Tuesday, March 13, 2007

100 Great Pages: Introduction, with Apologetics and Rules

There's something of a comics blogosphere tradition of making lists of 100 things you love about comics. It's a tradition begun, I believe, by Fred Hembeck; continued by Alan David Duane; and done (or surpassed) by lots of other bloggers too (&c).

I thought of doing one, but wanted to put a twist on it. So it occurred to me to do a list of 100 things I loved about comics where every single item on the list was simply a comics page -- some page that I loved for some reason or another.

And the next thing I know I'm planning on doing a whole series of 100 posts, talking about each of 100 pages. (This was also partly inspired by the fun I had in doing my series about the covers of Dave Sim's Cerebus; I liked writing about specific pieces of art in that way, and wanted to do more of it.)

Now, as soon as I got the idea, I understood some of the arguments against it. It's true, I think that, for (many) comics* the page is the basic organizing unit -- rather like either the sentence or the paragraph in prose, or the line or the stanza in poetry. Probably the right level of metaphor is the paragraph or stanza (since the panel would be the equivalent of the sentence or line) -- unless one wants to argue that the panel is the equivalent of the word. The metaphor is slippery, and could go either way.

Nevertheless, making a list of 100 great paragraphs, or lines of poetry, would be a slightly odd thing to do. Not that one couldn't come up with plenty of good candidates. But going through favorite novels or poems, you'd likely find that a lot of paragraphs or poetic lines really worked best in context -- that what made them stick in your head wasn't readily capturable in a single selection. For others, you'd find that what you loved wasn't readily excerptible: themes or characters or motifs simply required larger structures to show through. And there's the basic problem that the paragraphs or lines (or sentences or stanzas) that you picked weren't intended to stand on their own, but as part of a larger work.

And all of the parallels here hold true for selecting comics pages: pages won't work as well out of context, in some cases what makes a scene amazing isn't easily shown in a selected page, and themes, characters and motifs will fail to show.

Picking out single pages will probably privilege artists who work on page design -- rather than artists who simply draw spectacular panels, but aren't as concerned with the page as a unit. It will privilege pages which are visually stunning in an obvious way, rather than the quieter power of nuances of character and expression. Flashy or experimental pages will be more prominent than simple but effective pages (even though many great comics have only simple, effective pages, while comics with only flashy/experimental pages are hard to pull off.) It will privilege art over writing, perhaps, above all.

Ultimately, it's distorting because comics creators try to produce great comics rather than great pages -- and great pages are a slightly skewed subset that may not be isolatable even in great comics.

But I think it'll be fun.

So I intend to write about 100 great pages. Not, I want to emphasize, the 100 great pages; nor are these my favorite 100 pages, nor even pages from my 100 favorite comics. Some of my favorite comics won't be included because taking a page from them won't work very well. Some favorite pages work well only in context. And so forth.

These are simply 100 pages that happen to be great. A taste of what I, for one, and in part, love about comics.

Given what I've done for the past 240 posts on this blog, I suspect that this series will go in spurts: a few entries in a few days, followed by a week or two of no entries, followed by perhaps just one, and so forth. So don't expect a regular schedule -- or give up if I've gone a bit without posting. (That's just real life getting in the way temporarily.)

A few rules I intend to follow:

* No covers. Covers are great; I love covers. But a list of great covers is a different thing then a list of great pages -- covers work very different than pages do (even opening pages). So covers aren't eligible for this.

* I'll feel free to use double pages if the pages in question are arranged so as to be visible simultaneously; in these cases the 'page' unit is spread over two pages, but two facing pages are being used as a single meta-page.

* The standards here are personal and whimsical. To repeat: these aren't my favorite 100 pages, nor 100 pages from my favorite comics, or even my favorite pages from the comics I talk about. These are just 100 great pages, full stop.

One note on this last point. I'll be doing pages as they occur to me, and as I feel moved to do them. (I have a list of possible pages already, but whether or not I'll do any or all of them is anyone's guess.) But while the standards are personal and whimsical, that doesn't mean I'm not open to other people's ideas. If anyone wants to suggest subjects for future entries, I'll gladly take nominations... so long as the nominations are a particular page (or pages), and not simply a good comic, artist or genre. (Even better would be if you could point be to a jpeg of the page in question, in case I don't have a copy handy. Despite my ongoing efforts, my library remains, alas, limited.) So while I encourage suggestions, if you do want to suggest something, be specific.

And now, on to the pages!

An index of posts by creator can be found here.
An index of posts by title can be found here..

Links to the entries so far in order of composition:
1. Paul Auster's City of Glass, by Paul Karasik & David Mazzucchelli, page 4
2. Paul Chadwick's "Stay Tuned for Pearl Harbor" (Concrete), page 2
3. R. Crumb's "A Short History of America", page 4
4. Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely's We3 #2, pages 6-7
5. Luigi Serafini's Codex Seraphinianus, page 39
6. Samuel R. Delany & Mia Wolff's Bread & Wine, page 10
7. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen, page 1
8. Kevin Huizenga's Curses, page 77
9. Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess's Sandman #19, "A Midsummer Night's Dream", page 13
10. JT Waldman's Megillat Esther, page 84
11. Howard Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby, page 131
12. Lewis Trondheim & Sergio Garcia's Les Trois Chemins, pages 3-4

* There are exceptions, of course: the comic strip format of course has the "strip" as the basic unit (although in a few cases, particularly Sunday comics from earlier in the century, some strips were, in fact pages); and more recently web comics often use formats that aren't web based. So one restriction should be clear right away: I'll only be discussing comics that have "pages" as their basic organizing format. Thus no Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes (comics strips) and no Pup Ponders the Heat Death of the Universe or Zot! Online (non-page based web comics.)


T Campbell... said...

Fantastic stuff. This should be edited into a blook.

Skipper Pickle said...

This is very interesting. i just started using Flash to break down page composition and look at specific elements on a page. i may steal some of your favorites (which are some of mine too) when i get a chance.

So for i've created breakdowns for a page from Amazing Fantasy #15, a Neal Adams X-Men page, and a Marshall Rogers Doctor Strange page. Click through and then click the page image to see the breakdown.

Useful? Interesting?

Stephen said...

T Campbell: Thanks! To modify the old Yiddish saying: from your lips to a publisher's ears...

Skipper Pickle: Those are some neat pages -- useful & interesting, I'd say. (You didn't get all the links right so, if you'll allow me: Ditko's AF#15, Adams's X-Men, then Rogers' Doctor Strange.) Thanks for bringing 'em to my attention!

As for stealing my favorites: please do! I'd be appreciative if you'd link back to the corresponding post of mine when you do. (And then go leave a comment at my post here with a link to *your* post!) But of course favorites aren't copyrightable (yet; don't say it too loudly, though, or the RIAA might get ideas...)

Skipper Pickle said...

Thanks for correcting the links. *slap self*

Joe said...

Stephen, I had a hard enough time just trying to do one of these, picking one page from one story from one of my favourite series, so I really take my hat off to you for tackling the ton, mate. When its all done it would be very cool to stick them altogether onto one site.

Also enjoying the way it is getting folks talking about it and getting them thinking about their own potential choices too. We've already picked a couple out on the FPI blog and a couple of our other contributors are mulling over possible choices as we speak: http://forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/?p=3976. Sure this is going to keep generating a lot of interest.

Anonymous said...

Aw, not even a sunday strip? There are some simply brilliant ones for Calvin, especially a couple where Hobbes pounces on him in slow motion.