Yesterday morning, the Hooded Utilitarian posted my list along with 21 others who contributed to a giant survey of comic book creators, retailers, publishers, educators, commentators (like me) and other industry folk from all over the world to determine the 10 Best Comics. In total, 211 people responded.
I sent my list on June 15, in response to the question, “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” I started my email response to the Hooded Utilitarian with the following: “I want you to know, this is IMPOSSIBLE.”
And it is. But despite that…
- Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
- Bone by Jeff Smith
- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
- Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
- Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
- Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
- Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
- Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
- The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
Start clicking and see if something interests you.
There are plenty of comics that are just as good as the above that deserve to be listed, and even some that are better. But I had a few guidelines to help focus my list down to a manageable size.
First, I had to have actually read the material. Of the above, only Peanuts has material that I have never read. But I’ve read enough of it that what I haven’t read would have to be an absolute bomb for it to tarnish the goodwill. That means there was some material that I am fully expecting to love and that I love for its mere existence and concept that I had to leave out. I really wanted to include Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know on my list. It sits by my desk in my to-read pile from last year‘s Comic-Con.
Second, I leaned much heavier on the “most significant” portion of the question. As some have pointed out, the question asked by The Hooded Utilitarian is really three different questions which could result in three very different lists. Because what interests me is comics’ efforts to find new audiences, I interpreted “most significant” as the comics that have been most successful in winning over new readers. That was probably my biggest barometer. Each of the above have helped establish a genre or publishing strategy or level of skill that has expanded what comics can be and are today. In retrospect, I might’ve leaned a little too heavy on modern material but I think some of the most innovative and inclusive material is being made now (if you know where to find it).
OK, so let’s hear it. What did I miss?
(More random thoughts after the jump.)
- Manga, European comics and other international fair. This is a shamefully North American-centric list (only exception is Persepolis). But I happen to live in America and the efforts to win over American audiences interest me. But there’s plenty to learn from other countries, especially Japan and France, where comics flourish. Lewis Trondheim, David B., Jason and so many others are brilliant and deserve to be mentioned here. Regarding manga, I am woefully under-educated in this arena. I am working on it but I haven’t read nearly enough to weigh in.
- Superhero comics. I wish Amazing Spider-Man by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee ranked higher in the final list but I knew superheroes would be safely covered by others. It always is.
- Web Comics. There’s so much out there and I just don’t have enough of a handle on it. PvP, Penny Arcade, xkcd, Dinosaur Comics, Questionable Content, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, The Abominable Charles Christopher, The Perry Bible Fellowship, so many more.
The final Top 10 Best Comics list (asterisks denote ones I picked on my list):
- Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz (1950-2000)*
- Krazy Kat by George Herriman (1913-1944)
- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (1985-1995)*
- Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-1987)
- Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman (1972-1991)*
- Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay (1905-1914)
- The Locas Stories by Jaime Hernandez (1982-present)
- Pogo by Walt Kelly (1948-1975)
- MAD #1-28 by Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, et al. (1952-1956)
- The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (1961-1970)
Observations on the Top 10:
- The Top 3 and half of the Top 10 are comic strips and not comic books. Conventional wisdom has been that the comic strip form is slowly dying out along with the death of newspapers. It’s clear that the legendary ones are still remembered and revered.
- I’m happy to see that I picked 3 of the Top 5.
- Only 2 superhero comics, one of which is a complete deconstruction and critique of superhero comics.
- No female creators. Boo. I’m guilty of only including 2 female creators on my list too.
- Only two comics are in this century (or if you consider the century starting in 2001, only one).
- Only one is still running. Love and Rockets: New Stories is released annually and contains more of the Locas stories.
- Humor/Comedy makes up about half, depending on how you define things. But it’s definitely the dominant genre.
Here is The Top 115.
(I also have to say what a treat it is to participate with and be on the same list as Jessica Abel, who is at the top of the contributor list thanks to the power of the alphabet. Weird coincidence too, as I’m reading her excellent graphic novel La Perdida right now.