Comic Book Resources (cbr.com) asked for comic book fans to compile their own top ten lists of comic book writers and artists to make up a top 100 list, and I dreaded seeing the results. So many readers have such short memories, many would think modern writers and artists rank in those top 10’s. I reject that thinking; when you stand on the shoulders of giants, the best artists are the ones who’s shoulders you’re standing on. They are the ones who broke all the ground and made possible everything that came after. So, to represent, I voted and went as Old School as it gets. This is the tier of writers and artists where, to rank them, you don’t ask questions like “How many good stories have they done?” but “How many genres have they defined or invented?”
This is a different list than what I would call my top ten *personal favorite* comic book writers/artists. There is no sign, for instance, of John Byrne here, as brilliant as he was at combining Kirby with superior draftsmanship. All modern artists have either combined what the old masters gave them or tweaked it in some way.
TOP TEN COMIC BOOK WRITERS AND ARTISTS
10. Stan Lee. The man who wrote comic books directly to you, with an immediacy of audience connection unheard of in comic books before.
9. Robert Kanigher. War comics had been around as long as there had been comic books, but Kanigher brought them poignancy and a strong anti-war message.
8. Carl Barks. The man took an intrinsically silly group of characters and fashioned a serious universe for them to live in.
7. Harvey Kurtzman. Deserves to be remembered for Two-Fisted Tales, but changed the world of satire forever with Mad magazine.
6. Will Eisner. There almost from the beginning, Eisner was a pro when the other greats were still finding their legs. Hawks of the Seas and Espionage were excellent, but The Spirit was a masterpiece of the short form.
5. Don Cameron. The man who had to follow both Siegel on Superman and Finger on Batman, Cameron didn’t flinch and met the challenge with stories like “There Will Always Be a Superman” and “Twenty Ton Robbery.”
4. Bill Parker. Magic flowed from his pen when he created Captain Marvel and crafted the first 15 Captain Marvel adventures for Whiz Comics.
3. Gardner Fox. Although deserving to be recognized for his prodigious output alone, with the Justice Society of America he created the concept of a superhero team and the first organization of fictional heroes since King Arthur’s knights.
2. Bill Finger. Prolific ghost writer for Bob Kane, Finger is responsible for much of what we consider iconic about the Batman mythos, in addition to having written some of the best of the early Batman stories, like “The Three Racketeers.”
1. Jerry Siegel. Forever to be enshrined as the greatest comic book writer of all time for creating Superman, by doing so inventing the superhero genre itself, and by virtue of the superhero genre sustaining the entire comic book industry for every generation since.
TOP TEN COMIC BOOK ARTISTS
10. Carl Barks. Though he made it look easy, Barks was an early genius at storytelling and continuity.
9. Joe Kubert. One of the best of the war comic artists, but more importantly trained generations of comic book artists through his school.
8. Mort Meskin. Most other golden age comic book art looked stiff and motionless compared to Meskin, who brought a sense of animation to everything he did.
7. Frank Frazetta. Not a comic book artist for very long in his career, but maaaan, it was gorgeous stuff!
6. Gil Kane. So gifted that he was ghosting Kirby while still a teenager, Kane developed a style with as much dynamism as Kirby, but more smooth and less bombastic.
5. Lou Fine. Perhaps the second most beautiful art of the golden age after Frazetta, Fine combined realistic illustration with comic book art more than any other artist of his time other than Raboy (who was so slow that he often had to swipe himself).
4. C.C. Beck. Although I’m partial to his slightly more realistic early work, Beck developed a style that was just the right balance between serious and cartoony that was accessible to all ages, leading to the runaway success of Captain Marvel in the 1940s.
3. Will Eisner. It’s almost impossible to separate out Eisner the artist from Eisner the writer. He had Barks’ gift for storytelling, but further was a genius at composition, with his inventive page layouts being one of the things he’s best remembered for.
2. Jack Kirby. If not for his tin ear for dialogue, he would belong on the writers’ side top 10 too. The man reinvented the superhero comic, reinvented the kid adventure genre, helped invent the romance genre, and created a significant portion of the Marvel Universe himself. Almost frighteningly prolific and endlessly influential, Kirby’s legacy is still felt on every comic book page today.
1. Joe Shuster. Although considered crude by today’s standards, there is a raw primal energy to Shuster’s sketchy art that was perfect for Superman. And, of course, he deserves to be immortalized for the same reasons as Siegel in the writers’ category. Without them, the comic book industry would have never amounted to more than a passing fad in repackaging comic strips.