The Most Powerful People In Comic Books - Forty One Years Later

In 1973 publisher and editor Joe Brancatelli compiled what he felt was the ten most powerful men in the comic book industry.  Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Brancacettli wasn't afraid to call a spade a damned shovel, and his list, even today, makes for some very interesting reading.  I can't recall seeing such a list published earlier than this if only because, earlier than the 1970s, most people who read comic books had no idea who really ran the companies. Indeed it wasn't that well known as to who actually wrote and drew comic book material until fandom came along and began to right that wrong.

In 1994 another such list was compiled.  Indeed these list have been appearing since the 1973 list (and may have appeared earlier - if so then let me know) and I felt it would be interesting to compare the list of 1973 with one done twenty one years later and look at the shift in power in the industry.  With each list I've extracted a few lines from the original descriptions to give an indication as to why they featured as they did (I'd love to include all of Brancatelli's descriptions as they are often hilariously cruel, but, well...).  As we’re now just a shade over twenty years on from the August 1994 list, so I’ll throw it open to people – who would you list as your own Top Ten of today and why? 

Inside Comix #1, August 1973.  The Ten Most Powerful Men in Comics

“’The Ten Most Powerful Men In Comics’ is something we've had rolling around the back of our heads for several years. Comic books have always been shrouded in mystery. Naturally everyone knew the artists and the writers, but no one ever knew who really controlled the comic industry, who exercised the power and who made the decisions. With the publication of this list, we think we've broken through the shrouds, If you dissatisfied with the comic books, or want to break into the comic book field, or just interested in who runs the comic book industry, you now know who to contact. These powerhouses are responsible for happenings in the comic book field.”

1] Carmine Infantino.  
“Carmine Infantino, as publisher of National Periodical Publications (NPP), is the head of the most financially stable company in the comic book business. Its parent conglomerate, Kinney National, is one of the largest in the country, and NPP owns four of the most important commercial licensing properties in the world Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. That alone qualifies Infantino as the most powerful person in the comics. But since assuming the publisher's post several years ago, Infantino has also put National back on top in the areas of quality and publicity.”

2] James Warren. 
“Since he introduced CREEPY to the market in the early 1960's, he's had no sustained opposition. Skywald's books, although showing tremendous resiliency, has offered almost no sales threat, and National's half-hearted attempts with Jack Kirby were never important. The other attempts at competition - from Gil Kane, from Robert Sproul, from Stanley Morse, and from Myron Fass - have never even made a dent.

3] Sol Harrison. 
“Harrison is invisible to most fans. As National's Production Manager, Harrison's main duties lie outside the limelight, back in the shadowy areas newszines deem unimportant. He might be the least publicized man in comics but he's one of the most powerful. Some National employees insist he wields almost as much power as Infantino himself.”

4] Stan Lee. 
“Stan Lee is in trouble as far as wielding effective comic power. Much has gone awry since he gave up the de facto responsibility for editorial content several years ago.  Whereas Marvel Comics, under the aggressive leadership of editor Stan Lee, always seemed to be interesting on dual levels-both visual and text-the books have eroded since he left. Much of the problem is that Lee no longer writes, thus leaving too big a hole to fill.”

5] John Goldwater.  
“Knowledgable people think John Goldwater is too far down this list. Some even suggest that Goldwater is the most powerful man in the comics today. They are correct, but not totally.  Goldwater, as owner of ARCHIE COMICS and president of the Comic Magazine Association of America (CMAA) - the parent organization of the Comic Code - wields tremendous power in the comics, but it seems to be vacillating.”

6] The Distributors. 
“Inherent in comic books are two weaknesses which make distributors inordinately powerful-an extremely low price tag and an extremely high amount of titles. With more and more newspapers and magazines glutting newsstands, retailers and distributors must make a decision on what is more profitable to carry, comic books or high priced magazines.”

7] Sol Brodsky. 
“Off his past track record, Sol Brodsky (Marvel's Production Chief) doesn't belong on the list. His stint at Marvel during the 1960's was uninspired to say the least, and his simply dreadful performance as co-publisher at Skywald was even more disappointing.  But he's presently in charge of "new products" at Marvel, teaming up with Warren's ex-Comptroller, Dick Conway.  Together they bear the responsibility of putting Marvel's new products over the top. Those new products include their pulps, t heir English reprints and their new humor magazine. “

8] Jack Kirby. 
“Jack Kirby is the only person appearing here due to his artistic talents. The other creative person on this list, Neal Adams, is not here for creative reasons. And that leaves only Kirby - King Kirby to you.  Simply stated, Jack Kirby is the best comic book artist ever to pick up a pen and pencil. Not necessarily the best technician, the best draftsman or the best illustrator. Simply the best comic book artist. Ever. As a comic book artist Jack Kirby does everything correctly. His art portrays more action, more emotion and more detail than any other artist in the field. He is producing comic "art" as it should be produced-visually exciting and stimulating.  Despite what comic writers might think, visual excitement will always be more important than the writing. And Kirby is the premier visual artist.  Jack Kirby creates legends and immensely popular characters wherever he goes. He created Captain America, and not only made his publishers insanely happy, but he also satisfied the needs of an entire nation. When he did horror stories for Stan Lee at Marvel, he kept the floundering company in business. When he and Lee created THE FANTASTIC FOUR in 1961, he ignited still another new trend in comics, one that brought Marvel to previously unexcelled heights. By moving to National, where he teamed with old friend Carmine Infantino, he restored National to a position of unquestioned superiority.

9] Neal Adams. 
“Everyone appreciates Neal Adams as an artist and writer, but no editor will assign him regular work with or without the proverbial ten-foot pole.  The reason? Neal Adams misses deadlines with chronic regularity.  It's just that missed deadlines means a book will go out to Sparta, Illinois late, and it will miss its scheduled printing date at World Color Printers. And when a book misses a printing deadline, World Color has no reservations about slapping a stiff late fee on the publishers.  And that's basically why Neal Adams doesn't draw or write comic books regularly.  Why, then, is he the ninth most powerful man in the comic industry?  Simply because he's become the ideological guru for many of the younger comic artists breaking into the comic industry. As head of the Crusty Bunkers-ostensibly a group of artists who help other artists meet impending deadlines-Adams wittingly or unwittingly controls much of the young artists thinking. More than one Crusty Bunker has said that Adams provides not only the shoulder to cry on, but also the voice of experience to follow.”

10] Leonard Darvin. 
“Darvin, 64, has been affiliated with the Comics Code since its inception. In 1955 he was retained as the Executive Secretary, leaving a legal post with a manufacturers association. In 1965, he became the Acting Administrator of the Code and was appointed as the official administrator in 1967.  From 1965 through 1969, Darvin ruled strictly in matters of the Code, revising over 1000 books. However, since 1970, his revisions have been cut to about 300. Which is a considerable drop, regardless of interpretation.”

Out of Brancatelli’s list, Carmine Infantino, John Goldwater, Sol Harrison, Sol Brodsky, Jack Kirby and Leonard Darvin have since passed away.  The rest are in various states, Neal Adams is still a force in the industry and has shown that he can still walk into any publisher, in particular Marvel and DC, and be handed the keys to the big guns (Batman Odyssey and The First X-Men) without any hesitation as a writer/artist.  James Warren is retired and Stan Lee is, well, still Stan Lee.

Comic Book Collector #20, August 1994.
(Twenty years later the list was expanded to twenty from ten, but I’ll only present the Top Ten in detail)

1] Steve Geppi.  “Founder; President and CEO of Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc., along with Bill Schanes, VP of Purchasing, is still top power figures on our list. Charles Parker is Executive VP and COO of Diamond, which in 1994, remains the largest of the distribution houses and has considerable clout.”

2] Terry Stewart.  “President and COO of Marvel Comics continues to be a major power in 1994. Marvel's comic fans know what they like and will buy it on a continuing basis, and Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco is more than happy to give it to them.”

3] Capitol City Distributors. “President Milton Griepp and Chairman John Davis of Capital City Distribution, Inc. remain a very powerful, very influential pair in 1994. Capital City is known for its energetic seminars and events, which publishers and retailers attend with zest, and it's still seen as mandatory for success within the industry to get "catalogued" by Capital. While Capital City has recently faced some internal challenges - many of the company's talented support staff have left to join comic publishing firms, and Capital has attempted to deal with the difficult problem of late shipping or no-show books by imposing financial penalties - this comic book distributor still ranks as the second largest overall.”

4] DC Comics.  “DC Comics, Paul Levitz, Publisher and Executive VP, and Jeannette Kahn, Comics President and Editor-in-Chief, are at the top of the ladder and ultimately call the shots. But for this comic company, the success and sales strength of the Superman line of books gives Mike Carlin, Superman Group Editor, undeniable influence. Although "The Death of Superman" is now old news, Carlin continues to capitalize on its enormous success by promoting new Superman titles and maintaining public awareness in 1994. Karen Berger, Group Editor of the ground-breaking Vertigo line is another key player at DC.”

5] Todd McFarlane. “Comics creator and co-founder of Image Comics, has been busy, busy, busy-and it's paid off. His book Spawn remains incredibly popular with fans and is consistently a top seller, even when McFarlane takes a leave of absence, and puts in another creative team to pitch-hit. He successfully persuaded Frank Miller to work with him on the eagerly awaited Spawn/Batman crossover, which came out in early 1994. McFarlane is said to be looking at a new toy line as well as movie and cartoon deals; if all this comes to pass, he may become extremely well-known to the public.”

6] Mike Richardson (Dark Horse Comics). “Richardson, publisher of Dark Horse Comics, has been quietly assembling a top editorial team and doing internal restructuring that is designed to guide the comic company through the nervous nineties and beyond. Randy Stradley, Creative Director, continues to offer a wealth of Dark Horse experience, while Diana Schutz has been named new Editor-in-Chief.”

7] Frank Miller. “Miller continues to command respect, admiration and emulation within the comic book community. Together with master storyteller and artist John Byrne', Miller cofounded the Legend imprint, published by Dark Horse Comics, and has gathered some of the brightest lights in comics today (Mike Mignola, Art Adams, Geoff Darrow) into its folds. In 1994, he has proven himself comfortable working, both within the fan-fave superhero genre (Spawn/Batman) and setting the standards outside of it (Sin City, Martha Washington Goes To War). Sin City is a stunning, gripping graphic narrative that just may make non-super-hero comics fashionable again because Miller is doing it.”

8] Scott Rosenberg.  “President and CEO of Malibu Comics, which in 1994 continues to ride a wave of expansion that has resulted in new books, new creators and lots of multi-media connections, as well as a move to larger digs. Malibu's superhero Ultra verse has celebrated its first anniversary, licensed commodities such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Mortal Kombat are maintaining high profiles, and authorized rock-and-roll biographies saw print in Rock-It Comix.”

9] Gary Colabuono.  “Executive VP for Classics International Entertainment (CIE) is an important voice from the retail side. Colabuono made it to our list last year as CEO of Chicago's Moondog's retail chain, but Moondog's has since been acquired by CIE and merged with Dream Factory (another chain) to form a formidable retail presence. At CIE, Colabuono is responsible for growing the market through new store acquisitions and identifying new markets in which to enter.”

10] Neil Gaiman.  “Writer Neil Gaiman's power is as magical as the tales he weaves. His literary treatments of the comic book medium continue to win awards, challenge the comic reader and redefine the nature of the genre. In 1994, Gaiman is still a fount of divine creation for the Vertigo line of comic books, and collections reprinting his past successes (especially Sandman) are guaranteed sellers. He is also branching out into television with the development of a B.BC (British Broadcasting Corporation) series called Underworld. He's making beautiful music, too, with a far-reaching multi-media Alice Cooper project that includes comics, music CDs, and CD-ROMs.”

For the record the rest of the list read, in order, Steve Massarsky (Valiant Comics CEO), Dave Sim (Cerebus), Jim Shooter (Defiant Comics), Gareb Shamus (Wizard magazine), Matt Groening (The Simpsons), Steve Harris (Hero Illustrated), Denis Kitchen (Kitchen Sink), Bill Leibowitz (Golden Apple proprietor), Don and Maggie Thompson (Comic Buyers Guide)  and the San Diego Convention.  Jack Kirby received a ‘Special Mention’, with the magazine noting that although Kirby had recently passed away, he was still relevant, “…because of the almost mythic quality that his name and his work evokes. He will continue to inspire and influence the comic world through his artistic legacy.”


Of the 1994 list, Steve Geppi, Todd McFarlane and Mike Richardson are still very active, DC Comics, of course, is still in business.  Frank Miller’s influence as a comic book creator has taken some blows though.  Despite his success in Hollywood as a filmmaker, notably with the Sin City movie and its sequel, 300 and his adaptation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit (surely the only time a comic book artist has been handed the director chair for a mainstream Hollywood film), his comic book work of late has been panned.  He took the writers chair for All Star Batman & Robin which, despite having Jim Lee attached as writer, ended abruptly mid-story and his last fully written and drawn effort, Holy Terror, began life as a Batman story only to be rejected by DC Comics and reworked into a right wing, semi-fascist tone with massive racist undertones.  That being said, Miller would still be able to walk into a publisher and find work, if he wanted to. The quality of that work would be open to debate. 

Terry Stewart moved from Marvel Comics to become the CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, stepping down at the end of 2013.  Capitol City Distributors long went under.   Scott Rosenberg’s Malibu Comics was bought out by Marvel Comics and its characters effectively retired from view.  Rosenberg then formed Platinum Studios, which has all but folded after a series of financial queries.  Like Miller and Richardson, Rosenberg has also branched out to Hollywood, acting as a producer for Cowboys & Aliens amongst his films.  Once Moondog folded, Gary Colabuono went back to collecting high end comics, in particular Ashcans, becoming the go-to expert in that field.   

Surprisingly one name is missing from the 1994 list: Alan Moore.  By 1994 Moore had published Watchmen, Swamp Thing, Batman: Killing Joke, V For Vendetta, Marvel/Miracleman and was in the middle of the From Hell epic, along with forming his own imprint, Mad Love (Big Numbers) and producing a series of acclaimed titles such as A Small Killing, Lost Girls and more.  He’d also returned to the superhero genre at Image Comics, working with Todd McFarlane on Spawn and reuniting with Swamp Thing collaborators, Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch on the ill-fated 1963 series.  However, for all of his efforts, he wasn’t deemed important enough as a force to be included in the 1994 list. 

In hindsight it's not that hard to see the patterns developing.  In 1973 the heads of the comic book companies were the focus of power, in the mid 1990s that power had shifted to include the creators.  Today that power would have shifted even further and the focus would now be on the people who make the movies, the producers and directors.  Comic book have largely become fooder for filmmakers.  Publishers aren't the power that they once were - anyone can publish their material to a large audience on-line, thus reducing the need for print.  No longer does a person have to suffer in silence if their material isn't seen, Kickstarter can help raise the funds for print, if needed.

Indeed a Top Ten list today would include Marvel Studios, Warner Entertainment, Kickstarter, the entire internet and more.  Creators, comic book creators, aren't as powerful as they once were and that's not a reflection upon their importance.  Good stories are needed today more than ever.  But, for a studio like Marvel, they have decades of good stories that they can draw upon and strip-mine for their movies, and they'll do so for decades to come.  And when you think that an actor, with no connection to the comic books at all, in the form of Robert Downey Jr, has made more money from Marvel starring as Iron Man, in the past decade than Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck and Larry Lieber combined did in their entire lives, well, that shows how the power has shifted and where it really lies.

The various lawyers would be on a list to, in particular Marc Toberoff.  Toberoff has led the way for at least two creative icons estates - Jack Kirby and Jerry Siegel.  While Toberoff lost the Siegel case, he did reach a settlement for the Kirby estate.  Lawyers are looming large with cases being filed, and decided, such as Gary Friedrich (Ghost Rider - settled with Marvel), Neil Gaiman (won against Todd McFarlane),the Sigel-Shuster estates (lost against DC), Ken Penders (Archie), Carmine Infantino (settled with DC), Stan Lee (who won ten million from Marvel) and more to come. While lawyers, such as Toberoff, can see the value in perusing companies for the creative teams, then the companies will move to preempt such actions and reach an agreement that benefits all parties well before an action can be filed, as has happened in the past with the likes of John Romita, Dave Cockrum, Gene Colan and Jim Starlin.  As it should be.

Forty One years after the first Top Ten list, who would you have and, more importantly, why.  And where would Joss Whedon, who brought over a billion dollars to Marvel with the Avengers movie, be placed?


false said…
So forgive me for leaving a comment almost three years late, but, hell, we're talking about something from 1973, so ...

I was 20 years old and in university when I started Inside Comix in goofy attempt to "syndicate" content to fanzines. I was also in the thrall of New York magazine, then the hottest thing in U.S. publishing. It published an annual list of the 10 most powerful New Yorkers. I thought it was a clever approach to talking about power so I unabashedly ripped it off for Inside Comix.

I can't speak to the accuracy of the list then, but I do know that I was focusing on FINANCIAL power rather than creative power back then. No one else was writing about the business of comic books then, so...

Cheers --
Joe Brancatelli

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