Saturday, January 15, 2011

555-COMX Pound-for-Pound Ratings

I've been a boxing fan off and on almost 25 years. One of my earliest memories is being 7 years old and somehow grasping the significance of Leonard vs. Hagler. The two most skilled boxers in the world squaring off, with names like "Sugar Ray" and "Marvelous Marvin", they were like superheroes. I'm not even sure I watched the fight but I remember the hype, mostly channeled through my father I'm guessing. Despite my personal belief in non-violence I've never been able to shake my interest in the sweet science, at least not for long. I understand the brutality, the socio-economic paradigm most boxers come from, the fact that it usually ends badly for these athletes, but somehow I still see it through that 7-year old's eyes. Is it still violence if it's consensual? Anyway, there is my embarrassing sports confessional (at least within the generally anti-sports world of the arts.) Before joining this blog I had even considered launching a single blog on Art Comics and Boxing just to confuse people!

One of the most fun things about boxing are the pound-for-pound ratings. Originally introduced as a way for writers to deal with the genius that was Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson spent his career campaigning at 147 lbs and later 160 lbs, so it was unreasonable for him to test himself against the supposed "baddest man on the planet" which was traditionally considered the Heavyweight Champion of the world. The solution to this was the "pound-for-pound" ratings, a list of the greatest fighters by skill, the avant-garde if you will. Boxing after all has always been heralded as an art form by it's proponents.

Well of course my even greater interest is comics, so why not marry the two? Comics is an art, but beneath the surface it's also a game of skill. When I'm reading a comic I'm always hyper-aware of it's formal properties. The decisions and techniques the artist employed to present their vision. Comics is a wide and diverse field with it's multitude of cultural and economic weight classes as well, so with that I present to you the inaugural 555-COMX Pound-for-Pound ratings, a list I plan on periodically updating.

1. Chris Ware
Like McCay, Kirby and Crumb before him Chris Ware is a once in a generation talent. Almost certainly the world's greatest cartoonist, perhaps even it's greatest graphic designer. He's been around for over 20 years and is still getting better. Scary better. Ware somehow balances mainstream bookstore appeal with cutting edge presentation. Always inventive, always resonant, he's going to be hard to knock off.

2. Yuichi Yokoyama
Yokoyama is a promethean talent. Viewed historically he comes out of nowhere. He at the same time makes no sense and makes perfect sense when viewed in the continuum of Manga's evolution. His ideas are unique, his delivery pinpoint. I wouldn't even tip the sky as his limit.

3. Brian Chippendale
Well, i've used up a lot of glowing affirmatives in my post on If 'n Oof the other day so just take it for granted that I'm a big admirer of his work. He's doing things that other artist don't have the courage to attempt. It's not the size of the man in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the man.

4. Anders Nilsen
Anders Nilsen seems like a quiet guy. He quietly sneaks into the top 5. Why does it seem like nobody talks about this guy's work? He's been making some of the most innovative, diverse and thought provoking comics of the last 10 years. He makes it look effortless at that. I mean, how perfect is "The End"?

5. Seth
Like Ware, Seth is always pushing the art of Cartooning towards it's graphic point of perfection. He's a classicist, but from the deep meditation of the classic form he always comes out with something fresh and wonderful. He delivers.

6. Dash Shaw
Dash is the great synthesis. How can an artist be so young, so productive, and draw from such a wide variety inspiration at the same time? Bodyworld completely revolutionized webcomics on a formal level. People have barely begun to catch up.

7. Kevin Huizenga
I've got a special place in my heart for any artist who can be at the same time suburban and sublime. Kevin's work proves that the universe can be equally pondered from any place, even your front stoop. His presentation is humble yet always experimental and his message is always moving.

8. CF
CF and Ben Jones were the first true "post-Fort Thunder" cartoonists. Together in their formative years they developed a comics language from the ground up beginning with it's most rudimentary assumptions. His line is always the epitome of elegance and economy and his pacing is eerily controlling of the reader. You get the impression that he could do anything if he tried, but he does exactly what he wants.

9. John Hankiewicz
John Hankiewicz's comics are poetry. That's not a metaphor by the way. If you look back through comics history you can find traces of comics which embody the essence of poetry, but not a crystal clear as Hankiewcz. This is a welcome and emerging field in comics and John has set the bar.

10. Tim Hensley
How does one go from making raw zines to perfectly polished cartoon art seemingly overnight, and in their 40's? Wally Gropius was book of the year for 2010. Hensley hits all the right notes in the wrong way. Familiar yet unbelievable, he's completely deconstructed the power of the 4-color cartoon. I'm not even sure we can grasp what this artist is capable of yet.


  1. Oh well it's a brutal match I see proposed here. Of course I'm no expert but if I were to lay a bet on this, well, hmm. I guess I'd like to see Seth go 3 rounds with Huizenga, one of them taps out then well boy, I guess I think Dash Shaw has got to stage a surprise knock out over somebody, CF gets disqualified because of an excess of bondage wear, Hensley's a fighting man that's no joke but he's got some real whipper snappers to contend with and I just don't know if Ware is going to hang himself or snatch the title belt like it was made for him. It's anybody's fight Ian, open season.

    p.s. where da broads at?

  2. I'm actually pretty self conscious about the fact that there are no women on the list right now. I plan on doing an up and comers list soon which I know will have plenty of female cartoonists. I need to do a better job paying attention to the best female cartoonists.

  3. ::cough:: Lynda Barry ::cough:: Kate Beaton ::cough cough:: Jess Fink ::cough::

  4. Cyn: I think Jess and Kate despite being very talented are way too early into their career to be listed as the best ever.

    You can make a case for Lynda Barry. I find her a little wordy.

  5. Great list... I'd submit Theo Ellsworth and Farel Dalrymple (who might need more major works to be considered first), Dan Clowes and Adrian Tomine (somebody's got to represent the nineties) and second Lynda Barry. Oh, and Charles Burns!

  6. I'd put Julie Doucet on the list.

  7. you know my personal admiration towards jim woodring. but seriously! in the past few years hes released a full frank comic in japan (how many american cartoonists have had japanese publishers?!) a comic on a mobius strip, made weathercraft, a full color frank book with pages as thick as cardboard, and a fucking giant pen nib! hes still comin up with new and crazy ideas 20+ years deep in his career! plus the new frank book coming out in the spring! he's totally on top of his game.

  8. There are a lot of great cartoonists that I would consider all-time greats however I feel as though their best days are behind them. Jim Woodring in his prime would easily be Top-10. The list is supposed to represent the 10 best cartoonists in the world "right now", also due to my taste the list skews heavily on form. For example, I think Kate Beaton is really great, she's one of the best humorists omics has seen in a long time, formally though she isn't doing anything Jules Feiffer dind't do 40 years ago.

  9. everything i mentioned is proof jim is in his prime! he just anounced today he finished his next frank graphic novel and the title of the next one is going to be poochytown.
    i think having a graphic novel a year schedule with big crazy art projects in between is more in your prime then coming out with 2-3 24 page frank comics a year when he was younger.
    also matt kindt, i feel like that dude isnt talked about enough too, he keeps churning out this super long and great stylized comics for the past 10 years.
    and you secretly hate women.

  10. Box Brown said...

    "Ian, you are the sexiest."


  11. I just read ANL #20 tonite and I would like to move Chris Ware higher than #1 on my list.

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