This article originally appeared in Strangehaven issue issue #12, October 1999.
The new millennium with all its corresponding hype is nearly upon us, and it seems as if every magazine, TV show and newspaper are announcing their top one hundred lists of the century. So now just seemed about the right time to finally get round to printing a consensus of all those “top ten” lists that I’ve been amassing over the past couple of years.
It’s been compiled from the dozens of lists which I’ve received since my first one from Jonell Napper (which was published in Strangehaven #6 over two years ago). At that time I suggested that other readers send in their favourites, and I’ve received a steady stream of them since.
Not all readers listed ten comics, and few attempted them in any ranking order. So I assigned one point for each top ten title listed, and a half point for those titles that readers couldn’t omit, but fell outside their ten. Via a simple process of addition, I arrived at the ranking order shown below. There’s very few surprises, but by using the information as a marketing tool, it has helped me define Strangehaven’s niche among the majority of self-published and creator-owned comic books.
And if you, dear reader, enjoy Strangehaven, then there’s a fair chance you will enjoy most of these top ten titles, so if you haven’t tried any of them yet, you now have another excuse to do so. Please bear in mind that the titles listed are contemporary comic books, i.e. currently being published. Go buy The Staros Report 1996 and 1997 and The Comics Journal #210 for a broader perspective of this glorious medium’s finest examples. So without any further ado, I present. . .
The Strangehaven Readers’ Top 10 Contemporary Comic Books
1 • Cerebus Dave Sim & Gerhard (Aardvark-Vanaheim)
An inspiration to a generation of self-publishers, including the entire top half of this list and indeed yours truly, it hardly needs me to point out the significance of Dave Sim’s outstanding achievement. Quality, innovation, spectacular artwork, depth of story, superb characterisation and all on a monthly basis for over 20 years. Despite the occasional failed experiment, Cerebus’ influence cannot be over estimated. Deservedly number one and criminally omitted from the Comics Journal’s Top 100 Comics of the Century.
2 • Kane Paul Grist (Dancing Elephant)
Possibly a surprise by ranking so highly, but not as you may think, skewed by UK voting as the majority of votes that I received were from outside the UK. An inspiration for me, and the UK’s longest running self-published comic, paradoxically set in a fictitious US city. Beautifully designed in stark black and white and vastly underrated.
3 • Strangers In Paradise Terry Moore (Abstract Studio)
No surprise here. From Antarctic to self publishing, to Image and back again, Terry weaves his tales of romance and adventure, balancing the ambiguous relationships and sexuality of his main characters ingeniously, but always with humour and a sexily fluid brush stroke. A triumphant success.
4 • Bone Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)
Likewise from self-publishing to Image and back again, Jeff craftily mixes elements from Disney and Pogo with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to create something original. A breeze to read, perfectly consistent artwork and a story to engage readers of all ages. A classic in the making.
5 • Stray Bullets David Lapham (El Capitan)
Who would have thought David was hiding such a talent from his Defiant days drawing Jim Shooter scripts? Stray Bullets is a genius concept, every issue self-contained yet building a much bigger picture of a horrifyingly Tarantinoesque world. The colourful logo, taking up two-thirds of every cover typically displays David’s confidence in his own ability as an uncompromising storyteller.
6 • Preacher Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon (Vertigo)
Vertigo’s successor to the phenomenon that was The Sandman, in sales at least. Violent, funny and topped off with Glen Fabry’s grotesquely beautiful covers.
7 • Kabuki David Mack (Image)
Incredibly beautiful artwork in a range of different media by a master illustrator and starring a oriental heroine that should not be confused with the recent plethora of substandard “bad girls.”
8 • Optic Nerve Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly)
Low-key teen angst, poignant and pathetic stories, exquisitely rendered. Heavily influenced by Clowes, one wonders how good Tomine will get in five years’ time.
9 • Madman Mike Allred (Dark Horse)
Mike’s comics are like dreaming of being in a cartoon; very real and yet very unreal at the same time. Colourful, exciting, fun and wild. An amusement park ride of a comic.
10 • Concrete Paul Chadwick (Dark Horse)
Yet another unique vision, adding more fuel to the argument that single creators produce the best comics. Ecologically sound and finely illustrated, neither fish nor fowl and all the better for it.
Even more self-publishers piqued your interest, including Nabiel Kanan’s fondly remembered Exit, Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder, Eddie Campbell’s Bacchus, Sleaze Castle, Thieves & Kings, Starchild and most obscurely, Arcana.
Also a lot of former self-publishers were well represented, like Martin Wagner’s now deceased Hepcats (most recently at Antarctic), Marc Hempel’s wonderful Tug & Buster (one issue at Image), Strange Attractors (with Caliber), Poison Elves and Wandering Star (both now at Sirius) and Jinx (Image).
Also garnering multiple votes were the sensational From Hell, Shi, Astro City; Books of Magic and Hellblazer from DC; Replacement God, Skeleton Key, Hellboy and, from Drawn & Quarterly, Palookaville plus Jason Lute’s Jar Of Fools and Berlin.
It’s glaringly obvious that most Fantagraphics’ titles rather under-achieved, especially Dan Clowes’ glorious Eightball (bizarrely ranking below Optic Nerve), Peter Bagge’s Hate, Chris Ware’s innovative Acme Novelty Library and the exemplary Love & Rockets, each with only a handful of votes. Shame on you.
Otherwise, there’s precious little I can quibble about with your choices, you all have very fine tastes… although it did surprise me that none mentioned neither the superb works by Steven Weissman (appearing in Fantagraphics’ all-ages Measles), Charles Burns’ sensational Black Hole nor the incomparable Dave Cooper (check out his superb new Weasel quarterly) both also from Fantagraphics, among others.
Let’s do it again next century.