Is Peanuts the Best Comic Ever?

For much of the summer, the folks at the Hooded Utilitarian have been polling a variety of comic creators and commenters in order to build a top ten list of best comics. Participants were asked

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

Over 200 people responded, and the results were assembled into one combined list. (Note: I was asked to participate, but I declined, because I’m not very good at that kind of comparative ranking.) I’m copying it here, but please visit that site for links to more in-depth information on each title.

1. Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz
2. Krazy Kat, George Herriman
3. Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson
4. Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
5. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Art Spiegelman
6. Little Nemo in Slumberland, Winsor McCay
7. The Locas Stories, Jaime Hernandez
8. Pogo, Walt Kelly
9. MAD #1-28, Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, et al.
10.The Fantastic Four, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, with Joe Sinnott, et al.

None of the entries are particularly surprising — they’re all acclaimed as exceptional in their areas (superheroes, comic strips, art/independent comics). I know the organizers particularly reached out to manga readers to ensure that that format was covered as well, but I’m also not surprised to see that Osamu Tezuka only came in 33rd with his Phoenix, the highest-ranking manga work on the extended list. Heck, Kirby barely missed out on the top ten, with his Fourth World coming in 11th. Update: As pointed out in the comments, I was being an idiot and ignored the FF Kirby work.

I’m also not shocked to see the first woman’s work ending up at #24, with Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. (Or #18, if you count Lynn Varley as colorist on Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.) Given the usual suspects who get included on these kinds of lists, that’s better than I would have expected. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis makes it in as part of a large tie for #42, and that’s it for women in the top 50. By then, you’re only talking about 7 or 8 votes determining the placement, anyway (and kudos to HU for including those counts).

Some will quibble with the methodology. For instance,

Some of the umbrella entries were suggested by the lists, such as Jaime Hernandez’s The Locas Stories. Others, like The Counterculture-Era Stories of R. Crumb, were invented whole cloth. No one actually voted for “The Counterculture-Era Stories.” It is an umbrella entry covering votes for Head Comix, Fritz the Cat, “Whiteman Meets Bigfoot,” Crumb’s work in Zap Comix, and other solo Crumb efforts from 1976 and before.

Is that assumption, that votes for disparate Crumb works should all be considered the same, based on the idea that “of course, Crumb is a master, so he’ll rank highly”? You can’t eliminate the preconceptions of those assembling the project. To bring even more transparency, individual submitted lists will be published starting next week. Some of the topics I’ve brought up — how to include manga and the work of women — will also be discussed in follow-up essays.

Overall, even though it’s very different from the list I’d make, this is a good list, one that reflects general assumptions about which comic works are valuable or timeless. The discussion is fun to read, too.

Update: Melinda Beasi runs the numbers of participants to put the whole thing in perspective.

So what we really have here is an extremely tiny subset of the world’s population reporting that, of the comics they’ve read, these are the ones that no more than a quarter of them agree might be the best.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to ridicule this process, by any means. I am one of the 0.000003 %, after all! I’m just offering my perspective, and perhaps some insight on why I don’t personally place a lot of value on lists like these, at least as a tool for evaluating art. Lists like these can be interesting and even revealing (I think this one is both), but ultimately they tell us more about the people who voted than they do about whatever it is that’s being voted on.

Similar Posts: Comic Book Comics #4 § Is the Last Independent Comic Distributor Calling It Quits? Haven Shutting Down § Documentary Watching, Fanfic Writing, and Delayed Reading § Crumb Comes to Richmond § Vote for Hot Shojo Boys


4 Responses to “Is Peanuts the Best Comic Ever?”

  1. Thad Says:

    Also seems kind of arbitrary that Mad is taken as a collective work while Love and Rockets isn’t.

  2. Grant Says:

    I’m not surprised at Kirbys ranking given that Berlatsky did a rather lengthy article about how Kirby is over rated and how when it comes to Kirby’s popularity he “doesn’t get it”. Frankly, I’m surprised Charles Shultz isn’t called a hack by HU.

    This list seems pretty safe and predictable but I still don’t take HU seriously. Basically troll comments dressed up as legitimate criticism by contributors who think they’re at the algonquin round table.

  3. Robert Stanley Martin Says:

    Thad–

    Gilbert and Jaime don’t collaborate on their material. That’s why their work was tallied separately.

    And we didn’t treat MAD as a collective work. The ranking is for Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD. His collaborators were all clearly his subordinates on the material. There weren’t any other MAD entries in the Top 115, but two that just missed out were Mort Drucker’s work for the magazine, as well as Sergio Aragonés’.

    Grant–

    The HU rankings do not reflect any value judgment on the part of me or Noah Berlatsky beyond the top-10 lists we submitted, which were of course offset by the other 209 lists we received. The rankings are entirely based on the number of votes received. And if you think the consensus list is predictable, I suggest you look at the entire Top 115. I think you’ll be pretty startled. You’ll be even more startled by the 211 individual contributor lists, which HU started publishing this week.

    Johanna-

    Quick correction: Kirby did make the top 10. The Fantastic Four was #10.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Thanks very much, Robert. I’ve corrected the piece regarding Kirby. I don’t know WHAT I was thinking.

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