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.
1982 – Ben Elton
One day, in the late 80’s, my brother and I were watching MTV. I was doing homework and he was watching whatever was on, and when it was over, we let the TV keep going. The next show that aired was an episode of a British TV comedy that we’d never heard of before: The Young Ones (specifically, the episode “Bambi”). We both stared at the TV, transfixed by the mixture of slapstick, high-brow witticisms and non-sequitur jokes that passed before us. When we weren’t in hysterics, we were dumbfounded. And when it was over, he turned to me and said, “We’re going to record that now, every week.” And so we did, with that VHS tape of Young Ones episodes getting lots of play in the coming years. “Bambi” turned out to be the very best episode, but there were lots of other good ones as well. The series was written by Ben Elton, along with co-star Rik Mayall and Lise Mayer. Ben Elton also co-wrote seasons 2-4 of Blackadder and also wrote for Mr. Bean, all along with Richard Curtis. That’s a lot of really funny stuff that I have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of. Apparently, Ben Elton actually lives in Fremantle, near my hometown of Perth. Maybe I’ve bumped into him? I’d never know.
1983 – Gil Kane
Gil Kane, or Eli Katz as he was named, was borh in Latvia in 1926, and is one of the genuine legends in the world of American superhero comics. In 1959, he co-created the Hal Jordan version of Green Lantern, a character whose adventures he went on to draw for the next decade–which means that he also co-created Guy Gardner, Carol Ferris, the Guardians of the Universe, and lots more. He also co-created the Silver Age Atom (Ray Palmer) in 1961 and Iron Fist in 1974, he drew the death of Gwen Stacy in 1973 and helped to redesign Brainiac in 1983, and over his approximately 50 year career he drew just about every notable character from Marvel and DC. With all that, the thing that really gets him on this list for me is plotting and drawing a miniseries called Sword of the Atom in 1983. That was the work that really got my attention, and made Kane one of the first artists to ever really noticed by me as an artist. His work was dramatic and arresting without being overblown. I particularly loved the dynamic roughness that his illustrations had when he was inking his own pencils. I had the privilege of getting Mr. Kane’s autographs back in, I think it was 1984…one of the few people on this list whom I have met face to face.
1984 – Robert Loren Fleming & Trevor Von Eeden
In 1983, DC Comics started publishing one the stranger books of the day, a little something called Thriller, an out-of-continuity adventure series about a disembodied and nigh-omnipotent woman named Angelina Thriller who called together a team of a seven “seconds” to stave off disaster from the threats that her semi-dystopian world offered up. (“She has seven seconds to save the world!,” said the tagline.) Her teammates included her marksman brother, his pilot girlfriend who could induce physiological reactions in anyone she touched, a super-genius who permanently lived in his car, a young Honduran orphan pickpocket, a former-actor whose face would melt off every 24 hours allowing him to adopt a series of disguises, a nine foot tall synthetic priest, and an television journalist whose twin brother had been murdered by a terrorist who kept his sword stuck into the skin in his back. The whole thing was the brainchild of writer Robert Loren Fleming, and was brought to life in brash experimental fashion by artist Trevor Von Eeden. The partnership seemed to be a volatile one, lasting only seven issues (going into 1984), but those issues were gripping and memorable. They demanded repeated readings from me to understand what was going on, but it was a process I loved, and I’ve found myself going back to that series many times since. Fleming also helped write Ambush Bug, which I also liked, and Von Eeden drew a bunch of Batman and Green Arrow stories, but Thriller is the thing I will always remember them for best.
1985 – Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert was the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967; Gene Siskel was the film critic for the Chicago Tribune starting in 1969. In 1975, they teamed up to review movies on a TV show together called Sneak Previews. In 1982, they started a new show called At the Movies, which is where I first discovered them, and in 1986, they started yet another show called Siskel & Ebert and the Movies. They continued with this partnership all the way until 1999, shortly before Gene Siskel’s death. During these years they held an immeasurably sway on American movie goers with their trademarked “Two Thumbs Up” movie reviews–a system that was simplistic but effective, and helped to set them apart from their contemporaries. Siskel & Ebert never came across as artificial–they had an ease and naturalism about them was often missing from their competitors or their successors, so they sounded less like television presenters and more like just two intelligent guys who loved movies. Their voices were commonly heard in my own home for many of their on-air years, and were always interesting to listen to. Even when I didn’t agree with them, the passion they showed for cinema invited me to think more deeply about the art form and to get excited about what could be done with it.
1986 – Bob Newhart
Bob Newhart is a stand-up comedian and actor who has been busy in the industry since the end of the 1950’s. He is known for a deadpan delivery and a slight affected stammer which he incorporated into his routines, often depicting one half of an absurd telephone conversation. Starting in 1972, Newhart was a regular figure in his own sit-coms, where he specialized in playing the befuddled straightman to a series of increasingly absurd characters surrounding him. From 1972 to 1978, that took the form of psychologist Bob Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show, and from 1982 to 1990, he was innkeeper and TV personality Dick Loudon in the even more outrageous Newhart. Newhart was a favorite of mine, and where I really discovered Bob Newhart’s likeable on-screen persona. He brings the same sort of charm to his role as Bernard the mouse in Disney’s adventure film, The Rescuers, and its sequel, The Rescuers Down Under.
1987 – Dick Giordano
Speaking of people working in the offices of DC, we now come to Dick Giordano, a comic book artist who was the company’s executive editor from 1983 to 1993, one of DC Comics’ heydays. During this time, the company published famous books such as The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, and also helped to pioneer the line-wide crossover with Crisis on Infinite Earths. For me as a teen reader, it was a great time to be a comic book fan: Superman had rebooted to stirling efforts by John Byrne and others, Suicide Squad by John Ostrander had debuted, and creative minds behind Flash were doing great stuff. But what I really enjoyed about Dick Giordano was the sense of warmth that he conveyed through his Meanwhile… columns that appeared in every DC book from 1983 to 1987. In those pre-internet days, that was where I first heard about all the weird and wonderful things DC was doing, like Thriller or DC Challenge or Camelot 3000. Of course, this was nothing new–Stan Lee had been doing it at Marvel for years. But Giordano had a humble and welcoming quality that set him apart from Stan Lee’s bombastic marketing or even Jim Shooter (his opposite number at Marvel in the day) and what seemed like a more ego-driven persona. Plus, Giordano was a great artist and a stellar inker. Amongst his many contributions, he inked Art Adams on the first Post-Crisis Superman annual, which also appeared in 1987.
1988 – Donald P. Bellisario
Donald P. Bellisario is a seminal figure in American television, having worked with other key creative people like Stephen J. Cannell and Glen Larsen, and then going on to be the primary force behind some of the most popular American TV drama series. Amongst his contributions include programs like NCIS, Airwolf and JAG–but for me the most significant one was Magnum PI. The eight-year long program featured a lot of Bellisario’s trademarks: tough but sensitive leading men who have connections to the military and who carry scars from the death of loved ones, and who are part of effective storytelling engines which allow for a blend of standalone and serialized episodes. I was also a fan of Quantum Leap, another Bellisario product. Both it and Magnum had really good casts who were able to blend both action and character-driven humor, and there are a couple of episodes of each show which are amongst my favorites.
1989 – Michael Piller
When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987, there were very few indications that it would eventually emerge as the fan favorite that it has. It was a troubled show, which struggled through its first two seasons to find its tone and the storytelling approach that would work for it. Then, in the third season, which started in 1989, a guy called Michael Piller got involved. He became the head scriptwriter early on that season, and pulled together a strong cohesive writing team and pushing the show to focus on developing its characters over simply presenting a weekly space-based crisis. Piller went on to write a bunch of episodes, including The Best of Both Worlds (one of the most popular and best-received episodes of Star Trek in all of its iterations, and through his showrunning position influenced the entirety of the rest of the series–it’s simply impossible to imagine that Next Generation would have become the beloved series that it is if it weren’t for his involvement. He left work on Next Generation to focus on creating and running Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and then did the same thing to help launch Star Trek Voyager. Piller died of cancer in 2005.
1990 – They Might Be Giants
There are only a few bands that I know the names of all the members of. One of them is the Beatles (see 1963), and another, for some reason, is Kiss. But yet another is They Might Be Giants–admittedly not an impressive feat given there are only two of them and they have the same first name. Anyway, John Linnell plays the keyboard, accordion and various woodwind instruments, while John Flansburgh plays the guitar. Both men write music and sing, and together have created lots of popular tunes that are known for bright, jaunty melodies mixed with darkly humorous or absurdist lyrics. Amongst my favorites are “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, “We Want a Rock”, “I Palindrome I” and “Dr. Worm.” I mostly know them for two albums–Flood (1990) and Apollo 18 (1992), but I also recently had the fun of seeing them in concert in Perth. To give you an idea of the odd sort of stuff they do, Apollo 18 has a “song” called “Fingertips”, which is actually made up of snippets of 21 different partial songs, which are all separate tracks on the album so that when people played their CD on shuffle, they’d be randomly interspersed throughout the listening experience.
1991 – Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson & Roger Stern
The early 90’s included a lot of my favorite comic book runs, including the comic books that were starring Superman. It is so long and varied that it’s hard to put either a celar end point or a definitive list of creators–but certainly, it includes these four writers, who were shepherding four different Superman comic book titles in this time period. They all have other notable work that they are known for (and in some cases better known for), but their work on Superman, Adventures of Superman, Action Comics, and Superman: The Man of Steel is what I’ll always think of first. Picking up on themes and plotlines left behind for them by John Byrne (see 1950), these guys and others crafted several years of stories which featured a single continuity running over numerous titles which continued to grow until for a while there there was actually a Superman comic coming out every week. It was their work (as well as Byrne’s and Marv Wolfman, their other predecessor, and Karl Kesel, one of their main successors) that turned Superman into one of my all-time favorite characters, with stories that allowed us to see the progression of Clark Kent’s relationship with Lois Lane, his ongoing battle with Lex Luthor, his role at the Daily Planet and his position as protector of the earth, all through fresh eyes. 1991 was the year the fourth title–Superman the Man of Steel–was added, written by Simonson, and included notable events such as Lois Lane discovering Superman’s secret identity, a fun time travel crossover called “Time and Time Again”, and a fun amnesia crossover called “Blackout”. The writers were of course partnered with a whole bunch of artists who were strong without being showy, like Jackson Guice, Tom Grummett, Jon Bogdanove and Jurgens & Ordway themselves, and together they produced years of consistently enjoyable superhero comics, which culminated in the whole Death and Return of Superman epic a couple of years later.
1992 – Bill Watterson
I do not have that many cartoonists on this list. One of those was Charles Schulz (1960) and the other main one is this one is this guy, Bill Watterson, who I definitely would not have wanted to miss. Bill Watterson is the publicity-shy creator of Calvin & Hobbes, a strip about about an imaginative boy and his stuffed animal tiger that might or might not actually be alive. It only ran from 1985 to 1995, but became one of the most successful and influential comic strips of my lifetime. It was full of irreverent humor mixed with philosophical musings, and brought a lot of interesting ideas to the table. Watterson’s personal principles brought him into conflict with the habits of his industry. He pushed against newspaper restrictions to do Sunday strips that moved away from traditional panel layouts, and absolutely refused to allow his work to be merchandised beyond the collections of the actual strips. He also did not subscribe to the idea that the nature of the medium dictated the power of the work itself–in other words, the fact that he was doing a comic strip did not mean he was doing “lesser” art than someone else, and this belief in his own definitely came through on the page. 1992 was the year that Watterson came back from a six month sabbatical with a new level of creative control over the presentation of the strip. Watterson hasn’t done much public work outside of Calvin & Hobbes, but my friend Josh did find the following quote and use it on the homepage of his (rarely updated) blog: “I think the best comics (like the best novels, paintings, etc.) are personal, idiosyncratic works that reflect a unique and honest sensibility. To attract and keep an audience, art must entertain, but the significance of any art lies in its ability to express truths – to reveal and help us understand our world. Comic strips, in their own humble way, are capable of doing this.”
1993 – Mark Waid
Well, I’ve been talking about a lot of comic book people in these last few “years”, so there’s the risk it’ll feel repetitive. But there’s no way I want to miss out on Mark Waid, who might possibly be the writer whose work has had the overall greatest impact upon me, at least in terms of shear volume of material read. Let’s see…he wrote Superman: Birthright, which was a really good recounting of Superman’s origin story. He was one of the architects of the “reboot” of the Legion of Super-Heroes, a book which dropped in quality when he left. He was the primary creator of the “threeboot” of the Legion as well–a book he left when DC undercut him and began to introduce a “classic” version of the Legion at the same time in other books. He wrote JLA Year One, which I really like. He wrote dialogue for Dean Haspiel’s The Fox mini-series. He wrote some really good Archie comics. He wrote some really good Incredibles comics. He wrote some good issues of L.E.G.I.O.N., which I didn’t realize until I was researching someone else who ended up not making this list. He was one of the four parallel writers of Fifty-Two. He wrote a bunch of JLA stories that were intermixed with Grant Morrison’s celebrated run. He wrote Kingdom freakin’ Come, with Alex Ross, a seminal reconstructionist masterpiece. He wrote some cool digital comics for his website Thrillbent, especially Insufferable. He wrote a bunch of stuff for Marvel, Boom and other companies which I have never read. And of course, he wrote The Flash, and doing so turned Wally West into my favorite comic book character, and hands-down the best example of a “legacy” hero that we’ve ever had. Mark Waid has never shied away from darkness when it befit the story, but he is also a connoisseur of what makes superhero’s awesome, bright and inspirational. He is also a master of bringing characters to life through dialogue. In 1993, he wrote “The Return of Barry Allen” storyline in The Flash, which was one of the most perfect blends plot, character and theme into one story that I’ve ever read. He also created Impulse and wrote his title for years, which is another in a long line of awesome comics that Waid has given to the world.