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"If you're asking for all-time greats, one that continues to completely affect my senses of humor and propriety is the Transmetropolitan comic series by Warren Ellis. In my field — science and tech journalism — you can always tell that tech writers sometimes think they're Spider Jerusalem. As a person who has built up a bit of a reputation as a cranky bastard myself, there's definitely an appeal in the vitriol and hate of his subject. I think it presaged a lot of the tone on the Internet and blogging specifically — it's clearly a Hunter S. Thompson shtick. It's gonzo. But Transmet updated the bowel-centric humor, which defines a lot of contemporary insult humor — really smart and incisive attacks punctuated by the grossest gross-out humor you can think of."
Matt Fraction, who writes Marvel Comics' Invincible Iron Man, Punisher War Journal and his own Casanova, has two-fisted love for author Kurt Vonnegut. He recommended Breakfast of Champions for our 2007 Summer Reading Guide; through a haze of baby-induced sleeplessness, he tried to do so a second time this year, but we forced him to come up with alternatives.
"Anything Mark Twain's ever written. His autobiography is hilarious. It's the man's own story, as if he actually became his own story. I'd put the book down every couple of pages and say, 'Fantastic!' It covers his time in the Confederate army. He and some friends join the army at the outset of the war. They all show up, and the first time they hear gun shots they run. They immediately flee the Confederate army.
"Joseph Mitchell's Up in the Old Hotel — it's from 1964. He wrote color pieces for the New Yorker. Mitchell would meet eccentric New York people and write about them. Not setup-punch-line-ha-ha funny; he describes these strange eccentrics in a way that makes you wonder if they're still wandering around New York. Strange, wonderful people. He met a guy named Joe Gould and became obsessed with his story — Gould told Mitchell he was writing an oral history of New York, documented in all these notebooks hidden with benefactors around the city, and he was basically a con man living off the largesse of these benefactors. Gould is blocked, and his writer's block transfers to Mitchell, and ultimately, he never writes again — he shows up at the New Yorker in a shirt and tie, people hear him typing, but he never publishes again."