Pitch #7: When I was a kid, I had a lot of “favorite books,” but one that I practically read the pages off was David Wallechinsky and Irving and Amy Wallace’s Book of Lists. It had everything that the listicle format promises: information fun to learn, easy to digest, and often new to the reader. I still have a copy in my bedroom, picked up at a yard sale to replace the one I loved to death.

Most of its topics could be listicles today: 17 Animals with Pouches, Charles Hamilton’s 10 Rarest Autographs in the World Today, and the Value of Each If Auctioned, 20 Famous [Literary] Writers Who Worked for the Movies, 10 Ghastly Ghosts [of History].

I still like a good list now and then, but the listicle format has… problems, as I discovered when I did some work in the field. It’s not so much the commenter who comes in and says “How dare you rank the Christopher Reeve Superman above the Henry Cavill one, how dare you, sir, you are clearly mistaken” only less nicely. I’m kind of used to that sort of thing. But the twin pressures of making sure one is visible on Google and maximizing ad revenue lead most listicle entries to ramble like a high school essay vamping to the teacher’s assigned word-count. Multiply that by the number of entries in the number of listicles you run across, and ugh. The Book of Lists recognized that many list entries needed only the briefest of explanations or (in the case of the first two examples above) none whatsoever.

The 35 would be an attempt to reclaim the list format from its clickbait-fattened state, using the visual nature of comics to cut verbiage to the bone or eliminate it altogether. The analogous listicle title would be “All the X Ranked from Best to Worst,” but the format is both a nod to our desire to organize everything into neat little numbers and a recognition that such organization is never fully possible: sometimes it’s apples and oranges, as when comparing the Adam West and Christian Bale Batmans. Entries that you’d fully expect to be part of the list would rub shoulders with more obscure picks and outright puns, as in the examples seen here. Other lists might, more straightforwardly, shed light on underexplored topics (“Top-Grossing Movies, Ranked by the Redness of Their Color Palette”) or provide a bit of perspective (“Presidential Campaign Slogans, Ranked by Brazenness”).

I am a bit undecided whether it would improve the two examples here if they had brief captions (“Animated Series Batman,” “Dark Knight Returns Batman,” etc.). Captions would no doubt make it easier to follow along, but a more puzzle-like format would increase engagement as commenters tried to figure out the entries for themselves. Could maybe do something with alt text as a compromise. As Flo loved to remind me, I do love my puzzles… which segues nicely into pitch #8.