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20 significant American comics
October 23, 2008 3:42 PM   Subscribe

The 20 most significant comics in American comics history, according to Steven Grant.
posted by Artw (71 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
There was only one significant comic.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 3:50 PM on October 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


David Boswell is Canadian!
posted by KokuRyu at 3:54 PM on October 23, 2008


I'd personally be more interested in the twenty most influential comic strips, since that's where most of us get our comic dose.

That said, the comments to follow will be vast in number, if I know the MeFi community. If one comment were to help me out on this (Little Nemo, The Yellow Kid, The Katzenjammer Kids, Prince Valiant, Blondie, Peanuts, Zippy...well, it might be hard to narrow it down to twenty, and maybe it should be a different thread...)
posted by kozad at 4:04 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I applaud this list if for no other reason than it mentions Frank Miller only once briefly in-passing, and then not in direct association with any of the "20 most significant" titles.

To be fair, the author should have been more specific and declared these the 20 most significant comic books, and not merely comics. Comics, as kozad points out, would include the daily newspaper strips. A list of which would utterly bury the books the author selects by sheer importance and history. Mutt n Jeff, FTW, baby.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:08 PM on October 23, 2008


Hey, where's V for Vendetta.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:15 PM on October 23, 2008


I ain't seeing no Tijuana Bibles.

Oh, here they are! I accidentally left them in the bathroom.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:21 PM on October 23, 2008 [5 favorites]


kozad, I would swear we talked about the best and/or most influential comic strips before here in the Blue, but I cant find the link(s).

Nonetheless, highest on my list is and always will be, Walt Kelly's Pogo.
posted by elendil71 at 4:23 PM on October 23, 2008


Worst. List. Ever. This travesty of a so-called list excludes Marvel Super-Heroes vol. 2, #8 (Jan. 1992), the first appearance of Squirrel Girl.
posted by stavrogin at 4:28 PM on October 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Let the "Hey, no xxxx??!!?!?!" begin. I'll start.

Hey, no The Dark Knight Returns??!?!?!
posted by zardoz at 4:34 PM on October 23, 2008


This list seems like the guy just didn't do his research at all. Will Eisner is completely left out, and there's no mention of any of the comics that Fredric Wertham demonized. It almost seems like he's looking only at comics as "funny books" in the "Hey kids, comics!" sense.

Additionally, besides Maus, it nearly completely ignores the trend of modern adult comics to write with an eye toward eventual publication in graphic novel format. I'm not saying that Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and V for Vendetta all need to be on the list, but one of them, or another of that generation should be.
posted by explosion at 4:38 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Let the nerd forth .....BEGIN!
posted by The Whelk at 4:40 PM on October 23, 2008


froth.

Ah damn it.
posted by The Whelk at 4:41 PM on October 23, 2008


yeah, explosion, 2nd. Some research tho. But nothing for adults.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:49 PM on October 23, 2008


there's no mention of any of the comics that Fredric Wertham demonized.

Crime Does Not Pay was a major bugbear for the anticomics crowd - if anything the crime comics pissed people off more than the horror ones did. Panic, which was basically EC ripping itself and producing a second version of Mad, was another one that caused a lot of trouble, with a comedye strip about Santa Claus.
posted by Artw at 4:52 PM on October 23, 2008


No Pogo either. Boo.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 4:53 PM on October 23, 2008


Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and V for Vendetta

Heh. Those were pretty much the omissions I thought people would moan about. Do they really fit though?
posted by Artw at 4:53 PM on October 23, 2008


Hey now, while it may well become a nerd froth, it'll at least be a righteous one this time. This is the equivalent of doing a Top 20 of significant rock musicians, hitting Elvis, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, and then somehow missing Bowie and Pixies on the way to Nirvana.
posted by explosion at 4:55 PM on October 23, 2008


Do they really fit though?

In that they're famous, influential, and trendsetters, I'd say so for sure. Like it or not, Miller's take on Batman lead to a good 20 years of anti-hero mania where characters like Spawn and Lobo were more popular than Superman and Spider-man, at least until readers overdosed on the notion.
posted by explosion at 4:58 PM on October 23, 2008


Watchmen, and V for Vendetta

It said "American" comics.
posted by cell divide at 4:59 PM on October 23, 2008


There was only one significant comic.

Rat-own, daddy-o:
Mr Crabbe: This incident will cost you your JOB!
Reid: That's what I call GOOD VALUE.
Reid Flemming was Superman to Harvey Pekar's Clark Kent.
posted by Herodios at 5:05 PM on October 23, 2008


Watchmen was published by DC, and V for Vendetta was initially published in Britain, but was never finished until DC got them to finish it, and published the entire series.

It really raises the question of how you determine the nationality of a comic. For a TV show aired on NBC or Fox, it would be considered an American show, even if the writer were British. So, why does a British writer, published by DC and distributed in America not get the same credit?
posted by explosion at 5:09 PM on October 23, 2008


The Eisner omission is both true and damning, but, while I have disagreements with individual choices, the author makes good points for why he chose the comics he did. I'd swap out Blackmark for Cerebus* or A Contract with God, but overall I think this list is well thought out.

*Dave Sim's batshit insanity notwithstanding, Cerebus is a landmark in the self-published, artist-controlled property.
posted by lekvar at 5:15 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and V for Vendetta
Well, these are specific examples from a single, narrow genre; the article examines the history of the medium itself.
posted by lekvar at 5:16 PM on October 23, 2008


What about "This Man, This Monster."?
posted by jpburns at 5:28 PM on October 23, 2008


Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and V for Vendetta
Well, these are specific examples from a single, narrow genre; the article examines the history of the medium itself.


And pretty much covered by American Flagg as well.
posted by Artw at 5:35 PM on October 23, 2008


Huh. I didn't realize that Carl Barks was simply a figment of my imagination.

Thanks, guy on internet!
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:41 PM on October 23, 2008


Sandman.

But I agree, totally random list. Who cares. Hope his site made the requisite $14.29 off the ads.
posted by jscott at 5:44 PM on October 23, 2008


Classics Illustrated?

These were the only comics my parents would buy me, so yeah, pretty significant. By the time I had my own spending money, I seemed to be more interested in books that didn't have pictures ... and Mad Magazine.
posted by philip-random at 6:06 PM on October 23, 2008


Sandman's a good point.

Also, not to take the easy jab, and I totally understand and agree with his reasoning, but seeing a Rob Liefeld comic in that list is what we in the accounting software development racket refer to as "not un-lulzy."
posted by middleclasstool at 6:06 PM on October 23, 2008


Sandman.

I'd go for the Swamp Thing #21 over Sandman, since it spawned Sandman and the entire Vertigo line, and so in it's way was a more significant Moore title than V or Watchmen. That could be my vertigocentric 90s bias speaking though - right now it's seeming like everything coming out of that line is shrinking in significance.
posted by Artw at 6:08 PM on October 23, 2008


More on American Flagg! here and here.
posted by Artw at 6:18 PM on October 23, 2008


Bah.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:22 PM on October 23, 2008


I see no Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers on that list.

At least, it influenced me. Badly, I should add.
posted by jokeefe at 6:23 PM on October 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Crisis on Infinite Earths -- crossover, tie-in, Event Books that kill all the less famous characters you like, but then will bring back...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:25 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd go for the Swamp Thing #21 over Sandman

You know, I missed Moore's run on ST and am only now catching up on it. I have to say, I heart Watchmen mightily and know it's generally regarded as his masterpiece, but the Swamp Thing stuff has been way more riveting reading to me. Those books really have their hooks in me.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:31 PM on October 23, 2008


These pale in comparison to "Fine & Dandy", vols. 2-6. Those were truly significant American comics.
posted by anthill at 6:31 PM on October 23, 2008


That was not what I expected the list to look like, in a good way. Except, of course, as said above, the lack of Eisner is stunning. I like that his "twist" entry was SJ, but I also agree with upthread comments that at least *some* example of the closed-ended-series trend. Watchmen would be the most obvious choice. Though, the author might see it as the pedestrian choice, so I just won't make a pick.
posted by absalom at 6:38 PM on October 23, 2008


I thought this was a great list, but then I haven't read a comic book in twenty years. And I am probably the only person on mefi who dislikes Miller and could give a shit about the dark knight -- haven't seen it, don't want to. And liked Ang Lee's Hulk. (not perfect, but not the bomb everyone claimed it was.) People forget what an "arty" comic book Hulk was in the 70's. Hulk didn't have much language skills beyond "hulk smash" and "puny human," so they had to develop the scenery a lot.
posted by vronsky at 6:50 PM on October 23, 2008


The forum thread is worth reading, with responses to a lot of the points raised here.
posted by Artw at 6:50 PM on October 23, 2008


As others noted, "The Dark Knight Returns" is a glaring omission. I had pretty much forgotten comics altogether before this was brought to my attention. Like many others, it kinda single-handed brought me back into the fold. It convinced non-fans that comics could be really, really special.

On another note, glad to see he mentioned the "Freak Brothers". And I might have pitched vintage "Classics Illustrated", but what the hey?
posted by RavinDave at 7:11 PM on October 23, 2008


No George Carlin? Bullshit!
posted by Curry at 8:07 PM on October 23, 2008


this post was totally worth it if it gets at least one new person to read Reid Fleming!
posted by sineater at 8:59 PM on October 23, 2008


Fleming or his American madman counterpart Ralph Snart.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:28 PM on October 23, 2008


How can anyone take a list of "20 best comics" seriously if Archie and the gang aren't on it?
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:12 PM on October 23, 2008


I always liked how the "good guys" in the GI Joe comic book would extol the virtues of their weapons and gear while casually blowing away Cobra foot soldiers.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:14 PM on October 23, 2008


I'm pretty much in total agreement with the first ten, and then I only agree with about a third of 11-20. There are a few obvious gaps that have already been pointed out and/or rebutted here and in the thread, but another one I'll mention - Amazing Spider-Man 121. Until that issue, the hero's girl was not supposed to die!
posted by bettafish at 10:26 PM on October 23, 2008


No Krazy Kat? Boo.
posted by bendy at 12:34 AM on October 24, 2008


I can tell most of you didn't actually read through the article did you? (Archie Comics is number 5) He actually makes some pretty solid points for what he picked. RTFA and then come in here and bitch about why a Moore or Miller comic is not on there.
I can only really find maybe two flaws with what he picked. #17 TMNT should be swapped out for Cerebus. Shonen Jump shouldn't even be on there.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:23 AM on October 24, 2008


Ut!
posted by zippy at 2:20 AM on October 24, 2008


#17 TMNT should be swapped out for Cerebus.

I'm torn between Cerebus and Elfquest, to be honest. While they came out at almost the same time, Elfquest had (I think) the greater initial mainstream success for a creator owned and published black-and-white. Plus, the artist was a woman, which was fairly rare back in '78, AND they managed to get collections sold in chain bookstores, the first comics to do so (according to an interview I read with Wendy Pini recently).

They may have jumped the shark a bit later on, but at least they never went plummetting into the abyss on the other side, like Sim.
posted by Sparx at 3:30 AM on October 24, 2008


! sold a VG condition Avengers #1 for $35.00 in 1977. :-(™ I got about the same for X-men #s 2, 3 &5. God, i was a dumbass when I was a teenager.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:32 AM on October 24, 2008


DTMFA! No, no, wait, I mean, your favorite Top 50 list sucks! Comic Book, I mean!! Sucks! I can suck fifty eggs! RTFM!
posted by not_on_display at 4:42 AM on October 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


RTFA and then come in here and bitch about why a Moore or Miller comic is not on there.

Read my actual comments, and then respond to them. I wasn't bitching about the presence of a particular author, but rather about how it essentially ignored the trend of serious comics to be written in a longer form that eventually get archived as "graphic novels". It didn't have to be Moore, or Miller, or even Gaiman, but someone. He really seemed to be reaching, to a certain degree, to find obscure references to impress people, rather than hitting the actually influential and significant books. Blackmark? Wonderful in concept, I suppose, but it's the "First!" comment of graphic novels, rather than something significant.

Also, Eisner is a glaring omission that I won't ignore, since if you know nothing else about the man, a fan of comics should know that the awards are called the "Eisner Awards." If the entire industry's awards are named after the guy, he has to have written something significant, no?
posted by explosion at 4:50 AM on October 24, 2008


It really raises the question of how you determine the nationality of a comic. For a TV show aired on NBC or Fox, it would be considered an American show, even if the writer were British. So, why does a British writer, published by DC and distributed in America not get the same credit?

Arguably a TV show is more of a group effort (team of writers, director, camera ops, producer, editors, actors) whereas a comic is maybe 3-4 people. I don't know - interesting question.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:22 AM on October 24, 2008


Is it coincidence that American gullibility has been on the rise since MAD went into cultural decline in the '70s?

Oh stopitstopitstopitstopitstopit you're depressing me.
posted by Spatch at 6:05 AM on October 24, 2008


Well, these are specific examples from a single, narrow genre; the article examines the history of the medium itself.

um, calvin and hobbes? and no one's mentioned it yet? even here, at metafilter? what?
posted by symbollocks at 6:10 AM on October 24, 2008


Is it coincidence that American gullibility has been on the rise since MAD went into cultural decline in the '70s?

What, me worry?
posted by Dr-Baa at 6:46 AM on October 24, 2008


While I can understand why Crime Does Not Pay is on the list over Tales From the Crypt (it came first, both in publication and raising a Think Of The Children! ruckus), I really think Tales deserves the slot.

Eisner should be on this list. So should Mickey Mouse (animation tie-in). And Archie. And Captain Marvel.

Thinking more, the terms of significance need to be better defined. Are the comics chosen because of their significance to American culture? Or to comics themselves? There is a difference there, where a comic's contribution may be a Big Deal to the industry (Blackmark) but of little impact on culture. Of course, those comics with huge cultural significance tend to have comic industry impact as well (Action #1).
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:53 AM on October 24, 2008


My only real issue is with the Youngblood choice. I like the point the author is trying to make with that, but I would've gone with MacFarlane's Spawn. It was the ultimate finger to Marvel from an auteur who was rocking out on their flagship title Spider-Man.

Spawn did a good job of showing how the artist couldn't do what he really wanted at a mainstream label, and the commercial success made it possible for not just Rob Liefield but Jim Lee and Jae Lee to jump ship as well.
posted by butterstick at 6:58 AM on October 24, 2008


robocop is bleeding: Archie is on the list, but I agree that Grant needed to better define "significance".

With the exception of Detective Comics #1, whose inclusion seems a little redundant, I agree with Grant up to around Amazing Spider-Man #1 - regardless of the character's popularity, it wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Fantastic Four #1. Then I would have swapped Blackmark for Cerebus and Uncanny X-Men #129 for Crisis on Infinite Earths #1, or, since I wouldn't have DC #1 in my list, have both. Lastly I would switch Maus for RAW, wherein it first appeared and the American underground gave birth to art comics.

Shonen Jump shouldn't even be on there.

Thanks, grampa.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:27 AM on October 24, 2008


um, calvin and hobbes?

Newspaper strips don't seem to be included. Possibly that's why The Spirit isn't there as well.
posted by Artw at 7:56 AM on October 24, 2008


It's a list of significance, not quality, in relation to comic books, so anyone complaining about the exclusion of Pogo or The Spirit based on their artistic merit or cultural value or all around awesomeness (all well deserved), for example, are off base.

And anyone suggesting Cerebus should be on the list... doesn't its Canadianness disqualify it from the list?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:10 AM on October 24, 2008


Huh, I didn't see Bill Hicks on this list anywhere.
posted by daHIFI at 9:11 AM on October 24, 2008


I swear to god strangeleftydoublethink, before I even read any of the comments and I just clicked on the link, I thought, 'I better see Reid Flemming on that list.'

Seriously.
posted by Relay at 10:51 AM on October 24, 2008


Additionally, besides Maus, it nearly completely ignores the trend of modern adult comics to write with an eye toward eventual publication in graphic novel format.

...

I wasn't bitching about the presence of a particular author, but rather about how it essentially ignored the trend of serious comics to be written in a longer form that eventually get archived as "graphic novels".

The article doesn't ignore the advent of the graphic novel at all; as your first comment points out, Maus is on the list for exactly this reason. There don't need to be subsequent items to back up a previously-stated point.

Additionally, the author is using Maus to conflate two very important points in the evolution of the comics medium which occurred during the 80's. The rise of the graphic novel, which you point out, and the gradual acceptance of the medium itself as a viable artform. Moore, Miller, Morrison and Gaiman were, at that point, still genre hacks. Fantastically talented, game-changing genre hacks, but genre-hacks nonetheless.
posted by lekvar at 12:57 PM on October 24, 2008


To others like me whose introduction to Reid Flemming has been through this thread, here's the first issue online.
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:06 PM on October 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dr-Baa, post that puppy to the front page.

No, seriously.

If you don't, I will.
posted by lekvar at 1:23 PM on October 24, 2008


since if you know nothing else about the man

When did I say I didn't know anything Eisner? Besides I wasn't attacking anybody in particular on this thread but it is obvious that alot of people totally missed (didn't read) the reasoning why he included on the list.

Shonen Jump shouldn't even be on there.

Thanks, grampa.


You're welcome son!

Now explain why he include that on a list of The 20 most significant comics in American comics history.

Anime has had a much larger impact upon the American style than manga has. And if you are going to list a manga why not stick with his previous reasoning?
posted by P.o.B. at 1:43 PM on October 24, 2008


Now explain why he include that on a list of The 20 most significant comics in American comics history.

Because Shonen Jump is a good signpost for the mainstreaming of manga in America, a phenomenon which occurred independently of the two largest publishers of comics in North America (Yes, I know Marvel translated Akira twenty years ago. The target audience for manga in North America weren't even born yet.)

That manga has become culturally mainstream in North America without being a part of the North American mainstream comics market is incredibly significant.

Anime has had a much larger impact upon the American style than manga has.

The kids buying Death Note don't give two shits about how anime has influenced the American style. There is undoubtedly an overlap of audiences, but a large chunk of the young demographic who buy manga are not thirty-five year old Marvel Zombies or nostalgia junkie Johnny DCs. The Big Two are not really on the radar - the efforts of American manga publishers, although leading to a glut of 'that big-eyed stuff' as it used to be called, has bypassed the traditional producers and market and created one unto itself.

Again, that's the significance.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:58 AM on October 25, 2008


My point was that the reason manga is even big in America is due to and directly proportional to the amount of anime available and watched in the U.S. A point which Grant touches upon in the article. I understand what the significance of adding SJ was, but (like I mentioned) throughout most of the article he maintains a certain reasoning on why he included these comics most of which has to do with firsts of one one sort or another. Shonen Jump does not fall in line with his reasoning.
It's not that I don't think manga should get a mention, but if he's going to include it I would have preferred to see Lone Wolf and Cub or some other introductory manga that garnered a large audience.

That manga has become culturally mainstream in North America without being a part of the North American mainstream comics market is incredibly significant

I would disagree entirely with your statement there. It's the same kids. By that I mean the same types of kids who would have wasted their money on shitty comics when they were young are the same types (albeit a larger amount) who will waste their money on crappy manga titles now.
So relax, it's just my opinion.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:52 PM on October 25, 2008


Is this what you mean by manga? hokusai manga
posted by vronsky at 6:25 PM on October 26, 2008


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