Over a few posts, I’m choosing different creators or creative teams–novelist, composer, scriptwriter, comic book artist, etc–who have influenced or inspired me, and in most cases brought me a lot of enjoyment.
For each year from 1919-2018, I’ll pick someone who produced something significant or recognizable from that year–based on what year it was published or released (with comic books being considered to have been released on the cover date, although I know that’s not usually true). And of course, lifetime accomplishments beyond that year will play a big role in who is chosen and who is not. Because certain years were tricky, I’ve also allowed myself to pick people who were born or even died in certain years.
Read More: 1957 – 1968 • 1982 – 1993
1969 – Jim Shooter
When he was 13 years old, Jim Shooter submitted some Legion of Super-Heroes stories to DC Comics, and when he was 14, they were accepted and Shooter became the third major writer of the Legion’s formative years, after Jerry Siegel and Edmond Hamilton. His run started in 1966, went through 1969 and just squeaked into 1970. And as much as I like his predecessors, it’s Shooter who really did the best of what we call the Legion’s “Adventure-era”, after the book they appeared in the most. During that time, Jim Shooter created Karate Kid, Shadow Lass, Ferro Lad, Princess Projectra, the Fatal Five, Mordru, the Sun-Eater, the Dark Circle, the Khunds, the Dominators, Dr. Regulus, and more. He also took earlier concepts like the Legion of Super-Villains and the Adult Legion and did the best work with them that we’d had so far. Many of the stories which introduced those concepts are rightly considered to be classics, and one of my all-time favorite Legion stories appears in Adventure Comics #359 & #360, in which the Legion becomes fugitives when Universo becomes the President of Earth. Shooter returned to the Legion twice, once in the 1970’s and again in the 2000’s, though neither to as good an effect. He’s more famous for being the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics for nine years starting in the late 1970’s, and later founding Valiant Comics. During all this, Shooter wrote and occasionally drew all sorts of things, including the likes of Secret Wars, Marvel’s giant year-long crossover story which ran sort-of parallel to DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. But it’s his early Legion work that won him a place on this list.
1970 – Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams
Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams are two notable comic book creators who were both part of ushering in a new era in both Marvel and DC Comics. O’Neil is a writer and Adams primarily an artist. They are each known for many projects that they did separately (O’Neil wrote Justice League for a long time and edited the Batman books for ages, Adams plotted & drew The Avengers and about a million covers), but in 1970 they teamed up on Green Lantern / Green Arrow, and created some of my earliest favorite comics featuring both of the Emerald super-heroes, as well as Black Cananry. The run was layered with all sorts of social commentary, touching issues like race relations, economic injustice, drug addiction, overpopulation, and commercialism. When you read it now, it comes across a bit dated and clumsy, with a version of Hal Jordan that is definitely not my favorite. But it was innovative at the time, and Neal Adams’ art is spectacular to look at now matter what the decade. O’Neil & Adams also did a celebrated Batman run together which I have never really read, and the surprisingly cool one-shot Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.
1971 – Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice
Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of the world’s most successful stage musical writers, and Tim Rice one of the premier lyricists. They collaborated on Evita in 1976 and Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 1968, but my favorite of their work is certainly Jesus Christ Superstar. The original concept album for this rock opera was released in 1970, and features powerful performances by Murray Head (as Judas) and Ian Gillan (as Jesus). I’m not much of a music critic or connossieur, but I loved listening to the music in the Broadway revival of the show in the mid-90’s, and I enjoy singing along loudly to the rockin’ soundtrack when I’m in the car.
1972 – Jack Kirby
Jack Kirby is proclaimed by many to be the “King of Comics,” and in terms of his work on characters most fans are familiar with and his shear influence on the medium, he is pretty much without peer. His Marvel work is obviously the most well known, as he co-created Captain America and pretty much every character that Stan Lee is associated with, except maybe Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. But it’s his work at DC that I want to highlight (I’ve always been more of a DC guy), as there he created or had a hand in some of their more obscure but still interesting properties, like the Challengers of the Unknown, Kamandi, OMAC, and most significantly…the Fourth World. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga was a series of four interconnected titles: New Gods, Mister Miracle, Forever People, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (the only one Kirby didn’t invent) which all touched in one way or another the idea of a celestial war taking place between cosmic beings which was spilling over onto the earth. It was made up of stories which plunged the reader neck deep into bombastic action and high concepts. Amongst the characters who were invented during this too-brief run were Orion, Desaad, the Black Racer, Highfather, the Infinity Man, Big Barda and Forager. My personal favorite was Mister Miracle, and of course the most famous was Darkseid. In 1972, New Gods #7 came out, and told the story The Pact, in which Kirby revealed the hidden history between Darkseid & Highfather, and their sons, and it’s sort of the greatest story in the history of comics. It was a huge reveal but it wasn’t treated as some sort of contrived or shocking twist–it was simply it was simply the right moment in the story to pull back the curtain a bit on the backstory of these characters. It’s only unfortunate that Kirby wasn’t able to complete the story properly. Ah well, life.
1973 – Norman Jewison
Film director Norm Jewison has produced a lot of good work, not being afraid to tackle some potentially controversial material, but able to make it accessible to audiences. His films include The Hurricane and Fiddler on the Roof, but his 1967 work In the Heat of the Night, starring Rod Steiger and Sydney Poitier as police officers from opposite sides of the social and ideological divide in America forced to work together to solve a murder. It’s a powerful about two compelling characters who are both brought to life in strong performances–Poitier is unbelievably convincing and Steiger is a bit of a revelation. It is a strongly atmospheric work, and has a couple of cinema’s greatest lines, especially, “They call me Mr. Tibbs.” In 1973, Jewison directed the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar, which is the most 1970’s thing you will ever see, but is still a great & creative interpretation of the material. It is shot entirely in Israel using natural light, which results in some really interesting imagery. So that’s two of my favorite films being directed by the same guy (as well as some other good stuff), so that’s saying something.
1974 – Larry Gelbart
Larry Gelbart is a comedy writer and producer who is best known as one of the main creative minds behind the TV show M*A*S*H, which for a long time I would have considered to be my favorite program, with its skillful blend of farce and poignancy. Gelbart wrote and/or directed about 40 episodes of the show over its first four seasons. In addition, he is also one of the screenwriters for Tootsie, which is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. As an interesting side note, he also is the credited writer for two editions of the Academy Awards, honoring the films produced in 1981 (where Chariots of Fire won Best Picture) and 1984 (Amadeus). I don’t remember either awards show very well, but I watched them both, with the 1981 edition being the first Oscars ceremony that I saw, which began a run of about 15 years of me slavishly following the awards.
1975 – Robert Holmes
Robert Holmes is one of the premier writers of “classic” Doctor Who. He started off contributing some scripts for the Second Doctor’s final season and then continued to do work during the next four Doctors’ eras, and becoming one of the primary architects for the early days of Fourth Doctor Tom Baker as the Script Editor for more than three seasons of the show. Holmes’ contributions to the mythology of Doctor Who included introducing the Autons, the Sontarans and the Master to the series, as well as Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, and Captain Yates. On top of that, he significantly developed the Time Lords in The Deadly Assassin, and also shaped some of the series’ most memorable one-time villains and monsters, such as Weng-Chiang, Sutekh, and Morbius. In short, Robert Holmes role in what we know as Doctor Who is pretty immeasurable. If that’s all he had done, it’d be enough, but his actual storytelling, dialogue and characterization generally very good and a cut above many of his contemporaries. For example at the start of his time as Script Editor of the show, he wrote The Ark in Space, creating the horrific Wirrn and effectively anticipating a lot of elements of the film Alien. And at the end of Peter Davison’s time on the show, Holmes wrote The Caves of Androzani, crafting one of the series’ best episodes and giving the 5th Doctor a memorable and dramatic send off. Robert Holmes wrote for other programs as well, but it’s Doctor Who that put him on my radar.
1976 – Madeleine L’Engle
Madeleine L’Engle is the author of numerous “junior” novels that I have enjoyed, most famously including A Wrinkle in Time, which was the inspiration for a dubious movie adaptation recently. The novel is that sort of thoughtful work that doesn’t talk down to young readers, but rather calls them up to recognize how dark things can be, and at the same time how bright and hopeful. The follow up is A Wind in the Door which I like just as much. There’s also A Swiftly Tilting Planet which is a little less well put together, though still interesting, and Many Waters, which I remember liking but not much beyond that. All these fantasy-science fiction stories were about the Murray / O’Keefe family–Meg, Charles Wallace, Calvin, Sandy & Dennis–coming in at different points in their lives, and strangely with very little reference to one another. Interestingly, L’Engle wrote another series of books about the same family, but mostly a generation later (focusing on Meg & Calvin’s children) which were of a completely different genre–more like young espionage thrillers. Arms of the Starfish was the first of these, and my favorite, but Dragons in the Water, which was published in 1976, was good too. She had other books as well which I haven’t read, with various supporting characters cutting across the different series, creating a sort of inter-connected L’Engle-verse which definitely influences my thinking about my own stories today.
1977 – George Lucas
It’s likely that if we took the time to detail it, I could find work by all of the creators listed in this series that I really liked, and other work that I really hated. But for no one is this so obvious as it is with George Lucas. Here is the guy who was creator of Star Wars, probably the most influential pop-culture phenomenon of my or any other generation. He wrote and directed the film that people now call A New Hope (1977) and he was the driving creative force behind its immediate sequels–The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In the midst of that, he also was partnered with Steven Spielberg to create perhaps the most iconic movie hero of all time, Indiana Jones. Then the original Star Wars film ended and it seemed that Lucas could never really move on. He re-released the films with new effects and re-inserted scenes to mixed results, and then to great fanfare released a new trilogy of prequels which are, for the most part, terrible. The core concepts are workable and each film has good moments, but somehow the actual writing and directing and about half the acting are sort of abysmal. Not everyone agrees, of course, but there are lots and lots of people who have very strong opinions on the subject–which is a testimony to the power of Lucas’ original work. Lucas was able to take inspiration from mythology, world religion, heroic archetypes, and previous examples of epic fiction and synthesize it into something that utterly changed popular culture–taking what was theoretically “niche” and “geeky” and rallying a mainstream audience around it. While of course there are a good many people who are not “fans” of Star Wars, many of them would still have some idea what droids, light-sabres and the force are all supposed to be. Star Wars had a massive impact on movies and movie-making–from storytelling models to merchandising to studio’s entire business structures. And while Star Wars is not my favorite “nerd-franchise”, there’s no doubt that in terms of sheer hours of enjoying (and complaining), it’s been massively influential to me. And all of that starts with George Lucas himself.
1978 – Douglas Adams
Back in the day, someone introduced me to The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I become semi-obsessed. I consumed the story in all its myriad forms–the novels, the original radio series, the record album, the TV show, and the interactive fiction computer game. The creative mind behind all of this was British author Douglas Adams, whose work was layered with surprising ideas, amusing diversions, quirky satire and funny dialogue. The whole Hitch-Hiker’s thing is no longer the big deal for me that it was, but it occupied a lot of my thoughts for a good number of years–I even wrote my own audio adaptation of a big portion of the saga, and recorded a bunch of it as well. Adams seemed to relish in the discontinuity between the various versions of his story, an approach that continued with the 2005 film which was produced well after his death. Douglas Adams also wrote other stuff–including two Dirk Gently novels that were pretty good, and some Doctor Who stories. He was the script editor for season 17 of the original series, which was one of the less successful years in the program’s history, in my opinion, but the stories he actually wrote were pretty good. He did The Pirate Planet which was an entertaining chapter in the whole “Key to Time” saga, he co-wrote City of Death which is a bit of a classic, and he wrote Shada, which had value but whose reputation was a bit elevated simply by virtue of the fact that it was never finished.
1979 – John Cleese
In the 1960s John Cleese was part of Monty Python’s Flying Circus–the TV show and comedy troupe. Along with his colleagues–Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam–John Cleese crafted some of the funniest and most innovative comedy sketches I’ve ever had the pleasure to laugh at. In particular, Cleese’s contributions included co-writing the “argument clinic”, the “dead parrot” sketch, and the “cheese shop” skit. The Pythons considered themselves to be writers first and foremost, but Cleese is also a good actor who made good use of his physicality–see for example the “Ministry of Silly Walks.” After he left the group (before the show’s last season), he still participated in the movies, and was very funny as Sir Lancelot in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If all he’d ever done was Monty Python, this entry would probably include all of the group, but John Cleese later also wrote both seasons of Fawlty Towers with his then-wife Connie Booth–one of the all-time great British TV shows, which aired its second and last series in 1979–as well as the script for A Fish Called Wanda (both of which he also starred in). He has appeared in the likes of Shrek 2 and The Swan Princess (both as frogs who claim to be enchanted), as well as Silverado (a Western!), a couple of James Bond films, The Muppet Show, and even had a cameo in a Doctor Who episode co-written by Douglas Adams (one entry above).
1980 – Jim Henson
Jim Henson is known for something nobody else on this list really is, that’s puppetry. So much of what we are now used to in puppets appearing on television came from Henson’s work, including using more flexible materials designed to allow greater emotional expression, mouth movements that actually synced with dialogue, and the use of metal rods rather than strings to control the character’s arms, which provided greater articulation in the movement. Of course, Henson is best known for his work on Sesame Street and the Muppets franchise. As a child, I was of course introduced to Ernie & Bert, Kermit the Frog, Grover, and many more, but it was the simultaneously more slapstick and more sophisticated humor of The Muppet Show that really got my attention. The TV show was a big feature in my young life, as were the early Muppet feature films, with The Muppet Movie being a personal favorite. Amongst the characters that Henson actually performed were such luminaries as Kermit, Ernie, Sam the Eagle, 1/2 of the Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth, and Rowlf the Dog. Henson also created Fraggle Rock, a show I’m not as familiar with. In addition to his puppetry, Henson was also a producer, writer and director, and directed some of the feature films he worked on, including The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.
1981 – Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg is of course, one of the most famous, popular and successful film directors and producers in the history of the medium. He’d done earlier work, but first came on the public consciousness with his monumental success in Jaws, still one of the greatest monster films ever made. Since I was only about five years old, the first time I saw one of his films was in 1978 with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I was a bit young to appreciate it fully, but I was right on target to watch 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, the only movie of his that rivals Jaws as far as shear awesomeness. Through these and other films, Spielberg established himself as a master of adventure storytelling, able to immerse the audience right into the midst of the fantastic and make it come alive for the audience. Spielberg’s impressive filmography goes well beyond Jaws and Raiders, to include the likes of the Indiana Jones sequels, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can, Bridge of Spies, Saving Private Ryan, The Color Purple, Amistad, The Minority Report, Lincoln, War of the Worlds…not all masterpieces, but all worthwhile films. And that doesn’t even count all of his movies I haven’t seen, or all the stuff that he’s been an executive producer for, like The Prince of Egypt, Back to the Future, Chicken Run, True Grit, Young Sherlock Holmes, Who Framed Roger Rabbit…and so much more.
Read More: 1957 – 1968 • 1982 – 1993