A few weeks ago, the New York Times’ dropped the sections of its famous Best Sellers List dedicated to manga and graphic novels. Even with comics’ wider acceptance across pop culture, they can still feel a step removed from the rest of the literary world. Despite that gap, a few comics writers have managed to make the leap into prose writing.
Now, CBR is taking a look at some of those comic book writers who also wrote novels and other prose fiction. Although literary giants like Harlan Ellison have worked some in comics, this list will focus on prose authors who worked extensively in comics and comic creators who wrote any prose fiction. While this list is hardly comprehensive, we’ll be looking at a few of the creators who worked in prose fiction before, during or after working primarily in comics.
15. STAN LEE
Before Stan Lee co-created half of the Marvel Universe and helped usher in the modern age of comics, he was born Stanley Lieber. When he wrote his first piece for 1941’s “Captain America Comics” #3, he wrote under the pen name “Stan Lee.” As Lee has recounted many times, he used a pen name in the then-disreputable field of comics so that he could write more literary pursuits under his birth name. After his fame and the success of his groundbreaking comics work, he legally changed his name to Stan Lee in the 1970s.
Ironically, Lee’s adopted name finally gave him the chance to write his first novel, “The Alien Factor,” in 2001. Co-written by sci-fi author Stan Timmons, this alternate-history tale takes place in a world where an alien spacecraft crashed in Nazi territory in the middle of World War II. The book follows Logan’s Losers, a team of Allied soldiers, as they try to capture or destroy the ship before it falls into the hands of the Germans. Upon release, the novel received moderately positive reviews. Since then, Lee has written or co-authored several other nonfiction works as well as “The Zodiac Legacy,” a series of young adult novels.
14. PETER DAVID
While Peter David might be more familiar to comics readers for his lengthy runs on “Incredible Hulk,” “X-Factor,” and “Spider-Man 2099,” he has had a substantial career as a novelist too. His first novel, “Knight Life,” was released in 1987 and followed King Arthur as he reappears in the modern day and runs for Mayor of New York City. Along with the ensuing “Modern Arthur” book series, David has written several novels and created a few prose fantasy and sci-fi series including “Sir Apropos of Nothing.”
After a successful stint writing “Star Trek” for DC Comics, David was recruited to write Trek novels by Pocket Books editor Dave Stern. David quickly became one of the defining literary voices for “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” In 1992, David wrote “Imzadi,” an influential, in-depth chronicle of the relationship between William Riker and Deanna Troi. After his success with the TNG novels, David co-created the “Star Trek: New Frontier” series in 1997. That series features a crew made up of original and existing minor characters in stories that are independent from other Trek productions, and has almost been written entirely by David.
13. SCOTT SNYDER
Scott Snyder’s well-received short-story collection “Voodoo Dolls” helped set the stage for his massive success at DC Comics. Released in 2006, the book features seven short stories, linked thematically by idiosyncratic details and Snyder’s surreal imagination. In the same way that he would eventually offer his unique perspective on iconic characters like Batman and Superman, Snyder works with distinctly American iconography throughout the book, twisting it in unexpected directions. While most of the book was well reviewed, its more fantastic stories like “Blue Yodel” and “The Star Attraction of 1919” received special praise, and the book caught the attention of literary titan Stephen King.
A few years after this, Snyder reached out to King for a quote about his upcoming Vertigo series “American Vampire,” which follows a few vampires over the course of American history. After reading some early parts of the series, King offered to write an issue, and eventually ended up writing five issues’ worth of stories. King’s name helped sell that series in its early days, and that still-ongoing series was one of Snyder’s first major comic works.
12. WARREN ELLIS
With titles like “The Authority,” “Planetary” and “Transmetropolitan,” Warren Ellis has been one of comics’ most forward-thinking writers for two decades. In addition to his comics work, Ellis was one of the first creators to embrace the Internet as a way to connect with readers and build a dedicated audience.
After Ellis wrote non-fiction extensively across various columns, blogs and newsletters, his debut novel, “Crooked Little Vein,” was released in 2007. That book follows private investigator Michael McGill as he went on a bizarre journey through the United States in search of a second, secret U.S. Constitution. Ellis’ trademark interests in bleeding edge technology, secret histories and peculiar subcultures were on full display in that book and his later novels, 2013’s “Gun Machine” and 2016’s “Normal.” While “Gun Machine” is a hard-boiled detective yarn, “Normal” follows a group of thinkers and futurists who’ve been driven to the brink of sanity by the dark prospects of the future. All three of Ellis’ novels earned mostly positive reviews.
11. G. WILLOW WILSON
In 2014, G. Willow Wilson was responsible for the co-creation of Kamala Khan, the star of “Ms. Marvel” and one of Marvel’s most compelling new teenage heroes in years. While that success is fairly recent, Wilson has been working in comics for over a decade. With art by M. K. Perker, Wilson’s first major works were the 2007 graphic novel “Cairo” and the 2008 underrated Vertigo series “Air.” Both comics combined elements of magical realism and fantasy with her experiences living in Egypt and working as a flight attendant, respectively.
After the critically-acclaimed 2010 memoir, “The Butterfly Mosque,” Wilson wrote the urban fantasy “Alif the Unseen.” That 2012 novel follows a hacker called Alif in an unnamed Mid-Eastern city, as he navigates heartbreak and gets wrapped up in the supernatural world of jinn. With its mix of intrigue and fantasy, the book won a World Fantasy Award in 2013 and garnered favorable comparisons to the works of Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson.
10. CHRIS CLAREMONT
Along with an all-star roster of artistic collaborators, Chris Claremont shaped the X-Men into the beloved franchise it is today over his astonishing 17 year run. Claremont’s verbose scripts helped bring his operatic plots to life and perfected the sophisticated type of storytelling that’s still seen in comics today.
While Claremont has always been a novelistic writer, his first prose novel didn’t come until 1987’s “First Flight.” The sci-fi novel follows Lt. Nicole Shea as she makes first contact with an alien species in space in this first book of the “High Frontier” trilogy. The book received moderately positive reviews along with its two sequels, 1991’s “Grounded!” and 1994’s “Sundowners.” Claremont also worked with George Lucas on a literary sequel to the 1988 fantasy film “Willow.” Starting with 1995’s “Shadow Moon,” Claremont worked from Lucas’ plots and wrote all three books in the “Chronicles of the Shadow War” trilogy to lukewarm reviews.
9. JOHN BYRNE
John Byrne rose to prominence as Claremont’s collaborator on some iconic X-Men tales like “Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.” Byrne had started co-plotting the title with Claremont, and he had a lengthy run writing and drawing “Fantastic Four” in the 1980s. Byrne also had prominent, well-remembered runs writing, and in some cases writing and penciling, “Superman,” “Avengers West Coast” and “The Sensational She-Hulk” in the ensuing years.
While Byrne continues to work to this day, his first prose works came in the midst of the horror fiction boom of the 1980s. His debut novel, “Fear Book,” was released in 1988 to decent reviews and a Stoker Award nomination for best new horror writer. The book follows the Dennison Family as they are menaced by a haunted book that keeps on showing up in their mail. Byrne’s second novel was 1992’s “Whipping Boy.” This well-received novel follows a boy who has the ability to replace people’s guilt with an eerie calm that becomes unspeakable evil. In 1997, Byrne also wrote the prose novel “Wonder Woman: Gods and Goddesses” to coincide with his tenure on the title.
8. TOM KING
Before he wrote comics like “Batman” and CBR’s best book of 2016, “The Vision,” Tom King worked as a counter-terrorism officer for the C.I.A. While that career helped King bring a gritty realism to espionage fair like “Grayson” and “Sheriff of Babylon,” he got his start in the comic industry years earlier interning at DC Comics and at Marvel as Chris Claremont’s assistant.
After his “odd excursion into the world of spies,” King returned to the world of superheroes with his debut novel “A Once Crowded Sky” in 2012. The novel follows the heroes of Arcadia City after power loss and the death of the hero Ultimate have devastated their ranks. When a new threat emerges, the heroes must face this threat without their abilities and coax the fallen hero’s sidekick, PenUltimate, who still has powers, out of retirement. With illustrations from Tom Fowler, the book has far greater emotional depths than its plot suggests and was moderately well-received upon release.
7. MARJORIE LIU
Before her work on “Astonishing X-Men,” “X-23” and the Eisner-nominated “Monstress,” Marjorie Liu wrote fan fiction about Marvel’s mutants to hone her writing skills. After going through law school and working at the U.S. Embassy in China, Liu continued to pursue writing and wrote her debut novel, “Tiger Eye,” in a month. After that book’s 2005 release, she wrote another 10 books in the “Dirk & Steele” paranormal romance series, which centered around shape-shifters, mermen, gargoyles and various other supernatural creatures.
Around that same time, Liu made her official X-Men debut with the novel “X-Men: Dark Mirror.” Starting with 2008’s “The Iron Hunt,” Liu also created the “Hunter Kiss” urban fantasy series, about a demon hunter who has tattoos that come to life. As of this writing, that series spans 11 novels and a few short stories. For both of her novel series, Liu was nominated for and won several romance novel awards.
6. DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI
Duane Swierczynski got his literary start writing non-fiction books like “The Spy’s Guide: Office Espionage” and editing newspapers and magazines in the early 2000s. Starting with his 2005 debut, “Secret Dead Men,” he wrote several well-received crime novels and was eventually brought into Marvel with a few other crime writers. While at Marvel, he helped redefine Cable and worked with characters like Iron Fist and the Punisher. After his time at Marvel, Swierczynski helped revive a diverse roster of older characters including Valiant’s “Bloodshot,” IDW Publishing’s “Judge Dredd,” Dark Circle’s “The Black Hood” and Dark Horse’s “X.”
While Swierczynski offered added some of his gritty, hard-boiled style to that rich line-up of titles, he continued to write well-received, award-winning crime fiction. Starting with his 2011 novel, “Fun & Games,” he wrote the Charlie Hardie trilogy about an ex-cop who fights a vast conspiracy. With titles like 2015’s “Canary” and 2016’s “Revolver,” he’s continued to mix his prose work with ongoing comics writing.
5. DENNIS O’NEIL
As a writer and editor, Dennis O’Neil had a hand in several of the biggest and best DC Comics of all time. After turning Green Arrow into a socially conscious hero, he helped guide Batman out of the campy 1960s and introduced Talia and Ra’s al Ghul. While he would have success as a writer with his underrated run on “The Question” in the late 1980s, O’Neil oversaw everything from “Dark Knight Returns” to “Knightfall” and “No Man’s Land” as the longtime Batman editor.
While O’Neil wrote several DC Comics novels including a best-selling adaption of “Knightfall,” O’Neil also wrote some other genre fiction. In 1971, he wrote “The Bite of Monsters” an alien invasion tale about the dangers of blind patriotism. Writing with Jim Berry under the name Jim Dennis, O’Neil followed this book with 1974’s “Dragon’s Fists,” a novel about a “Kung-Fu Master” named Richard Dragon. After that novel, O’Neil brought the character into the DC Universe as “Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter” in 1975.
4. JIM STARLIN
In the 1970s and the 1990s, Jim Starlin was the beating heart at the center of the cosmic Marvel Universe. After co-creating classic Bronze Age characters like Thanos, Drax and Gamorra, he co-created and wrote “The Infinity Gauntlet” in 1991.” While his series “Dreadstar” was one of the first creator-owned space epics, he also wrote more earthbound fare like “Shang Chi, Master of Kung-Fu” and “Batman,” where he wrote the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin.
Over several novels, all co-written with his wife Daina Graziunas, Starlin showed his same talent for working in disparate genres. The pair’s debt novel, 1990’s “Among Madmen,” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where most of humanity has been left in a mindless rage. 1992’s “Lady El” follows a dead woman whose mind is transferred into a computer through an experimental government program. In 1996, they wrote “Thinning the Predators,” a crime thriller where an F.B.I. agent has to team up with one serial killer to stop another. After the success of 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Starlin has returned to chronicling the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe over the course of several original graphic novels.
3. GREG RUCKA
With substantial runs on “Batman” “The Adventures of Superman” and “Wonder Woman,” Greg Rucka has consistently produced solid work with iconic characters for years. While he’s won Eisner Awards for his work on comic series like “Whiteout,” “Gotham Central” and “Queen & Country,” Rucka found success in the realm of prose fiction well before he came to comics.
Starting with 1996’s “Finder,” Rucka created a long-running series about bodyguard Atticus Kodiak. In 2012, Rucka introduced ex-Delta Force operative Jad Bell in the subversive action novel “Alpha.” Rucka has also brought the espionage-filled world of “Queen & Country” into prose over the course of three novels, most recently in 2011’s “The Last Run.” Like much of his comics work, Rucka’s novels have been largely heralded as gritty, realistic suspense thrillers. Rucka has also followed up on some of his other comic runs with novels like 2000’s “Batman: No Man’s Land,” and 2015’s “Star Wars: Before the Awakening.”
2. NEIL GAIMAN
While Neil Gaiman’s comics career began following Alan Moore on “Miracleman” and the iconic Vertigo series “Sandman,” he found immense commercial and critical success in the world of prose. Gaiman’s first major prose work came with the 1990 apocalyptic comedy “Good Omens,” co-written by fantasy icon Terry Pratchett. Gaiman’s first solo novel was a 1996 adaption of his television series “Neverwhere,” an urban fantasy about another world hidden under London. After this, 1999 saw the release of the high fantasy epic “Stardust,” which was later turned into a feature film.
Gaiman’s next novel was 2001’s “American Gods,” which is set to be adapted for TV by Starz later this year. That Hugo Award-winning novel and its sequel, 2005’s “Anansi Boys,” essentially follow various figures from international folklore as they come to terms with their place in Americana. Gaiman has also found success with young adult novels like 2002’s “Coraline” and 2015’s “The Graveyard Book.” “Coraline,” which essentially begins as a dark take on “Alice in Wonderland,” was adapted into a successful animated film in 2009. Gaiman has also worked extensively in non-fiction, most recently in his self-explanatory 2017 compendium “Norse Mythology.”
1. ALAN MOORE
Alan Moore may very well be the most critically-acclaimed comics writer of all time. With works like “Watchmen,” V for Vendetta” and “Swamp Thing,” Moore and his co-creators have pushed comics into sophisticated and surprising new directions. Given the infamous verbosity of his scripts, it’s not surprising that Moore has experimented in prose fiction on more than one occasion.
Moore’s first novel, “Voice of the Fire” was published in 1996 to mostly positive reviews. The novel takes place over 6,000 years and follows 12 people who’ve lived in Moore’s hometown of Northampton, England. Moore explored similar thematic ground with his 2016 novel “Jerusalem.” After a decade of writing, the book stands at well over 1,200 pages and as one of the longest major works originally written in English. The novel takes place over 1,000 years and traces the history of the Borroughs neighborhood of Northampton. With a wide array of writing styles, Moore posits the history, seen and unseen, of the parcel of land in a tale that mixes historical fiction with the supernatural and muses about the nature of time itself.
Stay tuned to CBR for all the latest on upcoming projects from these writers and more! Be sure to let us know what novels by comic writers you love in the comments below!
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