter DeCourcy
13 years ago

only because I cannot stand Big Bang Theory.

It’s a terrible show that does little to help the stigma that carries with reading comic books. It’s a medium people!

That said I totally agree with what Kevin said concerning Bendis/Johns/Et Al playing with someone elses toys. Especially with Johns – as he seems to basically be reverting to stories he read growing up, rather than trying to tell new and exciting stories with any characters created within the last twenty years.

I think for Geoff Johns to matter as a creator he needs do something creator owned. If you want to do something for comics as a medium and an artform you need to give it something new, not just muck about with someone else’s creations.

Laura Thomas
Laura Thomas
13 years ago

I totally agree it’s a terrible show, Peter. It makes me cringe when I see commercials for it. It fits into the nerd stereotype that so many people who truly enjoy comics are trying to show isn’t the case for most readers.

But when I have customers come in and ask if I watch it and love it and they’re spending money which is keeping me employed do I bite the hand that feeds? No. I just tell them “I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet” and wait to rag on it with customers I know who LOATHE it as much as I.

Any show that needs a laugh track to tell you it’s funny ISNT FUNNY

13 years ago

I think the industry is too big, too mutable, and has too many different facets to really nail down one person as most influential. Like in most pop culture media, tastes and the people that make them are changing all the time.

Still, I’ll pick someone for the sake of the argument. Perhaps I am showing my retailer bias, but I think the most INFLUENTIAL person actually in the industry is Steve Geppi. DCD is the filter for the entire comics industry. For all intents and purposes, they can kill a comic before it’s even born by deciding not to distribute it.

Of course that is all changing right now with varying methods of new distribution. But as it stands right now there would be no comic book industry without DCD.

In addition to DCD, Geppi is also an extremely active participant and trendsetter in the massive industry of collectible comic books. He may own the most extensive collection of collectible comic books in the world, though this is just a hunch and I have no direct evidence in support of this.

10 years ago

Bendis and Johns? Pfft. I’ve been into comics since the early 80s and can say that most writers are pretty well known for a season but then fall off the face of the earth. All it takes is one bad storyline or them taking a leave of absence (which happens a lot). Go to conventions today and see all the young people who are waiting in lines and ask if any of them know who Chris Claremont was? John Byrne, David Micheline? Even when Claremont does cons, the lines aren’t what they use to be. In comics, the artists tend to have a longer run when it comes to fans. I can mention artists from the 80s like Arthur Adams, Dan Jurgens, George Perez, and people still line up for them.

If you ask me, the most influential in comics today is Jim Lee, and then I’d say Jeff Smith. More for the art and storylines they have been involved with, but mostly the art.