Comic books have always been a cutting edge medium, quietly influential and pervasive in pop culture. The comic book industry has ever been the pop culture medium that has always been the most progressive, the fastest to speak out about social issues, and, because of its image of not being a "mainstream" medium, often the bravest and most daring.
While we celebrate comic books in all their glory during Moviepilot Comic Week, we wanted to turn the spotlight on who we feel are the five most influential people working in comic books today. In their own ways, each of the people on this list are contributing in a huge way to shape the present and future of the comic book industry and it's been made better in every way because they are a part of it.
Notable works: Batman: Noël, Joker, Before Watchmen: Rorschach, Suiciders (current), We Are Robin (June 2015 release)
Why we chose him: When most people think of comic books, they think first of the great writers. But comics have always been an incredibly visual medium, and the artists are just as important as the men and women who plot stories and put the dialogue in our characters' mouths. While he has a few writing credits to his name, Lee Bermejo has predominantly been an artist throughout his career, and what an artist he's been.
Known mainly for the work he's done with DC (though he's also dabbled in Marvel), Bermejo's style is one of the most iconic in the business: When you see a Bermejo panel or cover, you know it's one of his even before you see the name. We often think of comics as being bright and cartoony, but Bermejo's award-winning work flipped that trope on its head, ushering in a darker, grimmer, hyper-textured style that stands out among the other styles currently out there. His work has influenced, and quietly continues to influence, the next generation of aspiring comic book artists.
But it's the most recent phase of his career that might be the most exciting yet. Last month, the first volume of his newest series, Suiciders #1, hit shelves under the Vertigo label. It's been an ambitious undertaking for Bermejo, who not only did all the artwork (with the excellent Matt Hollingsworth providing color), but is also writing the series. And come June, he'll be diving in even more deeply as the writer of DC's highly-anticipated upcoming We Are Robin series (artists Rob Haynes and Khary Randolph), which will bring together a wide range of teenagers donning the Robin mantle in the post-Convergence world. Bermejo is also eager to bring even more diversity into DC's lineup, something for which the comic publisher has been heavily criticized in recent years. If he brings his trademark rawness to the script, we can rest assured this might be one of the most groundbreaking, envelope-pushing series to come from DC in quite some time.
Notable works: Birds of Prey, Secret Six, Welcome to Tranquility, Wonder Woman, Red Sonja (current), Batgirl, Swords of Sorrow (May 2015 release)
Why we chose her: Compared to many in the industry, Gail Simone hasn't been around as long. But she's had perhaps one of the biggest impacts on the comic book industry in decades, first as an outsider, then as a part of it. With young women ages 17-33 being the fastest growing comic book demographic, Simone is a comic book writer to lead and inspire, and the awards she's won show it.
She first came to the attention of the industry in 1999 when her blog, Women in Refrigerators, was lauded by fans for pointing out the major problems with how comic books treated female characters. She soon started working to change things from within the industry, cutting her mainstream teeth on Marvel's Deadpool, but soon moving to DC, where she took over the reins for the fan-favorite Birds of Prey series. From there, she continued to reinvent what it meant to be a superheroine in the DC universe, becoming the longest-running female writer of Wonder Woman, and then wrote the groundbreaking Batgirl relaunch as part of DC's The New 52 initiative, featuring a revamped Barbara Gordon and the first transgender character in a mainstream comic book. When Simone, one of the most active and fan-engaged in the business on Twitter, was fired from Batgirl in November of 2012, fan outrage was so fierce that she was back on the title by the end of December.
Simone has continued to build a career around writing kickass, complex, fully-realized women since then. In 2013, she begin work on Dynamite's Red Sonja series, and in Simone's hands, one of comic's fiercest women became even fiercer - and more popular with readers.
And her influence only continues to grow. In May of this year, Dynamite will launch a crossover event that has been created entirely by Simone, who wanted to create a pulp adventure series for women. The Swords of Sorrow series will be an entirely female-led, female-created event, and while the core story will be written by Simone, it will bring together some of the best writers in the business. Could pulp adventure go mainstream again? If anyone can do it, it's Gail Simone.
Notable works: The Amazing Spider-Man (current), Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, Avengers: The Initiative, The Mighty Avengers, Ren & Stimpy, She-Hulk, The Superior Spider-Man, The Thing, Silver Surfer, The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (June 2015 release)
Why we chose him: Spider-Man is possibly the most beloved superhero of all time (sorry, Batman), so anyone who takes over Spidey's decades-long mythology - and, what's more, adds to it - has to be someone pretty remarkable. Enter Dan Slott.
With a background in previously writing Marvel's Ren & Stimpy comic book series, along with other children's comics for DC, Slott had the right brand of humor to pen the ever-quipping Spider-Man when he made the jump to writing The Amazing Spider-Man with three other writers in 2008, only to take over sole writer duties of the series in 2010 after his run on The Mighty Avengers proved to be one of the best-received Avengers runs ever seen at Marvel.
He immediately set out to leave his mark, but none were bigger than his controversial Superior Spider-Man, a series that would see Slott kill off Peter Parker by swapping his mind with that of Doctor Otto Octavius, trapped in a dying body at the time. Still, Slott continued to expand upon the Spider-Man universe in a huge way. In 2014, Marvel rebooted The Amazing Spider-Man and unveiled their ambitious Spider-Verse series, which brought together all of the characters to ever don the mantle of a Spider-person. The first issue of the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man was, according to Diamond Comics Distributors, the best-selling comic book of the 21st century.
Slott's always colorful, sometimes controversial storytelling won't be ending any time soon, either. For the man in charge of shaping Peter Parker's story for a new generation of readers, no story he's yet written might have as much of an impact as the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows. The series will see the resurrection of a part of Peter's life that many fans have missed for years: his marriage to MJ. But, for the first time in Peter Parker's life, he'll be not just a superhero and husband, but a father. For Spider-Man, who's always been defined by his desire to protect his loved ones, to now be a father, the ramifications will be enormous.
Suffice it to say, Slott is about to bring Spider-Man's story into a brave new world, and whether fans love or hate it, there's no denying it will be one of the most momentous changes to one of the most complex, enduring characters in comic book history.
KELLY SUE DECONNICK & MATT FRACTION
Notable works: Avengers Assemble, Captain Marvel, Bitch Planet, Pretty Deadly (DeConnick); Hawkeye, The Invincible Iron Man, The Immortal Iron Fist, Casanova, Uncanny X-Men, Sex Criminals (Fraction)
Why we chose them: Comic books, more than any other medium, rely on teams of two to get made. So it's fitting that Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction made our list. Having met in 2001, they married in 2002 after a whirlwhind courtship. Their careers - like their relationship - have only gotten stronger since.
Both DeConnick and Fraction have made a career of taking lesser-known or offbeat characters and turning their series into something wholly new and quirky. Fraction broke into the scene in 2006 with his creator-owned Casanova and The Five Fists of Science series, for which he earned an Eagle award nomination for of Favorite Newcomer Writer in 2007. After his acclaimed team-up run with the legendary Ed Brubaker on The Immortal Iron Fist, Marvel handed him the reins to its Uncanny X-Men series, where Fraction made his mark. Most recently, Fraction has taken the most maligned member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Avengers team and revamped his image, with his storyline in the first Hawkeye solo series in eight years making Clint Barton relevant again as a complex, interesting, and largely hilarious character in his own right.
Meanwhile, DeConnick has left her mark on both the "Big Two" and smaller publishers. Like her partner, DeConnick has garnered accolades for her work, having been nominated for a prestigious Eisner Award in 2014 for Best Writer for her Pretty Deadly series with Image. But she reached serious acclaim with Marvel after she took over the Avengers Assemble series from Brian Michael Bendis, while at the same time reinventing the character of Carol Danvers, previously Ms. Marvel, in a new Captain Marvel series in 2012. With DeConnick's deft writing, the feisty, tough-as-nails Carol Danvers quickly became a fan favorite to a larger audience, with the fandom becoming so devoted that it earned the nickname of the "Carol Corps" and leading to Marvel's announcement of a [Captain Marvel](movie:949779) solo film.
Intensely personal, often boundary-pushing, and always experimental, the couple is embarking on a brand-new endeavor together. Last month, the pair inked a 2-year deal with Universal TV to adapt some of their works for television, along with writing brand-new material. Always willing to give a leg up to their fellow comic creators, they also announced they will be using their Milkfed Criminal Masterminds production company to help launch television series of other comic book writers' properties. But first up for adaptation? Fraction's Eisner- and Harvey Award-winning Sex Criminals, which Time magazine named the best comic of the year in 2013. Apart, they've written some of modern comics' most innovative titles. Together, they're the comic book industry's power couple.
Notable works: The Authority, Superman: Red Son, Ultimates, Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Civil War, Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Wanted, Kick-Ass, Secret Service, Jupiter's Legacy (current), Nemesis, Chrononauts (current)
Why we chose him: How couldn't we choose him? Mark Millar's fingerprints are everywhere in the industry, and there might not be a person who exerts more influence and has more pull right now than Millar. Over the course of his trailblazing, varied career, he's written anything and everything for anyone and everyone, with credits at Marvel, DC, Vertigo, Icon, Wildstom, Image, Top Cow, and Harris, as well as UK publishers Fleetway and Trident.
Millar cemented his status as an industry heavy hitter in the early 2000s when he launched Ultimate X-Men, the Ultimates, and Ultimate Fantastic Four for Marvel's Ultimate reboot. But in 2006, he'd cement his status as an industry legend when he wrote Marvel's Civil War series (artist Steve McNiven), one of the most devastating events to happen in Marvel's history, with a ripple effect that would be felt across the entire Marvel Universe. It was gripping, polarizing, and wildly successful, changing the landscape of the Marvel Universe for years to come.
And now, his influence has reached to Hollywood. He was one of the consultants brought in on the first Iron Man film, and currently holds the role of creative consultant to Fox Studios on their cinematic universe of Marvel properties. And it's Millar whose works have been adapted for the big screen more than any other writer. His Wanted, Kick-Ass, and The Secret Service series have all been adapted for film, and his series Nemesis, Starlight, Chrononauts, Superior, and War Heroes are all currently in development - all creator-owned titles.
Beyond that, his stamp can be seen all over the Marvel films currently in the works, both with Fox and Marvel, with his Civil War providing the storyline for the third Captain America film, and his Ultimates influence reflecting in both the upcoming [The Fantastic Four](movie:34667) reboot and X-Men universe. It wouldn't be hyperbolic to say that Millar, even moreso than Kevin Feige, Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder, Simon Kinberg, Avi Arad, or Bryan Singer, is the architect and godfather of the modern comic book cinematic universe.
But his influence doesn't just stop at Hollywood. With the creation of his creator-owned line, Millarworld, Millar saw the realization of his passion for helping comic artists and writers retain control of their own properties come to life. With his method of retaining creative control of his series even after they get film deals and splitting the subsequent producer deals 50/50 with his artists, Millar is blazing a trail for the other comic book writers and artists that will come after him. It's a pretty amazing legacy to leave for a man who has already achieved so much.
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