A while back I was contacted by Robert Stanley Martin, who was putting together an International Best Comics Poll
for the Hooded Utilitarian. The request for participants came in the form of a question - "What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?" I came up with the following list of obviously correct answers:
- The Comet of Carthage
, Yves Chaland & Yann Lepennetier
- Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise
, Gary Panter
- Krazy Kat
, George Herriman
- The Last of the Summer Wine
, Eddie Campbell
- Minnie's 3rd Love or: "Nightmare on Polk Street"
, Phoebe Gloeckner
- Mysterious Suspense
#1, Steve Ditko (dialogue credited to D.C. Glanzman)
- Rogan Gosh
, Brendan McCarthy & Peter Milligan
), Yoshiharu Tsuge
- Thrilling Adventure Stories
(aka: I Guess
), Chris Ware
- [untitled The New Adventures of Venus
short from Measles
#2], Gilbert Hernandez
A few notes:
*The Comet of Carthage
is available as part of Humanoids' Chaland Anthology #1: Freddy Lombard
, which was released in hardcover in 2003 and softcover (via the DC/Humanoids deal) in 2004. I discussed it a little bit with Tucker Stone
shortly after first reading it; since then, it's only grown in appeal as less a re-creation or a commentary upon classic mid-century children's comics styles -- as the "Atom" or "Atomic" approach is typically identified -- but a full-scale reconstitution of a past style as supportive of brazen poetic gestures and mythic allusions in a manner its earlier practitioners could not or would not have thought to attempt. Naturally, this perspective is limited by my monolingual handicap, and the vagaries of English-language comics publishing; Les Humanoïdes in France is planning a re-release of all four of their Chaland collections
in a boxed set this October, so maybe that's a signal vols. 3 and 4 might actually show in English some day.
*Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise
was one of the first comics I ever wanted to write about, so that's what I did
. I think I've mentioned it about a million times since then, in a variety of inappropriate contexts; it's still "crushingly powerful stuff," you'll be pleased to know.
, meanwhile, had to settle for an examination of intuitive book design
. It's a big thing to cover on its own -- the largest endeavor by far on my list, being a three-decade-plus tenure in the face of nine individual books or short stories -- but what continues to thrill me about Herriman's achievement is that I can constantly dive into it absolutely anywhere and pick up entirely new ideas and sensations; for having such a famously simple premise greeting the curious, it's nonetheless one of the most marvelously fertile grounds in comics, its virtues branching to compliment seemingly any means of engagement at any time.
*Quite a lot of people put Eddie Campbell on their lists, but I was the only one to suggest anything from Deadface/Bacchus (besides Joshua Dysart putting the whole thing on his extended list
), specifically The Last of the Summer Wine
, a short story initially published in Harrier Comics' Bacchus
#2 (1988), and currently found in Doing the Islands with Bacchus
, the third Bacchus
softcover collection. Fittingly for a title character known to represent "that mysterious force in nature which we recognize to be higher than reason," I can't entirely explain the slow, subtle power that builds over 24 pages depicting part of a short island tour shared by three not-entirely-undying men while cataloging Greek gods, the mythic resonance of the number twelve, geniuses of antiquity and missing fragments of classical sculpture, always conjoined with visual jokes and comments or serving as metaphors for the accumulation of knowledge, facts, anecdotes - the deaths of Rasputin the mad monk and a nameless Napoleonic general squished between a pair of fucking horses as indicative of mortality even among seemingly everlasting characters and architectures. Yet coursing through it all is wine and the sea, and friendship and conversation, and revelry posited as romantic salvation - there are days, such as this one, where I think it's the quintessence of Campbell's art.
*I only recently wrote about Minnie's 3rd Love
, but it's a story that's been with me forever.
#1 -- published by Charlton in 1968 and most recently reprinted by DC in both a standalone Millennium Edition comic book (2000) and in vol. 2 of The Action Heroes Archives
(2007), both times with garish 'remastered' coloring -- is the first and only full-length comic book entirely devoted to Steve Ditko's version of The Question (there was no issue #2); the character had previously appeared in back-up stories in Blue Beetle
, in a somewhat softer form, though by this point he was indistinguishable from Ditko's Mr. A save for name and physical appearance. The Question, you see, had been A
nswered. While the dialogue in this issue is typically credited to Glanzman, it's generally accepted that Ditko did all the writing himself, and I've always found his flatly declarative style perfect for a morality play that's less performance than incantation
. One day I'll write a book -- not a long book, a 33⅓
or Deep Focus
kind of thing -- explaining why this comic not only summarizes everything I find appealing about superheroes, but indeed captures the entire trajectory of superhero comics publishing in its slight confines. Alan Moore wouldn't want it any other way!
*I wrote about Rogan Gosh here
. If you really sat me down and twisted my arm back and made me seriously think about the idea of the comics page as a simulacrum of space-time with all accordant narrative potential to rupture the walls of reality, I'd have to admit that McCarthy & Milligan got it down best with this short, vigorous tour of pulsing alternate dimensions and the diverse manifestations of individuals across them, capable of realizing (or failing to realize) something both individually valuable yet commonly profound.
(1968) is here because I will think about it until I am dead.
(Ok, ok, go read Matthias Wivel
*Much like how I love Eddie Campbell's Alec stories, yet found myself most treasuring a single short story from outside that region, I found myself in the end most responsive to Chris Ware's contribution to the 1991 final issue of Raw
: I Guess
, aka Thrilling Adventure Stories
, aka the one where it's a superhero comic except all of the typographical elements from captions to dialogue to thought balloons to sound effects consecutively form an unseen character's monologue on a youth touched by superheroes, racism and strained family relations, the visual component providing various calibrations of irony, poignancy and pacing to the narration. Ware would get much more formally ambitious, but the quiet excellence of these six pages stick with me the most, although perhaps that's a potential best vested in short works; from the looks of this list, I prefer them.
*As for The New Adventures of Venus
"Space is tight, so I’ll tell you about my favorite six-page comic. It’s an episode of The New Adventures of Venus
by Gilbert Hernandez, from issue #2 of Measles
(May 1999), an “all-ages” (read: safe-for-kids) series he edited at Fantagraphics from 1998 to 2001. In it, little Venus and her Tia (aunt) Fritz visit a sparse, windswept local amusement park on an overcast day. A big opening panel takes up two-thirds of the first page, emphasizing the sky, as goofy science fiction buildings poke up behind Venus, dressed in a goofy science fiction costume. It’s a heavy atmosphere, but Venus romps around the small, cheap-looking enclosures like a native, making plaster alien statues talk in a stilted way that glows with provincial enthusiasm. Tia Fritz is in costume too, but the few other patrons glimpsed are not, which distresses her - this was her favorite place when she was Venus’ age.
was Venus’ age I’d make up stories for amusement parks, vast conspiracy motives tethering every cheap locale together, and when I’d go to bed I’d dream of them. This, I know, was childhood; as I grew into a student, I dreamed of hotels, more pragmatic things. An interim setting. Hernandez’s framing demands I read space before character, so it’s easy to interface with Venus’ enthusiasm in such an evocative setting. But the land stands apart from her, and so I stare at Fritz too, both perfectly indulgent yet unsuccessful at reading these pages the same way; she cannot escape her maturity any more than her small outfit can make her into a girl. It’s effortlessly, almost wordlessly melancholic in that direction, complicated further by Venus’ mama, in adult clothes at home, confiding to the child that the place only ever made her sad. But Venus can’t understand, laying in her bed.
"These days I mostly dream of a home in a nicer location, which is so banally revealing I’ll stop right here."
(2011), ed. Craig Fischer
*And finally, you've got to keep in mind that "favorites" shift according to reflection, study, room temperature, etc., and while I couldn't say exactly what I'd omit from the Top Ten, I know any of the below 15 could have just as easily appeared there:
- The ACME Novelty Library, Chris Ware
- Adventures From Mauretania
, Chris Reynolds
- The Airtight Garage
- The Alec Stories
, Eddie Campbell
- Bakune Young
vol. 2, Toyokazu Matsunaga (only vol. 2)
- The Book of Jim
, Jim Woodring
- Cryptic Wit
, Gerald Jablonski
- Dream of the Rarebit Fiend
, Winsor McCay
- The Filth
, Grant Morrison, Chris Weston & Gary Erskine
, Kevin Huizenga (the Or Else
- Hellblazer Annual
#1, Jamie Delano, Bryan Talbot & Dean Motter
, Richard Maguire
- Phoenix: Karma
, Osamu Tezuka
- The Saga of the Swamp Thing
, Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bissette, John Totleben, Rick Veitch & a galaxy of stars
- This Was Your Life!
, Jack T. Chick
Even then I feel a little constrained. Where's From Hell
? Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga
? Loustal & Paringaux? Taiyō Matsumoto? What happened to Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse? (my reading isn't thorough!) Alack Sinner? (I can only read English!)... ah, get back to me on my deathbed, you'll have all the answers then.