Top comics make fans pick sides

Controversy: Magazine editors say if you don't like their choices, make your own list.

May 22, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER TRIBUNE

"Peanuts." The editorial cartoons of Herblock. "The Fantastic Four." And "Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary."

Those are just a few of the offerings you'll find on the Comics Journal's Top 100 (English-Language) Comics of the Century, an eclectic list that has sparked spirited debate among comics fans.

Which, of course, is one of the points of the list.

There's a "certain provocation" in putting out such a list, acknowledges Kim Thompson, vice president of Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books, which publishes the monthly Comics Journal. While the reaction has been pretty much what he figured, "there were some reactions that astonished even me," he said in a phone interview. For example, "I was amazed by the fact that several people disputed the greatness of `Peanuts,' " which occupies the No. 2 spot on the list.

Those people who bitterly attack the list, saying it isn't legitimate if it doesn't include such-and-such, are overlooking one key thing, Thompson says: The comics on the list are simply the favorites of the Comics Journal editors and writers who took part in the selection process.

"It's our list," says Thompson, who was on the selection panel. "If you don't like this list, make your own!"

Thompson says he's a lot happier with the final list than he thought he would be. "I don't think there are any really serious omissions," he says. The fiercest debate has concerned the omission of Dave Sim's "Cerebus" -- "which came really close to getting on there," Thompson says. He, in fact, voted for Sim.

Another point of debate has been the Comics Journal's loose definition of comics. On the list are comic books, comic strips (including "Pogo," "Dick Tracy," "Gasoline Alley" and "Calvin and Hobbes"), editorial cartoons, even Al Hirschfeld's theatrical caricatures. There are single stories in some spots on the list and the entire runs of some books and strips in other spots.

Anticipating such a debate, an introduction to the list explains, "This magazine has always studied panel cartoonists and cartoon illustrators with a fervor equal to comics artists. For that reason, they are included here."

Thompson says he's "delighted in the fact that there is such a big variety. On one side, there's an entire run of "Peanuts," and on the other side there's an eight-page story, "Master Race."

The Comics Journal champions alternative comics, so it's not surprising to see few mainstream, superhero titles on the list, although it does have Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's run on "The Fantastic Four," Lee and Steve Ditko's work on "The Amazing Spider-Man," Jack Cole's "Plastic Man" and Alan Moore's "Watchmen."

But you won't see Superman or Batman, two truly iconic figures, on the list.

"The Dark Knight Returns," Frank Miller's groundbreaking vision of Batman's future, was considered but didn't make it, Thompson added. Bat fans will be happy to see "The Dark Knight Returns" did make it onto Ray Mescallodo's list of "The Twenty Best Mainstream Comics," which appears along with the Top 100 list in Comics Journal No. 210.

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