BeListed to DeListed

by Jas Faulkner 

why i hate saturn
Kyle Baker’s comic masterpiece, “Why I Hate Saturn” is one of many graphic novels no longer in print.

I have never been a fan of “best of” lists.  It’s not the subjectivity that gets me.   They always seemed so narrow.  The old sci-fi list books and the current crop of internet sites that are completely devoted to lists  seemed blinkered somehow, whether it was the inclusion or exclusion of certain works or publishers or authors  or in the case of the internet lists, the fact that nothing significant seems to have happened before 1995.  The easy assumption would be laziness on the part of the compilers, but I had to wonder if there was more to it than that.

Last week I got my answer.  An industry site I write for asked sent a request for lists of top fifty graphic novels.  My first response was, “Only fifty?”  It took me about thirty minutes to come up with a list of fifty graphic novels that I would recommend as the best of medium.   I started writing brief entries for each one, explaining why I included them.  Happy that I was so far ahead of the October 30th deadline, I took a break and started working on some other projects.

A couple of days later, I bumped into a colleague online and asked her how was her list coming along.

“Not gonna do it,” she said.  She didn’t care if it entailed getting a mention in a reference book, it just wasn’t worth it. “You are aware that every book on your list has to be in print.”

At that, I nodded and yuh-hunhed.  My list was full of titles that had been shortlisted for and sometimes awarded Nebulas, Ignatzes, Inkpots, Kirbys, Eisners, and so on.  It couldn’t be that hard.   Then I started looking up each title.  My list of fifty was reduced to a list of nineteen.  The thing is, I was not picking obscure collections or rarities.  Many of these books were critics’ favorites that made annual best of lists when they were first released.

I ended up taking a break from the list for a few days more to let things percolate and see if I could get past my frustration.  Did I really want a list bearing my name that consisted of The Watchmen, The Sandman, and  a lad of other books that were good, but not really what I would consider the best?   My gut was telling me to walk away from this.  A visit to the site’s virtual press room confirmed I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

B. a fellow geek and librarian raised his eyebrows when I told him about the project.

“They’re wanting to create a paper list with the criteria being that everything is in print?  How long is that going to stay up to date?”   He shook his head.  “I get the idea that he wants to create lists of books people can actually get.  Unfortunately, he’s forgetting many libraries may have out of print books that could be saved from the discard boxes if he generated an interest in them.  I’d love to see more graphic novels on the shelves, but if they’re not being checked out, they are only allowed to take up shelf space for so long.  It’s a little depressing to see the better titles replaced by flavor of the month and then they get swept away after the initial rush of interest.”

He sighed.  “That’s library biz, I guess.”

That’s industry coverage biz, too.  I am seeing why more people aren’t bothering and it’s a shame, because graphic novels could have a place on more shelves if people were aware of the quality of writing and illustration that is out there.  Another fun fact that is overlooked, many of the good ones are completely innocent of a single leotard superhero.

Should I scrap the list?  No.  If you’re a fan of used book stores, this gives you a new hunting and collecting project to take on.  This one will reward you with beautiful additions to your shelf and a different kind of reading experience.  What is it like to read a good graphic novel?  You should fall into the world the creators have brought to the page.  It is like the prolonged satisfaction one gets from watching a really great movie where certain images stick with you combined with passages of dialogue that roll around in your head for days after you’ve turned the last page. So here is a trimmed version, but not that trimmed.  Some of these titles weigh in at ten volumes.  Let’s face it, by the time you’ve worked your way through these, you’ll have your own wish list in mind.  Good hunting and happy reading!

  • Watchmen
  • The Sandman
  • Barefoot Gen
  • Goodbye Chunky Rice
  • Leave It To Chance
  • RASM
  • Starman (James Robinson’s run, which may be the only collected story arcs)
  • Why I Hate Saturn
  • The Animal Man Omnibus (This is a collection of Grant Morrison’s issues.  Yes, Animal Man is a leotard superhero.  It’s also brilliant. Don’t miss this one.)
  • Kill Your Boyfriend
  • Maus
  • Persepolis
  • Ghost World
  • Strange Attractors
  • Rust
  • Clockwork Angels
  • Scary Godmother
  • Hellboy

 

Facebook Comments

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Discussion

  1. Norman Crane

    Lists are lists, aren’t so bad. I like looking for them when I’m diving into a new genre, topic (for non-fiction) or national literature, where the requirement would presumably be that a book not only has to be available but also available in English. When I was getting into movies, I looked at a ton of lists, too, but half of the titles were always unavailable, which was part of the fun and magic of it. It was like boxing, I’d keep seeing a film mentioned and the anticipation would grow and grow until, finally, I tracked it down somewhere, maybe on emule, and it was time to rumble. That’s another thing about graphic novels: a lot of them are available online. More importantly, they’re a lot easier to recommend online, because you can stick a scan of a page and tell people (i.e. me), “Hey, this is how cool this looks. Seek it out. Read it.” You no longer have to treat and describe graphic novels as non-graphic novels. You have something more than a cover to entice people with. Pictures make recommendations prettier.

    1. Jas Faulkner

      Norman, you nail the problems and the benefits of lists. My issue and -this was confirmed when I asked a librarian about it- was that the condition for inclusion meant the exclusion of great books that may have fallen out of print. The nature of the industry is that the availability of most of the books will have changed long before the list saw print.

      Not long after I wrote that piece, I was asked to contribute to a list of empowering books, comics, and movies for pre-teen girls. One of the titles I recommended was “Leave It To Chance”. Sure, it’s easier to find Betty and Veronica and the Bratz crew at your local comics shop, but the lucky kid who gets her (or his) hands on James Robinson’s all-ages classic is going to discover what it’s like to turn page after page because they have to know what happens next.

      Having grown up in the era of Analog’s “Five Foot Bookshelf” I am a proponent of inclusion of books for the sake of keeping the authors and titles out there, not only for the delights of hunting them down, but in the interest of keeping us honest when it comes to acknowledging the heritage of ideas that get us from there to here.

arrow