FROM CONSTITUTIONAL amendments to Consumer Guides, few lists are ever fixed for good. And “best of” lists, especially, are as malleable as a clay vase than hasn’t yet seen a kiln — which makes them the perfect conversation piece: There on the mantel, every visitor can take a shot at debating it before remaking it, pinch by pinch.
The July 5-12 double issue of Entertainment Weekly has just hit the newsstand, and with a cover that trumpets “The 100 All-Time Greatest...” (movies, shows, music, etc.), the magazine is doing nothing if not playfully trawling for visitors.
Once we got past “The Sopranos” and “South Park,” Comic Riffs made a beeline for the list we’d been warned about: “The 10 Greatest Graphic Novels.”
There it is, on Page 97, as thin and elegant as a a single-rose vase. All right, EW, you’ve got us: We’ll play along.
The editors have topped their graphic-novel Ten with Art Spiegelman’s “Maus.” Obviously. And you’ll get no complaints here: A landmark work of genius that not only stands up as transcendent and heart-wrenching and deeply human in its own right, but which also was a true industry game-changer — as the snobbier literati wrestled with how to address a work that simply couldn’t be called merely a “comic book,” they harrumphed. (Fortunately or no, the vague term “graphic novel” had been floating about for decades, and had grown common thanks in part to Will Eisner’s “A Contract With God.”)
So moving on: EW next places laurels upon (in order) Herge’s “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” (Why specifically “Unicorn,” I wonder?) and Alison Bechdel’s stellar memoir of family dysfunction, “Fun Home.” Both good and strong picks.
Both those graphic novels remain such commercial (as well as critical) monsters that the first one has spawned a new, prequel-ly story from Gaiman; and the latter sparked DC’s controversial “Before Watchmen” series that provoked vitriol from Moore, but that also has been a fine forum for such top talents as Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner.
(Gaiman told Comic Riffs last month that he was working on a new Sandman story; on Monday, DC/Vertigo officially announced that “Sandman: Overture” will launch in October — as the Vertigo imprint itself launches a new era after legendary editor Karen Berger’s recent departure.)
[NEIL GAIMAN: The Interview]
But what’s this? EW has nodded to two of the three graphic novels in my personal latter-’80s triumvirate (action/fantasy division), but nowhere to be found is Maryland’s own: Frank Miller. Some fans might favor “300,” but to me, ”The Dark Knight Returns” — his pivotal 1986 work that painted Batman in darker psychological hues — absolutely belongs on this list.
(And speaking of Moore: His “V for Vendetta” — with David Lloyd — would easily crack my Top-15.)
Now it gets yet more interesting:
Somewhat surprisingly, EW slots Marjane Satrapi’s “Chicken With Plums” in the sixth spot. Satrapi of course belongs on this list, but it’s her breakthrough work in her memories-of-Iran trilogy, “Persepolis,” that usually springs to mind first. As much as her tar-player uncle engages in “Chicken,” “Persepolis” (since EW is parting out this set, as with “Maus”) remains the more riveting accomplishment.
[MARJANE SATRAPI: The Interview]
The seventh slot brings another must-include pick: Craig Thompson’s beautifully rendered, mostly-memoir tale of adolescent love, ”Blankets” (2003), which has lost none of its lustre a decade after its release.
[CRAIG THOMPSON: The Illustrated Review]
At No.-9 is my absolute favorite memoir released this century: David Small’s exquisite “Stitches” — the chillingly observed tale about the irradiated son of a doctor. And at No.-10 is the seminal “Y: The Last Man” from Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra.
[BRIAN K. VAUGHAN: The Interview]
In the eighth slot, though, EW has knowingly embedded an outlier: Martin Lemelman’s affecting “Mendel’s Daughter,” about his mother’s Holocaust experience and migration.
So what missing creator (and work) should have made the cut? Besides Miller, I would submit that Eisner (“Contract With God”) and Harvey Pekar (“American Splendor,” “Our Cancer Year”), Chris Ware (“Jimmy Corrigan”) and David Mazzucchelli (“Asterios Polyp”) all merit serious consideration. And Charles Burns (“Black Hole”) and Daniel Clowes (“Ghost World”), Gene Leun Yang (“American Born Chinese”) and Joe Sacco (“Palestine”) would be among my favorites that are right on the cusp.
And if I had to pick one new work that the passage of time will burnish and elevate to this rarefied air, it’s Ware’s masterpiece-in-a-box, “Building Stories.”
Those are my picks. If you disagree with any of EW’s picks — or care to nominate your own list — feel free to e-mail Comic Riffs (firstname.lastname@example.org; shoot us a note on Twitter (@comicriffs); or leave a comment.