Monks vs Moles

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Dick Hyacinth is still mulling over his meta list compiling the comics best of lists from numerous sources but his latest — and last — post on the subject is, to us anyway, the most fascinating.

In it, he assays to break down the differences between comics-focused lists and general-interest lists. In other words, while comics insiders– whom we’ll call “the Monks” just to be naughty — have their own accepted, er. canons and schools, based on a certain “comics 101” esthetic, or as Dick puts it, they are “immersed in the language and traditions of comics.” Meanwhile, the “Moles” at places like, The Onion, Time Magazine, mainstream newspapers and so on, have a more “comics enthusiast” slant, and read comics because they like them, and not because of any intensive study or devotion to a particular school. Are there differences? A few.

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As you might expect, the content and format of books charting on each list varied quite a bit. As you can see looking at the tables below, comics-specific sites tended to include more series, whereas general interest lists tended to favor single volume graphic novels. (One exception to this is that the general interest lists had far more Vertigo series to chart.) For reasons I haven’t quite parsed, web comics did much better on the general interest list. I’m tempted to attribute it in part to Lev Grossman’s list for Time, but (a) that only counts for half the web comics, and (b) it includes the one web comic to make the comics-specific list, Chris Onstad’s Achewood.

There were significant differences in content as well. The comics-specific list included twice as many manga titles. As Jog suggested, those manga titles making the general interest list tended to be single volume affairs, perhaps mirroring the general public’s greater interest in done-in-one graphic novels or big, chunky omnibus type things. I’m not so sure I totally agree with this line of reasoning–as mentioned earlier, Vertigo titles did much better on the general interest list than on the comics-focused one. For folks who wait for the trade, I don’t know if I see much difference between manga and Vertigo collections, at least in terms of format.


Dick mentions a few specific differences — for instance, Alias the Cat did much better on the comics lists, coming in at #3!

This doesn’t even appear on the general interest lists. It’s not like Pantheon is a small budget press which can’t afford to distribute review copies, so I guess we have to attribute this discrepancy to wildly differing tastes between the two categories of list-makers.


Is Deitch a revered figured among the Comicscenti? You bet. And yet, so is Jason, and he did better on the general-interest lists:

12. I Killed Adolf Hitler (181)
I really can’t explain why this graphic novel was so much more successful on the general interest lists. It didn’t make the top 100 for comics-oriented lists.


Perhaps this is all a seemingly meaningful pattern when it’s really all nonsense. Earlier in the piece, Dick notes,

There were a number of newspaper and magazine lists, however, which seemed to include a lot of material from the same publisher/imprint. This suggests that review copy distribution might have a greater effect on the general interest lists.


For instance, DC is pretty damned liberal with their review copies, and if you work at a mainstream newspaper or magazine, getting review copies shouldn’t be too terribly difficult. On the other hand, The Comics Journal has been specifically excluded from DC’s complist for over a decade due to past transgressions. And Marvel doesn’t even have a complist for its own editors, let alone a reviewer. (Apparently this is one area where Ike Perlmutter will never ever budge.)

Anyway, whether there’s anything at all to be drawn from this is open to question, esp. in light of the whole “What is mainstream/indie/canon” argument going on in the blogosphere. Whatever the truth of the matter — and we shall never know, really — Dick Hyancinth has done some heavy lifting here. We should all thank him.

  1. That’s an excellent point about review copies Heidi. I know I’m much more aware about what certain companies — DC, D&Q, Viz — are up to in their publishing schedules because their pr is so aggressive, esp. in terms of getting review copies out to the media.

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