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Best Online Comics Criticism 2010

You may remember last year, when Johanna Draper Carlson pointed out the absence of both manga and female writers in the Hooded Utilitarian’s Best Online Comics Criticism 2009, featuring pieces chosen from throughout the year by a jury of five (male) critics. It seems likely that Johanna’s criticism was a factor in the selection of the subsequent jury, which included several female manga critics, one of whom was me.

Along with me, 2010’s jury was made up of Derik Badman, Johanna Draper Carlson, Shaenon K. Garrity, Tim Hodler, Chris Mautner and Bill Randall. Throughout the year, we submitted links to the group, pointing to comics criticism we found exceptional. At the end of the year, these links helped us each create a list of our top ten pieces, which were then compiled by the jury’s organizer, Ng Suat Tong. As Suat tallied the year’s votes, he suggested that multiple votes for the same author (on different pieces) be consolidated into votes for a single article, which ultimately gave me more spots on my top ten, and also helped to solidify some writers’ inclusion on the final list.

2010’s top picks among the jury were:

Jason Thompson: The Other Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name

Katherine Dacey on Ayako

Joe McCulloch: Essay on Thought Balloons (“The Problem with American Vampires Is That They Just Don’t Think”)

Craig Fischer on David Mazzucchelli (Born Again Again)

David Bordwell on Hergé (Tintinopolis)

Dirk Deppey: The Mirror of Male-Love Love

Ken Parille: Casper, Formalism, and the ‘Great’ Search Party

Before I reveal my own final list, I’d like to mention a couple of pieces that are not there and why. I must begin by confessing how disappointed I was to discover after I’d agreed to participate, that Shaenon Garrity would also be on the jury. One of the great injustices of the 2009 list, I felt, was that nothing of Shaenon’s appeared there, and her inclusion on the 2010 jury meant that I would have no opportunity to right this terrible wrong! In particular, this year, I raved about her wonderful piece on Cathy Guisewite’s Cathy, and nearly anything pulled from her weekly column at The Comics Journal, The Strangest Pictures I Have Seen. Also not on my final list, but one of my favorite pieces this year, was Ariel Schrag’s Queer identities in comics, the first of her articles to appear at

Now for my final ten votes! These notes are mainly personal reflections on the pieces rather than profound statements on their critical achievement, and should be taken as such. Here they are:

Katherine Dacey on Sexy Voice and Robo/Harriet the Spy. I originally nominated both this and Kate’s Ayako review, with the first consolidation effort resulting in this single vote. Though later discussion between jurors led to all votes going for Ayako (fine with me, obviously), I wanted to put a little spotlight on this review as well, as it was one of my very favorite pieces of the year. Kate has a magnificent ability to make connections between works from different mediums and to express those connections with insight and clarity, and her Sexy Voice essay is a prime example of this talent.

Jason ThompsonTo Protect and Kill: Morality in Action Manga: Again, this vote ended up being consolidated into a vote for Jason’s incest piece, both of which I nominated in my original ten, but since this one didn’t make the cut, I thought I should give it a boost. I always enjoy Jason’s writing, and as someone who first came to comics via shounen manga, this piece had special appeal for me.

Dirk DeppeyThe Mirror of Male-Love Love: This honest, personal discussion of the writer’s own history as a foundation for criticism of Boys’ Love Manga is a perfect example of what makes compelling writing, online or anywhere else. I’m always most swayed by writers who are able to talk about their personal experience without losing their argument inside it all. Dirk Deppey does that astonishingly well.

Peter Sattler on R Crumb’s Genesis: What’s fantastic about this piece of criticism is how deliberately and clearly it is structured, making it an incredibly informative read even for someone (like me) who hasn’t actually read the comic being discussed. Oh, to be able to write like this. I can only dream of that day!

Karen Green on Pushwagners Soft City: There’s already been some discussion of the fact that our votes lean heavily towards positive criticism, but this piece is actually a wonderful example of why. Karen’s essay here made me feel truly excited about the book she was discussing–I mean really, truly inspired and excited. “This is why I read comics!” I thought at the time. Who doesn’t want to feel like that?

Deb Aoki, David Welsh, Sean Gaffney, Tucker Stone, David Brothers, Joe McCulloch, Ryan Sands, & Scott Green – “AXed” Intro | Part 1 | Part 2: Suat has already expressed his dismay at the inclusion of AXed in this year’s list of runners-up, but in my opinion, this collaborative criticism created entirely on Twitter best demonstrates one of the ways in which online criticism can actually be unique as online criticsm. In the hands of bloggers, concepts of journalism, criticism (and any other kind of writerly “ism”), have ceased to be the precisely distinct entities they once were, carefully controlled and meted out by the keepers of their mediums. Online platforms give writers the opportunity to mash these things up as they please, and to discover new ways in which to express critical thought. While some certainly see this as an assault on traditional criticism, I think it’s fantastic. And it’s not just the “isms” that are being challenged here. The writers who participated in AXed also challenged the platform they were writing on, utilizing Twitter for something far more ambitious than it was ever intended. The result? More of what I’m looking for in the places I frequent online: smart, thoughtful people talking about manga.

Joe McCulloch on thought balloons (“The Problem with American Vampires Is That They Just Don’t Think”): Thought balloons (or boxes, or pieces of floating thought text) are tricky business in my book, always endangering the directive of “show not tell.” But this essay gave me a new appreciation for representations of the inner monologue in any form. It’s a great read.

Phil Nugent on Doonesbury: My very first exposure to comics was by way of my dad. There were two comic strips he loved enough to collect in full, book by book. One, unsurprisingly, was Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. The other? Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury. I read all of my dad’s extensive Doonesbury collection multiple times over when I was a kid in the mid-seventies, despite the fact that I had little understanding of the politics behind it all. My early love for Doonesbury was no doubt the seed for my teenaged obsession with Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County, the only comic strip I ever followed as ravenously as my dad followed those he loved. Having not kept up with Doonesbury as an adult, I found Phil Nugent’s analysis of his eventual disappointment in the strip sad, but I can’t deny that it reads like truth.

David Welsh on To Terra… : Though this particular installment of the Manga Moveable Feast brought out quite a bit of interesting criticism from around the manga blogosphere, David’s discussion of the series’ shounen-ai undertones was probably my personal favorite. Eternally fascinated as I am by Japan’s system of manga demographics, this essay could have been written just for me. Thanks for that, David!

Tucker Stone on Blue Spring: Recommended quietly on Twitter by the awesome Kai-Ming Cha, this review simply enchanted me with its understated humor and insight. “… because youthful purpose is the single greatest murderer of youthful pleasure that I can think of,” is probably one of my favorite quotes all year. Also, this: “In the cult of comics blogging, I’m as guilty as many, with a long list of regretful moments of generous praise that strikes me now as being overly kind. I don’t think I’ll regret saying that this is the kind of comic that I would love to see more of, no matter who produces it. It’s eclectic and demanding, hysterically immature at times, and yet, from beginning to end, its viscerally entertaining, visually fascinating, and extremely unique. ”

As a sometimes-critic, that sentence rings startlingly true to my own experiences. And as a reader, what more can I possibly ask?

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  1. Katherine Dacey says:

    Thank you, Melinda! Sexy Voice and Robo is very dear to me, so it means a lot that someone else appreciated what I was trying to do in my essay about Nico and Harriet.

    I also wanted to second your comments about Shaenon Garrity’s article on Cathy. Cathy was never my favorite newspaper strip — the endless talk about shopping and chocolates didn’t speak to me — but I was genuinely taken aback by the vitrolic comments directed at Cathy Guisewite. I thought Shaenon did an amazing job of putting the comic strip in its historical context, and of speaking to its strengths and weaknesses. I hope your comments inspire more people to read that column; it deserves wider circulation.

    • I really loved that essay, and I haven’t even read Sexy Voice and Robo!

      Also, I think I probably read Shaenon’s Cathy article twenty times when it was first published. It spoke to me on so many levels.

  2. David Welsh says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Melinda!


  1. […] Melinda Beasi reminded me (in her piece about her participation), I got involved this year because last year I […]

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