When one associates with excessively literate company, it is quite impossible to avoid the game of canon bingo. Titles of books are invoked and those assembled either declare they have read it, or confess they haven’t yet. The only prize in this contest is the smug satisfaction of being the most well-read person in a room full of well-read people. These are special books, tomes that the enigmatic cabal known only as THEY have decreed you must read, classic works of genius so time-honored and true that they made it on the only list that really matters in literature: canon.
As comics continue to accrue cultural currency, their occurrence in canonical conversations can only increase. Academic studies of graphic storytelling proliferate in centers of higher learning while publications of note have bestowed the classification of literature on certain exceptional titles. Though the medium is young, its offerings are vast and varied, which can be discouraging to the uninitiated. Establishing a canon of essential titles not only provides a road map for newcomers, but also builds a frame of reference for furthering the debates of the medium’s more fervent disciples.
To that interest, I have compiled a list. It is neither comprehensive nor definitive. While I cannot presume to speak for THEY, I have spent the better part of my life reading and talking about comics. These graphic novels are typically regarded as unimpeachable pinnacles of the form. Of course there are always those that would disagree, but there is no denying that these books are frequently the subject of both casual conversation and deconstructive discourse. Any discussion of comics, once all participants have exhausted their enthusiasm for their favorite heroes, will inevitably visit one if not all five of these books. Whether you love them or hate them, being familiar with these volumes will ease your entry into the realm of illustrated adventures.
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