This year in addition to our usual questions for the Year-End Survey -– sent to a mix of creators, publishers, journalists and marketing personnel — we added a new category: Person of the Year, the person who, we we put it, was “the most important person, someone who had an impact, someone who set the pace, or had a banner year.” We were very curious to see what kind of responses this question would get -– while a lot of people are doing some of the best work of their careers, or emerging as critical favorites, it was a very mixed year business-wise and we were wondering who would be seen as the most visionary and decisive person.
Well, we needn’t have worried that this would be a hard question to answer. The overwhelming pick was clear: Robert Kirkman. The success of The Walking Dead TV show was obviously a huge factor, but Kirkman staying in the picture as a very active producer and writer on the show, and, just as importantly, his unstinting support for creator-owned material, his launch of his own Image imprint, Skybound, and general ubiquity on comics websites and USA Today alike, all made him the clear Person of the Year. Kirkman showed remarkable career management as he balanced promoting his TV show with continuing to turn out the best-selling THE WALKING DEAD comic. While remaining a regular Kentucky boy, he also put on a suit and tie for regular Hollywood functions without going Hollywood — – “I like to say that in Kentucky, I’m thin! I’m never moving out to Hollywood,” he told USA Today -– while negotiating such treacherous waters as The Walking Dead’s late seasons writing controversy with aplomb. Kirkman was in the spotlight all year and handled it smartly and graciously. Things are only looking up for 2011.
Some sample comments from our respondents.
–No matter what you think of his opinions or of his talent, he’s maximized the potential of “independent” comics to its fullest extent. How many guys have gotten rich from a black and white zombie comic book? One guy, that’s how many.
— [Kirkman] proved that creator owned comics are viable, lucrative, and still important in a market dominated by Marvel and DC. He put that Manifesto up there to be followed or mocked, and held true to his word.
— He is the end result of the Creator’s Bill of Rights, 20 years later.
–I thought Image picking him up as a partner was the smartest move anyone in comics had done in years, and I really thought it would be a massive turnaround in Image’s profile and profitability. I’m not sure that’s happened yet, it doesn’t seem to have, but hopefully it IS still coming. That said, Robert walked the walk. He took a chance and worked his ass off (with his artists and co-creators) and created something lasting and universal, in Walking Dead. Looking back, there was no way to know it would become this huge, so it meant taking a risk. And it paid off because someone had vision and guts. I’m really happy for the guy, but more than that, he deserved every speck of good fortune that is coming his way.
— Hands down, Robert Kirkman, that lucky, talented son of a bitch.
Contacted for comment, Kirkman told The Beat,
Hey, awesome! Thanks so much, Heidi. I’m flattered and extremely honored. I might have voted for Mark Millar or Geoff Johns myself, but screw those guys–I’ll take it! You asked me for a statement and other than saying thanks, I don’t really have much to say. So I guess I’ll just say this: I urge comic fans reading this to take note of the wide range of creator-owned comics out there. These comics are made with the blood sweat and tears of the creators who conceived them, not made by the people hired by the company who begged, borrowed or outright STOLE them from the creators. As more and more of you grow bored of what corporate comics have to offer, and current numbers prove that this is happening, don’t despair that this medium is failing you. There are a wealth of comics out there you will enjoy. I believe there isn’t a person on Earth who wouldn’t fall in love with SOME comic out there. So poke around, ask your local retailer, your favorite comic EVER could still be out there waiting to be discovered.
• While Kirkman was the overwhelming pick, other folks got many mentions. Coming in at a strong second place was David Steinberger, CEO of comiXology, which helped put downloadable comics for desktop, mobile phone and tablet on the map this year.
— David Steinberger, the CEO of Comixology, had as good a year as anyone. Digital publishing was the story of 2010, and Comixology was at the center of that discussion. Steinberger managed to bring both Marvel and DC into the fold and established his app as the most popular comics reader. It would be fascinating to take a closer look and see just how he managed it. The app improved a lot over the year, and Steinberger showed some innovative leadership through a few key decisions. He experimented with the medium by publishing a direct-to-app comic, expanded Comixology to the Android market and opened up his software to a handful of publishers and independent creators. The digital side is still nascent, but Steinberger has positioned himself atop the market.
— David Steinberger of Comixology. His company designed three of top Apps for the iPad — their stand-alone one, and the apps for DC and Marvel — and also developed authoring tools so creators can create their own app-ready comics themselves.
— If anyone’s gonna get this back-assward industry to realize that the only way digital comics are gonna fly is for there to be a cross-platform cross-device “iTunes for comics” it’s David Steinberger. Can he get the big players to stop being petty, proprietary and to generally just stop cutting off their noses to spite their faces? Only time will tell… but he seems to be giving it the old college try.
— David Steinberger. Everyone knew that comics should go digital, but only David was able to get it done. No one moved more mountains to Mohammad to get this paper-based industry facing the future. He is the Max Gaines and Phil Seuling of this era.
• Changes at DC were one of 2010’s huge stories, and both DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson and new DC CCO Geoff Johns got several mentions:
— Diane Nelson. She shook up DC and organized them for the future, doing things that should have done 5 years ago. I can’t say I agree with all her decisions and I think she’s still depending on old blood (and male blood) rather than bringing in new blood but she made the changes that were needed to stem the ice age from the dinosaur for now.
— Diane Nelson. It wasn’t single-handed, but under her direction an enduring keystone of the comic book industry was changed forever. I can’t think of any corner of the industry that won’t feel the effects.
— I’d have to say Geoff Johns. He now has a position unique in the history of comics: He’s writing/showrunning one of DC’s top comics franchises AND he’s shepherding the company’s properties to film and TV. And he’s gathering a really interesting team of people to work with him in Hollywood, too.
Love or hate the Scott Pilgrim movie, it was one of the other big multimedia creator-owned stories of the year and Bryan Lee O’Malley got several votes:
— Shared honors to Bryan Lee O’Malley and Robert Kirkman. Both lived the dream of having their creator-owned comics turned into aesthetically successful and culturally significant filmed works. And both absolutely dominated the trade paperback sales charts. Well done, gentlemen. We all love you, admire you, and hate you. ;-)
— I’d argue that no comic creator’s property has survived the full-scale big budget mainstream multimedia machine with its vision so impeccably intact. In other words, he did it his way.
• Apple/Steve Jobs and the iPad were recognized by some as changing the game.
— I think Apple and ComiXology in the future will be seen as starting the comic digital revolution this year. The iPad along with iPhones, iPod Touches and–soon to come–Android phones make comics available to everyone everywhere. The costs are lower, less worry about selling only “guaranteed” high-sellers, this new form of digital distribution will allow smaller books that otherwise would either have small print runs or never get made have a chance to find their audience.
• The passing of the late Harvey Pekar was also mentioned by several respondents:
— I’m going to say Harvey Pekar. His death was sad, but the subsequent remembrances from so many different people or different ages, occupations, and interests made it clear how many lives his work touched, and touched profoundly. Whatever new corporate structure may be implemented at a business office or whatever creator’s properties are poised for transmedia successes, it’s creators like Harvey that engender the kind of affection that, I would like to think, speak to the best of what comics is all about.
OTHER VOICES, OTHER CHOICES
Although these were the most popular picks, many other people got mentions. Here’s a sampling:
— For me, it’s a tie between Todd McFarlane and Neil Adams, because of things I know of that they did behind the scenes to help other creators, without any need for public adulation.
— Raina Telgemeier continues to blow me out of the water.
— Brian Michael Bendis. Not only has he kept Ultimate Spider-Man the best Spider-Man book of this decade, but he’s also totally revitalized the Avengers to a point where they’re to this decade what the X-Men was to the ’80s. And he’s also managed to give his old fans something like Scarlet, he’s trying something new in Takio, and he made being bald the fashion statement that it is now in comics. He’s a great booster for comics, someone I’m happy to see leading the way like he does.
— The idealist in me is going with Roger Langridge, Chris Samnee, Nate Cosby and the THOR THE MIGHTY AVENGERS team. Here you had a critically acclaimed, well-received, passionately created all ages book from two major talents and tied into an upcoming feature film that (despite minor flaws) had been embraced and discussed by an industry, pushed by retailers and creators alike, and for whatever reason could not make it in the Direct Market. Does it speak of the business? The fans and consumers? The glut of similar books with similar characters? The creators themselves? All I know is if this book couldn’t make it, making it is gonna be a trial.
— I’d have to say Mark Millar. I think he’s doing things to lift the whole industry up, with his CLINT magazine and like the media deals he’s pursuing.
— Chris Ware, because he continues to make incredible comics, and because his covers for New Yorker (11 Oct) and Forbes (rejected) were among my favourite comments on the recession.
— Lynda Barry, because her new book, Picture This, is enormously inspiring and should be read by everyone. And also because she’s awesome.
— Nick Spencer is the Person of the Year because after a few books he was able to break out and start a full time career in comics. I think that is inspiring in many ways even for those of us who have been doing it longer.
— Grant Morrison. For continuing to raise the bar on what mainstream superhero comics can accomplish.
— Jeff Lemire. No one has been as successful crossing over between alternative and mainstream success.
— Jeff Kinney is a contender. His DIARY OF A WIMPY KID books consistently top the graphic-novel bestseller lists at Amazon and elsewhere, helped no doubt by the release of the WIMPY KID movie this year. Kinney is not the most headline-grabbing person, but the power of his popularity among readers is nothing to ignore.
— J. Michael Straczynski — for better or for worse, he set a new precedent with leaving two of DC’s Trinity characters to push a new (?) format.
Also named: Dash Shaw, Will Dinski, James Stokoe and Marley Zarcone, Carol Tyler, Jamie McKelvie, Johnny Ryanm and Andrew Farago
Editors, Executives and Journalists
— From where we sit in the lunchroom, comics’ 2010 POY is Peggy Burns. This likely won’t register with the superhero crowd or the folks gazing at the Diamond Top 300, but take a look at the New York Times and you’ll see James Sturm and Lynda Barry and Dan Clowes all over it – including on their list of bestselling graphic novels, of which we’re sure the Big Two are very much aware. Speaking of Dan Clowes, D&Q not only picked him up in 2010, but also happened to publish a book by that Chris Ware guy. There’s no debate about which company is in pole position among literary comics publishers anymore, possibly even comics publishers, period. This would never have happened without Peggy Burns.
— Secret Acres
— Has to be Robert A. Iger President and CEO at Disney, who engineered the buyout of Marvel. He set in motion all kinds of machines that will continue to resonate across the comics, book trade and entertainment industries that will be felt for at least the next decade. No matter what part of the entertainment world you live in, when you hear that a comics publisher has been purchased for that much money(which is probably still a bargain) you suddenly realize there’s a new gold rush underway and it’s gone ‘main-stream’. Disney owns the princess market and now they are working to capture the boys market. Buying Marvel was a stroke of genius and since Iger’s great uncle was Will Eisner’s partner in comics publishing, it was already stamped into his DNA.
— John Shableski
— Francoise Mouly, Editorial Director and founder of TOON Books. She crashed the gates of children’s publishing with her beautifully crafted comics/graphic novels for early readers. She’s won major acclaim and awards with her books proving that comics are a true form of literature. Her efforts will impact the way children’s books are published for a long time to come.
— Bob Harras. Come on! He must be feeling great.
— Jim Valentino. In the past, there were brilliant minds like Archie Goodwin, Neal Pozner and Lou Stathis, and we are the less now without them. Jim carries their collective mindset, and is the most innovative and brilliantly current as well as old-school editor and publisher in comics today.
— For me: Ben Abernathy. Nicest, hardest-working, most creatively-insightful guy out there.
— Tom Spurgeon, he’s the conscience of online comics discourse at this point, and sorely, sorely needed.
— This may seem an odd choice, but my vote goes to Paul Levitz. Has there ever been a smoother transition from comics company head to freelance writer? And every time I went somewhere involving comics this year he was there, looking relaxed and having a good time. Haven’t read his words in the “History of DC Comics” monster-sized book yet, but I’m looking forward to it, and it’s another impressive achievement.
— Ross Richie: It was a tough year for comics and it was toughest on the smaller companies, but somehow BOOM! has emerged improbably well positioned for 2011.
— Anne Koyama. [She] has got to be the most selfless publisher ever. She’s just a pure gift to comics.
— Alvin Lu, Viz Media: Alvin isn’t the heir to Shueisha or Shogakukan, but if Viz Media is the king of manga in the U.S. (which it is) then he is America’s manga prince. While other publishers (of books and magazines) struggle with the question of relevance, Alvin and Viz continue to do what they do while experimenting with different formats to deliver content. The question of “are books relevant?” or “how does publishing stay relevant in these digital times?” isn’t the issue that Viz Media is grappling with. Instead, they’re asking “how do we use these new technologies to grow and reach our readers?” That’s the smart question that all publishers need to be asking themselves.
— Stan Lee, a man who somehow maintains the vigor of youth while tirelessly championing comics.
— C.B. Cebulski. He has made finding, fostering, and encouraging new talent a priority at Marvel and taken it to the next level online and around the globe. It’s just a hunch, but I think we may be talking about “the Cebulski generation” of talent in ten years. (See: the WEF generation.) Maybe more appropriate for 2011.
Several people were mentioned in connection with conventions, which had a huge impact on the pop culture landscape in 2010.
— Picturebox: Every year, Dan Nadel goes out on a limb and makes thoughtful, provocative, books. And every year, he’s around to do it again. Sure, the Picturebox storefront closed down, but the books keeping coming. I think it’s safe to say that Picturebox doesn’t publish the most commercial books. And it is a very privileged position to be in to pursue non-commercial projects. I’m pretty sure Random House and HarperCollins can’t make these types of choices. At the end of the day (or year 2010) which would you rather be?
— I’ve been somewhat out of the loop this year, but I’ll say Gabriel Fowler (& Dan Nadel) for putting together such a great comic fest (despite the controversy!).
— Bill Kartalopoulos
— Christopher Butcher, because he directs – hands down – the most enjoyable North American show I have exhibited at in years, TCAF! His work at The Beguiling makes it such a quality shop, and his blog has lots of great Japan photos, which I love.
— My person of the year is Kenny Penman of Forbidden Planet UK. He as started a publishing company and added a large selection of US and Canadian small press titles to what he carries in his stores, bucking the trend of consolidation during recession that many American retailers have employed. Does he ever sleep?
And the rest…
A few votes went to people you wouldn’t expect…
— Shintaro Ishihara, Governor of Tokyo: he seems to be leading the Japanese censorship charge.
— Jon Roman, the Boys Toy Buyer at Toy R Us is the unsung person of the year. Roman is championing a true, authentic presentation of the genre at Toys R Us. Jon is creating new fans, new readers and a wider-range acceptance — and accessible entry point — than other single person.
— Probably Rev. Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church for pointing out that the comic book superheroes are vying for false gods status. A good point. Unfortunately everything else they believe is totally nuts. So so their pointing this out doesn’t help the cause of reason any. Especially when you take into consideration that the gods of western culture, including the one Phelps worships, are probably false gods in the first place.
Finally, this commenter might have had the best pick of all:
— The shareholders. ‘Cause if they don’t think they’re happy, nobody thinks they’re happy.
Huge thanks to all the people who took the time to respond to The Beat’s survey. It’s a privilege to pass along the thoughts of so many smart, talented people. Until next year!
(Note: Although we promised anonymity, a few people wanted to be quoted, so we’ve gone ahead and done so.)