100 Best Comics of All Time
Because the idea that I could simply end a list of great comics at 100 is patently ridiculous, I decided to include the 100 that follow my Top 100. There are two reasons for this: 1) it eases the torment I feel for the books that nearly made the cut but—for whatever wind of capriciousness—did not, and 2) helps me not be as swayed by the desire to make a list that would intrigue visitors.
Obviously we cannot get away from the fact that I made this list to be read by others. It, like all personal expression posted on the web, is meant for an audience. Every review or critique intended for eyes beyond those of the actual author of the critique themself is a performance. One hopes to be well regarded. Or to move the reader in some way: to consideration, to adulation, to reviling—the goal will be different for every author. The main point is that the author wishes to have his work (his ego) regarded. I, being human, am no different.
So one of the struggles I've had with maintaining this list is the performance aspect. When one apporaches a Top Whatever List, there are at least three things the reader desires: 1) some affirmation of the reader's own tastes, 2) some new delicacies to experience that fall in line with the reader's established tastes, and 3) something that shows the list maker to be interesting or a bit of a risk-taker. The third point there is often not ever realized consciously, but really, who wants to read a predictable list? If Entertainment Weekly came out with a Top 100 Films list and it was exactly what was expected, nobody would be satisfied. It would appear that no thought had been put into the book. And I, of course, have wanted to avoid the thought that this is a thoughtless, unimaginative list.
So the danger of having a bare hundred selections is that I'd be tempted to weight certain books and stories more highly than I actually regard them simply to present an interesting list. That's neither fair to my tastes nor fair to the books. So by expanding my Top 100 into a Top 100 + 100, I hope to solve that problem. We'll see, eh?
The Next 100
The following refers to my original Top 100 list, published in Mar 2011, and does not reflect the changing statistics as the list has evolved since then. I will try to re-evaluate as time allows.
While the list only features 11 female creators,* this may be a disproportionately strong showing by female creators. At first glance this was a bit disheartening. But (!) we need to remember that comic creation is, or at least has been, largely dominated by men. If my list boasts something of an 8% female creator rate and the percentage of female creators is something like 2 or 3%, then that shows that the women who do become comic creators are perhaps being more intentional about their product than their male counterparts.
Still it's hard to read too much into this figure. At the least we can be heartened to see that all of the female-created works listed are from the last fifteen years (with the exception of Castle Waiting which has been in gradual production since 1985). This shows that female interest in comic creation is on the rise and that as new voices join the chorus, we're certain to have a much wider range of great books to look forward to.
*note: it was very nearly more. Jen Van Meter and Chynna Clugston just got cut and would be listed if this had been the Top 110. Also, had I published the list a day later, I would have included Mercury by Hope Larson.
Decades of Influence
The list is definitely top heavy with titles from the last fifteen years. In any other medium, this might betray a myopic view of things. A cineaste who ignores black and white films can't really be considered any kind of authority on what's good. A literary critic who doesn't value novels written further than twenty years ago is a literary critic we'd tend to pity rather than avidly follow. Comics, unfortunately, are a bit different.
At least in the American scene, comics remained in a largely infantile state until very recently. Due to political influences in the '50s comics stagnated as a medium dominated by childish adventure and science-fiction fantasy and while some of those works were at times compelling, imagine how stale film would have become had every film been a western? Progress was made in the underground scene of the '70s and the popularity of three major works in the '80s (Maus, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns) set the stage for creators to move in new directions in the following years. The 21st century has experienced a very large number of great books and things promise to get even better as the barriers of how we think about comics continues to shift and evolve.
It's telling then that of the 19 books listed that were produced before 1995, 8 are from outside the U.S. and 4 are newspaper strips.
Nations of Origin
Determining the national origin of things is not always easy. For instance, Daytripper (my #1 choice) was written and drawn in Brazil by Brazilian twins. So, a South American book? But then we consider that it was written in English and produced for an American publisher (DC/Vertigo). So yeah, I don't know. Then there's Yukiko's Spinach. A book by a French man who's living in Japan and the language appears to be Japanese and English (unless the English parts were originally French and were just redrawn in English) and it's published by a French publisher (Ponent Mon). I'm comfortable calling it a European book even though it's labeled as Nouvelle Manga (New in French and Comic in Japanese). But then most of the other stuff by the French publisher is by Japanese creators.
I guess that's just the way with artificially constructed categories. The lesson here may be that national boundaries are for suckers. Or maybe I'm just reading in my own personal politic. Be that as it may, the breakdown of the list into global sectors provides some interesting info. My list contains: 7 European imports and 15 Japanese imports with the rest being American or British.
Clearly we're getting some pretty good penetration from Japan. The manga boom from the early '00s opened the doors to quite a bit of Japanese material and while American publishing of Japanese material has definitely scaled back, there's still some good stuff coming through. Both Twin Spica and Saturn Apartments are being published currently. And traditionally indie American publishers Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly have taken up the task of publishing Japanese material that finds itself pretty far outside of the mainstream. Manga is supposedly Japan's greatest export and their greatest source of soft power in the international realm. That they could have even as many as fifteen ranks in my list despite the fact that American distribution really only took off in the last ten years shows that Japanese export to America is healthy.
What's most distressing is the continued lack of distribution and marketing for European product. I have to imagine the European comic market is at least as vibrant as the waning American market. And yet, while we don't get Nothing here, what we do get remains largely unseen and difficult to find. Obviously there are perennial favourites like Tintin and Asterix (which I never cottoned to), and nouveau classics like Persepolis and Epileptic, but if I were to visit my local bookstore, I'll find shelf after shelf of Japanese and English-language books. And maybe two Euro-imports.
*sigh* At least it's easier to find Eurogames!
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
3 Stars = Good
2 Stars = Ok
1 Star = Bad
I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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