One of the saddest casualties of the digital age is the physical newspaper. For me, one of the saddest parts of that larger loss is the likely end of the age of comic strips.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.
Probably like many of you, I grew up reading the Chicago Tribune, starting from about second grade on. My room was above the garage, and I still remember the soft slap of the morning edition hitting the driveway no later than 6 a.m.
First I'd devour the sports page, with special attention to the box scores. Next was the Tempo section, where I'd turn to the back and smooth the two full-page spreads of comics across the kitchen table. I enjoyed them all — "Cathy," "Dick Tracy," "Brenda Starr," "Beetle Bailey" — but with a few of them, the experience was no less than an encounter with our greatest literary artists.
Some of this work should endure no less than the Picasso in Daley Plaza. Fortunately, it's all been collected and preserved in the time-tested, can't-be-bested technology known as the book. If there are young people in your life who do not know comics, you should take this list and acquire these volumes and keep them as you would heirlooms, because they aren't coming back. For as much as we enjoy our Lolcats and other Internet memes, they just ain't the same thing.
First among them all is Charles Schulz's "Peanuts." I was such a fan as a kid that I spent a majority of my waking hours with a stuffed Snoopy doll up to an age that is far too embarrassing to print. But the pleasure of spending time with Charlie Brown and friends isn't purely nostalgic. Schulz was like Emily Dickinson in comic strip form, boring to the core of human experience with just a handful of words and gestures. The amazing publisher Fantagraphics is in the process of releasing a full 25-volume set of every panel ever published, with Volume 20 due this October. David Michaelis' biography "Schulz and Peanuts" is also Biblioracle-approved.
If "Peanuts" was my first love, "Calvin and Hobbes" was my second. Bill Watterson is one of the great artists of the medium, and even though he has forbidden the licensing of his characters, they've managed to endure now for multiple generations because he perfectly captured what it's like to be young in the world. The complete editions are available in hardcover and paperback.
"Doonesbury" is one of the few classic strips that continues to this day, and Garry Trudeau is the greatest American satirist since Twain. The stories in "Doonesbury" are the stories of our culture. Put it in a time machine for the aliens who find our society's ruins, and they'll be able to figure out exactly how we managed to do ourselves in.
"Bloom County" by Berkeley Breathed was never quite as popular as "Calvin and Hobbes" or "Doonesbury," but it was kind of a great combination of the two, a lunatic satire of small towns and politics that culminated in the brain and spirit of Donald Trump inhabiting the body of Bill the Cat.
Finally, the handsomest volume of them all is Gary Larson's "The Complete Far Side." A cross between Salvador Dalí, Stephen Jay Gould and Steve Martin, for nearly 15 years, Larson worked in the most demanding medium imaginable, the single panel cartoon, and managed to extract laughter every time.
I'm jealous of the readers who don't know these works; they have a lot of enduring pleasure coming their way.
Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "The Funny Man." Follow him on Twitter @Biblioracle.
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations
1. "The Last Life" by Claire Messud
2. "All the Light There Was" by Nancy Kricorian
3. "The Borrower" by Rebecca Makkai
4. "The Green Shore" by Natalie Bakopoulos
5. "You Are One of Them" by Elliott Holt
— Jennifer S., Deerfield
Rich, character-centric drama, rooted in a specific place and time, and, oh yeah, the prose had better be up to snuff: "Eat the Document" by Dana Spiotta.
1. "Claire DeWitt and the City of Lost Souls" by Sara Gran
2. "The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls" by Anton DiSclafani
3. "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" by Sarah Bruni
4. "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt
5. "& Sons" by David Gilbert
— Christopher H., Brooklyn
This one is tough. I can tell from this list that Christopher is tapped into current literary fiction, and I don't want to be predictable or hit on something he's read. I'm going to go back a few years and just a smidge of the beaten path: "Mission to America" by Walter Kirn.
1. "Fifth Business" by Robertson Davies
2. "Dear Life" by Alice Munro
3. "And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini
4. "Back Bay" by William Martin
5. "This Is Paradise" by Kristiana Kahakauwila
— Jennifer O., Chicago
This is not a book for everyone, but if you like daring and surprising and electric short fiction, it's a match. It's one of my favorite books of the year thus far, and I'm glad to have a correspondent who looks like a good fit: "Spectacle" by Susan Steinberg.
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