4/25/05 ~ 50 Greatest

My friend Greg Bowers is compiling votes for Fanboy Radio's "50 Greatest Graphic Novels" list, the spotlight for this month's newsletter. He asked me contribute my opinion, which I'm always happy to do so. We were to select and arrange fifty titles from an impressive list of 242 books. Here's my list with a bit of commentary.

Top 50 Greatest Graphic Novels (my list):

1. Maus - A tremendous accomplishment by Art Spiegelman, a work of history that is uncomfortably and wonderously personal. Heck, it won the Pulitzer Prize. And like all great works, it's had good share of controversy attached to it. Spiegelman's legacy will be his enthusiasm to experiment with the comic book form, setting the pace for many who would follow him.

2. Jimmy Corrigan - When discussing the greatest graphic novel, the debate always seems to be over "Maus" or "Jimmy Corrigan" at the number one spot. Jimmy Corrigan asks a lot from its readers, but the pay off is worth it. This book moves left and right, trying to lose the reader. And we follow, being pulled further in. The book leaves its mark with small discoveries.

3. Blankets - The only graphic novel to ever sweep the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Awards, and it did it in two different categories-- best original graphic novel and best writer/artist. Maybe an off year? Hardly. With Persepolis and Blacksad also nominated, this was no small task. In many ways, Blankets is the "anti-Jimmy Corrigan". The art couldn't be more different. Ware explores the world in beautiful, yet cold, geometric rigidety, while Craig Thompson's art has an organic warmth to it. Corrigan's tale speaks of isolation with a cynicism. The characters yearn to be comforted. Whereas Blankets is overflowing with love and compassion, which brings pain, and the pain brings growth.

4. A Contract with God - Will Eisner, our patriarch. Akira Kurosawa once said, "To be an artist means to never avert one's eyes." A Contract with God does not flich, it does not waver. The stories are bold, and at times even painful to read. Eisner showed everyone the powerful capabilities of this medium. It's easy to say, without Eisner, there would have been no Thompson (#3).

5. Ghost World - Heartbreaking teen-angst. Nobody does it better than Daniel Clowes. This book does not rely on tired cliches and easy stereotypes-- instead the book evaluates the complex nature of friendship.

6. Road to Perdition - A lot has been said about Max Allan Collins, but I think the overlooked star of this book is artist Richard Piers Rayner. Absolutely breathtaking artistry for such a fascinating father-son story.

7. Watchmen - I guess, the real quesion is-- why all the way down at #7? For most, this book is number one with a bullet. And I agree, it is the super hero story. Or more appropriately, Watchmen completely dismantles the super hero genre. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons ruin everything. Thank you. Watchmen set the stage for more intelligent super hero stories.

8. Sin City: The Hard Goodbye - Frank Miller leaves the world of Batman, Daredevil, and Wolverine to find a more comfortable home in hard-boiled crime noir. Sin City is gritty and dark on a level that would make Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson beg for mercy.

9. I Never Liked You - As the New York Times said, "a minimalist, but haunting, memoir of the artist's troubled adolescence". This book is auto-bio crack-cocaine.

10. Queen & Country Vol. I: Operation: Broken Ground - This book may be a surprise to some. #10? Yes. Greg Rucka takes the tired spy genre, and flawlessly injects political and personal intrigue. The standard cliches are thrown to the dogs. Tara Chase is easily on my top five list for comic book characters. Steve Rolston's art garnered a lot of criticism, but I think it was the perfect choice-- able to move the story in any direction.

11. Bone: One Volume Edition - Thirteen years in the making. A wonderful fantasy saga for all ages.

12. Hellboy: Seed of Destruction - Mignola. His work challenged many mainstream artists to find their own style. Hellboy is creepy, witty, and playful.

13. American Elf - James Kochalka's life as seen through the eyes of crazy person, i.e. James Kochalka.

14. Persepolis - The art is simple. The story is not.

15. 30 Days of Night - This book showed me how scary a comic book could be. This story freaked me out! EC would be proud.

16. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - Always mentioned in the same sentence with Watchman, 1986 was a good year.

17. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills - Claremont's definative version of the X-Men story, an allegory to racism.

18. The Barefoot Serpent - Scott Morse can communicate so much in just a few panels. A touching, yet offbeat, story about a family recovering from a death in the family.

19. Transmetropolitan vol. 1: Back on the Street - Spider Jerusalem. This book is weird. I like it.

20. Flight - I believe this book marks a new and significant wave of creativity in the comic book medium.

21. DC: New Frontier Vol. I - Reveals why the super hero mythos is firmly rooted in the American ideal

22. Batman: Year One

23. Batman: The Long Halloween - A well-written mystery for the world's greatest detective

24. It's a Good Life, if you Don't Weaken

25. Box Office Poison

26. Creature Tech - Doug TenNapel will blow your mind with his two pages spreads.

27. Powers 1: Who Killed Retro-Girl?

28. Superman: Birthright

29. Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things

30. Same Difference and Other Stories

31. Daisy Kutter - Highly acclaimed, and still unrated. The third chapter is some of the most exciting action I've ever read in a comic book. Kazu inspires me through and through.

32. X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga - Claremont gives the X-Men dramatic depth with this series.

33. Strangers in Paradise: Pocket Book 1 - Terry Moore's characters grow on you. I can't stop reading SiP.

34. Daredevil Hardcover Collection, vol. 2 (Bendis/Maleev)

35. Superman : Red Son - What if Kal-el's rocket crashed in the USSR instead of Smallville? A fascinating hypothetical on how environment shapes who we are, and what aspects of our nature are unchanging.

36. The Amazing Spiderman: The Death of Gwen Stacy

37. Pedro & Me

38. Invincible vol. 1: Family Matters - A super hero story that is unashamed of being a super hero story. Smartly written. Fun and exciting.

39. Y: The Last Man Vol. 1: Unmanned

40. V for Vendetta

41. From Hell

42. Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise - Well done. All the way around. A great concept, a good story, great art. Some of the best coloring I've ever seen.

43. WE3

44. Soulwind

45. Starman: Sins of the Father

46. Project: Superior

47. Egg Story - This book surprised me. Very simple art, but dang-- the story is so endearing.

48. Owly vol 1: The Way Home

49. Lenore: Noogies

50. The Gypsy Lounge - Consider this... Gypsy Lounge is entirely self-published, and I regard this as one of the top 50 greatest graphic novels. It is amazing mix of art and photography.

Not listed among the nominations:
Fax from Sarajevo by Joe Kubert,
Mother Come Home by Paul Hornschemeier,
Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley,
Summer Blonde by Adrian Tomine,
Berlin by Jason Lutes