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Superhero Creators


Superheroes as diverse as Wonder Woman and Spawn share one characteristic: They were originally conceived by a spark of an artist's or writer's imagination. Each of the costumed characters unveiled since the debut of Superman in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) has his or her own story of evolution, with innovative folk behind the scenes who thought, hoped, and dreamed that their creation would be the next Man of Steel.

To the superhero and comic-book aficionado, names like Jack Kirby and John Byrne are as important as Clark Kent and Peter Parker. A complete survey of the individuals who have produced the adventures of the superheroes chronicled in this volume is too extensive to include, but some creators' legacies are so embedded in superhero history that they must be mentioned.

(There are numerous legendary comics artists and authors who have not, or have rarely, produced superhero work. So as not to diverge from the focus of this encyclopedia, industry legends such as Alex Raymond, Harvey Kurtzman, Bernie Krigstein, Jack Davis, Frank Frazetta, Hal Foster, Al Williamson, George Evans, Carl Barks, Joe Orlando, John Severin, Russ Heath, Robert Crumb, Richard and Wendy Pini, Harlan Ellison, and Dave Sim are not discussed, but are acknowledged here for their superlative contributions.)

The Golden Age of superhero comics was an era of assembly-line production. Publishers shoved hordes of young, enthusiastic artists into sweatshops and pressured them to produce, produce, produce, with ambitious businessmen like Harry A Chesler, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Charles Biro, Martin Goodman, and Busy Arnold always looking over their shoulders. Most of the stories printed during the Golden Age were crude, but some writers and artists emerged as talented draftsmen, pioneering visionaries, or, in a few cases, both. During their day, however, they were largely ignored by the public who devoured their work.

In 1940, comic-book artists, if they were regarded at all, were not [well] regarded, said cartoonist Will Eisner. Eisner's The Spirit appeared not in traditional comic books, but in the newspapers as a comic supplement, from 1940 to 1952. Comics before (The Spirit) were pretty much pictures in sequence, and I was trying to create an art form, Eisner once commented. And that he did: With his dramatic storytelling, contrasting lights and darks, and ingenious splash pages (which often incorporated the Spirit's name as an artistic element), Eisner raised the bar for other illustrators. Beyond The Spirit, Eisner has contributed to mainstream comics (including Quality's Uncle Sam), illustrated numerous graphic novels, and authored a tome many comics professionals regard as the industry's premier textbook: Comics & Sequential Art. Eisner is the patron saint of comics professionals—the industry's top awards, presented annually at the San Diego Comic-Con, bear his name.

Writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, high-school buddies from Cleveland, Ohio, created Superman in the early 1930s, first as an illustrated prose story, then as a proposed newspaper strip. They had such faith in their concept, they ambitiously promoted their creation as The Smash Hit Strip of 1936, but the syndicates rejected the series. In 1938 their hero finally saw print in a DC Comics start-up title called Action Comics, and the rest, to borrow a cliché, is history. Siegel and Shuster sold DC the rights to Superman for a reported $130, but in subsequent decades they, and their heirs, have contested copyright ownership in court.

Illustrator Bob Kane commanded more business savvy than did Siegel and Shuster: Kane brokered a deal to be listed as the sole credited creator of Batman, first published in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). Historians have long contested Kane's claim, as writer Bill Finger was the artist's partner and contributed much to Batman's canon. Along with Finger, artist Jerry Robinson worked under Kane's wing and eventually assumed a larger profile as a Batman illustrator. Robinson once said of Finger, Unlike most of the writers in the early comic-book industry, Finger wrote very visually. His stories were well-plotted and paced. The controversy of Batman's authorship aside, Kane was largely responsible for the look of the series: I wanted my style a little cartoony, he said, a cross between Dick Tracy and illustration. Kane's studio, which included stalwarts Dick Sprang and Jack Burnley, continued to produce Batman stories, with and without Kane's participation, well into the 1960s.

Charles Clarence C. C. Beck was in his mid-twenties when he as hired as a house artist by Fawcett Publications in the late 1930s. Beck was paid a biweekly wage of $55 to crank out cartoons and spot illustrations for Fawcett's magazines. When his employer entered the comic-book business, Beck was tapped to draw their new Captain Marvel series that premiered in Whiz Comics #2 (1940). His clean, simple style helped make Captain Marvel the best-selling superhero of the Golden Age. In the 1950s the character was sued off the stands by DC Comics, but Beck ultimately returned to Captain Marvel in the 1970s when DC revived the hero in the title Shazam!

Cartoonist Jack Cole had been in the comics trenches for a while before bouncing to prominence with his creation, Plastic Man, in Police Comics #1 (1941). Cole's art was a wild blend of comedy and drama: His storytelling was impeccable, his splashes rivaled Eisner's, and he used his malleable hero's stretching ability to lead the reader's eye from panel to panel. Chagrined by the lack of respect afforded comic-book artists, Cole, in the 1950s, became an acclaimed artist for Playboy magazine and realized his dream of launching a syndicated newspaper strip, Betsy and Me. At the pinnacle of his success, Cole took his own life, a suicide that his surviving family members still find puzzling decades later.

Joe Simon was a multi-talented gent: He wrote and drew comics, but through his editorial position at Fox Comics he met and partnered with Jacob Kurtzberg, better known as Jack Kirby. Kirby was a street-smart kid who grew up in New York's rough-and-tumble Lower East Side during the Great Depression. Simon and Kirby formed comics' most celebrated writer/artist team of the Golden Age. Together, they produced Fawcett's Captain Marvel Adventures #1 (1941) and a variety of strips for DC Comics, but in 1941 struck gold (for the publisher, alas, not for themselves) with Timely (Marvel) Comics' Captain America. As a team, Simon and Kirby pioneered new ground with a host of horror, Western, and other titles—they even co-created the romance-comics genre—until parting ways in the late 1950s. Simon went on to invent Brother Power the Geek and Prez for DC, while Kirby became King as the visual architect of the Marvel Age of Comics in the 1960s: Kirby co-created the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Thor, and many other characters with Stan Lee. In the 1970s Kirby created the vast Fourth World for DC Comics in series including The New Gods, but never completed his epics due to the titles' cancellations—It's an unfinished symphony, observed Kirby's protégé Mark Evanier. Kirby later returned to Marvel, then illustrated independent comics, animation model sheets, and toy designs. Simon and Kirby's lives during the Golden Age inspired author Michael Chabon's Pulitizer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. In the 2000s Kirby's work is examined in the quarterly fanzine The Jack Kirby Collector from TwoMorrows Publishing.

Alex Toth, a cutting-edge illustrator who emerged during the late Golden Age, ignited the comics page in the 1950s and beyond with experimental art techniques that challenged his contemporaries. Toth has always been intensely committed to his craft: I respond to honesty of skill, motive, talent, and preparation, he once said. Toth's superhero work was sporadic in later decades, but when it occurred, it was highly lauded, including his Atom/Flash team-up in The Brave and the Bold # 53 (1964). Toth was also the designer behind three popular animated TV series: Hanna-Barbera's original Space Ghost, Fantastic Four, and Super Friends.

Other Golden Age greats include Lou Fine (Doll Man, the Ray, Black Condor), who learned to draw while bedridden with polio as a teen; Tarpe Mills, a rarity for the era, a female comics artist (of the character that's arguably the first superheroine, Miss Fury, originally a newspaper strip later reprinted in comic-book form); Mac Raboy, whose stunningly realistic style contrasted his Captain Marvel Jr. work from Fawcett's cartoonier Captain Marvel house style; Bill Everett, creator of the Sub-Mariner, whose vivid underwater scenes and intimidating star made Marvel's first anti-hero a huge success; Carl Burgos, whose flaming hero the Human Torch became Marvel's best-selling character; Wayne Boring, who helped Shuster by illustrating Superman stories during the hero's Golden Age boom and continued drawing the character into the 1960s; Sheldon Mayer, DC editor (of All Star Comics) and artist of the first superhero parody, the Red Tornado, in the Scribbly backup series; cover artists extraordinaire Alex Schomburg (I always felt Alex Schomburg was to comic books what Norman Rockwell was to The Saturday Evening Post, noted Stan Lee) and Matt Baker (whose Phantom Lady covers are prized among collectors of Good Girl art); William Moulton Marston, a psychologist who created both the lie detector and Wonder Woman; and Sheldon Moldoff, an unsung journeyman who illustrated countless Batman and Hawkman tales for DC.

DC Comics editor Julius Julie Schwartz is credited as the father of the Silver Age of comics. In the 1930s Schwartz was one of the founders of science-fiction fandom, and later worked as a literary agent for sci-fi authors Ray Bradbury and Alfred Bester before becoming a DC editor in the 1940s. Superheroes dwindled in popularity after World War II, their series supplanted by other genres including funny animals, horror, TV adaptations, and romance, and by the mid-1950s Schwartz was editing, not surprisingly, science-fiction comics like Strange Adventures. After the first three issues of DC's tryout title Showcase failed to capture the audience's imagination, Schwartz in 1956 proposed to his fellow editors that the Flash be revived in issue #4. Some of my co-workers were incredulous and asked me why I thought Flash would succeed now, having failed so dismally a few years before, Schwartz recalled in his autobiography Man of Two Worlds (2000). He countered that the comics' audience replenished itself every few years, and while the editors remembered the Flash, the character would be new to most readers. Schwartz won his argument and was tapped to edit the revival, which became a reworking, as the Silver Age Flash was an entirely new character. The new Flash was a tremendous success, prompting Schwartz to continue the trend by revamping Green Lantern, the Atom, Hawkman, and other characters, resurrecting the entire superhero genre in the process. Schwartz enjoyed a lengthy career at DC, charting the courses of Batman and Superman for many years, retiring in the mid-1980s but continuing with the company as a consultant and goodwill ambassador.

Carmine Infantino, who had started his comics career by drawing random strips during the Golden Age, was, like most other artists employed during the 1950s, illustrating cowboy, mystery, and science-fiction comics when Schwartz tapped him to be the artist for the relaunch of the Flash in Showcase. Infantino became DC's artistic star of the 1960s, visible on The Flash, Batman, Adam Strange in Mystery in Space, the Elongated Man in Detective Comics, and many of the company's most vibrant covers. Outside of the mid-1960s success with Batman, DC's sales were outdistanced by Marvel's. DC needed a kick in the rump, claimed Infantino in a 2003 interview in Back Issue magazine. And they brought me on board to do it. Infantino was hired as DC's art director in late 1966, and before long was booted upstairs to editorial director and later president. During his ten-year tenure, he steered the company to new creative heights and higher sales.

Schwartz recruited Gil Kane for his new versions of Green Lantern and the Atom. Kane was a young artist during the Golden Age, working largely unnoticed until earning the spotlight with his 1960s work in Green Lantern. Famous for his dynamic rendering style and unusual camera angles, Kane eventually drew The Hawk and the Dove, Captain Action (which he also later scripted: I've always maintained that the best art came out of a continuity, either wholly created, of at least broken down dramatically, by the artist himself, he wrote in 1969 in the letters column of Captain Action #5), and Superman for DC, and The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America for Marvel, among many other credits.

Writer Gardner Fox and artist Joe Kubert were selected for Schwartz's revival of Hawkman, the winged superhero, not a surprising selection since that team was also responsible for many of the Golden Age Hawkman's adventures. Kubert's lithe, sinewy figures made him perfect for the character's graceful aerial moves. Later in the Silver Age, Kubert spearheaded DC's war titles, most notably Sgt. Rock in Our Army at War, and in the 1970s wrote and drew DC's critically acclaimed Tarzan comic. In 1976 he opened the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, an industry institution at which many gifted illustrators have studied. Fox also wrote Justice League of America and other series for Schwartz.

Other creators in editor Schwartz's corner: author John Broome (The Flash, Green Lantern), also a Golden Age carryover; penciler Mike Sekowsky, the original artist on Justice League, and Dick Dillin, the illustrator who replaced him; and artists Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. Penciler Swan, whose first published comics work was in 1946, had been illustrating various Superman titles since the 1950s, working under iron-fisted editor Mort Weisinger; in the 1960s he ascended to the position of Superman artist supreme by illustrating, at various times, Superman, Action Comics, World's Finest Comics, Superboy, the Legion of Super-Heroes in Adventure Comics, and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. Anderson launched his comics career in the 1940s and later enjoyed a stint illustrating the Buck Rogers syndicated newspaper strip. Schwartz regularly employed Anderson throughout the 1960s, as a solo artist on Hawkman and The Spectre, and as a regular cover inker for Infantino and Sekowsky. During a 1970 updating of Superman, Schwartz united Swan and Anderson on the series, a perfect meshing of two clean styles in collaboration nicknamed Swanderson.

If Julie Schwartz engineered the Silver Age, Stan Lee was its hijacker. In 1961 writer/editor Lee and co-conspirator artist Jack Kirby produced Fantastic Four #1 for Marvel Comics. With its unique take on realistic superheroes, Fantastic Four put Lee and Marvel on the map. Lee quickly followed with a universe of problem-ridden characters, including the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the X-Men. Through innovation and Lee's knack for hyperbolic self-promotion, Marvel steamrolled over DC in the 1960s and became the industry leader.

Jack Kirby penciled most of Marvel's original titles with Lee, but other artists were on board as the line expanded. Steve Ditko drew The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Doctor Strange in Strange Tales. Ditko's peculiar illustrative style, with his flair for frenetic movement and equilibrium-bending perspectives, made his work visually unique. The Ditko/Lee partnership eventually severed over disagreements about Spider-Man character and storyline authorship. Throughout his illustrious career, Ditko has drawn Blue Beetle for Charlton, Beware the Creeper for DC, and Mr. A, a study of the struggle between good and evil. Once Ditko left Spider-Man, he was replaced by an artist with a dissimilar style but one who managed to catapult the series into a different yet equally popular course: John Romita, Sr., fresh off a stint on Marvel's Daredevil. Ultimately Romita's energetic approach would become Marvel's house style: He was a frequent cover artist and designed two of the company's most popular characters, the Punisher and Wolverine.

John Buscema distinguished himself on The Silver Surfer and The Avengers in the late 1960s, then Fantastic Four and Conan the Barbarian in the 1970s. His brother Sal was another Marvel mainstay, having illustrated, in a career spanning decades, virtually every title at the company. Gene Colan had served tours of duty at several comics publishers before landing at Marvel in the mid-1960s. His lengthy run on Daredevil is fondly remembered, as is his stint on Sub-Mariner in the late 1960s and his 1970s turn on Marvel's groundbreaking Tomb of Dracula series. A dependable penciler on series like Sub-Mariner and a gifted cartoonist on the satire comic Not Brand Echh, Marie Severin was also Marvel's main colorist and cover designer for years, an essential yet largely unsung role that mirrored that of women in society at the time. Roy Thomas worked briefly as assistant editor to DC's Mort Weisinger in 1965 before jumping ship to Marvel, where he honed his writing and editing skills under Lee's tutelage. A Golden Age historian, Thomas at one time was Marvel's editor in chief, and is best known as the author of Marvel's The Avengers and Conan the Barbarian and DC's All-Star Squadron. In the 2000s he continues to edit and co-write his long-running fanzine Alter Ego.

Artist Walter Simonson beamed in Steve Duin and Mike Richardson's Comics Between the Panels (1998): His work was like unto a God for a lot of us. Simonson was referring to Wally Wood, an immeasurably versatile illustrator perfectly fluent with humor, science fiction, horror, and superhero comics. Rising to prominence in the 1950s on a host of E.C. Comics, Wood is venerated among comics fans for his superhero parodies in MAD, his run on Marvel's Daredevil, and his T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for Tower Comics. In 1982 Wood, soured by failing health and embittered by being put out to pasture by younger artists, committed suicide.

Other noteworthy Silver Age superhero creators: Ramona Fradon, one of the few female illustrators working during this period, who drew DC's Aquaman in Adventure Comics, as well as Metamorpho the Element Man, Super Friends, and Plastic Man (she confessed, I had serious difficulty relating to superhero subject matter, the staple of the comic-book industry); Joe Gill, a prolific but rarely recognized writer of hundreds of Charlton Comics series, from superhero to romance; writer/editor Robert Kanigher, who guided, among many 1960s series, DC's Wonder Woman and Metal Men, along with artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito; Kurt Schaffenberger, artist of Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane and Supergirl in Action Comics; and Nick Cardy, whose drawings of striking women and serio-comic layouts made DC's Bat Lash, Teen Titans, and Aquaman fan favorites.

A pair of visionaries rocketed to acclaim in the late 1960s. There was Jim Steranko—deemed the first 'rock star' artist of comics on the History Channel's two-hour special Comic Book Superheroes: Unmasked (2003)—who exploded onto the scene with his surrealistic style in Marvel's Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.; Captain America; and X-Men series. His work was the storytelling equivalent of pop art: impressionistic, cinematic, and fully alive. Artist Paul Gulacy commented in the book Comics Between the Panels (1998), I look at Kirby as being the architect, Steranko building the framework, and the rest of us doing the finish work. Steranko's contributions to comics have been rare, but permanently imprinted onto the medium. He has authored two Steranko History of Comics volumes and painted dozens of paperback covers (including lauded covers for The Shadow).

The other profoundly influential illustrator of the late 1960s was Neal Adams. He started as an ad-agency artist in his late teens, then illustrated the Ben Casey newspaper strip before segueing to DC Comics in 1967—drawing, oddly enough, the company's licensed The Adventures of Jerry Lewis and The Adventures of Bob Hope books. The powers-that-be at DC quickly recognized his talent, and Adams began to make his mark on the Deadman strip in Strange Adventures and on The Spectre with his photorealistic rendering style and his imaginative layouts that whisked the reader from panel to panel; when you look at the page as a whole it should never be a burden, he contended in Vanguard Productions' Neal Adams: The Sketch Book (1999). What we're doing is telling stories. By the late 1960s Adams had lobbied to draw Batman in the team-up title The Brave and the Bold, where he visually transformed the character from campy caped crusader to mysterious creature of the night. Soon he was the hottest artist in comics, drawing Batman, Detective, and the award-winning Green Lantern/Green Arrow series. A staunch advocate for creators' rights, Adams helped lobby for the return of original artwork, royalties, and pensions for Superman creators Siegel and Shuster. Among comics artists, Adams is both revered and feared. His harsh critiques of artists' portfolios have encouraged some, and intimidated others.

Superhero comic books grew up during the 1970s, in content and in appearance. Adams continued to trailblaze throughout the decade, forming his own company, Continuity Associates, with his inking partner, former editor, and friend Dick Giordano. Dick's inking pretty much set the standard, Adams revealed in the biography Dick Giordano: Changing Comics, One Day at a Time (2003). Giordano quietly grew from assembly-line inking during his youth in the early 1950s to lauded editorial stints at Charlton and DC in the 1960s. An accomplished solo illustrator (Batman, the Human Target in Action Comics, romance comics, and Wonder Woman), Giordano is best known as Adams' inker (The Lennon and McCartney of comics, noted Giordano biographer Michael Eury) and as DC Comics' editorial director during its decade of innovation, the 1980s.

Adams and Giordano's Continuity Associates was the Mecca for comics artists of the 1970s. Continuity located work for seasoned professionals, but is best known for attracting young artistic wannabes. People would sleep on the floor or even in the hall by the elevator, recalled Giordano. Since so many people came and went, my policy became, 'if he's here a month from now I'll ask him what his name is.'

Some of the young associates of Continuity who blossomed into popularity during the 1970s and beyond include Howard Chaykin, who started on sword-and-sorcery comics before making his mark on random Batman stories and with the sexploitative sci-fi epic American Flagg!; Terry Austin, a Giordano protégé who embarked upon a successful inking career; Marshall Rogers, who, with writer Steve Englehart, produced a critically acclaimed sequence of Batman tales in Detective that helped reinvent the Joker; Michael Golden, who followed his innovative Batman work with science fiction (The Micronauts) and war (The 'Nam) comics; Klaus Janson, renowned as Frank Miller's inker on Daredevil, who later enjoyed enduring success as a solo illustrator; Bill Sienkiewicz, who quickly abandoned a Neal Adams homage (on Marvel's Moon Knight) to chart new territory with his experimental rendering on The New Mutants and Elektra: Assassin; and Walt Simonson, yet another newcomer who garnered notice on Batman then blossomed in the 1980s on such strips as Thor and the Marvel/DC X-Men/New Teen Titans crossover.

Batman transmogrified into darker territory throughout the 1970s, partially due to moody covers by Bernie Wrightson (also known for Swamp Thing) and Michael Kaluta (who became a superstar by illustrating DC's The Shadow). No one was more influential in Batman's transformation than writer Denny O'Neil, who penned many of the character's 1970s adventures as well as Superman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and other revolutionary efforts. After editing at Marvel in the late 1970s, O'Neil returned to DC in the 1980s and supervised the Batman franchise as its group editor and as a frequent writer. After the highly publicized—and controversial—Death of Robin storyline in 1989, O'Neil was verbally accosted in a New York City deli: Hey, this is the guy that killed Robin! yelled an employee, which made him realize the far-reaching importance of his job. In the television special Comic Book Superheroes: Unmasked, O'Neil reflected that the Batman and Superman editors are custodians of folklore.

Other creative forces to ascend during the 1970s: Jim Aparo, once a Charlton artist hired by Giordano to draw Aquaman at DC, then a dominant Batman artist for two decades; Archie Goodwin, a much-loved writer/editor for DC, Marvel, and Warren Publications; Barry Windsor-Smith, a British transplant who started in the United States on random Marvel superhero work before soaring to acclaim on Conan the Barbarian; Marv Wolfman, a popular writer (Tomb of Dracula, The New Teen Titans, Crisis on Infinite Earths) who served a stint as Marvel's editor in chief and also has worked in Hollywood; Len Wein, scripter of Batman, Swamp Thing, and X-Men, creator of Wolverine, and yet another former Marvel editor in chief; Dave Cockrum, fan-favorite artist of Superboy Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes and the 1975 revamp of X-Men; Mike Grell, who started as the Legion artist before growing into his own as the writer/artist of The Warlord, Jon Sable: Freelance, and Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters; Jim Starlin, artist/writer who popularized Marvel's Captain Marvel, then killed the hero (of cancer); and George Pérez, jumping from Fantastic Four to The Avengers in the late 1970s to Justice League of America and The New Teen Titans in the early 1980s.

By the 1980s comics publishers realized the importance of their creative personnel. Superstar artists, and sometimes writers, were producing higher sales, and DC and Marvel bowed to pressure to accord top performers royalties for their efforts.

Noteworthy superhero creators during the 1980s include author Chris Claremont, whose lengthy run on X-Men is unparalleled; artist/writer John Byrne, who started in the 1970s on minor Charlton titles (like Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch) before illustrating Marvel titles (Marvel Team-Up, The Uncanny X-Men) and ultimately writing and illustrating a host of series (Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Superman, and The Sensational She-Hulk); Frank Miller, who grabbed readers by their throats with his gripping take on Daredevil, then followed with his magnum opus Batman: The Dark Knight Returns; Keith Giffen, who began as a penciler for random DC titles in the late 1970s before rising to prominence in the early 1980s as the artist of Legion of Super-Heroes, and becoming the driving force behind 1980s hits like Lobo and the revamped Justice League; Arthur Adams, who became a frequently imitated fan favorite from his illustrations on Longshot and X-Men; David Mazzucchelli, an accomplished stylist whose brief fling with mainstream comics included two eminent projects with writer Frank Miller, Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again; Jerry Ordway, a triple-threat writer/penciler/inker whose art on The Adventures of Superman helped redefine the hero for the decade; and second-generation artists: Joe Kubert's sons Andy and Adam, and John Romita's son John Jr., who developed into talented illustrators in their own rights.

Smaller independent publishers sprouted in the 1980s, some growing out of a mid-decade boom of black-and-white (B&W) comics, others dedicated to producing quality color work. From the throng of companies achieving some degree of prominence during the 1980s (Pacific Comics, Comico the Comic Company, First Comics, Now Comics, and others), only Dark Horse Comics, which started in 1986, remains an industry leader in the 2000s. Several immensely gifted talents got their starts at these companies, including artist Steve Rude, who rose to acclaim on Nexus and later illustrated more mainstream work including Superman and Batman in World's Finest; Matt Wagner, whose groundbreaking Grendel and Mage series later led to opportunities to write and draw Batman and other high-profile characters; Bill Willingham, creator of the provocative superteam comic Elementals; and Dave Stevens, whose lavishly rendered The Rocketeer became a live-action movie in 1991. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird experienced the decade's most lucrative financial success: Their cheaply produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles B&W title took the marketplace by storm, spawning counterfeiters, copycats, and a cottage industry that has included a film franchise, TV cartoons, and action figures.

During the 1980s, more female creators began to distinguish themselves in comics than in previous decades. Historian and book author Trina Robbins dabbled in mainstream comics by drawing the 1986 miniseries The Legend of Wonder Woman, which was also written, lettered, and colored by women (Lee Marrs, Lois Buhalis, and Shelley Eiber, respectively). Artists Colleen Doran and Jill Thompson gained prominence, as did Louise Jones Simonson, X-Men editor and writer of Power Pack. Other women comics editors to emerge in the 1980s were Karen Berger, Diana Schutz, Barbara Kesel, and Bobbie Chase.

American comics professionals were looking over their shoulders in the 1980s, many concerned that they would be squeezed out of the industry, as the British were coming, the British were coming! A wave of writers and artists from Britain penetrated the U.S. domestic comics market during the 1980s, mostly landing at DC. Foremost was Alan Moore, heralded by many as comics' greatest writer, who effortlessly leapt from Saga of the Swamp Thing to Superman stories, dazzling readers all the way. Other Brits to make an impression during the decade were artist Dave Gibbons, who followed a successful stint on Green Lantern by partnering with Moore on Watchmen, the twelve-issue series that redefined superheroes for a new, jaded generation; Brian Bolland, artist of writer Mike W. Barr's Camelot 3000, who later illustrated (with author Moore) Batman: The Killing Joke and numerous DC Comics covers; and daring new writers like Peter Milligan, Grant Morrison, and Neil Gaiman. Much of these creators' work bore an edgier voice than DC's traditional fare, and the publisher began a mature readers line that grew into its Vertigo imprint. One of those titles, Gaiman's award-winning Sandman, premiered in 1989.

In the early 1990s a speculation boom inflated comics' sales to figures unheard of since the Golden Age. Gimmick covers and multiple editions sold in the hundreds of thousands—and in a few cases, the millions—enabling hot comics creators to flex their muscle. Artists Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, and Rob Liefeld were the first Marvel artists whose popularity allowed them to jettison their writers from their series and ultimately tell their own stories. After reaping fortunes from relaunches of Spider-Man, X-Men, and X-Force that sold in huge numbers to speculators and fans, that trio, along with Jim Valentino, Whilce Portacio, Erik Larsen, and Marc Silvestri, cut their apron strings from Marvel in 1992 and founded Image Comics, where they published their own material (McFarlane's Spawn, Lee's WildC.A.T.S, Liefeld's Youngblood, Larsen's The Savage Dragon, and others).

In 1993 the market imploded when the speculator demand withered. Many artists and writers found themselves out of work. Marvel and DC courted in-demand creators with lucrative exclusive contracts and smaller companies tried to keep up, but the mid-1990s were a bleak period for the industry. There were artistic highpoints: Adam Hughes' gorgeous rendering on Ghost and his posteresque covers for Wonder Woman; writer Kurt Busiek and painter Alex Ross' remarkable miniseries Marvels; Ross' follow-up, DC's Kingdom Come, with author Mark Waid; Scott Campbell's impressive Gen 13; Joe Quesada's stunning artwork on Ash and Daredevil; and the prominence of painted portrait covers, which have, in the 2000s, threaten to supersede line-art drawings as the norm for cover art.

In the late 1990s the comics business took a collective deep breath to rebound from the blow of the market collapse. Publishers began to put aside sales stunts and dedicated themselves to publishing quality material. Since that time, writers from other media—including screenwriters Kevin Smith and Jeph Loeb, television writer and Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, crime novelist Greg Rucka, and Judd Winnick, one of the original cast members from MTV's The Real World—have been lured to comics. The 2000s have, to date, been dominated by newer creators—Brian Michael Bendis, Joe Kelly, Gail Simone, Brian Azzarello, Amanda Conner, Ed McGuiness, Alex Maleev, Michael Allred, John Cassaday, and Scott McDaniel are just some of the writers and artists popular as of 2004—while Gaiman, Byrne, Pérez, Giffen, and Miller continue to command an audience of loyalists and newcomers. American superhero comic-book art as of 2004 is heavily influenced by Japanese manga and by the animation style popularized on such TV cartoons as Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, and Justice League. As superhero comics continue to morph to find their role in a fast-changing world, their creators will continue to strive for ways to create the next Man of Steel. —ME

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