Monday, March 3, 2008

More meta-stuff: comics-focused lists vs. general interest lists

This is a continuation of the meta-list project. For previous posts, start here.

Here's the breakdown of the lists I compiled. There are only two categories here: comics-specific sources (including blogs and The Comics Journal) and general interest sites (including newspapers and web magazines). You might assume that this essentially divides the list into experts vs. non-experts, but this is not true; Chris Mautner and Douglas Wolk both had their lists incorporated in the general interest category. That's not to say that every general-interest list was compiled by someone with especially compelling opinions about comics; but then again, that's also true of the comics-specific lists. There were a number of newspaper and magazine lists, however, which seemed to include a lot of material from the same publisher/imprint. This suggests that review copy distribution might have a greater effect on the general interest lists.


As you might expect, the content and format of books charting on each list varied quite a bit. As you can see looking at the tables below, comics-specific sites tended to include more series, whereas general interest lists tended to favor single volume graphic novels. (One exception to this is that the general interest lists had far more Vertigo series to chart.) For reasons I haven't quite parsed, web comics did much better on the general interest list. I'm tempted to attribute it in part to Lev Grossman's list for Time, but (a) that only counts for half the web comics, and (b) it includes the one web comic to make the comics-specific list, Chris Onstad's Achewood.

There were significant differences in content as well. The comics-specific list included twice as many manga titles. As Jog suggested, those manga titles making the general interest list tended to be single volume affairs, perhaps mirroring the general public's greater interest in done-in-one graphic novels or big, chunky omnibus type things. I'm not so sure I totally agree with this line of reasoning--as mentioned earlier, Vertigo titles did much better on the general interest list than on the comics-focused one. For folks who wait for the trade, I don't know if I see much difference between manga and Vertigo collections, at least in terms of format.

I think this is actually more of a content issue. I don't think it's a coincidence that the manga titles charting on the combined list tended to be exactly the ones which North Ameircan comics-oriented bloggers tend to champion: Tekkon Kinkreet, Monster, the Drifting Classroom, the collected works of Tezuka, and so forth. We're all aware that there's a revolution going on in Borders and Barnes and Nobles across the United States and Canada, but it seems that there are relatively few North American critics who have really embraced the kind of manga which kids are buying. This seems especially dire with regard to shojo--it's being championed by Matt Brady (non-Newsarama version), Johanna Draper Carlson, and a few others, but it's not making the same kind of waves as the titles noted above. I'm not trying to accuse anyone of any prejudicial thinking; I haven't exactly made shojo manga a priority. Ideally, I'd like to see greater fluidity in the categories, fewer lists where you can pick out a token manga choice. Maybe that will happen as the comics industry matures. And this does seem to be an even more severe problem in the general interest lists, which seem less likely to have even a token manga choice.

Superhero comics seem to be just as popular among the general-interest lists as the comics-focused ones. I don't really have any conclusion to draw from this, except to note that the vast majority of titles in each list fall outside the superhero sub-genre. Also noteworthy is the slightly greater success of collections of vintage material on lists from comics-focused sources. This is largely attributable to the greater success of classic comic strip collections on comics-focused lists.

The breakdowns for each category appear below, followed by explanations for the terminology I used.


Single volume graphic novels: 38
Comic book series: 24
Graphic novel series: 22
Comic strip collections: 10
Other: 4
Single issue comic books: 2
Web comics: 1
Newspaper comics: 1

Manga: 12
Other non-English: 5
Superhero: 15
Vintage: 15


Single volume graphic novels: 51
Comic book series: 24
Graphic novel series: 12
Comic strip collections: 8
Web comics: 4
Other: 2
Single issue comic books: 1

Manga: 6
Other non-English: 7
Superhero: 15
Vintage: 11


Single volume graphic novels: 42
Graphic novel series: 21
Comic book series: 19
Comic strip collections: 9
Other: 4
Web comics: 2
Single issue comic books: 2
Newspaper comics: 1

Manga: 10
Other non-English: 7
Superhero: 13
Vintage: 12

Single volume graphic novel: A book, generally square bound with a relatively large page count, which encompasses the entirety of a story in its pages. Also used to describe collections of material with no additional volumes planned. Examples: Exit Wounds, I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets
Graphic novel series: Same format as above, except that it's a multi-volume series. Examples: Scott Pilgrim, Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus
Comic book series: The traditional North American format of a 20-60 page, stapled comic with multiple issues. Examples: Captain America, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Note that limited series which were mostly published in 2006 or earlier and had a graphic novel collection appear early in 2007 were counted as graphic novels; example: Beyond!)
Single issue comic book: Same format as above, except the story is finished in one issue. Differs from a single-volume graphic novel in length, format, and (perhaps most importantly) likelihood of being stocked in a general interest bookstore. Example: Crecy
Web comic: A comic for which new installments first appear on the internet. Examples: Erfworld, Achewood
Comic strip collection: A collection of short-form comics which originally appeared in newspapers or as strip-format web comics. Examples: Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto, The Complete Dick Tracy
Newspaper comics: Comics which first appear in newspapers; may also appear on the internet, but usually through newspapers' websites. Examples: Mister Wonderful, Garfield (the latter is hypothetical)
Other: Things I cannot easily categorize, like Ivan Brunetti's Comics: Philosophy and Practice (a pamphlet included with an issue of Comic Art #9) and Elvis Road (essentially an enormous poster; see the description here).

Manga: Comics originally published in Japanese.
Other non-English: Comics originally published in languages other than English or Japanese.
Superhero: Action-oriented comics featuring superpowered or costumed characters. I included BRPD and The Umbrella Academy in this category.
Vintage: Books reprinting material which is over 30 years old.

And that brings us to the lists themselves. In addition to the two meta-lists for each category, I've also included the combined meta-list for ease of reference. There are a few comments on the categorized lists; my comments on the combined meta-list can be found here.

In general, I was struck by how lists from comics-focused sources were more likely to include quirkier, less conventional comics. I'm reminded of recent debates over the merits of comics specialty shops vs. general interest bookstores for fulfilling the needs of customers and publishers. There seems to be a similar question for comics criticism, and it appears that publications and websites devoted to comics coverage advocate a more diverse array of material. Many of you are probably saying "duh" right now, but I thought it best to point this out.


1. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets (682)
I was rather surprised by this placement. Anyone who reads comics blogs knows that Paul Karasik's collection of Fletcher Hanks' comics was a big hit among comics fans, but this has to be better than anyone involved could have expected. It's noteworthy that I Shall Destroy... appears 16 places lower on the general interest list. Perhaps the works of Fletcher Hanks held greater resonance for those already immersed in the language and traditions of comics.
2. All-Star Superman (557)
3. Alias the Cat (441)
This doesn't even appear on the general interest lists. It's not like Pantheon is a small budget press which can't afford to distribute review copies, so I guess we have to attribute this discrepancy to wildly differing tastes between the two categories of list-makers.
4. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (440)
5. Powr Mastrs (439)
See comments for Alias the Cat above.
6. Exit Wounds (428)
7. Shortcomings (391)
8. Immortal Iron Fist (352)
9. Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus (342)
10. Criminal (298)

11. The Blot (295)
12. Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto (290)
13. King City (274)
14. Crecy (256)
I wonder how high this would have charted had it been published in a more conventional graphic novel format by a more conventional publisher. This did not appear on the general interest list at all.
15. Chance In Hell (254)
16. Maggots (244)
17. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 (238)
See comments in the general interest list below.
18. The Umbrella Academy (227)
19. Shooting War (226)
20. Dr. 13: Architecture and Morality (219)
I'm counting this as a single volume graphic novel, given that (a) its previous format was in backup stories in an anthology, and (b) pretty much every specified the title of the collected edition.

21. Complete Persepolis (216)
22. Fluffy (214)
23. Notes For a War Story (212)
24. Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil (206)
25. Nat Turner volume 2 (204)
26. The Complete Terry and the Pirates (201)
27. The Complete Peanuts (198)
28. Achewood (190)
This is the only web comic on the comics-focused list, and it owes its placement to only a handful of lists. Comics critics either aren't reading webcomics, or they're not liking what they see. Or maybe they're not taking web comics seriously because they aren't printed. It will be interesting to see how Dash Shaw's Bodyworld does on best of 2008 lists.
29. Love and Rockets digest series (189)
30. Acme Novelty Library #18 (186)

31. Tekkon Kinkreet (183)

32. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (174)
It got about as many points from comics-oriented lists as general interest lists, but those points went a lot further on the other list, where this comes in at #17.
33. Apollo's Song (173)
34. Superspy (171)
35. House (169)
The Professor's Daughter (169)
37. Captain America (162)
38. Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice (156)
Elvis Road (156)

40. Casanova (155)
41. Alice In Sunderland (150)
42. Bookhunter (147)
43. MW (144)
44. King Cat Classix (143)
45. New Engineering (137)
Spent (137)
47. Fell (135)
48. Sundays With Walt and Skeezix (134)
49. Mister Wonderful (129)
Uptight (129)

51. Aya (124)
52. Red Eye, Black Eye (123)
53. Moomin (122)
54. Drifting Classroom (120)
55. Monster (118)
56. Empowered (115)
57. The Complete Dick Tracy (113)
58. Rodolphe Topffer: The Complete Comic Strips (112)
59. Walt and Skeezix (111)

60. Hack/Slash (110)
How to Be Everywhere (110)
Love and Rockets: Maggie the Mechanic (110)
Last Call (110)
Laika (110)
65. The Spirit (109)
66. The Arrival (108)
Remember, this came in at #14 on the combined meta list.
67. The End (106)
68. Storeyville (103)
Essex County series (103)
Essex County was at #20 on the combined list.
70. EC Segar's Popeye (101)

71. Don't Go Where I Can't Follow (100)
Dragon Head (100)
Punisher (100)
74. Emma (98)
Nana (98)
76. Army@Love (95)
77. Beach Paradise (92)
Bow Wow Bugs a Bug (92)
79. Nextwave: Agents of Hate (89)
The Princes of Time (89)

81. The Salon (85)
Suburban Glamor (85)
83. A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of the Bloody Benders (84)
Scalped (84)
85. Annihilation (83)
86. Yotsuba&! (81)
The Cat Who Walked in Beauty (81)
88. Good as Lily (80)
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (80)
90. The Early Years of Mutt and Jeff (78)

91. BRPD (76)
92. The Boys (75)
93. Garage Band (74)
94. The Order (71)
Speak of the Devil (71)
96. Fables (70)
Percy Gloom (70)
Phonogram (70)
Personal editorializing: Percy Gloom is second only to Town Boy among books which were shafted by comics critics.
99. New Tales of Old Palomar (69)
100. Back in Bleck: Blecky Yuckerella volume 2 (67)
Parasyte (67)
Tamara Drewe (67)
Tamara Drewe got all its votes from British list-makers; I'm curious to see how it charts for 2008, now that it's available in North America.


1. Exit Wounds (657)
2. Shortcomings (550)
These two did well on comics-focused lists, but they really pulled away from the rest of the field among the general interest sources. This alone doesn't prove the "Chris Ware and his ilk have undue influence" theory (especially since there isn't a whole lot of formally ambitious work on this list), but it's interesting that the four titles which bested Exit Wounds and Shortcomings on the comics-focused lists could safely be described as more "fun" than these two graphic novels. Also worth considering are comments made by Douglas Wolk and others concerning writing about comics for general interest publications and websites, specifically the advocative function of such writing. Perhaps some of these list makers thought that advocating graphic novels with more serious subject matter would make a better case for comics as a serious medium. But that's all speculative, and I don't want to take anything away from what Rutu Modan and Adrian Tomine have accomplished. These books did very well on both lists.
3. All-Star Superman (351)
4. Criminal (349)
5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 (303)
Now here's a stunning contrast--this was only 17th on the comics-focused list. That's still pretty high, of course, but this is exceptionally high. I seem to recall this doing better with entertainment-oriented publications and websites, as opposed to traditional newspapers and alternative weeklies.
6. The Arrival (275)
Another big difference (it's #66 on the comics-focused list). I'm not sure why this clicked so much better with general interest sources.
7. Y the Last Man on Earth (255)
The first example of Vertigo titles placing higher on this list.
8. The Killer (237)
9. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (219)
10. Superspy (215)

11. Essex County series (210)
12. I Killed Adolf Hitler (181)
I really can't explain why this graphic novel was so much more successful on the general interest lists. It didn't make the top 100 for comics-oriented lists.
13. The Plain Janes (171)
The Minx line really did much better with the more mainstream-type publications. I suspect it has something to do with better publicity, given that this book in particular received a rather lukewarm response among comic bloggers.
14. Micrographica (170)
The Professor's Daughter (170)
16. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (169)
17. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets (168)
You know, this is a pretty good showing, really, given the relatively tame nature of this list.
18. Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto (154)
19. EC Segar's Popeye (147)
Three Paradoxes (147)
Popeye was the highest charting vintage comic strip collection, almost doubling the point total of the next highest entry (Sundays With Walt and Skeezix, #44 below). The PBF collection came in one spot ahead, making it the highest charting comic strip collection overall on this list.

21. Chance in Hell (132)
22. Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (131)
The highest charting manga on this list. It's also probably the closest manga to an Exit Wounds/Fun Home type book to come out in 2007 (with the possible exception of With the Light). This might not be a coincidence.
23. White Rapids (128)
24. Aya (127)
25. The Salon (121)
26. Apollo's Song (119)
27. AD: New Orleans After the Flood (110)
The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam (110)
29. MW (103)
Once again, Vertical's Tezuka collections finish very close to each other.
30. Silverfish (101)

31. Achewood (100)
Good As Lily (100)
33. Shooting War (97)
I expected this to place higher here than on the comics-focused list. This was not the case--it's #19 on the other list.
34. The Other Side (96)
35. Fell (90)
The Goon: Chinatown (90)
37. Alice In Sunderland (86)
38. Girls (83)
39. Sentences (81)
40. Marvel Zombies 2 (80)

41. Crossing Midnight (78)
42. The Escapists (77)
Principles of Uncertainty (77)
44. Sundays With Walt and Skeezix (75)
Pretty good placement for such a high priced book. I know I said that before, but it seems doubly true here.
45. Casanova (73)
46. Dogs and Water (70)
Incredible Change Bots (70)
Maxwell Strangewell (70)
48. The Blot (66)
The Complete Terry and the Pirates (66)
Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus (66)

51. Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil (63)
52. Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus (62)
53. Army@Love (61)
Beyond! (61)
55. Empowered (60)
Jack of Fables (60)
As others have pointed out, it's strange that Jack of Fables did better than its parent book. All it takes is one vote (in this case, it's Time's Lev Grossman's vote).
57. Laika (58)
A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of the Bloody Benders (58)
It's good to see a Treasury of Victorian Murder book doing well on this list. That seems like the perfect series for bookstore shoppers.
59. Captain America (50)
Erfworld (50)
Sugar Sugar Rune (50)

62. American Elf volume 2 (48)
63. Bookhunter (46)
French Milk (46)
MPD Psycho (46)
Tekkon Kinkreet (46)
Two-Fisted Tales Archives (46)
Anybody know what's up with French Milk? Amazon has it listed as coming out later this year here, but as a 2000 release here. (UPDATE: I've been informed that French Milk was self-published in 2000 and will be re-released later this year. I'm not sure why it ended up on a best of 2007 list, given these circumstances, but I'll definitely be interested in reading it later this year. I've been further informed that Amazon is incorrect, invalidating the previous update. Except the part about my being eager to read it. French Milk was, in fact, originally published in 2007.)
68. Paris (45)
69. The Homeless Channel (43)
70. Phonogram (42)
Will and Abe's Guide to the Universe (42)
There were a lot more contemporary comic strip collections on this list compared to the comics-oriented one. Here's something to make me feel old: I bet Matt Groening's kids are out of high school by now.

72. Green Arrow Year One (40)
Irredeemable Ant-Man (40)
Planet Hulk (40)
The Sinestro Corps War (40)
I don't remember exactly, but these surely all came from the same list.
76. All the Rage: The Boondocks Past and Present (37)
Best American Comics 2007 (37)
The Black Diamond Detective Agency (37)
The Completely Mad Don Martin (37)
DMZ (37)
Fox Bunny Funny (37)
Kimmie 66 (37)
Moomin (37)
Scalped (37)
Sock Monkey: The Inches Incident (37)
The Minx and Vertigo titles keep rolling in.

86. Dark Tower (36)
I'm a little surprised at how poorly this did, given all the publicity and Stephen King's name value. It didn't make a single comics-oriented list, and it didn't place on too many general interest lists, either.
87. Simon Dark (35)
One of the bigger WTF entries on this particular list.
88. Damned (30)
Local (30)
Wasteland (30)
Zuda (the "second wave" specified) (30)

92. Strangers in Paradise (25)
93. Astronaut Dad (23)
First In Space (23)
Nothing Better (23)
I'm classifying Nothing Better as a graphic novel, since that's what the original list-maker specified.
96. Garage Band (22)
97. Cartoon History of the Modern World (21)
The End (21)
Rodolphe Topffer: The Complete Comic Strips (21)
Tiny Tyrant (21)
I would have expected Cartoon History of the Modern World to do better. Those were pretty popular books 10 years ago.


1. Exit Wounds (1085)
2. Shortcomings (941)
3. All Star Superman (908)
4. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets (850)
5. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (660)
6. Criminal (640)
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 (541)
8. Alias the Cat (452)
9. Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto (444)
10. Powr Mastrs (439)

11. Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus (409)
12. Chance in Hell (386)
Superspy (386)
14. The Arrival (383)
15. The Blot (361)
16. Immortal Iron Fist (357)
17. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (343)
18. The Professor's Daughter (339)
19. Shooting War (323)
20. Essex County series (313)*

21. Apollo's Song (293)
22. Achewood (290)
23. Y the Last Man on Earth (275)
24. King City (274)
25. Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil (269)
26. The Complete Terry and the Pirates (267)
27. Crecy (256)
28. Aya (251)
29. EC Segar's Popeye (248)
MW (248)

31. Maggots (241)
32. The Killer (237)
33. Alice in Sunderland (236)
34. Tekkon Kinkreet (229)
35. Casanova (228)
36. The Umbrella Academy (227)
37. Fell (225)
38. Notes For a War Story (224)
39. Dr. 13: Architecture and Morality (219)
40. Complete Persepolis (216)

41. Fluffy (214)
42. Captain America (212)
43. Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (211)
44. Sundays With Walt and Skeezix (209)
45. The Complete Peanuts (208)
46. The Salon (206)
47. Nat Turner volume 2 (204)
48. Bookhunter (193)
49. I Killed Adolf Hitler (190)
50. Love and Rockets digest series (189)**
Micrographica (189)

52. Acme Novelty Library #18 (186)
53. Good As Lily (180)
54. Empowered (175)
55. Plain Janes (173)
56. House (169)
57. Laika (167)
58. Silverfish (161)
59. Moomin (159)
60. Army@Love (156)
Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice (156)
Elvis Road (156)

63. Spent (149)
64. Three Paradoxes (147)
65. Sentences (144)
66. King Cat Classix (142)
A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of the Bloody Benders (142)
68. New Engineering (137)
69. The Other Side (135)
Red Eye, Black Eye (135)
71. Rodolphe Topffer: The Complete Comic Strips (133)

70. Mister Wonderful (129)
Uptight (129)
72. White Rapids (128)
73. The End (126)
74. The Spirit (124)
75. Marvel Zombies 2 (122)
76. Scalped (120)
Drifting Classroom (120)
78. Monster (118)
79. Complete Dick Tracy (116)
80. Dogs and Water (114)

81. Phonogram (112)

82. Walt and Skeezix (111)
85. AD: New Orleans After the Flood (110)
Hack/Slash (110)
How to Be Everywhere (110)
Last Call (110)
Love and Rockets: Maggie the Mechanic (110)
The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam (110)
91. The Escapists (109)
92. American Elf volume 2 (106)

93. Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus (105)
94. Storeyville (103)
95. Don't Go Where I Can't Follow (100)
Dragon Head (100)
The Punisher (100)
98. Emma (98)
Nana (98)
100. Garage Band (96)

..And that probably does it for this year, barring any corrections. I had promised a few more entries on this subject, but I forgot that I'm going out of town this week. I think I've said everything I really had to say here, though, so now I leave it to you to decide what to make of these lists.


Jones, one of the Jones boys said...

Great stuff, Dick. Thanks for doing the spadework and the analysis. I started out writing a comment about "Why Comix Snobz Hate On Shortcomings/Exit Wounds" but it turned into Ben Hur, so I just posted it on my blog instead. Is that more or less douchey than posting it here in the comments? U-Decide, true believer!

Question: how many of each type of list did you include? I.e. how many from comics-specific sites and how many from general sites? You probably mention this in an earlier post, or I might be able to work it out from the numbers, but I'm lazy. I'm actually quite curious whether the disparity in rankings on Shortcomings/Exit Wounds is statistically significant, but I can't work that out unless I know the relevant numbers. (Also unless I can recall any of my biostats courses, but sufficient unto the day and all that). There might not be any real disparity to explain here.

Anonymous said...

Your classification of Crecy seems questionable, as it wasn't stapled. Other than that, very interesting post.


Dick Hyacinth said...

There were approximately 19 of the general interest lists and 44 comics-oriented lists.

mella said...

Interesting list!
Marco M.

MarkAndrew said...

Fletcher Hanks?! Nope. Would never have guessed that.

If I'd have made a list, Percy Gloom would have been huge.

And, man, I liked I Killed Adolph Hitler OK, but absolutely loved the Living and the Dead. Odd to find so many people disagreed.

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