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What is... a comic? 
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After happening across numerous similar lists, I decided to have a go at putting together my own personal "top 100" comics, but problems arrived quickly. Namely, how do you define what's a comic and what isn't?

Straight away I thought I wouldn't include single panel gags (stuff like Gary Larson's The Far Side, which I've always loved, won't be allowed). Decided to keep it to "tangible" things as well, so no webcomics.

Anthologies are fine - wouldn't be able to include the Beano if they weren't.

I noticed some of the lists included the work of Edward Gorey. His stuff's great, sure, but by including them, that'd mean by extension including any sort of picture book. Where The Wild Things Are, Not Now Bernard, In The Night Kitchen, What Do People Do All Day, all great books, but by no means are they comics!

"Sequential pictures with speech bubbles" makes sense, but then that would mean leaving out the earlier stuff, lines of pictures with text under each one. It's a mind-numbing minefield, it really is!

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12 Sep 2015, 22:16
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TwoHeadedBoy wrote:
After happening across numerous similar lists, I decided to have a go at putting together my own personal "top 100" comics, but problems arrived quickly. Namely, how do you define what's a comic and what isn't?

Straight away I thought I wouldn't include single panel gags (stuff like Gary Larson's The Far Side, which I've always loved, won't be allowed). Decided to keep it to "tangible" things as well, so no webcomics.

Anthologies are fine - wouldn't be able to include the Beano if they weren't.

I noticed some of the lists included the work of Edward Gorey. His stuff's great, sure, but by including them, that'd mean by extension including any sort of picture book. Where The Wild Things Are, Not Now Bernard, In The Night Kitchen, What Do People Do All Day, all great books, but by no means are they comics!

"Sequential pictures with speech bubbles" makes sense, but then that would mean leaving out the earlier stuff, lines of pictures with text under each one. It's a mind-numbing minefield, it really is!


Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is your friend! Except that it isn't entirely, because really you have to make up your own mind as to what you are going to count or exclude. I don't think speech bubbles are a core requirement myself - sequential pictures in deliberate juxtaposition is enough I reckon, otherwise what about wordless comics?

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12 Sep 2015, 22:21
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Yeah, there's a ton of wordless comics I like as well... And another thing, which anthologies would count and which wouldn't? There's your Beanos and so on, but then there's also Deadline - and if I'm including Deadline, what if I wanted to include Tank Girl as well? Would she be covered by Deadline or would she warrant her own entry, because she's got lots of her own books? Just thinking out loud mostly.

"Sequential pictures in deliberate juxtaposition" makes sense, I like that, but that still brings up the ugly boundaries of picture books. The Snowman and When The Wind Blows I feel should be welcomed as "comics", but not so much Fungus the Bogeyman. It's a personal dilemma!

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12 Sep 2015, 22:46
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If you can follow an illustrated story properly just by looking at the pictures, then it has the qualities of a comic even if it looks like a story-book.


13 Sep 2015, 04:05
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TwoHeadedBoy wrote:
Yeah, there's a ton of wordless comics I like as well... And another thing, which anthologies would count and which wouldn't? There's your Beanos and so on, but then there's also Deadline - and if I'm including Deadline, what if I wanted to include Tank Girl as well? Would she be covered by Deadline or would she warrant her own entry, because she's got lots of her own books? Just thinking out loud mostly.

"Sequential pictures in deliberate juxtaposition" makes sense, I like that, but that still brings up the ugly boundaries of picture books. The Snowman and When The Wind Blows I feel should be welcomed as "comics", but not so much Fungus the Bogeyman. It's a personal dilemma!


Not at all sure why you wouldn't include Fungus the Bogeyman - I think it is just as much of a comic as the other two Briggs titles. I agree that other kids picture books at a younger level feel like a bit of a different thing, but some of that difference is marketing and positioning. Why don't you just start off with making a list and then when it gets too long, winnow things out that you're unsure of? Up to you of course! :)

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13 Sep 2015, 07:33
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For some strange reason this always used to be a question that fascinated me. I think it was attached to once wanting a definitive list of all comics ever published, even if that ran into several million worldwide (which I think it does).

I spent some time in the late 90's through to about 2005 on various messages boards and comic forums involved in discussions on the subject. Many of these got quite impassioned at times. Exclusions based on physical format internal content and technical details on subjects like word balloons often flew around in such discussion and everyone seemed to have a different opinion.

It took many years for it to dawn on me that comics mean many different things to different people often based on what things were like in the era and culture they grew up in.

So I now accept that comics are a broad church and what was important to me was to try and define the flavours of comics that I wanted to study and document and which were not. Having reached that point of enlightenment I have since lost almost all interest in documenting comics and these days focus on mainly on simply reading the things.

Anyway I digress. So started to come up with a list of my flavour of comics that included things some people saw as not comics. I also came up with an list of other comics that were not of my flavour.

I can't remember what was there but for me, my sort of comics included Rupert Bear, Tintin, Marvel, DC, Spirou, Beano, Garth, The Perishers, The New Eagle, Photo Love, Raymond Briggs Snowman, The Monkey compex, Look-in and Lone Wolf and Cub.

Comics that were not my sort of comics included National Lampoon, Punch, Alley Slopers Half-Holiday, The Far Side, Look and Learn, Boys Own, Varney the Vampire, The Rover, Peoples Friend, Where the Wild Things are, Toxic Magazine and Doctor Who magazine.

For me physical format was of low importance, but more minor technical details in the layout were and the amount of comic content as a proportion of a publication were of significance to me (at the time, I have since mellowed).

At the time I tried to come up with a definition of my flavour of comics in the vien the McLeod had attempted in his UNdertsanding Comics book. This is what I cam up with...

What are Comics to me?

Comics are images set side by side, often in panels that display a sequence of events. Text is not an essential component of a comic but is usually used to complement the images either within or directly below the panels.

What are Comic Books to me?

“A comic book is any form of printed publication whose majority content conforms to the above definition.

I then tried to come up with a more inclusive definition that would describe all the other flavours. I failed to do so. I did come up with a simple 'A sequence of images that tell a story.' definition but that excludes so many thing that other people see as their style of comics such as Giles or The Rover.

Anyway despite just spending 15 minutes typing this, these days I don't really think it matters much.


13 Sep 2015, 09:28
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Thanks for all the responses so far, much to chew on... "A sequence of images that tell a story" seems to be the best way of looking at it so far, but again, that could be interpreted as including picture books. Suppose it's all down to the "feel" of it? Like you could be reading it, and think to yourself, "Yes, this is a comic". Certainly nothing that enters my mind when reading Maurice Sendak's "In the Night Kitchen", but something that DOES enter the mind when reading "The Snowman". It's odd, but it's definitely a "feeling".

Had another look at Fungus the Bogeyman, the narrative is a bit fractured (lots of pages of information about the world he lives in), but overall, yeah, I'd say it was still a comic. Some shuffling's been done to accommodate it. I'm still not including single panel stuff (much as I'd like to include the likes of Gary Larson, Giles, Glen Baxter and Gahan Wilson - hey, all G's!). The current "shortlist" stands at 150 different comics, and it's going to be hard to leave out fifty of those. This may well end up as a "top 150" list, it's a cop-out!

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13 Sep 2015, 14:34
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Joined: 29 Jan 2011, 19:13
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"A sequence of images that tell a story"
A good definition, imo. Comics are often defined in occasionally pretentious circles as, sequential art and panelology, which is more the study of comics. But to my mind there are many variations on the "...sequence of images telling a story" We would all agree that 2000AD is a comic and the stories in it are comic stories, wouldn't we? Same with pocket libraries, Super Thriller and thousands more. Do we also accept Rupert? Panels, no word balloons and a piece of text below each panel. Nowhere in the definitions we've had do the words, "word balloons" raise their heads and yet many fans would consider them a necessary part of any comic. Not me and obviously not some others of you on here. There have been some wonderful "silent" comic stories done.
So how about some other variations. UK comics have had those strips with silent panels and text blocks above or below each panel - Rupert for example. Some have text blocks above or below plus word balloons in the illustrated panels, and others are newspaper strips where there are examples of all types but where writing and drawing newspaper strips requires a slightly different set of skills to creating a full comic story or episode. For example, Rip Kirby or Carol Day or Jeff Hawke.
The newspaper strip comic is a favourite of mine and the format continues to intrigue me. The Netherlands had a tradition of newspaper strips which were in the format of 2, 3 or 4 silent illustrations, which sequentially moved the story along and, often, 2 blocks of text underneath the illos and these were incredibly popular, creating, as they did, icons of Dutch comics such as Kapitein Rob, Aram, Piloot Storm, Eric de Noorman and many more. But they didn't leave it at that, As, due to paper shortages, tiny little - size of cigarette packet - comics appeared. These beeldromans were 1 illo to a page, with word balloons and paragraphs of text inside the panel, sometimes far too wordy for their own good. Dick Bos being the most famous, but there were piles more. So how does that format appeal to you as comics? They all are, imo, despite the big differences in format and style.
However, the definition, "sequence of images telling a story" could conceivably include photo novels. No drawn pictures to be found but photos laid out as a standard comic book with word balloons. They tell the story, they are images and have word balloons. Incredibly popular in Mexico, S. America, Italy and other European countries, and also to a lesser extent in Britain.
Curious to read any reactions.


13 Sep 2015, 16:18
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Funnily enough I often find that filmed sequences - whether in motion pictures or short adverts - retain a distinctive 'comic strip' structure by virtue of having been storyboarded with a narrative sequence of still images!


13 Sep 2015, 20:17
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TwoHeadedBoy wrote:
Thanks for all the responses so far, much to chew on... "A sequence of images that tell a story" seems to be the best way of looking at it so far, but again, that could be interpreted as including picture books. Suppose it's all down to the "feel" of it? Like you could be reading it, and think to yourself, "Yes, this is a comic". Certainly nothing that enters my mind when reading Maurice Sendak's "In the Night Kitchen", but something that DOES enter the mind when reading "The Snowman". It's odd, but it's definitely a "feeling".

Had another look at Fungus the Bogeyman, the narrative is a bit fractured (lots of pages of information about the world he lives in), but overall, yeah, I'd say it was still a comic. Some shuffling's been done to accommodate it. I'm still not including single panel stuff (much as I'd like to include the likes of Gary Larson, Giles, Glen Baxter and Gahan Wilson - hey, all G's!). The current "shortlist" stands at 150 different comics, and it's going to be hard to leave out fifty of those. This may well end up as a "top 150" list, it's a cop-out!


The 'feel' of it is not to be discounted but at the same time I think it can end up being misleading sometimes. Take "The Night Kitchen" - certainly I've thought of it as a picture book, in a different category from a comic. But I'd count Little Nemo in Slumberland as a comic, and if you re-read "The Night Kitchen" there are loads of references to Little Nemo in it! And some word balloons and (large) panels. It may not feel like a comic, but by heck it's got pretty much all the trappings of a comic.

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13 Sep 2015, 21:05
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Gahan Wilson is indeed a comic artist, as well as a single-pannel-gagger. He drew the strip "Nuts" for the Lampoon, and scores of colour cartoon strip stories and essays on various strange subjects for the same publication. These colour strips didn't have balloons or panel borders, but what the heck, I think they count. He didn't draw for comic books, though, apart from the DC "Big Book Of..." series.


14 Sep 2015, 01:07
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PawBroon:
It's a good thing I'm not trying to do a "crowd-pleasing" list, and instead am only limiting it to stuff I know and love - those cigarette card-sized comics sound interesting, highly! Always finding out about new things, the world's getting smaller and bigger at the same time.

comixminx:
Never made that Nemo connection before - looking at it again just now, it's uncanny. Nemo in the nude!

suebutcher:
Nuts, completely forgot about Nuts, got two of the books as well! This list just keeps getting bigger and bigger....

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14 Sep 2015, 02:04
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