When I committed, at the beginning of December, to writing a month’s worth of daily blog posts, one of the things I mentioned was that my Twitter account “saved me the work of having to compose my thoughts into actual paragraphs (maybe not such a good thing).” I told myself that I’d use the blog, when I needed it, to expand on thoughts that didn’t come across so well on Twitter. The trouble with Twitter is that (a) lines of 140 characters or less aren’t that conducive to expressing complex ideas and (b) it’s a much better medium for picking at other people’s arguments than for advancing your own.

I ran into the limitations of Twitter again today, when I read this list of Best Comics of the Decade (written by Mike Williams, posted on Time Magazine’s ‘Techland’ website, and circulated by various people on Twitter as ‘Time Magazine’s Top Ten Comics of the Decade’.)

I read the list, thought about it long enough to compose a Tweet, and posted: “I’d be more at peace with the focus of this “Top Ten Comics of the Decade” list if BLANKETS wasn’t on it.”

I was attempting to express a somewhat complex thought there, about the type of comics that were represented on the list. What came across, though, was just that I was bashing Craig Thompson’s graphic novel Blankets, which I actually like quite a bit.

Aside: after tweeting this afternoon, I looked up the review I wrote on Goodreads when I first read Blankets over the summer. It turns out that I actually liked the book a lot more than I remembered liking it. What rose in my mind when I saw it on Williams’ list was a complaint that wasn’t even my complaint. As I wrote at the time, “The main criticism I’ve heard of the story is that Raina, Craig’s not-quite girlfriend, exists in the story mostly as a thing that happened to Craig. I can see that perspective . . . . There is a certain self-absorption in Craig’s storytelling, but Raina does come off as a multi-dimensional, and very appealing person.” On further reflection, I wasn’t remembering my reaction to the book so much as a criticism I’d read of it somewhere else — possibly a review essay by Douglas Wolk in his excellent book, Reading Comics, but I’m hesitant to say so, because I may be misremembering that as much as I already mistook my own opinion. I had the review in mind when reading Blankets, decided that I didn’t agree with it, and even wrote about how I didn’t agree with it, but somehow the negative review stuck with me more than my own opinion. This really has me thinking in a new way about how readers react to criticism, and resolving to be more careful with my negative comments. I read about a study somewhere that said people are more likely to remember a lie, even after it’s refuted, than they are to remember the truth, and that might have some application to writing reviews. That’s not to say people shouldn’t review things negatively, just that it might be a good idea to lay off throwing off pseudo-witty generalizations (in the way Twitter makes very easy), unless I can really stand behind them.

But back to the list: I probably shouldn’t have been reading the thing, anyway, because I dislike ‘Best Of’ lists intensely. Or, rather, I think lists have a good (expansive) function, and a bad (restrictive) function, but the bad function tends to drown the good function out. That is, I like lists when they teach readers about new things. In this case, a reader who heard about Y the Last Man or Planetary or Blankets for the first time from this guy’s list and decided to give them a shot would benefit — at least, from having horizons broadened, at best, from discovering a book they love. But the restrictive function of lists, the way they’re focused on which things are the best (and which others, by exclusion aren’t as good, and therefore not worth reading), is one that drives me nuts. Especially because it’s the thing that people want to talk about. Excluding rather than including, ranking rather than discovering.

But of course, every list is exclusive by its nature (you can’t list everything or it doesn’t mean anything), and a smart list reader will consider the source. While today’s list was circulated by some as representing ‘Time Magazine’s list’, it’s clearly stated in the context of being one reader’s opinions. I don’t, at least in my rational modes, insist that other people’s opinions conform to mine, and taking a look at the top item on this list should have told me that this guy’s opinion’s and mine didn’t match up. The number one book listed is Mark Millar’s The Ultimates, with one of the reasons given: When Bruce Banner turned into the Hulk it wasn’t all just smashy time. He would eat his enemies because he was hungry. When he wasn’t trying to screw them! If I believed in terrible opinions (which I don’t!! really!), that statement would contain several of them.

Still, I admit to being bugged by the list. As I flipped through it, I didn’t see a single book by a female writer. Beyond that, I didn’t see a single book, to my knowledge (I haven’t read all the books so I could be wrong about this), that has a female viewpoint character. In fact, I repeatedly saw books where I had found the viewpoint or representation of women to be a problem. I quit reading both Walking Dead and Invincible after a couple volumes because I felt like the female characters were being developed in annoying ways (or not at all); the Lois Lane issue of All-Star Superman is something I’ve fumed over with many a fellow fangirl (my friend Jennifer sums the critique up very well here); and Y: the Last Man does a genuinely great job of envisioning a world run by women, but never quite gets away from a viewpoint that makes the female world center around the only male character. Listing any of these books individually wouldn’t have bothered me — they’re all genuinely good books — but the accumulation got to me.

As I was reading through the list, I found myself thinking, “Surely Alison Bechdel’s great memoir Fun Home is going to be on here.” It made everybody‘s Best-Of lists when it came out in 2006. But nope, no Fun Home. This made the inclusion of the similar-in-theme-and-genre (but in my utterly subjective opinion, nowhere near as mature or accomplished) Blankets stand out. If Blankets hadn’t been on the list, I would have just assumed the writer wasn’t into ‘that kind of story.’ (The other books on the list are all about fighting or magic or superpowers or fantasy in some way; Blankets, like Fun Home, is purely realistic). My reaction was like the thing that happens on the rare occasion when a foreign-language film gets nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. I’d almost rather it didn’t, because it’s pretty clear that 99 percent of the time, Hollywood doesn’t look at movies made in other languages, so when they randomly decide to do so, it suggests that most of the foreign films made are unworthy (rather than just unseen).

With a little distance, I can see I was being a bit irrational. The Techland list is just one person’s opinion. The author admits he’s just looking at books that he prefers, with no indication of soliciting other people’s feedback or perspectives. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing for him to do, though it still grates a little that (intentionally or not), a quasi-official Time magazine anointment was placed on a list that doesn’t make any real effort at inclusiveness (though, after all, such an effort wasn’t the point of the writer’s exercise).

I was Twitter-venting (“twenting?”) about the list this afternoon, commenting that the books on it were “by and about boys”, when my Twitter-pal KahunaBlair floated the very sensible suggestion that I should make my own list. So — I should do that. I want to do that. I’m very hesitant to make a “restrictive” list; I don’t think I’m qualified, and also, well, I don’t like them. But I am thinking about making an inclusive list, and asking readers for their own contributions. Because I don’t just want to tell you the comics from the 2000s that were both genuinely excellent and important to me; I want to know about the ones that my friends and fellow fans can’t live without. I’ll post about it in the next couple days, although in the interest of full disclosure, so far my list only has four books on it and I don’t know how much longer it’s going to get. Don’t tell me your favorites yet — we’ll save that for later — but if you want to guess the four books on my list (or, errm, the three books that aren’t Fun Home), go for it.

I think that’s enough for now. Do you see why I usually stick to 140 characters?

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