Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Top 5 Favorite Writers

Hello world. I’m busting out. I hope you guys enjoyed some of those videos I posted last week. I know I warned of the language, but going back and watching them I realized there was a lot more than I originally thought. Oh well. I’m a practitioner of the George Carlin school of thought, that there’s no such thing as dirty words. At some point people just decided words were bad without really investigating their meaning. I think it’s funny that people cover up the “bad words” with euphemisms that mean the exact same thing. Not only do I not have a problem with bad words, but I actually like them. They’re some of my favorite words. They can mean anything. They can mean bad things, funny things, happy things, etc. The English language is constantly changing. Some changes I feel are completely ridiculous (fershizzle), but so many words have changed meanings or have had more meanings added to them. Many language purists refuse to believe this to be true. They will say that curse words show a lack of vocabulary or ignorance. I went to school for communication and one thing I’ve learned is that the majority of our communication isn’t in the words we say, but how we say them. It’s all in the semantic context of our discourse. I would say I have a pretty decent vocabulary, yet I love bad words. I know plenty of people with huge vocabularies, yet they can’t seem to express their feelings because they’re so attached to the literal meaning s of words that they can’t let their emotions speak for them.

So I’m prefacing this week’s blog with those thoughts because I’m going to be writing about some of the best communicators I’ve had the chance of discovering. These are the people that have found every way possible to use this silly form of communication of ours to really mean something more than just words on paper. Most of these people don’t have potty mouths like me, but they do push the limits and explore the boundaries of what our language can really express. Ladies and gentlemen, my top 5 favorite writers.

5. Robert Jordan

He’s definitely the most wordy word smith on my list. Robert Jordan is an award winning and critically acclaimed fantasy novelist who passed away at the end of 2007. His most noted work is The Wheel of Time series. Now I’ve said in the past that there is very little fantasy/sci-fi that really appeals to me. I know I’m going to burn some bridges with this but it needs to be said. Jordan destroys Tolkien. There, I said it. It took me a long time to admit it myself, but I’m on my second read through of WoT and it’s clear that Jordan created the richest and most interesting fantasy world. For a long time I wouldn’t read this series. Usually when a bunch of nerds tell me something is awesome it’s a pretty big clue that it’s not. I humbly present my ass for the kicking.

It wasn’t until I made a character in The Wheel of Time role playing game that I got my first taste of the world. I couldn’t ask a question about something without my friends replying back with 20 minute responses going into 2,000 years of history, historical areas, historical figures, philosophy and speculation on what they think will happen at the end of the series. Eventually I just had to say fuck it and start reading the books so I could know what the hell was going on. Whiskey tango foxtrot. These books are the literary equivalent of Lays potato chips. Once you start, you just can’t stop. Even the slow parts of the series are interesting. You’ll notice I’m not giving any details about the plot. I’m doing this for your own good. If you read these and someone lets slip one detail about what happens in the future you’ll be overcome with a blood lust that can only be stopped with someone dying. Just know that they’re awesome and they deserve to be read.

My one criticism towards Mr. Jordan is that he can be very long winded. Not just in the size of his books (600-1000 pages per book in paper back), but also in his descriptions. This can go both ways. Every little thing in his books are brilliantly detailed so there’s never really any questions about what’s happening, but sometimes I could care less about some of the things he’s describing. It’s rare that I feel that way, but it does happen. The series is still in need of its final installment. With Jordan dying in the middle of writing the last book, the responsibility of finishing the series now falls on the shoulders of Brandon Sanderson and will be broken up into three novels that will be released yearly starting this November. I am seriously pumped. I’m an avid role player and The Wheel of Time game and the people I played it with is easily the best gaming experience I’ve ever had. Matt, Bucky, and Julie, we need to finish the Manetheren campaign…seriously.

Suggested reading:
-The Eye of the World
-The Great Hunt
-The Dragon Reborn
-The Shadow Rising
-The Fires of Heaven
-Lord of Chaos
-A Crown of Swords
-The Path of Daggers
-Winter’s Heart
-Crossroads of Twilight
-Knife of Dreams
-A Memory of Light (Part one released in November 2009)
-New Spring (prequel to The Wheel of Time)

4. Brian K. Vaughn

He is a very strange comic writer. If he creates something it will always be awesome until he leaves the project. If he picks up someone else’s project it won’t feel like he wrote it. I think it’s his curse. Whatever he creates is amazing. The first thing I ever read from him was, Y the Last Man. Basically everything with a Y chromosome drops dead except for one man and his monkey. Through this scenario the question is asked, is the world better off without men? The next thing I read from him was, The Runaways. This is the story of a group of kids who find out that their parents are super villains. It’s no secret that kids in some ways are forced to grow up a lot faster in our society, and this book explores that with a super hero twist. After that I read Ex Machina which I gave a review and description of in my top 5 favorite comics. Essentially it’s the story of a mayor with super powers. Now all of these plots I’ve given don’t seem fantastic, but his approach to these ideas is what makes him unique. He provides a unique observation on our society through these stories that have never really been explored before.

Now I talked about the downside to his writing earlier. He’s done a lot of work on other titles in order to gain the prestige needed to launch his own IP’s (intellectual properties). Some of the things he has done have involved my all time favorite franchise, The X-Men. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed. I compared his X-books to the projects that I listed above and it’s almost like two completely different writers wrote the books. This leads me to one of two conclusions. Either he can only write good when he creates something, or the editorial process gets in his way when he works on the big franchises. I can see that happening because he’s the type of writer that likes to do bold things and bold things are very risky for the big books.

Luckily one major show let him do his thing. Vaughn became a writer on Lost in the middle of it’s third season. During the 4th and 5th seasons he was bumped up to a producer. For all you folks that follow Lost you probably noticed it was sucking during season 3 until about the middle of the season. Since then the show has been going in a lot of crazy directions, which I feel have been awesome. Confusing to most, but totally rad to me. I have a feeling that if Vaughn was allowed to do whatever he wanted we would probably see some truly ground breaking story telling. He’s a writer that likes to pose interesting questions and then write 60+ issues taking you through the answer. I will say one thing, after he left The Runaways after it’s 42nd issue it hasn’t been the same. I‘m hoping the curse doesn’t work the opposite way too.

Suggested reading:
-Y the Last Man (10 trade paperbacks)
-The Runaways (7 trade paperbacks written by him, 4 by others)
-Ex Machina (7 trade paperbacks)

3. Joss Whedon

Some of you people out there don’t know the golden rule. If it says Joss Whedon on it, it’s automatically 90% better than anything you’ll ever read or see. Don’t believe me? Toy Story completely revolutionized animated movies. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Roseanne revolutionized television writing because of it’s focus on strong female characters and witty dialogue. Firefly breathed new life into Sci-fi. Astonishing X-Men was one of the best X-Men stories in years. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog is musically great and it introduced me to the love of my life, Felicia Day (she hasn’t met me yet but I’m sure she’ll love me, right?). He’s just a bad ass with the Midas touch.

I’ve talked about how awesome Buffy and Firefly are in past blogs so I won’t bother touching on that. What I really want to focus on is his style. Think of all the coolest people you know. Imagine a TV show or a movie with them in it. That’s what he does. He creates really cool people. I don’t mean Vin Diesel one liner chumps, but people who just feel real. His writing gift is understanding people. That’s another thing that I forgot to mention in my movie and TV blogs. I have a hard time suspending disbelief for a lot of characters. Motivations seem hollow, plots seemed rushed and underdeveloped. Not with Whedon. He takes his time and makes sure everything is perfect before moving forward. Characters that are supposed to be comedic in nature (Dr. Horrible, Xander Harris, Wash) are given a real human side to them. Sometimes he throws you a curve ball and you find out that their humor really comes from a deep hurt in their life. His villains have that same feel to them as well. I felt sorry for Spike and scarred at the same time. I understood where The Operative was coming from in Serenity. I thought he was wrong, but I understood his logic. I think that’s why I’m having such a hard time getting into Dollhouse. The characters change every episode. The story isn’t bad, but when I think of Joss Whedon I think of characters I would really like to hang out with or they stick with me.

I know I said this with my TV blog, but all his shows are worth giving a try. They may seem like they’re not your kind of show, but I’m sure after a few episodes you’ll start to get what’s going on and really come to appreciate it. Almost everyone I know wouldn’t think twice about Buffy, but after I Clock Work Oranged them into watching it they really started getting into it. Everyone loves Firefly. His comics have been great as well. Not just the Buffy, Angel and Firefly stuff, but his X-Men too. He made them super heroes again. Most of the third X-Men movie was based on his story (of course Hollywood had to screw it up, but that’s a given). Wolverine has also never been funnier. It’s rare that a writer comes along who can dominate in multiple genres and still be consistently good. To my knowledge he’s the best there is at what he does.

Suggested viewing:
-Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series)

Suggested reading:
-Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8
-Angel: After the Fall
-Astonishing X-Men Vol. 1 and 2

2. Brian Michael Bendis

Most of you that know me have heard me talk about this guy as if he was some sort of literary messiah. Well that’s because he is. I’m not even kidding. He seriously is the best story teller that I’ve ever seen. I wanted to become a writer because of this guy and when I met he made me realize that the comic industry is definitely my calling in life. At the same time he’s probably one of the reasons I’ve had anxiety about showing people my work. I study a lot of comic writers and I’ve been able to break a lot of them down to some basic elements and I’ve found their style. Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Matt Wagner, Mark Millar, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker Geoff Johns, Neil Gaiman…as much as I love these writers I think I’ve figured them out and I honestly don’t think they have many more literary tricks up their sleeves…but Bendis…Bendis never stops innovating the industry. Even when I read his work from the 90’s I find things that I’ve never seen replicated to this day that worked great. He’s the Leonardo Da Vinci of comics. On top of that I’ve honestly never read a bad story from him. He knows characters better then any other writer out there. I honestly don’t want to see anyone write Spider-Man again after he nailed it. If you follow hockey you’ll understand this metaphor, but he is the Wayne Gretzky of comics.

He comes from a very humble beginning as well. He originally got into the industry to be an artist. I honestly think he started writing just so he could draw his own books. He’s definitely a great artist, but he found his true calling when he started writing. He self produced so much of his own work for so long. He said after he finished his series, Jinx he had only made about $300 off of the whole thing. Marvel took a huge gamble on him when they gave him Spider-Man and Daredevil when he was still pretty much unknown. Now his arc on Daredevil is considered the greatest DD story ever and he now holds the record for longest creative team on a Marvel book for Ultimate Spider-Man with artist, Mark Bagley beating out the previous record set by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four. He launched the Ultimate line and he’s stuck with it all the way through. He’s now Marvel’s number one writer and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he runs the company one day because he basically has complete creative control over every major story that happens (Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Secret Origins, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, etc). Even though he’s a Marvel boy through and through he still does his multiple Eisner award winning series, Powers on the side. I mentioned in my comic’s blog that this is consistently the best comic I’ve ever read.

He’s mastered pacing which I can tell you from experience is the hardest thing to handle in comics. Conversations, action, and visual exposition are done perfectly. There are some issues of his books that can be read in 3 minutes and you’ll put it down and feel so satisfied, while other issues might take 25 minutes to read. I’ve also never had so many laugh out loud moments. Still to this day I think of a scene in The New Avengers when Luke cage gets knocked off of a sky scraper and has to take the elevator back up to get to the fight. While he’s in the elevator the music is playing, “Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride, nobody gonna slow me down, oh, no. I’ve got to keep on moving.” The whole time there’s a four frame sequence of Luke trying to mentally prepare himself for the fight. You probably have to see it, but it’s a great comedic moment in the middle of an epic fight. No other writer would try that in a comic or a novel because it would be so hard to make it work, but he somehow pulls it off brilliantly. He’s seriously the best writer out there and I strive every day to use him as the bar I want to get over, yet he’s not my number one…hmm.

Suggested reading:
-Fortune and Glory
-Total Sell Out
-Ultimate Spider-Man

1. Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith in my opinion may not be the greatest writer but I’m being sentimental here. He’s the first writer I would honestly say I had become a fan of growing up. It’s really hard to explain but to me he was the first person that I saw growing up who thought outside of the box. I honestly don’t remember where I first heard of him, but I rented Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy on the same day. 3 completely different movies that all connected with me on some profound level. At that time in my life all my work experience had been in the service industry so Clerks just felt so surreal. Mallrats tapped right into my nerdiness. Chasing Amy at the time was probably the most influential movie I had seen. I’m from a small town and homosexuality was something that not only was never discussed, but if the topic was brought up it was usually with disgust. Not everyone, but most people that I grew up around were pretty homophobic. Again, another part of my youth that just felt wrong and seeing Chasing Amy really made me feel vindicated. When you’re young it’s hard to really verbalize your feelings and it just felt like Kevin Smith spoke my feelings for me. He did it again with Dogma when he tackled a lot of the problems that I had with religion.

Smith has a great way of mixing inappropriate jokes while sending a message that very few writers have the ability to do so poignantly. He’s probably the reason I’m so comfortable with using curse words and making dirty jokes and at the same time feel so grounded morally. He was the guy that made me feel comfortable and not ashamed to have the thoughts that I have or to say the things that I say. As far as who I am as an individual I’ve probably been more influenced by him more than anyone else. This isn’t just in writing, but really in personality. I’ve been compared to him on an intellectual level and a physical one (not just the fat ass but mannerisms as well). I wouldn’t say I’m trying to emulate him, we just have a lot in common with the way we think. I’m sure I sound like a stalker saying this shit, but I see a lot of myself in him and I feel he is someone I would like to be like. A positive role model if you will.

Not only are his movies inspirational to me, but his blog has been a great read. He doesn’t do much on it anymore since he does a weekly podcast, but some of the stories have been great, especially the multi part story of Jason Mewes’ addiction to heroin and his road to recovery. A lot of his blog has been collected in a book called, Silent Bob Speaks. His comics have been great and it shows that he can do a lot more than just make movies. Lately he’s been dipping into TV and working on the show, Reaper which has been great. He’s the first person I can honestly say has been a hero to me and everything he’s been a part of has just been wonderful. Right now he’s the hero I’d really like to meet in my life, especially since I’m really starting to entertain this idea of being a real writer. I’m thinking it will happen and soon.

Suggested viewing:
-Chasing Amy
-Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
-Jersey Girl (It’s good you Affleck haters)
-Clerks II
-Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Suggested reading:
-Green Arrow: Quiver
-Daredevil: Guardian Devil
-Batman: Cacophony
-Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do

So there you have it. These are the people that have been the biggest inspiration to me when it comes to not only writing, but really who I am. Since I’ve been writing a lot more frequently it’s definitely been important to me to reflect on the people that really motivated me in the first place to try to be original and creative. Well I’ve got to get back to work on that being creative thing and I’ll see you in two weeks for my top 5 most valued possessions. I’ll still post some videos next week so still check up then. Let’s see some comments and some of your own top 5’s.



  1. great blog!

    I have always loved Kevin Smith. I really enjoyed Jersey Girl (but my second favorite is Chasing Amy (after Clerks, natch))

    Joss Whedon had a big part in my personality (that's kind of lame to say, but it's true)

    I think I'll try a Bendis comic, you should be his publicist.

    kick ass blog!

  2. Robert Jordan, yaaay! But seriously, you hit it on the head about his long windedness. They are creating a comic (or, graphic novel if you prefer) for the books, so those who are afraid of huge books may prefer that instead)

    Kevin Smith, yes. The dude is just funny.

    Christopher Moore. This guy can write a seriously funny book. Everything is so far fetched, but it's so ridiculously funny at the time. By far my favorite that he wrote is called Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. It's basically the filler for what the bible leaves out. I've probably read it a hundred times, and I'm currently re-reading it :D

    Tess Gerritson. She writes medical-police ish dramas that my Mom got me into. Very hard to put down once you get started.

    Jennifer Crusie. Total chick lit writer. But what can I say, she's addicting!