-Found a bunch of links to best of 2008 lists today. I'll post an updated master list tomorrow. The most interesting new ones definitely those from Drawn, but they're really unusual lists. And kind of problematic for my project (more on that tomorrow). But they're still really good lists, especially for people whose interests in comics are broad enough to include things that technically might not be comics. If you know what I mean.
As for the others.... Look, the lists you've all seen by now are, generally speaking, the best lists out there at the moment. With maybe one or two exceptions, these new lists fall into one of two categories: lists from well-known sources which kind of suck, or lists from basically unknown sources that don't suck. Okay, there are also a few unknown/suck combinations as well. The biggest gap between name value and quality of thought comes from the Washington Post (scroll down). Their list from last year sucked as well. I'm willing to bet that their lists are comprised entirely of whatever they're sent, and that 90% of what they're sent comes from Dark Horse and DC. Either that or this list is farted out by someone who doesn't have the time/energy/expertise to put into such things. But based on some of the strange choices in 2007, I'd guess the former.
Plus: the first appearance of Buffy on one of these things! Shit, I thought all that was over by now. I suppose this will pop up on a few other lists, especially if Entertainment Weekly bothers to make one this year.
-A few people have shared some thoughts about the process of making lists in the past couple of days, and I agree with very little of what I've read. Undoubtedly the least valuable of these posts comes from Lucas Siegel of the new Blog@Newsarama. I feel sort of responsible for the shit storm that follows in the comics, given that I mockingly linked to the article yesterday (Heidi MacDonald even repeats my description of Siegel's position as "affirmative action for superhero comics"). Really, I'm not sure it merits this much attention in and of itself (as an expression of a larger sentiment, perhaps it does; more on this later). Tom Spurgeon pretty much captures its spirit perfectly in describing it as something "from a Usenet Group in 1996."
But this isn't the first instance of anti-best of list backlash from the new Blog@Newsarama crew. Getting much less attention is this post from Sarah Jaffe, taking the New York Magazine top 10 (or 12) list to task for not including the collected Local. If that's going to be her standard for excellence in these lists, she's going to be sorely disappointed; in my experience compiling these things, very few books show up in more than a small fraction of lists. And from what I've seen so far, the collected Local isn't going to be one of them this year. Why? For one thing, it's a collection of comics previously published from 2005 to 2008. Bloggers and writers for comics-oriented publications tend to ignore these sorts of collections, making them particularly dependent on lists coming from general interest publications. Of the six lists like this I've compiled so far, only NPR includes the collected Local. No comics-focused sources have ranked it yet.
Still, I take Jaffe's comment to be more boosterism than complaint; I think she's more interested in drumming up her readers' interest in the book than anything. I was more disappointed in the comments her post elicited, especially this one by Ryan Higgins:
It’s depressing sometimes that these lists always consist of books that I can’t sell to save my life. Outside of Fables, I stocked a few of these, and not a single one has sold.
I'm not sure what Higgins' point is. If he's bemoaning his inability to sell quality works to his customers, I would think this would be more of a self-deprecating statement. You know, "what does it say about me as a salesman that I can't sell comics which the critical consensus rates as the best of the year." Or maybe, "Boy, our customers suck." That kind of thing. Instead, this seems more in line with Lucas Siegel's position that there are too many "pretentious" choices on these lists, that critics don't have their finger on the pulse of what the comics industry is really about, etc., etc.
This isn't anything new, of course. We've seen countless examples of superhero fan rage at the alleged snobbery of the art/literary comics contingent. I'm finding the superhero people a little touchier lately, though. It used to take statements of outright derision to set them off, but I'm seeing increasingly volcanic reactions to the omission of superhero comics from discussions of what constitutes the "best" in comics. I first noticed this during the Best American Comics 2007 fiasco from last year; it looks like we're seeing it again now.
I can't attribute this trend (assuming it's actually a trend and not a figment of my imagination) to anything with absolute certainty, but I've got some ideas. We see many superhero partisans (perhaps most notably Paul O'Brien) cite the popularity of superhero movies as evidence that superhero comics better reflect mainstream tastes than something like Acme Novelty Library. Somehow this leads to the conclusion that anything purporting to list the "best" comics is somehow flawed if it fails to include superhero comics.
The problem here how you get from the factual statement that the general public likes superhero movies to the questionable conclusion that best of lists/anthologies must include superhero comics. There are at least three assertions one must accept to get from (a) to (b):
1. There are superhero comics from the period in question which are worthy of inclusion in best of lists/anthologies.
2. The aforementioned superhero comics will appeal to the segment of the general public which enjoys superhero movies.
3. Best of lists/anthologies must reflect popular tastes in order to be considered legitimate.
Clearly there are problems with all three assertions. In clarifying his original post, Siegel suggests that most shonen manga somehow qualify as superhero comics. I think this greatly stretches the definition of "superhero" as a genre, but we'll leave that aside. By including things like, presumably, Naruto or Bleach, you can beef up assertion #2: these comics are popular, and they're popular for the same reason movies like Iron Man and The Dark Knight are popular. Again, I've got my doubts about this, but let's put that aside. Does the popularity of these comics necessitate their inclusion in a best of list or anthology?
I don't see how this follows. There are a number of commenters who distrust the idea of best of lists because they overvalue the concepts of objectivity and expertise. In other words, you can't trust most lists because (a) they reflect the list-maker's subjective tastes and (b) it's extremely unlikely that the list-maker will have read every single comic of any merit in any given year. Thus, once can view the inclusion of a couple of superhero comics as evidence that neither of these problems afflict a given list. If a list full of artsy fartsy comics includes one or two Marvel or DC titles, it can provide the illusion that the list-maker has expertise in/appreciation of all areas of comics, even if the only superhero comics (s)he has read all year long were written by Grant Morrison.*
There are, naturally, going to be some people who include Captain America alongside Alan's War in their lists not out of tokenism, but out of a genuine respect and admiration for each work. But no one should get upset when mainstream publications ignore Marvel and DC, and possibly Dark Horse and Image as well. Ask yourself: do you really think that the average person sitting down to write one of these lists for Time or The Onion or whatever is going to hold Rage of the Red Lanterns and Bottomless Belly Button in equal regard? Can you not see the difference in appeal among the types of people who make these sorts of lists? Sure, Rage of the Red Lanterns will outsell Bottomless Belly Button in the short run**, but does that obligate those of us who actually take the time to make these lists to include something by Geoff Johns on our lists?
Are we even obligated to read Geoff Johns' output when making our lists? I would argue pretty strenuously that we aren't, that most of us who think enough about comics to assemble a best of 2008 list probably know by now whether or not we like Geoff Johns' work. To some, this might diminish our expertise, or reveal our subjectivity. This concern is misguided. Certainly, I would not value a list written by someone with a very narrow range of interests, or a very limited familiarity with comics released in 2008. That's why I have criteria for inclusion on the meta-list; I'm not going to take a top 10 list which includes eight superhero comics, Penny Arcade, and something by Jonathan Hickman very seriously.
But we should be realistic. Does everybody who makes a list share your interests and prejudices? You'd have to be very, very naive to expect every list to cater to your tastes. Does every list reflect the same level of expertise? Of course not. Not everyone making a list will be able to afford to buy every comic of interest to them, and they probably won't be able to find every one of these books in the library or a bookstore which permits reading in the cafe. Most of us won't recieve complimentary copies of Kramers Ergot 7, and lots of those folks might not put it on their best of 2008 list because they can't afford to buy a copy for themselves.
I really don't have a problem with that, though. There are a lot of lists to choose from out there. It's only December 11, and I've already found at least a dozen worthy of consideration. And hey, I'm going to do a lot of the work for you by compiling all these lists into one meta-list reflecting scores of different perspectives. The final top 10 probably won't be entirely to your liking, but what's stopping you from making your own top 10? You could make it nothing but superhero comics if you want. I mean, I won't take it seriously, but other people might. It might bother you that your list won't have the same reach as those from major media sources; if so, I guess you'll just have to get over it. Sorry, but that's life.
*Of course, you'd have some people who would consider the inclusion of a Grant Morrison comic as prima facie evidence of pretentiousness. We can probalby dismiss these people as the types who would rank Essential Power Pack as the number one comic of the year, thus establishing that they're not quite ready to sit at the grown-ups' table yet.
**I'm guessing. In the long run, I expect that people will still be reading Bottomless Belly Button years and years after all but the most ardent fanboys have forgotten what a Red Lantern is.
-BONUS TERRIBLE GROSS OUT COVERAGE: For the vast, vast majority of you, this will be the worst thing you see all day. Do you dare click on the link? Please note: I'm not kidding. This is terrible, and you might regret looking at it.
-EXTRA BONUS LINK UPDATE: Right after posting this, I read Tom Spurgeon's review of some undoubtedly terrible comic by some D-list celebrity. I don't know how Tom's going to feel about me saying this, but that's one of the best reviews I've read in months; insightful and very funny. Just wanted to point out my appreciation for it, since Tom doesn't have comments and probably wouldn't publish correspondence saying nothing more than "That was awesome, dude."