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CSBG Archive

My Top Ten Comics of 2008

Enjoy!

10. Criminal

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal JUST BARELY edged out Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX series on the following (fairly specious) reasoning – I think, on the whole, Ennis’ Punisher is better, but in just 2008, Ennis’ Punisher was mostly just finishing up his run, and while it was quite good, it reads a lot better in relation to the previous umptity issues, while Criminal, on the other hand, really shined in 2008, with the first story arc of Volume 2 easily being the best work of the series so far. Brubaker impresses with a brilliant piece of character study, by having three issues tell the same story from three different points of view, and having each issue stand alone as an engaging tale – when read together, though, absolutely striking. Phillips’ artwork, of course, is outstanding as well. The back-ups are great reading, too – Criminal is a wonderful package every month.

9. Superior Showcase

#3 of this anthology from AdHouse came out this year – I reviewed it here.

The short story by Laura Park was one of the best short stories I’ve read in a long while, so I have to give this book a nod here. And Street Angel is in it, too!!

8. Northlanders

I reviewed the first trade of Northlanders here (only $10 for 8 issues worth of story!).

Northlanders is a grim and gritty comic book where the grime and grit fits the time perfectly, as each story arc examines a different era in Viking history – Brian Wood masterfully sets up his characters and puts them into engaging stories that, due to the anthology-esque format, allows him to do stories with “true” ending. The freedom that comes with that is marvelous. The artists have been quite strong, as well – this year we’ve seen Davide Gianfelice, Dean Ormston and Ryan Kelly (with great covers by Massimo Carnevale).

Wood and Kelly also finished Local this year, which also was awesome.

7. Achewood

This was a big year for Chris Onstad, with the release of The Great Outdoor Fight, but the comic strips also continued its strong showing once more.

Like most comic strips, you are going to have your ebbs and your flows, and perhaps 2008 was not as awesome as previous Achewood years, but it consistently provides strong entertainment, with at least one laugh out loud strip each week (sometimes more than that, but usually at least one a week).

6. Little Nothings

Rarely does a comic advertise is so falsely and truthfully at the same time.

Yes, Lewis Trondheim’s Little Nothings is, in fact, basically a collection of little nothings. Tiny short (mostly) auto-biographical slices of life that seem to have no meat to them at all. However, once you read a few of them in a row, you start to see how Trondheim is actually showing us an in-depth look at his life, all through these short, often silly (sometimes absurdest), vignettes. Trondheim manages to get all this across while still keeping the main story very light and fun, which is helped a great deal by his artwork.

It’s really a remarkable undertaking.

5. Tales Designed to Thrizzle

Perhaps we should adapt “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes” to “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes…and Tales Designed to Thrizzle being hilarious.”

Michael Kupperman’s awesome humor book saw its fourth issue released this year, and it is as insanely funny (and sometimes just plain insane) as usual.

4. Ganges

I reviewed Ganges #2 here.

Kevin Huizenga has a few other notable works out this year, but Ganges #2 was my favorite, especially if you take into consideration that the lead story in Ganges #2 is the precursor to Fight Or Run #1, as it tells the story of video game characters from their perspective. It’s an audacious and challenging work, but I honestly enjoyed the second story more, which is a more typical Huizenga work – a slice of life Glenn Ganges tale. Huizenga’s storytelling is excellent in the second story, a tale of co-workers dealing with the dot.com bubble bursting through a shared video game experience.

3. All Star Superman

A beautiful ending to a beautiful comic book.

I’m already looking forward to the next project Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely do for us.

2. Scalped

Jason Aaron delivers the goods in this series month after month, with brilliantly in-depth looks at complex characters caught up in an inter-related plot that brings to mind the work of Matthew Weiner on Mad Men.

This year began with the beginning of Dead Mothers, a brutal tale of, well, dead mothers. That was drawn by series regular art RM Guera. Falls Down, a look at the one honest cop in the whole reservation, follows – drawn by Davide Furnò, who also does the two-part The Boudoir Stomp. Guera returns for The Gravel in Your Guts.

Scalped is unflinching and heart-rending, and it is one of the most dependably good comics you’re going to read this year.

The ending of The Boudoir Stomp alone is worth the price of admission.

1. Acme Novelty Library

I already was enjoying the Rusty Brown storyline (is it perhaps a bit too easy of a target? Sure, but it is still very well-written), but in volume 19, in his return to the story (last volume was Ware’s “Building Stories” – 16 and 17 were Rusty Brown) Chris Ware turns the whole story on its ears, with a look at Rusty Brown’s father, through the method of a science fiction story he wrote in the 1950s.

So the first half of the book is an illustration of that novel (“The Seeing Eye Dogs of Mars” – awesome) and the second half tells the story of Rusty’s father’s life as a young man (writing obituaries), leading ultimately to the 1970s, which is where most of the Rusty Brown “action” has been taking place.

Through this, we get a better understanding of Rusty. Although, yes, you could sarcastically guess what Woody Brown is going to be like, personality-wise, just based on the fact that this IS a Chris Ware comic book.

In any event, this is a Chris Ware comic not only for Chris Ware fans, but for those who want to see him do something different – “The Seeing Eye Dogs of Mars” is certainly different!

In total, I think this volume is the most accomplished comic book work of the year (that I’ve read).

Clearly, there are tons of great books I did not mention, and I could do a long “honorable mentions” list, but I think I’ll stay away from that for now.

84 Comments

“What, no Green Lantern?”

Somewhere, a blogger just went into an uncontrolled rage…

Cool, but you’re only refering to creator owned comics (except for AS superman but it’s an out of continuity, personnal take by Morrison & Quitely).

Do you consider making one for the maistream, big 2 series ?

Notable lack of Marvel there. Not that I think that’s unwarranted, Criminal is the only Marvel title I buy myself, but still: considering their market position in the direct market I’d suggest that you go to the trouble of doing a seperate list of at least the top five Marvel books. For fairness sake you could make it one article – and thus a top 10 – split evenly between the top five Marvel and DC. While it’s important to highlight what you actually thought was the “the best” and deserving of attention I think it’s also worth doing a seperate entry about what most people are reading.

Oddly enough, my list would be virtually identical, albeit, mostly in reverse order. And not ever having read Acme Library (I know, shame on me, I’d never even heard of before CSBG recommended it) or Ganges, I’d definitely find a place for Ennis’ Punisher Max and The Boys.

What can I say, support your fellow Irishman!

“Cool, but you’re only refering to creator owned comics (except for AS superman but it’s an out of continuity, personnal take by Morrison & Quitely).

Do you consider making one for the maistream, big 2 series ?”

Maybe it’s just that the best comics this year weren’t from Marvel or DC..

Shocking, I know.

I forgot that a new issue of Tales Designed to Thrizzle came out. I need to track that down!

I don’t know what number one is but it ain’t Acme Novelty. Chris Ware is talented, yes but his work is unreadable. Tiny panels arranged at whim don’t say great comics to me. I’ve tried, Lord how I’ve tried to love Chris Ware. BUT I CAN’T.

Excellent call on the Kupperman, though. He’s number one in my book.

“Tiny panels arranged at whim don’t say great comics to me.”

Ware’s panels are anything but arranged at whim. There’s a clear and deliberate order and pattern to the visual construction of his narratives.

I can’t believe people think more Marvel & DC should be on there if other comics were so much better. I’m sure Green Lantern would be on the list if it were as good as any of the above comics.

Plus, it’s Brian’s opinion. Instead of suggesting he write about what you are more familiar with, why not try something on the list? The 4 titles I’ve read (Scalped, All Star Supes, Northlanders, Criminal) are all worthy.

Argh! How did I miss a new Street Angel story being released? *Grumbles to self as I head back to the comic store from which I just returned…*

@Mike Loughlin: pretty little straw man of presumption you’ve built there.

Solid list, though I’d personally have Criminal higher than #10, and definitely higher than Northlanders, which I also read, but it isn’t up to snuff when compared to Criminal. Also, it sells the description of the first 3 issues of Criminal 2 short to say that they only tell the same story from 3 different perspectives. They tell different stories that at times converge and cover the same event for a bit, allowing you to get a different perspective of said event. The core of the 3 issues though is the focus and background of the character portrayed on each given cover.

Nice to see Scalped get some well deserved love, with a very strong placing at #2.

Hopefully Echo, Captain America, and Thor were unspoken honorable mentions.

“Little Nothings” is actually a blog, that got collected in a book by its creator ; there’s now three volumes published in France, and the blog is still active : http://www.lewistrondheim.com/blog/
Of course it’s in french but there’s not so much text, and the graphics are cool.

Excuse me, but you seem to have made an error as you have not included any of Marvel’s cosmic titles or X titles. I’m sure that this oversight will soon be corrected. Thank you. I’ll wait, patiently refreshing the screen.

Excuse me, but you seem to have made an error as you have not included any of Marvel’s cosmic titles or X titles. I’m sure that this oversight will soon be corrected. Thank you. I’ll wait, patiently refreshing the screen.

BWAH-HAH-HAH-HA-HAAAAAA!

Thank you! That made my evening!

Good Night!

“Little Nothings” is actually a blog, that got collected in a book by its creator ; there’s now three volumes published in France, and the blog is still active : http://www.lewistrondheim.com/blog/
Of course it’s in french but there’s not so much text, and the graphics are cool.

Right you are, Pierre.

I didn’t figure that part was necessary to mention, but you’re probably right, I should have noted it!

“@Mike Loughlin: pretty little straw man of presumption you’ve built there.”

The only presumption is that the guy hasn’t read the comics above, which isn’t really a strawman argument.

And seeing as how the guy is named “Bat2supe” and he’s complaining about superhero comic representation, I don’t think it’s much of a leap.

Bat2supe is actually an upcoming comic by the Hernandez brothers about a love triangle between two Latin American beauties both named Batia (hence Bat2) and a humble painter/musician named Supemo.

Heh, heh, heh.

I really wish Fanta would put out a trade of Tales Designed to Thrizzle already. It’s tough to find all of the issues from one place, and the per-issue price is kind of high to catch up on the series all at once.

“Excuse me, but you seem to have made an error as you have not included any of Marvel’s cosmic titles or X titles. I’m sure that this oversight will soon be corrected. Thank you. I’ll wait, patiently refreshing the screen.”

Heh, Marvel cosmic, that’s cute, if you’re into shallow disposable trash. Perhaps you haven’t heard of a little series called Green Lantern? Yeah, that’s right. Try and educate yourself, then come back when you’re ready to read Rage of the Red Lanterns with the big boys.

I mean seriously, “Rocket Raccoon?” What a joke character. I much prefer the depth of Unnamed Red Lantern That Looks Like A Housecat And Vomits Acidic Blood. Character find of 2008 right there.

@ Apodaca – “There’s a clear and deliberate order and pattern to the visual construction of his narratives.”

Then maybe I just don’t get it. If I have to TRY MY BEST to understand what I’m reading IN A COMIC BOOK, then clearly someone has failed. Not quite sure it’s me, though.

Then again, I worship Johnny Ryan. Maybe if we all stopped giving Chris Ware as many handjobs as he wants, we might all learn something. Like “The Day The New Yorker Came To Town.”

Then maybe I just don’t get it.

No shame in that.

You don’t have to get Chris Ware’s comics.

There’s plenty of other comics out there to read!

Do you consider making one for the maistream, big 2 series ?

I’ve considered it a bit, but I dunno, it seems kind of patronizing.

Like “Well, obviously superhero comics aren’t good enough to make the Top 10, so here’s a list for just superhero comics.”

Great list Brian!

After seeing Newsarama’s ridiculous poll of what is the best comic of the year, “Final Crisis” or “Secret Invasion”, it’s nice to see something a bit more varied from one of the major comic news outlets.

-Corey

Notable lack of Marvel there. Not that I think that’s unwarranted, Criminal is the only Marvel title I buy myself, but still: considering their market position in the direct market I’d suggest that you go to the trouble of doing a seperate list of at least the top five Marvel books. For fairness sake you could make it one article – and thus a top 10 – split evenly between the top five Marvel and DC. While it’s important to highlight what you actually thought was the “the best” and deserving of attention I think it’s also worth doing a seperate entry about what most people are reading.

Perhaps!

We shall see!

Glad to see Criminal get a placing. It is indeed an utterly brilliant comic. I think it might be safe to assume that the upcoming Incognito could very well be found on a list like this next year.

That’s probably a safe bet, Paul!

“Then maybe I just don’t get it. If I have to TRY MY BEST to understand what I’m reading IN A COMIC BOOK, then clearly someone has failed. Not quite sure it’s me, though.”

Well, not to be insulting, but yeah, it’s you. It’s all pretty clear to me. Intricate, yes, but not confusing.

And not to slight Johnny Ryan’s work, because I’ve only read a small sample of it, but from what I’ve seen, it’s crude, crass, confrontational art which is not concerned with panel layout and complex narrative structure, but provoking gutteral reactions.

It’s the difference between punk rock and classical music. One is about how it makes you feel, and the other is about how it sounds.

I realize that may sound like a crack at punk’s expense, but it’s really not. It’s just the best way I could think of to phrase it.

I really wish Fanta would put out a trade of Tales Designed to Thrizzle already. It’s tough to find all of the issues from one place, and the per-issue price is kind of high to catch up on the series all at once.

I guess four issues is enough to do one!

Then again, each issue stands on its own, so just get #4!

mad love for Scalped

FunkyGreenJerusalem

December 17, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Perhaps!

We shall see!

Don’t do it Brian, you know that Marvel are comics but comics aren’t marvel!

If people want to see more Marvel books hit the top ten, then Marvel should make better comics!

Don’t lower standards just to pander – otherwise why not do a ‘top 5 DC, top 5 Image, top 5 Oni, top 5 Top Shelf, top 5 Dark Horse’ etc etc
Why judge comics compared to the other comics that publisher released, and not all comics released?

I think it’s an odd request – odd is being nice – for you to make a list based not on what you thought was THE best, but the best of what MOST PEOPLE are reading… what’s the point in that?
So people can feel special that you also liked the book they already read?
Just odd.

Couple thoughts:

Is any of Little Nothings the same as in Mome? I’m not, generally, a supa-huge Trondheim fan but I’ve been really digging his autobiographical-by-animal-proxy stuff.

Achewood was absolutely my find of the year, but I had to sit down and read a couple dozen strips (in book form) before I really got the off-kilter humor.

I tend to be snarky ’bout it, but I did really dig the last couple issues of Acme Novelty Library.

I like some of those choices, and haven’t read most of the rest, but I have to ask, does Scalped actually get better after the first volume? Because I found that first arc to be clustered and generically boring. Then again, I’ve read a small handful of First Nations fiction that is, for the most part, far more compelling and moving than this Sopranos-on-a-reservation comic that I’ve read thus far.

Sometimes, the best way to read a Chris Ware comic is NOT to just start at page one and proceed linearly to the end. If some of the thousand-tiny-panels pages put you off, skip them until the other stuff entices you back to try harder (trust me).
Check out the fake ads, then read all of your whichever strip pulls you in first, whether it’s “Rocket Sam” or “Tex” or “Rusty Brown” or “Jimmy Corrigan” or whatever. Take a holistic approach rather than stalling at part of one page and then going “well, the hell with this.” Sometimes those thousand-tiny-panel pieces are actually better appreciated as a whole big-perspective image than something you try to read panel-to-panel like a regular comic.
I got into ACME in the first place because it was funny (I started with regular-comic-sized issue 1, way back when), the depressing aspect something that sunk in later. People lately go on and on way too much about what a downer it is, while totally dismissing the humour, as dark as the humour may be.

Also, Thrizzle is the best thing to come along in years. If there were more alternatives like this, I wouldn’t feel so stuck with Superheroes. None of the greats (Bagge, Clowes, Los Bros, even Ware) are producing like the last time I walked away from the big two, and only Thrizzle seems to have the same “great age of the alternatives feel” to me. To reference a Comic Critics from a while back, stuff like pirate ninjas leaves me totally cold so that’s not somewhere I can run to if I give up on super crap again.

@ Jack Norris & Apodaca – Thanks for the tips and I’m glad to know maybe it’s just me. And yes, Johnny Ryan provokes a response. Chris Ware provokes the response “I don’t get it. And I’m not bothered if I don’t.”

Then again, I hated Blankets.

@ stealthwise – Scalped only keeps getting better.

@ Brian – a fine list. WE’ll agree to disagree on the Ware stuff. Keep ‘em flying!

@ Jack Norris – Thrizzle is IT, man. And yeah, where’s Bagge, Los Bros., Crumb, et al when ya need ‘em? Clowes went all Hollywood but he’ll be back. He’ll be back. Bagge’s turned into a libertarian (not a bad thing in my books but it hurt his comics) and the Bros. have TRIED and TRIED to get a little mainstream success to go with their indie credibility to little avail. Crumb’s in France, of all places.

AND JOHNNY RYAN FUCKIN’ ROCKS! Sorry to yell like a frat-boy.

Cool list, Brian. Even if I’ve read only two things on here.

Weighing in on the Chris Ware thing– all I know is that Jimmy Corrigan is the most depressing book I’ve ever read, and it probably made my already-terrible vision even worse. I had to squint the whole time. So I’m not a huge fan, though I appreciate the intricacies of the art.

Bill Reed: What kind of “dosage” did you first try Jimmy Corrigan in? Was it the big later hardcover compilation, which basically presented you with unrelenting Corrigan bleakness? If so, I’m glad mine was in the original appearances, interspersed with other, (somewhat) lighter, things.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

December 17, 2008 at 9:13 pm

does Scalped actually get better after the first volume

Yup – like a lot of Vertigo series – The Sandman, Fables, Lucifer, Books Of Magic (ongoing) – it takes a dramatic leap in quality in the second trade.
Everything is set up, so it’s time to go wild.

Most of what Chris Ware produces is incredibly depressive. He is a genius and ACME is probably the best comic on the stands – anywhere in the world – but I find it really hard to read. Not because of the complexity, but because it depresses the hell out of me.

But it’s great. Read it when you are on excellent humor and don’t mind a bit of depression.

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

Nice surprise to see Little Nothings on there, I’ve got it for quite some time in it’s Dutch translation and enjoyed it very much. Lewis Trondheim is one of my favourite comic creators so it’s nice to see him pop uop on CBSG and get this kind of recognition.

Most of what Chris Ware produces is incredibly depressive. He is a genius and ACME is probably the best comic on the stands – anywhere in the world – but I find it really hard to read. Not because of the complexity, but because it depresses the hell out of me.

I completely agree, the craft is amazing but the story keeps bumming me out. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but a little more diversity in emotion would make it a lot easier to read.

Again, to re-iterate this, as the Ware discussion seems to be glossing over this point a bit – HALF OF THIS COMIC is a slamdash science fiction story called “The Seeing Eye Dogs of Mars”!!!

I’m already looking forward to the next project Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely do for us.

The uninformed rumor at the moment is that it will be a Batman book.

Dave really didn’t get Sgt Pepper’s joke, did he?

No problem with the lack of DC or Marvel as it’s personal opinion at the end of the day, but I was surprised not to see Immortal Iron Fist on the list (surprised – not upset, not angry – just surprised)

Whaddaya mean, no DC? That’s a Superman book! And it’s far better for its lack of in-universe connection, as good as Morrison is at that game too.

Did Casanova 14 come out this year or last? If it came out this year, I’d put it on my list- no other recent comic floored me like that issue.

Northlanders vol. 1 was an irresistable bargain. Eight compelling issues for $10. In fact, Vertigo’s policy of pricing the first trade in a series for $10 is fantastic. They’ve hooked me on a few series that way.

I want to reiterate that I am completely serious when I express my outrage that Rage of the Red Lanterns is not on this list, and I’d imagine that Sgt. Pepper would have to be a “joke” if he’s implying that any X-Men title could be worthy of placement on a best of the year list in a year when such comics as DC Decisions and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 came out.

I meant to type “would have to be making a “joke”,” by the way, I was just so furious in my rush to post a retort as soon as possible that I forgot to proofread. Posting comments is all I have to live for. I love to post. I’ll probably remember something I forgot to include here and make another post soon. Perhaps a triple post.

Getting ready to click “publish” now, my palms are already sweating with anticipation.

I’ve come to the conclusion that people adopt the “Chris Ware is nothing but depressing” from reading his work in hardcover-compilation form, where one Acme feature (like Jimmy Corrigan) is presented in uninterrupted, concentrated form, rather than in the (preferable) form of Acme Novelty Library, where such things are portioned out in a better context.

Great list, with some comics I absolutely loved and some I can’t wait to read. Count me in the “Ware is the comics messiah” camp; the man is in a league of his own and everything he creates is a slice of fried gold. Moreover, having been introduced to the man through Jimmy Corrigan rather than ANL, let me be one of the few to say that I find that book to be cathartic rather than depressing, and my friend would go so far as to call the ending optimistic.

The only comic I feel is missing from this list (bearing in mind that I haven’t read everything on the list) would be RASL. Smith is really knocking it out of the park with that book. While it was started in 2006, and its a webcomic, Rice Boy was finished and published in hard copy in 2008 and it is also one of the greatest comics I have ever read, and Order of Tales is shaping up to be something just as special so I guess I have two or three comics I’d like to see on that list.

Hopefully Echo, Captain America, and Thor were unspoken honorable mentions.

One of them definitely would be – another one likely would be – a third one, not so much. ;)

Yeah, Julian, I’d say RASL would have been one of the unspoken honorable mentions.

@ Apodaca – “There’s a clear and deliberate order and pattern to the visual construction of his narratives.”

Then maybe I just don’t get it. If I have to TRY MY BEST to understand what I’m reading IN A COMIC BOOK, then clearly someone has failed. Not quite sure it’s me, though.

Then again, I worship Johnny Ryan. Maybe if we all stopped giving Chris Ware as many handjobs as he wants, we might all learn something. Like “The Day The New Yorker Came To Town.”

No problem with not liking Chris Ware, but I don’t like the “IN A COMIC BOOK” statement. Comics are a rising medium, and in my opinion content should not be viewed differently from film, novels, music, etc.

Brian, I’ve always enjoyed your Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, but it’s great to see that you are more than willing to venture outside of the superhero comics that you tend to see in there. You’ve definitely put some new items on my list.

“One of them definitely would be – another one likely would be – a third one, not so much.

Yeah, Julian, I’d say RASL would have been one of the unspoken honorable mentions.”

Hope Echo is the definite, I loved that book. I was scared to read a Terry Moore book withou Katchoo, Francine, or David, but I was very, very happy with it.

I thought the first issue of RASL was a little “off” but Jeff Smith found his footing quickly. BONE may be an alltime favorite of mine that I can give to my younger cousins, but I love when creators go outside of their natural comfort zone.

Yeah, Echo would be the definite one.

As per the Legends, thanks for the compliment – I’d gladly feature more non-superhero legends – I just don’t see them that often! Folks should send in more!

This week, though, does feature at least one non-superhero legend!

Agreed about RASL and Echo. Really enjoying those, especially RASL.

I’ve only read Chris Ware in the collected editions and I can certainly see what people are saying about being depressing, but I think he brilliantly oscillates between portraying scenes that are at times absurdly pathetic and endearingly sad. It’s really pretty impressive.

And yes, I thought Jimmy Corrigan had about as happy an ending as you could ever hope for in that world. It was kind of romantically hopeful.

-Corey

I prefer my Top Ten lists to all be of the same variety, i.e., Graphic Novels, Reprint Editions, Comics Strips. In your effort to be all inclusive, you didn’t seem to mention any webcomics.

Which web comics (now that I finally have high speed internet) are considered worth reading? Answers from anybody would be welcome.

Very solid list, Brian.

well done, my man.

In your effort to be all inclusive, you didn’t seem to mention any webcomics.

See #7.

There was no intention of being all inclusive, just noting what I felt were the ten best comics of 2008, ’tis all. Except all of the comics on the list are what I would term “new” material.

On the subject of Chris Ware*- comics is unique among the various storytelling media, in that the artist can vary drastically how interactive or passive an experience it is for the audience, and furthermore, allow the reader to vary that themselves. Take, for example, Mignola’s Hellboy (my favourite choice to demonstrate what I’m talking about here)- the reader can, if they wish, approach it in almost entirely passive way, flicking through the pages at a fast pace, simply following the pretty pictures and basic plot, enjoying the monsters fighting in the most superficial manner. Or, if they take it at a slower pace, and especially if they have a knowledge of folklore and/or early twentieth century classical illustration, they can appreciate it in a far deeper, more interactive way; spotting the references and enjoying the in-jokes, picking up on the background details and recurring locations and minor characters. You can make similar arguments about the various works of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and many others. It’s the most effective utilisation of the biggest advantage of medium.

With Ware’s work, that flexibility, that element of choice for the reader, is entirely absent. If you don’t catch, and correctly interpret, every single little detail, then the work is meaningless. As such, they would probably work far better as either prose, where the audience expects to have to work for their entertainment, and take in every detail in order to follow the story; or in film (or most likely animation), where the reader is forced into a passive role, and is therefore receptive to all the information presented to them.

Which is why, in my personal opinion, Ware may indeed be an incredibly skilled and technically masterful cartoonist (and I most certainly think that he is), but his actual comics simply aren’t very good comics.

Which I suspect may be kind of close to what Sgt Rawk was getting at, too.

*And I comment on this with trepidation, as the very first argument (of many) that I ever had in the comments here came about because I had the temerity to suggest that Ware is not necessarily as great as some say he is

Hi David,

I agree with a lot of what you say, but I disagree that comics SHOULD be BOTH passive and interactive to be very good. I guess we use different barometers, which is valid.

-Corey

Ware’s stories could only be told in comics. Unlike prose or film where linearity is nearly intrinsic to the medium,* comics are read as almost a gestalt, and nobody exploits this more than Ware. Consider those pages from ANL 18 where the woman deconstructs herself down to the bones, or the scenes in Jimmy Corrigan where Ware traces the characters’ lineage and shifts time periods. They have no fundamental order to them, the reader is forced to make sense of the page for herself. A big part of Ware’s work is about contrasting almost undeniable structure apparent in our lives with their equally undeniable chaos and senselessness. He’s like a cartographer, mapping out the significant moments in his character’s life; charting their regrets, missteps, and ocasional fleeting moments of joy. That style of narrative is only possible in comics.

Furthermore, I’m insulted by the idea that Ware’s work belongs in a different medium because it requires a more active audience. While I love Mignola’s work on Hellboy and adore Kirby’s space operas, I have to say that after Ware I have found the great majority of comics to be unengaging. Not that all comics should be as intricately constructed, but outside of the rare We3, old Jim Steranko comic, or Dresden Codak strip it can be hard to get my fix for such exquisite page constructions.

*:okay, you’ve got Danielewski and Barthelme but still

Rage of the Red Lanterns was good, but it wasn’t one of the best of this year.

Oh yeah, and there is a good x-title, X-Factor is a consistently good read, and (even though I love Green Lantern more than I love my mother) better than Rage of the Red Lanterns

And seriously, DCU Decisions?

‘Twas crap I tell thee.

hey, guys take it easy !!

I only made an observation & given the fact that the big 2 share a lot of the market place in unit & volume, it just simply seemed logic.

I didn’t say that those comics weren’t good or anything like that.

Julian-

You’re actually insulted that I use a different measure for what makes a good comic than you do?

Also, to counter a couple of your points- linearity is in no way intrinsic to the medium of prose. Read Catch 22, Finnegan’s Wake, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and any number of other books for proof of that; and Ware is by no means unique in his use of the page as a whole to convey information rather than just the traditional panel to panel method. Off the top of my head I can think of work by Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Jonathan Hickman, Paul Grist and Will Eisner that all do just that to a greater or lesser extent.

davidwynne said:
“With Ware’s work, that flexibility, that element of choice for the reader, is entirely absent.”

No, no, no. I’ll respect your right to like or dislike whatever you want, everyone’s entitled to their opinion etc. etc., but on this one point above all others you could possibly have mad, I have to quote Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson in a scene from 24 Hour Party People when I say “You’re just f**king wrong!”
(Only mention the actor and movie because it has to be imagined in that exact tone with that exact facial expression.)

Really? So you’re saying I can just breeze through an edition of Acme Novelty Library if I want to and get a perfectly good piece of entertainment out of it? Because I beg to differ. You have to read and absord everything on every page of a Chris Ware strip if you want to get anything out of it. Which is my point.

“So you’re saying I can just breeze through an edition of Acme Novelty Library if I want to and get a perfectly good piece of entertainment out of it?”
As I already (more or less) said in a previous comment on this very thread, yes, you absolutely can.

“You have to read and absord (sic) everything on every page of a Chris Ware strip if you want to get anything out of it.”
Wrong again. You might get more if you do, but you certainly don’t get *nothing* if you don’t. Again, check my previous comment to someone who found it impenetrable:
http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2008/12/17/my-top-ten-comics-of-2008/#comment-697570

“Which is my point.”
I understood you the first time. I still say your point isn’t one.

Yes David, I’m insulted, because the idea that a comic should be judged on its ease of reading would be regarded as patently ridiculous if we were talking about any other medium. You wouldn’t say that Lawrence of Arabia was a bad movie because it required you to read it more actively than Mall Rats, and thus it should have probably been a book, where that sort of thing is expected. However, you say that Ware doesn’t write good comics because you can’t skim through them? That insults me. You don’t have to like Ware, but I would hope you would have a better rubric for judging a comic than how fast you can get from cover to cover.

To counter your counters, you misunderstood what I meant by linearity. Certainly Vonnegut and Thompson are just two examples of a long tradition of non-linear narratives, but the direction of prose is strict: left to right (depending on cultural convention) lather, rinse, repeat. There are very few authors who have successfully messed with the structure of a sentence; even Jabberwocky followed the rules to a t. Find me a prose equivalent to pages like these and we’ll talk: http://www.adambaumgoldgallery.com/Ware,%20Chris/2005_3.htm

Note that I didn’t say that Chris Ware is the only comics creator that works the page as a gestalt, simply that he did it remarkably well. Of course there are others: Morrison and Quitely, Steranko, David Hellman, the list could go on. My point though is that Ware more or less sets the bar in this regard. Again, you may not like him, but I would hope you could agree that a Ware is meticulous in his page structure.

As for your final point? I have read Jimmy Corrigan going on five times now, and each time I find something new. A small detail in a panel off to the side, an offhanded epithet’s connection to a surreal dream many pages back, or even a new way to read a page that offers new insight into these mens’ lives. I loved Jimmy Corrigan from my first read through, so this assertion that every layer of the work has to be absorbed to get something from the work isn’t exactly true. Sure, you can’t breeze through the book in the span of a few hours, but don’t need to dissect every minuscule detail on your first read through either.

You may not like the man’s work, I don’t begrudge you that. Aesthetics are anything but objective. It’s disappointing, though, that you would say that its a bad work because it doesn’t suit your particular palate. I’m never going to be able to sit through Raging Bull but that doesn’t make it any less brilliant of a cinematic achievement. What really bothers me though, is your assertion that intricate and detailed works don’t have a place in comics. I have no kind words for that philosophy and can only say to that: you sir, are full of crap.

Jack, linking to your previous comment doesn’t change the content of it.

You’re talking there about the order in which you absorb various pieces of information, not the amount of that information you can choose to take in. So I don’t see what that has to do with my own comments.

And okay, I’ll grant you that if you treat Ware’s work superficially, and don’t bring the full level of analasys to bear that Ware so obviously wants you to, you will get a story out of it. A dull, predictable and highly generic black comedy that forgets to include much in the way of actual humour, never has a satisfying conclusion (since that element of the story is invariably buried in the details) and is (usually) concerned with the terrible anguish of being a white, middle class american suburbanite. Which seems to me to be so very far away from Ware’s larger narratives, and is so utterly unoriginal in and of itself (since, remember, we’re not talking about the deeper elements here), that it hardly counts for anything.

Julian, I didn’t say “intricate and detailed works don’t have a place in comics”. I said that works that do not properly use the medium itself might be better suited to others, and that by my personal reconning, a good comic is one that DOES properly exploit the medium itself to full advantage.

You obviously disagree with me. Guess what? That’s fine with me. I’m not insulted by that. I’m not even insulted by you saying I’m full of crap. We disagree, and we use different measures to define the value of a work of art in a particular medium. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. Why do you take the fact that I think differently from you as a personal insult? That’s fucked up.

And yes, Ware is meticulous in his page structure. I don’t think he sets the bar, though. As far as I’m concerned, that’s still Eisner. But than I obviously have very different standards to you. Again, this is not something I’m doing on purpose to offend you.

How does that make it any different than any of your examples? It doesn’t move as fast as Hellboy, but if you read through it at brisk pace, you get a basic plot some beautiful art, enjoying the odd paper cut out design in the most superficial way. Or, if you take it at a slower pace, and especially if you have a knowledge of The Chicago World’s Fair and/or early twentieth century classical illustration, they can appreciate it in a far deeper, more interactive way; spotting the references and enjoying the in-jokes, picking up on the background details and recurring locations and minor characters.

“You’re talking there about the order in which you absorb various pieces of information, not the amount of that information you can choose to take in.”
Irrelevant. I still enjoyed the slight initial read; sure, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been motivated to go further, but your “absolutely everything or nothing at all” argument is still nonsense.

“…that Ware so obviously wants you to…”
Total projection.

“…forgets to include much in the way of actual humour…”
Bullshit, plain and simple.

“…never has a satisfying conclusion…”
Completely unimportant, even if it were true.

“…concerned with the terrible anguish of being a white, middle class american suburbanite.”
Another non-point. For the same reason that a lot of mainstream literature is about the angst of middle aged Lit. professors, it’s just a matter of being concerned with the anguish of being human in general, filtered through what the author knows, which is clearly closer to middle class American suburban existence, rather than, say, a life in another part of the world or level of wealth which you could then stoke your ego by saying
he got wrong.

“…since, remember, we’re not talking about the deeper elements here…”
None of these elements are totally separable. Even the lightest superficial reading gives at least a *feel* of the deeper elements, of the gist of what’s being said on the larger level. Again, you don’t get “nothing at all” when you skim the surface, you just get more when you delve deeper, which is completely up to the reader, which is why I objected to your statement “that flexibility, that element of choice for the reader, is entirely absent” as being totally, completely wrong. And wrong-headed.

I have to say, it’s very interesting that people feel the need to make this personal.

First of all, Julian, thank you for presenting the first argument that actually works to counter what i actually wrote. My response boils down to a matter of taste- unlike yourself and Jack, I take little in the simpler read of Ware’s work, and don’t feel it merits the praise it gets- and as I say, that’s down to taste. Which is why, in my very first post, I used the words “in my personal opinion”.

I think that great art is art that functions, and functions well, on every level. I think That Ware’s art functions very well at the deeper levels, but very poorly at the surface. You clearly disagree, and enjoy the surface elements a lot more than I do.

That’s okay, you know. We’re both right. Art’s funny like that.

Jack…

“You’re talking there about the order in which you absorb various pieces of information, not the amount of that information you can choose to take in.”
Irrelevant. I still enjoyed the slight initial read; sure, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been motivated to go further, but your “absolutely everything or nothing at all” argument is still nonsense.

What’s irrelevant? I talked about the way people can choose to read the work, by taking in varying amounts of the information they were presented with; and you responded by quoting yourself telling someone else what order they should read the panels in. That’s irrelevant.

And as I said to Julian above, I don’t enjoy the superficial elements of Ware’s work. That you do is great. Bully for you.

“…that Ware so obviously wants you to…”
Total projection.

As is any other interpretation of any other author’s intent by anyone who doesn’t actually know them. What’s your point?

“…forgets to include much in the way of actual humour…”
Bullshit, plain and simple.

Hey, interesting fact: different people have a different sense of humour, and find different things funny. When I say I don’t find Ware’s comics funny, I’m not bullshitting, it’s absolutely true. I don’t. Sorry if that offends you.

“…never has a satisfying conclusion…”
Completely unimportant, even if it were true.

Actually, it’s absolutely vital to what I’m talking about, since if (superficial readings of) Ware’s stories did have satisfying conclusions to them, then they’d work better on that level for the casual reader. And I’d consider them better comics.

“…concerned with the terrible anguish of being a white, middle class american suburbanite.”
Another non-point. For the same reason that a lot of mainstream literature is about the angst of middle aged Lit. professors, it’s just a matter of being concerned with the anguish of being human in general, filtered through what the author knows, which is clearly closer to middle class American suburban existence, rather than, say, a life in another part of the world or level of wealth which you could then stoke your ego by saying
he got wrong.

To use your own pharse: total projection. I don’t want Ware to focus on other types of character so I can say he’s got it wrong- but it would sure help me identify with his characters. What with being a working class brit from inner London. One of the barriers to enjoying Ware’s work for me is that I have zero empathy for his characters. Their lives, and their concerns, bear so little relation to my own life and experiences that there’s no “in” for me.

Interesting that you feel the need to get that ego stroke line in there, though. Am I making you feel inadequate in some way?

“…since, remember, we’re not talking about the deeper elements here…”
None of these elements are totally separable. Even the lightest superficial reading gives at least a *feel* of the deeper elements, of the gist of what’s being said on the larger level. Again, you don’t get “nothing at all” when you skim the surface, you just get more when you delve deeper, which is completely up to the reader, which is why I objected to your statement “that flexibility, that element of choice for the reader, is entirely absent” as being totally, completely wrong. And wrong-headed.

here we go. The actual meat of the conversation at last. I agree that a slight, superficial reading gives the feel that there are deeper elements to the work; my problems are that firstly, I think I’m highly unlikely to be alone in not getting much else from such a reading; and secondly, that this feeling is altogether a little too strong. It’s not like, oh I don’t know, let’s say Watchemen, where one knows on the first reading that you will get more from the second. No, reading Ware’s comics casually feels like being in the room when people are having a conversation about something that happened when you weren’t there.

…To me. Again, as I said to Julian, this part of the argument is fundamentally about taste. You obviously find Ware’s comics funny, and have more empathy for his characters than I do. So for you, they work better. That’s nice for you.

Doesn’t change my opinion, though. Again, sorry if that offends you, although I confess to being puzzled as to why it should.

I apologize for the rude tone, it was uncalled for. You’re right, this is a matter of taste, and that is always going to differ from person to person. It seemed to me, though, that you were treating tastes like an objective standard and that got me riled up. I was also riled up because it’s an argument I have encountered the argument before, in varying degrees (I was once told that Ware degraded the entire medium of comics to the level of an airplane safety brochure) and, without intending insult, I think the argument is very limiting. Forgive me if I am putting words in your mouth, but it seems to me that your argument is that Ware’s art is technically profricient but that it requires too much effort to actually read. I can totally understand this argument from a matter of taste, it would not be that much of a stretch to say that those Building Stories pages I posted earlier require the reader to decipher them. Compared to master Eisner, who lead his characters and readers through a page like a walk through the countryside on a beautiful day, I can even appreciate your sentiment that the art doesn’t function well.

I would counter though that life doesn’t always have such a clear structure, and we are often scrambling to put one on it in hindsight. Ware illustrates that beautifully for me, and in a way that I maintain could only be accomplished through the comics medium. You couldn’t translate pages like those to prose without sacrificing the choices the reader must make for themselves how to construct the narrative order on those pages, even Calvino had a more rigid authorial voice in that regard. Likewise, while Ware’s animations obviously share stylistic similarities, they do not come close to approaching the kind of narrative cartography that his comics have accomplished. Moreover, most of his layouts are not nearly so complex and while they can certainly seem daunting the first time you encounter them, once you have become accustomed to them you can indeed read through them pretty quickly. Anyways, while they are obviously not your thing, and that’s fine, I think it’s another thing entirely to say that they would work better if they weren’t comics or that they don’t have a place in the medium.

So people only disagree and argue with you when they’re taking your statements too personally? The only way to prove they’re not is to just keep their opinions to themselves. I see.

“The actual meat of the conversation at last.”

Not really. The actual meat of the conversation is that, in spite of your recent protestations of “hey it’s all just people’s opinions”, I still object to the lack of that same sentiment implicit in saying “that element of choice for the reader, is entirely absent” .

I don’t expect everyone to begin every sentence with mealy-mouthed sentiments of “just my opinion, of course”, but with “the reader” instead of “me” or even “many readers” in place of the universal “the reader” you’re claiming to speak for, I really had to respond with a “speak for yourself.”
Same with the humour issue. If you argue that different people have different senses of humour, then you’re obligated to admit that if anyone else laughs at it then it couldn’t have “forgotten to include much in the way of actual humour.”

Again, nothing you have said has changed my opinion of the wrongness of that “lack of choice” statement, which is itself a rejection of the “subjective response” argument you’ve turned to.

Julian- no need to apologise, it’s cool. Heat of the moment and all that. I actually think it’s cool that you get that passionate about comics! And I guess we’ve boiled it down to the point where we differ pretty well. And I should probably mention that I honestly don’t think that Ware’s comics really shouldn’t be comics; of course they should be whatever Ware wants them to be- I was simply demonstrating that by my own (I admit completely personal and rather different from the norm) definition of what makes a great comic, they don’t qualify. I never meant to present myself as some grand arbiter of quality for the medium, merely to explain to some degree the thinking behind why some people (including myself) don’t like Ware’s work. Much like yourself, I can get a little heated discussing this particular subject because of arguments I’ve had in the past- I’ve been told, so many times by so many people, that anyone who doesn’t like Ware simply can’t possibly know anything about the comics medium that I think it’s very important to express as clear and copherent an argument possible as to why that isn’t true.

I’m a cartoonist. I’ve spent my whole life studying this artform. I’d like to think I know more about it than most, and I don’t like Ware, for perfectly logical reasons (to my mind, at least). Some people find that very hard to understand. For what it’s worth, I’ve enjoyed discussing this with you, and I appreciate your point of view. And I do wonder if someday I might change my mind about this- if I do, it’ll be partly because of this part of your comment: “life doesn’t always have such a clear structure, and we are often scrambling to put one on it in hindsight. Ware illustrates that beautifully for me, and in a way that I maintain could only be accomplished through the comics medium.

That does make me think.

###

Jack, first of all, with regards to regards to the “taking statements personally” thing, Julian claimed to actually be personally insulted by my having a diferent opinion from him, and you accused me (by implication) of holding the opinions I do in order to stroke my own ego, along with a few other insulting potshots, which you still haven’t entirely quit. If that’s not taking things personally, what is?

And Jack, we’re talking about comics on the internet. By definition, every single comment made here is a subjective response (although I’ll admit the occasional pretentious and/or elitist academic might argue otherwise). I didn’t feel the need to make this clear in the language of my original comment, because I thought it was obvious. Yes, I said the “the reader”. Perhaps I should have inserted “at least those with similar tastes to myself” or some other thing, but I thought it would be redundant to do so. I was also typing in a hurry (I was at work when I posted my previous comments).

And if you had responded with a “speak for yourself”, what a lot of typing we’d have saved; since I’d have replied with “I am, sorry if it sounded otherwise”, and we’d have been done. Instead you responded with a “you’re just f*cking wrong”. And well, I’m not- I am speaking the absolute truth of my own experience.

[...] you recall, I did my Top 10 Comics of 2008 a week or so ago. I did it at that exact point in time because Comic Book Resources was asking [...]

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