I like comics a lot; have since I was kid. I love the format, I love the characters, I love what comics can do as a medium. But after moving a couple times, and the advent of iPads, I also don't feel the need to keep physical copies of most things. They're heavy, they take up room, and they can be inconvenient to read on trips or in bed and whatnot. So I'm in the process of getting rid of most of my comics (and regular books, for that matter). This has forced me to take a good, hard look at which of these are important enough to keep around as artifacts. These are the comics that mean something to me.
Bone Bone is the quintessential all-ages comic. The art is great, and done in a style familiar to anyone who's read newspaper funnies; the story is compelling without being adult, and lighthearted without being childish; it's like the comic book version of a Pixar movie.
Watchmen & V for Vendetta The two gems of Alan Moore's impressive bibliography, in my opinion (a bold stance to take, I know). Watchmen is the comic that showed the world superheroes didn't have to be mindless, goofy fun. The story is smartly structured, and, paired with the masterfully executed art, presents a package wherein it seems nothing wasn't planned down to the most minute detail. V for Vendetta, on the other hand, takes the maturation of comics even further: this is a sci-fi novel along the lines of 1984 or A Clockwork Orange or Brave New World, but told with pictures. It's the best thing Moore's ever done.
I Kill Giants & Essex County These will make you believe that comics can (and will) make a grown man cry. Deeply emotional stories both, they are done with perhaps not the greatest art, but art that connects on a visceral level and doesn't get in the way of the story.
Maus Maus was the first trade I ever owned; got it at a discount book store at an outlet mall in south Georgia while on a roadtrip. I was around ten years old, I think; looking back, Maus is perhaps too mature a book for a kid that age. It's the story of writer and artist Art Spiegelman's parents, who were Holocaust survivors. It is a psychologically traumatizing, mostly incredibly bleak look at the nature of inhumanity. Something I didn't pick up on as a kid is the way the characters start as anthropomorphic animals (Jews are mice, Germans cats, Poles pigs, etc.), but slowly transform into humans wearing party masks of their respective animals as Spiegelman's character in the story comes to grips with his parents' tale. It's also a historically-important comic, as it (along with Will Eisner's A Contract with God) helped cement the term "graphic novel" in the common lexicon.
Batman: The Long Halloween,Dark Victory, & The Dark Knight Returns Spider-Man: Reign &Spider-Man's Tangled Web Batman and Spider-Man are my favorite characters. As a kid, it was just because they were awesome and had the best bad guys, but along the way they taught me—while punching dudes all the while—a lot that helped form the man I am today. The importance of striving to be better, the importance of planning ahead, the importance of responsibility to one's community and taking responsibility for yourself; how great it would be to have a super-model wife and a long-suffering butler. These are my favorite stories of theirs.
Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness When I was a kid, I hung out with my grandpa a lot. He would always play old-school country, stuff like Merle Haggard and Marty Robbins, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. I never really got into country music too much back then, but my favorite radio station was alway (and still is, on the rare occasions that I listen to the radio) the oldies station. In my late-teenage
years, I rediscovered Johnny Cash, and fell in love; not just because of his music itself, but also because of the connection with my grandfather. Cash was probably the best singer-songwriter America has ever produced, and his life story is fascinating. Johnny Cash: I See a Darknessis by German Reinhard Kleist, and while the words are sometimes...odd (especially the song lyrics, owing no doubt to English lyrics being translated into German and then back again), the art is gorgeous. Probably not for everyone, but this is a personal must-have.
We3 & Joe the Barbarian I struggle with Grant Morrison. Much of his writing is obtuse, impenetrable nonsense to my mind; but when he's good, he's among the greatest comic writers ever. We3 and Joe the Barbarian are his best, and not-coincidentally, most accessible works. We3 tells the story of three animals—a dog, a cat, and a rabbit—who have been put into power-armor as part of a military research project. It's a goofy premise; but the way Morrison extends the stereotypical behavior and personality of each type of animal into the characters makes it a joy to read. And the way he extends the potential darkness of humanity into the story makes it at times deeply disturbing and heartbreaking. With Joe the Barbarian, he weaves a fantasy story out of diabetic shock, the loss of a father, and a bunch of toys. It sounds dumb when you put it like that, but the story is great, and it'd be worth having just for the superb art from Sean Murphy.
Emitown Emitown is a bit different from all these others in that it's not really a story. Artist Emi Lennox keeps a comic-diary, wherein she draws her day/week/etc. So each page is story; but there are themes that weave through, little characters that pop up constantly—like adorable army-helmeted cats—and it's just plain fun to read. And her art is really cool.
Kingdom Come, Petrograd & Silver Surfer: Reign Just because I like them a lot.