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Fred Hembeck on Top 100 With Rankings
posted November 29, 2004

Fred Hembeck
via the Internet

I just read your list of the top 100 pieces of comics related material from the last century, and am offering up some initial comments as you'd requested of your audience.

First, it's difficult for me to assess the worthiness of most of the foreign material that you included, as I simply haven't read it. Yes, I know I'm surely missing some great stuff, but for whatever reason, my focus has always been on American material. So, I can't really fairly judge a huge chunk of your list -- sorry.

I'm a bit shocked to see Spider-Man by Lee and Ditko absent, as I always felt the team's work on that trend-setting title was the absolute high mark for Marvel comics (and truth to tell, I've always preferred the first 39 issues of the Fantastic Four to those that immediately followed, but I know I'm in the minority there).

I was happy to see Little Lulu included -- though it would easily make my personal top ten, and perhaps even the top spot itself -- but I was disappointed to see the perpetually under appreciated work of Fred Toole (scripts) and Al Wiseman (art) on the Dennis The Menace comic books of the fifties and early sixties passed over once again. They featured stories of an amazing variety, told with enough humor to entertain children and adults alike, drawn in a crisp, clean style that caught the look of the era's blossoming suburbia better than just about anything else that was being published at the time.

imageThen there's Little Archie by Bob Bolling. While it could be argued that not every story found in those old double-sized issues matched up to the Lulu and Dennis episodes, there are quite a few that deserve recognition for their seamless combination of imaginative adventure, heartfelt sentimentality, and quiet good humor. There's one story in particular, "The Long Walk" from the 20th issue that desrves some serious attention.

Admittedly, I fell in love with all three of the above cited features before or by the time I was ten years old, so certainly, there's the rose colored gaze of nostalgia working its insidious magic here, at least maybe a wee bit. Still, I boldly contend that these books still hold up, and hold up well. Hey, give me some credit here -- as much as I cherish those early New Look Batman stories illustrated by Carmine Infantino, I know better than to try to sell those to you! There are some limits a top 100 list has to have, after all...

One more: "... And All Through The House" by Johnny Craig (Vault of Horror #35), simply the most terrifying story I have ever read. I was twelve when I first stumbled across that little ditty in the "Tales From The Crypt" paperback (my first exposure to EC Comics horror), and it was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. Just in general, I think Craig should be somewhere on your list, and this would be the story I'd pick. I've read it a dozen times over the years, and while it does hinge on several convenient coincidences to move its plot on to its inexorable conclusion, a great deal of its power comes from the fact that not only is its menacing protagonist never seen until the very last panel, but that everything in the scenario could actually happen in real life, as there are no reanimated corpses roaming the countryside in this story, just a very real homicidal maniac! Brr. Masterfully paced, superbly drawn.

Am I mistaken, or did I miss seeing Kurtzman's war books on your list? I came to all the EC stuff well after the fact (save for the Mad paperbacks of my youth), and I've always considered the Mad stuff to be, well, maybe a bit overrated, and the war stuff somewhat underrated. I was very much impressed with them when I finally had a chance to read them in those swell Russ Cochran editions.

And here's where I reveal my true colors, but y'know, Krazy Kat has never really done much for me. True, I haven't made a concerted effort to read it for several decades now, and who knows, maybe I've since grown enough and my tastes have matured enough for me to fully appreciate it (HAH!), but as it is, it's just one of those things in life that I know is good that I've nonetheless never quite been able to connect with. But you rank it right at the tippy-top? Hm. Maybe I should go take another look...

Guess that's about all. I should mention that I read your book on Stan Lee, and very much enjoyed it. You offered some insights to his success that had never occurred to me before, but yet seemed so very much on tha mark -- good job! And best of luck with the site -- it's quite impressive.

Tom Spurgeon Responds: Thanks for a great letter, Fred. I haven't read the Dennis or the Little Archie works in question for years, and I will make that a priority. I run super-hot and super-cold on Spider-Man, I'm not exactly sure why. And while I love Johnny Craig, I'm not in love with any of his works in particular; kind of like Alex Toth for me, and Gil Kane.

Don't know what to tell you about Krazy Kat. I'd probably rather sit under a tree with an old Roy Crane book than Herriman's work, but I'm slightly in awe every time I read it how beautiful and elegant it is. If I were a better critic, I'd have a better answer!