In Adam Among the Gods, Gary and artist James Lyle took the "world of tomorrow" typical in science fiction and turned it upside down, creating genre fiction with some major twists. Gary's comics are available at Amazon.com.
We've just launched an article on creating comic characters in the James Lyle section of Comic Artists Direct, written by the man himself. Check out the index of the "How Do They Do It?" section here at Comic Artists Direct. This article is a good starting point for brainstorming. (But, of course, I have to add my own two cents.) The best advice I can give to anyone who wants new ideas for comic books is to read other literature. Classic books, modern best sellers and literary magazines (like the New Yorker) are full of interesting stories and characters for inspiration.
One of the problems with comic books is we tend to think of stories in terms of "genres" (JON-ra). A "genre" is a kind or type of writing, like mystery, super hero, horror, adventure, etc. To be sure, genre writing occurs in books, too, but comic writing is very rigidly limited to established genres.
Consequently, when a comic book writer sits down to write a comic book story, he often asks himself, "What kind of story is this?" When he answers, "It's horror," his brain automatically comes up with old, established horror plot, horror characters and horror settings. These kinds of stories can come out entertaining, but more often than not are just boring.
"Why isn't there anything new in comics?" is a question often asked among the comic book fan base. The answer, I think, lies with that fan base's reluctance to try new things. The reason Spider-Man was so compelling when they were kids was because it was DIFFERENT than other super hero books, not the same. So why keep buying Spider-Man looking for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby? Instead of trying to capture the past, why not buy something DIFFERENT?
Back to horror. I remember how Stephen King revived a lagging horror genre in novels in the mid-'70s. I remember how different it was when he combined modern situations and characters with the tried-and -true horror conventions of the past. He had talent and it worked. Now most horror book writers try to do Stephen King - his innovation became the norm!
Some of my favorite, current books are Age of Bronze (A 10 year long project retelling the story of the Trojan War), Uncle Scrooge (Adventure, with ducks) and Supernatural Law (Beware the creatures of the night, they have lawyers). If you would have told me in the mid-'60s, when I was reading super hero books, or the mid-'70s, when I was hooked on sword and sorcery, or the late '70s, when I discovered Heavy Metal magazine, or the late '80s, when I bought every book Vertigo published, that I the book on top of my monthly stack would be Uncle Scrooge, I would have said you were crazy. Because I've been reading comics for 40 years, I'm intrigued by the different.
I already lived through the Stan Lee Marvel era and the late '80s DC era that turned conventional super hero comics upside down. What else is there to do with super heroes? Well, you're a writer, maybe you'll figure that out!