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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Nine Graphic Novels to Read Before You Die -- It can be daunting, browsing your graphic novel collection in, say, your 40s, and wondering where they'll go when you die. In my head, I know which ones I would like my daughter to have, and my son. And which ones I would like send to which friends, and which ones I hope my wife will finally take a look at.

I've been reading comics since 1972, and the first time I acquired what we would now call a graphic novel was just six or seven years later. I'm brutally selective in what goes on my bookshelves, which is why I only have about 700 graphic novels at the moment, despite at one time or another probably owning five times that many.

If I read it and am certain it will be a lifelong joy to revisit its pleasures, onto the shelves it goes. If I read it and don't find much -- or any -- value in it, chances are it ends up in someone else's hands sooner, rather than later.

Few graphic novels have been so godawfully egregious that I actually throw them away -- books called "Tozzer" and "Americanjism" come to mind as ones that I despised and was certain no one else would find of value, either, so in the trash they went. But usually I am certain someone will get some pleasure out of even most books I don't much care for, which is why I end up giving away, trading or selling books that don't make the cut into my permanent graphic novel library.

I don't know if you're like me. I don't know if you have given this much thought into which graphic novels you own or have read. But I do know this: There are nine graphic novels you should indisputably read before you die. And here they are.

* The Filth. As recently as yesterday, I noticed an article on a popular comic book website claiming this -- one of Grant Morrison's very best and most mind-expanding works -- is "difficult to read." Bullshit. Start at the top left of page one, and make your way to the bottom right. Repeat until you're finished. It's fucking brilliant, and worth the time it takes to let it immerse itself into your consciousness.

* We3. Getting all the Morrison right out of the way up front, We3 is a gorgeous and thoughtful rumination on man's relationship to, stewardship of, and abuse toward our fellow inhabitants of Earth.

* Book of Leviathan. You'll find a lot of intelligent comics critics recommending this one, even though you may very well never have heard of it. Once you read it, you will never forget it.

* David Boring. Much more than the oddball mystery it appears at first glance, David Boring is one of Clowes's most dense and rewarding stories, and also paradoxically one of his most straightforward. You just have to pay attention.

* Diary of a Teenage Girl. If I could ask you to read only one book on this list, this is the one that I'd ask you to read. It will change the way you think about relationships and sexuality, and also demonstrate just how powerful comics can be as a storytelling medium.

* Fantastic Butterflies. James Kochalka says he probably won't do more longform graphic novels like this one, which is sort of an extended version of his American Elf daily diary comic strips. It's also one of his most entertaining and impressive graphic novels.

* Jays Days: Rise and Fall of the Pasta Shop Lothario. Jason Marcy is one of the most blunt and insightful autobiographical cartoonists alive today, and this is the book of his that you should read, if you only try one.

* The Journal Comic. Drew Weing was my favourite webcomics cartoonist during the time he was producing these strips. I wish he'd kept it up.

* The Ticking. Renee French contains multitudes within her talent, from eerie mindfucks to sincere and graceful children's books. The Ticking is her most definitive work (so far), and a true masterpiece of comic art.

There are graphic novels that are more accomplished, beautiful or in some other way more outstanding than at least some on this list, but these are nine books that I honestly think are under-appreciated, under-read and under-discussed. All of them deserve your time and attention, and I'd be surprised if you didn't enjoy all of them a great deal. If you decide to sample some of the books on the list, please e-mail me and let me know what you think of what you find within their pages.

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