Tuesday, August 16, 2005

THE WEEK OF LISTS: Five Desert Island Comics

Because this is the week of lists, I'm stealing this cool meme from Marc Mason, which asks what five comic book works would you take with you on that mythical ol' desert island (where of course there would be an air-conditioned food-filled old abandoned military base you could read your comics in comfort whilst waiting for rescue).

It's tough to narrow 'em down, but here's five that would make the cut:

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1. 'The Complete Concrete' by Paul Chadwick. This out-of-print book collects #1-10 of the old Dark Horse "Concrete" series, which may be the finest collective movement in Chadwick's ongoing saga of Ron Lithgow, a thoughtful, passionate man trapped in an isolating alien body. "Concrete" wowed me back when I first read it in the mid-1980s and 20 years on few comic works have been quite as humane, hopeful and insightful. This series rambles from Concrete's origins to Mount Everest, from Nepal to rock concerts and family farms, and is a perfect introduction to the character (while this particular book is hard to find, there are several other reprints of the same material out there).

2. 'Watchmen' by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Jeez, this is a no-brainer, isn't it? If you aren't including this on your desert island list I will gasp, I tell you, gasp in astonishment. The realist superhero epic with an apocalyptic conclusion; remarkable for just how dense it is and how much new you spot on each re-reading. This entire list could be nothing but Alan Moore comics, but if I had to pick one, this would be it.

3. 'The Essential Amazing Spider-Man' Vols. 1-7 by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Romita, etc.. My favorite superhero, one I've followed through thick and thin, dim and great (I did give up for a while during the "clone saga," I admit). In seven gigantic black-and-white "phone books," herein are reprinted the first 15 years or so worth of web-swinging goodness. Essential, fun and old-fashioned superheroics at their best.

4. 'Cerebus: Church And State' Parts one and two by Dave Sim. There are few bigger disappointments in comics for me than "Cerebus," which was my introduction to so-called "indie" comics way back when, which was a magnificent, sprawling epic that sputtered out into obsession and incoherency toward the end. Still, a bad ending doesn't cause the superb early years to lose their merit -- taken on their own, the two massive "Church and State" books are "Cerebus" at its peak, a story of religion, power and madness that (nearly) stands on its own, allowing you to forget the painful long slow downhill slope that began soon after this.

5. 'Tintin' by Herge, the complete works. Man, one of the first comics I fell in love with was Herge's classic European "Tintin" series, about the globetrotting teen reporter and his wacky friends and enemies. My local library had nearly the complete set. Nearly 60 years after most were created, the 15 or so books still hold up wonderfully well as all-ages entertainment, with exquisitely detailed art, fun characters and craftsmanship galore. You could do far worse than introduce a kid to comics with Tintin.

Honestly, I'd take the entire library if I could — close runners-up for me would include Miracleman #1-16, James Kochalka's "American Elf," "Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron" by Dan Clowes, "Hate" by Peter Bagge, Grant Morrison's run on "JLA," "Animal Man" also by Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman's complete "Sandman," "Top 10" by Alan Moore, the original Marvel Comics "Star Wars" series trade paperbacks by Dark Horse, "Preacher"... but really, at some point, you're going to run out of island, aren't you?

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