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Comic Riffs
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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 01/07/2009

The Riff: 'Best of' Lists Can Bring Out the Worst of Instincts

"Top Ten Editorial Cartoons."

"Best Editorial Cartoons of '08."

"Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year."

This time of year, the swarm of alleged "best" lists gets so thick as to leave one feeling utterly, well, listless.

How many such cartoon lists bombard us? To illustrate, let us begin by offering, well, a Top Three list:

1. Time.
2. Newsweek.
3. Slate.

Comic Riffs cites the first two especially because they have drawn fire -- in particular from American Association of Editorial Cartoonists prez Ted Rall, who recently dropped us an e-line and promised to let us know if and when he heard back from Time and Newsweek editors. (So far, nothing.) Rall sent both publications his hot-invective letters of complaint about choosing inferior and/or safe cartoons. [*Newsweek, we must note, is Post Co.-owned.]

For my money, the first and primary issue rests with the labels. Some publications love to wave around the word "best" as if it's a magic wand of unquestioned authority. As a headline word, it's hot. It's sexy. And it's dead-wrong.

I pause to give some particular credit to Slate, though. The Web magazine chose 50 cartoons, and I happened to agree that a fair number of them were of notably high quality. And I should note regarding Newsweek: Instead of "best," its label is the humbler "The Year in Cartoons," which is certainly a lower verbal bar to clear.

And then there's the newly released anthology "The Best Political Cartoons of the Year (2009)," (from Daryl Cagle and Brian Fairrington) and "Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year" (long edited by Charles Brooks). But with these books, we must make two key distinctions:

(1) They offer far more cartoons than many other list-happy publications, so by sheer numbers, some are bound to better represent the "best"; and

(2) I have been reprinted in the latter publication on a number of occasions (as have the vast majority of my pro colleagues), so in my very humble opinion, their judgment is not only sound but also unerring and beyond reproach.

Which goes to show: Sometimes, the BEST you can do is take these lists entirely with a grain (or shaker) of salt. After all, when it comes to editorial cartoons, they assuredly involve internal politics, too

The phrase "political cartoon" never seemed quite so apt.

By  |  11:00 AM ET, 01/07/2009

Categories:  The Riffs

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