Monday, April 17, 2017

Short Take: In the Mood for Love

Chinese filmmaker Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love (2000) recalls David Lean's great 1945 film Brief Encounter, but it's a masterwork in its own right. The protagonists, Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung), are next-door neighbors in early-1960s Hong Kong. The two are married to others. Like the characters in the Lean film, they are determined to have a platonic friendship, but they fall in love despite themselves. Both tales of romantic yearning are gorgeously realized. Every element is richly thought out and beautifully handled. Lean, though, was primarily concerned with telling a story. Wong uses the narrative as the foundation for a symphony of images and visual rhythms. One cannot help but get swept up in the extraordinarily sophisticated color schemes, or in the lyrical staging, camera movement, and editing. But for all the visual splendor, Wong never loses touch with the melancholy tone of his material. One also cannot help but be affected by the characters' dilemma, and the imagery has a resonance that stays with one long after the film has ended. The film has an impact comparable to the most compelling music; it plays the notes in a manner that makes one want to revisit it again and again. Polls of filmmakers and critics consistently rate the picture as one of the best of the 21st century. One easily understands why. William Chang is credited with the masterful editing, costuming, and production design. The equally impressive cinematography is by Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin. Mike Galasson and Shigeru Umbeyashi provide the haunting string score. The film also makes memorable use of the Nat King Cole records "Aquellos ojos verdes" and "Quizás, quizás, quizás."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Short Take: Medium Cool

Haskell Wexler, perhaps the greatest cinematographer in American movies, made his directorial debut in 1969 with Medium Cool. It's impossible not to respect the film. Wexler probably went further than any prior U. S. filmmaker in presenting fictional material in documentary terms. At times, as with the National Guard training drills near the beginning, or the famous scenes at the 1968 Democratic Convention near the end, it's hard to tell where the documentary aspects end and the fictional material begins. The verité surface is fresh (and Wexler's cinematography is characteristically terrific), but the film isn't very engaging as narrative. The screenplay, credited to Wexler, follows a Chicago news videographer (Robert Forster) and his assorted travails. A major emphasis is the tension between idealism and opportunism that are a daily part of his profession, especially the conflict between maintaining objective journalistic distance and involving oneself out of basic moral decency. But the film doesn't effectively render these issues in dramatic terms; one understands them intellectually far more than one feels anything is at stake. The French director Jean-Luc Godard, whose work the film superficially resembles, has generally avoided these pitfalls of an objective tone. He did so through a poetic use of irony and absurdism. The treatment here doesn't reflect that level of imagination. Wexler seems only fitfully interested in the issues he raises in any case. A good deal of the picture is taken up with the videographer's relationship with a young widow (Verna Bloom) and her son. This material is somewhat more immersive, partly due to melodramatic contrivance, and partly because of Bloom's expressiveness. She takes the viewer inside her character's reserve and her deep commitment to her child. As is typical of American filmmaking, emotional issues have far more impact and resonance than ethical ones. The soundtrack features music from Mike Bloomfield, Love, and the Mothers of Invention.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Short Take: Robert E. Howard, "The Pool of the Black One"

Robert E. Howard's "The Pool of the Black One," starring his Conan the Barbarian anti-hero, is the tenth of the "Conan" stories to be written, and the sixth to be published. It first appeared in the October 1933 issue of Weird Tales (cover at right). In keeping with the Conan stories that preceded it, there's no overlap with the earlier material. Some continuity between the stories would be welcome. If nothing else, it might have staved off the lapsing into formula that mars this piece. As in "Queen of the Black Coast" and "Iron Shadows in the Moon," a solitary Conan once again falls in with some pirates, and while accompanied by a lust-inspiring woman, investigates an apparently abandoned ancient temple or city. They confront a supernatural threat there, and the story ends with Conan on a boat, embarking on a future as a pirate king. One also sees Howard's apparent rule for keeping the main female character alive at the end. If she and Conan have had sex at some point in the story, she will not survive. But if he hasn't tumbled her, she will live, and Howard will titillate the reader with the prospect of the two's coupling after the story's end. The main distinction of "The Pool of the Black One" is that Howard goes further than he has before in portraying Conan as an amoral, opportunistic killer. The character has always left a body count in his wake, but this time he's a calculating, might-makes-right assassin. It's something of a shock to see an ostensibly heroic protagonist engaging in cold-blooded murder. The supernatural enemy in this episode also sets it somewhat apart. There are unambiguously racist overtones in Howard's depiction, and the spectacle gets one thinking about the role paranoia plays in colonialist evils: when confronted with the other, one rationalizes slaughter and enslavement out of fear it will be one's fate if one doesn't do it first. A reader won't think for a moment that such implications were intended--Howard is the last writer one would consider philosophical--but such anxieties do seem at the heart of the story's climactic violence. But with all that said, the piece is a reasonably entertaining page-turner, especially if one hasn't read a Conan adventure before.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Short Take: The Graduate

Chalk this view up to Gen-X antipathy to a Baby Boomer favorite, but The Graduate has dated--badly. Mike Nichols' 1967 film is one of the pictures that revolutionized Hollywood in the late 1960s. It helped open the door to alienation as a central theme in American filmmaking, and was key to the rise of the anti-hero as a protagonist. Dustin Hoffman, its leading man, led the way for a new generation of stars--Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, among others--who didn't conform to the romanticized masculine ideal of the films that came before. And the picture remains the most commercially successful comedy ever produced in the United States. It's unfortunate to look at it now and find such a trite and clumsily made effort. Hoffman plays Benjamin Braddock, a recent graduate of an East Coast university. The film begins as he returns home to Los Angeles. He's staying with his upper-class parents while deciding on what to do next. It's not long before he begins an affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father's business partner. Things get complicated when he falls in love with her daughter (Katharine Ross). Hoffman and Bancroft are in fine comic form. He uses his earnest stare, nasal voice, and stammering delivery to hilarious effect, and her sleek brazenness is devilishly witty. The affair, though, is thinly written. Mrs. Robinson's initial failed seduction and the pair's first pre-tryst scene are quite prolonged, but the humor is in the actors' contrasting demeanors; there's not a single memorable line or gag. A later scene, where she wants sex only to be thwarted by his desire for a conversation, is undercut by the gaudily implausible dialogue. The script, credited to Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, doesn't know what it wants to do with the affair, and the picture more or less drops it to shift to Benjamin's pursuit of the daughter. The romance with her is even more weakly developed. It often comes across like she's humoring a stalker, and taking it too far. Mike Nichols' directing is what results when an ambitious filmmaker has no idea what he's after. Several shots and staging choices call attention to themselves, but they don't cohere into a larger vision. Several moments are played for hyperbole, and the effect is cartoonish. Nichols does his best work in the party scene after the opening titles. Benjamin is the guest of honor, but the attendees are all his parents' friends, and the divide between him and them is deftly rendered. (The scene, which dramatizes the famous "generation gap" between young Baby Boomers and their forebears, probably did the most to earn the picture its acclaim.) The film also benefits from the decision to feature several Simon & Garfunkel recordings, including "The Sound of Silence," "Scarborough Fair," and, written for the film, "Mrs. Robinson." Other cast members include Murray Hamilton, William Daniels, and Norman Fell. Robert Surtees provided the attractive open-air cinematography. The screenplay is based on a novel by Charles Webb.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Short Take: Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Reactions vary to Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella about the depravities of colonialism in the Belgian Congo. The common take--which has made it a mainstay of high-school and college literature classes--is that the book is an atmospheric, richly written examination of the potential for evil in us all. But one may find it an exercise in portentous obscurantism, and the prose laughably pompous and overwrought. The larger point, essentially a reiteration of Nietzsche’s “gaze long into the abyss, and the abyss gazes also into you,” seems more imposed on the material than effectively dramatized. The story follows ship captain Charlie Marlow as he undertakes a steamboat mission up the Congo River. He has been charged with finding (and hopefully rescuing) the ivory trader Kurtz, a company up-and-comer who is highly regarded by their employers. Conrad’s critique of colonialism has some powerful moments, such as Marlow’s encounter with the “grove of death,” a copse at a company trading station where several native African workers, exhausted and starving, have been left to die. And there are gripping adventure set pieces, such as the scene in which the steamboat, caught in a fog bank, comes under attack from a wilderness tribe. These scenes work because Conrad shows rather than tells. The book falls down because he too often does the opposite. The biggest failure is with the depiction of Kurtz, who is an explicit symbol of Western civilization brought low by the amorality of conquest. Conrad attempts to render Kurtz’s virtues by portraying others’ admiring views of him, but if one isn’t inclined to see charisma as a necessarily positive trait, it falls flat. The reader isn’t made to feel what makes Kurtz a "remarkable" individual, and so his descent into evil carries little weight. His death’s-door epiphany--“The horror! The horror!”--is memorably ominous, but it’s ultimately too vague. Hinting at profundity doesn’t make something profound. One’s immersion in the story isn’t helped by the overblown, gratuitously tony language. Lines such as “It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention” are both ridiculously pretentious and meaningless. The book comes off like a lot of metaphysical gravy getting poured on a thin slice of meat. Conrad’s later works, such as Lord Jim (also featuring Marlow) and The Secret Agent, seem far more substantial and disciplined.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Short Take: Stormy Weather

The 1943 film Stormy Weather is a glorious showcase for the period's finest African-American musical performers. The story is dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's fictional recollections of his life from the end of World War I to the time of the film. The main thread is his intermittent romance with a singer played by Lena Horne. (Robinson and Horne were never a couple in real life.) The script is thin, but it doesn't pretend to be anything more than a scaffolding for over 20 musical numbers by the film's cast, including Robinson, Horne, bandleader/singer Cab Calloway, the Nicholas Brothers dancing duo, singer/pianist Fats Waller, and dancer Katherine Dunham and her troupe. The high point is probably the Nicholas Brothers' spectacular "Jumpin' Jive," which may be the most astonishing dance scene in the history of film. Lena Horne, in beautiful voice, takes center stage with four songs: "There's No Two Ways About Love"; "Diga Diga Do"; "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" (a duet with Bill Robinson); and the title song. The last, intended as the film's showpiece number, is accompanied by a lovely ballet featuring Katherine Dunham and her dancers. Fats Waller is a delight, both with "Ain't Misbehavin'," his signature song, and "That Ain't Right," a duet with singer Ada Brown. Bill Robinson, who was 53 when the film was shot, isn't quite in peak form, but even at less than his best, he can still hold his own with the best tap dancers anywhere. He's also a tremendously likable presence, and he zips one right through the non-musical scenes. He's helped in this by Dooley Wilson, who is the film's comic relief as his always-broke best friend. The production values are almost as modest as the script, but none of it matters given the performers. This is one of the most entertaining movie musicals ever made. The script is credited to Frederick Jackson, Ted Koehler, H. S. Kraft, Jerry Horwin, and Seymour B. Robinson. Andrew Stone directed, with the dances staged by Clarence Robinson and Nick Castle. Saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, trumpeter Benny Carter, and drummer Jo Jones are among the background musicians. Leon Shamroy provided the black-and-white cinematography.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Short Take: Nightmare Alley

The 1947 noir melodrama Nightmare Alley doesn’t quite come together, but it’s pretty compelling regardless. Tyrone Power plays an opportunistic carny worker who graduates to working as an upscale mentalist at a swank Chicago nightclub. His ambition doesn’t stop there. He meets up with a corrupt psychologist (Helen Walker), and the two connive to fleece her patients with spiritualist swindles. The screenplay, credited to Jules Furthman, is shaped as a rise-and-fall morality play. It perhaps errs in making the Power character an essentially good-man-gone-wrong. He seems aimless in the initial scenes, and those might have had more urgency if his hustling nature was clear from the start. The film also doesn’t develop the crookedness of the psychologist very well; the subplot feels as if it’s been truncated. But the film has a lot going for it. The carnival setting of the first act is richly realized, and director Edmund Goulding gets strong work from the cast. Power brings a charismatic intensity to his role that is just about perfect. He is completely convincing as a successful con-artist; he also makes the viewer feel the character’s ruthlessness, and when things go bad for him, his anxiety and fears. Helen Walker hits just the right enigmatic note as the psychologist. One is never quite sure of how to take her, which in the end proves the correct reaction to her character. Joan Blondell has a rich, world-weary expansiveness as the carny mentalist who teaches the Power character the ropes. As her broken-down alcoholic husband, Ian Keith has a depth and thoughtfulness one doesn’t quite expect. The almost angelically pretty Coleen Gray probably has the most difficult role. She plays the carnival beauty who marries Power’s character, and becomes his partner in his mentalist routines. The character is the story’s conscience, a part that often drags on a film, but Gray’s performance is so fresh and direct that her scenes never feel sappy. The dense, black-and-white noir visuals are courtesy of cinematographer Lee Garmes and production designers J. Russell Spencer and Lyle Wheeler. The film is adapted from the novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Jim Shooter Victim Files: Len Wein

Len Wein, born in 1948, grew up in Levittown, New York. In his teens, he met the future comics writer Marv Wolfman through a comic-book letter column. The two quickly became best friends. They formed a comic-book fan club and frequently attended the office tours at DC Comics in the early to mid-1960s. A few years later, both broke into the field.

Wein got his start scripting stories for the DC horror-mystery titles edited by Joe Orlando. However, his first published scriptwriting effort, done in collaboration with Wolfman, and drawn by Bill Draut, was the story "Eye of the Beholder!" in Teen Titans #18. The issue, cover-dated December, went on sale on September 19, 1968. Wein was a prolific scriptwriter for DC during the next few years, and supplemented that work with scriptwriting for other publishers, including Marvel, Gold Key, and Warren. His most famous effort during this period was the Swamp Thing series he co-created with artist Bernie Wrightson.

In 1973, Wein began doing an increasing amount of work for Marvel. Chief among his assignments was being the regular scriptwriter for The Incredible Hulk series. Shortly after taking over the book, he co-created Marvel's Wolverine character with company art director John Romita. The character was introduced to readers in The Incredible Hulk #180 (October 1974) in a story illustrated by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel. In early 1975, in collaboration with artist Dave Cockrum, he included the character in the story in Giant-Size X-Men #1, the first episode of the celebrated revamp of Marvel's X-Men title. The story was also the first appearance of the X-Men characters Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler.

In late 1974, Wein succeeded Roy Thomas as the company's editor-in-chief. He lasted approximately seven months in the job, which was then taken over by Marv Wolfman. Upon stepping down, he negotiated a writer-editor employment contract with the company. The contract stipulated that he was to write and edit four comic books a month. Wein continued working under this contract until late 1977.

At that time, Wein moved over to DC Comics, where he began scripting the Batman stories in Detective Comics.

Comics scriptwriter Doug Moench, a contemporary of Wein's, has alleged that Wein left Marvel because of conflicts with Jim Shooter, who was still the company's associate editor under editor-in-chief Archie Goodwin. From a 2006 interview with Tim Leong:

[Jim Shooter] was making life miserable for everybody [at] Marvel, including Chris Claremont, who bit his tongue and held his peace for the sake of his beloved X-Men. You [have] to remember: Roy Thomas had already quit, Marv Wolfman had quit, Len Wein had quit, [G]erry Conway had quit — I mean, the list went on and on and on and we haven’t even gotten to the artists.

Moench's claim has been repeated multiple times by comics bloggers and message-board commenters.

However, the only parts with any truth to them are the references to Thomas and Wolfman, who left Marvel after their contract-renewal negotiations reached impasses. In both cases, the obstacle was reportedly Shooter's refusal to allow them to continue editing the books they were scripting. Gerry Conway, who left for DC in 1976, did not quit because of conflicts with Shooter. In a 1981 interview with Rob Gustaveson, he said:

Jim was my assistant when I was editor at Marvel for about a month, and that's really been the extent of our relationship. When I worked there as a writer-editor, I really didn't have anything to do with Jim. (82)

While Shooter and Claremont had occasional disagreements during Shooter's eleven years in Marvel editorial, Claremont had a great deal of praise for Shooter after Marvel let him go in 1987. In The Comics Journal's news article about Shooter's termination, written by Kim Fryer, Claremont said, "[Shooter] wasn't the ogre that was thought. Things that were better [at Marvel] were better [because of] him" (16). He also expressed admiration for Shooter's editorial acumen and understanding of the comic-book marketplace.

As for Len Wein, he has never claimed he left because of conflicts with Shooter. In a 2000 interview with Chris Knowles, he provided this account of his departure:

At the time, I was writing Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Mighty Thor, and Incredible Hulk, all at the same time, and I was getting too obsessed about the little day-to-day details of the job, and going crazy. At that point, DC was wooing me like crazy to come back and work for them, and Jenette Kahn made me incredible offers of all kinds of things that I could have if I came back. I was sort of resistant for a while, and then they finally offered me Batman--Detective Comics--right after Steve Englehart left, Marshall Rogers was continuing with the book, but they needed a new writer, and they offered me Batman, my all-time favorite character. I thought about it, and said, "Yeah, I'd like to do that," and so I gave them a tentative yes on the gig, and went to tell Stan [Marvel publisher Stan Lee] that I was taking over a book at DC as well. Stan didn't think it was right or fair, but I kind of explained that I just needed to do a little distancing if I was going to keep myself sane, and finally, with great reluctance, he said, "All right, fine. If you have to write Batman, then write Batman, but we don't want you to use your name on the book, because you're top writer on our four top titles. Use a pseudonym, and do what you've got to do, and we'll live with it." But he was clearly not happy. I called DC back, and said, "Okay, here's the deal: I can do the book, but Stan doesn't want me to use my name on the title. I have to use a pseudonym." Of course, DC was not happy, because what they wanted to do was promote me writing the Batman book. So, now I had pretty much what I wanted--the four top books at Marvel, and Batman at DC--and nobody was very happy.

Rather than have everybody unhappy with me, [I thought] that maybe it was simply time to take a clean break, take the deal DC was offering, and use my own name, and give myself a chance to sort of refresh my batteries and take on the other projects! So, I finally said that was the thing to do, I had gotten too obsessively involved in my Marvel books, and I came back that Monday and basically sat there with Stan and said, "Look, I want to use my own name on the Batman books, and if that means I've got to go, then I will leave." It took Stan so many years to understand my feelings, it was like, "I gave you what you wanted, I said you could write Batman! Why are you leaving?" I just felt I needed it for my own mental sanity at the time. (110)

Kim Thompson talked to Wein for his 1980 The Comics Journal news article about Roy Thomas leaving Marvel. According to Thompson, Wein said that "Lee angrily assured him that he would never work for Marvel again" (12).

The claim that Len Wein left Marvel because of Jim Shooter is just another of Doug Moench's many false or uncorroborated accusations about Shooter and his time in Marvel editorial.

Len Wein would not work on Marvel characters again until 1981, when he scripted the DC-published Batman Vs. The Incredible Hulk company crossover book. The creative personnel on the book had to be approved by Marvel. Jim Shooter authorized Wein scripting the title. It is not known if Stan Lee, who was no longer involved with the comic-book side of Marvel's business, was consulted. In 2011, Shooter wrote on his blog that Wein "was the natural choice to write the book," citing Wein's experience writing both of the title characters. He was very happy with how the book turned out, calling it "Great stuff."

While continuing to work for DC as a scriptwriter, Wein became an editor for the company in late 1979. He held that position until 1986. His most notable accomplishment was hiring British talent to work on DC titles, including scriptwriter Alan Moore and artists Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons. He also edited Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen, DC's most acclaimed publication ever, and its most commercially successful acquisition since the 1930s.

Between 1986 and 1990, Wein mostly worked as a scriptwriter for DC. He also did occasional scriptwriting during this time for Marvel, Eclipse, and Comico.

In 1990, Wein was hired as editor-in-chief of the Disney comics line. He left the position in 1992. Since then, he has divided his time between comic-book and animation scriptwriting.

Works Consulted

Cooke, Jon B. "An Illegitimate Son of Superman: Talking with Swamp Thing Co-Creator Len Wein." Comic Book Artist. Spring 1999 (). 81-83, 97. Rpt. in Comic Book Artist Collection, Vol. 2. Ed. Jon B. Cooke. Raleigh: TwoMorrows. 2002. 85-87, 139.

Fryer, Kim. "Jim Shooter Fired." The Comics Journal. Jul. 1987 (116). 13-14.

Knowles, Chris. "Road to Independence: The Great Marvel Exodus." Comic Book Artist. Feb. 2000 (7). 112-115. Rpt. in Comic Book Artist Collection, Vol. 3. Ed. Jon B. Cooke. Raleigh: TwoMorrows. 2005. 110-113.

Leong, Tim. "Moon Knight: Doug Moench Vs. Charlie Huston." 1 Apr. 2006. Link.

Shooter, Jim. "The Secret Origin and Gooey Death of the Marvel/DC Crossovers--Part Four." 21 Jul. 2011. Link.

Thompson, Kim. "Roy Thomas Leaves Marvel." The Comics Journal. Jun. 1980 (56). 9-12.

Related posts:
  • The Jim Shooter "Victim" Files
           -- Introduction
           -- Tony Isabella
           -- Steve Englehart
           -- Gerry Conway
           -- Mary Skrenes

Monday, February 27, 2017

Short Take: Under the Skin

The sf-horror film Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer, isn't a thriller. It's an austere, deliberately paced character study about an earthbound alien (Scarlett Johansson) who begins to fancy that she's human. During the film's first act, she drives around the Edinburgh area picking up men. Promising sex, she takes them to an abandoned house where they are captured and disincorporated into plasma. The reason is never explained. However, the alien becomes fascinated with the human form she's adopted. She also begins to take pity on the men she preys on, and she develops a curiosity about human pleasures such as food and romantic love. She eventually finds herself fleeing the other aliens who accompanied her. Unfortunately, there's not a cheerful or affirming moment in the entire film. Johansson's performance isn't very expressive. By design, it runs the gamut from low-key to deadpan. The other actors, almost all of them non-professionals, don't make much of an impression. Glazer maintains a dour tone, with sunless imagery that emphasizes the windswept cold and wet of Scotland in autumn or late winter. The glumly ascetic take-me-seriously manner mutes the sensationalism--the picture is sex and violence from beginning to end--but it also empties the film of any emotional weight. The film is an impersonal, pretentious undertaking. The screenplay is credited to Walter Campbell and Glazer, from a novel by Michel Faber. Daniel Landin provided the gray-hued cinematography. The eerie, discord-heavy score is by Mica Levi.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Jim Shooter Victim Files: Mary Skrenes

Mary Skrenes, born in 1947, came to the comics industry by happenstance. While a student at Nevada Southern University (now the University of Nevada at Las Vegas), she became friends with artist Alan Weiss. They both worked on Rebel Yell, the campus student newspaper. Skrenes, at various times, served as the paper's advertising editor and business manager. Weiss was an art editor. In the summer of 1969, she accompanied Weiss and his girlfriend Pami Texler to the Comic Art Convention in New York. According to Weiss, she made some contacts at the convention, and soon after began writing scripts for DC Comics' romance editor Dorothy Woolfolk (That Kid 177). She also began doing work for Joe Orlando, who edited the company's mystery-horror line. At some point after the convention, she relocated to New York City.

Skrenes' work began appearing on newsstands in the spring of 1971. Her first published comics story appears to be "Nobody Loves a Lizard!", illustrated by Don Heck. It was included in the Orlando-edited The House of Mystery #192 (May-June 1971). The issue was published on March 9. Her next published effort, also for Orlando, was Weiss's professional debut as a penciler: "It's Better to Give...," featured in The House of Secrets #92 (June-July 1971), and published on April 1. The first story she published under Woolfolk appears to be "Too Proud for Love!", illustrated by Werner Roth and Vince Colletta. It appeared in Young Love #87 (July-August 1971), which came out on May 1. Other stories scripted by her or in collaboration with Steve Skeates appeared over the next couple of years in the aforementioned Orlando titles, and in The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love, The Sinister House of Secret Love, and Girls' Love Stories.

Skrenes appears to have ran into a number of problems with proper credit for her efforts. Her work for Dorothy Woolfolk was published without a byline, and her initial efforts for Joe Orlando appeared under the pseudonym "Virgil North." Weiss felt the reason was most likely sexism.

I could be wrong, but Mary might've been the only female writing romance stories, or any other kind of stories [at DC], for that matter--certainly the only female writing horror stories. That's why she had to have a male pseudonym." (That Kid 177)

According to Steve Skeates, Skrenes eventually had a falling out with Orlando. As a result, his scriptwriting collaborations with her at DC were solely credited to him (Shwirian 83).

Skrenes wouldn't get a professional credit under her own name until early 1974, when "Warrior's Dream," a collaboration with Skeates that was illustrated by Gray Morrow, was published in Archie Comics' Red Circle Sorcery #6 (cover-dated April). Her first solo byline without a pseudonym was for "The Casket of Hsien Hang!", with art by Paul Gulacy and Duffy Vohland. It was published in Marvel's The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #5, cover-dated October, which came out on September 3, 1974. Her first official byline in a DC publication appeared the following year. It was for the Elongated Man story "The Mystery Man Who Walked on Air!", illustrated by Dick Giordano. The story, done for editor Julius Schwartz, was featured in Detective Comics #449, cover-dated July and published on April 29, 1975.

Apart from a few contributions to the underground/independent comics anthologies Star*Reach and Wimmen's Comix, Skrenes' comics work for the rest of 1970s was at Marvel. In comics circles, her name became inextricably tied to Steve Gerber, a scriptwriter and editor who at the time was one of comics' rising stars. Gerber had entered the field in mid-1972, almost two years after Skrenes, to take an editorial position at Marvel. As was typical of Marvel editorial staffers of the time, he supplemented his income with freelance scriptwriting for the publisher. After a few months, he left his staff position to script and edit titles on a freelance basis full-time. Gerber first worked with Skrenes in 1975 in his capacity as editor of Crazy magazine, Marvel's answer to Mad. Shortly thereafter, she accompanied Gerber to a pitch meeting with Marvel publisher Stan Lee (Crazy Days 62). Along with a series starring Howard the Duck, a character Gerber co-created for Marvel in 1973, Gerber and Skrenes proposed an offbeat superhero feature that came to be called Omega the Unknown. Lee approved both titles for publication. The first issue of Howard the Duck, cover-dated January, was released on September 23, 1975. Omega the Unknown, with a cover date of March, debuted on November 25. According to Skrenes, in an unpublished excerpt of an interview with Sean Howe, she and Gerber co-plotted the stories for both books (Howe email). However, she only received credit as co-writer for her work on Omega.

The two series are among the most noteworthy of the publisher's output during the 1970s. The Howard series, with its mix of existential themes, media parodies, and action-adventure heroics, became a minor pop-culture sensation. It received mainstream-media coverage, which was something unheard of for most comic-book projects. The feature was also spun off into a daily-newspaper strip, and eventually a radio serial and a live-action film. The Omega series didn't enjoy anywhere near that level of attention, but it quickly gained a cult following. The tone and pacing, at least during the initial issues, were far more characteristic of mystery-themed science fiction than superhero comics. The celebrated novelist Jonathan Lethem, who scripted a 2007-2008 reworking of the series, had this to say about it in an interview with the comics website Newsarama:

Omega floored me [...] I thought it was fantastic. Those first issues, when Gerber and Skrenes were really allowed to do what they wanted to do and were building this incredible story full of all sorts of weird implications and possibilities... I simply thought it was the best comic book I’d ever read. (MacDonald)

The Omega series was cancelled with its tenth issue, which was published on June 28, 1977. All accounts say the reason was low sales. According to Gerber, Marvel editor-in-chief Archie Goodwin called him to let him know of the decision (Crazy Days, 65).

The cancellation marked Mary Skrenes' departure from the comics field. A few months earlier, around the time work on the final issue was completed, she left New York and moved back to Nevada. Apart from a Howard the Duck inventory story that was published in 1978, her name would not appear on any new comics material for almost thirty years.

In 2003-2004, she collaborated (uncredited) with Steve Gerber on the scripts for the DC Comics series Hard Time. She was credited as co-writer with Gerber on the Hard Time Season Two series published in 2006. She has done no work in comics since.

So, where does Jim Shooter figure into this? It seems Mary Skrenes had left the comics business several months before he took over as Marvel's editor-in-chief in January 1978.

To answer that, let's back up to the final issue of the original Omega series. The episode ended with series unresolved. A footer caption on the final page reads: "The story of 'Omega the Unknown' will be concluded in a future issue of 'The Defenders.'--Steve, Mary, [and] Jim [artist Jim Mooney]."

Two years later, in the summer of 1979, the storyline was wrapped up in a pair of Defenders episodes. However, Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes had not worked on them. The scripts were credited to Steven Grant.

In Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Sean Howe offered this explanation:

An ending to Gerber and Skrenes's Omega the Unknown saga, repeatedly promised in letters columns and repeatedly rescheduled, was finally written without its creators' input. "It just got to the point where we couldn't work with Shooter anymore," Skrenes said. "He was screwing with us and punishing us and trying to have somebody else write it, like they always did with Howard." Omega was killed off an issue of The Defenders. Gerber and Skrenes swore to each other that they'd take their original plans for the character's ending to their graves. "I'd heard for years," Skrenes said of Shooter, "'Mort Weisinger gave this guy a nervous breakdown.' And they make him an editor, and it's like, he didn't get the memo that we get to do what we want with the book." (207)

For several reasons, the possibility that editorial interference from Jim Shooter (or anyone else) thwarted Gerber and Skrenes' efforts to write that Defenders Omega finale came to seem increasingly unlikely while I was researching "All Quacked Up," my history of Gerber's business relationship with Marvel. It struck me that Skrenes was most likely talking about matters related to the original Omega series, not the promised wrap-up in The Defenders. I was able to ask her about it on Facebook last October. Here is the exchange:

That confirms she was talking about the Omega series. The Defenders story couldn't have been a point of contention before she returned to Nevada.

Shortly thereafter, I contacted Howe and told him that Skrenes effectively said she'd been quoted out of context. He sent me extended excerpts from the interview.

Skrenes did indicate to Howe that she was approached to write The Defenders Omega finale, and since Howe clearly assumed the Shooter complaint explained why it didn't work out, he didn't press her on it. That led me to follow up with her. Here's that exchange:

So Jim Shooter did not derail Gerber and Skrenes' work on The Defenders Omega finale. Mary Skrenes never had any intention of working on it in the first place. Steve Gerber's various problems at Marvel during 1977 and 1978 (all chronicled at length in "All Quacked Up") meant he couldn't work on it, either. Gerber confirmed that these conflicts with Marvel prevented his working on The Defenders Omega finale in a 1999 interview with Jon B. Cooke (Crazy Days, 62).

But for all that, what was the story behind The Defenders Omega finale as published? This is Steven Grant's recollection, from a 2014 email:

[The announcement in the final issue of Omega] triggered months and months of The Defenders getting letters about nothing BUT “When will Omega wrap up in The Defenders?” [...] Editor Al Milgrom could stand no more. Then-regular writer Ed Hannigan wanted nothing to do with it, because he figured nothing he did would please Gerber’s fans [...] I happened to walk into the office at the time, Al asked me if I’d do it, and I, just starting out and not thinking about my career much past when the rent was due, said okay, [and] could I have two issues instead of one? Al asked Ed, Ed said sure, and Al gave me my one instruction: do whatever I want as long as Omega is dead and not coming back by the end of it. For better or worse, everything else in the story was my idea. Nothing came from anyone at Marvel. No one at Marvel wanted anything to do with it [...] Jim [Shooter] had nothing to do with the Omega story that I’ve ever been aware of. That was Al and Ed wanting to clean house.

That leaves the question of Shooter's editorial interference during the original Omega series. Since it's now clear that this is what Skrenes was actually talking about, let's elaborate on her complaint. Skrenes said Shooter "was screwing with us and punishing us and trying to have somebody else write" Omega. This is obviously a reference to the fill-in episodes, respectively scripted by Scott Edelman and Roger Stern, that were published in Omega the Unknown #7 and 8. This is supported by these statements in her interview with Sean Howe. The italicized parts were not included in his book:

And they make him an editor, and it’s like he didn’t get the memo, that we get to do what we want with the book. He took us off for an issue, then we got it back for an issue.

Howe omitted the sentence that would have properly contextualized Skrenes' account. He then transposed the other statements to his treatment of a different situation, and in so doing, misrepresented what she said.

Jon B. Cooke asked Gerber about the matter of the fill-in stories in his 1999 interview. This is the exchange:

COOKE: Why didn't you and Mary write two issues of the book?

GERBER: Scheduling problems, probably. It had to do with the schedule on Howard the Duck and on other things. I just got too busy at some point or another. The book wasn't taken away from us for those two issues. There were just other things I had to do--it may have been the Kiss book, now that I think about it--that interfered with the schedule on Omega. (Crazy Days, 65)

Gerber was clearly not upset about the fill-in issues, and saw them as a necessity because of other demands on his time. He certainly didn't think he and Skrenes were being screwed with or punished, or that the fill-ins reflected an effort to give the series to another writer.

Scott Edelman's recollection is in accord with Gerber's. Edelman also didn't see the fill-in issues as being anything other than a solution to a scheduling problem. Further, it was not his impression the series was being taken away from Gerber and Skrenes and given to him and/or Roger Stern. From the account he wrote for his website:

[T]he book was in danger of missing its printing schedule [...] Jim Shooter was determined to crack down on what was referred to in those days as the Dreaded Deadline Doom. So Shooter took Roger Stern and me out to dinner and told us that we were going to write the next two issues of Omega, basically overnight, allowing the hero to have adventures while making sure nothing important was left changed about the characters at the end of either issue.

Roger Stern also remembers that he was just helping out with a scheduling problem. From a 2006 interview with George Khoury:

I was a warm body, I was there on staff, and I could string sentences together in a way that made at least a little sense. That’s how I wound up writing [...] an issue of Omega the Unknown, when Steve Gerber fell behind on some deadlines.

Skrenes complains that Shooter "didn't get the memo that we get to do what we want with the book." I don't think that "[getting] to do what we want" extends to abruptly putting a bimonthly series on hiatus for six months because she and Gerber were busy with other things. Such a move is financially untenable for a newsstand periodical. Gerber understood the fill-in issues were a necessary compromise.

It should be noted that Shooter at the time was Marvel's associate editor, not the editor-in-chief. He probably could not unilaterally order substitutions on books, particularly those with regular creative personnel. Those decisions would most likely have been made in consultation with editor-in-chief Archie Goodwin, who was then Shooter's supervisor, and production manager John Verpoorten.

If Gerber and Skrenes felt Shooter was out of line about this or any other matter, they would have certainly been able to address their grievances with Goodwin. If they weren't happy with how Goodwin handled their complaints, Gerber's relationship with publisher Stan Lee was probably good enough to discuss the problems with him. Any editorial decision Shooter made with regard to Omega was with the approval, explicit or implicit, of Goodwin, Lee, and even Gerber. Gerber certainly appeared on board with running fill-in issues with the series.

One can of course sympathize with Skrenes' anger over the fill-in issues. She's also entitled to dislike Jim Shooter or anyone else for any reason. It's undoubtedly aggravating to watch someone arrange for other people to work on what you understood to be an exclusive project. But the world of newsstand periodicals is also a world of compromises, and there will always be compromises made to ensure a printing deadline is met. Enforcing those compromises when they're called for doesn't make Jim Shooter or any other periodical editor a villain. They're just doing their job.

Works Consulted

Cooke, Jon B. “Steve Gerber’s Crazy Days.” Comic Book Artist, Feb. 2000: 66-79. Rpt. In Comic Book Artist Collection, Vol. 3. Ed. Jon B. Cooke. Raleigh: TwoMorrows, 2005. 83-88.

---. "That Kid from Out West!" Comic Book Artist, Comic Book Artist Collection, Vol. 1. Ed. Jon B. Cooke. Raleigh: TwoMorrows, 2000. 170-187.

Edelman, Scott. "Omega the Unknown #7 (March 1977)." Undated. Link.

Gerber, Steve, Mary Skrenes, Jim Mooney, et al. Omega the Unknown Classic. Rpt. Omega the Unknown #1-10, 1976-1977, et al. Ed. Jeff Youngquist. New York: Marvel, 2005.

Grant, Steven. Email to author. 13 Mar. 2014

Howe, Sean. Email to author. 16 Nov. 2016.

---. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. New York: HarperCollins, 2012.

Khoury, George. "The Roger Stern Interview: The Triumphs and Trials of the Writer." Oct. 2006. Link

MacDonald, Heidi. "Exclusive: Read Jonathan Lethem's Omega the Unknown #1." 22 Feb. 2008. Link.

Martin, R. S. "All Quacked Up: Steve Gerber, Marvel Comics, and Howard the Duck.", 26 Apr. 2016. Link.

--- and Mary Skrenes. Comments. Steve Gerber RIP Facebook page. 1 Oct.- 21 Nov. 2016. Link

Schwirian, John. "The Unique Vision and Voice of Steve Skeates, Part 3." Back Issue! 34. Jun. 2009. 81-87.

Related posts:
  • The Jim Shooter "Victim" Files
           -- Introduction
           -- Tony Isabella
           -- Steve Englehart
           -- Gerry Conway
           -- Len Wein

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Short Take: The Red Balloon

Writer-director Albert Lamorisse’s lovely 1956 short The Red Balloon is the best kind of children’s film. It doesn’t condescend to younger viewers, and it doesn’t insult the intelligence of older ones. The story tells of a small Parisian boy (Pascal Lamorisse, the filmmaker’s son) who finds a balloon tied to a lamppost on his way to school. He unties the balloon and takes it with him. The day isn’t over before it’s clear the balloon has a mind of its own, and has become very loyal to the boy. It follows him wherever he goes. The two find their friendship is often at odds with propriety, and it becomes a target for the ugliness of envy. The climax and epilogue are a conspicuously Christian allegory, and it’s a tribute to Lamorisse’s grace as a storyteller that these latter sections never seem hackneyed or overdone. The most effective aspect of his treatment is the extraordinary use of locations. Most of the film was shot in the working-poor neighborhood of Montparnasse, and the hard-edged social-realist visuals act as a tonic for the material’s sentimentality. The picture is sweet without ever feeling mushy. The documentary quality also makes the magical aspects of the story all the more effective. Everything feels so true to life that the uncanny doesn’t seem the least bit discordant. The cinematographer was Edmond Séchan. Maurice Le Roux provided the excellent score. Among the film’s many honors are the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’or, and the U. S. Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The running time is 35 minutes.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Short Take: The Cotton Club

The Cotton Club (1984), directed by Francis Ford Coppola, seems to want to be about anything but The Cotton Club. The legendary Harlem nightclub’s roster of entertainers is awe-inspiring: Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the Nicholas Brothers, and many, many others. It was perhaps the center of American music and dance during the Jazz Age. But the film doesn’t build the story around the club and its exclusively African-American performers. The picture is mainly about a romance between an Irish-American cornet player (Richard Gere) and a young gangland moll (Diane Lane). The intrigues of the period’s organized-crime figures account for most of the subplots. This is perhaps the whitest treatment of African-American subject matter in the history of Hollywood. It’s not even very good for what it is. The leads are dull, and the love story is poorly developed. The gangster material is too convoluted to be interesting. As for the African-American dancers and musicians, they are squeezed in around the edges. They're also a mixed bag. Gregory and Maurice Hines have the largest roles, but their tap routines rarely rise above the mediocre. However, Lonette McKee delivers a fine rendition of the torch song “Ill Wind,” and Honi Coles leads a terrific tap ensemble in a scene set at the Hoofers Club. One may object to Coppola’s handling of those numbers--McKee’s singing is imposed over a montage of gangland killings, and the dancing by Coles and his cohort was unforgivably sliced and diced in the editing room--but the performers still come through. These few worthwhile bits are all this deeply disappointing film has to offer. The large cast also includes Julian Beck, Nicolas Cage, Joe Dallesandro, Laurence Fishburne, Allen Garfield, Jennifer Grey, Fred Gwynne, Bob Hoskins, James Remar, Diane Venora, Gwen Verdon, and Tom Waits. The screenplay is credited to Coppola, William Kennedy, and Mario Puzo. Stephen Goldblatt provided the cinematography. The elegant production design is by Richard Sylbert.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The 2011 International Best Comics Poll--Participant Lists T-Y

The International Best Comics Poll was first published at The Hooded Utilitarian in August of 2011. The material remains available at that site. I conceived, organized, and edited the project. I'm cross-publishing my posts and the participant lists here for personal archival purposes. Links to essay contributions by other writers will go to saved versions of The Hooded Utilitarian pages on

The following lists were submitted in response to the question, "What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?" All lists have been edited for consistency, clarity, and to fix minor copy errors. Unranked lists are alphabetized by title. In instances where the vote varies somewhat with the Top 115 entry the vote was counted towards, an explanation of how the vote was counted appears below it.

In the case of divided votes, only works fitting the description that received multiple votes on their own received the benefit. For example, in Jessica Abel's list, she voted for The Post-Superhero comics of David Mazzucchelli. That vote was divided evenly between Asterios Polyp and Paul Auster's City of Glass because they fit that description and received multiple votes on their own. It was not in any way applied to the The Rubber Blanket Stories because that material did not receive multiple votes from other participants.

Matthew Tauber

Barnaby, Crockett Johnson
• The Conan the Barbarian Stories, Kurt Busiek & Cary Nord
• The Daredevil Stories, Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
• The Fantastic Four Stories, John Byrne
• The MAD “Marginal” Cartoons, Sergio Aragonés
• The New Teen Titans Stories, Marv Wolfman & George Pérez
Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz
• The Tarzan Stories, Joe Kubert
Terry and the Pirates, Milton Caniff
• The Two-Fisted Tales Stories, John Severin
Counted as a vote for The EC Comics War Stories, Harvey Kurtzman & John Severin, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, et al.

Ty Templeton
Cartoonist, Stig’s Inferno; illustrator, Batman Adventures

• The Arzach Stories, Jean “Moebius” Giraud
A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories, Will Eisner
• “Corpse on the Imjin,”, Harvey Kurtzman
Counted as a vote for The EC Comics War Stories, Harvey Kurtzman & John Severin, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, et al.
• “The Dark Knight Returns,” Frank Miller, with Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley
Counted as a vote for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
• “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge,” Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale Art Spiegelman
• “The Pact!”, Jack Kirby, with Mike Royer
Counted as a vote for The Fourth World Stories, Jack Kirby, with Mike Royer, et al.
Pogo, Walt Kelly
• “Superduperman,” Harvey Kurtzman & Wallace Wood
Counted as a vote for MAD #1-27, Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, et al.
Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons


I decided that the best way to sum up a top ten (in no order of preference, since that would drive me to madness) was to list the creator (or team in the case of O'Neil and Adams) as a body of work, and then pick my favorite single issue to serve as an example of that artist. I hope that helps.

- Harvey Kurtzman’s complete work, focusing on MAD and the EC war books, and if I must bring it down to one story, it’s “Corpse on the Imjin,” from Frontline Combat.

- Jack Kirby’s complete body of work - but to reduce it to one single comic book series, it’s New Gods and down to one single issue it’s New Gods #7, "The Pact!".

- Moebius - Arzach, the collected stories.

- Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams, their complete collaborative works (including Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Batman, and Superman vs. Muhammad Ali). If I must reduce it to one issue, it’s Batman #251 "The Joker’s Five Way Revenge."

-Wally Wood’s body of work, focusing on EC and MAD magazine, and if I must narrow it down to a single story, I’ll pick “Superduperman” from the MAD comic book by Kurtzman and Wood.

- Alan Moore’s complete body of work, but pushing into just one choice, it’s Watchmen by Moore and Dave Gibbons.

- Maus by Spiegelman.

- Will Eisner’s complete body of work, but reduced to one choice it’s his graphic novel, A Contract with God.

- Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil, Ronin, some of Sin City, and most of his work on Batman (except Spawn/Batman and DK2, which were dreadful). If I must give it just one issue as an example it’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1.

- Walt Kelly’s Pogo. From the first Albert and Pogo comics, to the syndicated strip, Pogo was perfect from inception to end. To pick just one specific page is impossible.

Jason Thompson
Author, Manga: The Complete Guide; co-creator & scriptwriter, King of RPGs;

Achewood, Chris Onstad
Beirusayu no Bara [The Rose of Versailles], Riyoko Ikeda
Cerebus, Dave Sim & Gerhard
• The Doom Patrol Stories, Grant Morrison & Richard Case, with Scott Hanna, et al.
Jojo no Kimyô na Bôken [Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure], Hirohiko Araki
Meanwhile, Jason Shiga
The New Yorker Cartoons, Roz Chast
Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz
Pogo, Walt Kelly
Tintin, Hergé


Here are my choices of ten great comics. They're all series that are either extremely well-crafted, very touching to me for personal reasons, or very powerful and cohesive in expressing the artist's persona, which is the best thing that can be said about any work of art (at least, right alongside and perpetually struggling with the other great goal of "being entertaining to the reader").

Kelly Thompson
Writer,; contributing writer,

• (1.) The ACME Novelty Library #20 (“Lint”), Chris Ware
• (2.) Batwoman: Elegy, Greg Rucka & J. H. Williams III
• (3.) Black Hole, Charles Burns
• (4.) Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson
• (5.) Planetary, Warren Ellis & John Cassaday
• (6.) Love and Rockets, Gilbert Hernandez & Jaime Hernandez
Counted as a 0.5 vote each for The Locas Stories, Jaime Hernandez, and The Palomar Stories, Gilbert Hernandez
• (7.) Y: The Last Man, Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra, with José Márzan, Jr., et al.
• (8.) Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., Warren Ellis & Stuart Immonen
• 9. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Art Spiegelman
• (10.) Unlikely, Jeffrey Brown

Matt Thorn
Associate Professor, Faculty of Manga, Kyoto Seika University

• The Arzach Stories, Jean “Moebius” Giraud
Happy Hooligan, Frederick Opper
Histoire de M. Jabot [The Story of Mr. Jabot], Rodolphe Töpffer
Counted as a vote for Works, Rodolophe Töpffer
Kinkin Sensei Eiga no Yume [Master Flashgold’s Splendiferous Dream], Harumachi Koikawa
Little Nemo in Slumberland, Winsor McCay
• The Little Lulu Stories, John Stanley, with Irving Tripp & Charles Hedinger
Metropolis, Osamu Tezuka
• “Tanjô!”, Yumiko Ôshima
Terry and the Pirates, Milton Caniff
Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons


These are not my personal favorites, but rather ten comics I think are historically important, either because of their influence on later work, or because they were groundbreaking.

1) Master Flashgold’s Splendiferous Dream (Kinkin Sensei Eiga no Yume), by Harumachi Koikawa, 1775, Japan. Possibly the world's first true graphic novel to reach a wide audience and turn a profit for its creator and publisher. Unlike most early European sequential art, the text is in incorporated within the image. Printed using the sophisticated woodblock technology of the day, this bestseller kicked off the entire genre of single-volume "kibyôshi" ("yellow covers") and multi-volume "gôkan" ("combined volumes") that remained hugely popular among merchant-class Japanese until moveable type pretty much killed the woodblock print.

2) The Story of Mr. Jabot (Histoire de M. Jabot), by Rodolphe Töpffer, 1833, Switzerland. Is there any doubt that popular Western sequential art pretty much begins with Töpffer? Sure, there are earlier examples of sequential art, but nothing came close to the popular success and impact of Töpffer's works, which are still hilarious and inspiring today.

3) Happy Hooligan, by Fred Opper, 1900-1932, U.S.A.. I think it's fair to say that Opper was the first to bring all the major elements of modern comics together, consistently, and make them the lingua franca of the newspaper funnies and early comic books. Speech balloons? Check. No distracting narration outside the panels? Check. Lines and other devices to illustrate motion, impact, and other "invisible" elements? Check. Whether or not you think the work has aged well is a matter of taste, I suppose.

4) Little Nemo in Slumberland" by Winsor McCay, 1905-1914, U.S.A.. McCay couldn't write a coherent line of dialogue to save his life, but, oh, Prunella, could that guy draw some wicked stuff. He expanded the visual grammar of comics exponentially. A century later, it still makes for brilliant eye candy.

5) Terry and the Pirates, by Milton Caniff, 1934-1946, U.S.A.. The funnies grow up. And an artist stands up for creator rights.

6) Little Lulu, written by John Stanley, drawn by Stanley, Irving Tripp and Charles Hedinger, 1945-1959, U.S.A.. Stanley's Little Lulu is probably the smartest, funniest, most carefully crafted children's comic book ever created, with the possible exception of Carl Barks' duck books. And Lulu was probably the ideal role model for postwar American girls. Compared to Lulu, almost every other comic created for children in the history of the medium seems like greasy kids' stuff. At least until Jill Thompson gave us the Scary Godmother.

7) Metropolis, by Osamu Tezuka, 1949, Japan. This, along with Tezuka's Lost World (1948) and The World to Come (Kitaru Beki SekaiA Contract With God in 1978. They were for kids, sure, but they had genuine, complex themes. Good and evil were not cut-and-dried. Characters died. Readers were moved. When the young Tezuka showed his work to one of the most influential children's manga artists of the day, the man was so appalled he told Tezuka, "It's your own business if you want to make this stuff, but I hope it doesn't catch on."

8) "Birth!" ("Tanjô!"), by Yumiko Ôshima, 1970, Japan. This profound and moving short story about a pregnant high-school girl struggling to decide whether or not to have an abortion took "girls" comics" to a whole new plane, and had an enormous influence on other young Japanese women cartoonists. Within a few short years, Japanese girls' comics were transformed from an object of scorn to the cutting edge of the manga world.

9) Arzach, by Jean "Moebius" Giraud, 1975, France. Gorgeous detail! Psychedelic pterosaurs! Flopping penises! The sophistication and (dare I say) miss en scène of Moebius' sci-fi vision continues to exert mind-boggling influence on creators working in a wide range of media, all over the world.

10) Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, 1986-1987, U.S.A.. This is probably on most people's lists, but I think it's hard to overstate how brilliant this book is on so many levels. Too bad Warner Bros. chose the single most inappropriate director for the film. Who would look at Gibbons' stoic, tic-tac-toe layouts and stifled characters and think, "Hey, let's get the guy who directed 300 to do this!"? I would have gone with Wim Wenders.

Tom Tirabosco
Cartoonist, L’Émissiare [The Emissary], L’Oeil de la forêt [The Eye of the Forest]

L’Ascension du haut-mal [Epileptic], David B.
Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli
Black Hole, Charles Burns
Blast, Manu Larcenet
La Guerre d’Alan [Alan’s War], Emmanuel Guibert
Haruka na Machi-e [A Distant Neighborhood], Jiro Taniguchi
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware
Monsieur Jean [Get a Life], Philippe Dupuy & Charles Berberian
Pascin, Joann Sfar
Tintin au Tibet [Tintin in Tibet], Hergé

Mark Tonra
Cartoonist, James, Top of the World

Krazy Kat, George Herriman
Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz
Pogo, Walt Kelly
Polly and Her Pals, Cliff Sterrett
Thimble Theatre, starring Popeye, E. C. Segar
• Works, George Booth
• Works, Jules Feiffer
Counted as a vote for Feiffer and Sick, Sick, Sick
• Works, B. Kliban
• Works, Sempé
• Works, Saul Steinberg

Noel Tuazon
Cartoonist, Obese Obsessor; co-creator & illustrator, This Is Where I Am

Barney et la note bleue [Barney and the Blue Note], Jacques Loustal & Philippe Paringaux
Bouche du diable [Billy Budd, KGB], Jerome Charyn & François Boucq
La Femme du magicien [The Magician’s Wife], Jerome Charyn & François Boucq
Fuochi [Fires], Lorenzo Mattotti
• “The Hourman”, Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, and Guy Davis
Idyl, Jeffrey Catherine Jones
Lloyd Llewellyn, Daniel Clowes
• The Sandman Mystery Theatre Stories, Steven T. Seagle & Guy Davis, et al.
The Shadow Stories, Denny O’Neil & Michael W. Kaluta
Swamp Thing, Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson

Carol Tyler
Cartoonist, You’ll Never Know, Late Bloomer

Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, Justin Green
Nancy, Ernie Bushmiller
Nancy and Sluggo Go to Summer Camp, John Stanley
• Works, R. Crumb (most things)
Counted as a 0.333 vote each for The Book of Genesis Illustrated, The Counterculture-Era Stories, and The Weirdo-Era Stories

Marguerite Van Cook
[Please consult Wikipedia for Marguerite Van Cook’s biography]

The Brinkley Girls, Nell Brinkley
Colin-Maillard [Heartthrobs], Max Cabanes
Corto Maltese: La ballade de la mer salée [The Ballad of the Salt Sea], Hugo Pratt
La Femme du magicien [The Magician’s Wife], Jerome Charyn & François Boucq
• “Hell and Back,” Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz [Elektra: Assassin #1]
Counted as a vote for Elektra: Assassin, Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz
The ‘Nam, Doug Murray & Michael Golden, with John Beatty, et al.
100%, Paul Pope
Rônin, Frank Miller, with Lynn Varley
• “A Small Place in Hell,” Jack Kirby, with D. Bruce Berry [Our Fighting Forces #152]

Stefan J. H. van Dinther
Cartoonist, Man and Guy, Allow to Infuse

Arman & Ilva, Lo Hartog van Banda & Thé Tjong Khing
Astérix le gaulois [Astérix the Gaul], René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo
• The Gospel Stories, Chester Brown
Jimbo, Gary Panter
• “Life o’ Bub,” David Hornung
• The Lucky Luke Stories, Morris & René Goscinny
• The Rubber Blanket Stories, David Mazzucchelli
Suske en Wiske [Willy and Wanda], Willy Vandersteen
Thimble Theatre, starring Popeye, E. C. Segar
Travel, Yuichi Yokoyama


Here’s a list with comics that are important to me right now (rather different from what it was five years ago, and probably very different over five years).

Noah van Sciver
Cartoonist, Blammo

• (1.) Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware
• (2.) Ice Haven, Daniel Clowes
• (3.) Misery Loves Comedy, Ivan Brunetti
• (4.) The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S., Jaime Hernandez
Counted as a vote for The Locas Stories
• (5.) Louis Riel, Chester Brown
• (6.) The Complete Crumb Comics, Volume 17, R. Crumb
Counted as a vote for The Weirdo-Era Stories
• (7.) Funny Misshapen Body, Jeffrey Brown
• (8.) Map of My Heart, John Porcellino
Counted as a vote for King-Cat Comics and Stories
• 9. The Poor Bastard, Joe Matt
• (10.) My New York Diary, Julie Doucet


I think my list is pretty boring. Nothing too special, but to hell with it.
Here are my top ten all time favorite comics that I read over and over.

Sara Varon
Cartoonist, Robot Dreams, Chicken and Cat

Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli
Aya, Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie
Le Chat du rabbin [The Rabbi’s Cat], Joann Sfar
Fuzz and Pluck, Ted Stearn
Goodbye, Chunky Rice, Craig Thompson
Laika, Nick Abadzis
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
Skim, Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
Spaniel Rage, Vanessa Davis
The Unsinkable Walker Bean, Aaron Renier

Mike Vosburg
Emmy-winning animator, Spawn; cartoonist, Lori Lovecraft; illustrator, G.I. Joe

American Flagg!, Howard Chaykin
• The Hawkman Stories, Gardner Fox & Joe Kubert
MAD #1-27, Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, et al.
The Spirit, Will Eisner
Stuntman, Joe Simon & Jack Kirby
• The Uncle $crooge Stories, Carl Barks
Weird Science-Fantasy, Al Feldstein, editor
Counted as a vote for The EC Comics Science-Fiction Stories, Al Feldstein & Wallace Wood, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, et al.

David Welsh

Aruku Hito [The Walking Man], Jiro Taniguchi
Castle Waiting, Linda Medley
The Defenders Stories, Steve Gerber & Sal Buscema
Doonesbury, Garry B. Trudeau
Emma, Kaoru Mori
Furûtsu Basaketto [Fruits Basket], Natsuki Takaya
Kurosagi Shitai Takuhaibin [The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service], Eiji Ôtsuka & Housai Yamazaki
MW, Osamu Tezuka
One Piece, Eiichiro Oda
Seiyô Kottô Yôgashiten [Antique Bakery], Fumi Yoshinaga

Mack White
Co-creator & illustrator, Texas Tales Illustrated; cartoonist, Villa of the Mysteries

• (1.) Little Nemo in Slumberland, Winsor McCay
• (2.) The Long Tomorrow, Dan O’Bannon & Jean “Moebius” Giraud
• (3.) Los Tejanos, Jack Jackson
• (4.) The Weirdo Stories, R. Crumb
• (5.) Krazy Kat, George Herriman
• (6.) Spider-Man, Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
• (7.) The Superman Stories, Mort Weisinger & Curt Swan, Wayne Boring, et al.
• (8.) “Here,” Richard McGuire
• (9.) Starstruck, Elaine Lee & Michael Kaluta
• (10.) Two-Fisted Tales, Harvey Kurtzman, editor
Counted as a vote for The EC Comics War Stories, Harvey Kurtzman & John Severin, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, et al.

Qiana J. Whitted
Associate Professor of English and African-American Studies, University of South Carolina; co-editor, Comics and the U.S. South

American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang
Bayou, Jeremy Love
Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware
• “Judgment Day,” Al Feldstein & Joe Orlando
Counted as a vote for The EC Comics Science-Fiction Stories, Al Feldstein & Wallace Wood, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, et al.
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Art Spiegelman
Nat Turner, Kyle Baker
Stagger Lee, Derek McCulloch & Shepherd Hendrix
Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, Chris Claremont & Brent Anderson


I don't even know where to begin with a list of my personal favorites, but here are my top ten favorite comics to teach.

Karl Wills
Cartoonist, Jessica of the Schoolyard, Dr. Connie Radar, PhD

The Biologic Show, Al Columbia
Dr. Slump, Akira Toriyama
Eightball, Daniel Clowes
Counted as a 0.2 vote each for Caricature: Nine Stories, David Boring, The Death Ray, Ghost World, and Ice Haven
Krazy Kat, George Herriman
• The MAD Stories, Will Elder
Counted as a vote for MAD #1-27, Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, et al.
The New Yorker Cartoons, Charles Addams
Prison Pit, Johnny Ryan
Stardust the Super Wizard, Fletcher Hanks
Thimble Theatre, starring Popeye, E. C. Segar
Tintin, Hergé

Sean Witzke

Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo
Black Kiss, Howard Chaykin
Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson
• The Doom Patrol Stories, Grant Morrison & Richard Case, with Scott Hanna, et al.
Elektra: Assassin, Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz
Le Garage hermétique [The Airtight Garage], Jean “Moebius” Giraud
• The Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Stories, Jim Steranko, with Joe Sinnott, et al.
The Nikopol Trilogy, Enki Bilal
Scud: The Disposable Assassin, Rob Schrab
The Winter Men, Brett Lewis & John Paul Leon

Matthias Wivel
Writer,; contributing writer,

• The Disney Comics (c.1948-1954), Carl Barks
Counted as a vote for The Donald Duck and Uncle $crooge Stories, Carl Barks
The Fourth World Stories, Jack Kirby, with Mike Royer, et al.
Le Garage hermétique, Jean “Moebius” Giraud
Hi no Tori [Phoenix], Osamu Tezuka
Die Hure H [W the Whore], Katrin de Vries & Anke Feuchtenberger
Krazy Kat, George Herriman
• The Locas Stories, Jaime Hernandez
Mûno no Hito [The Talentless Man], Yoshiharu Tsuge
Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz
Tintin au Tibet [Tintin in Tibet], Hergé


Here is my frustrating, impossible list. Neither fowl nor fish. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made it at all.

I could have definitely put ten other comics there and have a list I would find as satisfying/frustrating.

[About The Disney Comics of Carl Barks] If you want something specific: “Luck of the North”.

[About Hi no Tori [Phoenix]] If specific, Uchû-Hen [Karma].

[About Locas] If specific, The Death of Speedy.

[About Die Hure H] If specific, Die Hure H zieht ihre Bahnen [W the Whore Makes Her Tracks].

Douglas Wolk
Author, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean; writer,

Big Numbers, Alan Moore & Bill Sienkiewicz
Black Hole, Charles Burns
Cerebus, Dave Sim & Gerhard
Footnotes in Gaza, Joe Sacco
• The Frank Stories, Jim Woodring
Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
Judge Dredd, John Wagner, et al.
Krazy Kat, George Herriman
• The Love and Rockets Stories, Jaime Hernandez
Counted as a vote for The Locas Stories
Mister O, Lewis Trondheim

Jason Yadao
Columnist, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Battle Royale, Koushun Takami & Masayuki Taguchi
Black Jack, Osamu Tezuka
Dr. Slump, Akira Toriyama
Groo the Wanderer, Sergio Aragonés, with Mark Evanier, Tom Luth, and Stan Sakai
Maison Ikkoku, Rumiko Takahashi
nemu*nemu, Audra Furuichi & Scott Yoshinaga
Ôran Kôkô Hosuto Kurabu [Ouran High School Host Club], Bisco Hatori
Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz
Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis
Yotsuba&!, Kiyohiko Azuma

Chris York
Instructor, Pine Technical College; contributing writer, International Journal of Comic Art

Batman #1, Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, et al.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller, with Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley
• The Catwoman Stories, Ed Brubaker, et al.
The Fall, Ed Brubaker & Jason Lutes
• “In Mortal Combat with the Sub-Mariner,” Stan Lee & Wallace Wood [in Daredevil #7 (1965)]
• em>It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, Seth
Mister X, Dean Motter, Gilbert Hernandez, and Jaime Hernandez
• The Sandman Mystery Theatre Stories, Matt Wagner & Guy Davis
Tintin, Hergé
• The X-Men Stories, Chris Claremont & John Byrne, with Terry Austin

Rafe York

Alias, Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos
Amelia Rules!, Jimmy Gownley
• “Behold, the Vision!”, “Even an Android Can Cry,”, “The Name Is Yellowjacket,” and “‘Til Death Do Us Part,”, Roy Thomas & John Buscema, with George Klein [in The Avengers #57-60 (1968)]
DC: The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke
• The Doom Patrol Stories, Grant Morrison & Richard Case, with Scott Hanna, et al.
• “The Fatal Five” and “The Doomed Legionnaire,” Jim Shooter & Curt Swan, with George Klein [in Adventure Comics, featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #352-353 (1966)]
• The Master of Kung Fu Stories, Doug Moench, et al.
• The Sandman Mystery Theatre Stories, Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis, et al.
The Sandman: Season of Mists, Neil Gaiman & Kelley Jones, et al.
• “Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?” and “Blood on the Moors,” Roger Stern & John Byrne, with Joe Rubinstein [in Captain America #253-254 (1980)]

Yidi Yu

Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli
Batman: The Killing Joke, Alan Moore & Brian Bolland
Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson
Death Note, Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata
Lackadaisy, Tracy Butler
Onani Master Kurosawa, Yokota Takuma & Katsua Ise
Rabu-Kon [Lovely Complex], Aya Nakahara
Rice Boy, Evan Dahm
Sinfest, Tatsuya Ishida
xkcd, Randall Monroe


The 2011 International Best Comics Poll Index

The 2011 International Best Comics Poll--Participant Lists Sh-Sw

The International Best Comics Poll was first published at The Hooded Utilitarian in August of 2011. The material remains available at that site. I conceived, organized, and edited the project. I'm cross-publishing my posts and the participant lists here for personal archival purposes. Links to essay contributions by other writers will go to saved versions of The Hooded Utilitarian pages on

The following lists were submitted in response to the question, "What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?" All lists have been edited for consistency, clarity, and to fix minor copy errors. Unranked lists are alphabetized by title. In instances where the vote varies somewhat with the Top 115 entry the vote was counted towards, an explanation of how the vote was counted appears below it.

In the case of divided votes, only works fitting the description that received multiple votes on their own received the benefit. For example, in Jessica Abel's list, she voted for The Post-Superhero comics of David Mazzucchelli. That vote was divided evenly between Asterios Polyp and Paul Auster's City of Glass because they fit that description and received multiple votes on their own. It was not in any way applied to the The Rubber Blanket Stories because that material did not receive multiple votes from other participants.

Joe Sharpnack
Editorial Cartoonist, Iowa City Gazette

Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson
Doonesbury, Garry B. Trudeau
The Far Side, Gary Larson
Iron Man, various writers and artists
• The Political Cartoons, Jeff MacNelly
• The Political Cartoons, Pat Oliphant
• The Political Cartoons, Joe Sharpnack
• The Political Cartoons, Tom Toles
Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman, David Boswell
Spider-Man, various writers and artists
Counted as a 0.5 vote each for Spider-Man, Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, and The Spider-Man Stories, Stan Lee & John Romita

Scott Shaw!
Co-creator, Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew; cartoonist, Simpsons Comics

• (1.) The Fantastic Four, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, with Joe Sinnott, et al.
• (2.) The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Gilbert Shelton
• (3.) The Uncle $crooge Stories, Cark Barks
• (4.) Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle, Sam Glanzman
• (5.) The Little Lulu Stories, John Stanley, with Irving Tripp
• (6.) Tales Calculated To Drive You Bats, George Gladir & Orlando Busino
• (7.) The King’s Stilts, Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel)
• (8.) Hot Rod Monster T-Shirt and Decal Art, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Ed Newton, and Robert Williams
• (9.) Herbie, Richard E. Hughes & Ogden Whitney
• (10.) The Little Archie Stories, Bob Bolling

Mahendra Singh
Cartoonist, The Adventures of Mr. Pyridine; illustrator, Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark

• The Arzach Stories, Jean “Moebius” Giraud
• The Codex Nutall, unknown Mixtec atelier
Le Garage hermétique [The Airtight Garage], Jean “Moebius” Giraud
Hamza-Namah, atelier of the Mughal Emperor Akbar
Idyl, Jeffrey Catherine Jones
Krazy Kat, George Herriman
Lone Sloane, Philippe Druillet
Le Mage acrylic [The Story of the Acrylic Magus and His Vibratory Perturbations], Serge Bihannic & Philippe Druillet
A Rake’s Progress, William Hogarth
Une Semaine de bonté [A Week of Kindness], Max Ernst

Ed Sizemore
Contributing writer,

• (1.) Pluto, Naoki Urasawa
• (2.) Tetsuwan Atomu [Astro Boy], Osamu Tezuka
• (3.) Yotsuba&!, Kiyohiko Azuma
• (4.) Kôkaku Kidôtai [Ghost in the Shell], Masamune Shirow
• (5.) Mushishi, Yuki Urushibara
• (6.) Aruku Hito [The Walking Man], Jiro Taniguchi
• (7.) A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, Moto Hagio
• (8.) Gekiga Hyôryû [A Drifting Life], Yoshihiro Tatsumi
• (9.) Kaze no Tani no Naushika [Nausicäa of the Valley of the Wind], Hayao Miyazaki
• (10.) Buddha, Osamu Tezuka


Here is Top Ten Favorite Manga List. I'm not pretending it's a best of this.

Shannon Blake Skelton
Contributing writer, The Journal of Popular Culture

• The Animal Man Stories, Grant Morrison & Chas Truog, with Doug Hazlewood
Batman: Year One, Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli, with Richmond Lewis
A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories, Will Eisner
Essex County Trilogy, Jeff Lemire
Ghost World, Daniel Clowes
MAD #1-27, Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, et al.
Spider-Man, Stan Lee, et al.
Counted as a 0.5 vote each for Spider-Man, Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, and The Spider-Man Stories, Stan Lee & John Romita
• The Swamp Thing Stories, Alan Moore & Stephen R. Bissette, John Totleben, Rick Veitch, et al.
• The X-Men Stories, Chris Claremont, et al.
Counted as a 0.5 vote each for The X-Men Stories, Chris Claremont & John Byrne, with Terry Austin, and X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, Chris Claremont & Brent Anderson
Y: The Last Man, Bryan K. Vaughn & Pia Guerra, with José Marzán, Jr.

Caroline Small
Contributing writer,; Treasurer, Executive Committee Small Press Expo

• The Autobiographical Comics, Aline Kominsky-Crumb
The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Kim Deitch & Simon Deitch
Campo di babà [The Bun Field], Amanda Vähämäki
The Fate of the Artist, Eddie Campbell
Faune [Wildlife], Aristophane
Die Hure H Zieht Ihre Bahnen [W the Whore Makes Her Tracks], Katrin de Vries & Anke Feuchtenberger
Michelle, Jason Overby
The Passport, Saul Steinberg
Counted as a vote for Works, Saul Steinberg


I know I’m missing things that would be my favorites that I just haven’t read yet. LOL, How ‘bout eight?

I don’t feel I’ve read enough comics to confidently make a list, but these are comics that made me love and value comics enough to keep reading in search of new favorites that I will love even more…

Kenneth Smith
Cartoonist, Phantasmagoria; contributing writer, The Comics Journal

• The Arzach Stories, Jean “Moebius” Giraud
Bizarro, Dan Piraro
• The Famous Funnies [Buck Rogers] Cover Illustrations, Frank Frazetta
Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson
Idyl, Jeffrey Catherine Jones
JIM and Other Collections, Jim Woodring
Counted as a 0.5 vote each for The Book of Jim and The Frank Stories
Krazy Kat, George Herriman
Pogo, Walt Kelly
Space Clusters, Arthur Byron Cover & Alex Niño
Weird Fantasy, Weird Science, Weird Science-Fantasy, and Incredible Science-Fiction, Wallace Wood, Al Williamson, et al.
Counted as a vote for The EC Comics Science-Fiction Stories, Al Feldstein & Wallace Wood, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, et al.


Here goes, in no particular priority of preference, the strips or comics or books or collections that impressed me as totally perfect in their own kind (obviously not every issue of the EC SF comics qualifies, of course: to me these works will forever breathe the living presence and free spirit of their creators, half of them alas already passed on.) If you were to have asked me two or three months down the road, I would think of perhaps another four things I should have added but damned if I know what would then have to be dropped. So, merely alphabetically--these are (a) works out of the prime of their creators, (b) things I would foist without reservation on anyone who asked me what the hell has been going in comics that is in some way great, and (c) productions that raised my own preconceptions about what the hell is really possible to do in comics.

Now I have to send this off fast while the list is still naively composed and I haven't had time to argue with myself about way too many great talents and superb works that are trying to elbow their way in.

Matthew J. Smith
Associate Professor of Communication, Wittenberg University

• (1.) Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Art Spiegelman
• (2.) Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
• (3.) The Spirit, Will Eisner
• (4.) The Fantastic Four, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, with Joe Sinnott, et al.
• (5.) MAD #1-27, Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, et al.
• (6.) Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
• (7.) Hi no Tori [Phoenix], Osamu Tezuka
• (8.) Palestine, Joe Sacco
• (9.) Bone, Jeff Smith
• (10.) The Sandman, Neil Gaiman, et al.

Michelle Smith
Contributing writer,,

Basara, Yumi Tamura
Furûtsu Basaketto [Fruits Basket], Natsuki Takaya
Hikaru no Go, Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata
Mirai no Kioku [Future Lovers], Saika Kunieda
Nana, Ai Yazawa
Paradise Kiss, Ai Yazawa
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Naoki Urasawa
Seiyô Kottô Yôgashiten [Antique Bakery], Fumi Yoshinaga
Wild Adapter, Kazuya Minekura
Yotsuba&!, Kiyohiko Azuma

Shannon Smith
Cartoonist, Addicted to Distraction

American Splendor, Harvey Pekar, et al.
• The Daredevil Stories, Ann Nocenti & John Romita, Jr.
• The Green Arrow Stories, Mike Grell, et al.
The Invisibles, Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell, Phil Jiminez, et al.
Louis Riel, Chester Brown
Marshal Law, Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill
The Maxx, Sam Kieth & William Messner-Loebs
• The Star Wars Stories, Roy Thomas, Howard Chaykin, Archie Goodwin, Carmine Infantino, et al.
THB, Paul Pope
• The Weirdo Stories, R. Crumb


-Marvel's Star Wars. Thinking mostly of the Roy Thomas/Howard Chaykin and the Archie Goodwin/Carmine Infantino books. Roughly issues 1 through 54.

-The Invisibles. Grant Morrison and pretty much every artist that caught a check from Vertigo at that time.

-Daredevil. Ann Nocenti and John Romita, Jr.

-THB. Paul Pope.

-R. Crumb. In the spirit of breaking it down to specific works I'll take his work in Weirdo.

-American Splendor. Harvey Pekar. Again, to break it down to specific comics I'd say roughly the stuff collected in that Doubleday book The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar.

-Green Arrow. Mike Grell. That would be issues 1 through 80 of that version plus the annuals, The Wonder Year and The Longbow Hunters. (Eddie Fryers was a great supporting character.)

-The Maxx. Sam Kieth and Bill Messner-Loebs.

-Marshal Law. Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill.

-Louis Riel. Chester Brown.

And can I get an 11th? I want to throw Peanuts in there but, really, isn't that just a given? Shouldn't Peanuts just be assumed in any best of anything comics related?

Nick Sousanis
Instructor, Teachers College, Columbia University; writer,

All-Star Superman, Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller, with Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley
Cages, Dave McKean
The Dreamer, Will Eisner
From Hell, Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Art Spiegelman
Paul Auster’s City of Glass, Paul Karasik & David Mazzucchelli
Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud
V for Vendetta, Alan Moore & David Lloyd
Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

Ryan Standfest
Editor, Rotland Press

The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist, Michael O’Donaghue & Frank Springer
Breakdowns, Art Spiegelman
Eightball, Daniel Clowes
Counted as a 0.2 vote each for Caricature: Nine Stories, David Boring, The Death Ray, Ghost World, and Ice Haven.
Goodman Beaver, Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder
Hey, Look!, Harvey Kurtzman
Humbug, Harvey Kurtzman, editor
Jungle Book, Harvey Kurtzman
MAD #1-27, Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, et al.
The New Yorker Cartoons, Charles Addams
• The Playboy Cartoons, Gahan Wilson

Rob Steen
Illustrator, Flanimals, Elephantmen

• “Jenifer,” Bruce Jones & Bernie Wrightson
Laika, Nick Abadzis
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II, Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill
Preacher, Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon
Pride of Baghdad, Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon
• “Red Nails,” Roy Thomas & Barry Windsor-Smith, after Robert E. Howard, and “Worms of the Earth,” Roy Thomas & Barry Windsor-Smith and Tim Conrad, after Robert E. Howard
Counted as a vote for The Conan the Barbarian Stories, Roy Thomas & Barry Windsor-Smith, with Sal Buscema, et al.
• The Silver Surfer Stories, Stan Lee & John Buscema, with Jack Kirby, et al.
Strange Embrace, David Hine
Stray Bullets, David Lapham

Matteo Stefanelli
Research Fellow, Media Studies, Università Cattolica di Milano; writer,

El Eternauta, Héctor Germán Oesterheld & Francisco Solano López
Le Garage hermétique [The Airtight Garage], Jean “Moebius” Giraud
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware
Krazy Kat, George Herriman
Little Nemo in Slumberland, Winsor McCay
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Art Spiegelman
Quadratino, Antonio Rubino
The Shakespeare Trilogy, Gianni De Luca
Tintin, Hergé
• The Uncle $crooge Stories, Carl Barks

Joshua Ray Stephens
Cartoonist, The Moth or the Flame

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Kim Deitch & Simon Deitch
The Death Ray, Daniel Clowes
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware
Kaze no Tani no Naushika [Nausicäa of the Valley of the Wind], Hayao Miyazaki
Little Nemo in Slumberland, Winsor McCay
Pinocchio, Winshluss
Salammbô, Philippe Druillet
Skibber Bee Bye, Ron Regé, Jr.
The Squirrel Machine, Hans Rickheit
Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons


This is a very difficult query, if taken seriously, which is my wont. I would like to write a little caveat:

First of all the reasons and criteria for judging the best anything quickly become manifold once one begins rooting around in the domain of those that inhabit the realm of “The Best.” So, that is already a major factor to consider.

Secondly, I am very well read in comics from their beginnings to now, in our country and internationally. However, I by no means consider myself an encompassing authority on the medium. I am aware of large gaps in my knowledge. And there are certain areas I have little to no interest in.

Thirdly, there are a number of works not on my list that I personally consider to be just as worthy, but I chose the final ten based on variety and potential controversy.

That being said, this is not merely a favorites list. I would call this “the best ten comics opuses out of what I have read.” These do tend to be my favorites, because I make a habit of seeking out and befriending work that I consider to be excellent and not which merely appeals to my ego. My main criteria for judging, in a field which, let’s face it, still has a long way to go before attaining the loftiest heights of art or literature, but which also has the potential to synthesize both, are these: 1) Is the work fertile? Does it activate the imagination? Does it challenge the reader? Does it grow beyond what is merely explicitly there? 2) Does the work have lasting value? Does it endure? Does it merit and reward multiple readings? 3) Does the work achieve formal excellence? In art and/or writing? Does it challenge the medium in one way or another?

Finally, I would like to point out that there are three works missing from my list which should be mentioned. The big three: Krazy Kat, Peanuts, and Pogo. I have no doubt that these are great examples of comics mastery. But first of all they are always mentioned and anyone in the field knows that they are worth seeking out. I presume one of the main points in asking for a list like this is to get a sense of what should be being read, but with it limited to ten I see no point in wasting three on works that are so universally lauded. And to be perfectly honest I don’t really consider myself on intimate enough terms with any of these three works to feel justified in ranking them in my top ten. I have read a mere smattering of all of them and have a long way to go before I know them fully.

P.S. I consider Moebius to be perhaps the greatest true artist in the comics field to date, but, based on the rules that I can’t choose an artist’s entire body of work, I can’t pick a single work of his that I honestly think is one of the best examples of comics. I just felt that had to be said, because Moebius is truly amazing.

Mick Stevens
Cartoonist, The New Yorker

• The Magazine Cartoons, Charles Barsotti
• The Magazine Cartoons and Illustrations, Barry Blitt
• The Magazine Cartoons, Roz Chast
• The Magazine Cartoons, Drew Dernavich
• The Magazine Cartoons, Matt Diffee
• The Magazine Cartoons, Victoria Roberts
• The Magazine Cartoons, David Sipress
• The Magazine Cartoons, Barbara Smaller
• The Magazine Cartoons, P.C. Vey
• The Magazine Cartoons, Jack Ziegler


I'm not into comics that much, though I do like them in general. As far as people in my little corner of the cartoon universe, magazine cartoons, I do have many favorites, and way more than ten. Here's a stab at narrowing the list to ten, though: Jack Ziegler, David Sipress, Victoria Roberts, Roz Chast, Barbara Smaller, Charles Barsotti, Drew Dernovich, Matt Diffee, P.C. Vey... That's nine, and apologies to all my other faves not listed. I also really like Barry Blitt. He's not, strictly speaking, a cartoonist, but he does do great ones in the form of his New Yorker cover art, in addition to being a terrific illustrator and watercolorist, in my estimation, so I'd like to make him my number ten.

Tom Stiglich
Editorial Cartoonist

• (1.) Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz
• (2.) The Far Side, Gary Larson
• (3.) Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson
• (4.) The Editorial Cartoons, Michael Ramirez
• (5.) Non Sequitur, Wiley Miller
• (6.) The Editorial Cartoons, Jeff MacNelly
• (7.) Doonesbury, Garry B. Trudeau
• (8.) Krazy Kat, George Herriman
• (9.) Pogo, Walt Kelly
• (10.) Mutts, Patrick McDonnell

Tucker Stone
Writer,; contributing writer,, The Comics Journal

The ACME Novelty Library, Chris Ware
Counted as a 0.25 vote each for “Building Stories,” Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Quimby the Mouse, and Rusty Brown, including “Lint”.
Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson
Daredevil: Born Again, Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli
Domu: A Child’s Dream, Katsuhiro Otomo
Gasoline Alley, Frank King
Jimbo, Gary Panter
Kozure Ôkami [Lone Wolf and Cub], Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima
Krazy Kat, George Herriman
OMAC: One Man Army Corps, Jack Kirby, with Mike Royer
• The 2001: A Space Odyssey Stories, Jack Kirby, with Mike Royer

Betsey Swardlick
Cartoonist, Dilbert Stress Toy, Poor, Poor Angsty Hungarian

Corto Maltese, Hugo Pratt
The Desert Peach, Donna Barr
Doukyuusei, Nakamura Asumiko
Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel
Gaston LaGaffe, André Franquin
• The Justice League International Stories, Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, et al.
Love and Rockets, Gilbert Hernandez & Jaime Hernandez
Counted as a 0.5 vote each for The Locas Stories, Jaime Hernandez, and The Palomar Stories, Gilbert Hernandez
Ore Wa Mada Honki Dashiteinai Dake [I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow], Aono Shunju
• The Shade, the Changing Man Stories, Peter Milligan & Chris Bachalo
Tank Girl, Jamie Hewlett & Alan Martin

Jeff Swenson
Cartoonist, Swenson Funnies

• (1.) Thimble Theatre, starring Popeye, E. C. Segar
• (2.) Bloom County, Berkeley Breathed
• (3.) Jesus and Mo’, Anonymous (for obvious reasons)
• (4.) Reverend Fun, Anonymous
• (5.) Logicomix, Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos, and Annie di Donna
• (6.) Hate!, Peter Bagge
Counted as a vote for The Bradleys and The Buddy Bradley Stories
• (7.) Battle Royale, Koushan Takami & Masayuki Taguchi
• (8.) Skippy, Percy Crosby
• (9.) The Jack T. Chick Cartoon Gospel Tracts, various artists (fun to read)
• (10.) Weird War Tales, Joe Orlando, et al., editors


The 2011 International Best Comics Poll Index