I remember the first comic I bought as a kid. It was "Uncanny X-Men" #160. I had no idea what I was getting into. Before, I had comics – loads of them– but they were all gifts and things folks had bought me. You know, your Justice Leagues, Batmans, Captain Carrot, etc. But I devoured "Uncanny X-Men" #160, reading it over and over again. While I just couldn't quite put my finger on it, this issue of X-Men had something different that the other comics I owned didn't possess. And probably, that "something" had to do with its writer, Chris Claremont.
We all identify with super heroes when we’re kids. You pick your side, Batman or Superman, Spider-Man or the Hulk, Aang or Ben 10. They might have capes, they might not; but it’s the character that grabs you. For me it was the Dark Knight but after that fateful day with "Uncanny X-Men" #160, it was all mutants, all the time. It’s not an old story for those of us who came of age in the Eighties, but I strongly believe Chris Claremont's run on X-Men and Marvel's many other X-titles is what shaped the modern comic reader – as well as writers – of today.
Chris Claremont was longest running writer for a single series in Marvel’s history. He had an attachment to the characters: knew their flaws, felt ownership and pride over them. Subsequently, he didn’t want anybody else screwing them up. He had an amazing run, with plot points he set in motion still showing up today in a variety of different media. In film he would have been considered an "auteur" but in comics, he was just "the writer".
As a kid I had no idea who wrote what I read, nor did I pay attention to who drew anything – I just read the comics and cared about the characters. And when I didn’t care about the characters, or lost interest, it was because something just didn’t "click." As an adult I learned this was bad writing ,or that weird feeling the hero was acting out of character. This is why "Uncanny X-Men" always kept my attention; it wasn’t just the continuity, but the characters. Plus, I liked the art too.
After college I remember, once again, buying a random comic off the rack. This time it wasn’t a newsstand but rather a rack at an actual comic book store. The book was called "aka Goldfish" and the writer was Brian Michael Bendis. The book looked cool, and the story was gripping. This was when I first realized I was one of those comic fans who will follow a writer moreso than an artist. It’s commonplace nowadays, and maybe always was, but I don’t care who draws what if the story is good. Luckily for me, most of the writers I like can pick awesome artists (then autograph over their artwork after you buy it at a convention – but I digress.)
I know comic books are the synthesis of writing and art. Doy. But I’ve bought many a trade paperback based on the writer and not the artist. (Yes, I’m a "trade-waiter" – bite me, I’ve got kids.) In fact, I organize them by writer and it’s a greatest hits of all our collective faves. While it’s a joy to see them finally get their due, I also think they would all say they owe a lot to Chris Claremont. At least they better.
Steven Smith wishes he hadn’t cut out the G.I.Joe coupon from the back of his X-Men 160, his podcast Going Off Track has a new episode out today with cartoonist Tim Kreider – go listen, and Steven really wishes Bendis hadn’t scrawled his name over Alex Maleev’s awesome art but that’s neither here nor there.