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Thoughts on Dick Hyacinth’s “best-of” list

by  in Comic News Comment
Thoughts on Dick Hyacinth’s “best-of” list

Dick Hyacinth, who hates your blog, has compiled a list of the “best-of” lists of 2007 to determine which are the most esteemed comics of the year.  It’s an interesting project, and it’s kind of cool that he did it.  He announced his list, gave us the list, and then broke down the list.  Next year, I think he plans to show us all the lists he used, which will make it even more interesting!  And, of course, I have some thoughts about it.  I’m not sure if that entitles me to post about those thoughts, but are you going to stop me from making a fool out of myself?  I thought not!

For the most part, I have no problem with the list.  It’s an interesting cross-section of critical-but-perhaps-poorly-selling darlings, odd inclusions (a book Dick lists as “Hack and Slash” shows up at #89, but he refuses to tell us if it’s the same as Devil’s Due’s Hack/Slash, as seems likely), and some big-time sellers.  What I do have a problem with is the notion that “comic book” can encompass the diversity shown on the list.  Let me ‘splain, if you will.

Comics have diversified to the point that I don’t think it’s relevant any longer to speak of “best comics of the year.”  Let’s look at the Top Ten on Dick’s list:

Exit Wounds is #1, Shortcomings is #2, All Star Superman is #3, I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets is #4, Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together is #5, Criminal is #6, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is #7, Alias the Cat is #8, Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto is #9, and Powr Mastrs is #10.  I have read #1, 2, 3, 6, 8, and 9, and I’ve never even heard of #10, so I’m going to ignore that one.  It’s a fine eclectic mix, and therein lies the problem.

Consider movies and television, if you will.  The Golden Globes attempt to recognize that not every movie is a ponderous, deep affair, unlike the Oscars, where a comedy might never again win Best Picture.  Some of the categories of the Golden Globes are: Best Motion Picture (Drama), Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), Best Animated Movie, Best Television Drama, Best Television Musical or Comedy, Best Mini-Series or Movie Made for Television.  Note the variety – the Golden Globes, at least, recognize that dramas and comedies are different animals, as are movies and television shows.  Although it’s widely considered that comedies are very difficult to make, the Oscars like bleak movies that somehow illuminate the human soul!!!!  The only movie I saw last year that got a sniff of the Academy Awards was No Country For Old Men, and although I loved it, it’s not a particularly fun movie to sit through.  But that’s what Oscar likes!  However, comedies are just as difficult to make.  I still think Eddie Murphy got robbed of an Oscar for his dual role in Bowfinger.  He was brilliant mocking himself and playing a geek.  But it was a comedy, so no love from the Academy!

This goes back to Dick’s list.  Consider Exit Wounds.  It’s a searing love story, an examination of the relationship between a father and son, and a look at the troubles Israel goes through on a daily basis.  And how about Shortcomings?  It’s a brutally honest book about a disintegrating relationship and how people often can’t help themselves as the relationship crumbles.  And then we get to All Star Superman.  I love All Star Superman.  It is not in the class of the first two, however.  It’s all a question of looking at what the God of All Comics and his partner-in-crime, Mr. Deighan, are doing.  Rutu Modan and Adrian Tomine are attempting to create something that digs into what makes us human and what ties us together and drives us apart.  All Star Superman does none of that.  It’s simply an homage to the Silver Age.  It’s extremely well done, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t feel like it should be listed so high.  I haven’t read #4 or #5, but given my reaction to the first Scott Pilgrim volume, I think this is a bit overrated.  I guess it’s better than the first volume, but still.  Criminal, as good as it is, is bound completely by the conventions of the pulp genre as much as All Star Superman is bound by the conventions of the superhero genre.  I doubt if Buffy the Vampire Slayer is as good as the critics say, but it’s yet another genre book.  Finally, The Trial of Colonel Sweeto is a collection of comic strips, none of which are connected to each other and which don’t even feature common characters.  The only reason it’s called that is because the first strip is about the trial of Colonel Sweeto, who never shows up again in the book.

Does this mean “genre” books shouldn’t be considered “the best” of a medium?  Not at all.  But genre books, as we see with Criminal, tend to be treading ground that has its own specific rules, and All Star Superman, Criminal, and Buffy don’t seem to break away from those rules.  To truly be great, a genre book has to break free of the formula to a certain extent, and no matter how well done those three books are, do they really break free of the genre?  I suppose the people who voted for them would say they do.  But the inclusion of these books, as well as some in the second ten (Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus and Immortal Iron Fist, to be specific), seems strange.  It’s as if the Academy Awards nominations for Best Picture were Annie Hall, There Will Be Blood, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Princess Mononoke, When We Were Kings, and Deadwood.  Frankly, that would be a pretty kick-ass category, but do they belong together?  A comedy, a drama, an homage to pulp fiction, a foreign animated film, a documentary, and a television series.  You could make the case that reviewers are considering the craft of each book, not the impact, and therefore All Star Superman, which many people believe is the best pure superhero book on the market, measures up, but, as I’ve mentioned, how good can it be when it is constrained by what a superhero book is?  I don’t know.

Looking at the Best Picture nominations I’ve envisioned above brings up another problem with the list, and that is the format in which these books are presented.  An ongoing series is much different than a graphic novel, despite the fact that they look fairly similar.  Criminal, I suppose, doesn’t fit completely into either category, as it’s really a series of mini-series, but let’s consider Buffy and Iron Fist, which comes in at #16.  Both of those are ongoing books, and part of judging whether a book is any good is considering how it ends.  Am I wrong in that?  Maybe I am.  I have picked on the revelation in the latest issue of Buffy, but I suppose it could be salvaged based on how the creators end the story.  I have read several comics that began very well and ended poorly, and I can’t call those comics great.  If we look at individual issues of, say, Iron Fist, they’re very good, but if Frubaker flubs the ending of “Capital Cities of Heaven,” can the story arc be considered great?  Of course, we’re again judging the quality of each individual issue, not the whole story, but it’s strange to say All Star Superman or Buffy is better than Superspy, The Professor’s Daughter, or the two Essex County books.  All of those books show a comparable level of craft as ASS, but they also tell complete stories, which ought to push them ahead of the book that hasn’t finished yet, shouldn’t it?  I guess not.

Another thing to consider is something like the Kirby Omnibus, which I’m going to assume does not feature work from 2007, as that would certainly be an impressive achievement by the King.  This is probably the most egregious example of something that is not “new” on a “best-of-2007” list, but Shortcomings is a collection of older work, and The Professor’s Daughter is a decade old (to use two other examples that spring to mind).  How do we define the “best” comics of a particular “year”?  The Fourth World Omnibus might kick all kinds of ass, but aren’t the comics in it 30 years old?  A definition, I think, is called for.

In the breakdown of the list that I linked to above, Dick points out the lack of manga on the list and tries to account for it.  The dearth of manga is certainly intriguing, but I can’t comment on it, given that I have hardly read any manga.  He theorizes that there’s a lack of critical acceptance of manga, as critics are behind the curve in terms of what those rascally kids are reading these days.  That’s certainly one theory; I have no idea if it’s true or not, but it sounds like it could be true.  For me, at least, the only manga I read last year (and first I ever read, mind you) would not qualify for my personal list, because it wasn’t originally published in 2007 (I did, however, list it in a special section of “best collection of older material”).  Given the vagaries of what we’ve already seen on the list, that’s probably not a concern for most people.

Further along in his breakdown, Dick shows the various categories into which the books can be sorted: single volume graphic novels, comic book series, graphic novel series, comic strip collections, single issue comic books, even webcomics.  Again, I wonder if it would be prudent for people to look at these as completely separate things and judge them accordingly.  The way they are written is completely different, and it seems silly to judge Captain America in the same way we judge Persepolis.

Anyway, I admire Dick for doing this, and I hope that, if he does this next year (assuming he still cares enough to do it!), he provides the list of critics he used (which he promises to do).  I have a weird fascination with seeing what other people think are the best comics of the year, and this is a handy guide.  I see something like The Black Dossier at #17 or Alice in Sunderland at #33 and wonder why that happened (I like the latter far more than the former, but that’s not my point – I’m just curious as to where they appeared on lists that would cause the placement).  I see something like Marvel Zombies 2 at #75 and think, “Really?”  Lists are awesome, after all – they’re endlessly debatable and never definitive.  They’re tailor-made for the Internet!

So: any thoughts yourself?  Or am I the only one who cares about weird stuff like this?

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