Collins! What is best in comics?

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200911250120 Collins! What is best in comics?If you thought yesterday’s A.V. Club Best Comics of the Aughts list was going to tiptoe by unnoticed and uncommented on, you were wide of the mark by a fair bit. Sean T. Collins delivers a total smackdown, from the lack of manga to the last of KRAMERS ERGOT to the lack of an ordered list.

By simply listing 25 books in alphabetical order, this list avoids making difficult and absolutely crucial distinctions regarding quality, dodging the hard work necessary to back those distinctions up with considered criticism. I don’t know what good a Best of the ’00s list that sits The Goon right next to Louis Riel does anybody under any circumstances, but at least a countdown would provide context; juxtaposing two books like that through sheer alphabetical accident provides us with no window into its authors’ critical worldview(s), and actually may do more harm than good in terms of articulating what matters. Frankly, I feel like it’s a cop-out.


Although a lot of the analysis on the list was flimsy, I’m actually not so big on the ordered list, really — this isn’t a slalom race. Why does someone have to come in 7th? Do we really need MORE arguing on the internets? Do we have the time to PROVE that Sean Phillips is a better artist than R.M. Guéra?

200911250119 Collins! What is best in comics?This ties in somewhat with yesterday’s George Gene Gustines/Marc-Oliver Frisch discussion on whether mainstream media should offer negative reviews of graphic novels. Alarmingly, I was going to mention the A.V. Club as a place that seemed to be mainstream, fairly comics literate and wide ranging and gutsy enough to deliver low grades in their comics reviews. The Onion A.V. Club is one of the few online outlets that offers anything like the authority of print in its heyday; it’s a a Pitchfork that stopped listening to Grizzly Bear for a few minutes.

Perhaps the sharpest lessons can be gleaned from the comments section at the list — at 500+ messages, it’s not for everyone, but I would strongly urge anyone who is sick and tired of Newsarama message boards to give it a look. Unlike the superhero apologists who get, like, totally defensive when you don’t put Amazing Colon: the Rise of the Duodenum on your best-of list, the commenters at the Onion seem to me to be a pretty representative group of the expanded universe of comics readers these days — they like Brian K. Vaughan (a LOT) and Joss Whedon , they’ve read CRIMINAL and PERRY BIBLE FELLOWSHIP and JIMMY CORRIGAN. In short, they’re kind of an eclectic group, even if somewhat middlebrow. This is the audience we need to expand — and further educate.

The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray makes many appearances in the comments to explains this or that part of the list, including the fact that, as suspected the A.V. crew just didn’t get manga. Murray also pounds a stake through the heart of the post-Thunderites with this:

I think you touched on it: the art-school-comic aesthetic. A lot of the KE and KE-like anthologies look like university art shows to me: some genuinely innovative work mixed with amateurish scribbling. I appreciate experimentation, but I prefer some evidence that the artist has at least a rudimentary grasp of the basics before he or she starts screwing around. Can the artist tell a story and/or compose a readable panel? If not, full pages of disconnected words and doodles don’t impress me much.


In some ways this ties in to a lot of film criticism — you just don’t see too many Matthew Barney films on year end “best of” lists, and the A.V.’s list is even more mainstream than the average alt-weekly’s film reviewers.

But the manga gap is glaring. David Welsh suggests folks naming their five favorite manga of the ten years past, and I’ll endorse that notion as well. My five list would change, given the day and my mood, but here are five for consideration (chosen based on first English edition, not original publications):

Tekkon Kinkreet
Ode to Kirihito
Disappearance Diary
One Piece
Pluto

…so there!

(PS: I put a picture of Tamara Drewe up there not because it’s mentioned anywhere – it isn’t — but because I hope more people remember the great Posy Simmonds as their lists are being drawn up! PROPAGANDA.)

Comments

  1. Ranking books numerically in a “countdown” demonstrates a failure to grasp what literary and artistic criticism are. You cannot measure quality numerically and then rank items based on it. It makes one look like a retarded artcomics fanboy playing out juvenile “hoo’d win?” scenarios while he plays with his Umbrella Academy PVC figures.

  2. In regard to the question of positive reviews … I write graphic novel (and select comics) reviews every week in a daily newspaper and once a month in an alternative weekly, and my philosophy has always been to review the books I like. If I don’t like something, if I write about it at all, it goes straight to my blog. Why? Because sequential storytelling is still trying to drum up business beyond the bubble that is the core readership. It’s not a question of not wanting to give bad publicity, though – it’s more a consideration that if I write a negative review, most people would look at it and think, “If it’s not any good, why do I care?” When you are trying to bring in readership, anyone outside of the core could give a damn about what’s bad – they want to know what is good. They want recommendations.

    Comics are still very much a niche art form despite their growth in the last two decades and I think that reviewers need to speak to their intended audience – if they service the core readership or think their readers are interested in such things for whatever, they should feel free to write negative reviews. But I do think that anyone writing for the arts and entertainment in mainstream publications walk a tightrope – on one side is what the readers want and already know about and want an “official voice” to comment on, on the other is the unknown that readers would like to be introduced to. Comics still fall on the other side very often in mainstream press, though my hope is that will change eventually.

    As an aside, over years of reviewing comics as well as film, art, music, books, etc, I’ve become dissatisfied with the review assembly line philosophy, where you just review everything that comes along. I’ve become of the mind that if you want to stop bad art, you should just ignore it in the press. Bad reviews still bring in bucks for crap. Bad reviews are part of the entertainment machine and it gets annoying being a cog in that monstrosity.

  3. “Do we have the time to PROVE that Sean Phillips is a better artist that R.M. Guerra?”

    Of course I’m not! Guerra’s work is fantastic!

  4. I no longer trust Sean Phillips’s judgment. :) (Nothing against Guerra–just a lot in favor of Phillips!)

    I see what Heidi and Todd are saying (though Heidi says it a bit less vociferously of course), and believe me, I sympathize. I’ve done my year-end lists every which way imaginable–ranked lists, unranked lists, grouped by genre, essays, “favorites,” “bests,” you name it–so I’m open to not ranking things. It can do more harm than good sometimes, too, like I said. But in this particular case it just seemed like an excuse by the writers not to do the hard work of comics criticism, refusing to make value judgments in much the same way that they wrote off entire swathes of art-comics as art-school gibberish or ignored an entire country’s output and said it’s best left to specialists. That’s your job, folks.

  5. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the complete first English edition of Tekkon Kinkreet (under the title “Black & White”) was available in English from Viz prior to 2000. It was serialized in Pulp magazine starting in 1997, then there was a 5-issue miniseries to finish out the storyline (whose publication dates I can’t find anywhere off-hand). The third and final graphic novel came out in April of 2000, so I’m fairly sure that all of those issues were released prior to 2000, though.

    Or am I being too nitpicky?

  6. Synsidar says:

    One problem with some “Best of” lists, including the A.V. Club’s, is that they treat comics as a genre when it is, in fact, a format. Book awards don’t have genres compete against each other. If there aren’t comics-form publications in enough genres (autobiography?) except superhero fiction to enable separation by genre, that raises the question of what people are reading the comics for. Is it story content, or the visual stimulation the artwork provides?

    Negative reviews are useful to readers and publishers who are concerned about the quality of what they buy and put out. The classical music reviewers for Fanfare, for example, are generally professional musicians, academicians in the music field, or producers. Their expertise in music is displayed in their reviews, good or bad. If someone does a killer review, the publisher knows production mistakes were made.

    I’d put up my favorite superhero storyline(s) in the Englehart/Perez issues of AVENGERS (reprinted as THE SERPENT CROWN TPB) against any superhero stories published since then. The issues were and are models of how to weave subplots into storylines, how to develop characters (real conflicts), and how to combine a political allegory with entertaining fiction. I wouldn’t try to compare the work to art comics, though.

    SRS

  7. All Top Ten or Best Of lists for any particular year or decade should be reassessed ten years later. Perspective, baby!

  8. Nate Horn says:

    I like numbered lists because it’s fun to see what the reviewer liked best or how their likes shake out. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just fun.

    And I agree with SRS – superhero comics shouldn’t compete with the non-superhero comics. I mean, sure, you can compare Batman & Robin with Acme Novelty Library, but why?

  9. The Robot 6 article strikes me as wrongheaded. AV Club never pretends to be a scientific source, and while I don’t agree with all the choices, I have to give it a thumbs up for its sincerity. Other lists can put down Jimmy Corrigan, this one thinks the Rainy Day book is better. Good for it.

    This has been probably the most prolific decade for comics yet. I would’ve put the list at least at 40. But that’s just me.

  10. Oh! They actually explained why no Corrigan!

  11. mark coale says:

    My problem with ordered lists (including ones I make) seem arbitrary at best.

    I know that if I did a top ten list of anything, it would like be different 5 minutes from now.

    And who needs to exert mental energy over whether something is the 15th best or 16th?

  12. michael says:

    I never considered the A.V. Club the end all on the word of comics, so honestly, I don’t get what all the fuss is about. It’s just a matter of opinion anyways.

    Make a list, opinionated people, instead of arguing this ad naseum!

  13. Joe Lawler says:

    You know what should be on some of these lists? Shockrockets and Arrowsmith. Also, give us some sequels, Kurt!

    Wait, did Shockrockets come out in 2000? Should it be on the 90s list?

  14. ARROWSMITH sequel is slowly in the works…

    kdb

  15. Arbitrary please, these lists aren’t meant to rank but to enlighten.
    I love comics and I love these these comics, don’t think that ranking them makes me love them more if they are a higher rank.

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  1. […] The AV Club makes a top 25 comics of the 2000’s and then other critics get upset over what is missing (namely manga). […]

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