5. Gary Larson
The Far Side was the best single panel comic ever. Larson knew how to blend economy of prose and image. Visual simplicity allowed for weird humor.
4. Ronald Searle
Searle was not really a newspaper comic. He is an exception, but he is also exceptional. Searle was one of the ink and paper masters. His style is an affront to the sharp line, the smooth, or straight. So, too, his humor.
3. Bill Watterson
Calvin and Hobbes. The fine blend of artistic backgrounds, endearing characters, and wonderful laughs. Thought-provoking, silly, weird and serious Calvin and Hobbes, for many, was the epitome of newspaper comics.
2. Gus Arriola
Arriola's Gordo was brilliant. It got away with incredible visuals. The characters were some of the best to grace newspapers. The stories and writing was a cut above, along with much else. Gordo had a nice multi-decade run, but now is more or less forgotten. Pity.
1. Winsor McCay
Near the end of Calvin and Hobbes, Watterson used to complain that comics in newspapers no longer got respect, like the good ol' days. Then you could have a full-page per comic. McCay's Little Nemo took full advantage of this. It was the grand-daddy of them all: for layout, visuals, characters, story-telling, everything. McCay showed the way, given room to spread that only now some webcomics are starting to take advantage of in their newest incarnation of the newspaper comic.