Tucker here. Ng Suat Tong asked me to participate in a round-up style judging panel selecting the best of online comics criticism, and the results are now available. The other judges were Noah Berlatsky, Frank Santoro, Mattias Wivel, and Suat Tong himself. (There were a few more, including a woman, but time and life got in the way.) Each person nominated their top ten favorite pieces, all of them were thrown into a bigger list, and then each judge picked ten all over again. Those votes got added together, there were a couple of emails back and forth, a couple of votes were changed, and this is the list we ended up with. I have a tendency to assume a lot of things about the online audience for comics related stuff, so let me be clear about something: there's going to be writing out there that was as good as these articles, reactions & critical takes, work that this small panel of people will have missed. There's no way to be all-inclusive in a short judging process, even when you're dealing with something like comics, which has a pretty small amount of writing surrounding it in the first place. These were some of what a few people who don't agree on a lot of things thought were pretty fantastic, and while the lack of inclusion hurts the overall, it shouldn't hurt these writers.
The Top Vote-Getters
1. Robert Alter on Robert Crumb's Book of Genesis (Scripture Picture)
2. Joe McCulloch on J.H. Williams III (A Review of Batwoman in Detective Comics Focusing Mostly On The Art)
6. Dirk Deppey on Paul Levitz (The Man Who Couldn't Shoot Straight)
7. Andrew Rilestone on Watchmen (Who Sent the Sentinels)
What follows are the pieces I voted for in the final round--as you can see, there's some crossover. There's no order of preference to this list. The asterisks denote an article that was in one of my original nominations.
Some Other Nominees
I liked this article a lot, and I stubbornly stuck to voting for it even when it became clear that everybody else had jumped ship for the PS Magazine piece. I don't cotton much to the idea that the best of arts criticism is produced by artists themselves, god knows that artists can be as poorly read as the never-does-nothing blogger, but Eddie Campbell's writing about comics has always struck me as one of the best things about the internet. I don't know if the guy would have been willing to take the necessary steps to get his occasional reviews or reaction pieces into print, so it's nice to see that he's utilized the ease-of-blog-publishing to put them out there.
Marc's article on Final Crisis, along with his extended explanations in various comment sections at the Mindless Ones, took a frank, intelligent look at one of the most popular comic blog topics of the last year. Final Crisis blogposts tended to be associated as blanket condemnations or Church of Morrison paeans by people who didn't read them (or just didn't understand what the individual was writing), but considering the sheer amount of them, it's not hard to grasp why people eventually grew exhausted of reading about the comic. Singer was able to talk about the comic (negatively) without devolving into reactionary fight-posting, and his post was a high-water mark for super-hero related criticism. It doesn't change the fact that one probably wouldn't get much out of his post without foreknowledge of the series under discussion, and it doesn't negate the fact that a DC event comic got more attention than it deserved, but it did make the reading experience of Final Crisis better than it would have been on its own. There's a lot of merit to be found in that.
I always felt bad that Derik Badman participated in a blog cross-over that I was involved with, because I can't imagine a universe where Derik Badman would be happy that he wrote something as intelligent as this only to find out that he was going to have it linked here. But he's not on here out of sympathy, he's on here for the same reason that the Eddie Campbell piece is--because after I read this article, I went into the moving boxes until I found Rubber Blanket, read it, and then read Badman's piece again. Badman's a unique writer, one whose taste can go in a wholly different direction than my own, and for what it's worth, that's why I find his writing about comics so valuable. Disagree or not, he brings an informed perspective tangled up in what seems to me to be a group of specific hopes and ideals. Anything he has to say is worth paying attention to.
Joe was going to be a part of the judging process, but I think the rest of us all emailed Ng Suat Tong and said that either Joe had to go, or we had to be allowed to nominate a fellow judge. I originally nominated his articles on Winter Men, King Smurf, and this one. I don't think there's any question who would've won best overall person who does this online work. Some people's eyes roll regarding Joe's word count--you know who you are, guy who doesn't read blogs--but those people's lack of attention denotes their own failings. The reason why Joe's lack of limitation pays off can be found in King Smurf, his two part series on Manga, and, of course, in his Savage Critics post on J.H. Williams III. A lot of nice things are said about the guy regarding his criticism, but even if you take that out of the equation entirely, you're left with his skill as a researcher, the range of his historical knowledge. Beyond what happens with Batwoman and Greg Rucka, the Savage Critics post details a close reading of an artist's career in an artform where the historians often double as fannish hagiographers.
If there's somebody out there trying to plumb motivation, they might think that Abhay's article about Scott Pilgrim is on here because it's one where Abhay tilts serious more than he tilts funny. They'd be right. The tendency with Abhay is to either love him completely, or to mention him with a disclaimer--"I think he's great sometimes, other times I hope he dies". Picking one of his more "serious" pieces was done in hopes that it would circumvent that reaction, although I'm not assigning any of those feelings to the other judges. I'm an Abhay fanboy, I make no apologies for that. This Young Neil focused review was one of those articles that all of the comics internet seems to clamor for--a pointed look at a popular piece of entertainment, one that asks whether the entertainment has a deeper, tangible subject underneath--and it was as whip-cracked sharp as any of Khosla's writing ever is.
I was surprised to see how popular this article was with everybody else, I'll admit that I felt like it was written just for me--a nerdy guy obsessed with religion who couldn't stand reading the Book of Genesis and felt lost as to why, beyond "it's boring". Alter's piece was unique amongst Genesis readings, coming from an unexpected location--Alter's the man responsible for the Biblical translation that Crumb used for his work--and yet it burrowed deep into Crumb's undeniable skill as much as it nailed where Genesis failed. Suat Tong described it as "very close to being the definitive article on Crumb's Genesis adaptation", and I couldn't agree more.
Dirk's piece exemplifies a specific aspect of the Internet's delivery of criticism: temporality. While the hours following the Levitz resignation certainly included a bit of "finally!" cheerleading in various comments sections at the more news-focused internet sites, it was when Deppey's Journalista entry arrived with "This is a good thing, full stop" that an actual discussion started. Anything--hell, everything--on the internet is immediately met with vitriol and complaint (see the comments section for Dan Nadel's common sense request for art credits at Mocca's Archie show for a recent installment). But Deppey's brief piece on Levitz--one that focused on facts over nostalgia and friendliness--wasn't just a giggling Fuck This Guy. It gave the discussion substance, it gave it perspective, and it directly charged that Levitz--for all his accomplishments--had been in charge of a business he was no longer qualified to handle. If comics were a big enough industry for it to have its own trade magazines, it's hard to believe that essays weeping over his retirement would've filled their pages. It was Deppey's argument that best explained why.
Spurgeon would've made a great judge, but he makes for a better candidate. This article, which could be mistakingly taken for one of those "Various" links that Spurgeon posts whenever somebody talks about a bunch of randomly selected comics, is one of the best pieces he put up last year, and one that's definitively about one of the most interesting subjects comics can discuss: the construction of the personal canon, and the "why" behind the chunks of comics that form that canon's foundation. While he glances alongside the subject, the question that it inspires--Which comics do you find yourself returning to most fervently, be it for personal or intellectual hungers--is one that, when answered honestly, is always fascinating.
The first few times I'd heard about this piece, I made it about two pages in before deciding it wasn't for me. But after Mattias Wivel's last minute push, I went back and plowed through all sixty pages. The introduction still isn't my thing, but behind those initial pages, Rilestone distills a massive amount of analysis, one that details not just why the Watchmen movie sucked--which it fucking did, holy shit--but why Watchmen remains worth talking about still, even after it's become the worst recommendation for first comic ever. Besides that, Rilestone's usage of the internet to make what is, in effect, a free sixty-page book, deliberately stylized in a form that profit-hungry publishers would never take to, points to a direction for future on-the-side hobby writers. Leigh Walton's dream of a comics-focused 33 1/3 series will probably never be realized in full Barnes & Noble fashion, but maybe, just maybe, the internet could provide a suitable .pdf focused alternative.
There was another article on the Mindless Ones that was in my original pool o' nominees, Zom's piece on Daredevil Born Again, but it was Amy Poodle's "I've seen Superman having sex and it wasn't very nice" article that best handled a subject that's been batted around for years now: grits, glitz & guns. Part of the problem with criticizing DC's comics for their ultraviolence is that the attitude is often brushed past as being a part of some prude's response, that the criticism stems from people who just can't get into grime and ugliness, and those complainers should stick to kiddie's books and Morrisonian time festivals if they're so irritated when a character named Red Arrow gets his arm ripped off. Amy's torrent of weirdly capitalized complaints shouldn't be mistaken for a rant, though. Like a lot of negative, bile-filled criticism, Poodle's incredulous response isn't about a fan being mad, it isn't a red-faced typing fiesta of catharsis, what he's trying to nail is this: we love violence, we love suffering, and we love action, and we want to like you. We want to like you so much. And if you aren't going to meet us halfway, that's fine, life will go on. But why do you have to sit there masturbating into a diaper?
Endless Amounts of Equivocation
These aren't the original ten nominations I sent in, but it's pretty close. One of the judges nominated my wife's Power Girl review, another judge voted for it as well, which I thought was really nice. I asked her if she wanted me to vote for it myself, because I thought that was a pretty severe conflict of interest. She laughed pretty hard and then said "What? Of course not!" It bugged me that there weren't any women in my final top ten--there were a few female candidates on the list of nominations--but I wanted to hew as close to honesty as I could, and when I found myself staring at a list of ten dudes, trying to figure out which one I should cut just so that I could get a woman on there, I gave up. I know that I think women can write as well as men about comics, and that they can be just as interesting. If anybody honestly believes I think otherwise, I'm not going to prove them wrong by spitting out some names. Sometimes you have to be your own barometer. I hope it's obvious why each of these were picked.
-Tucker Stone, 2010