Best Non-Superhero comic books of all time: 51-60

It’s been a while since I could get back to this project, mostly because summer. I haven’t gotten a lot of reaction to it, but what little I have gotten has been interesting,  so I’ll definitely continue. I’m sure once I get to the superhero list, that more people will share and comment. In the meantime, let me know what I got wrong:

60. Age Of Bronze by Eric Shanhower (Image, 1998)

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Shanhower seems to have all but abandoned this minute-by-minute retelling of the Trojan War,  considering that it’s taken him 16 years to finish 32 issues. Even if he never actually completes it, he’ll have left behind an immaculately researched, wholly engrossing piece of historical epic storytelling. Shanhower is a stunning draftsman, with a level of detail to his artwork that seems to be rare these days. Combine that with the amount of research that must go into each page, and you can (almost) forgive him the time between issues.

59. Box Office Poison by Alex Robinson (Top Shelf, 1997)

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I like to think that I’m fairly objective about the subject matter of the comics I read. I don’t have to drink blood to like a good vampire comic, and I don’t have to be a 14 year old girl to appreciate a good romance comics. But Box Office Poison was a book that spoke to me specifically BECAUSE of the subject matter. As someone who spent most of the 90s and 2000s working in various music and movie retail stores, the bookstore microcosm that is the setting for BOP, was particularly appealing. That High Fidelity-like backdrop, and the 90s angsty melodrama, makes this a nice snapshot of the era.

58. Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera (Vertigo, 2007)

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Scalped was possibly the last great Vertigo epic that we’ll ever see (though fans of Unwritten & Fables might disagree). A South  Dakotan crime opera set on an Indian reservation, this deftly written masterpiece was largely inspired by the real story of Leonard Pelletier. I wouldn’t argue too much against someone that wanted to position Scalped as the greatest crime comic book of all time, and I’m sure this will make it’s way to our TV screens sooner rather than later.

57. Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor (Drawn & Quarterly, 2012)

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I was originally going to use Piskor’s Wizzywig for this list, but as I’m a sucker for well made comic books about music, and as HHFT is an exceptional comic book about music, it gets the nod. Essentially an oral history of the early days of hip hop, in comic form, HHFT shows the highs and lows of everyone from Grandmaster Flash, to Sylvia Robinson, to Debbie Harry, to KRS 1. Originally published as one-pagers on BoingBoing.net, Drawn & Quarterly has been collecting these in handsome, oversized volumes that are a must for all music lovers.

56. Xenozoic Tales by Mark Schultz (Flesk Publications, 1986)

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XT (often known by it’s other handle, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs) is a post-apocalyptic pulp that marries the episodic melodrama of old Tarzan & Flash Gordon serials with a modern ecological mission statement. How Mark Schultz isn’t considered one of the greatest artists of all time is beyond me, but he keeps himself busy as the writer of Prince Valiant and other modern strips. Fans of Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer, or Dark Horse’s Indiana Jones comic books,  will probably find lots to love here.

55. Torpedo by Enrique Sánchez Aulí and drawn by Jordi Bernet (IDW, 1981)

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Originally published in Spanish horror comics in the early 1980s, Torpedo has become internationally known as one of the all-time great crime comic books. Every story stars Luca, an Italian American hitman in 1920’s mob controlled Manhattan. He’s a douche, and does douchie things. Sometimes he’s just a dick to women, and sometimes he’s a vicious killer. But he’s always entertaining, with levels and levels of subtext hidden deep.  There’s lots of other Jordi Benet books good enough for a list like this, but it’s this particular pairing of craftsmen that makes this one special. With Torpedo, these two masters show how to tell short, concise stories that still pack a whallop.

54. Black Hole by Charles Burns (Pantheon, 1995)

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Fresh from a cameo in Dawn of the Planet Of The Apes, it’s the weirdest comic you’ve never read. You’ll see this as the lone graphic novel on the bookshelf of many a grad student circa 2005, but it’s essentially timeless, and still engenders a visceral reaction in new readers that’s almost physical. The concept? An STD that triggers mutations in 1970’s Seattle. That’s it, but it’s a juicy one. Burns’ unflinching gaze at the realities of teenage adolescence is widely considered one of the great graphic novels of the last 20 years.

53. Queen & Country by Greg Rucka & various artists (Oni Press, 2001)

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Soon to be a major motion picture! Soonish, at least? Greg Rucka’s espionage magnum opus still holds up well decades after publication. The geopolitical situations may have changed, but dumb people still do dumb stuff all over the world, so it’s fairly easy to imagine Tara Chase in a more contemporary setting. Tara Chase is one of the great female characters in adventure comic history, with flaws so big you could drive a truck through them.

52. Lucifer by Mike Carey & various artists (Vertigo, 2000)

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I have a secret. It’s one that very few people know. People usually get mad when I tell them, so you have to keep it a secret. Ok?

Here goes: I like Lucifer more than Sandman.

Phew. That was hard. Especially considering that Sandman is actually higher on this list than Lucifer. Why? Because although I personally think Lucifer is a better read, it literally wouldn’t exist without Sandman. So much of the narrative, pacing, and conceptual approach to story that Lucifer comes from Neil Gaiman’s work on Sandman, that to rank it higher seems disrespectful, in a way. But Carey is doing some great work here, with wonderful character development set in front of a cosmologically epic backdrop. This is premium dark fantasy.

51. Daytripper by Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba (Vertigo, 2008)

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This Brazillian team of brothers has been producing A+ work since pretty much the day they started in the business. Daytripper remains the crown jewel in their creative resume, at least for now. Each issue features the same character, or at least a version of the same character: Bras de Oliva Demingo. In some issues he’s married. In some, he’s single. In some, he’s old. And in others he’s young. The only thing all of these different Bras have in common, is that they die at the end of their story. The art is really stunning here, and is the perfect compliment to this beautiful exploration of alternate realities.

 

 

 

The best non-superhero comics of all time: 71-80

80. Y The Last Man by Brian Vaughan & Pia Guerra (Vertigo, 2002)

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This was an unabashedly loved series during it’s run, frequently being hailed as one of the greatest adventure serials in the medium’s history. While still enjoyable, (How Pia Guerra hasn’t landed a major series since this is beyond me), this series about the last man alive on a planet full of women loses some impact when read in one big fell swoop. That being said, it’s entertainment factor still holds up extremely well.

79. Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse (Pirahna Press, 1995)

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A groundbreaking work, on a lot of levels. A major landmark in the graphic bio genre, this ended up also being an important mainstream look into aspects of gay culture.  Cruse gives us a peek into growing up in 1960’s Birmingham, not exactly a hotbed for the gay folks at the time. His brutal honesty, in addition to the brilliant density of his cross hatching technique, makes this one of my favourite autobiographical comics.

78. The Nao Of Brown by Glyn Dillon (Harry N. Abrams, 2012)

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Part romantic comedy, part meditation on Buddhism, and all stunningly beautiful painting. That’s The Nao Of Brown, a deceptively deep look at the life of a half-Japanese woman struggling to find success in her career, in romance, and in life in general.

77. The Cowboy Wally Show by Kyle Baker (Marlowe & Company, 1996)

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Choosing just one of Kyle Baker’s graphic novels to include here might have been one of the more difficult tasks I set myself when putting together this list. One thing gave Cowboy Wally the nod over more well known works like King David, or Why I Hate Saturn: Laughs. Big time laughs. While the media landscape that this book savagely lampoons has drastically changed, the North American love affair with being famous at all costs is eternal. Cowboy Wally’s trappings may be a little dated, but it still holds up admirably well.

76. Doonesbury by Gary Trudeau (1968)

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You’re not going to find many strips on this list that have had the cultural or political footprint that Doonesbury has had. While it’s ability to influence public discourse has obviously diminished, it’s overall impact is still felt, and still significant.  Through wars & social unrest, through political scandals & cultural change, Doonesbury has been providing witty commentary to it all. And best of all? Still funny as hell.

75. Duncan The Wonder Dog by Adam Hines (AdHouse, 2010)

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A huge, sprawling graphic novel, ambitious in scope, but extremely detailed in approach. It’s the story of a world similar to our own, with one major exception: Animals have learned to talk. And so an already complicated discussion regarding our relationship to the food that we eat and the environment we live in, becomes even more complicated.  Hines is there every step of the way, providing arguments, counterarguments, and setting the stage for a series that hopefully matches the extremely high quality of this book.

74. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon, 2004)

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Persepolis is arguably one of the two most important biographical graphic novels of this still new century, and probably the most influential. It’s  the story of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, as seen through the eyes of one teenaged girl and her family.  Heartbreaking & poignant, silly & sensitive, Persepolis is one of those rare graphic novels that broke through to mainstream audiences, spawning both a sequel, and a critically acclaimed film. Another one of those books to recommend to your friend that “doesn’t read comics”.

73. Human Target by Peter Milligan & various artists (Vertigo, 1999)

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This was a perfect blend of character & concept, and one of the best action comics ever created. This may seem like a strange Peter Milligan comic to pick considering how prolific he’s been as a creator, but so much of his work crosses over into the superhero world, in varying degrees.  An updated take on an obscure 1970’s DC Comics character, Milligan’s Christopher Chance is a tragic hero at heart. He’s so used to pretending to be the people that he’s trying to protect, that he’s lost all of his own sense of self. Considering their recent output, it’s hard to remember that DC comics ever made comics this good.

72. Afrodisiac by Brian Maruca & Jim Rugg (Adhouse, 2009)

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On the surface, Afrodisiac is pure blaxploitation, fitting nicely on the shelf alongside your Pam Grier & Rudy Ray Moore DVDs. But what it really is, is a love letter to comics of all types: superheroes, kung-fu, romance, you name it.  It’s all fair game for Maruca & Rugg. Our hero is a pheromone-laden pimp, complete with a myriad of origin stories that changes from chapter to chapter. He fights a motley cure of villains, including Hercules, God, Death, giant cockroaches, and worst of all: Richard Nixon. This comic is a tribute to style over substance, but it’s that very style that makes me go back to this comic again and again.

71. Beasts of Burden by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson (Dark Horse, 2009)

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I’m going to go out on a limb here, but this is the best comic book about a group of dogs (and one cat) that solves supernatural mysteries, ever made. Both Dorkin & Thompson have impressive back catalogues ripe for the picking for a list like this, but BoB has the perfect blend of heart & adventure for me. Thompson is one of the finest painters in the history of the medium, and Dorkin’s decades of experience spearheading seminal books like Milk & Cheese, give this series an emotional heft not often seen in modern comics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best non-superhero comic books of all-time: 81-90

90. Buddha by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical INC., 1972)

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This extremely ambitious series of 8 graphic novels really is a must read for those that are interested in just how large the scope of comics can be. Buddha is essentially an origin story for one of the most famous and influential characters in human history. That Tezuka’s version is essentially bullshit just makes it all the more the interesting. I don’t know enough about the details of the Buddha’s life (of the Himalayan Buddhas) to pick apart the historical accuracy of Tezuka’s version, but considering half the characters have superpowers, and there are talking animals in pretty much every scene, tells us Tezuka wasn’t going for realism here. The best way to treat a story as big as this is as a massively gorgeous, fantasy epic, and it’s executed well here.

89. MonsterMen by Gary Gianni (Dark Horse, 1996)

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If we’re judging just on art, this might have been near the top of my list. MonsterMen isn’t as well known as some of the titles I’m covering on this project, due it mostly being a series of back-up stories for Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics. And from a characterization standpoint this isn’t quite as interesting as Hellboy, or other, more famous supernatural investigator books. But the art is so stunning that you’re halfway through before you realize that you’re not even bothering to follow the plot. If you ever want to get depressed about your own art skills, check out Gary Gianni.

88. Northwest Passage by Scott Chantler (Oni Press, 2005)

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Part historical novel, part adventure comic, and all Canadian gold. That’s Northwest Passage, a fictional epic set in 18th Century Hudson Bay. Scott Chantler’s pencils are a national treasure, highlighting both action and drama with equal fervour. Chantler seems to be getting more attention for his attention to detail & historical accuracy than he is for his artwork, but he really is one of the finest pencillers in comics today. You won’t find a more entertaining historical adventure comic than this one.

87. Heck by Zander Cannon (Top Shelf, 2013)

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If it wasn’t for the fact that this is so recent, I would probably have listed this much higher. This, my friends, is what I consider a perfect comic book. It has absolutely everything I need in an adventure strip: An engrossing character arc, a great high concept, and thought provoking art from Zander Cannon. Our hero is Don Heck, a former high school football hero that finds a portal to Hell in his recently deceased father’s house. And so begins the ultimate adventure: A trip to hell to talk to his unrequited loves dead husband. I can’t recommend this highly enough, and the fact that Cannon’s profile isn’t higher is a shame.

86. Orc Stain by James Stokoe (Image, 2010)

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I think in 10 years it will be very difficult to pick just one comic of Stokoe’s for a list like this. But at this point, it’s Orc Stain. If Lord Of The Rings was directed by Ron Jeremy, it might look a little something like this. Stokoe’s art is so incredibly dense, yet so effortlessly vibrant, that it’s easy to discount the fact that he’s telling a hell of a yarn here as well. The scariest thing about Stokoe? He just seems to be getting better and better. Pax Gronka, indeed.

85. Understanding Comics by Scott McLeod (Tundra, 1993)

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If I ever made a list featuring just comics ABOUT comics, this would probably be at the very top of the list. McLeod’s books about how to understand, read, and make comic books have become a defacto bible for those of us who want to know exactly WHY we love the comics we love. Whether or not you’re a passionate amateur, or a jaded professional, McCleod’s treatise on what makes comics tick is pretty much industry standard these days.

84. Button Man by John Wagner & Arthur Ranson (2000AD, 1992)

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One of the finest strips 2000AD ever produced, and that is saying a lot. John Wagner’s (probably best known for History Of Violence, and for co-creating Judge Dredd) action writing has been largely ingnored  on this side of the pond, but if you can only pick up one book by him, it really needs to be this one. Wagner weaves a classic cat & mouse assassination tale here, with an absolutely bad-ass lead character that is just begging to be played by Brad Pitt in the inevitable film version. Arthur Ranson’s stellar photorealism is put to good use here, with a realistic approach rarely seen in the subject matter he usually works on.

83. Strangers In Paradise by Terry Moore (Abstract Studios, 1993)

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It will be hard to find many books on this list that are quite as loved as SiP is by it’s devotees. While there is some validity to the criticism that SiP just went on a little too long, the fact that fans are still clamouring for more is a tribute to Moore’s strong character work. From a penciller’s perspective, it’s an absolute treat to see Moore’s lines start strong at the beginning of the series, and just continue to get better as the series goes on. There’s rumours of sequels coming as well…

82. Road To Perdition by Max Alan Collins & Richard Piers Rayner (Paradox Press, 1998)

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It’s a cliche by this point, but this is one of those instances where the book really is better than the movie. Max Alan Collins doesn’t really get as much credit as he should for his crime writing skills. He’s at the absolute top of his game here, with a story drenched in family melodrama, and true crime intrigue. With all respect to the Brubakers, and Cookes, and Azzarellos, and Bendis’ of the world, this might be the very best pure mob comic book ever written. While Richard Rayner seems to be just a footnote now, I doubt there’s a mainstream artist from that era whose works stands the test of time as well as his does.

81. I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly & J.M. Ken Nimura (Image, 2008)

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Spoiler Alert: There’s a little girl, who kills giants. Or at least she tries. We’ve seen countless variations on the female monster hunter trope in recent years, but I’m not sure many are as well-loved as Barbara Thorson. When we meet her, she’s bullied, friendless, and fearless. And she knows that the giants are coming. She knows it in every fibre of her being. Only problem? There is no such thing as giants. At least not yet. A fantastic exploration of loneliness draped in the trappings of traditional fantasy, I Kill Giants is one of those books you give to people who claim to hate comic books.

 

I was just about to press send on this, when I realized that almost all the comics in this edition are black & white. Huh.

More to come…

 

 

 

 

The best non-superhero comic books of all-time: 91-100

Ok, I’m probably going to regret this, but here goes.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rolling Stone’s recent blog regarding the 50 best non superhero graphic novels of all time. I thought it was a nice blend of populism & art house douchebaggery. And of course I thought they got a lot wrong. So….I decided to make my own list. And of course I couldn’t just keep it to 50. And of course even whittling down to 100 was hard. I’m going to post the list gradually over the next couple of weeks/months, but first, here are the rules/things to remember:

  • Any type of comic book could qualify to be on the list: single issues, trades, collections, original graphic novels, newspaper comic strips, mangas, webcomics etc. Sometimes one arc made the list, sometimes an entire series.
  • I tried to keep this to one book per creative team. Otherwise the list would have looked something like this: 1-20: Chris Ware. 21-40: Dan Clowes, etc.
  • This is not even remotely comprehensive, or even fair. For example, there aren’t that many comics on the list from before the 1970s. Or even before the 80s or 90s. It obviously isn’t because there weren’t great comics before then…that’s just when I fell in love with comics. Still, I think it’s a fairly diverse list.
  • There are probably at least 3 or 4 books on this list that could have/should have, been considered on a list of the best superhero books of all time. Bah.You and your rules.

P.S. Yes, I plan on tackling the superhero genre next. In about 6 months. Here goes.

100. Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman (Image, 2006)

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This kind of slapped me in the face when it came out almost a decade or so ago. Although somewhat clumsy compared to some of the work that Hickman has done since, Nightly News still delivers a visceral gut punch, as well as valuable social commentary, that’s rare among modern mainstream comics. The only sad thing here, is how valid the criticisms that Hickman levels against modern media still are.

99. Birth Of A Nation by Reggie Hudlin, Aaron McGruder, and Kyle Baker (Three Rivers Press, 2005)

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In 2005, it was still unpopular to criticize America Foreign Policy, especially as interpreted by George Bush & Dick Cheney. And so Birth of A Nation was a welcome breath of fresh air. In Kyle Baker, Aaron McGruder finally had a cartoonist talented enough to give his vicious barbs some depth, and Reggie Hudlin gave the project gravitas that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.

98. Den by Richard Corben (Fantagor, 1973)

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Before Cerebus, before Bone, and before Hellboy, Richard Corben’s Den put the E in epic. Part Princess of Mars adventure story, part Robert Howard Cthuluian horror yarn, Den easily escaped the handcuffs of the genres it was inspired by, due to the vibrancy & buoyancy of Corben’s artwork.

97. Elephantmen by Richard Starkings and various artists (Image, 2006)

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Even after 8 years on the stands, Elephantmen still manages to zig when you think it’s going to zag. Originally conceived as a fairly straight forward sci-fi detective story, Starking’s exploration of modern bioethics & geopolitics has evolved into a masterclass in world building, with some of the most exciting artists in modern comics providing a stunning visual centerpiece.

96. The Last Musketeer by Jason (Fantagraphics, 2008)

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I picked The Last Musketeer, but really any of Jason’s bizarre little anthropomorphic character-mysteries could have gotten the nod. Athos (the Last Musketeer, duh), is our hero here. He’s hundreds of years old, and down on his luck. A martian invasion gives Athos one last stab at heroism and redemption. Jason’s whimsical approach to adventure storytelling only serves to heighten the emotional impact.

95. Smoke by Alex De Campi & Igor Kordey (IDW, 2005)

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The political thriller is a relatively unexplored genre in the comics field, and De Campi’s take on an England not far from our own, remains one of the best of the modern era. This sits on the stands very nicely with other antifascism landmarks such as V For Vendetta, Maus, & The Dark Knight Returns, and Kordey turns out some of the tightest lines of his career.

94. The Adventures Of Barry Ween Boy Genius by Judd Winick (Oni Press, 1999)

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Although Winick’s reality TV stint in the early 90’s manages to still keep him from being taken seriously in comics, he really is a compelling character writer. Barry Ween was his first foray into fiction comics, and it still stands up as a thoroughly entertaining (not to mention extremely funny) adventure comic, but with a character focus not often seen in the genre. He deftly combines booby jokes and action storytelling with a serious peek into what utter loneliness looks like.

93. Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse, 2004)

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The idea of talking animals serving as a metaphor for mid-20th Century race relations is a compelling one, but it’s Guarnido’s lush painting that really is the star of this show. If it weren’t for how stunningly beautiful every page is, I’m not sure we would be considering this as much more than just another decent detective story. But each page is stunningly beautiful, and so a run-of-the mill gumshoe yarn becomes a gorgeous work of art. Such is comics.

92. DMZ by Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, and various artists. (Vertigo, 2006)

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Even years after it’s end, DMZ still serves as an effective response to the modern marriage between big government & multi-national corporations, and really shines a bright spotlight onto the current leaning towards isolationist tendencies that can be found all over current American politics. What makes this series special however, is that is gives us a lead character that is so likeable, and so empathetic, that we forget (for a time), just how serious the subject matter that we are discussing is. He makes us believe that we’re reading just another thriller, when in fact we are looking at a very possible future for our continent.

91. Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen & Jonathan Case (Dark Horse, 2011)

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Part autobiographical memoir, part true crime thriller, Green River Killer is one of those books that really shows just how transcendent the medium of comicscan be. Jeff Jensen is the writer here, and the son of one of the detectives assigned to the Green River Killer case.  The road he takes on here is utterly unsensational. There is no big “Ah Ha” moment, no violent chase scene. It’s the story of one part of a years-long investigation, and the toll it took on a family. This small story approach gives even more weight to the bigger story, showcasing just how important the details can be in storytelling. Jonathan Case is the perfect artist for this biography, utilizing shadow & light effectively, yet sparingly.

Next up: The Mob, giant killing, and Buddha!

Movies I’ve Watched: Captain America – The Winter Soldier by Joe Russo & Anthony Russo

Captain America: the Winter Soldier, is like the Raid: Berendal, in that it’s that rare sequel that overshadows the original, if not out right decimates it. This isn’t just the best Captain America movie ever made…it’s arguably best movie Marvel has produced thus far.

Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, a WW2 super soldier who spent 70 years in a coma, and is now doing captain-america-chris-evans-avengers-600special ops for SHIELD, a super spy organization run by Nick Fury (played by Samuel Jackson, in easily his best work as the character to date). Evans thinks Jackson is a fascist thug, and Jackson thinks Evans is a naive dilettante. They’re friends, but they’re the kind of friends that send pretty women to move in across the hall from the other person just to spy on each other.
They’re joined by the Black Widow, a Russian superspy played by Scarlett Johansson, and the Falcon, a former U.S. paratrooper played by Anthony Mackie. They, and SHIELD, are fighting against Hydra, a WW2 era deep science Nazi organization, that seems to want to free the world, by killing a lot of people. They never really explain their plan very well.

black-widow-posterThis is being compared to 70’s thrillers like Day of the Jackal and the Parallax View, though I think this movie is far too action-oriented to really compare it apples-to-apples to those classics. But there’s a conspiracy, and race against the clock to uncover it, so now it’s a John Le Carre movie, apparently.

Although not technically a “thriller”, Winter Solider is absolutely thrilling. It puts its boots to your neck the minute you walk into the theatre, and it doesn’t let up. The action and fight choreography is several steps up from the already considerable standards set by the first film, and it appears that a real effort was made into adapting the acrobatics seen in the late 80’s Mark Gruenwald run on the Cap comic book. The fight scenes between Captain America and the Winter Solider, who DEFINITELY ISN”T SOMEONE FROM THE FIRST MOVIE THAT WE THOUGHT WAS DEAD are really exceptional, and are easily the equal (and probably the better), of any similar fight scenes scene in the superhero comic movie genre we’ve seen to date.

55a6e3f3_4a4wxtwEven more so than usual, Marvel spends as much time on character development as it does on action scenes here, and at least 4 of the main characters end up significantly different people at the end of this film, than they are at the beginning. This isn’t an inconsiderable achievement in this genre, and you really get the sense that in terms of the continuity that Marvel is creating in their cinematic universe, that this one is a game changer. They will be building on the character and plot development from this one for a long time.
For the comic lovers among us, we get Batroc the Leaper (BTW, 12 year old me would like to sincerely thank Kevin Feige for making it possible for 40 year old me to see BATROC KICKING IN A MOVIE!), Arnim Zola going full Zola, Crossbones, a Doctor Strange reference, and some after the credits geekiness that I won’t spoil for you, but we finally see someone who comics fans know as the true leader of Hydra, as well as a sneak peak at some future possible Avengers that DEFINITELY AREN”T THE MUTANT CHILDREN OF MAGNETO.

On a related note, apparently I’ve been waiting my whole life for Robert Redford to play a Marvel villain, and I didn’t even know it. In this film, he sets the bar so high in the “Former critically acclaimed leading man who now plays the villain in action movies so as to lend credibility to said movies” category, that I’m not sure that even Michael Douglas will be able to catch up.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable action movie, and Marvel needs to be signing up the Russos to a long term deal, right quick.
Rating: A

 

Best Comics of 2012: Best Web/Digital Comics

Me, finishing this post.

Me, finishing this post.

Ugh. Doing these lists almost killed me this year. This is the last of the comic book “Best Ofs” but there is still my list of the best movies of 2012 to come. Maybe. If you’re lucky. Anyways, here are the web/digital comics.

This category seems to be evolving every year, and I think that next year I’m going to have to revisit how I look at these things. The line between “digital” and “print” seems to be shrinking, but there still seems to be a big gulf between “digital” and “web”. Several comics on this list could have easily come out as print comics (Cow Boy, Saga Of A Doomed Universe, the Monkeybrain titles), but I still included them here, competing for space with true web comics like JL8 & Sin Titulo. While it might be the last time I do this, I decided that for inclusion this year a comic must have seen published for the first time online or in a digital format. Also, I used some of the synopsis I wrote for last year’s version of this list, as a) I am really tired of doing these lists, and b) much of the info remains the same.

20. Moonlighting by Emily Wernet

2012-07-30-MoonlightingMoonlighting stars Billy, a normal teenaged girl when she is awake. But in her dreams, she’s a costumed superhero, fighting villains and monsters for the betterment of humanity. When her dreams start to seep into her waking life, she has to juggle monster fighting with the inanities of high school. Werner shows a knack for combing her raw, indie sensibility with the tropes that the superhero genre demands, and making it work.

19. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

nimona3_4newI’m not sure why there seems to be so many more strong female leads in web comics compared to their print equivalents, but Nimona is just one of several strips on this years list that features a woman as its star. She’s an aspiring villain, who applies to apprentice with Balister Blackheart, the biggest name in supervillainy. Their unconventional partnership is the heart of this cute, yet meaningful story. Fans of Adventure Time who yearn for something a little more grown up should enjoy this.

18. Cura Te Ipsum by Neal Bailey & Dexter Wee

2012-12-28-Page-328Imagine that you’re not alone in the universe. Imagine that you discover that there are numerous versions of you, in numerous permutations of what you consider to be reality. Then imagine that one of those versions is the worst villain in the history of the world, and that he wants nothing more than to destroy the very fabric of the universe as we know it, and it’s up to you to stop him. That is the premise of Cura Te Ipsum, and it’s a great one. Intrigued? Of course you are. Ambition is the watchword for this strip. Bailey and Wee have created a large, epic canvas on which to tell their alternate reality-hopping adventure, and it’s one that seems to be only growing in scope with every panel and page. It’s an action-packed sci-fi thriller, in the truest sense.

17. Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Osterag

sfp-3-6-for-webSFP is the story of a super powered young woman who decides one day that her role as a famous costumed hero isn’t fulfilling her anymore. Not only that, but she’s questioning whether or not she has ever done any actual good.

It’s a character study  and one that asks some interesting questions. But at its heart SFP is still an entertaining superhero story, with plenty for open-minded fans of that genre to sink their teeth into.

16. You’re All Jealous Of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld

tumblr_md0e31h97P1rwkrdbo1_500Part Hark! A Vagrant, part The Oatmeal, Gauld’s work for the Guardian makes me laugh, and then makes me feel smart for getting his clever short-form visual jokes about everything from poetry to Tom Waits. And sometimes, both. Plus, Feminist James Bond. Gauld has an impeccable sense of timing for this sort of humour.

15. Darkness by Boulet

EN-Ténébreux11Boulet produced a lot of great quality strips this year, but Darkness might have been his very best. And the fact that he was able to put together such a fully realized social commentary in 24 hours is all the more impressive. It’s ostensibly the story of a struggle between roommates. But in actuality it’s about the vagaries of perception, and they way they can influence our lives. Boulet manages to make us laugh & think at the same time.

14. Sarah And The Seed by Ryan Andrews

winter_seed02aSarah And The Seed is a sweet and fun short story about an elderly couple that can’t have children, but there’s an unnerving darkness around it as well. That’s probably not surprising, as the woman herein literally gives birth to a plant. That’s not quite as creepy as it sounds. I think we’re going to see a lot from Ryan Andrews in the future, as he’s proven here that he can both draw and write emotionally evocative comics.

13. The Fox Sister by Christina Strain & Jayd Ait-Kaci

4Christina Strain deftly weaves elements of horror, romance, and historical docudrama into this delightful supernatural mystery set in late ’60’s South Korea.There’s a compelling horror story here, albeit one with plenty of character development and depth. I worry that this strip won’t be finished before it’s creators get snapped up by the big leagues. Just a fantastic combo of story and visuals, with Jayd Ait-Kaci on my “going to be a star” list.

12. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

medievalfilmsmStill the strip that makes me laugh out loud the most. Rather than a continual serial story, Hark! is a series of unrelated strips, ranging from one panel to several pages. The subject matter ranges from pop culture, to politics, to literary fiction, but the main focus here is on history. Or if you’d like, making fun of history. Kate Beaton’s got a knack for finding the humour in pretty much everything, or to put it more accurately, creating humour out of pretty much everything. Although a lot of the work is slightly absurdist in nature, there’s an intelligent grasp of the inherent silliness in how seriously we take our selves, and how seriously we take our history. What I love most about Beaton’s work is how much it demands of the reader. If you don’t know the historical events she’s lampooning, or if you haven’t read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, you won’t get the joke. There were a lot of great Hark! strips this year, but my personal favourite might be Beaton’s take on a typical Canadian’s way of looking at the war of 1812.

11. Max Overacts by Caanan Grall

2012-11-26maxCalvin and Hobbes is probably the most obvious influence on this fairly traditional strip about a young thespian with an exaggerated imagination. But Max is hardly a copycat, with its lead character being as dynamic and original as any in comics today. Grall is in it for the long haul here, often choosing poignant character moments over easy punch lines.

10. Old City Blues by Giannis Milonogiannis

redesign_ocb2012_01If you’ve been impressed by Milongiannis’ stint on Prophet this year, Old City Blues is an excellent primer for his work. As a futuristic big city cyberpunk police-thriller, Old City Blues is hardly original in concept (see I Robot, Judge Dredd, Blade Runner). But in execution, its first rate. While the writing and plotting have definitely improved in the 5 digital issues he released (FOR FREE!) this year, Milongiannis’ beautiful black and white action art is the real star of this show. You may find more original web comics out there right now, but you won’t find many that look this good.

9. The Abaddon by Koren Shadmi

ab187The Abaddon starts with a man named Tea. He knocks at the door of an apartment, looking for a new home. He’s welcomed graciously by the residents, but we find out quickly that mystery abounds. Not only do the residents not seem to know anything about the place they are living in, or how they got there, but even Tea himself doesn’t have any recollection of how he arrived, or even what his real name is. To create real mystery, you must create real tension, and Shadmi weaves tension like a spider. Every panel strengthens the characters, and every line of dialogue enhances the mystery. The art is bold and unconventional, and it’s absolutely perfect for setting the tone that Shadmi is going for here. If you love a great mystery, this needs to be a regular stop of yours.

8. Lady Sabre & The Pirates Of The Innaefable Aether by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett

2012-12-13-Chapter-08,-Part-Eighteen---Away!-494183d0Pirates. Steampunk. A beautiful, intelligent lead. I doubt you need more than those three things to create a great comic, but to Lady Sabre Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett also add great characters, smart tension, and some of the best art you’ll see in comics at all this year. We’re starting to see more comic veterans follow Warren Ellis’ Freak Angels business model (give away the web comic for free, then charge for the collections and merchandise), and Lady Sabre is proving to be an excellent example of what A-list talent can do with the burgeoning sub-medium of web comics. I can honestly say that there isn’t a better looking web comic out there right now. Burchett seems to be relishing the opportunity to show what can he do to a new audience, and every new page of this strip is a revelation in how to build an evocative fantasy adventure.

7. The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kershl

2012-12-12Part talking animal comic strip, part fantasy epic, Charles Christopher seems destined to be part of these types of lists a long as Kershl keeps making it. Charles Christopher is a meandering fantasy, and a beautiful one at that. The Charles Christopher that we’re talking about here, is in fact, a sasquatch. Or a yeti. Kerschl never actually says, and that’s ok. He lives in a forest with a multitude of talking animals, who all have their own dramas and subplots. The strip jumps between the adventures of Charles himself, the denizens of the forest, and flashbacks involving Vivol, a bear that serves as an elder statesman of sorts for the strip. Although Kerschl is taking his time at unraveling some of his secrets, the journey he takes you on while getting there is the real reason I love this strip as much as I do.

6. Bandette by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover

prv12862_covMonkeybrain got a lot of attention this year for their new platform of digital-first comics, and the best of the comics they published was Bandette. It’s a stylish, vibrant thriller by the veteran team of Tobin & Coover (Gingerbread Girl) about a Parisian master thief who actually helps the police when she isn’t busy making them look like idiots. There’s a nice mix of humour and action here, and this is one of those digital comics that I think will be well served by a physical collection. Colleen Coover has really developed into an incredibly well-rounded artist, and I think Bandette is a high point for both her and Tobin.

5. JL8 by Yale Stewart

47The best indicator of the current creative state of DC Comics is that the best DC superhero comic currently being produced isn’t actually being done by DC Comics. It’s JL8, a re-imagining of DC’s greatest heroes as 8-year-old children. Children with costumes and superpowers to be sure, but children nonetheless.

And so they have child-size problems: Crushes on their classmates, schoolyard bullies, and of course, Darkseid. Mr. Darkseid, that is. He’s their new gym teacher. But this is far more than gimmicky opportunism.

It’s fun, funny, sad, and sweet. And that’s often in the same strip. In fact, there’s more heart in one average four panel strip by Stewart than in any every DC comic released this year. Combined.

4. Saga Of A Doomed Universe by Scott Reed

SAGAOFADOOMEDUNIVERS_COVER3_SMALLThis, my friends, is 170 pages of the best pure superhero comic that you’ve never read. And best of all, this is a superhero comic by someone who LOVES superhero comics. Gone is the snark that embraces much of today’s post-Miller, post-Moore superhero world. There is no false pretense of realism here, and no attempt to turn this into something that it’s not.

It’s also one of the most ambitious comics I read this year, and one that truly deserves more attention. “What if Alan Moore wrote Secret Wars?” was the original tagline for this book, and it’s probably the best way to describe it. If you think 1985 was the highpoint for superhero comics, this really is a must-own.

3. Double Barrel by Zander Cannon & Kevin Cannon

page001_lgThis was probably the most entertaining adventure comic I read in 2012, and at less than 2 bucks for almost a 100 pages, it’s a hell of a deal. Each digital issue contains new chapters of original comics (Heck by Zander Cannon, and Crater XV by Kevin Cannon), as well as shorter comics, extensive letters pages, and how-to articles. And it really is all good. My personal favourite is Heck, a comic starring a former football hero who has a portal to Hell in his attic. Both features are adventure stories of the highest quality, and as a total package Double Barrel really delivers everything I love about comics.

2. Cow Boy by Nate Cosby & Chris Eliopoulos

COWBOY004006_0This is Jonah Hex meets Dennis The Menace.

And believe it or not, it works. Really, really well.

Cow Boy is about a 10-year old bounty hunter, traveling the old west with only one goal: to put his family in jail for their crimes.

Eliopoulous’ colourful yet straightforward approach to pencils belies the utter seriousness of Cosby’s script, which allows for an emotional engagement with its audience that few strips enjoy.

For pure emotional impact, Cow Boy ranks among the very best comics I read in 2012.

1. Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart

2012-10-16One of the greatest serial web comics ever ended in October. Here’s the plot: When going through his estranged dead grandfather’s personal belongings, a man discovers a picture of his grandfather with a beautiful young woman who he’s never seen before. Intrigued, he goes to his grandfather’s grave, only to see the same woman there. And the mystery begins. What ensues is one of the most compelling, complex, and sometimes convoluted mysteries I’ve read in comics. Stewart has said that his prime inspiration here was the TV series Lost. He wanted to create a narrative that had numerous seemingly unsolvable mysteries attached to it. He accomplished that, in spades. One of the greats.

Honourable Mention:

Nathan Sorry by Rich Barret, Legends Of The Dark Knight by various writers and artists, Army Of God by David Axe & Tim Hamilton, Masks & Mobsters by Joshua Williamson & Mike Henderson, Monster Of The Week by Shaenon Garrity, Axe Cop by Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle

Best Comic Books of 2012: Best Original Graphic Novels

To qualify for this category a book would have to be printed for the first time, and should stand alone. It could be a 25 page single issue, or a 5oo page graphic novel. Individual issues of series are ok, though I usually deal with those in other categories (with a few exceptions).

20. Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank (DC)

BME1_HC_CaseBatman: Earth One was the best superhero story that DC published in 2012, though saying that is a little like picking your favourite type of cancer. Earth One is the latest re-imagining of the Batman origin, something that’s hard to get excited about considering those seem like a weekly event these days. But Johns & Frank breathe some new life into the stagnant murky waters of mainstream superheroics here, and add enough new baubles to get even the most jaded of reader interested in Batman again. Johns & Frank are easily the strongest writer/artist pairing working at DC right now.

19. Love & Rockets: The New Stories Vol. 5 by The Hernandez Brothers (Fantagraphics)

lovne5The sheer volume of work turned out by the Hernandez Brothers is staggering, not to mention the fact that the quality of their work remains strong. There’s really nothing “new” here, with this latest collection containing the same slice of life stories that all of the Hernandez clan have become famous for. But that familiarity is what makes L&R work so well. These are characters and situations that we have been following on and off for decades, but the Hernandez brothers always manage to keep them fresh.

18. Empowered Vol. 7 by Adam Warren (Dark Horse)

Empowered-Vol_-7-1Empowered is both feminist and exploitationist, both superhero comic and superhero parody, and both thought-provoking and a hell of a lot of fun, all at the same time. It’s the story of Empowered, a superheroine whose power source is a skin-tight uniform that seems prone to tearing. The more torn the suit is, the weaker she becomes. And so we get page after page of Emp in various shades of undress, which seems par for the course in superhero comics these days.

But Empowered is a lot more than that. It’s a meditation on the silliness of superhero comics, as crafted by someone who obviously still loves them. Warren’s manga-infused art style has a sexuality about it that’s impossible to ignore, even on the pages where there is no sex. Entertaining as hell, by a hell of an artist.

17. Goliath by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)

44_goliathcoverThis re-imagining of one of literature’s greatest villains as a grunt soldier that just wants to be left alone might be one of the most inspired ideas of the year. Gauld’s minimalist style is perfect for this send up of bureaucracy and waste, and his portrayal of Goliath as a tragic forgotten hero is one of my favourite characters of 2012. I’d ask for a sequel, but as we know, things (spoiler alert) don’t turn out too well for the star of this show.

16. The Lovely Horrible Stuff by Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf)

COVER_LovelyHorribleBest known among mainstream audiences for his work on Alan Moore’s From Hell, Eddie Campbell is actually a legend in the work of autobiographical comics. In Stuff, Campbell has produced a comic essay of sorts, pontificating at length about money, and our constant need for more of it.  I found the autobiographical parts of the book engrossing, specifically Campbell’s detailed descriptions of the financial wranglings he has to endure just to get paid for his work on DC’s Batman character. His history of the economy of Micronesia wasn’t quite as thrilling, but all in all Campbell’s treatise on the filthy lucre shows him to be as wryly perceptive as ever.

15. Not My Bag by Sina Grace (Image)

IMG120420Not My Bag introduces Sina Grace as a powerful voice in the biographical comics scene. Recounting his adventures in the world of high-end women’s fashion retail, Not My Bag possesses both the honesty, and the storytelling faculty necessary to succeed in this genre. As someone who can’t tell his Michael Kors from his Eileen Fisher (Everything I know about fashion I learned from ads in the New Yorker), I found Not My Bag to be an interesting portrayal of a young man struggling to discover his true calling in life.

14. The Coldest City by Antony Johnson & Sam Hart (Oni Press)

thecoldestcity_coverThis is an exceptional tale of the dying days of the Cold War that really deserved more attention than it received. The year is 1989, and a British secret agent is found dead in Berlin. The problem is that he was carrying a list that contained the name of every spy working there at the time…and the list is nowhere to be found. This is the kind of story that Antony Johnson tells so well, one that makes use of character development as much as it does of plot points. I hope this isn’t the last we see from Sam Hart either, as his moody pencils evoked a hopeful gloominess perfect for the setting of this book.

13. Guerillas Vol. 2 by Brahm Revel (Oni Press)

4fd0ca2ccaadb_tnRemember when the US government sent highly intelligent super gorillas into Vietnam to help them win their war there? No? Brahm Revel does, and he does a fantastic job of making us believe that this far-fetched scenario actually happened. What I love about this is that it’s a war comic first, straight from the influences of Joe Kubert & Harvey Kurtzman. The fact that there are also monkeys is an added bonus. Revel has shown that he has both the penciling and writing skills to be working on pretty much any comic he could think of, so the fact that he’s sticking with this bizarre tale of the Vietnam war is commendable.

12. Crogan’s Loyalty by Chris Schweizer (Oni Press)

4f4e7e079e044_tnSchweizer’s Crogan books are a must for lovers of all-ages adventure comics, and this volume promises an emotional complexity that we haven’t seen in the series until now. Our story is about two brothers on opposing sides of the American Revolutionary War. They’re both trying to do the right thing, but one mistake might tear their family, and a country, apart. Schweizer really is at the top of his game here, showing just how important the storytelling part of sequential storytelling is. Although there is a simplicity in his work that is probably appealing for younger readers, the sheer intensity of his action sequences ensure that adults will be enthralled as well.

11. Pope Hats #3 by Ethan Rilly (Adhouse Books)

AD.PopeHats3.CVR72Probably my only critique of Rilly’s Pope Hats is that  new volumes only seem to come out about once a year. In the third issue of Pope Hats, Rilly continues to explore the sometimes competing themes of office politics & youthful ambition. Serious topics to be sure, but Rilly’s breezy style of cartooning (seemingly influenced by both Bill Keane & Adrian Tomine equally) is a perfect complement  for this entertaining look into the life of Canadian 20-somethings. Bonus points for the Spalding Grey feature!

10. Parker: The Score by Darwyn Cooke (IDW)

score-coverA rare misstep in Cooke’s Parker adaptations, but one that has more to do with its source material than with Cooke himself. Part of the appeal of Donald Westlake’s Parker stories is the chaos the human element brings to the story. No matter how careful Parker is, no matter how dispassionate he is about his work, his colleagues and their foibles always threaten to bring him down.

But in The Score that never happens. A group of people lay out a plan for a heist. They execute that heist. The end. There is very little dramatic tension, as we never feel like our hero is in any danger. Again, this isn’t Cooke’s fault, as his thick line work and storytelling chops seem to be improving with age. An amazing adaptation of a less-than-amazing story.

9. League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 2009 by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neal (Top Shelf)

CENTURY-2009Despite his reputation as an inspiration to crotchety old coots everywhere, I suspect that Alan Moore will find his way into lists like this as long as he dabbles in comics. LOEG is Moore’s passion project, a perfect canvas for his blend of literary allusion, humanistic pathos, and emotional melodrama. In Century, Moore focusses a little less on obscure literary reference, and a little more on actually wrapping up some of the many plot points he has been building towards in the 5 years since Black Dossier was published.

An unkind reviewer might point out that the reason Moore  didn’t make too many contemporary literary references in this volume is because he probably doesn’t know many.  There’s some allusion to things like Harry Potter and Lost, but one is never entirely sure if Moore has actually read or watched any of things he’s referring to, as there is a perfunctoriness here that is unique to this volume.  Still, Kevin O’Neal manages to make sense of it all, proving once again why he’s considered one of the great living British comic artists. Probably the most entertaining LOEG read since Volume 2.

8. The Hive by Charles Burns (Pantheon)

thumbnail.phpCharles Burns is one of the most influential artists in comics today, with his unique, expressive art style being almost a genre in its own right. The Hive is the second in a series of euro-style graphic novels that started with X’ed Out, and that will finish with Sugar Skull.

Burns is utterly fearless here, with a bizarre, but poignant, story that combines elements of meta textualism, horror, and even Tintin comics. There’s also an element of improvisation in this book here that seems to be missing from comics right now, even in the indie world. Burns didn’t sit down and write a script to follow from; he wrote & drew each page as they came, building from each preceding panel the way a jazz musician would. As a result, we get a loose, almost hallucinatory story that would have ended up dull & lifeless in the hands of most others.

7. Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf)

underwaterwelder72dpi_lgIt’s probably a minor miracle that Jeff Lemire was able to put out a 224 page graphic novel in the same year that he wrote and drew a bi-monthly comic book, and also happened to be one of DCs top writers. Part Twilight Zone episode, part deep dive into the pressures of everyday life, Underwater Welder combines supernatural intrigue & character study like only Lemire can.

Lemire has been gaining fans as of late for his superhero work, but one hopes that he will always find time to put out beautiful works of art like this.

6. Economix: How Our Economy Works & Doesn’t Work by Michael Goodwin & Dan E. Burr (Abrams Comic Arts)

EconomixCoverFans of the educational comics of Scott McLeod & Larry Gonick will find much to enjoy here from a visual standpoint. But this book is so much more than a knock-off of what others have done.  It’s quite simply, the most entertaining book about economics I’ve ever read, graphic or otherwise.

Goodwin’s approach is to treat this as a history of economics, specifically as it pertains to the United States. And so we get a de facto history of America, as seen through the prism of one of the most important aspects of any society. This is a must read for anyone interested in the current state of  American politics as it applies to the world economy, but also for anyone interested in learning how comics can be used as an educational tool.

5. Grandville: Bête Noire by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)

Grandville_Bete_NoireBryan Talbot’s Grandville graphic novels are set in an alternate history in which England was supplanted by France in the 19th century as the western world’s dominant power. And there are robots. And dirigibles. And almost everyone is a talking animal.

And if that’s not enough to get you to read this book, you’re reading the wrong blog. Despite the anthropomorphic trappings, what Grandville is really about is high adventure. Fans of everything from Indiana Jones, to Sherlock Holmes, to Jules Verne’s Nemo books will find something to love here. And if I was picking just on art alone, this might have been my top choice.

4. Silence Of Our Friends By Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, & Nate Powell (First Second)

SilenceofOurFriendsSilence is the story of Long’s childhood experiences in Houston, TX. His father was a journalist, covering racial issues in the city. He befriends a local black professor, and their two families make cautious headway towards friendship.

This is a sometimes uncomfortable snap-shot of 1960’s American race relations, and one that Nate Powell’s vibrant, angular pencils are perfectly suitable for. One of the most emotionally impactful graphic novels I read this year.

3. Jerusalem by Guy Deslisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

Cover_of_Jerusalem,_by_Guy_DelisleWith Jerusalem, Guy Deslise is back with the latest in his series of engrossing travelogues. His last book (Burma Chronicles) showed that Delisle is at best when he has a story to tell. Not much happened to him in Burma, and so there wasn’t much to tell.

The same can’t be said for his time in Israel, and so Jerusalem is his longest book to date, full of stories from his family’s year there.

Although its easy to get passionate about many of Israel’s current policies, Delisle’s objective eye helps moderate this peek into the current situation there. This isn’t a book about Israel, this is a book about Delisle’s experiences in Israel, all told with Deslile’s confidence as a master cartoonist who never lets his serious subject matter take itself too seriously.

2. Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland by Harvey Pekar & Joseph Remnant (Zip/Top Shelf)/ Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar & JT Waldman (Hill & Wang)

Israel_cover-cropThe last 2 graphic novels that Harvey Pekar wrote before his death in 2010 were published this year, and both helped cement  the fact (as if there was much doubt at this point) that Pekar was one of the best storytellers the medium has ever seen.

Although Israel got more attention, it’s the book about Pekar’s beloved Cleveland that feels like the more personal work. It’s a historical review of the city, both the good and the bad. And because it’s Pekar, there’s also a healthy dollop of his own personal connection to the city, and how both he and the city have evolved over the years.

cleveland_lgIsrael is the flashier book however, and timeliness is a big part of that. How you feel about Pekar’s take on the history of Israel probably has a lot with how you feel about Israel itself, specifically in regards to its treatment of the Palestinians living inside its borders.

Any casual reader of Pekar probably knows where his sympathies lie. But this isn’t a propaganda piece, or at least not strictly so. It’s really a story of Pekar’s understanding of that country, and how he got to the viewpoints he espouses. Combined, these two graphic novels are a worthy coda to the story of one of the most interesting characters in comic history.

1. Building Stories by Chris Ware (Pantheon)

building-stories-collectionThis wasn’t even close. No offense to the other great books on this list, but Building Stories is such a unique work, and one that’s so staggering in its scope, that it really was the only serious contender for graphic novel of the year.

It’s 14 separate graphic stories, with Ware using comics, graphic novels, posters, and pamphlets as his canvas. There are thematic consistencies between the different stories, as well some storytelling ones. But each stands on its own, as a readable work in its own right.

Ware has raised the bar yet again, not surprising in a career essentially built on bar raising. What he’s done for the medium of the comics can’t be overstated, and Building Stories has to be considered a career high.

Honourable Mention: 

Blue by Pat Grant (Top Shelf), Batman: Death By Design by Chipp Kidd & Dave Taylor (DC), Dotter Of Her Fathers Eyes by Mary Talbot & Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse),  Sunset by Christos Gage & Jorge Lucas (Minotaur/Image), Best Of Enemies: A History Of US & Middle East Relations, Part One: 1783-1953 by Jean-Pierre Filliu & David B. (Harry N. Abrams), Lover’s Lane by Rick Geary (NBM), Athos In America by Jason (Fantagraphics), Marathon by Boaz Yankin & Joe Infumari (First Second), Are You My Mother by Allison Bechdel (Mariner Books), Lincoln Washington: Free Man #1 by Ben Marra (Traditional Comics)