The Hooded Utilitarian website is gathering votes to name the top ten favorite comics of all time. I’ve narrowed the focus of their request for ten-best lists to this concept:
Which works would I select as the top representatives of the artform, works that resonate with seasoned readers within the medium yet can also serve “hook” a comics neophyte?
Feel free to plunge headlong into the middle four choices on my “alphabetical-by-creator list…”
4) The Dreamer, by Will Eisner
If Eisner gets his deserved spot on the H.U. list, it will likely be for his most popular creation, The Spirit, or his ground-breaking first graphic novel, A Contract with God. I yield to no one in my admiration for both, and I admit The Dreamer is a dark horse (as opposed to a Dark Horse) candidate for inclusion. Still, I view it as an underappreciated part of Eisner’s body of work, one deserving of more attention. Fiction tinged with autobiography, The Dreamer is, as Eisner said in his foreword, “an examination of hope and ambition. The events take place during a time when cartoonists found themselves on fallow ground, the dawn of the modern comic book industry during the mid-1930s.” By extension, this story is our story, and who better to tell it than Eisner?
5) Tintin in Tibet, by Hergé
Of all the various comics-based movies, the one that genuinely interests me is the upcomingTintin motion picture. Though more popular in Europe than Stateside, Hergé and his intrepid boy reporter have a broad-based appeal that puts them on my Top list.
Of the many delightful Tintin exploits, I selected In Tibet because it features Tintin propelling himself, Snowy, and Captain Haddock to the most remote place on earth on the most noble of quests: to aid a friend in trouble. Along the way there are hardships imposed by the environment, a touch of Eastern mysticism, and even a Yeti. Like Barks, Hergé’s work has kept its appeal across the generations; may the movie point a new audience to his work!
6) The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley
Superheroes got me reading comics (The Fantastic Four still hold a special place in my heart), Dean and I used to letterhack in the pages of the same 1970s Marvel Comics, and I’ve even written some superhero comics; some of ’em, like The Gauntlet, (with artist Lee Weeks) were even published.
The Dark Knight Returns is hardly a perfect superhero comic, but it is perhaps Frank Miller’s most fully-realized work. The extensive coverage it received during its initial publication is pointed to as a key milestone in changing the media’s portrayal of the art form from “biff-pow-bam” to “comics have grown up.” Its sensibilities have touched every major Batman project to follow, in every medium—comics, animation, film.
All of that is well and good, but I’ll offer up Dark Knight Returns for another reason, one I’ve yet to see bandied about in all the discussion it has generated – endings are the toughest thing to get right, and Miller has misfired in the denouement of more than one of his stories. Yet in Dark Knight Returns, Miller gets the ending Exactly Right, both within the confines of his story and under the umbrella of the overarching, decades-spanning Batman mythos. It’s practically impossible to envision a better ending for Bruce Wayne than Miller provides here. No small achievement, that.
7) From Hell, by Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell
Everyone has a favorite Alan Moore-penned tale, and it would have been easy to select Swamp Thing or Watchmen or V for Vendetta or any of another half-dozen works for my contributions to the H.U. balloting. I selected From Hell in part because it asks its audience to be smart in their reading, in part because it’s been so assiduously researched and developed, in part because Eddie Campbell’s work is one of comics’ special treasures. Once one has read From Hell, does one need to read any other tale of Jack the Ripper?
If you haven’t already visited The Hooded Utilitarian, you’ll find full details about their Top Ten project here.
Next installment: my final three picks.