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The Comics Reporter’s Top 100 Comics Works of the 20th Century
posted October 24, 2004


Notes on Best-Of Comics Lists

List-making can be a vital exercise for nearly every reason, it seems, except the assumptions that drive such lists' loudest critics.

Almost no list of best comics, best movies or best anything holds significant weight as a commercial tool or an opinion-swayer that suggests we roll around on the floor with our tongues hanging out over obvious omissions and outright idiocies. Where lists become valuable is on a more engaged, give-and-take level -- the debate that precedes the much slower and less controllable process of pantheon building to which many critics take offense.

Once you neuter such lists of the responsibility they will hold great power and sway, the process can become very enjoyable for the listmaker. Lists allow the person making them to take the temperature of their own tastes, and to think of their chosen medium of interest for the forest rather than the trees, on the whole rather than work by work. It may also drive a critic to find and engage work out of their usual comfort zone.

Just as important is that readers and critics can then use the lists compiled in any number of ways: to discover new works, to develop new ways of looking at familiar works, to get a snapshot of the usefulness of a specific critic for your own future needs, to expose yourself to competing summary views of an art form and what's important in it, or even as a silent debate partner to sharpen your rhetorical tools.

I made my own contribution to the Festival Internacional de BD da Amadora - 2004 top 100 project meeting the 36-hour turnaround that the late arrival of the invite provided. My understanding is that the deadline was later relaxed so that more people could participate, but the whip-around nature of my own contribution was probably the greatest influence on the resulting list.

I am pretty happy with the list based on how little time I had to slap one together, but a primary aim became not to embarass myself through exclusion. I asked advice of certain quickly-replying critics to whom I often defer in specific areas: RC Harvey (early 20th Century comic strips), Bart Beaty (modern European comics) and Bill Randall (modern Japanese comics), whom I thank, but the final choices are my own. The result is probably something more broad and "standards-filled" than I might conceive of given weeks and months to mull over and do some re-reading. I always regret lists that don't have those one or two total blink-your-eyes shockers -- although for some, my advocacy of Peter Bagge or Oliver Harrington might fulfill that role.

This specific list was useful to me in that I'm becoming more comfortable with the greatness of comics that is not exactly literary greatness, a notion I'm still worried is a capitulation to comics that bring me pleasure rather than those that provide compelling art, but one to which I seem forced to return. Nostalgia is a particular danger in comics, which many of us read when we are really young, and which still others of us read when we wish to return to those experiences. The danger becomes heightened by the fact that many of the art form's great talents worked exclusively on a variety of broad entertainments, which has limited the number of works that correspond to what many of us might consider great in novels and film.

So while I think there's a distinction to be made between comics that embody or even drive popular values in an affecting and significant way and those that merely capitulate to or capitalize on them, I'm fully aware the value I place on this distinction could derive from my immaturity as a critic.

Looking back on this list for Amadora, it appears I chose to go alphabetical instead of numerical, and to emphasize the exemplary works of a single author rather than multiple efforts.

The Top 100 Comics Works of the 20th Century
As Compiled in a Little More Than 36 Hours
Submitted to Amadora Festival in 2004

Afternoon in the Attic (1950) Charles Addams
Akira (1982) Katushiro Otomo
Amphigorey (1980) Edward Gorey
Art Moderne (1980) Joost Swarte
Arzach (1975) Moebius
Asterix et les Normans (1966) Rene Goscinny, Albert Udozo
Barnaby (1942-1946) Crockett Johnson
Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary (1972) Justin Green
imageBootsie and Others (1958) Oliver Harrington
Botchan No Jidai (1985) Natsuo Sekikawa, Jiro Taniguchi
Bottle Fatigue (1950) Virgil Partch
Boulevard of Broken Dreams (1991) Kim Deitch
Brouillard Au Pont De Tolbiac (1982) Jacques Tardi
Calvin and Hobbes (1986-1990)+ Bill Watterson
Caricature (1995) Daniel Clowes
Cartoons in The Masses (1912-1918) Art Young
Conte Demoniaque (1996) Aristophane
Dans Les Villages: La Jole (1990) Max Cabanes
Die Stadt (1925) Frans Masereel
Doonesbury (1972-76)+ Garry Trudeau
Editorial Cartoons (1920-1945)+ J.N. Darling
Editorial Cartoons (1965-2000)+ Pat Oliphant
Fable de Venise (1981) Hugo Pratt
Fantastic Four #44-63 (1965-67) Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Frank (1991-2000)+ Jim Woodring
From Hell (1991-1996) Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell
Fuochi (1984) Lorenzo Mattotti
Gasoline Alley (1921-32)+ Frank King
God's Man (1930) Lynd Ward
Goodman Beaver (late 50s/early 60s) Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder
Graffiti Kitchen (1993) Eddie Campbell
Hadashi No Gen (1972-73) Keiji Nakazawa
Harlem as Seen by Hirschfeld (1941) Al Hirschfeld
Hate (1990-1999) Peter Bagge
"Here" (1989) Richard McGuire
Hurrah for St. Trinian's (1948) Ronald Searle
I Never Liked You (1994) Chester Brown
Ici Meme (1979) Jacques Tardi
Jimbo (1982) Gary Panter
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000) Chris Ware
Jiniku (1994) Kazuichi Hanawa
imageJoe's Bar (1982) Jose Munoz, Carlos Sampayo
Journal (1999) Fabrice Neaud
Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer (1996) Ben Katchor
Kampung Boy (1979) Lat
Kaze no tani no Nausicaa (1978) Hayao Miyazaki
King-Cat Comics and Stories (1992-2000)+ John Porcellino
Krazy Kat (1919-1940)+ George Herriman
L'Affaire Tournesol (1956) Herge
L'Ascension Du Haut Mal (1996) David B
L'Autoroute Du Soleil (1995) Baru
Le Jeune Albert (1985) Yves Chaland
Le Spectre Aux Balles D'Or (1972) Jean Giraud, Jean-Michel Charlier
Little Lulu (1945-1961) John Stanley, Irv Tripp
Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905-1911) Winsor McCay
Little Orphan Annie (1928-1940)+ Harold Gray
Locas (1981-1996) Jaime Hernandez
Los Tejanos (1982) Jack Jackson
Lost in the Andes (1949) Carl Barks
Mad #1-23 (1952-1955) Harvey Kurtzman
MaMaFuFu (early 90s) Imiri Sakabashira
"Master Race" (1955) Bernard Krigstein, Al Feldstein
Maus (1986) Art Spiegelman
Men, Women and Dogs (1943) James Thurber
"Minnie's 3rd Love" (1994) Phoebe Gloeckner
Mr. Natural (1968-1980)+ Robert Crumb
Muno No Hito (1991) Yoshiharu Tsuge
Negres Jaunes (2000) Yvan Alagbe
imagePalomar (1981-1996) Gilbert Hernandez
Panorama of Hell (English Title) (1982) Hideshi Hino
Partie De Chasse (1983) Enki Bilal, Pierre Christin
Peanuts (1955-1975)+ Charles Schulz
Perramus (1982-1985) Alberto Breccia, Juan Sasturain
Peter Arno's Parade (1929) Peter Arno
Phoenix (1954-1989) Osamu Tezuka
Piero (1999) Edmond Baudoin
Plastic Man (1943-1952)+ Jack Cole
Pogo (1949-1954)+ Walt Kelly
Polly and Her Pals (1920-1935)+ Cliff Sterrett
Prince Valiant (1940-1950)+ Hal Foster
Radio Lucien (1982) Frank Margerin
Robert Crumb Draws the Blues (1992) Robert Crumb
Safe Area Gorazde (2000) Joe Sacco
Sick, Sick, Sick (1958) Jules Feiffer
Slaloms (1997) Lewis Trondheim
Sports Cartoons (1934-1966)+ Willard Mullin
Terry and the Pirates (1940-1944)+ Milton Caniff
The Cartoon History of the Universe (1997) Larry Gonick
The Fun House (1987) Lynda Barry
imageThe Handala Cartoons (1975-1987) Naji Al-Ali
The Jungle Book (1959) Harvey Kurtzman
The Kinder-Kids (1906) Lyonel Feininger
The Lonely Ones (1942) William Steig
The Spirit (1946-1948)+ Will Eisner
Thimble Theatre (1932-1934)+ E.C. Segar
Wash Tubbs (1929-1940)+ Roy Crane
Watchmen (1985-1987) Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons
What Am I Doing Here? (1947) Abner Dean
Willie and Joe (1940-1944)+ Bill Mauldin
Z Comme Zorglub (1961) Franquin

+ = This title or effort existed for more years than listed here, but the years listed are the ones I think are particularly noteworthy, or in the case of those that bump up against the 21st Century, the dates that best meet the requirements of the list. Many of the single titles selected here are as the best representative of a run of similar work.

Representative images from Baru, Oliver Harrington, Munoz/Sampayo, Gilbert Hernandez and Naji Al-Ali. The Bootsie piece is from 1960, but it's really pretty.