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June 01, 2004

Comments

matthew rossi

I take it you're not a fan of Pogo?

David Fiore

That's a very diplomatic and balanced list Marc! As a person who is incapable of being either (in print, I mean!), I salute you!

But no Filth? As you indicate, there's room for a third Morrison title, and the problems with The Invisibles are not present in this most recent effort. What did you think of the book, anyway?

Dave

Josh Lukin

Wrong century, Dave. Gotta be Flex Mentallo in the third Morrison slot.

David Fiore

That's right, time has marched on hasn't it?
I forgot about that! I still haven't read Flex--I know this situation must be remedied!

Dave

Peli Grietzer

No Sandman?

Not that I think it's an obvious or vital choice. But as problematic and clumsy as Gaiman is with langauge, and for all the work's flaws and it's current unjustified place in the (semi) mainstream as the ultimate "comics as high art", I think it's clear the the ten volumes together create something truely grand, poetic and powerful. And even if many of the individual storylines are a bit "middlebrow" in the bad sense, many others are artistic gems.

Greg Morrow

I'm with Rossi.

Walt Kelly's Pogo deserves a high ranking.

Marc

Dave - Balanced? I think not!

Loved The Filth, but it's solidly in the twenty-first century. I do need to reread it sometime; by the end of the series I began to feel the many twists and revelations were canceling each other out (particularly the stunning revelation of the penultimate issue, which I couldn't reconcile with the final one). It certainly benefits from the consistent, superb Weston and Erskine art.

Josh - I completely forgot about Flex Mentallo, a worthy third. Although I probably forgot about it because it's rather short in comparison to most of the works I listed, save Alec and The Birth Caul.

By the way, I enjoyed your TCJ article on Morrison from waaaaayyyy back in the day, and even made use of it for a conference paper. Have you written anything else on Morrison?

Peli - No Sandman. I can, with effort, look past the rambling, vastly overrated storylines, the superficial adoption of Moore's style, the moronic cosmology and the insistent preciousness that taints everything Gaiman. The series did reinvent the way long-run comics can be structured in America, popularizing a number of structural innovations: finality, distinct story arcs, flashback issues, etc. Much of what I like about The Invisibles is made possible by Sandman, loathe though I am to admit it. And there are a few gems; I particularly liked the first couple of "Distant Mirrors" stories, and Orpheus in the French Revolution was probably the series' artistic height.

But a few gems don't make one of the greatest comics of the twentieth century. I suspect that over the long run, Sandman will be remembered as a decently-written bestseller with a couple of neat tricks that occasionally mitigate the unbearable pretension.

Marc

Pogo may routinely be included on such lists, but I decided reputation alone would not be sufficient reason to include anything on mine.

Looking at my bookshelf (to remind myself why I didn't care for Pogo) I spotted another comic that should have made my list - Martin Rowson's brilliant adaptation of The Wasteland as a film noir starring Robert Mitchum. Wonder if it's too late to add on...

Jess Nevins

! Marc, I could kiss you for mentioning Rowson's Wasteland. I've yet to meet anyone else who's seen this.

Michael Chary

While I don't find anything wrong with the list, per se. I doid notice what I feel are glaring ommissions based on historical importance and quality. "Pogo" has already been mentioned, but also missing are "Doonesbury," the single most important strip of the last 40 years even counting Peanuts' heyday in the 1970's, and Dilbert which has captured the zeitgeist of American corporate culture in a way not seen since Dave Berg's work in Mad Magazine.
Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon, of course, has transcended comics as few other characters have.

Along those lines, Seigel/Shuster's Superman clearly merits consideration on both quality and historical importance, as does Finger/Kane's Batman and Binder/Beck's Captain Marvel.

Finally, Moore's next slot should go to Jaspers Warp. Morrison's to Zenith, and Priest should get a slot for Quantum and Woody. :)

Peli Greitzer

" Martin Rowson's brilliant adaptation of The Wasteland as a film noir starring Robert Mitchum"

Are we taling about The Wasteland as in "April is the cruelest..."? If so, can you please expand?
That sounds really exciting.

And the thing with Gaiman is I feel all his works are shadows of what they were supposed to be. Maybe it's just my sentiments for it as the first comics I read, but from my expirience there is something curious about the sandmans status: It's mostly praised eitheer by very middlebrow long-time comics readrs, but also by many general readers with vast literary background and fine taste. When I re-read it today it's really not as good as the first time, but I feel it's partly because I don't read it the same way now that I'm more used to comics, not just because it lost value. But I can't put my finger on it, really.

However, what I think comes as proof the Gaiman really has a great treasure of ill-directed talent within him is his Andy Warhol Miracle-Man story, which is simply superb.

Marc

Mike - I considered most of the names you mentioned, but the call was for a list of the greatest - historical importance was only one consideration for me, and it usually took a back seat to quality.

I thought about including Siegel/Shuster and Kane/Finger, but while they did build a genre, they didn't produce truly great comics; their art was particularly deficient. Even the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man was ultimately adjudged too much of a mess to make the cut, which I will follow Craig Fischer in blaming on Ayn Rand.

Binder/Beck Captain Marvel is much better, but it's still just a very good genre comic, no more or less "great" than the very good autobiographies or very good writer's-workshop-fiction-in-comic-form that I wasn't inclined to include. Hell, I'd say it's better than most of those, but I wasn't including anything purely as a genre representative.

The newspaper adventure strips posed a problem, and both Raymond and Hal Foster were considered. I decided I didn't know enough about either to include them - again, I was not going to fall into the tautology of citing the traditionally-accepted "greats" just because their greatness is traditionally accepted - and what little I did know caused me to wonder if they were better anatomists and illustrators than they were narrative storytellers. Also, Flash Gordon has transcended the comics in exactly the manner numerous other characters have, only far less so, and in any case that has nothing to do with the quality of the comic - otherwise fucking Garfield would be here and I would have to go out and shoot myself.

Trudeau is very smart and very funny, but even he would say "Doonesbury" succeeds in spite of his drawing, not because of it. Negative influence was a factor here, too: that The Boondocks can get away with Sunday strips - Sunday strips! - showing three panels of tiny heads under giant word balloons may be laid partially at Trudeau's feet. (Bucking this trend is what earned Watterson a spot on my honor roll, btw.)

The one name you mention that didn't occur to me, that I would frankly deny belongs on any list of great comics, is "Dilbert." Sure, it's funny, but funniness isn't greatness, and Scott Adams's art makes Aaron Magruder look like the second coming of Winsor McCay. There's also something strangely listless about his humor: capturing corporate culture is not the same thing as critiquing it, and good satirists, as Trudeau and Magruder demonstrate, have a point of view.

Peli - I have more thoughts on Gaiman, mostly agreement, but those may have to wait for a post of their own.

Jess - You don't have to kiss me.

Jeff R.

I actually almost find the absence of Miller, Wagner, and Sim more significant than the lack of Gaiman. Less so for Sim; you're going for complete works and Cerebus as a whole is too deeply flawed. (and not complete inside the century) Jaka's Story might qualify if one was willing to break it up, though (and you did break up the greater work of Alec...). No Dark Knight or Sin City (The original story), no The Hero Discovered?

Strip-wise, I'd say that the omission of Larson's Far Side rankles more than Dilbert or Doonesbury , although the dubious comics-ness of single-framers may figure into this.

Mike Chary

I thought about Far Side, but Marc disqualified it by including Understanding Comics, which disqualifies all single panels. I actually got on McCloud's case about that once...

I'm not going to to try to further defend any of my "glaring ommission" candidates, just because, what's the point? I will say I think the political edge to the early Superman books is sometimes unjustiably ignored. Oh, and I think Dilbert does have a clear point of view. (And just to defend my fellow Hoosier, back when Garfield was about a cat and not some little guy in a catsuit, it was a brilliantly funny strip.)

Marc, you considered Quantum and Woody?

Marc

No, but I figured the smiley meant you were kidding. :)

Miller is a puzzling absence, isn't he? (Sim is not. I sat on my fingers throughout the quasi-love-fest this past spring in eager anticipation of the day when nobody pays attention to Dave Sim anymore and the Comics Journal doesn't feel obligated to print his 15,000 word screeds.) While he's done some great genre work - Daredevil would be my choice, probably "Born Again" - I felt being exemplary of a genre wasn't enough. Also, frankly, I already had plenty of good (better) superhero comics - that probably weighed against him, and I don't think his non-superhero work measures up as well.

I don't want to turn this into defending the list against all challengers. The list was never meant to be exhaustive (hence my nomination of 35 comics where 100 were called for) and anyway, I think what's on the list is more interesting than what's not on it.

But less controversial, I'm sure, and therein the discussion lies.

Let me suggest a different angle: what qualifies something as "great"? Instead of just dropping names that we all somehow recognize as great - the one qualifier I absolutely rejected - what does Dark Knight Returns or Pogo have that should make them one of the greats?

Greg Morrow

Pogo:

Hilarious farce, brilliant wordplay, excellent political satire, clear and insightful point of view; innovative lettering; extraordinary linework.

Mike Chary

DKR:

Doing something new with a character who had already had a million or so "new" takes. See also Englehart/Rogers.

Jeff R.

Dark Knight
The character work is not really special enough to qualify it, on its own. The accomplishment of Miller's that ought to stand out here, though, is in developing a new visual vocabulary for comics, with some very innovative work in pacing through layout (after the years of balanced 2x3 layouts preceeding it, Miller's grids and splashes were something new. [Sure, maybe Eisner had done similar things before, but the fact that other people had used clever wordplay and transitions before Moore doesn't disqualify him from the list.

Miller (with Varley) also was the most competent among the first to really explore the use of color in comics after the technological advances that took the medium beyond 4-colored tiny dots, in DKR and also in Ronin.

Greg Morrow

See http://www.moviepoopshoot.com/comics101/28.html for a thorough examination of Pogo.

Michael G. Switzer

Uh, CLOWES!
EIGHTBALL!
maybe "Caricature"
or "Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron"
or, yes, even "Ghost World"...
CLOWES!!!

The Lone Nut

Grotesqueticle

Everybody,

Pogo:

Hilarious farce, brilliant wordplay, excellent political satire, clear and insightful point of view; innovative lettering; extraordinary linework.

Posted by: Greg Morrow

You are exactly right about all that. The man put more thought into the freaking word balloons than 98% of all cartoonists have put into entire panels.

Marc, as long as you are listing the rest of Kirbys "New World" mythos, why not include his stint on "Jimmy Olsen"? On the basis of absolutely no evidence whatsoever (because I am new to your blog and too lazy to read many past entries) I suspect you are of an age, like myself, that these comics just wowed you as they came out. This, despite the fact, that Kirby was past his prime as an artist and storyteller. Yet he still created some of the most interesting IMO characters extant in the DC Universe to this day.

Peli, I agree with you completely as far as "I think it's clear the ten volumes together create something truly grand, poetic and powerful" goes. I think the one thing Gaiman lacked was consistent good art. Let's face it, a majority of those stories had bottom tier pencilling.

For my money Moores TOP 10 is the best superhero comic I've ever read.

On strips, What about BLOOM COUNTY? Breathed was consistently funny on a daily basis for a solid 7 year period or so. Great draftsmanship and belly laugh payoffs every freaking day.

I would have to include Sims whole HIGH SOCIETY thru CHURCH & STATE run in any list of best comics, no matter how short. Hell, I'd throw in the run up through GUYS into that statement.

Preacher - for all it's simplistic philosophy and Uber real-world Violence - was sheer storytelling lunacy at it's most enjoyable. I couldn't wait to get each issue in my grubby palms. Major props to Ennis/Dillon.

Carl Banks will always be the man. Period.

And did anyone else really dig the first three years of ULTIMATE SPIDERMAN or was it just me?

Here I sit, in the depths of a Guinness binge, laughing like an idiot watching South Park, so what is my opinion worth?

Marc

Mike - Miller and Englehart both did wonderful things with Batman, and if the list were "100 great Batman stories" they would both be at the very top. But, like Jeff, I don't think character work equates to greatness in the medium.

Jeff - good point about the grids and the coloring, certainly worthy of the highest honors. I think my problem with DKR is that I can't separate the art from the writing, and the writing doesn't grip me as much as it once did. Miller probably should be on the list, though.

Michael - Why Clowes? I mean, I'm well aware that he's routinely cited as a comics genius, but hearing one more citation doesn't really change my opinion of his arid work: unremarkable character-based "nongenre" fiction, distinguished only because its genre, highly respected in literary circles, was at one point fairly uncommon in comics. But it's not great or remarkable writing in and of itself.

Clowes's work also seems to be susceptible to a problem that has undermined many an alternative comic. He can't escape the superhero comics he so disdains because he never stops telling us how much he disdains them; nor are his criticisms particularly novel. (Superheroes are sexually dysfunctional? Superhero publishers are hucksters? Really.)

But maybe I'm missing something. So, reputation aside, why Clowes?

David Fiore

Jeff R.

I don't think Miller's DKR layouts were really all that innovative. Colan, Simonson, Neal Adams, hell Jack Kirby! had all done a lot of experimenting with panel layouts and pacing (Miller has always seemed to me like Simonson without the sense of humour...)

Dave

Peli Grietzer

I think I'm starting to get a grasp of the nature of this list- I think marc doesn't intend to do a list about works that shaped comics as much as about works whose existence is a proof of the medium's worth.

I'm all for it. But I think it's interesting to think of that decision in the context of a medium still fighting for its credibility.
I think a list about a more established art-form would have tended to be more interested in works whose value lies in their evolutionary role, and works which represent the peak of genre-writing.
I really do like it better this way, though.

Marc

Actually, I don't see the list as being about proving the medium's worth, I just see a major qualitative difference between "important" and "great"; while many of my choices are both formative and high quality (Lee/Kirby, Eisner, etc), being formative alone wasn't enough. After all, I doubt Famous Funnies deserves to be on anybody's list of "great" comics.

I also see a difference between "exemplary" and "great"; the most exemplary Batman comics or "naturalistic" fiction comics (to use a descriptor I don't particularly like) may be fine specimens of their genre, but that doesn't mean they're going to be among the all-time greats. (It doesn't disqualify them either, something that too often rules out good popular genre works.) Recent (post-Miller and Moore) superhero comics in particular fall into a trap of being exclusively about genre, limiting their potential scope.

Since the list was proposed by a conference in a country that does afford comics more credibility, and since it's polling people from all over the world, it should be interesting to see if the final result does take on a more evolutionary or exemplary cast; I don't doubt that some people, perhaps many people, will have formed their lists that way. I also don't doubt that a couple of tautologies will work their way onto the list. However, I think it's actually more defensive to build a list that way; being confident of the medium's quality, I felt free to focus on what I consider the best, not the most historically important.

Greg - I followed the link and I have to say I still don't get it. First of all, I didn't think that was a thorough examination so much as a thorough summary.

Secondly, and I'm just going to lay all my cards on the table here, I've always been highly suspicious of the great respect accorded Pogo - the implicit argument too often seems to be, "See, this must be important because it's got political commentary," an argument that rarely considers the quality of the commentary. Or, for that matter, the quality of the comic - instead Pogo is usually dignified by its content, a formulation I absolutely reject.

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