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You know how most readers go through a progression like this: read a few comics at a young age, then follow their favorite characters and maybe try to collect a continuous run of a series, then eventually realize that the creators matter more, and just follow the creators from project to project?

I didn’t quite go through that progression, since my local general store didn’t have many comics to choose from, and once I discovered the existence of an actual, for real, comic book shop, I began immediately following creators like Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Howard Chaykin, John Byrne, and Mike Zeck. And, other than the Legion of Super-Heroes (which I have, admittedly, developed an unhealthy obsession for), I’ve been a creator-first guy. I mean, I like a lot of Batman comics, but I certainly didn’t stick around when Andersen Gabrych was writing “Detective Comics,” for example. And neither did you, I hope.

And plenty of my favorite creators produced good work in 2008, but now it’s time to look forward to this year. It’s time to look at what might be coming in 2009. It’s time to talk about the creators I know I’ll be watching in the next twelve months.

Fifteen Creators to Watch, In Handy-Dandy Alphabetical Order:

Jason Aaron
After the powerful “Gravel in Your Guts” arc that recently ended in “Scalped,” Aaron has a bunch of stand-alone stories under the “High Lonesome” label before heading into the second half of 2009 with “The Gnawing,” which Aaron describes as the arc when “the shit hits the fan. This is what we’ve been building toward in these first two years.” Considering the extremely high quality of “Scalped” in the past year (it ranked as the #3 best comic of 2008, according to the CBR tally), the prospect of more “Scalped” is always a good thing, and the way Aaron describes his upcoming storylines can’t help but whet your appetite for an explosive showdown between Dash Bad Horse and Red Crow.

If all Aaron were doing in 2009 was “Scalped,” he’d still be a creator to watch, but he’s also wrapping up the final eleven issues of his excellent “Ghost Rider” run and launching a brand new “Wolverine: Weapon X” series. Plus, he’s going to be writing another Marvel ongoing series, though he won’t spill the beans on what that might be. (The smart money is on a “Master of Kung-Fu” series, although by “smart money,” I mean that’s what my deepest wish would be.)

Mario Alberti
Have you seen Alberti’s artwork on “X-Men/Spider-Man”? It might be the best-looking comic you’re not reading. At least, I assume you’re not reading it, but you totally should be, just for the Alberti art (although the story is pretty good too). Alberti is a veteran Italian comic book artist, and I hope we’ll see some of his older stuff reprinted in the U.S., but you may have seen his more recent work on the covers of the not-really-lamented “Aquaman” or “Countdown to Mystery.”

I have no idea what other projects Alberti has lined up for 2009, and I suspect that he works at a pace that wouldn’t allow him to keep anywhere close to the pace needed to draw a monthly book, but at least we have a couple more issues of “X-Men/Spider-Man” to look forward to, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that he’ll produce something else by the end of the year as well.

Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon
Okay, this is obviously two people, but I can’t help but consider Ba and Moon together, since they work so closely together (although, interestingly enough, their styles are distinctly different). Ba will be finishing “Umbrella Academy: Dallas” this year, and he and brother Moon are scheduled to illustrate “BPRD 1947” for writer Joshua Dysart.

And it looks like there might be some “Casanova” in 2009, and we should definitely support that when it arrives in a promised new format (full-color, more story pages per issue).

Yet, I have to wonder how they’ll find the time, as Ba and Moon are not only doing all the above work for Dark Horse, but they are also writing and drawing “Daytripper” for Vertigo, which supposedly knocked Bob Schreck’s metaphorical socks off when it was proposed. Not much specific information about “Daytripper” has been released so far, although the series ends with some kind of shocking twist, if early reports are to be believed. No matter what the series turns out to be like, you have to admit that Ba + Moon + Vertigo = Great Anticipation.

Laurence Campbell
I don’t know much at all about British artist Laurence Campbell, but he drew the heck out of a “Wolverine” story a couple of years back and in 2008 his work on “Punisher MAX” and the “Moon Knight: Silent Knight” special demonstrated that he is one of the best in the business. If there’s a Michael Lark/Alex Maleev school, he’s part of it, though he can do dynamic action better than either of them.

Campbell would be perfect for a long stint on “Daredevil” or “Immortal Iron Fist,” but I haven’t heard anything about his future plans. How about him working on the imaginary Jason Aaron “Master of Kung-Fu” comic? Probably won’t happen, but he’ll surely be doing something great in 2009, even if we don’t know what that will be just quite yet.

Becky Cloonan
Since the end of “American Virgin,” Becky Cloonan has been suspiciously silent other than her brief contribution to the “Pixu” minicomic, but that’s because she spent 2008 working on “East Coast Rising 2” and “Demo” volume 2. “East Coast Rising 2” was supposed to come out from Tokyopop in the fall, but their business problems caused that book to be axed from the schedule. And “Demo” volume 2 should debut from Vertigo this year.

As much as I like “Demo,” I’m actually more interested in “East Coast Rising 2,” as Cloonan really unleashed some wild layouts in the first book, and she’s promised that the second book would be even more insane. But there’s no ignoring how cool it will be to see more “Demo” from Cloonan and Brian Wood.

Cloonan may have been quiet in 2008, but in 2009 she will kick your ass with greatness, I’m sure.

Paul Cornell
I’ve never understood anything about the popularity of “Dr. Who.” It’s just not for me. But Paul Cornell comes from the halls “Dr. Who,” and he has quickly become one of the best superhero writers in the comics biz. I raved about his “Wisdom” series a couple of years ago, but it seemed like nobody else read that comic but me and a few enlightened ones. “Wisdom” was not without its flaws, with some weird narrative jumps forward in time and a bit more ambition than effective execution, but it was an exciting debut, and Cornell’s work since has only reaffirmed his skills as a craftsman of fine and wondrous stories.

“Fantastic Four: True Story” was a slice of imaginative beauty, even if the art wasn’t all that great, but “Captain Britain and MI: 13” has really shown off Cornell’s writerly chops. It has been one of the best Marvel books on the stands each month, and CBR ranked it at the 10th best comic of 2008 in its end-of-the-year tally.

I don’t know if Marvel will be able to draft Cornell into any new projects for 2009, but I hope so. He’s very good.

Matt Fraction
It’s silly to list Fraction as a “creator to watch” when he has clearly become an A-list writer over the past two years, but just because everyone knows about him, that doesn’t mean we should stop being excited about what he’s going to do next.

Here’s what we know: he’s going to be guiding the “Uncanny X-Men” for the foreseeable future, and if the last few issues are any indication, it will be the best iteration of that series in quite a while. He’s also going to continue to script the adventures of a now-loose-cannon Tony Stark in “Invincible Iron Man.” The new “Dark Reign” status quo seems to suit Fraction’s take on Stark very well.

But what else will Fraction give us in 2009? He’s been doing three or four comics a month in the past year, so I can’t imagine that he’ll just sit tight with the two listed above. He recently indicated plans for more “Casanova” this year, but with his artists tied up on other projects that looks unlikely for the near future. Fraction has been working on two original graphic novel projects for a while (“The American,” about Abe Lincoln, and “The Empress of Japan, about baseball and oh so much more), and maybe we’ll see one of those in 2009. But I suspect we’ll hear something new and Marvel-related from Fraction one of these days. Perhaps it will be announced at the New York Comic-Con. I’ll be there, listening.

Sterling Gates
Gates had a less-than-auspicious debut on “Green Lantern Corps,” but as Geoff Johns’s right hand man, he’s made “Supergirl” a viable book for the first time in its recent incarnation. “Supergirl” isn’t a revolutionary comic, but if you look at the train wreck that it was for much of its first two years, Gates’s simple, commonsense stories seem refreshing.

Under Johns’s tutelage, I’m sure Gates will continue to improve as a writer, but he’s already very good at the essential components of a good comic book story — dialogue, pacing, and a sense of spectacle. He has a “Faces of Evil: Prometheus” one-shot coming up, but I can’t believe that and “Supergirl” will be all we see from Gates in 2009. No, he’ll probably become involved in “Blackest Night” somehow, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him writing another monthly before the end of the year. He’s good, and he’s only going to get better over the next twelve months.

Rafael Grampa
If you missed Grampa’s stunning (and strange) “Mesmo Delivery,” than you might have seen Grampa’s artwork in “Hellblazer” #250, where his deranged take on John Constantine was the best looking section of the comic.

Grampa is an art director for Lobo, a design center that works for a variety of high-profile clients, so I’m sure his comic book work is a sideline at this point, but he certainly made a splash with “Mesmo Delivery” and his unique style (which is like a mad love child of Basil Wolverton, Simon Bisley, and, I don’t know, Frank Quitely) would make even the most generic story seem innovative.

I don’t know if he has any comic book work planned for 2009, but we can hope.

Jonathan Hickman
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned on my blog that I was going to do a column about “Creators to Watch,” and asked my readers to throw out some suggestions, just to make sure I didn’t forget anyone. Hickman was the name that popped up most often, and even before those comments, I had no intention of leaving Hickman off the list. He’s the guy everyone‘s going to be watching in 2009 as he makes the leap from idiosyncratic personal projects to big-time Marvel hijinx with “Secret Warriors.”

Brian Michael Bendis is listed as co-writer of “Secret Warriors,” but all reports indicate that this is a Hickman book, and everyone’s wondering if he’ll be able to take his information-heavy, often confrontational writing style and translate it to the Marvel mainstream without losing all of his personality. His “Nightly News,” “Pax Romana,” and “Transhuman” demonstrate such an interesting, unique voice that we can only hope that he’s somehow able to distill that into a form that works in what is basically just another superhero comic. In the hands of Hickman, “Secret Warriors” might very well become much more than that, though.

Kathryn Immonen
Immonen is perhaps better known as the wife of top-notch artist Stuart Immonen, but her take on Hellcat, first in the pages of the otherwise quite tepid “Marvel Comics Presents” and right now in the five-issue “Patsy Walker: Hellcat” miniseries, has shown her to be a wonderful writer. She has breathed life and personality into the long-bland Patsy Walker, and her “Hellcat” mini is one of the best comics coming out right now. It helps that she’s assisted by the shockingly good David LaFuente (who probably deserves a spot on this list as well), but Immonen’s writing style is fresh and fun, and that’s the type of thing we need more of in these times of portentous Ultimatums and Dark Reigns.

Immonen hasn’t announced any new projects for 2009, as far as I know, but I hope she gets a chance to write some more stuff for Marvel, or DC, or whoever has the brains to give her as many writing gigs as possible.

Geoff Johns
Like Fraction, or perhaps even more so, Johns is such an overwhelming presence in the superhero mainstream that it seems a bit ridiculous to point him out as someone to watch in 2009. But anyone who has been reading his stuff over the past few years knows that Johns keeps getting better and better. His long-form plotting, layering of story information, and emphasis on heroic splendor has made him the best of the traditional superhero writers working today. His “Sinestro Corps War” saga was a high point, and his work on “Action Comics” has helped to set Superman back on course and bring back so many elements that are essential to the Superman legacy (not the least of which was the “real” Legion of Super-Heroes).

And what does Johns have in store for us in 2009? “Blackest Night,” which is sure to be huge. “Superman: Secret Origin,” which will redefine Superman, Johns-style. “Flash: Rebirth,” which will usher in a new era as Barry Allen returns to action. And let’s not forget that he still has over half of “Legion of 3 Worlds” yet to come, and rumors seem to be pointing toward a Johns-helmed “Legion” segment of the revived “Adventure Comics.” Even if that last bit turns out not to be true, you have to admit that Johns has a lot of big plans for 2009, and we should keep our eye on all of them.

Jeff Lemire
I picked up Jeff Lemire’s “Lost Dogs” at the MoCCA show a few years back, and I have to admit that it looked like a mess. Lemire’s heavy brush-strokes and prominently-nosed characters take a little while to get used to, but by the end of the book, I completely fell in love with Lemire’s world. Even in that debut volume, he proved himself to be a brilliant storyteller — one who could pack an emotional punch with great subtlety.

Since then, Lemire has completed three graphic novels for Top Shelf as part of the “Essex County” trilogy (all three of the books are definitely worth reading, and Top Shelf recently announced plans to collect all three volumes into a massive “Essex County” omnibus). But 2009 should be the year Lemire breaks into the big time, with a Vertigo graphic novel (“The Nobody,” a 144-page Invisible Man kind of story, with Lemire’s unique sensibility), and a rumored Vertigo ongoing series. I haven’t heard much about the series, other that some idle chat and internet gossip, but I’m sure we’ll get an announcement about it sometime in early 2009. I love Lemire’s writing and artwork, and I can’t wait to see what he’s got planned for us.

Grant Morrison
2008 was definitely the year of Grant Morrison, between the finale of “All-Star Superman,” his “Batman” run, and “Final Crisis.” And, like Fraction and Johns, it goes without saying that Morrison is always a creator to watch. 2009 seems like an extention of 2008 for Morrison, with a bit more Superman (“Superman: Beyond” #2), a bit more “Final Crisis,” and rumors of more “Batman,” with maybe, possibly, hopefully Frank Quitely as the artist.

But there’s also Morrison’s Vertigo projects, like the two “Seaguy” sequels, “Seaguy 2: Slaves of Mickey Eye” and “Seaguy 3: Seaguy Eternal.” Cameron Stewart is hard at work on them, from what I understand, and we should see at least volume 2 in 2009. And then there’s “Warcop,” which we know very little about, but should hit shelves by the end of the year. When Morrison wraps up his big superhero stuff and downloads his brain into Vertigo projects, the results are usually strange and thrilling, so I expect nothing less from these comics.

Fred Van Lente
Van Lente gets his own holiday over at Comics Should Be Good, so I assume you’re already keeping an eye on his output as well. But if 2008 was the Van Lente’s breakout year (and how could it not have been, with his fingers all over “Incredible Hercules” and his almost unimaginable redirection of the seemingly-lost “Marvel Zombies” franchise), then 2009 will be the year when he rises to the A-list.

Van Lente looks to be continuing his work on many of the titles he initiated last year, and that’s a good thing, but I wonder what else he has planned for 2009. More “Comic Book Comics,” I’m sure, but I also assume he has some other exciting projects lines up at Marvel. It’s nice that he gets a chance to write things like “Wolverine: First Class” or “X-Men Noir,” but his talent shouldn’t be wasted on second or third-tier titles. My guess is that we’ll see him working on one of Marvel’s core series by the end of the year. It’s purely speculation, of course, but it’s something we’d probably all like to see.

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of “Grant Morrison: The Early Years” and editor of the in-this-month’s-Diamond-Previews’ “Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes” anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen every day at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

Want to talk about this week’s column with other readers? Post your thoughts over on the CBR message boards.

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