1) The works of Alan Moore with artistic collaborators, especially Swamp Thing, Watchmen, Promethea and Neonomicon
Yes, I concede that he can be an unbearable prima donna and bridge-burner who needlessly destroys relationships with old friends and collaborators, he does in fact consistently depict (although he hardly endorses) extensive rape scenes as pointed out much to his chagrin by his upstart rival, postmodernist pop provocateur and lesser talent Grant Morrison, and his highly studied snake-fingered mysterioso occult magus and man of integrity middle-finger to the corporate man schtick can get old. The record shows he's often volitionally entered into contracts where he has no ownership and then bites the hand that feeds him as often as he valiantly fights for creative autonomy, control, and freedom. Furthermore, Moore throughout his career has appropriated from other pop cultural sources and tropes and material with a promiscuous abandon and self-conscious meta-fictional game playing more suited to a kaleidoscopically synthetic talent rather than to the searchingly original, multi-leveled signifier and chronicler of the human spirit embedded in complex systems that he's capable of at his best.
However, despite these excesses and limitations, bonafide genius Alan Moore has done for comics what Joyce did for the novel, Picasso for the visual arts and Dylan for the popular song in the 20th century: opened up his respective art-form as none before or after him, to the limitless complexity of human experience and conflicted socio-cultural reality-perspectives, mixed with constant experimentation with narratives, forms, genres, points of view, and daring deconstructions and reconstructions of landscapes of the imagination, societal archetypes and the re-making of myths. His preoccupying themes have focused on searing depictions of anarchy's back and forth with its evil twin fascism, psycho-sexually tinged depth psychology as the backdrop for super-heroic posturings, the shadow of the Cold War's threat of looming holocaust, views which are often mischaracterized and misunderstood regarding his stances on gender, race, sexual orientation and human dignity (views which ultimately tilt toward more enlightenment), the intertwining of sexual repression and wild expression with the outbreak of the First World War and its aftermath, a repudiation of the so-called grim and gritty depictions of nihilism he helped spawn (rather than random rampaging disorder, Tom Strong and Promethea embraced a hopeful re-infusion of optimism and a sense of benign design in the cosmic order of things), and his own deeply idiosyncratic poetic pontifications and ruminations of his views of space-time's circularity and Tantric/Cabalistic sex-magick and mystery rites. Pretty advanced stuff for funny books.
Swamp Thing #34 (March 1985), "Rite of Spring" - Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette & John Totleben
Moore is generally and rightfully considered the finest writer in comic book and graphic novel history, in no small measure due to his uncanny ear for realistic dialogue, the piercing lyricism and ironic bite of his prose, and the structured layers of interconnected density worthy of one of his literary mentors, Thomas Pynchon. Moore though has stated that he's no great shakes; in the world of proper novels and literature, we expect such qualities from a Steinbeck or a Faulkner as a matter of course. Only relative to the genre hacks of the freelance mill of the comic book schlock houses is he so great, goes this theory. Well, I say that Moore at his finest, when he mixes harmoniously with his artistic counterparts (and don't forget that he's a control-monger as a scriptwriter worthy of Kurtzman, constantly directing his artists' work on the page and so in that sense he too is a contributing artist), does things only possible in graphic narrative -- see "Rite of Spring," "Pictopia," and the didactic spiritual polemic Promethea #32. And he does so with more depth, humanism and shimmering vision than ever seen before by any of the previous creators whose shoulders he's stood upon, save perhaps George Herriman or Windsor McCay (whose abstract and dreamy comic strip reveries were of a different order, since they aspired to visual splendor and poetic whimsy, not novel-like complexity, richness of character profiles, narrative inter-threading and social engagement). Even when he's spoofing on or stooping to the level of the hacks, as with his Supreme material from Image in the 1990s, he's almost always fun as hell, endlessly interesting (as noted by pop culture critic Douglas Wolk), often hilarious and with a satirical versatile intelligence and world-spanning insight that leaves three or four trick pony, bitter misanthropist and reluctant bourgeois darling R. Crumb in the shade.
When Jimi Hendrix first hit the rock and roll guitar scene in swinging London circa 1966, Eric Clapton convened a clandestine meeting with Pete Townsend in a darkened movie theater and let Townsend know that there was a new kid in town from Washington state who would blow them all away. Similarly, when Moore hit the American comic book scene in 1983 when he and Steve Bissette were recruited by co-creator and editor Len Wein to revamp the dessicated, played-out and failing horror title Swamp Thing, Moore's peers started shitting bricks. Guys like his own editor Wein, Dennis O'Neil, Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench, Roy Thomas, et al. were capable and proven genre craftsmen and among the so-called hacks of comic book writing who paid their dues in the thankless crucible of over a decade of hitting their deadlines to push paper product for their check-signers. (But do these decent and hard-working men really deserve bashing when when they could have been pipe fitters or insurance adjusters or something similarly nondescript but instead they chose to be freelance storybook pamphlet entertainers whose worst sin was to deliver solid, and sometimes not so hot, kids' diversionary fantasies, which in the broader context of the arts were pretty much at the level of a Louis L'Amour western novel or a good Twilight Zone or Star Trek episode?) The old guard knew immediately that despite Moore's often shambolic plotting, they were seriously outclassed by this hairy anarcho-freakazoid dope-smoking Brit from Northhampton. Moore was superior not just as a writer, but also as a thinker and reader. Quite simply, he had a deeper reservoir of vast background knowledge from which to draw. It seems that the more one learns about science, history, psychology, political theory, metaphysics and philosophy, and many other interdisciplinary understandings, the more one realizes the radiant layers of meaning Moore has somehow crammed and compacted into his works with such offhanded yet self-consciously deliberative brilliance. His storytelling prowess and the range of his keen cultural and multivariate literacy, both deep and vast, continues to amaze us simpler mortals. The grand, protean, riddle-laden and sometimes spastic outpourings of his unique set of gifts are the finest his beloved medium has seen.
|Done with Jacen Burrows, Neonomicon (2010 to 2011) is perhaps the most technically excellent and well-executed example of the comic book story I've witnessed in about forty years of collecting. Bloodcurdling psychological horror, a maze with no escape, full of creeping haunting metaphors and nobody's idea of a kiddie book. And Burrows' understanding of the subtleties of body language and the nuances of human expression and interaction compares well to the work of our finest recent filmmakers, as we witness a new master of a medium that's separate, equal and genuinely different in the places it can take us in a way that cinema could never dream.|
3) Love and Rockets stories by Jaime Hernandez
Los Bros. Hernandez: Gilbert, Jaime and Mario. Center: Jaime Hernandez (1959 to present)
The quintessential writer/artist team Stan and Jack, in happier times (mid-60s).
"The ragged charm and ebullient energy of these comics remains, and makes them the most vital superhero books ever done -- and the ones which are the most sheer, good clean fun."
Fantastic Four #45 (December 1965) - The debut of the Inhumans
5) Bernard Krigstein EC stories, especially "Master Race" and "The Flying Machine" with Al Feldstein
Bernard Krigstein (1919 - 1990)
Al Feldstein (1925 - 2014)
6) Warlock by Jim Starlin
Jim Starlin (1949 to present)
Pat Boyette (1923 - 2000)
Steve Ditko (1927 to present)
Gilbert Shelton and Robert Crumb, pre-boomers raging against the dying of the light?
Wallace Wood (1927 - 1981)
Jack Cole (1914 - 1958)
Frank Frazetta (1928 - 2010) - Looking as lithe and full of dashing, daring-do as one of his sublime renderings.
The dynamo team of Simon and Kirby (S & K) in the early 1950s were matching the EC genre books blow-for-blow.
Jim Steranko (1938 - present)
Archie Goodwin (1937 to 1998)
Walt Simonson (1946 to present)
Gil Kane (1926 to 2000)
Phantasmagoria #4, artwork by Kenneth Smith and Michael Kaluta.
The creators of Swamp Thing: Len Wein (1948 to present) and Bernie Wrightson (1948 to 2017)
Harvey Pekar (1939 - 2010)
Frank Miller (1957 to present)
Daredevil #191 (February 1983), "Roulette." Story & art by Frank Miller, inks by Terry Austin.
David Mazzucchelli (1960 - present)
Chris Ware (1967 to present)
Frank Quitely (1968 to present) and Grant Morrison (1960 to present)
New X-Men #121 (February 2002)