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1987 documentary The Masters of Comic Book Art resurfaces on YouTube

The release of the critically acclaimed graphic novels Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman forever shifted the American perception of comic books, revealing a potential for sophistication in visual storytelling and mass appeal previously unrealized or forgotten. It’s taken a couple of decades for the industry to build up from these milestones, but the late 1980s were an exciting time where a lot of the groundwork was laid for establishing a demand for independent (read: not Marvel or DC superhero) comics, future improvements in creator rights, and a healthy graphic novel and manga distribution market in book stores, among other things.

In the midst of this, sci-fi author Harlan Ellison created a straight-to-video documentary spotlighting ten American comic book artists who were on the front lines of innovation and creativity at the time, as well as looking at the history up to that point. Released in 1987, it has remained out-of-print since the demise of the VHS era. Now the entire hour is viewable again thanks to YouTube user StandUpComicBooks.

UPDATE: Unfortunately the video was removed at the request of the copyright owner. Hopefully this means that an official release digitally or otherwise is planned, as it’s a shame for this snapshot of comics history to be unavailable to the general public.

My List of the 10 Favorite / Best / Most Significant Comics Works

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (the arrival of non-fiction graphic novels)

Yesterday morning, the Hooded Utilitarian posted my list along with 21 others who contributed to a giant survey of comic book creators, retailers, publishers, educators, commentators (like me) and other industry folk from all over the world to determine the 10 Best Comics. In total, 211 people responded.

I sent my list on June 15, in response to the question, “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” I started my email response to the Hooded Utilitarian with the following: “I want you to know, this is IMPOSSIBLE.”

And it is. But despite that…

My list:

Start clicking and see if something interests you.

There are plenty of comics that are just as good as the above that deserve to be listed, and even some that are better. But I had a few guidelines to help focus my list down to a manageable size.

First, I had to have actually read the material. Of the above, only Peanuts has material that I have never read. But I’ve read enough of it that what I haven’t read would have to be an absolute bomb for it to tarnish the goodwill. That means there was some material that I am fully expecting to love and that I love for its mere existence and concept that I had to leave out. I really wanted to include Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know on my list. It sits by my desk in my to-read pile from last year‘s Comic-Con.

Second, I leaned much heavier on the “most significant” portion of the question. As some have pointed out, the question asked by The Hooded Utilitarian is really three different questions which could result in three very different lists. Because what interests me is comics’ efforts to find new audiences, I interpreted “most significant” as the comics that have been most successful in winning over new readers. That was probably my biggest barometer. Each of the above have helped establish a genre or publishing strategy or level of skill that has expanded what comics can be and are today. In retrospect, I might’ve leaned a little too heavy on modern material but I think some of the most innovative and inclusive material is being made now (if you know where to find it).

OK, so let’s hear it. What did I miss?

(More random thoughts after the jump.)

Read the rest of this entry

The Ten Best Comics

Pogo by Walt Kelly

#8: Pogo by Walt Kelly

Over 200 international comic book creators, retailers, journalists, educators, and pundits (including me!) submitted their lists answering the question “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” back in May, and now the results are getting posted at The Hooded Utilitarian.

So far, the classics Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay, Locas stories by Jaime Hernandez, Pogo by Walt Kelly, MAD by Harvey Kurtzman and company, and Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby take up spots six through ten respectively. Four and five went up this morning and the top three spots will go up tomorrow and Friday.

Then starting on Monday, they’ll start to post the top 115, as well as each contributor’s list. Once mine goes up, I’ll link to it here as well as expand on why I chose what I chose.

So far none of my choices have made the Top 10, but that doesn’t completely surprise me. The why behind my choices probably didn’t match with the majority of the other participants. But I can’t argue with what’s up there. Each entry so far is legendary for a reason. The Little Nemo write-up by Shaenon K. Garrity in particular really resonated with me, effectively capturing why Winsor McCay and his comic strip are so special.

Only occasionally has a publication or institution attempted to define a canon for sequential art (comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, manga, web comics, etc.). Literature, film and other art forms have often selected what is generally considered by most critics and fans as the height of quality and/or influence, whether it be the American Film Institute or the Great Books of the Western World.

Here are some previous entries into establishing a comic book canon:

Part of the fun of these kinds of lists is to make shopping lists and, probably more, to debate. So I’ll be taking a look at this list and how it compares with the others, looking at what I think was missed, what they got right, and the growing consensus of these lists.

Comics College reveals Essential Reading of Comic Book Masters

One of my favorite regular columns is the monthly Comics College by Chris Mautner at Robot 6, hosted by Comic Book Resources. Each entry is a great introductory overview of what’s best to read from the great comic book masters and why they are so good, making this a fantastic source for newcomers or people who’ve always wanted to expand their reading. It also covers their lesser known work and stuff that maybe should be avoided.

The great part of the column is that it is looking at masters from all over the art form of comics. It’s not just superhero creators, or just alternative comics creators. It’s both those, as well as manga, newspaper strips, underground comics, euro-comics, comics journalism and more.

This month’s subject is the Norwegian cartoonist simply known as Jason. This prolific creator tells funny genre mash-ups with a deadpan economy of dialogue and understated emotion with characters struggling over love and guilt. Next month, George Herriman will be featured. His classic comic strip Krazy Kat is among the most highly regarded in the history of comics.

The Comics College column debuted in August 2009 and has covered the following comics masters past and present (click on the link to be taken to the column):

  1. Los Bros. Hernandez (Love and Rockets)
  2. Jack Kirby (The Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World)
  3. Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Phoenix)
  4. R. Crumb (Zap Comix, Book of Genesis)
  5. Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Mr. Punch)
  6. Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Acme Novelty Library)
  7. Lewis Trondheim (Dungeon, Little Nothings)
  8. Harvey Kurtzman (Mad Magazine, Frontline Combat)
  9. art spiegelman (Maus, In the Shadow of No Towers)
  10. Eddie Campbell (Alec: The Years Have Pants, The Fate of the Artist)
  11. Harvey Pekar (American Splendor, Our Cancer Year)
  12. Kim Deitch (The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Shadowland)
  13. Kevin Huizenga (Ganges, Curses)
  14. Hergé (Tintin)
  15. Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts)
  16. John Stanley (Little Lulu, Melvin Monster)
  17. Seth (George Sprott: 1894-1975, Wimbledon Green, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken)
  18. Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City)
  19. Joe Sacco (Safe Area Gorazde, Palestine)
  20. Jason (I Killed Adolf Hitler, Hey Wait…)
  21. George Herriman (Krazy Kat)
  22. Jack Cole (Plastic Man, Betsy and Me)
  23. Adrian Tomine (Summer Blonde, Scenes from an Impending Marriage)
  24. Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman, We3)
  25. Jessica Abel (La Perdida, Artbabe)
  26. Gabrielle Bell (Cecil and Jordan in New York, Lucky)
  27. Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, Zot!)
  28. Charles Burns (Black Hole, Big Baby, X’ed Out)
  29. Jacques Tardi (It Was the War of the Trenches, West Coast Blues)
  30. Phoebe Gloeckner (A Child’s Life, The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
  31. Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken with Plums)
  32. David B (Epileptic, Babel)

UPDATE: I’ll keep updating the list as new entries get posted.

In Recognition of Memorial Day

Our Army at War #13, August 1953 (Art by Bernie Krigstein, published by DC Comics)

The 1812 War, Fall 2011 (Art by George Freeman, published by Renegade Arts Entertainment)

Civil War Adventure, May 2011 (Art by Gary Kwapicz, published by History Graphics Press)

It Was the War of the Trenches, February 2010 (Art by Jacques Tardi, published by Fantagraphics)

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6, August 2006 (Art by Joe Kubert, published by DC Comics)

Two-Fisted Tales #27, May 1952 (Art by Harvey Kurtzman, published by EC Comics)

Last Day in Vietnam, July 2000 (Art by Will Eisner, published by Dark Horse Comics)

Gulf War Journal, August 2004 (Art by Don Lomax, published by iBooks)

Dougie's War, August 2010 (Art by Dave Turbitt, published by Freight Design)

War Fix, June 2005 (Art by Stephen Olexa, published by NBM Publishing)

Crime Does Not Pay (except when it does)

The comics that changed history. Brilliant cover by Charles Biro. (Click image for more Dark Horse summer releases.)

Dark Horse Comics is releasing a “best of” compilation of the seminal 1940s crime anthology series Crime Does Not Pay this July, according to information the publisher released to Comic Book Resources (and other comics news sites).

Crime Does Not Pay was a huge hit in its day, as spearheaded by editors and writers Charles Biro and Bob Wood. As the first “true crime” comic book, it spawned countless derivatives and significantly altered the course of comics. It was the first non-superhero genre to really take hold in America, and the first to expand readership to a somewhat older demographic. Today people are ordering hookers and heroin if their comic sells over 100,000 copies, so it’s amazing to think that Crime Does Not Pay at one point had sales in excess of 1 million. The publisher theorized that due to friends lending out copies, they had a readership of over 5 million people.

Parents and other concerned citizens didn’t approve of the graphic violence and often glorified criminals, and the entire crime genre of comics, along with the growing horror genre, became a target of political leaders. By the mid-’50s, the United States Senate formed a sub-committee to investigate the relationship between comic book and juvenile delinquency. The entire industry was publicly embarrassed and essentially shamed into self-censorship. Everyone reigned in their content at the risk of losing newsstand distribution, far and away the dominant. While there was definitely a need for some kind of content warning, what instead resulted was that an entire medium was sterilized and made safe for kids. Needless to say, Crime Does Not Pay and the genre it had created lost what made it appealing to readers and was canceled within months.

This story has been told before and will be told again, but the actual stories of the Crime Does Not Pay comics have rarely if ever been reprinted in modern times. I’m very excited to be able to get this as an affordable soft cover graphic novel. Usually these kinds of things are released in massive hard cover tomes that tend to be too expensive for the mildly curious and too unwieldy for reading without a lectern. There will also be great bonus content, like an illustrated essay by comics historian Denis Kitchen detailing how Crime Does Not Pay co-editor Bob Wood’s later life could’ve made for a story in his own comic.

Click through for the full product description: Read the rest of this entry

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