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Illustration of a young spider man fan in the cinema eating popcorn and watching a movie surrounded by other superhero fans Illustration: Erica Henderson for Polygon

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Defining the last 20 years of comics: the full answers

DC, Marvel, and indie comics’ biggest names, unfiltered

A comic artist or editor might pause when asked to define the the last 20 years of comics. I know, because I’ve asked some: With the third decade of the Modern Age approaching, Polygon picked the brains of as many comics industry veterans as we could, trying to understand how modern history has shaped comics, and how comics have shaped modern pop culture.

Wonder Woman scribes Steve Orlando and Gail Simone talked about the 2010s’ wave of diversity, while Lee, DiDio, and their Marvel counterpart Tom Brevoort went long on the movement of superheros to pop culture tentpoles. Cartoonists Scott McCloud and Gene Luen Yang nodded to the rise of the YA graphic novel, while superhero gurus Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns laid out the renaissance of pure superheroics.

Not to mention Al Ewing, Amanda Conner, Brian Michael Bendis, C.B. Cebulski, Colleen Doran, Bryan Hill, Jim Starlin, Kieron Gillen, and Liam Sharp, all weighing in with their take.

From The Immortal Hulk #1, Marvel Comics (2018). Al Ewing, Joe Bennett/Marvel Comics

Al Ewing

Writer of Immortal Hulk, Ultimates, Loki: Agent of Asgard.

The ’00s felt like the “Hollywood Decade.” “Widescreen” and “cinematic” became the new normal in terms of style, and the content became a strange mix of the grown-up and the childish, an attempt to get in tune with the new political zeitgeists while trying to compete awkwardly with the internet as a source of fetish porn. So many things felt “ready for the movie,” subconsciously getting the plots and costume designs and casting in place ahead of a world where the movies were finally ready to close the distance and become comics, complete with shared universes, crossovers and line-wide events. But at the same time, there was no shortage of diamonds amongst the lens flares — some of the great masters of the field doing career-best work, alongside the first shots across the bow from those who were cresting the hill, ready to take their place in the sun.

[The ’10s marked a] return to psychedelia and love, pitted against the last helpless gasp of the Olde Ways, with the dread Social Media fighting on both sides like Two-Face, always ready to ally himself if the coin-flip is right, but never to be mistaken for the hero. The story of the tens is a story of young people of all ages, all sick of grandad’s wanky lads-mag solipsism, all aching to throw their shoulder to the wheel and tell stories that speak to them and for them and the people they know. And — slowly, against some particularly creaky and cobwebbed resistance — it feels like the wheel has turned, at least a little. Not that there isn’t a lot still to be done — speculation is once again nibbling seductively at the load-bearing beams of the industry, and the culture war that’s been on seemingly as long as I’ve been alive is still raging away, with the stakes getting higher all the time — but at least when it comes to this one genre of this one medium in this one quite small section of the world, I have hope that things are getting better. If the ’00s involved the first introductions to the people who shaped superheroes in the ’10s ... well, we’re getting some great introductions now.

Amanda Conner

Artist and/or writer of Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre, Harley Quinn, Power Girl.

I can only speak for myself, because I worked on Harley since 2013. And in 2009 and 2010, we had worked on Power Girl, and I feel [that] this decade a lot of female superheroes came to the forefront. It was a very, very girl power decade for comic books. Also, and this has like been going on for the past 20 years, is that when I first started working in comics — and even when I was reading comics as a little kid — there were really not that many girls reading comics.

You would go to a convention in the late ’80s and the early ’90s and the only girls that you saw at comic book conventions were usually being “burros.” They were pack mules for whatever guy was the comic collector — and it was their mom or their girlfriend or their sister or their cousin, Hey, come to this con with me, I need you to carry all this crap for me while I get it signed. And every once in a while there would be an actual female comic reader. Now girls read comics across the table and it’s great. It’s really good. There’s more female creators, there’s more female readers. I feel like this decade has been a very, very girl power decade, which is great.

Miles Morales peels back his Spider-Man mask to smile at the reader, on the cover of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #6, Marvel Comics (2012). Kaare Andrews/Marvel Comics

Brian Michael Bendis

Writer of Spider-Man, The Avengers, Superman, Alias, Powers.

The ‘00s: Truth. I know a lot of people will say diversity, in voice, experience and perspective, and that is true and I am so happy to have part of it. But it came in the form of everybody bringing their personal truth to their work. A lot of people saying: You know what i am NOT seeing reflected in my comics… and just doing THAT! So you had perspectives and experiences we’ve never seen reflected in popular superhero literature before sometimes coming at us simultaneously.

The ’10s: World building. Almost everybody I know is either actively publishing or about to release a brand-new world or universe that is different than the one we are living in right now. Obviously a reflection of our times in that you want to live somewhere else or in a better place or in a different place.

Also, you can feel some of our audience is more traumatized and stressed out about the real world than they ever have been before and they come to us sometimes for total escape. I can feel it with my Superman readers. Take me to a world where the good guys win. I think about that … a lot.

I’m also seeing a great deal of creators from almost all walks of life pushing themselves to see how far they can push the medium. That’s a very good sign for things to come.

Bryan Hill

Writer of American Carnage, Killmonger, The Outsiders.

I think the ’00s in comics are largely defined, like a lot of media, by living in a post 9/11 world. How do you tell stories about superheros when the real world seems to be absent of the ones we need? I think fiction had to catch up to that. In the ’90s we were very safe. We were in this Clintonian economy where — we were so safe that you could make a movie with Ed Norton about how Ikea was the biggest problem in your life. That felt safe. I shop at Ikea, so I need to get punched, you could make that movie.

Art of ten Superman from ten different eras and costumes. Nicola Scott/DC Comics

I think when you look at the ’00s, you see a lot of the deconstruction of the archetype. I don’t think it’s a mistake that [the Borne films were] a major cultural influence, because it was a deconstruction of the sense of safety that government can provide in military action. And I think with comics, comics took a beat to grieve. The rest of the world was grieving and comics was kind of the same thing. But I think born out of that [was a] need to reexamine and deconstruct our relationship to these archetypes and to really examine what heroism means. I think we saw a rise in emotional depth when it came to these narratives. The emotional victories became as important as the plot victories in the ’00s.

I think that’s one of the things you’ll see — and in the struggle to make Superman. What does the world need from Superman? How can we love him? How can we trust him? What is his meaning for us? You saw some of that stuff as well. Certainly saw it over on the Marvel side. With how the X-Men were being articulated and how that works, Spider-Man, and all that. It seemed like an emotional recalibration in a lot of ways. And mythology is like that; as we go through real world events and the mythology that we need changes a bit. They go through reformation periods. I think the ’00s were like a reformation period in comics. And a lot of it was transitional, transitioning into this balance of fantasy and verisimilitude — and that’s where we live currently, and I think is largely a good thing.

I think the early ’00s were about reconciling with loss, and we needed fiction to recognize it with us. You start thinking about Ultimates, and all that stuff. We needed the fiction to do that. Almost like we needed the heroes to admit that they could fail, and to see those failures, so that we could trust them again. But now I think we’re looking more towards aspiration. And I think we’re, honestly, very similar to where culture was in the late ’70s. I don’t think it’s an accident that Star Wars is back in the public sphere, because Star Wars was a lot of how we shed the weight of the Vietnam War. And if you look at that, we had Vietnam, we had a lot of narratives that were about all the vagaries and the pyrrhic victories and the moral complexity and failings [of the Vietnam War], really delving into that. And then out of that sprouted a narrative wrought with basic ethics, and a belief in goodness and a recognition of evil. That’s where I think we’re going, I think that’s where we’re headed. Obviously it’s always tempered by nuance, but, yeah. I think we’re starting to get into that place where we’re ready to believe that a man can fly again. I think we want to look up at that building and see Batman standing on the corner of it, and we know that he’s there to protect us.

C.B. Cebulski

Editor in chief of Marvel Comics.

For me, comics are always boil down by the talent who makes them, and it was an increased focus on the talent that defined these two decades of comics in different ways. In the ’00s, for Marvel, our talent management group was formed to streamline recruitment and placement of writers and artists; give our talent the options and tools they need to help them build their creative careers, both for Marvel and their creator-owned books; help drive our stories and art forward with the best creators on the characters they wanted to be writing and drawing; and be a personal and professional resource for creators to answer any questions they may have to help them deliver the best work possible. This was a vast change from the previous system of each editorial office controlling and managing their own writers and artists, and offered more opportunities for the creative exploration while building a more cohesive Marvel Universe. Other companies have since looked at our efforts and started managing their talent in similar ways.

In the ’10s, it’s been an amazing time for discovering new talent; never before have we seen so many “ready for prime time” new creators writing and/or drawing comics, both independent and mainstream, from around the globe, adding a diversity of new voices to storytelling in both the print and digital mediums. And there’s no slowing down ... comics will only get more exciting, entertaining and enriching as talent from all walks of life across the world begin and continue telling their stories.

Colleen Doran

Writer and/or artist of Sandman, A Distant Soil, Wonder Woman.

[In the 2010s, girls became] a big part of American comics. I’ve been in comics since, well, longer than I care to admit, and this has never been a thing in my lifetime. There were a few women in comics, but it was really a queen bee set-up, and it wasn’t necessarily very welcoming. Now, women and girls in comics are not just becoming the norm, but a major creative and financial force. Without the financing, without the economic power, it was always going to be stops and starts. But women creators now make up a major financial segment of the market, and have some of the best selling books in both the direct market and the retail trade.

I didn’t feel welcome or even normal in comics until the last few years.

Gail Simone

Writer of Birds of Prey, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Deadpool.

I think [the ’10s are] the era where we sort of gave mainstream comics back to EVERYONE. There was a time when girls comics sold in huge numbers, where kids comics competed with Batman directly and often won. Somewhere along the line, we focused SO MUCH on the core superhero customer base (not talking about independent comics, here), that we sort of abandoned those other audiences. In other countries, this wasn’t the case.

So, yeah, it’s been a couple decades of great superhero comics, but also, the rise of people like Kelly Sue DeConnick and Marjorie Liu and G. Willow Wilson and it shows … print is struggling all over, but most of the breakthrough titles have been very welcoming to newbies. Which I love. I have devoted a huge chunk of my life to comics, I want it to be open for everybody.

LtR: Wonder-Woman, Super-Man, Dragonson, and Flash, members of the Justice League of China, on the cover of New Super-Man and the Justice League of China #22, DC Comics (2018). Image: Rain Beredo/DC Comics

Gene Luen Yang

Writer and/or artist of American Born Chinese, Superman, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Beginning in the ’00s, movies figured out how to tell superhero stories as well as (or maybe even better than?) comic books. Previously obscure characters are now mainstream. I began reading comics in the ’80s, and I cannot tell you how weird it is to see a 10-year-old wearing a Rocket Racoon t-shirt at my kids’ school. Back in the day, you had to be a hardcore nerd to know who Rocket Racoon was.

I didn’t read a ton of superhero comics in the ’00s, but it felt like some of them were trying to mimic the superhero movies. It’s a losing proposition, in my opinion. Movies and comics are two different media.

The ’10s was a huge decade for comics as a medium. Graphic novels for young people exploded, in part because of creators like Raina Telgemeier, Vera Brosgol, and Kazu Kibuishi. When I was young, maybe a handful of kids in every classroom read comic books. Today, it’s hard to find a single kid under the age of thirteen who hasn’t read Raina Telgemeier’s Smile. Everyone reads graphic novels.

I have a theory about this. The reason (or at least one of the reasons) these graphic novels have become so popular is that they leverage the intimacy of the comics medium. Reading a masterfully-crafted graphic novel like Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared is a bit like getting a peek into someone’s diary. All the lines are drawn by hand, you know? It’s very, very personal.

And that personal connection is difficult to reproduce with CG on a big screen. (Not impossible, of course, but difficult.) It’s a strength that is unique to comics.

What does this mean for superhero comics? In order to attract a younger audience, superhero comics have to figure out how to tell these sorts of personal stories. We were beginning to see this at the end of the ’10s. DC Comics has just started to put out some really exciting middle grade and young adult graphic novels. Mariko Tamaki and Steve Pugh’s Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is one of my favorites. Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo’s Raven is absolutely killing it. (Admittedly, I am very, very biased because I’m doing work for this line.)

I don’t think these graphic novels will replace monthly superhero comics, but they are incredibly important to building the next generation of superhero comic book fans — emphasis on “comic book.”

Billy, Freddy, Mary, Darla, Eugene, and Pedro, powered up as the Shazam Family, attack Black Adam in Shazam!: Origins, DC Comics (2013). Geoff Johns, Gary Frank/DC Comics

Geoff Johns

Writer of Green Lantern, Doomsday Clock, Shazam!, The Avengers.

It’s tough. I got into the business — really my career has been in the ’00s and this decade. So it’s hard for me to have a clear macro view of what the eras are defined as.

I remember specifically for me in the ’00s, I was really excited about a lot of the new voices coming up, like Brian Bendis and Greg Rucka. [After the ] ’90s where it was really flashy, over-the-top superheroes, and colorful, [the ’00s] was a bit of a grounding from that with some of that work. The work I did in the ’00s was — I call it — it’s like neoclassic, right? The JSA, Wally West/The Flash, I started Green Lantern in the mid-’00s. I really liked going back to the basics of what the concept was, while pushing them forward.

Like the JSA, I always loved the idea of the Justice Society having roots in the ’40s in a first era, but really progressing and evolving and having legacy — because it’s such a huge part of DC Comics — and exploring that, but keeping the rich history. I always loved the rich history of the DC Universe, so I always wanted to hold on to it. I never wanted to just reboot everything and start over. In the ’00s, I really remember that.

But I just remember creators I really loved from that era. And the ones that stood out, where the voices felt so new and fresh, were Bendis and Rucka. Those were two of my favorites. And obviously I love Grant Morrison, he was around in the ’90s too. But I look at that era — and that revitalization of Marvel, when [Joe] Quesada came in and they did Marvel Knights for a while and the Ultimate line started and there was a lot of interesting books out there. I just don’t know how you could summarize that in a couple of sentences. I’m not sure what that is.

Jim Lee and Dan DiDio

Lee is the artist of Uncanny X-Men, Batman: Hush, Justice League and co-publisher at DC Comics; DiDio is the writer of Metal Men, Sideways and co-publisher at DC Comics. The first interview conducted for this piece, it occured significantly earlier than the others, at San Diego Comic-Con 2018.

DiDio: The weird part about right now there’s the same level of [generation] gap in discussion that there was in the late ’60s and ’70s, that I think we’re starting to get into. And if we’re smart, we’ll find a way to tap into that and really be able to explore it in a way that increases story.

My fear right now is the world is so nostalgic. Everything is nostalgia-based and therefore we’re almost feeding our own tail right now, in the sense that the nostalgia is what’s driving the conversation more so than looking forward. So it’s important for us to break free of that nostalgia feel and start to really carve a path moving forward.

Spider-Man, on a poster for the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. Image: Sony Pictures

Jim Lee: When did Spider-Man come out? It was 2002, I think? To me, [the ’00s were] the rise of superhero pop culture. It was comics moving out of being the source material of this media, and the characters themselves taking over pop culture. I think with the ’10s, it’s the rise of social media and that way that’s impacted how comic book creators create their stories, interact with their fans; the influence of populism and the voice of the internet.

When I think about the ’00s and Spider-Man coming, out X-Men movies and all these things, the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the expectation for what superheroes are, everyone embracing the characters but not necessarily ... Sort of the rise of superheroes becoming a cornerstone of pop culture. I know that’s not necessarily the comic books, but I think it plays into the story of “We didn’t rise as that water level rose.” Right?

I think since then publishers have been challenging themselves with [the question of] “How do we catch this wave?” How do we get out there on the periodical side and capture so much of the obvious passion and interest in these characters. And a lot of the stuff we’re doing, YA [books], the [DC Universe] subscription service, Black Label is all part of that strategy.

Dan DiDio: [In reference to the “I Read Banned Comics” sticker on my notebook] We were talking about “I Read Banned Comics,” you gotta remember in the ’50s all comics were going to be banned. It wasn’t about a particular character or story, it was about a medium that they were trying to shut down. So it’s an intriguing question because, ultimately, we were the counterculture and now we’re the pop culture. That’s the weird shift for us, because in order to maintain our identity, we still have to push against the norm in some way. That is, I think in some ways, necessary.

Jim Lee: I remember in 2005, Dan was the executive editor of DC and he was pushing me and Frank [Miller] to get All-Star Batman and Robin out to time it with Batman Begins. It was a struggle because I was kind of burnt out from having just done 12 issues of For Tomorrow. But again it was this notion of “What can we do on our side of the business to tie in to this growing love and obsession with the superhero movies?” So that’s what frames my narrative for that decade.

Dan DiDio: The reason why I did that, we had to put something out and I’ve had the same importance that the movie did. I didn’t want the movie to be driving Batman. And the only way we can put out something that would be comparable to that was to put out Frank Miller and Jim Lee together. So that way we stay relevant.

Thanos and other Marvel characters on the Cover of Infinity Gauntlet #1, Marvel Comics, 1991. George Pérez/Marvel Comics

Jim Starlin

Writer and artist of The Infinity Gauntlet, Batman, Captain Marvel.

This is actually something I’ve been giving some thought to. I think the market is going to be a big factor in determining where the future of comics go. I think you’re gonna see the pamphlets slowly disappearing; the little 22-page or 20-page books. There’s just not a system anymore where those are profitable. Most of those books are losing money.

I think they are also going to be a lot — and they already have started to become — R and D for the movie industry or television industry. I think more people are already thinking about how they can do a story that can be adapted into a TV series or a movie, what-have-you.

I believe we’re going to see things other than the superheroes to beginning to sprout. Possibly in horror, science fiction, what-have-you, that aren’t as prevalent right now in the market right now as they have been at other times and possibly will be in the future. Everything could change.

We’ve gone through so many radical changes since I started off in the ‘70s. The video games took away a huge amount of people who were reading comic books; movies and television have taken away and brought in new people. The collections are selling much better than the regular single issue books. It’s going to change, but I’m not Nostradamus so I’m not going to be able to give you a precise prediction on this one. It’s just my shot at it.

Digital comics, which I didn’t touch on are becoming a major factor in the market. I don’t know what percentage they are of what the companies make, but I know it’s growing continuously. I believe it’s also happening with more independents. With the omnibus books we’re putting out, there is always an option to get the digital ones rather than the hard copy. We’re just going to have to adapt as we go along or we will fade away like the dinosaurs.

Every few decades there’s a whole influx of new people coming in. During the ’70s we radically changed comics, people were coming in and replacing all those cartoonists and writers who were the mainstay of the industry back from the ’30s and ’40s. My generation is being replaced now with a new generation, there’s always going to be something innovative coming in as long as the creative people keep getting hired, that’s the big trick. Getting the right people to do the right job. It’s not so much the characters as it is the people who tell the stories of the characters.

“Don’t piss us off,” Jenny Quantum warns, backed by the other members of the Authority, LtR: Apollo the Doctor, Midnighter, Swift, Jack Hawksmoor, the Engineer, in The Authority Vol. 1, DC Comics (1999). Image: Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch/DC Comics

Kieron Gillen

Writer of Young Avengers, The Wicked + The Divine, Star Wars: Darth Vader.

[What defined the ’00s?] Two words: The Authority. Coming in the lead up to the decade decade it defined the visual trends (“widescreen”, objective presentation of action, the distant shot on action), the emotional tone (a lot of snarkers) and how its heroes were organised. For the last, I think of the era as the paramilitary age of superhero comics. The Authority were a military-cell of anarchists, but when its moves were lifted over to the Ultimates, you increasingly had a period where superheroes were primarily government workers. Everyone ended up in the Avengers, which means that everyone ends up working for the government. As a trend across the decade standard tropes like secret identities were downplayed in favour of moving the centre of interaction to be the workplace - the Bendisian Avengers breakfast scenes aren’t like the 1980s X-men ones — they’re firefighters eating at the firehouse. All this mixed well with the the other major defining trend of ’00s comics — namely, the return of the crossover, bigger than ever. Between those two aspects, you created the intellectual backdrop to the Marvel cinematic universe.

If you separate the still-continuing elements of the ’00s above, the most defining elements of the ’10s is the increasing diversity in the books. I don’t just mean the cast or (as the decade went on) the creators, but in terms of the sort of stories you could tell. There’s a lot of what I’ll describe as quirkpop books, which tended to find their audience in trades rather than the traditional marketplace. Hawkeye and Squirrel Girl are two which leap to mind, but the playfulness of Ms Marvel is simultaneously new while also being a pure statement of elements which were definitive to the earliest Marvel superhero books.

Plus the triumphant march of cosplay, and other forms of fan engagement. This stuff all ties together and interlinks, but how a con looks in the ’10s is a different beast to how it looked in ’00s.

Wonder Woman brandishes her sword on the cover of Wonder Woman: The Lies, DC Comics (2016). Image: Liam Sharp/DC Comics

Liam Sharp

Artist of Judge Dredd, Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern.

I really struggled in the ’00s” to figure out where I might be relevant. So much had changed and it seemed the industry itself was still recovering from the trauma of the ’90s and the huge collapse of the industry. There was definitely a lot of bleak views around! That said it did lead to a rise of creator-driven books and even publishing companies. Mam Tor, the company I co-founded, opened the field up to a slew of anthology titles with Event Horizon volumes 1 and 2. Image bloomed, and diversified. Comics based on computer games were top sellers — and again I got to be part of that with Gears of War, which was the biggest selling title of 2008 shifting 400K units. As for the superhero comics? It seemed to me they lost a little nerve, becoming slightly more pre-’80”s, with all that deconstruction, and a little safer, less bold creatively, while at the same time the productions values increased — along with costs. In some ways superhero comics seemed to be returning to a more traditional approach I think, though there was also the rise in long-form storytelling — stories that once occupied a single issue were now running over a whole year. We did see some masterworks too, like The Ultimates. And the move from the page to the screen also came of age. The movie-pitch as comic mini-series was absolutely perfected by certain creators in this era!

The ’10s saw the rise of digital comics - again something I contributed to when I co-founded the progressive digital storytelling company Madefire. Comixology absolutely changed the way we consume comics. But for me it was my chance to finally return to the superhero comics I loved when I got to work on Wonder Woman: Rebirth with Greg Rucka. It was also the decade when comic fandom got toxic on Twitter, creating new tribes and new camps. Some felt it had become too progressive and screamed for comics that resembled precisely the era they most loved growing up — usually the bombastic excesses of the ’90s”. But many others enjoyed the growing diversity, the rise in the number of female creators, and the moment Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel became arguably more relevant than they had ever been. The writers continued to dominate the medium in terms of name recognition for the second decade in a row, and bold storytelling came under siege if it was perceived to have strayed too far from the canonical and sacrosanct rhythms and rules of past times. Comic couples were now part of shipping wars. Batman stopped being a playboy — such unreconstructed modes now passé and out-of-step with an increasingly progressive world-view. To some the comics were growing up, to others they were getting too woke and politically correct. Creators began to second-guess their creative visions, while fandom started to feel it could back-seat drive the entire industry via the medium of Twitter.

My hope is that Twitter stops having such a negative impact moving forward. Creators need to take risks and sometimes break hearts. No creator should be hounded or threatened for daring to challenge the norm — it’s what art is meant to do! That does not mean it cannot also be an amazing story! I want my art cutting edge, and upsetting and even furious. I do not want a Groundhog Day of endlessly repeated tropes and cycles. We have to grow. We have to change.

Scott McCloud

Writer and artist of Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, Making Comics.

’00s: Chris Ware. Chris beautifully summed up the century just past, while offering a forward-looking thesis on the future. Comics history is filled with love, artistry, and excitement, but it’s also filled with a lot of regret, bitterness, and perversity. Somehow, Chris captured it all. And his spectacular inventions recall the beginning of the previous century—a 100 year echo of American comics’ auspicious debut in the Sunday page masterworks of cartoonists like Winsor McCay and George Herriman.

’10s: Raina Telgemeier. Raina has transformed the industry and the art form for years to come. She’s the apex of the middle-grade and kids’ comics revolution, creating armies of new readers (conveniently feeding into the YA market!) and subtly altering American comics’ storytelling priorities—adopting an emotion-as-action rhythm far more satisfying to mainstream readers than the stuff-it-in-a-word balloon style of silver age superhero comics. Whole generations of cartoonists and readers will live in the house that Raina built. That most will be women and girls is especially exciting, and long-overdue.

The Batman Who Laughs in an Andy Kubert variant cover for Dark Nights Metal. Andy Kubert/DC Comics

Scott Snyder

Writer of Batman, Wytches, Justice League, Dark Nights Metal.

I think the biggest things [of the ’10s] to me are the popularization of geek culture. Suddenly everybody knows our heroes, right and left. A culture that was almost insular and small when I was a kid is now mainstream culture. There’s something so deeply inspiring and exciting about the potential of that on every level.

In terms of the comics themselves, I think the defining challenge is that right now people have the subjective choice to find so many different kinds of comics. Image and other independent companies have done a great job of bringing to light these incredible creator-owned projects that have become television shows, movies, all that stuff, or just made great comics.

The landscape of comics has become so vibrant and so diverse over the course of the last 10 years that it’s a blessing and a curse; in that there’s so many great things that people have to find what they like. And that’s a great thing for consumers and readers. And I also think it’s a challenge for us, in the way that we have to make sure that our stuff — if you’re doing corporate comics or superhero comics — pays off and is appealing and says This matters. This is relevant.

It’s not not a curse, it’s a challenge, is what I meant. It’s almost a blessing and a challenge. I feel like it makes us realize as creators that there’s such a sea of great stuff out there from all corners of the world all of a sudden. The industry has become something, to me, at least, that’s so vibrant and inclusive and varied that you have to make sure that the stuff you’re working on has a reason to exist and appeals to people in ways that are real, and personal, and relevant.

The cover of Justice League #1, DC Comics (2018). Jim Cheung/DC Comics

To me it just changed. It’s not just DC and Marvel giving you what they think works. The same way it is with television, film, music, everything, consumers have more choices and are used to a kind of subjective agency that I think is really new and revelatory and exciting. We have to adapt in a way that we’re giving them things that are just as diverse and exciting and just as varied and appealing as their tastes.

I’m trying to think of what else I would say about like the kind of giant machinations of things. I’d almost say this, and then I’ll stop about it.

I feel like the ’00s were about reminding people how great our classic characters are on all levels. It was about a reclamation, after the ’80s and ’90s, of deconstructing superheroes — to reconstruct them. Geoff Johns was a huge person in that, Grant Morrison’s a huge person in that, Bendis is a huge person in that. The generation right before me put them back together and said “This is why they’re great, in their corny, wonderful, superhero selves,” and created amazing new characters alongside that, that appealed to whole new audiences.

That kind of reconstructive project almost took us through the early ’00s into the 2010s and with the rise of indie comics in 2010 with The Walking Dead and Image and all of that stuff too, I feel suddenly we were in an environment where it was almost like, OK, everyone loves comics now. Between the movies, indie stuff, superhero comics, everyone loves the characters, everyone loves the adaptations of these things. Now we have to make things, between 2010 and now — It’s been a struggle to figure out how to write things that both appeal to your longtime readers but also bring in new readers and appeal to a sense of individuated readership that says we want something we haven’t seen before. That, to me, means we’re in a really fluid, exciting, transitional moment right now. To me it’s hugely exciting for all those reasons.

Tom Brevoort

Editor, currently Marvel Comics’ senior vice president of publishing.

More than anything else, I’d say [the defining movement of the ’00s] was a deepening of the concept of the “world outside your window” and the willingness of the various creators and companies to tell complex and sophisticated stories about the world we live in and the real world events therein. This all really started in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, when comics were among the first entertainment media (due to our speed of production) to be able to effectively and emotionally deal with the aftermath of those attacks and the psychic scars that everybody was feeling. From there, as the decade went on, such stories with greater emotional depth became far more commonplace, and the biggest stories also tended to be those that were the most hard-hitting in terms of their story content (even though that content was often expressed through allegory.)

Avengers: Endgame Marvel Studios

At this point, the defining feature of comics in the 2010s is the fact that they sit at the center of the entirety of all of pop culture. Whether it’s at the box office, on broadcast or streaming, at the toy store or the theme park, the characters and stories that originated in comics have permeated the rest of the culture on every level. It wasn’t all that long ago that a superhero film or television series was a rarity, and was often seen as fodder for a very specific niche audience. But now, there are so many different television productions, so many different films based on comic book properties (not all of them superhero related) that it would be virtually impossible for somebody to watch them all. And super hero films have begun to transcend the limitations of genre, becoming regarded by some as true cinematic expressions the equal of any other story told in that medium. Be it Logan, Black Panther, Wonder Woman or Joker, we’ve seen how a broad mainstream audience has come to embrace our world and all of the wonderful things we create. And particularly, the 2010s are the decade of Marvel Studios, who have fielded an unparalleled slate of winning and interconnected features in such a way as to duplicate the experience of a comic book universe for the masses in film. A great achievement.

Steve Orlando

Writer of Midnighter and Apollo, Wonder Woman, Virgil.

To me, the ’00s were a time of transition in superhero comics, kicking off with the release of the X-Men movie, and the industry’s struggle to react accordingly. This was the time that brought us New X-Men, with uniforms in black and yellow to welcome potential new readers from the movie, but also with Morrison and Quitely at the wheel, the book pushed forward the mutant concept in bold and innovative ways — though it was one of the first books to react to a film, it also did it the best out of the gate, summing up what we would come to know is the challenge of working on a comic while the characters appear in other media: we must welcome readers from outside comics, but we also have to be bigger and bolder than film, tv, or video games, we have to offer that much more creativity to show them there are things they can only get in a comic book.

Ltr: Beast, Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Emma Frost on the cover of New X-Men #114, Marvel Comics (2001). Image: Frank Quitely/Marvel Comics

We’d push forward and fall back on this concept as the decade went on, but the ’00s to me were a time of transformation, where more attention than ever was on superhero characters, but the comics themselves struggled to adapt and find their new identity to meet and reward that attention. In many ways, we’re still working through this now. But the ’00s put more eyes on superheroes than there had been in decades, mainstream eyes, and comics had to go through a period of change, its own secondary mutation, to maintain its place as the home of creativity and innovation. Film and TV raised the bar, and in the ’00s, comics got smarter, bolder, wilder, and more innovative ... all to raise the bar in return.

I think the ’10s will be defined by diversifying not just mainstream superheroes, but the formats in which those characters are offered. With mainstream attention has come new voices and new folks who deserve to be served by these iconic heroic narratives, as well as have the chance to step behind the scenes and craft them themselves. This was a natural and good result of superheroes going more mainstream into TV and Film, where more people can find out about them just like folks did back when superheroes were on newstands. The ’10s, then, were also about a transition, but in this case it was the slow work (slower than it needed — or needs — to be at times) of updating our heroes to meet the modern moment. Diversity in creators, diversity in characters, and also in format — more YA and Middle Grade OGNs, more digital access, pushing back into stores outside the direct market. The attention of the ’00s showed us more people than ever love these heroic narratives, they demand, and deserve, to be the star, not the supporting player. In the ’10s, that fight for representation took center stage, and it’s ongoing now. I think we’ll look back on this decade and see the progress we’ve made, but we’ll also look back and see we could’ve made a lot more if we’d been less precious and gotten out of our own way as an industry.


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