Your Own Private Canon

1 Jun
by Kevin Czap

The Hooded Unitarian [sic] is sending around feelers for folks working in comics to fess up to their Top Ten Comix of All Time. I was a notorious lister back in high school, but have cooled on the whole concept in recent years. However, the tendency may have just evolved into a frequent reflexivity on my influences. I’m quick to acknowledge and pay tribute to the amazing arts culture that surrounds me, and to the work and people that marked my formative years.

Along these lines, I’ve been thinking about canons, though not in the overarching, set-in-stone academia “yo, we should start a text book” sense. I’m finding I’m more interested in the idea of being aware of your own personal canon. I think there are two benefits to this approach. First, being cognizant of the important influential milestones in your life helps steer your artistic development (continuous, everlasting development being a trait I think should be encouraged in all artists). Secondly, by being these works’ biggest cheerleader, you spread the wealth. If the example of Bill Blackbeard teaches us anything, it’s that art doesn’t live forever on its own, it needs champions to preserve and share it, in equal measure.

So with that, here’s my Ten (in no particular order):

RabbitHead – Rebecca Dart

RabbitHead is a slim book, but what it does with the comics form is astounding and made a huge impression on me just as I was beginning to really study comics seriously. The lessons it teaches about using the comics page as both time and space in equal measure have been invaluable to me. Emotionally powerful and concise, the effects of Dart’s work here extend far beyond the limited palette of tools. Come to think of it, it’s a direct result of these limitations — there’s no extraneous material here, just what it needs.

Calvin and Hobbes – Bill Watterson

Not only was Calvin and Hobbes hilarious and drawn beautifully, but it also was smart, subversive, a pioneer of formal experimentation in an age where that aspect of comics making had largely been forgotten in the newspaper context. Watterson took chances, did what he wanted, and then got out. As much as the strip itself, Watterson’s ethics were paramount to me, and the comic wouldn’t have been as good as it was if that wasn’t a part of the equation.

From Hell – Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

For a while, this was my go-to book whenever anyone asked what comics they should read. Moore and Campbell’s approach to this book stands apart from so many other comics novels is that the term is fitting for From Hell. I feel like this is a book about something, and the premise of Jack the Ripper is used only as a way to entering into what the authors are really trying to convey. The collaboration also has great results — there are two reveals, one subtle and one big, that both knocked my mouth open.

Gloriana – Kevin Huizenga

I’ve written about this one before on this blog. Brilliant.

Driven By Lemons – Josh Cotter

An amazing object, this book is engrossing, funny, terrifying and beautiful in waves. The whole experience that Cotter captures in the book disguised as a moleskin sketchbook disguised as a composition book is visceral, defying words. You really need to read it yourself.

Krazy Kat – George Herriman

Kind of a gimme, but it’s hard for me to claim that Krazy Kat is not one of the greatest comics ever produced. The drawing, humor and design of each strip is sublime, still near impossible to beat.

Generation Next – Scott Lobdell, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, Steve Buccellato and Richard Starkings

This little mini-series became for me the epitome of what I wanted out of a super hero book. And, by extension, what led me on a path of disenchantment when I realized how rare this kind of book is. Lobdell and Bachalo give us a gang of teenagers with mutant powers who are weird and not always pretty, who act more or less like real teenagers. Continuity is not an issue, new characters are actually introduced, with designs that are interesting and inspired. The best part is the story doesn’t do any intelligence-insulting acrobatics to avoid the heartbreaking inevitability that the impossible mission leading the plot is just too big a job for a bunch of teenagers.

No. 5 – Taiyo Matsumoto

I’ve written a bit about this one here. I haven’t even read the whole thing (only 2 of the 8 volumes were ever released in English and as far as I’ve found, there’s a scanlation of the 3rd volume), but I felt it needed to be on this list, which is a testament to how profoundly I was effected by it. Matsumoto is a genius who makes my heart and mind race, and with No. 5 he manages to hit that perfect pitch that resonates so wonderfully with me.

Problem Sleuth – Andrew Hussie

Again, I’ve already gotten long-winded about this comic in the past. Hussie knows what he’s doing.

Kylooe Vol. 1 – Little Thunder

Utterly gorgeous throughout, Little Thunder deserves to be a massive star in the English speaking world. A perfect balance of cartoony naturalism set to a story that touches you right in the heart, it’s the colors that really take this book to another level. Again, expertly balanced between painterly and graphic, Little Thunder’s painting is so rich. Eternal thanks to James Harvey for providing me with the means to read this in English. The second volume was just released this month, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Your Own Private Idaho

I’d love to hear about your favorite comics, hit up the comments if you want to share.

The thing about lists like this is that they force you to leave off amazing work. The most honorable mentions to Cerebus by Dave Sim, “The Island” by Eleanor Davis, King City by Brandon Graham, Duncan the Wonder Dog by Adam Hines, Alec by Eddie Campbell, and all the other amazing books that I have read and have yet to read. Hearts.

2 Responses to “Your Own Private Canon”

  1. darrylayo, eternal antagonist June 1, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Your opinion is WRONG, keVIN.

    How come you ain’t got no 2Pac on that list, b?

  2. Jessi Z June 1, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    Yipe! I’ve only ever read three of these, I’ve got some work to do.

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