One Hundred Print Cartoon Creations of the Century (12/29)
One Hundred Print Cartoon Creations of the Century.
Impossible, of course. But everyone's doing it. Making up lists of
one hundred of all manner of things. It's a game of the season.
It's a way of celebrating the end of the century. There are other
ways. But this is the way lots of folks are doing their celebrating.
Some are doing it with a thousand things instead of a hundred
because it's also the end of the millennium, in case you hadn't
noticed. I don't know that you could avoid noticing. The racks of
tabloid newspapers at the check-out stand in the grocery stores
scream the significance of the millennium at you: it's the end of the
world, we are assured.
The last days are upon us. The signs and
portents lay before
us--pestilence and chaos on every hand. Crime and violence in the
streets, mysterious new killer viruses on the loose, radically
changing weather patterns, earthquakes, floods, famines, destruction
and death and terrorism everywhere. If that's not a portent, I
wouldn't know one when I see one.
It's pretty unsettling, let me tell you. I
don't know if I can go
through this every thousand years.
One of the most intriguing millennium
lists is the one that makes up
the book 1,000 Years, 1,000 People. Agnes Hooper Gottlieb, Henry
Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, and Brent Bowers undertook to rank order
the one thousand men and women who did the most to shape the past one
Their method is admirable in theory even if
tedious in execution.
Using a Biograph System, they awarded candidates points in each of
five categories: lasting influence, effect on the sum total of wisdom
and beauty in the world, influence upon contemporaries, singularity
of contribution, and charisma. You could award as many as 10,000
points in the first category; 2,000 in the last.
The highest possible score is 24,000, but the
personage had only 21,768 points. That was Johannes Gutenberg, who
invented the printing press and movable type in the 1430s. He toted
up a pretty good number of points in every category except
"charisma," where he got only 210 points out of the 2,000
How did our quartet of authors know Gutenberg was an old stick in the
Katherine Hepburn made the list. Ditto Captain
Kidd and Coco
Chanel. Andy Warhol is ranked 1,000 as a gesture of poetic justice:
so at last he'll be famous for more than fifteen minutes.
Lady Godiva didn't make the list, though. Neither
Vaspucci, Pocahontas, or Ronald Reagan. Or, alas, Cal Ripken, Jr.
In picking the top one hundred works of comic
art in the last
century, my criteria aren't as mathematically pure as Gottlieb and
Bowers'. In fact, my method is simplicity itself. The criteria?
Just works of genius, that's all. Works of one kind of genius or
Some are pace-setting (Terry, The Far Side,
Peanuts), showing others
the way. Some are simply unique exploitations of the medium by
masters (Betsy and Me, Popeye, Gordo, Alley Oop). Others are works
of a cartoonist whose influence was wider than is represented by a
specific work; so these works (Scrooge McDuck, Dark Knight Returns,
The Spirit) are merely touchstones representing that cartoonist's
pervasive impact upon the profession and the craft. And often I
mixed up both these criteria and myself.
In citing long-running works like the comic
strips Terry or Peanuts,
I often give the dates of the period when the work was most
influential or at its peak. Here we go.
Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers by Gilbert Shelton; flagship
creation of the underground by one of the medium's founders.
99. Understanding Comics
by Scott McCloud; a vivid demonstration of
the medium's capacity
for serious, non-narrative discourse.
98. Usagi Yojimbo
by Stan Sakai; a superior example of non-superhero
in both picture and words.
97. Zippy by Bill
Griffith; an underground creation that crossed-over
successfully to syndication,
proving that unconventional cartooning
can survive in the
96. Betsy and Me by
Jack Cole; an innovative comic strip in both
graphic style and narrative
technique, the third of Cole's masterful
achievements in the
95. Greeting cards
by Sandra Boyton; a blend of words and pictures in
a wholly novel (and
highly comical) manner.
94. Suburban Heights
(et al) by Gluyas Williams; a sustained example
of Williams' pristine
93. David Levine's caricatures
in New York Review of Books, revived
the art of pure caricature
in this country.
92. Katzenjammer Kids
by Rudolph Dirks; set the pace for the medium
in the closing years
of the 19th century by deploying both words (in
balloons) and pictures
to tell its stories. And it's still running
today, the longest-lived
American comic strip ever.
91. Mort Drucker's caricatures
in Mad parodies; a stunningly accurate
90. Mutt and Jeff
by Bud Fisher (1907-1930); the first daily "strip"
established the form
by running across the page instead of in a box
somewhere on the page.
89. Felix the Cat
by Otto Messmer; a visually inventive creation,
Felix was the first
super star of animation.
88. Bootsie by Ollie
Harrington; a social protest series of panel
cartoons by a passionate
87. Brenda Starr by
Dale Messick; a role model in the funnies by a
role model at the drawingboard,
the first nationally recognized
syndicated female cartoonist
(although not "the first syndicated
86. The Lonely Ones
by William Steig; shows how cartooning can step
beyond laughter into
85. Gasoline Alley
by Frank King (1918-1946); the characters aged,
year by year, and also
set the pace for homespun narrative in small
town American when
small town America was vanishing apace.
84. Barney Google
(July 17, 1922 until DeBeck's death in 1942); one
of the first comic
strips to extend itself beyond the funnies pages
into popular culture
at large, inspiring a popular song ("Barney
Google with his goo-goo
googly eyes") and coining a host of
mama," "balls afire," "time's a-wastin',"
etc.--mostly from the
83. Little Annie Fanny
by Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder; the most
comic strip in print for the first 10-15 years
of its run in Playboy.
82. Dark Knight Returns
by Frank Miller; revitalized superheroicism
in comic books by treating
the superhero "realistically" as a flawed
human being rather
than an icon.
81. Maus by Art Spiegelman;
the first serious narrative in the medium
to earn public recognition
via a Pulitzer Prize.
80. For Better or For
Worse by Lynn Johnston; a comic strip with
heart and humanity,
setting an example for the medium.
79. Rose Is Rose by
Pat Brady; one of the few imaginative
word and picture in newspaper comics.
78. Dennis the Menace
by Hank Ketcham; a stylistic triumph in
77. Caspar Milquetoast
by H. T. Webster; one of the first comic strip
celebrities to have
his name seep into popular culture.
76. Magazine cartoons
by Tom Henderson (1950s); visual-verbal
blending of the first
75. Joe Palooka by
Ham Fisher (c. 1935-1950); one of the most popular
comic strips in the
medium's history, the strip's hero was a role
model for young Americans.
74. Professor Lucifer
G. Butt's Inventions by Rube Goldberg; another
cartoonist who infiltrated
popular culture, giving his name in the
dictionary to any mechanical
device that seems more complicated in
operation than the
task it is intended to perform.
73. The Far Side by
Gary Larson; set the pace for bizarre humor in
the last decades of
72. Harem girl cartoons
by E. Sims Campbell; a place-holder for the
cartoonist who designed
Esky, the goggle-eyed mascot for Esquire
magazine, and who devised
the comedy for most of the magazine's
cartoons in the early
71. Political cartoons
by Rollin Kirby; the first winner of a
Pulitzer for editorial
cartooning, Kirby invented the notorious Mr.
Dry, a funereal symbol
of Prohibition in the twenties.
70. The Gumps by Sidney
Smith; established the continuing story mode
for daily comic strips,
making suspense a vital ingredient on the
69. Bringing Up Father
by George McManus; by the 1940s, Jiggs and
Maggie were probably
the most famous comic strip characters in the
world--and they were
elegantly rendered, too, by a master.
68. New Yorker cartoons
by Charles Addams established the macabre in
67. Male Call by Milton
Caniff; the most widely circulated comic
strip in history (about
4,000 base and unit newspapers during World
War II), it featured
the curvaceous Miss Lace, a daringly risque
departure in comic
strippery but justified considering the exclusive
and sailors in wartime, who, Caniff said, needed
to be reminded of what
they were fighting for.
66. He Done Her Wrong
by Milt Gross; a graphic novel without words, a
tour de force.
65. Betty, Veronica, and
My Friend Irma by Dan DeCarlo (1950s);
established a style
for rendering cute but sexy women.
64. Gordo by Gus Arriola
(c. 1955 on); a beautifully designed strip
that also deliberately
acquainted its readers with the customs,
language, and folkart
63. Polly and Her Pals
by Cliff Sterrett (c.1925-1950); another
triumph in graphic
62. Little Lulu comic
books by John Stanley; captured the aura of
childhood like no one
else except, maybe--
61. Capp Stubbs and Tippie
by Edwina Dumm; the first lady of
cartooning (who was
doing editorial cartoons for a daily newspaper
before women could
vote), Edwina defied logic again by producing the
epitome of a boy strip
for over 40 years.
60. Calvin and Hobbes
by Bill Watterson; captures the child within us
all but with an adult
59. Editorial cartoons
by Jeff MacNelly (c. 1970-1990); the
pace-setter in editorial
cartooning for the last quarter of the
58. Boys' Ranch comic
books by Jack Kirby (mostly) and Joe Simon; the
apogee of the team's
achievement in visuals and thematic narrative.
57. Skippy by Percy
Crosby; the classic roughneck boy down the block,
Skippy was, by turns,
philosophical and petulant, but he was always a
graphic delight, Crosby's
sketchy renderings capturing youthful
energy like no one
else (not even Edwina).
56. Sad Sack by George
Baker (1942-1946); everyone's low man on the
totem, the Sad Sack
was the quintessential put-upon dogface soldier
of World War II.
55. Gasoline Alley
by Dick Moores (c. 1960-1986); in revitalizing
Frank King's classic,
Moores proved that a successor can improve upon
a creator's achievement.
54. Li'l Abner by
Al Capp (1934-1960); the second strip in the
(since 1930) to have a political stance, Abner paved the
way for all political
satire in the last half of the century.
53. New Yorker cartoons
by George Price; unique renderings, Price's
the dottiest of our population in the most
52. Masses cartoons
by Art Young; exemplar of an idealistically
Young never drew a cartoon whose message he didn't
believe in passionately
once he'd converted to Socialism in the early
years of the century.
51. Fox and Crow comic
books by Jim Davis; the con man and his
perpetual victim were
never so thoroughly explored (and exploited) as
in this title.
50. Editorial cartoons
by J.N. Darling ("Ding") (c.1910-1945);
perhaps the first nationally-recognized
editorial cartoonist, Ding
set the graphic fashion
for his generation of the breed.
49. Bravo for Adventure
by Alex Toth; a beautifully executed
expression of a cartoonist's
belief in his art and in the moral
function of heroism.
48. Playboy cartoons
by Jack Cole; divorcing himself from the linear
medium of comic books,
Cole set the pace for all Playboy cartoonists
with his watercolor
masterpieces of the mid- to late-fifties.
47. Editorial cartoons
by Paul Conrad; particularly during the Nixon
ensuing Watergate era, Conrad exemplified
46. Fantastic Four comic
books by Jack Kirby (mostly) and Stan Lee; a
that sparked a revival of superhero comic books.
45. Blondie by Chic
Young (until c. 1960); the ultimate in domestic
comedy for its time,
Blondie was among the top five comic strips in
44. Crimebuster stories
in Boy Comics by Charles Biro and Norman
Maurer; a benchmark
here for the documentary style of narration that
characterized the Lev
Gleason books of the 1940s and 1950s, setting a
model for Kurtzman
and others, who, later, tried for serious
storytelling in the
43. Mickey Mouse (comic
strip) by Floyd Gottfriedson (c.1930-c.1950);
established the character
of The Mouse better than the films.
42. Dick Tracy by
Chester Gould (c. 1930-1953); set the pace for
authenticity as well
as violence in cops and robbers strips.
41. Little Orphan Annie
by Harold Gray (c. 1930-1949); exemplified
self-reliance for a
Depression-racked country and was perhaps the
first nationally distributed
strip to overtly assume a "political"
40. Daredevil by Frank
Miller; demonstrated how a creative
intelligence can revive
a faltering character in a marketplace
39. Spider-Man by
Steve Ditko and Stan Lee; shifted the age group to
which superhero comic
books appealed from early to late teens,
attracting a college
38. EC horror comics
by Al Feldstein and Jack Davis and Graham
Ingels; created a new
kind of comic story with twist endings and
vivid grisly graphics.
37. EC science fiction
comics by Al Feldstein and Wally Wood; another
particularly in visuals.
36. Mad parodies as
drawn by Wally Wood; for cute silliness and sexy
cartoon women, unequaled.
35. Mad marginals
by Sergio Aragones; masterful pantomime comic art
of seemingly endless
34. Batman by Bob
Kane and Bill Finger; added costumed vigilantism to
the comic book canon
with the second of the genre's icons.
33. Beetle Bailey
by Mort Walker; helped change the direction of
newspaper comic strips
by introducing magazine-style drawing.
32. Scrooge McDuck
by Carl Barks; a complex and whole personality
infused into a duck
and coupled to moral lessons in perfect tune with
31. Doonesbury by
Garry Trudeau; turned name-dropping into political
satire, a major step
for syndicated comic strips.
30. Editorial cartoons
by Herblock; a hard-hitting pace-setter in the
1950s who coined the
29. Superman by Jerry
Siegel and Joe Shuster; a creation that was
soon so popular that
it spawned an entire industry.
28. EC war stories
by Harvey Kurtzman; took the glamour out of war
and established a new
style of comic book storytelling, too.
27. Stories in Zap Nos.
1-4 and Snatch Nos. 1-3 by Robert Crumb; the
success of these titles
took underground cartoonists out of
newspapers and into
comic book formats, virtually creating
26. Mad parodies as
drawn by Will Elder (Nos. 1-23); manic visual
invention set Mad's
25. Sick Sick Sick
by Jules Feiffer; a new approach to social
commentary in which
characters reveal their flaws in endless
24. Little Nemo in Slumberland
by Winsor McCay; a work of graphic
genius so far ahead
of its time that it was never successfully
23. Alley Oop
by V. T. Hamlin (1939-1960); an absorbing combination
of legend, history,
science fantasy, and, even, comedy, all held
together by the commanding
presence of a taciturn cave man.
22. Willie and Joe WWII
cartoons by Bill Mauldin; caught the essence
of the dogface (soldier
in the trenches) for a generation.
21. Krazy Kat by George
Herriman; a lyric poem to the triumph of
20. Barnaby by Crockett
Johnson; more lyricism, but this time of the
high comedy kind that
champions the power of imagination over
19. The Pie-face Prince
of Old Pretzleburg by George Carlson; an
inimitable work of
visual puns and linguistic legerdemain, wedded in
18. Captain Marvel
by C. C. Beck and Otto Binder; a superhero of
science fantasy that
mocked the conventions of the genre, creating
comedy as well as suspense
17. Peanuts by Charles
Schulz; in visual style, comedic approach, and
the strip that so changed the face of newspaper
comics as to justify
our dubbing the last forty years of the comics'
first century The Age
16. Tarzan by Harold
Foster; in the Sunday pages particularly,
illustration as a visual standard for serious
15. Cartoons in True magazine
by Virgil Partch (VIP) (c. 1940-1955);
re-vitalized the single-panel
magazine gag cartoon by making the
sense of the picture
dependent upon understanding the caption beneath
and vice versa.
14. Cartoons in assorted
1920s publications by John Held, Jr.;
pictures that set the
fashion for the Jazz Age.
13. Plastic Man by
Jack Cole; apart from the novelty of an elastic
superhero, these comic
books were hilarious demonstrations of the
power of sight gags
to infuse a creation with a distinctive
a cartoonist's power.
12. Captain America
by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon; demonstrated how to
render action sequences
with such persuasive graphic power as to make
11. Mad comic book (Nos.
1-23) by Harvey Kurtzman; satire that
stripped pretense and
posturing away from social institutions,
setting the style for
the magazine for a generation and ripping the
from the eyes of American Youth raised on Disney
visions of homespun
10. Thimble Theatre (Popeye)
by E. C. Segar (1929 until Segar's death
in 1938); a work of
endless comedic invention and visual genius
(Popeye's bulging forearms
alone convinced us of his fistic prowess).
9. New Yorker cartoons
by Peter Arno (1927-1950); embodying the
spirit of the magazine
as no other New Yorker cartoonist, Arno made
his words completely
dependent upon the pictures for comedic sense
(and vice versa) thereby
establishing the single-speaker caption for
8. The Spirit by
Will Eisner; after developing the grammar of the
comic book form in
the late 1930s, Eisner went on to demonstrate how
a masked crime-fighter
could provide a framework for human interest
stories with genuinely
7. Flash Gordon by
Alex Raymond; the most vivid demonstration of the
power of stunning visuals
for creating a world.
6. Wash Tubbs (and Captain
Easy) by Roy Crane (c. 1928-1943); the
adventure strip that
inspired and led all the others.
5. Sports cartoons
by Willard Mullin; set the style for the entire
4. Theatrical caricatures
by Al Hirschfeld; another who, like
Mullin, embodies an
entire cartooning genre.
3. Editorial cartoons
by Pat Oliphant; revolutionized the appearance
of editorial cartooning
and its method by making comedy a weapon.
2. Terry and the Pirates
by Milton Caniff (1934-1946); redefined the
adventure strip genre
by practicing a chiaroscuro manner for
and by making character integral to his plots.
1. Pogo by Walt Kelly;
at its best, this strip scaled the heights to
which the visual-verbal
medium of cartooning can aspire by combining
and caricature with satirical allegory, creating
meaning on two levels
at once, each serving the purposes of the
That's my list. About which,
without further adieu, I say merely:
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