Top Tens: Comics

A couple of months or so ago, I tweeted a question asking if readers could more easily list their top ten films, books, albums, TV shows, or restaurants. Since I miss LiveJournal and love making list, I thought I'd share mine. All of these lists are subject to change at any moment, and they're personal favorites as opposed to what I think are the "greatest" works in the media.

I started with films , albums and then novels.   Just for grins, I'm going to switch to one that isn't on the list: comics (both series and stand-alone graphic novels.)

The Sandman - Neil Gaiman and many great artists

This is the comic that really drove home the message that comics were a unique and powerful medium for stories. Neil Gaiman mapped out an expansive, incredible arc for Morpheus, but the beauty, for me, is in the stories within stories. The title character is often just an observer or a catalyst for the tale in question. It's really extraordinary stuff. The breadth of his craft, his ability to switch voices and genres like as quickly as the Lord of Dreams takes and discards names...just read it an enjoy. If I had to pick one book from the set, it would Season of Mists, which turns expectations on their heads in such a brilliant and, in hindsight, obvious way. Kelly Jones' art sure doesn't hurt, either.

Phonogram - Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

I'm loathe to put recent reads on the list, but this Phonogram is one of the most surprisingly deep, touching, and relatable works I've ever experienced in any medium. It's a comic about people who use music to perform magic, at least on the surface. That's a great enough idea to make it a must-read, but it unfolds into something so much bigger. It's a mediation on how people experience art, how they relate to it, how scenes burn out and then re-emerge as revivals and how people deal with the past and the fact that the past is the past and not the present and so on. The second volume, Singles Club, is probably my favorite, but all three are musts

Planetary - Warren Ellis and John Cassaday

A comic about comics that never gets cute about it and somehow sticks the landing. Almost every issue is a self-contained homage/pastiche/whatever of a particular genre.  Instead of getting lost in commentary on the medium, it's a big mystery story that unfolds in thrilling fashion. Cassaday is up to the challenge of telling a wildly different story in a different style every issue. An utterly brilliant idea an execution that does it justice. Do yourself a favor and just start at the beginning and read it all the way through.

Casanova - Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon

I won't even try to describe this book. Reading it is like doing your very favorite drug in your favorite place to do it. I avoided Casanova for years because the title, of all things, didn't do it for me, but that was really dumb of me. I guess it's sort of a conspiracy/super-spy/pansexual/robot (cyborg and the big kind)/family story, only it's much stranger than that. Moon and Ba are like no other artists on this planet. They're not everyone's cup of tea, but they fit this book perfectly. This is another one you just have to start from the beginning. 

Locke & Key - Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Horror doesn't work for me. I understand that craft that goes into creating horror, and I respect it, but it just doesn't do anything for me. Locke & Key is the sole exception to that rule. The thing that makes it work is the incredible balancing act Hill does in plotting the story. The heroes have all of the power but none of the knowledge of how to use it. The villains have all of the knowledge but none of the power. The tension comes from how the balance shifts, and there were numerous "Oh no, there's no WAY they can get out of this moments." It's absolutely gripping and it never, ever cheats the reader.

Doom Patrol - Grant Morrison and a stack of artists

Other than some old Dr. Strange books from the 70's, I wasn't really familiar with "weird" comics. When I first picked up Doom Patrol, I'd already read Dark Knight and Watchmen, so you'd think I would have been prepared, but nothing could possibly have made me ready for "The Painting That Ate Paris," a story about a group of Dadaist villains, led by a man who isn't there, who entrap Paris in a recursive painting, each level representing a different artistic style. "The Painting That Ate Paris" is the essential volume, but know that the epilogue to that one is brutal. 

Transmetropolitan - Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson

A Hunter S. Thompson-esque journalist in a near-future dystopia, as written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Darick Robertson. On the off chance you need any other reason to read it, there's a PSA which has the best description of voting in a democracy you'll ever encounter (look it up yourself, no way I'm linking it here.) It's tough to single out an essential volume. "Year of the Bastard?" That's probably the one.

Calvin and Hobbes - Bill Watterson

I know this is completely different than the other ones on this list, but it's such an extraordinary work of art that I had to find some list to put it on. The set up would have been too cute in the hands of any other writer, but Watterson...heck, why am I even writing this? You know Calvin and Hobbes. It's the best comic in the history of ever. 

Tank Girl - Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett and then others

If your only knowledge of this book comes from the unfortunate film, you're missing it. Lori Petty gave it a great go, but she was never going to be allowed to portray the sheer profanity of the comic version. Tank Girl is a freight train of cursing, drinking, violence, shagging, crime, and somehow, it's hilarious. Some of the post-Hewlett books have been solid, but the first two collections are the alpha and omega of Tank Girl.

Flaming Carrot Comics - Bob Burden

A powerless hero who carries a gun, wears flippers, and wears a huge carrot mask over his heads. The Flaming Carrot's adventures are surreal, exciting, funny, and sometimes weirdly sexy. The collections aren't really broken out by storyline, so I'm not sure which collection has the essential story, "They Cloned Hitler's Feet," the finest Mystery Men (yes, those Mystery Men.) Give it a read and you'll understand why I was so excited to see it made into a movie.