This was just one of those weeks that makes you want to stop the planet and get off. While I was feeling as if there was no escape from the horrible crap happening, I happened across this old Daniel Clowes 2009 New Yorker cover -- one of my favorites -- and decided to focus on some positive comics stuff as a coping mechanism.
Here is your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
Create the ultimate comics time capsule that aliens will someday discover. Show them the best of comics (and the world? your call!) with the 22* comics you’re allowed to put inside the capsule. Are they the 22 comics you think are the greatest of all time? Or are they the best and strongest representation of what we had to offer in quality and breadth? Are they just the ones you can read over and over again? Are all of those the same thing? Again, your call!
A few simple rules:
#1. You can put in an omnibus if it exists, as 1 entry (example: The Planetary Omnibus - in it goes!)
#2. It has to be already out, as of today (example: The Planetary Omnibus does not come out until January 2014. Damnit! Out it goes).
#3. You cannot put in all the individual trades of a book’s run in the capsule as 1 entry (example Y: The Last Man). You CAN fill the capsule with 22 volumes of the same thing, but even *I* have to question your judgement there!
#4. We’ll make an exception for special books bound together in a case/collection (example: The Collected Calvin & Hobbes can go in, or Bryan Lee O'Malley's complete Scott Pilgrim series, as well as unique one of kind comics experiments of the form - like Chris Ware’s Building Stories). Unfortunately, something like all the gorgeous Wednesdays Comics in their original format would not work (unless you wanted to use it as multiple entries), but you could put in the collected edition...man, I wish I had room for that. Damn!
#5. Only comics. So, no, as much as you're dying to put in my brilliant take on female superheroes in prose form (cough>The Girl Who Would Be King
#6. Yes, you can put in single issues, but man that single issue better be good!
For the rest, you guys decide, they’re your lists, I don’t have our fearless leader’s skills or devotion, so I’m not going to make individual rulings beyond the above. Have at it!
Oh, and here’s mine, in no particular order. Highly personal, absolutely suspect, seriously flawed, but available for your reading pleasure/displeasure. There’s way too much recent stuff on it (I don't love the writing in the classics, what can I say?), and perhaps most egregious -- there’s no Manga on it -- but I don’t generally read Manga and I wouldn’t know where to begin on what should go in the capsule.
But my list** is what it is, it’s what I love, and what I think is a reasonable and wonderful representation of the medium:
01. JIMMY CORRIGAN SMARTEST KID ON EARTH by Chris Ware
Quite frankly, almost everything of Ware's belongs in a capsule like this, but if I have to pick one it's Corrigan, in part because unlike some of his other stories that I love it is "finished." The quintessential independent comic creator, Ware is unsurpassed in just about everything, not the least of which is depth and insight into the failures of mankind.
02. ASTERIOS POLYP by David Mazzucchelli
Top of my list for the best graphic novels of all time, Asterios Polyp is a masterpiece of visual experimentation that never gets in the way of the emotionally resonant narrative. Heartbreaking and uplifting, it's the perfect example what all comics aim to do - i.e. the best and strongest merging of words and images to move the soul.
03. STUMPTOWN by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth
A modern entry of noir-ish detective fiction, with a powerful female lead, evocative visuals, and a brilliant story that unfolds beautifully, Stumptown Volume 1 also happens to be one of the most beautiful books on my shelves. Oversized with gorgeous matte paper, it's about as perfect as comic books get from a quality standpoint.
04. GHOST WORLD by Daniel Clowes
Obviously Clowes belongs on here, hell, his image inspired the idea! Ghost World is easily my favorite of his work, though Mister Wonderful holds a special (if disturbing) place in my heart. But let's not scare the crap out of these aliens right out of the gate, right?
05. BLACK HOLE by Charles Burns
Easily one of my favorite books of all time, and I don't see it getting bumped off the list anytime soon. Brilliant, haunting, and beautiful, and good for the list for a lot of reasons, including a very different view of B&W artwork - there are other black and white books on the list - but none that look anything like this!
06. DEMO VOLUME 2 by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan
I kind of like throwing Volume 2 in here without Volume 1 as it shows the fantastic flexibility of comics. Volume 2 needs no Volume 1 in order to work flawlessly. With six gorgeous black and white short stories that stand effortlessly on their own but enhance one another when read together, Demo Volume 2 is one of my favorite indie comics, and perhaps my favorite example of short stories in comics.
07. X-MEN: THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Really, this is my only "classic/traditional" superhero book in the capsule and that both surprises and disappoints me. As I mentioned above, I don't love a lot of the classic comics, groundbreaking though they may have been for their time, mostly due to the over-writing. I'll also admit upfront that my reading is NOT as deep here as I'd like it to be. Still, it wasn't that hard for me to leave off a lot of superhero books you guys probably consider vital. I'm sorry I've disappointed you. Seriously. Tell me on your lists which ones absolutely should be on here, maybe I'll do some more reading.
08. ASTONISHING X-MEN OMNIBUS by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
Well, you all know I love this book, I've talked about it before. I think it's a nice companion/comparison for Dark Phoenix Saga. And I'd say it's reasonably traditional in its superhero storytelling, though obviously too recent to be called "classic."
09. WATCHMEN by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
If you're going to have classic superhero comics in your capsule then you need the best subversion of them that exists. Dense and complex, forever relevant, Watchmen has to be in there.
10. BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller
The best Batman story of all time? I can't say for sure, but it's powerful and important in the superhero comics context. I actually wanted to put Scott Snyder's Detective Comics collection, The Black Mirror in as it's one of my favorite Batman stories of all time. But I can't possibly put a Batman comic that has a non-Bruce Wayne Batman in the time capsule, and I don't have room for two. OTHERWISE, HOW WILL THE ALIENS UNDERSTAND ABOUT BRUCE WAYNE??? THEY MUST UNDERSTAND!!! Ahem. Yes, moving on.
11. BATWOMAN: ELEGY by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III
Certainly relevant for featuring a gay woman in the primary superhero role, more importantly it has Rucka's powerful writing and Williams III's groundbreaking visuals. Every time I pick this book up off the shelf I am drawn into both the visuals and the narrative and can't stop reading until I've read the whole thing all over again.
12. THE COMPLETE MAUS by Art Spiegelman
Probably a good idea to put the comic that won the Pulitzer Prize in, right? It also happens to be haunting and brilliant. Some of these calls are super easy, yo.
13. THE COMPLETE CALVIN & HOBBES by Bill Watterson
A comic strip collection absolutely needs representation. There are a lot of great ones, but Calvin & Hobbes was always my favorite and when you add to that the sheer size, and the quality of this collection it seems like a no-brainer.
14. PERSEPOLIS by Marjane Satrapi
Helping to fill out both the non-American contingent and the memoir contingent, Perspeolis is smart and emotional and unlike a lot of the other books on the list. It's a book I constantly recommend to readers, both of comics and otherwise. In it goes!
15. WET MOON VOLUME. 1 by Ross Campbell
I adore Campell's work, as most regular readers know, and it's an easy choice for me to include it. I don't know that volume 1 is my favorite of the Wet Moon books, but like any great book with an ongoing narrative and characters that grow and change dramatically over time, it's best to start at the beginning. But perhaps the best reason to put this in the capsule is because it is utterly unlike anything else on the list. For that alone it's important.
16. I KILL GIANTS by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura
I've read a lot of lovely YA over the last few years, but none of them have hit me as powerfully as I Kill Giants. Profound and painfully sad, it's head and shoulders over most comics about similar subject matter.
17. GOODBYE CHUNKY RICE by Craig Thompson
I haven't yet read Habibi, so maybe that would supplant GCR, and I like Blankets very much, but GCR is the winner for me in its simplicity and heart. A great story about life and friendship, that is beloved by those who've read it, but frankly, not read enough. Get on that!
18. SAGA VOLUME 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
There is a serious lack of space opera on my list...easily solved with Saga, easily one of my favorite books of now and any time. Smart, funny, epic, full of surprises and stunning art, I don't know yet if Saga will "stand the test of time" (whatever that means) but for my money, it's about the best thing you can do with said money.
19. EXIT WOUNDS by Rutu Modan
Another entry for non-American, and another entry for politically leaning, Modan's Exit Wounds is a quiet but important book. A modern look at Israel that's about family, death, and perhaps most importantly, identity, it's a favorite of mine. I haven't read The Property yet...will it supplant Exit Wounds? Time will tell!
20. UNLIKELY by Jeffrey Brown
Unlikely was what I consider my official entry into reading alternative comics. And I never looked back. Though I am a rabid Brown fan (I think I own everything he's done? Is that possible? He's kinda prolific) Unlikely has always remained my favorite. Told with very little concern for narrative flow, it still somehow is heartbreaking and honest in its depiction of relationships.
21. HAWKEYE VOLUME 1: MY LIFE AS A WEAPON by Matt Fraction and David Aja
Groundbreaking superhero comics are far more rare than they seem when you look at this list. Hawkeye is, without hyperbole, one of the best superhero books I've ever read. Smart and funny, it's effortlessly superhero-ish and utterly un-superhero-ish at once. An impressive feat.
22. NEXTWAVE: AGENTS OF H.A.T.E by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen
Funniest superhero book of all time? It is as far as I'm concerned. It's also a great example of what I wish more superhero books could be - balls to the wall, completely unafraid, and aggressively awesome. It's a good way to end, that's for sure.
What were the hardest books to leave off? So many good ones. Top of the pile were Anders Nilsen's Big Questions with its existential beauty and, well...big questions, the Wednesdays Comics collection, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home in all its tragically honest insight, and Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs's fantastic totally un-superhero superhero book DV8: Gods & Monsters. It seems shocking to even me that a book based off DV8 almost ended up in my time capsule, but that should tell you just how good Wood and Isaacs are!
*22 books because that's my favorite number (and because 20 was too hard).
** If you think I'm not also going to cheat and jam in the first two issues of Wood and Coipel X-Men Comics then you have not been paying attention. Besides, these aliens should at least know what a single issue monthly comic looks like, right? :)