The 10 Most Important Brits in the World of Comics

By Tom Pritchard on at

The comics business is predominantly American, but us miserable Brits have had a big impact on the modern industry. A seriously big impact. In fact he modern comics industry would be very different without the tireless efforts of British writers and artists.

From Alan More to Pat Mills, let's take a look at 10 of the comic industry's most important Brits. Plus one Northern Irishman for good measure.

Alan Moore

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When it comes to the impact an individual, British or otherwise, has had on the world of comics nobody can even come close to Alan Moore. While he looks like he could be Hagrid's brother, Alan Moore's work for DC in the late '80s kickstarted the trend known as the 'British Invasion', which in turn caused the American comic industry to start publishing comics that were aimed at an adult audience rather than children. Without Alan Moore's successful run on Swamp Thing and the oft-described masterpiece that was Watchmen, British comic creators would never have started leaving the likes of 2000AD to work at DC and Vertigo. In short, the comic industry would be incredibly different today.

While Moore himself has been adamantly against his work being adapted to film and television, much of it has made its way to the big and small screens. Successful adaptations include Watchmen, and V for Vendetta (though not at the expense of the book's anarchic themes). less successful works include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, and 2005's Constantine. Moore also wrote the legendary Batman story The Killing Joke which will be adapted into an animated film later this year. The Killing Joke also had a string influence on both Batman (1989) and Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight.

One consequence of V For Vendetta (and its cinematic adaptation) was the use of the Guy Fawkes masks by protest groups - particularly the hacker group Anonymous. He also appeared as himself in The Simpsons episode 'Husbands & Knives'.

Mark Millar

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There's an awful lot to say about Mark Millar's contribution to the world of comics. He's possibly one of the most influential writers in the industry at the moment, let alone Scotland and the rest of Britain. He's written for the likes of 2000AD, DC and Vertigo, Marvel, as well as publishing many of his own original creations to critical acclaim.

Millar helped establish Marvel's Ultimate Universe with the release of Ultimate X-Men (with Adam and Andy Kubert), Ultimate Fantastic Four (with Brian Michael Bendis and Adam Kubert) and The Ultimates (with Brian Hitch).

He also wrote Superman: Red Son, which pondered what the world might be like if Superman's spaceship landed in the USSR rather than Kansas, and Marvel's monster Civil War event. Then there's Wolverine: Enemy of the State and Old Man Logan, which are considered some of the best Wolverine comics out there.

As an independent writer Millar has produced comics like Nemesis, Superior, The Secret Service (which was put on the big screen in the form of Kingsman, Kick Ass, Supercrooks, and Jupiter's Legacy.

On top of all that, if you've seen a comic book film in recent years, there's a very good chance that Mark Millar has been involved somehow. Kingsman and Kick Ass were based on comics written and created by Millar. Anyone who saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier can't have missed SHIELD's Triskellion headquarters, which first appeared in The Ultimates #2. That series was also famous for redesigning the alternate version of Nick Fury using the likeness of Samuel L Jackson, a move that landed Jackson the role as Fury in the MCU.

Let's not forget Captain America: Civil War and rumours that Wolverine 3 will be an adaptation of Old Man Logan. Plus, for better or worse, films like Wanted and Fantastic Four (2014), were also based on Millar's comic work.

Neil Gaiman

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One of the earlier writers exported to the US during the British Invasion, Neil Gaiman has contributed a great deal to the world of comics - and the realms of science fiction and fantasy. The one-time journalist has written comics, novels, screenplays, television scripts, and has even been involved with anime.

Before moving to America, working on a number of British comics including 2000AD's Future Shocks stories, and a run on Marvelman which he took over from Alan Moore. Gaiman also happened to be one of the earliest American exports, taking control of DC's Sandman and revitalising the series after years hiding in the DC archives. This series also introduced a version of the devil who got bored with Hell and lives on Earth under the name Lucifer Morningstar. Lucifer would later go on to appear in his own spin-off series (not written by Gaiman), which has recently been adapted into a TV series.

Gaiman has also written about Batman in Batman RIP follow-up Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, and worked on series like Miracleman, Marvel 1602, Stardust, and Spawn. Gaiman is notable for having created the Spawn character Angela, designed to be a complete angelic opposite the Spawn himself. Angela is notable because both Gaiman and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane claimed ownership to the character. Gaiman eventually won, and sold the characyter rights to Marvel.

Outside of comics Gaiman is an accomplished author, and script-writer. His film work includes the English version of Princess Monoke, Mirrormask, and 2007's Beowulf. 

Pat Mills

Pat Mills is often referred to as 'the godfather of British comics', best known for founding 2000AD in 1977 and setting the comic's rebellious anti-establishment tone that continues to this day. Beforehand he launched Battle Picture Weekly, and Action, the latter of which ended up being cancelled after two years due to controversy and protests regarding the title's violent and anti-authortarianist themes.

2000AD is the real high point of Mills' career, and it's been said many times that the title had a huge impact on the American comics market. DC is well known for poaching British writers and artists during the 1980s (in an event dubbed 'The British Invasion'), most of whom ended up writing darker comics containing social commentary of the day - two things that 2000AD had had great success with in previous years. Without Mills there would be no 2000AD, and without 2000AD the American comics industry wouldn't have transitioned towards the phase of the dark superhero. Not that Mills was happy with DC poaching all his best talent, and that 2000AD's publisher was unwilling to try and stop it.

Mills is also an accomplished comics writer, having created ABC WarriorsSláine, and Nemesis the Warlock. He also wrote for many of the title's series, and helped develop Judge Dredd after creator John Wagner temporarily walked out on the character. Stateside he is probably best known for writing Mavel's Punisher 2099, set in an alternate future where Jake Gallows takes on Frank Castle's mantle to fight crime and protect people who are unable to afford police protection in coporate-run New York.

Grant Morrison

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While Grant Morrison is best known for his work with DC, particularly on various Batman series, but the Scottish writer began his work much closer to home. He started off working on indie titles, and at both Marvel UK and 2000AD.

He first caught he attention of DC working on Zenith, 2000AD's first superhero. In typical 2000AD style, Zenith had no interest in using his powers to fight crime. Instead Morrison described him as the kind of man who's only interested in "drinking and shagging page 3 girls" - which he imagined he'd be like if he had superpowers. His first work at DC was revitalising the struggling Animal Man series and writing the one-shot Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (which loosely inspired the Arkham Asylum video game).

During this time he kept working for indie titles in the UK, and was subject to some controversy due to the anti-Thatcher themes in St Swithine's Day. The comic caused a minor storm amongst the tabloids, and was even subject to a complaint by Tory MP Teddy Taylor. The controversy continued when he published The New Adventures of Hitler in Scottish magazine Cut.

Morrison also wrote All-Star Superman in the late '00s, and wrote for Batman between 2007 and 2013. Batman stories he wrote include Batman RIP, Batman and Son, Batman Incorporated, and The Return of Bruce Wayne. He also worked on video games Predator: Concrete Jungle and Battlestar Galactica.

Dave Gibbons

Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Dave Gibbons started his work in the UK, most notably at 2000AD, but later became one of the first artists to leave the company in favour of the more lucrative opportunities at DC. He's best known for collaborating with Alan Moore, working with him on Watchmen, Superman: For the Man Who Has Everything, various 2000AD titles, and Green Lantern one-shot Mogo Doesn't Socialise.

Here in the UK he is best known for on 2000AD, where he helped create the character of Rogue Trooper with Gerry Finely-Day, and as lead artist for Doctor Who comics in the early '80s.

Gibbons had a significant run as artist of Tales of the Green Lantern Corps in the '80s, as well as Sinestro Corps War, the main Green Lantern Corps series in the '00s. He also drew for World's Finest and The Secret Service (with Mark Millar) which would hit the cinema screen in the form of Kingsman.

Obviously his most famous work is Watchmen, and when the decision was made to change the ending of the film adaptation, Gibbons was brought on to create artwork showing off what it might have looked like on the page.

Bryan Hitch

Image: Pat Loika/Flickr

There are a lot of comic artists out there, but the number that have CVs as impressive as Bryan Hitch are few and far between. Unlike a lot of British creatives who've worked in comics, Hitch doesn't appear to have worked for 2000AD. He started his career at Marvel UK in 1987, and quickly moved onto bigger publishers in the US.

He had a run on The Sensational She-Hulk, Teen Titans, and a number of series for Valiant Comics - often collaborating with inker Paul Neary. His break into high-profile work began in the late '90s working on a reboot of Stormwatch with Garth Ennis, and launching The Authority, which led to a year producing art for JLA (Justice League of America). His return to Marvel came in the early '00s, working with Mark Millar and Neary on The Ultimates, and Ultimate Fantastic Four. This same collaborative team had a significant impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including basing Nick Fury's appearance on Samuel L Jackson and designing SHIELD's Triskellion HQ. Josh Trank, director of last year's cinematic shit show Fantastic Four, is also a fan of Hitch's work, and used his run on Ultimate Fantastic Four as inspiration for the film.

Hitch has also done a lot of work illustrating comic covers for various publishers, and drew the interior art for the likes of Justice League of America (2015), Age of Ultron, and Captain America: Reborn.

Steve Dillon

Steve Dillon was one of the earliest artists to leave the UK to work for DC, after having worked on a great many 2000AD titles - including Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, ABC Warriors, and more.

After leaving he is probably best known for his collaborations with Garth Ennis, providing the art for Preacher, and a very large number of Ennis's Punisher stories. Dillon also worked on Hellblazer, Wolverine: Origins, and created the original character Dogwelder who appeared in Ennis's Hitman series at DC.

Closer to home, Dillon helped found the magazine Deadline with fellow 2000AD artist Brett Ewins in 1988. Deadline was designed to print stories aimed at an adult audience, unlike the likes of 2000AD which still marketed to younger readers. Deadline continued for another seven years.

Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis started off his career in the same way as many other British comic writers, working in the native industry for magazines like Deadline and 2000AD. By 1994, Ellis was working for Marvel where he started writing for a number of comics set in the alternate future of 2099, and Excalibur a comic about a superhero team set in the UK. Later on he worked on a number of X-Men series, Ultimate Fantastic Four and more.

Ellis has also worked for DC's vertigo imprint, working on series like Hellblazer, and Transmetropolitan, a creator-owned series following a gonzo journalist in a dystopian American future. He's also produced a large number of comics for a number of other publishers, including Wildstorm, Avatar, and Dynamite where he worked with Jason Masters on an ongoing James Bond series.

Ellis's Iron Man: Extremis was very loosely adapted for the big screen in the form of Iron Man 3. Ellis also lent his name to President Matthew Ellis, played by William Sadler in both Iron Man 3 and Agents of SHIELD.

Joan Lee

Believe it or not, but former actress and model Joan Lee is indirectly responsible for the modern Marvel universe as we know it. See, Joan Lee is married to Stan Lee. The same Stan Lee who helped create so many of the early Marvel characters and cameos in damn near all the modern Marvel movies.

In the late 50s Stan had become rather disenchanted with his job at what would become Marvel Comics, since he was writing stories that had no substance or characterisation. As he put it, the publisher didn't respect the readers and insisted that comics only needed to be full of action scenes. Stan was on the verge of quitting to look for a new job, when his wife suggested that he try writing a comic the way he wanted. She apparently told him that the worst that could happen was he got fired, which was fine since he wanted to leave anyway.

The story he came up with would have real characters with personality, and stories that had things other than action. It also happened to sell incredibly well, causing the publisher to demand more stories just like it. That book was a little thing called The Fantastic Four, and Stan said that it then led onto his other famous creations that he enjoyed writing about - like X-Men, Spider-Man, The Hulk, and so on.

So without a few words of wisdom from Joan Lee, Stan Lee might have left Marvel and who knows how things would have ended up. Some reports even claim that she was the inspiration for Spider-Man's long time on/off girlfriend/wife Mary Jane Watson. Joan Lee may not have been a writer or an artist, but she played a damn important role.

You can hear the tale in the video below, starting at 5:30.

Honourable Mention: Garth Ennis

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Let's get this out of the way now, Garth Ennis isn't British. He is Northern Irish, though, which means we here at Giz UK shouldn't be ignoring the work he's produced throughout his career.

Some of Ennis's most well known work in the mainstream is his run on The Punisher, after impressing Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. Quesada went as far as to tell Ennis that he could write The Punisher for as long as he wanted to. One notable scene in this run was eventually used as inspiration for a scene in Daredevil Season 2. Aside from a 31-issue run, he contributed a number of other Punisher stories including Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe (a very literal title), Punisher MAX (which is far more violent and dark than mainstream Marvel comics), and Punisher War Zone.

Over at DC Ennis created the character Hitman, a Hitman with minor super powers who specialised in metahuman and supernatural hits - jobs that most contract killers would avoid due to their risk. The Hitman series was firmly entrenched in the DC continuity, with some of the universes biggest heroes making cameos and many references being made to current goings on in other titles.

Ennis also wrote the series Preacher (in collaboration with Steve Dillon), a tale about a Texan priest with supernatural powers going on a literal search for god to understand his powers. He is aided by a former girlfriend and an alcoholic Irish vampire. Preacher is currently in production as a full TV series, and will arrive in the States in May, starring Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, and Joe Gilgun. Stephen King also claims that Preacher was a major influence on The Dark Tower: A Gunslinger Born - the first in a five part comic adaptation of his Dark Tower books.

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