As you may have heard, the HU bloggers are taking a break this Thanksgiving week.

I will be heading off to Indonesia myself so it seemed “appropriate” to bring up the subject of desert island comics (see here for Shaenon K. Garrity’s survey of various industry professionals on the same subject). I was first exposed to the whole concept through the BBC’s Desert Island Discs about 20 years back. Now I won’t be following all the rules laid down by Roy Plomley but the radio program did have the useful proviso that the guest would be “automatically given the Complete Works of Shakespeare and either the Bible or another appropriate religious or philosophical work” (from Wikipedia).

One way in which I’ll deviate away from that program’s premise is that I’m going to be choosing a comic and only a single one at that. I’ve never viewed a desert island comic as one which a person might objectively consider the best ever made. Nor would it necessarily be that person’s favorite comic (though this would be the most obvious choice) or even a comic which has affected the person the most deeply. These factors might be seen to overlap but some books have a habit of affecting readers at particular periods of their lives only. Rather, it whould be a combination of all these factors to varying degrees: aesthetic beauty, emotional involvement or attachment, length and most importantly timelessness – a complex simplicity which affords endless re-readings. After all, you’ll be stuck on that island for quite a bit of time – maybe for the rest of your life.

Lest we forget, you’ll be taking along your desert island disc and desert island book as well. In my case, I will be searching for a desert island comic to go along with my copy of Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms and a piece of music by J. S. Bach. It certainly wouldn’t be a copy of Watchmen, a run of Kirby’s Fantastic Four, Chris Ware’s The Acme Novelty Library or a collection of comics by Robert Crumb. As far as modern day pamphlet comics are concerned, Love and Rockets probably stands as good as chance as any of being included in my short list but even that would be a stretch. I would consider bringing along a collection of Krazy Kat or Peanuts strips. The former in particular seems to demonstrate quite engagingly the growth of the artist from his early years of enthusiasm to a middle period of great flowering before the final months of unmistakable and very palpable struggle and depression.

[Second to last Krazy Kat Sunday from Rob Stolzer’s collection.]

But what I would really need is something to balance out a palate made raw by too much erudition and history and whenever I think about this, it is Carl Bark’s Disney Duck Comics which come to mind first (the Uncle Scrooge stories in particular have a place close to my heart). When I read Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics a few months back, one thing I noticed was how exceptional Bark’s stories were even in the presence of his illustrious peers. It must be said though that I can’t discount the effect of nostalgia here. “The Paul Bunyan Machine” story from Uncle Scrooge #28 was one of the first comics I ever read as a child.

Is it perhaps a bit disturbing that I’m putting a Barks Duck story in the same category as Shakespeare or one of the most important books in Chinese literature? Perhaps. It may simply be a reflection of the youthfulness of comics as an art form. Still, as far as reading material is concerned, there are few things as relaxing or viscerally delightful as a good comic. Certainly no piece of traditional literature has offered me so much for so little effort. In the same way that the qualities of the best children’s comics exceed those of most (if not all) children’s literature, what comics have always offered is a very accessible and intensely rich and fulfilling experience, one which has every chance of breaking down the crumbling barriers between high and low art. Only time will tell if it fulfills this promise.

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