Best Comics of 2009 Meta-List

A.D., Geek

Sandy of the I Love Rob Liefeld blog just posted his Best Comics of 2009 Meta-List. I love this list — and not only because A.D. landed at #13. No, I really love it because the "meta-list" was compiled in an obsessive, exhaustive way that matches my own long (sad) history of rating, chart-making, and list-making. Here, I’ll let you read for yourself how it was done:

I gave each individual "best of 2009" list 550 points to distribute among the comics named on the list. For unranked lists, the 550 points get evenly distributed among all the books. Thus, if a critic named ten books but didn’t rank his or her choices, each book gets 55 points. If a critic named 20 books, each book gets 27.5 points. If the list is ranked, the points get distributed according to a formula that gives more points for higher rankings and less points for lower rankings. So, for a top 10 list, the #1 book gets 100 points, the #2 ranked gets 90, all the way down to 10 points for #10. For a top 20 list, the #1 book gets 52.4 points, the #2 gets 49.8 points, on down to 2.6 points for the #20 book. After distributing the points, I totaled up the number of points given to each book to produce this "meta-list" of the top 100 books of the year. I only counted lists that had five or more books; for ranked lists with more than 20 books, I only counted the top 20.
 
Nuts, right? Sandy mentions that a guy named Chad Nevett "devised the formula for distributing points," which I should definitely read, because I’m dying to know how he came up with 550 points as the base allotment. I’m sure there’s a good reason.

It’s comforting to know that there are obviously lots of other people (guys?) out there who also spent their childhoods obsessing over baseball stats, comic book collections, D&D charts, and the like. That’s the beauty of the Internet: it links us all together. On the other hand, it’s also a bit scary because it makes it that much easier to cross back over that line, to go back into the interior world of numbers, where the big scary, chaotic world seems manageable, understandable — able to be controlled.

Anyway, bit of a tangent there. And in all seriousness, the Meta-List is a nice aggregator of all those top-ten lists out there (the Meta-List was made up of 130 lists identified by Sandy — including my own list!), plus it gives a good sense of the consensus of readers/critics. I’m definitely intrigued by some of the higher-ranked books that I haven’t yet read, comics like Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Hunter, Seth’s George Sprott: 1894-1975, Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto, Ken Dahl’s Monsters, Greg Rucka & J.H. Williams III’s Detective Comics, and  Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe.

My ten favorite comics/graphic novels of the decade

Comics, Geek, Plug

As things wind down, prompted by the Daily Cross Hatch, here are my picks of the 00s, in no particular order…

  • Safe Area Gorazde, by Joe Sacco
  • Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
  • Ice Haven, by Daniel Clowes
  • Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
  • Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzucchelli
  • Blankets, by Craig Thompson
  • The Salon, by Nick Bertozzi
  • Identity Crisis, by Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales, and Michael Bair
  • All-Star Superman, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
  • Y, the Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan and (mostly) Pia Guerra

My picks for best graphic novels of '09

Comics, Geek, Plug

The website The Daily Cross Hatch has just posted its year-end popularity list, "The Best Damned Comics of 2009 Chosen by the Artists." Here are my picks (in no particular order):

  • Masterpiece Comics by R. Sikoryak — I’ve loved Sikoryak’s comics for years, and this beautiful volume collects all his “mash-ups” of high and low, merging the look of classic strips and comics with stories from the Western literary canon. Bob Kane’s Batman vs. Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment! Blondie & Dagwood vs Adam & Eve! Siegel & Shuster’s Superman vs. Camus’ The Stranger! Hilarious, clever, and yet designed to make you think…
  • The Book of Genesis by R. Crumb — A formidable work, filled with respect for the material yet still pulsing with the earthy, pungent humanity that Crumb defines. And the man has lost nothing in the cross-hatching department
  • Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli — Maybe the best fusion of art & words yet produced, the pinnacle of what defines comics. A true work of literature by one of my all-time favorite cartoonists. If only we didn’t have to wait a decade for each new book of his!
  • ACT-I-VATE Primer — Beautifully produced anthology featuring some of my favorite cartoonists: Dean Haspiel, Michel Fiffe, Mike Dawson, Nick Bertozzi, Tim Hamilton, Leland Purvis, Joe Infurnari, and Simon Fraser, just to name a few. Cleverly, each of the stories in the book is a print-only example of the ongoing free stories on the ACT-I-VATE website.
  • Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays, edited by Brendan Burford — I know, I shouldn’t be allowed to nominate this because I’m a contributor, but my piece is entirely forgettable, while the rest of this anthology is top-notch. Syncopated features 16 nonfiction stories ranging from from the history of vintage postcards to the glory days of old Coney Island, from the secret world of graffiti artists to the chess champs of Greenwich Village, from the Tulsa race riots of 1921 to the interrogation of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Contributors include editor Burford, Nick Bertozzi, Alex Holden, Greg Cook, Jim Campbell, and Paul Karasik.

It was really hard limiting my list to just five books, so here are five more 2009 GNs which merit an "Honorable Mention":

Wiki-holic

Comics, Geek

Over the last couple of years, I’ve become addicted to Wikipedia. Not just consulting it for answers about everything under the sun, but writing and editing articles as well. Yes, I am a Wikipedia editor. (And you can be one too.)

It’s not really a big deal. Anyone can do it; you don’t even need to create a user account (though it’s much more fun to do so). That’s the beauty — and the danger — of the whole system: Wikipedia is literally open to anybody, which means it’s uniquely vulnerable to vandalism and deliberate misinformation. And of course we’ve all heard horror stories about how "inaccurate" it is, or infamous examples of slander (particularly in biographical entries). Or how Wikipedia is not considered a legitimate source for academic research. (There is also a study, however, that compared a range of science-related Wikipedia articles with those from Encyclopedia Brittanica and found the two sources virtually identical in terms of accuracy.) Actually, what makes Wikipedia such a formidable force is how little vandalism there actually is. And the fact is that most articles of any significance are constantly vetted, and any malevolent contributions are speedily removed. Wikipedia actually has an incredibly stringent set of guidelines for writing articles, and you will find the best entries are widely sourced and footnoted, overseen by editors with a great deal of professional knowledge.

In any case, just try doing a Google search, and most often the top result is a Wikipedia entry. With Wikipedia and Google (even unintentionally) combining forces, Wikipedia is increasingly becoming the dominant Internet research tool.

Personally, I’m charmed and fascinated by the "crowdsourcing" ethos at the heart of Wikipedia. I love the idea that collective wisdom is more reliable and "objective" than the old encyclopedia model of a selected few "experts" deeming what’s relevant and factual. Which brings me to my own particular journey down the rabbit hole.

On The Road of Fantasy Fanatacism

Geek

An article in today’s Times about Jack Kerouac’s fixation on fantasy baseball caught my eye. (The term “fantasy,” in this case, refers to a sort of role-playing baseball, rather than the rotisserie-type “fantasy” baseball that is so popular nowadays.) Seems most of his life Kerouac was obsessed with a baseball simulation game of his own creation, peopled with entirely made-up leagues, teams, and players. He chronicled the results of his games in various ways, including fake newspaper stories. (He also had a thing for fantasy horseracing, of all things.) Anyway, it appears that Kerouac kept this particular obsession entirely to himself, so even Beat buds like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs knew nothing of it. I find it fascinating that the celebrated author of On The Road and The Dharma Bums had this secret life… as a nerd.

When I was a kid of about eleven or twelve years old, right when I really got into Dungeons & Dragons, I also really got into baseball (specifically the San Francisco Giants, as I lived in Frisco at the time). One of the things that drew me to both pursuits was their almost religious reliance on statistics: constitution values, batting average, hit points, earned run average, armor class, slugging percentage, saving throw — this way of measuring the world made sense to me. (A shrink would probably say it was my way of imposing a sense of order on what had been a fairly rootless, chaotic life up to that point.)

Dream Come True

Comics, Geek

For years I had this recurring dream where I would be walking down the street and come across a huge stash of comics sitting in boxes on the sidewalk. In my dream, I never got to open the boxes and see what was inside, but I envisioned them filled with great old books to complete my collection or at least sell for a tidy sum.

So imagine my disbelief when Victor, my building superintendent, pulled me aside the other day. He took me into his storage space in the basement and showed me box after box overflowing with comics! Turns out they had been left to him by a couple of vacating tenants over the years, and he had just gotten the bright idea of trying to sell them. Even though I’ve lived in the building for over seven years, he never knew I was a cartoonist until fairly recently, so when he found out, he figured I was the guy to show them to. Now I love Victor; he’s a great super and he always goes out of his way to help out Sari and I. So I agreed to go through the boxes and see what was what.

It took me a week or so of hour-long visits, but eventually I went through the thousands of books, culling what I thought had some re-sale value. (I’m sort of touch with that market from selling books from my collection over the years.) Sadly, the vast majority of the comics were crappy ’90s Marvel and Image books, published during the speculator rage when supply way outpaced demand. But I did find a mother lode of vintage 1970s Marvels, going back to the era of 25-cent books. Most of the comics were in awful condition, having been read multiple times and never bagged or boarded. Even so, there were a couple of gems, including the first appearance of The Punisher in Amazing Spider-Man #129, the first appearance of Gambit in X-Men #266, and a nearly complete run of Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-Men.

I took the books with “potential” up to my apartment, and spent some hours here or there over the last few weeks putting them up on eBay. I also invested in some comics boxes and bags and boards. When all was said and done, I netted Victor over $300 (the Punisher Spider-Man alone sold for over $100!). Victor was thrilled when I brought him the cash the other day, and I’ve been getting to enjoy reading old comics, and filling some gaps in my old collection (mostly Byrne and George Pérez books). And I still have a bunch of books left to sell, when I get around to it. Who says dreams don’t come true?

comics!

Showcase Presents THE ATOM

Comics, Geek, Review

I just finished Showcase Presents: The Atom #1, one of those 500-page black-and-white reprint tomes put out by DC. (Don’t ask me why; I got it free last time I was at DC’s offices.) The book includes three issues of Showcase and 17 issues of The Atom‘s own title. All the stories are by Gardner Fox, with art by Gil Kane and inks by Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene.

Although it was a bit of a slog, there was something satisfying in really immersing myslf in DC’s Silver Age. I was never actually emotionally engaged with any of the tales, but they were fun in a goofy, kidlike way. One thing that really impressed me was the pure craftsmanship of the form back then. There was definitely a different standard for artwork back in the early-to-mid-60s, and you could see that professional pride in Fox, Kane, and Anderson’s work. And Fox was a true polymath: in the course of a couple years (1963–1965) of The Atom, he tackled the 1956 Hungarian revolution, the space race, 18th-century English history, miniature card painting, Norse mythology, and numismatics, just to name a few. You could enjoy these stories and actually learn something about the real world in the process. How quaint.

A Boob Tube Boob

Geek

I grew up (I thought) in a non-TV household. My mom was against television—especially for kids— and as far as I knew, we didn’t own a set. (I found out years later my mom secretly kept a small black-and-white TV in the closet for emergencies and special circumstances, like news coverage of the Vietnam war, or Nixon’s resignation.) Anyway, despite having no TV of my own, I watched enough at friends’ houses, or during the one month every summer I got to visit my dad, that it wasn’t completely foreign to me. Even back then, I had some favorite shows, most of which were already in reruns. After all, my semi-forbidden TV viewing was very much catch-as-catch-can; I had no way to watch primetime shows on a regular basis.

For completeness’ sake (what other reason do I ever need?), I will document here the shows I watched regularly over the years. “Regularly” is the key word. I definitely had the TV on at  other times, just not so religiously that I became as intimately familiar with the shows as the ones listed here. So without further ado—and broken down by half-decades—is my TV history:

1976-1980
As I said, most of the shows here I caught at friends’ houses or the one month every summer I spent with my dad. My first love was Saturday morning cartoon shows like The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour and the Tom & Jerry Show, and the semi-animated Shazam TV series. From there, I moved on to The Jetsons and The Flintstones. Sundays were not as fun for kids’ TV back then, but I always seemed to be up early enough to watch the wonky Christian stop-motion show Davey and Goliath.
During this summers with my dad, I was also a regular daytime watcher of The Munsters, The Addams Family, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Jeannie, and even the game show The Price is Right (which I believe bridged the gap between the morning and early-afternoon reruns). I caught enough episodes of F Troop, Hogan’s Heroes, The Andy Griffith Show, and the Carol Burnett Show to be a fan of those shows too. Evening reruns I always caught were All In The Family, Adam-12, and Star Trek, ; and thanks to my dad, I got into baseball during this period, and started watching Yankees & Mets games with him many evenings as well. That means during the summer I was watching five or six hours of TV a day! The only primetime shows I developed any familiarity with were The Dukes of Hazzard, CHiPs, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Charlie’s Angels. And the late 70s was when I first started watching M*A*S*H, which is still my all-time favorite TV show.

1981-1985
My mom and I moved back East to New York in 1980, and by late 1981 I had moved in with my dad—partly because he allowed me to watch TV. With a set in my own room, this was my “golden age.” I still don’t know how I managed to read as many comics and science fiction novels as I did, let alone draw comics—and do my schoolwork! Not having a video game system helped, I guess.

Rerun staples of this period were M*A*S*H, Starsky & Hutch, Three’s Company, Taxi, Diff’rent Strokes, and The Honeymooners; while my primetime addictions included The A-Team, The Dukes of Hazzard, Enos (!), The Incredible Hulk, CHiPs, Magnum P.I., T.J. Hooker, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, The Greatest American Hero, Cheers, Family Ties; and reruns of Three’s Company, Taxi, Diff’rent Strokes, Mork & Mindy, and of course M*A*S*H, which I was becoming obsessed with. Saturday Night Live was great during this period, and having a limited social life, I was usually home to watch it. I also had intense but ultimately unfulfilled dalliances with such short-lived series as Tales of the Gold Monkey (a blatant rip-off of the Indiana Jones films), Strike Force, V: The Series, and — I’m ashamed to admit it — AfterMASH. Oy.

During this time, Hill Street Blues was the first “grownup” show I got into. Every Thursday during the show, man_size  and I would breathlessly call each other up during commercial breaks to glory in the latest segment’s “fresh illyness” (a tradition we continued through subsequent shows like NYPD Blue and Lost!).

I became an avid baseball and football fan during this era, so I rarely missed Jets games on Sunday afternoons in the fall & winter, baseball games on Saturdays in the summer, or the seasonal shows Monday Night Baseball and Monday Night Football.

1986-1990
These were my college years and (thank god!) I had usually had better things to do than watch television. I had a tiny portable black-and-white set in my room which I usually watched M*A*S*H reruns on. Otherwise, shows I managed to watch on a semi-regular basis were Moonlighting, Miami Vice, SNL, Thirtysomething and, until it really fell off in its last couple of seasons, Hill Street.

1991-1995
Having moved back to New York after college, I tried to get out more, and “real life” mostly kept me away from the TV. I also didn’t have enough money to afford cable. All the same, I managed to catch repeats of M*A*S*H (of course), Cheers, and Hill Street; and I watched Twin Peaks, Monday Night Football, and The Simpsons in primetime. Then, after an eighteen-month hiatus traveling around the world with Sari (no TV!), I got into NYPD Blue, ER, Friends (I admit it), Mad About You (I know), and Seinfeld once we settled in Chicago. I also saw a lot of free Bulls and Cubs games on WGN.

1996-2000
Transitioning during this period from Chicago to San Francisco to Provincetown, Mass, the only reruns I regularly watched were The Simpsons, but I became a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I also started watching Law & Order and kept my allegiance to NYPD Blue, ER, Friends, and Seinfeld. The Buffy spinoff series Angel debuted during this period, and I was a regular viewer of that show for two or three seasons.

2001-2005
Finally resettled back in New York, I severely curtailed my TV viewing. Now able to afford cable, ironically we decided we didn’t want it, and the network shows seemed to lose their allure. Due to lack of interest, I stopped watching NYPD Blue, ER, and Friends; though I happily discovered The West Wing, and stuck with Law & Order. I watched 24 for its first two seasons, before I got repelled by its gruesomeness and questionable politics. (And I admit to being the one person who actually saw the short-lived Friends spin-off show, Joey. For that, I sincerely apologize.) And I have been watching Lost from the first episode. I also eventually found out about the amazing HBO series Deadwood; and managed to catch that show on DVD.

2006-present
Ironically still without cable, the shows I am most addicted to now are all non-network programs: Battlestar Galactica, Rome (now canceled), and The Sopranos, which I’m finally watching now that it’s over. To be fair, though, there are some good network shows: I still enjoy Lost, and I’ve been watching Friday Night Lights since day-one as well. (I also confess to watching the entire run of the thankfully canceled Aaron Sorkin show, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Lord, was that show a disaster.) I seem to have lost my interest in sitcoms, so even though at various times I’ve sampled The Office and 30 Rock, they just don’t do it for me. Shows that are intriguing to me but I have yet to really study are The Wire and Dexter, so a DVD acquisition may be in order…

Whew! Quite a compilation of mostly dreck and occasional brilliance. It’s interesting to look back on those periods and see how the shows reflected—and informed—my stage of life at the time. Like most people, I guess, I continually veered between desiring mindless entertainment and/or escapism, and then wanting something more meaty or intellectually challenging.

Although I’ve never considered myself a couch potato, there were clearly periods where I was addicted to the tube. All the same, I think my hours of TV watching pales in comparison to most other American kids of my generation. Still, I’ve often wondered if the fact that TV was so verboten early in my life made me need it to the point of obsession later on?

This is a question I have to ponder as I raise a child of my own. Already, Phoebe is automatically drawn to the bright colors and flashing images of the TV screen. So far, we’ve minimized her exposure to the tube, but eventually we’re going to have to deal with her active desire to watch it as well. One thing we can do is limit the available temptations by staying cable-less. But that’s not the final answer to the dilemma…