Monday, August 15, 2011

“What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?”

Today I recieved and email from Rob Martin of The Hooded Utilitarian. I can't quite claim that I totally forgot about this survey but I think it is fair to say I sent in my list on May and didn't think much about it again.

The survey question was: “What are the ten comics works you consider your favorites, the best, or the most significant?” The official tabulations that include my votes are published here The order I wrote down has been altered to reflect the greater survey methodology blah blah blah.

Below is how I listed 'em on my actual "ballot."

Superman #162
Superman Red and Superman Blue

This comic came out in 1963. I was 12 years old. 1963 was one of the all time best years in the history of the emerging Marvel Comics. On the cover this issue of Superman was billed as the "Greatest Imaginary Story of All Time!" And for me it was.

I'm not sure that I've ever read it except for that one time, probably at camp. But it has stuck with me ever since. It was sappy, overly Utopian and had a wonderful cornball triple wedding ending.

Superman Red/Superman Blue
served up a heaping helping of happiness. It tied up all the loose ends of my childhood comic reading and I suspect that this issue was my jumping off point for DC. Long after it ceased to satisfy me anymore, I was finally able to let go of the Mort Weisinger lines of "kid stuff." I wouldn't give DC the time of day again until the start of the next decade.

Grieving Lincoln
Editorial cartoon by Bill Mauldin
Chicago Sun-Times
November 22, 1963

The way the legend goes, Bill Mauldin heard the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated and went right to his drawing board and this is what came out. I believe it.

November 22, 1963 was everything that everyone has ever written about it and more. There are so many movies and TV shows about that day and even Mad Men used it as an opportunity for a season cliffhanger.

I was at school in the 7th grade. Messengers started coming into the classroom and either whisper or hand notes to our teachers. Our teachers started crying. I had never seen a teacher cry before. We were whisked off to the auditorium for an assembly and the principal tried to explain the inexplicable to a bunch of children. He cried too. The Principal, who everyone was scared to death of, was crying. I'm not sure if I truly understood the gravity of the moment beyond the fact that adults were weeping. That was scary enough. Something disappeared that day. Some kind of childhood's end.

I don't remember very much after that. Went home. Plopped myself down in front of the TV watching with the rest of the shocked nation. I really didn't know what to think until the next morning when the paper came. Bill Mauldin's Grieving Lincoln said it all, on so many resonating levels, in one incredible snapshot. I saved that newspaper. That means I still own the first printing of this cartoon.

The Fourth World series
Jack Kirby
DC Comics

I stopped reading Marvel Comics sometime during my senior year of high school. I don't remember officially quiting or anything. I believe I had better and more urgent things to spend my money on. And I was also starting to discover underground comics. And they satisfied my comics itch in a way that Marvel wasn't able to anymore.

Then in the summer of 1970, while I was doing a stint as a camp counselor, a kid in my cabin had copy of Jimmy Olsen and it was drawn by Jack Kirby. Huh? Jack "King" Kirby was drawing and writing possibly the most lame DC title of all time?

I read it. I was hooked. I read both DC and Marvel comics from then until around 1988 or so.
Jimmy Olsen, New Gods, Forever People, and Mister Miracle were one seamless epic that lasted for 2 years before DC freaked out and pulled the plug. The ideas were huge. The artwork powerful. The dialogue not so much. So what? It was Kirby unleashed. Kirby's Fourth World is work that I spend a lot of time with when to when feel myself wandering off course and needing a tune-up.

Zap Comix stories of Robert Crumb.

The discovery R Crumb, serious sex, and LSD happened so simultaneously and are so entangled in my psyche that I can't really try to unravel it all. The proverbial doors of perception both opened and shut. I was never quite the same after the winter-spring of 1969. Perfect frame of mind to be leaving the comforts of home and starting art school. Crumb's work remains to this day an energy source to plug into when I recognize I need a recharging.

Jeff Smith

Jeff is probably the best all-round cartoonist of my generation.
He has influenced me in so many ways on a personal, artistic, and business level.
I'm proud to call him my friend.

Nick Fury Agent of S.H.E.I.L.D.
Jim Sterenko
Marvel Comics

Sterenko's body of work is pretty small.
But it was published when I was 16 & 17 and it blew my mind. Sterenko took Kack Kirby's essentials swirled in other stuff like the language of film, surrealism pop art and op art effects. His layouts were different than anything being done by anyone else. I learned a lot about design from Sterenko. (In college I sent in my money for Sterenko's History of the Comics #3 and I'm still waiting for its delivery. I don't tink it's coming.)

Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Marvel Comics

For most of my teens, my favorite Marvel series were Fantastic Four, Thor, and Captain America. As time has passed, I think Thor surges forward the most in memory as the others fade. Which has absolutely nothing to do with the work itself but everything to do with me.
The pure power of Kirbyness and Kirbyisms are so strong in Thor. In was the fertile soil from which Fourth World sprang not so long later. Celestials too. As a teen I loved the back up Tales of Asgard adventures of young Thor and Loki.

Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith
Marvel Comics

Conan was my gateway book into Robert E. Howard's prose, Sword & Sorcery and fantasy as genres, and another way to look at pen and ink in the black & white magazines. Reading issue #4 "The Tower of the Elephant" was one of those critical moments when I recognized that I didn't know half as much about comics as I thought I did.

Fantastic Four
Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Marvel Comics

My favorite memory of any part of the series is when Dr Doom stole the Silver Surfer's powers.
The image of Surfer laying in the hay in the stable (I think that's what it was) reverberates in my head to this day. Quite simply The World's Greatest Comic Magazine, right?

Up Front
Bill Mauldin
Military editorial cartoons featuring Willie and Joe
Stars & Stripes

There was a first edition copy of Up Front (and two of Back Home) in my parent's library as I was growing up. My mother knew how much I paid attention to Mauldin's editorial cartoons in the Sun-Times every day and at some point put Up Front in my hands and suggested I read it. The Mauldin books, and the editorial cartooning books of Herblock and John Fischetti, all moved upstairs into my library and have followed me wherever I've lived ever since. I read Up Front over and over and over. I can't begin to tell you how happy I am that all of this work is back in print at Fantagraphics.

(Also, I've never hidden the fact the name that my own characters "ChSol'jers" is an homage to the way Willie and Joe refereed to themselves as "so'jers.")

When I sent in the above, I added this caveat:

This is my list today. It might have been a different list if I compiled it yesterday or tomorrow, Do I think this is the list of the best comics ever?
Not really.
But this is the list of some of the things that stuck with me, influenced me, and made me whatever sort of cartoonist I am today.

The day I jotted these down was May 22nd.
Keep all that in mind as you read this post.



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