Wednesday, September 7, 2011

best comics

By now you've seen the top 10 comics of all-time list over at The Hooded Utilitarian. If not--check it out if you're in need of something to do on a rainy fall afternoon.
My list has to be considered a "favorites" simply because my reading is nowhere near comprehensive enough to warrant a legitimate "best of".
The works that made my top ten-twenty are all works that I have read many, many times.  And that's one of the criteria I used for choosing the works of my top ten- I've read and enjoyed each of these works many times throughout my life;  they've never failed to capture me, and my enjoyment of them now is just as fervent as it was when I first encountered them. And I continue to read them once every year or two.
More importantly, because I'm an artist --and decidedly not a critic(something I learned on The Next Issue blog)--each of the works listed here has fueled my creativity, over and over again. Each of these works has inspired, pushed,challenged,driven me --and I'm sure countless others--to make something. Each of these works has spurred innumerable new ideas, innumerable new comics, drawings, paintings, etc.etc. And to me--as an artist--that's the measure of a great work of art--it's the fuel for someone else's creativity, because art is a dialogue. It's not a solo flight. So here we go:

1.Peanuts by Charles Schulz

How many times have I read Peanuts? Impossible to say. Peanuts was one of the first things I learned to read--and I have collections in my library that I've carried with me since I was 5-6 years old. Bet you do too. I've learned more about what it means to be human, all the while laughing myself silly, from Charles Schulz's marvelous creation than from any other single source that I can think of. These simple, humble drawings; the modest phraseology. There was some strange alchemy at work in the sixties; an unsettled cultural milieu that somehow allowed for the best possible results from the most unlikely of ingredients. Using the simplest of means, Schulz created a fully realized, resonant world of subtle intonations and wry humor, entirely unique, but recognizable to us all.

2. Prince Valiant by Harold Foster 

The premier adventure strip of the Golden Age of adventure strips, a romantic tale of "knights in the days of King Arthur" told with all of the joy and good humor of the best Errol Flynn movies, brought to life in lush illustrations as yet unmatched for their naturalness, their grandeur, their sheer beauty.  A rich, intricate tale that unfolds leisurely over decades, seamlessly interweaving myth and history, tragedy and comedy, themes large and small, told through the trials, tribulations, loves and losses of its main character. It set the bar high, a standard Foster sustained for over thirty years. There are few in comics history who've had the opportunity and the stamina to match his achievement.

3.Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy" by Roy Crane 
the first great adventure strip of that aforementioned "golden age", that time when Caniff, Foster, Raymond, and others dominated the Sunday comics with stories of grand heroes and their feats of daring-do. They all owe a debt to Roy Crane, whose broad humor and rollicking yarns propelled Wash Tubbs and Cap'n Easy to legendary status. Not to mention, one of the greatest of landscape artists ever to pick up a brush and zip-a-tone and commit to newsprint! 

4. Krazy Kat by George Herriman 
5. Little Nemo by Winsor McCay
Between the two of them, the greatest visual use of the Sunday Comics page ever; not only in terms of design, but in terms of conception. McCay's late 19th-century Victorian dreamscapes and Herriman's surrealistic desert vistas are as crucial to the strip as the names on those mastheads. 
6. Maximum F.F. by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; edited by Walter Mosley
The best art-comic ever. Bar none. Every art-comic should work with a canvas this large, this ambitious. Pop Art Panels of eye-popping color in foldout pages like comics the way you dreamed they could be! And if it was still 12 cents and on newsprint, what an achievement that would be!

7.Fantastic Four issues #1-100 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

 100 issues of sheer unadulterated joy and genius. Very near Foster's achievement in terms of sustained greatness--this is the ultimate comic book when comic books were still comic books.
8. The Fourth World Omnibus vol.#1-3 by Jack Kirby 
Kirby Unleashed! At last! And for a few great years, unencumbered by the shadow of Stan Lee and his over-bearing need for attention, Jack Kirby let loose with every idea he could muster in a series of books that re-invented what a comic book-or a comic book company--could be in tales passionate and strange, timely(no pun intended) and timeless.
9. The Complete Robert Crumb vol #4-17.

Some of the bravest comics ever made. Robert Crumb broke every taboo in sight.
Funny stuff, creepy stuff, ghastly stuff, and all of it percolating just underneath the veneer of mid-20th century suburbia. Yikes! And great drawings to boot!

10. Warlock (Strange Tales #178-181, Warlock #9-11) by Jim Starlin & many others 

The comic of my teenage years. When Jack seemed un-moored by the loss of the Fourth World, Neal Adams was busy in advertising, and a good deal else was just mediocre, Jim Starlin carried the freak flag high for super-hero comics, in grand cosmic space-opera that drew inspiration from Kirby and Ditko's wildest imaginings, and juggled the concepts of god, identity and existence like some kind of Emmett Kelly on acid.  Populated by a neurotic golden hero, a hot assassin chick and an impish troll. What more could a fifteen-year old want in a comic?

11. Mad Magazine; the Kurtzman issues.
This would have been in my top ten, but I got the impression that anthologies weren't being considered. C'est la vie-I'm including it now.  When I first saw the early Wally Wood, John Severin, Jack Davis issues I must have been 8 or 9, and they were in paperback reprint form; you'd find them along with the contemporary Mad paperbacks in somebody's big brothers bedroom or something.  While the "Don Martin, Dave Berg, Mort Drucker "Mad" collections were great, the early parodies of Archie, Superman, Tarzan etc., were a revelation to me-unbridled wise-ass humor, gorgeously illustrated--and those were the ones I sought whenever we were searching my buddy's brother's room for cool teenage stuff. Whenever they're reprinted,I buy them all over again.

12. Thimble Theater(Popeye) by E.C. Segar
Are there any characters in comics quite as original as the one-eyed sailor, his freeloading buddy and stick-skinny girlfriend?
12. Dick Tracy by Chester Gould

weird, dark nasty shit. You don't want to live in this world.
13. Love and Rockets vol 1 &; 2 by Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez 

Remember I asked, among comics greats, who'd had the stamina to sustain greatness(in one long form work)  for as long as Hal Foster? These guys--between Gilbert and Jaimie, the greatest comics work of their generation. Maybe the greatest contemporary comic book---alone among serialized comics of the late twentieth century, it rivals Kirby and Lee's FF-and maybe, just maybe, it surpasses it. Breathtaking. 
14. Pogo by Walt Kelly
15.Terry and the Pirates by Milton Caniff

Two great strips, both beautifully visualized. One skewers the politics of the period in brilliant satire worthy of Swift or Orwell; the other embraces the cultural zeitgeist whole, bringing the experiences of WWII fighting men and women to the folks back home, every day in scenarios both heartstopping and heartbreaking.

16. Dennis the Menace by Al Wiseman and Fred Toole.

 Dennis' genius is fully fleshed out in these wacked-out tales of mid-20th century suburbia. The well ordered, idealized American utopia of the late 50's-early 60's completely and utterly undermined by a four year old whirling dervish. Pity Henry Mitchell.
17. Manhunter by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson
Like "Warlock", this is one of those fond memories of my youth. It was a thrill  to witness this story unfold in the pages of Detective Comics; to see Archie Goodwin at the top of his game, to see Walt Simonson grow more and more confident with each passing page. Together they reinvented a long forgotten also-ran from Simon and Kirby's backlog and invested him with new life, borrowing liberally from apocalyptic sci-fi and "the Day of the Jackal" .

18. From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
the most fully realized graphic novel(that was conceived as a novel from the get-go)I've yet read and the only one I've read that I feel attains as much nuance and depth as a great prose novel. As time has gone on I've become slightly skeptical about the graphic novel, preferring my comics in the strip form of the newspapers--but this one took my heart and mind, turned it in on itself and broke me into little pieces .Eddie Campbell's drawings are extraordinary. Evocative, emotive. One of the most powerfully frightening books I've ever read, in any medium, from any period. A brutal masterpiece. Just thinking about it gives me chills.

19. Dr. Strange by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

weird scenes from the gold mine. Steve Ditko created a lexicon of signs for inter-dimensional, other-worldy realities that has impacted nearly every comics creator who has followed him over the boundary between the empirical and the dreamed.
20. This last entry was going to be Acm
e Novelty Library by Chris Ware, but that's more because Ware's work is of significance and should be recognized on a list like this, more than because the work is a favorite of mine-or grist for my creativity. It's not. I admire Ware's work, and at times I'm just plain blown away by his capabilities--there's nobody else like him, no doubt. But He's not one of my favorites. Strange ,isn't it? 
So then, for number 20-a few of my faves-in no particular order:
Batman in Detective Comics by Frank Robbins
Clara by Jordi Bernet, Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Maicas
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Phil Nowlan, Russell Keaton
Notes for a War Story by Gipi -(& anything else by Gipi)
George Sprott & Wimbledon Green by Seth
Captain America by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Captain America(#182-192) by Frank Robbins, Steve Englehart & various writers 
Captain America by Jim Steranko
Richard Stark's Parker by Darwyn Cooke
Little Annie Fanny by Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder & various
B.C. by Johnny Hart
Angry Youth Comix by Johnny Ryan
Ganges by Kevin Huizenga 
To the Heart of the Storm by Will Eisner 
The Shadow by Mike Kaluta and Denny O'Neil
Neal Adams covers for DC comics in the late 1960's 
Blueberry by Jean Giraud  and Jean-Michel Charlier
Boys Ranch by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby 
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and many others.

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