Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Best Comics of The Decade

Robert Boyd

In 1990, I worked on one of my favorite publishing projects, a two-volume anthology called The Best Comics of the Decade, published by Fantagraphics Books and co-edited with Gary Groth and Kim Thompson. The thesis behind these volumes was that the 80s had seen an explosion of great comics in anthologies (like RAW and Weirdo), in newspapers (specifically in alternative newsweeklies), and in what at the time was called alternative comics (which included publishers like us, Fantagraphics Books). Another part of our thesis was that most of the greatest works had been in short stories. The age of the graphic novel hadn't yet arrived, although Maus volume 1 had been published in 1986.

Our volumes excluded superheroes from Marvel and DC, partly because we were snobs about mainstream comics, but partly because we didn't have access to that material. If we had, would we have included something? Maybe an excerpt from Watchmen? We did include an Alan Moore story which we loved, called "Pictopia," which is a weird story about how the innocent fun of old-time heroes in comics had been replaced by a grim and cynical type of superhero--one that Alan Moore himself is partly responsible for (along with Frank Miller).

The thing about assembling this volume was that we editors felt that knowing what comics actually were published in the 80s was a doable task. We had each read thousands of pages of comics and felt like we had a grasp of what had been published. (Because we thought that book buyers back then would never shell out for a 240-page book of comics, we published it in two volumes. That's another thing that has changes a lot in the past 30 years.)

Things have changed. Back then, "alternative comics" (i.e., anything that wasn't super-hero comics) were eking out an existence on the fringes. While superheroes now dominate our pop culture, in the world of comics, they are no longer utterly dominate comics mind-space as they once did. They still do to a certain extent--I know when I tell someone I am interested in comics, they usually ask about superheroes. As I have pointed out many times before, I am interested in comics as a category of art, like literature, theater, music, film, visual art. (To limit it to one genre or format is something I am not willing to do, especially a genre controlled by two large entertainment megacorporations, Warner Brothers--which owns DC Comics and all its properties--and Disney--which owns Marvel and all its properties.)

But in the 2010s, so many comics have been published that there is almost no way one person could have read them all. (I would fear for the sanity of anyone who tried.) Nonetheless, some brave souls have attempted to construct their own "best of the decade" lists. This decade has been dominated by book-sized publications, which is reflected in their lists. The lists I looked at were:
The best list in my opinion is Comic Books Are Burning in Hell's, and it is also the shortest. The Beat's is the longest. The total of all five lists is 130 titles (or 129, because there is some overlap on a Batman title). The lists are mostly unranked. (I'll put the whole list at the bottom of this post.)

It occurred to me that one way to rank the comics would be to look at which ones appeared on multiple lists. So with a long morning of Excel-ery, I have made a list of the most highly regarded comics of the decade by that criterion (appearing on multiple best-of lists).

Here are all the titles that appeared on at least two lists:
  • Hawkeye, Matt Fraction and David Aja, 4
  • Mister Miracle, Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles, 3
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Derek Charm, 3
  • Prince Of Cats, Ron Wimberly, 3
  • Hark! A Vagrant!, Kate Beaton, 3
  • Lumberjanes, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Brooklyn A. Allen, Carolyn Nowak, Carey Pietsch, Ayme Sotuyo, Maarta Laiho, Aubrey Aiese, with Brittney Williams, Faith Erin Hicks, Aimee Fleck, Rebecca Tobin, Felicia Choo, and T. Zysk, 3
  • Daytripper, Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, 3
  • My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Emil Ferris, 3
  • Saga, Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, 3
  • Batman, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, 2
  • Copra, Michel Fiffe, 2
  • The Nib, Matt Bors and a cast of thousands, 2
  • Monstress, Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, and Rus Wooton, 2
  • This One Summer, Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, 2
  • The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, 2
  • The River At Night , Kevin Huizenga, 2
  • House Of X/Powers Of X, Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, Marte Gracia, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Muller, 2
  • Giant Days, John Allison, Max Sarin, Lissa Treiman, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell, 2
  • Black Hammer, Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, 2
  • Thor, Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, 2
  • The Love Bunglers, Jaime Hernandez, 2
  • Goodnight Punpun, Inio Asano, 2
  • You & A Bike & A Road, Eleanor Davis, 2
  • Last Look, Charles Burns, 2
  • O Human Star, Blue Delliquanti, 2 
I have only read six of these in their entirety. The Nib would be difficult to read all of--it's a political comics site that one dives in in bits and pieces. But I've read a LOT of the comics there; I highly recommend it. I've read a bit of Lumberjanes and Copra, but didn't really connect with them. I haven't read any of the superhero titles because that's a genre I've outgrown in comics. And as for the rest, I've heard of most of them...

Perhaps a better way to look at it would be to see which authors and artists were referenced most frequently by appearing on multiple lists with multiple titles. Of course, I made a similar list.
The number refers to the number of times a person appeared anywhere on any of the lists. Several appeared in anthologies that made the list (Mould Map 3 and Smut Peddler 2012 Edition, specifically).

I'm willing to agree with the consensus in one small way: Eleanor Davis is the comics artist of the decade. What a privilege is has been to see her blossom as a cartoonist.

It is interesting to look at this list and see who among them were also in The Best Comics of the Decade in 1990. The only three who made both were Charles Burns, Jaime Hernandez and Alan Moore (three giants, to be sure).

OK, given that I have read only a small fraction of the comics that were published between 2010 and 2019 (and given that I have only read some on the master list that I will reproduce below), here are my favorites, selected by perusing my bookshelves 10 minutes ago:

  • Over Easy by Mimi Pond (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014)

  • Berlin by Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly, 2018)

I have personal connections with many of the artists here, and I've met all of them except for Julia Wertz and David B.

This is the most I've thought about comics in one sustained burst in a long time.  I wish I had insights about the past decade to share. I don't except to note how that book has become the dominant form and that female artists and artists of color are now the dominant figures in art of comics. They make up more than 50% of my personal list, at least. That's a big shift.

I want to dedicate this post to the memory of my friend Tom Spurgeon, who died in November.

Addendum: Some additional best-of lists made me want to revise these compiled lists, which I have done here.

Here is the combined best-of list mentioned above:
  • “Time” by Randall Munroe
  • 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa
  • A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Olma and Steven LeCroy
  • Afterlife With Archie by Robert Aguirre-Sacasa, Francesco Francavilla, and Jack Morelli
  • All-New Wolverine by Tom Taylor, David Lopez, David Navarrot, Marcio Takara, IG Guara, Bob Wiacek, Victor Olazaba, Walden Wong, Nik Virella, Scott Hanna, Djibril Morissette-Phan, Leonard Kirk, Cory Hamscher, Marc Deering, Terry Pallot, Juann Cabal, Marco Failla, Ramon Rosanas, Nathan Fairbairn, Jordan Boyd, Mat Lopes, John Rauch, Michael Garland, Jesus Aburtov, Erick Arciniega, Nolan Woodard, and Cory Petit
  • Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle Weir and Christina “Steenz” Stewart
  • Arsène Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen
  • Basquiat by Julian Voloj and Søren Mosdal
  • Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
  • Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder, Jock, Francesco Francavilla, David Baron, Jared K. Fletcher, and Sal Cipriano
  • Batman: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
  • Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët
  • Becoming Unbecoming by Una
  • Berlin by Jason Lutes
  • Big Kids by Michael DeForge
  • Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine DeLandro, Cris Peters, Kelly Fitzpatrick, and Clayton Cowles
  • Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston
  • Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze
  • Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang and Lark Pien
  • Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu
  • Building Stories by Chris Ware
  • Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu
  • Clyde Fans by Seth
  • Copra by Michel Fiffe
  • Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
  • Daredevil by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Javier Rodriguez, Matt Wilson, and Joe Caramagna
  • Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon
  • Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot
  • Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russell, Mike Feehan, Mark Morales, Sean Parsons, Howard Porter, Jose Marzan Jr., Paul Mounts, and Dave Sharpe
  • Fatherland: A Family History by Nina Bunjevac
  • FF by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred
  • Frontier #7 by Jillian Tamaki
  • Gawain’s Girlfriend and the Green Knight by Polly Guo
  • Generous Bosom by Conor Stechshulte
  • Giant Days by John Allison, Max Sarin, Lissa Treiman, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell
  • Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak
  • Goodnight Punpun by Inio Asano
  • Grip by Lale Westvind
  • Guts by Raina Telgemeier
  • Hark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton
  • Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja
  • Hellboy in Hell by Mike Mignola
  • Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki
  • Here by Richard McGuire
  • Hilda & The Black Hound by Luke Pearson
  • Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor
  • Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers
  • House Of X/Powers Of X by Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, Marte Gracia, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Muller
  • How To Be Happy by Eleanor Davis
  • How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden
  • Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
  • Is This How You See Me? by Jaime Hernandez
  • It Never Happened Again by Sam Alden
  • Julio's Day by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine
  • Last Look by Charles Burns
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valerio-O’Connell
  • Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe
  • Lumberjanes by Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Brooklyn A. Allen, Carolyn Nowak, Carey Pietsch, Ayme Sotuyo, Maarta Laiho, Aubrey Aiese, with Brittney Williams, Faith Erin Hicks, Aimee Fleck, Rebecca Tobin, Felicia Choo, and T. Zysk
  • March by Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
  • Margot’s Room by Emily Carroll
  • Mister Miracle by Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles
  • Monstress by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, and Rus Wooton
  • Mould Map 3 by Aidan Koch, Amalia Ulman, Angie Wang, Ben Mendelewicz, Blaise Larmee, Brenna Murphy, CF, Cody Cobb, Daniel Swan, Dmitry Sergeev, Gabriel Corbera, GHXYK2, Hugh Frost, Jacob Ciocci, James Jarvis, Joseph Kelly, Jonas Delaborde, Jonathan Chandler, Jonny Negron, Julien Ceccaldi, Karn Piana, Kilian Eng, Lala Albert, Lando, Leon Sadler, Matthew Lock, Noel Freibert, Olivier Schrauwen, Robert Beatty, Sam Alden, Sammy Harkham, Simon Hanselmann, Stefan Sadler, Viktor Hachmang & Yuichi Yokoyama
  • Ms Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Jacob Wyatt, Elmo Bondoc, Takeshi Miyazawa, Nico Leon, Francesco Gaston, Marco Failla, Diego Olortegui, Ian Herring, Irma Knivila, and Joe Caramagna, with Saladin Ahmed, Rainbow Rowell, Hasan Minhaj, Devin Grayson, Eve L. Ewing, Jim Zub, Gustavo Duarte, Joey Vazquez, Kevin Libranda, Minkyu Jung, Juan Vlasco, and Bob Quinn
  • My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris
  • My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
  • My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi, Caleb Cook, and John Hunt
  • My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kabi Nagata
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
  • O Human Star by Blue Delliquanti
  • Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran
  • On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
  • Patience by Daniel Clowes
  • Peplum by Blutch
  • Poochytown by Jim Woodring
  • Prince Of Cats by Ron Wimberly
  • Prison Pit by Johnny Ryan
  • Providence by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows
  • Rock Candy Mountain by Kyle Starks and Chris Schweizer
  • Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
  • Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  • Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O’Malley
  • Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
  • Sex Fantasy by Sophia Foster Dimino
  • Silver Surfer by Dan Slott and Michael Allred
  • Sir Alfred no. 3 by Tim Hensley
  • Smile by Raina Telgemeier
  • Smut Peddler 2012 Edition by Rebecca Ruby, Megan Furesz, Trisha L. Sebastian, Erin Basie, M. Magdalene, Mr. Darcy, Betty Jean Doe, Nora Riley, Kel McDonald, Rennie Kingsley, Erika Moen, Leia Weathington, Algesiras, Dwam, Argets, Ursula Wood, Jennifer Doyle, E.K. Weaver, Magnolia Porter, Shari Hes, Steve Horton, Erica Leigh Currey, Alice Fox, B. White, Ambrosia, Alice Hunt, Dechanique, Carla Speed McNeil, Karate McDanger, Jess Fink, Blue Delliquanti, Nechama Frier, Pupcake Jones, Lee Blauersouth, Abby Lark, Theo Lorenz, C. Spike Trotman, Diana Nock, Amanda Lafrenais
  • Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron, Jason Latour
  • Spider-Gwen by Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez
  • Sunburning by Keiler Robert
  • Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto
  • Super Late Bloomer by Julia Kaye
  • The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew
  • The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
  • The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
  • The End of the F@(U$*#+g World by Charles Forsman
  • The Fifth Beatle by Vivek Tiwary, Andrew Robinson
  • The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis
  • The Hospital Suite by John Porcellino
  • The Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett
  • The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez
  • The Multiversity by Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Walden Wong, Ben Oliver, Frank Quitely
  • The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon
  • Nemo by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
  • The Nib by Matt Bors and a cast of thousands
  • The Oven by Sophie Goldstein
  • The Passion Of Gengoroh Tagame by Bruno Gmuender
  • The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin
  • The Property by Rutu Modan
  • The River At Night by Kevin Huizenga
  • The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman, JH Williams III and Dave Stewart
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Derek Charm
  • The Vision by Tom King, Gabriel Walta, Jordie Bellaire
  • The Walking Dead #193 by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard
  • The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie
  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
  • Thor by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if we've ever met, but belated thanks. You're my hero!