The Best Non-Superhero Comic Of All Time

Over a year ago, I read this post on Rollingstone.com. It listed the 100 best non-superhero graphic novels of all time. I disagreed with much of it, so I did my own. And for the last year or so, I’ve been slowly posting my 100 favourites. It’s taken me a lot longer than I thought, but the day is finally here to list the top spot.

Are you ready?

Here we go.

Don’t hate me.

Or do. I don’t really give a shit.

1. Cerebus by Dave Sim & Gerhard (1977, Aardvark/Vanaheim)

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I’ve known pretty much from the beginning that Cerebus would be my number one, and so it’s given me a lot of time to think about the reasons why. I’ve had to think of a lot about it a lot, because there’s plenty of reasons why NOT to consider putting Sim on a list like this.

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The common wisdom on Cerebus is so common that it hardly qualified as wisdom any more. The wisdom goes like this: First 20 issues was ok, then it got great with the High Society storyline. So great, in fact, that Sim’s Cerebus became the most ambitious comic in the history of comics, aspiring towards heights comics had rarely achieved. Common wisdom continues that if it had ended at issue #185 people would be singing its praises along Watchmen, and Miller’s DD run, and The Spirit.

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But it didn’t end at issue 185. There was issue 186, plus another 114 issues after that. But it was 186 that polarized people. Especially those of us who would consider ourselves feminists. So much so, that pretty soon, that “I really like Cerebus” became ‘I really like Cerebus, but….” or “I used to like Cerebus, up until….” or “Dave Sim is such a douchenozzle that I can’t like Cerebus anymore”.

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But I don’t see it that way.  From the beginning, Cerebus was an extension of Dave Sim. As a young man, Sim loved Sword & Sworcery, so Cerebus started as a Conan satire. He then discovered politics and history and Cerebus became an insightful, insanely funny treatise on modern geopolitics. Sim had several failed relationships that apparently didn’t end so well, and thus Cerebus’ views on women also changed. So much so, that some of the people who had supported this book for so long, felt betrayed. And I get that. But those people also missed the point.

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This book is him. The parts we like, and the parts we don’t like. There are plenty of people who I like, who have certain ideas I find abhorrent. No one is going to agree with you all the time. And I may find lots of the things that Dave Sim has said over the years silly and borderline disgusting. But you want to know what Dave Sim hasn’t done? He hasn’t beaten women (that I know of). He hasn’t raped any. He hasn’t fired any of them for being women. (Please don’t Twitter hate me if it turns out that Sim has done any of these things) He may be a shmuck with lady issues, but he’s a harmless schmuck with lady issues. And he’s a schmuck that created one of the most important comic books of all time. A comic book that, more than most of the books on this list, is full of ideas. So full of ideas, in fact, that it took Sim 8,000 fucking pages to get all of the ideas out. And so there’s parts that I find disgusting. And there’s parts that are boring. And there was the part where he got super religious and the Thee Stooges kidnapped him and so Cerebus just started reciting the bible to us for dozens of issues.

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And that brings us to the main reason that I love this book as much as I do:  It tried to say something. While we do seem to be going through the golden age of creator owned comics that Dave Sim always predicted was inevitable, most of those comics seem to be content to tell variations of the same old science fiction, horror, and action stories that we’ve been reading for decades. Very few of them are even reaching for the same levels that Cerebus reached for. And man did it reach. Think about it: A 300 issue comic book starring a talking aardvark mercenary that became the Prime Minister, then a pope, then the Prime Minister again, with a supporting cast full of everyone from Groucho Marx, to the Roling Stones, to Margaret Thatcher. How can you not admire the brass balls of the person who dared to come up with something like that? Not only to come up with it, but then pull it off by doing all of the writing and most of the art, while also publishing the whole thing, shipping it out, answering mail, and doing all of the other business associated with publishing comics. You know who does that?

Dave Sim. That’s who.

Best non-superhero comics of all time: 2-10

Yikes. It took me over a year. Well over a year in fact. But I finally finished this project. Well, almost. You’ll see.

Any regrets? Like Sinatra, I’ve had a few. I wish i had put more older works in, and that the list hadn’t ended up being “The Best non-superhero comics of the last 30 years, with a few others added on”. I wish I had figured out how to get EC comics in the list, considering how many of them are among the greatest comics of the 20th Century (Other than just having one line item for all EC comics, which I didn’t think was fair either).

I wish more people had read this, considering how much work I put in. Can’t do much about that I guess. I was originally going to do a “Best superhero comics” list next, but so few people read this that I don’t think I’ll be doing that now.

Anyways, I still enjoyed the hell out of doing it. Let me know what you think of my list, and what you think I missed.

10. Everybody is Stupid Except For Me by Peter Bagge (2009, Fantagraphics)

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Purists will probably choose Hate as the best example of Bagge’s work. But I’ve chosen this collection of his work for the libertarian magazine Reason, because I think it showcases a seriousness that Bagge isn’t always given credit for. In Everybody, Bagge follows his subject matter wherever it takes him, despite the ideological bent of the magazine he’s working for. His exaggerated, hyper-kinetic art style belies the utter seriousness of the subject matter he’s tackling.

9. Clyde Fans by Seth (2000, Fantagraphics)

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Seth’s thick, brush-style cartooning is familiar to most serious Canadian comic aficionados, and nowhere does it get utilized more effectively than in Clyde Fans, arguably the best comic book about air conditioner manufacturing ever created.

8. Bone by Jeff Smith (1991, Scholastics)

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When I just want to unwind, have fun, and read comics just for the hell of it, Bone is always among my two or three top picks. Smith pays as much attention to character development as he does to his carefully laid out action sequences, which makes Bone basically the best Disney epic never made. Probably the best book to guarantee that your kid will love comics as much as you do.

7. From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell (1989, Top Shelf)

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From Hell is Moore’s version of how the Jack The Ripper killings could have taken place. Unlike most Ripper stories, Moore’s version isn’t a whodunnit, it’s a whydunnit. Moore tells you within 20 pages who he thinks killed those women over a hundred years ago. He then spends the next 500 pages telling us why. And the why is absolutely bat-shit crazy. Or not, if you believe in the illuminati and love conspiracy theories and hate jewish people. Eddie Campbell is the MVP here, with his dense, claustrophobic cross-hatching being the perfect foil for Moore’s endless paragraphs of descriptive prose.

6. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli (2009, Pantheon)

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I was hesitant to place something so recent so high, and there’s no doubt that if Polyp was 20 years old it would have a fair shot at taking the top spot. But Polyp more than holds it’s own with the other books on this list, and was being considered a classic almost immediately upon publication. Mazzuchelli is as highly regarded in the mainstream superhero world as he is in the “indie” world, and Polyp very much feels like a master reclaiming his rightful place at the top of the heap, after years out of the spotlight. Very few comics showcase the storytelling potential of narrative art the way that this one does.

5. Palestine by Joe Sacco (1996, Fantagraphics)

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Joe Sacco didn’t create comics journalism, but with Palestine, he might as well have. Based on various visits to Palestine & Israel that Sacco took in the early 1990’s, it’s the documentation of the systematic destruction of a people, done in a time where such a viewpoint was not only unpopular, it was almost unheard of. Utterly polarizing to this day, Sacco’s work takes the 100 years worth of storytelling tools comic artists have taught themselves, and applies them to the most important story of all: The story of us.

4. Love & Rockets by Los Brothers Hernandez (1982, Fantagraphics)

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How do I sum up the plot of Love & Rockets?

Let’s see. It’s the story a group of people (mostly women, mostly Mexican), and….actually, that’s kind of it. Some of the comics are part of the Palomar storyline, which is the name of the fictional Latin American town that these stories are set, and some of them are part of the Locas storyline, focussing on Maggie & Hopey, two Mexican-American women whose destinies are often entwined. And some of the comics feature characters from both, and some of them are stand alone, and some of them are set in the future, and some of them have the characters dressed as superheroes, and so on. What Love & Rockets, is the single greatest arthouse movie ever done in comics form. To read these characters is to love them wholly, and to root for them whole heartedly.

3. Hellboy by Mike Mignola (1993, Dark Horse)

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Probably the entry I most fretted about. I added it to the list, and then took it off. Then added it again,  and so on. Not because of it’s quality, but because of it’s subject matter. The question: Is Hellboy a superhero book or not. The answer? Probably. It is at the beginning of it’s run, at least. However, relatively early on in morphed from a monster of the week narrative, into a vehicle for Mike Mignola to explore the mythology and fantastical stories that he loves. Though definitely more mainstream than many of the books here at the end of the list, Hellboy for me will always be the comic I read when I want to feel the pure joy that the medium of comics gives me like no other. It’s got everything; Action, pathos, and plenty of monsters, all by one of the most amazing artists that comics has ever known.

2. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth by Chris Ware (2000, Pantheon)

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“The first formal masterpiece of the medium”. That’s how The New Yorker described Corrigan when it was first published, and they weren’t wrong. The shadow that Ware created with Corrigan has loomed over comic books ever since. Ware uses complex design, alternate storylines, and flashbacks, to create an intensely personal story that is extremely small in scope, yet threatens to overwhelm in effect. If you love comic books, but haven’t read Corrigan yet…I’d argue that you don’t actually love comic books.

Yet.

On a personal note, it’s also the first comic book that ever made me cry as an adult (Don’t worry Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, you still get the overall win).

What? No Number one?

Agh! Cliffhanger!

I’ll post my top pick in the next day or so, but feel free to tell me what you think it is, or what you think it should be.

Best non-superhero comics of all time: 11-20

Almost at the finish line. Interesting thing about these 10 are that almost all of them are black & white.

20. Eightball by Dan Clowes (1989, Fantagraphics)

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Is there a better satirist in modern comic books? In these 22 issues, Clowes stakes his claim to that title, and creates some of most important humour comics of all time While Ghost World may be the most famous Clowes story due to the indie film that jumpstarted Scarlet Johansson’s career, this entire run is a must read for all lovers of seriously funny, well crafted comics.

19. Book Of Genesis by R. Crumb (2009, W.W. Norton)

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I’m sure I’ll get some grief for picking one of Crumb’s more recent works, rather than earlier comics from his hey day as the king of 1960’s counterculture comix. I chose Genesis because it’s the work of a master at the top of his game, adapting one of the greatest stories in human history.  In addition, those early comics, while undoubtedly great and groovy , are fairly inaccessible to those who didn’t grow up in that generation.

18. Contract With God by Will Eisner (1978, Baronet)

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Contract inexplicably gets referred to as the first “graphic novel” despite mountains of evidence that that’s not true. That doesn’t negate Eisner’s impact on modern comics books however, and Contract kickstarted Eisner’s transition away from “the guy that did the Spirit” into the godfather of modern autobiographical comic books.

17. Sandman by Neil Gaiman & various artists (1989, Vertigo)

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Now this one I know I’ll get in trouble for. My indie comics friends will hate that i have this so high. And my more mainstream friends will criticize me for placing Sandman so low. But for those a certain age, no comic means more than Sandman. It’s the comic book equivalent of  Moby Dick/Great Expectations/Lord of The Rings, all wrapped up in one, 76 issue bow. And guess what? It’s still really great. I mean, really, really great. With Sandman, Gaiman showed a generation of comic book lovers the limitless potential of graphic storytelling. If you’re finding the recent slate of mainstream comics lacking, give this a shot.

16. American Splendour by Harvey Pekar & various artists (1976, various publishers)

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If Will Eisner was the godfather of modern autobiographic comics, then Pekar is it’s crown prince. His ‘warts & all’ style of storytelling could prove daunting to new readers, but his writing demonstrated an honesty rarely seen in comic books, even today. If all you know of Pekar is the movie, you are really missing out.

15. Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai (1984, Dark Horse)

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Arguably the greatest work of historical fiction comics has ever seen. Plus, it’s got talking animals. If that’s not enough to sway you, you are beyond help. Sakai is a cartoonist’s cartoonist, having mastered both character and action storytelling relatively early on in this 145 issue (and still going!) epic.

14. Stray Bullets by David Lapham (1995, Image)

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I’ve included a fairly healthy percentage of crime comics on this list, but there’s none better than Stray Bullets. Even a 9 year break in between issues didn’t lower the quality of this crime masterpiece at all. Lapham is a unique creator, who arguably has never gotten the acclaim he really deserves. Starting Stray Bullets up again last year went along way to cementing his place among the true masters.

13. Alec – The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell (2009, Top Shelf)

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Campbell is best known among North American audiences as the artist of Alan Moore’s seminal From Hell, but he picked up the autobiographical comics baton from people like Pekar & Eisner decades ago, and this collection of his best work over the years is as fine an example of how that brilliant & thought provoking that subgenre can be.

12. Lone Wolf & Cub by Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima (1970, Dark Horse)

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Like Usagi, Lone Wolf is the story of a disgraced samurai in feudal Japan. But where Sakai uses talking animals to allow for greater accessibility to his work, Koike & Kojima weave a bitterly vengeful, realistically dark tale. Add the tension of having a small child tagging along with our lead “hero”, and you’ve got yourself arguably the great action comic book ever created, as well as one the mangas that even people who hate manga consider indispensable. Almost 50 years later, and these 8700 pages still stand up as some of the great action sequences that comics has ever seen.

11. THB by Paul Pope (1994, various publishers)

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THB is one of the few books on this list that hasn’t had a comprehensive reissue program (though Pope insists that collections are coming).  In addition, each issue is extremely hard to track down, and invariably expensive when found. Those that do commit the time & money to tracking these down have a real treat in store, as THB is one of those rare books that keep giving on every read. Ostensibly the story of a girl and her superpower bodyguard and their adventures in a futuristic, colonized Mars, THB is really just a canvas for Pope’s wholly original art style, and serves as a way for Pope to tell pretty much any type of story he wants.

Best non-superhero comics of all time: 21-30

At the beginning of the year, I said that 2015 would be my year to start blogging again, and that I’d be blogging every week. What I didn’t mention is that I’m using the Martian week, which really means once every 6 months.

Ok. Let’s try this again. We’re almost done.

30. Pluto by Naomi Urasawa (2003, Viz Media)

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Just like people will say they don’t like jazz, but still have some Miles Davis in their collection, Urasawa is the manga creator of choice for white people that don’t like manga. Although I’ve liked all of the Urasawa that I’ve read, Pluto gets the nod for me for one simple reason: It’s the shortest. It’s still 8 volumes, which racks up to well over a thousand pages. But Urasawa’s other works like Monster and 20th Century Boys take 1000 pages just to introduce the main characters. A modern reimagining of Astro Boy, Pluto is that rare beast: A character driven epic.

29. Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson (1997, Helix)

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Transmet is pure, unadulteread Ellis, for better or for worse. Nowhere near as tightly plotted as other Ellis books like Planetary or Global Frequency, Transmetropolitan stars a slightly fictionalized version of Hunter S. Thompson, struggling to report on a transhumanist science fiction future that I hope never comes.  Ellis & Robertson make a perfect team here, with each creator seeming to be the perfect incubator for the other’s ideas.

28. WE3 by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (2004, Vertigo)

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: WE3 is the best comic that Grant Morrison has ever wrote. It’s not the best comic that Frank Quietly has ever drew, since every comic Frank Quitely draws is the best comic that Frank Quietly ever drew. And it’s no coincidence that both the best (WE3), and the second best (All-Star Superman) comics that Morrison has produced were both drawn by the same person. WE3 literally has everything: Action, Pathos, and Cybernetic Puppies.

27. Concrete by Paul Chadwick (1994, Dark Horse)

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The premise behind Paul Chadwick’s little masterpiece is simple: A political speechwriter gets turned into a super powerful giant rock monster by alien beings. And now he has to deal with it. The elegant simplicity of the pitch is what makes it work so well. And Chadwick uses the sci-fi backdrop as a launching pad to tell pretty much any kind of morality tale he wants, as well as to use the character to warn us about things like over population, ruining the environment, and even just being a dick to each other.

26. Maus by Art Spiegelman (1980, Pantheon)

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I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to do a list and NOT include Maus. To be fair, by this point it’s almost impossible to really gauge how good this comic is. It’s the Beatles of comics: So much was influenced by it, that’s it’s hard to remember comics without it. But what I can do, is remember what it was like for me to read it for the first time. And I remember that it absolutely blew my mind. I grew up in a German household where the effects of the Holocaust were more than a little downplayed (“It wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone says” was a phrase often quoted), so to see the other side of it, to see this side that showed the absolutely devastating human cost of the Holocaust, literally changed the way I thought about the 20th Century.

25. Habibi by Craig Thompson (2011, Pantheon)

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There was more than a little controversy about this when it came out a few years ago. Charges of racism & sexism were plentiful when this came out, and it’s easy to see where they came from as the lead character is Arabic and seems to spend most of the 600 pages of this book getting raped by other Arabs. But Thompson’s job on this book wasn’t to create a realistic character. It was to draw and write a 600 page romantic adventure epic. And he did. Spectacularly. If you are looking for an example of just what comics can accomplish from a visual storytelling perspective, I can think of no better book than Habibi.

24. Essex County by Jeff Lemire (2008, Top Shelf)

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Lemire has gone on to write a lot of shitty comic books for DC since he did Essex County, but when he writes & pencils his own material, there isn’t a creator more capable of tugging at your heartstrings than Jeff Lemire.

23. Louis Riel by Chester Brown (1999, Drawn & Quarterly)

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I didn’t plan on putting Riel & Essex Country together, but it’s fitting considering that they are two of the greatest Canadian comic books ever made. Louis Riel is the story of Louis Riel, either the greatest hero, or the greatest villain, my country has ever known, depending on who your parents are and where you went to elementary school. Brown’s unflinching look at arguably the most interesting character in Canadian history is a must read for all Canadians, and all comic lovers.

22. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006, Houghton Mifflin)

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I think I can say with confidence that this is the only book on this list that has been turned into a Tony-Award winning musical (Keep trying, Grant Morrison!) But before it cleaned up at the Tonys, Fun Home was a heart wrenching look at one woman’s experience in coming out to her family, only to find out that her family’s secrets were buried far deeper than she could have ever guessed.

21. Richard Stark’s Parker by Darwyn Cooke (2009, IDW)

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A fairly high ranking for an adaptation, but I can read these over and over and never get tired of them. That automatically jumps them pretty high in my book. Cooke’s design-heavy, cinematic art style is the perfect choice to adapt Donald Westlake’s perfect little crime stories, and I’m hoping he continues to go back to that well for years to come.

Media I’ve Consumed for the week of January 11-17

People of Earth:

I’ve decided I’m not blogging enough. That might not be true, but it’s what I’ve decided. And so in regards to my endless ‘Favourite Comics” series, I decided I’m going to try to write one post a week, just talking about the different comics, books, movies, and music that I loved that week. Could be older stuff, could be brand new, whatevs.

I said WHATEVS.

And so of course I’m already a few days late. Let’s begin.

Selma directed by Ava Marie DuVernay

Lots of heat today due to Duvernay not getting a best director’s nod. I’m ok with it either way. It’s an important film, and one that really spoke to me. But I’m not sure that her fingerprints are all over this as much as the original story is, or as the wonderful perfomances by David Oyelowo and company are. The real shame here is no nomination for Oyelowo, as he may have had the strongest performance out of all the men nominated in the best actor category this year.

The Woods by James Tynion & Michael Dialynas

the-woods-boom-tynion-dialynasThere’s a school with gifted kids, and one day the school is on another planet. That’s the premise of this wonderful comic, and it’s a nice spin on the “Kids have to figure stuff out by themselves” trope. Think Lord of the Flies, but in outer space, and there’s some adults around. This is a really good comic, but I’m worried that it’s impact will diminish as we learn more about where the kids really are. Some really strong characterization by Tynion, as some well-placed flashbacks go a long way to informing what we know of their present.

A Most Violent Year directed by JC Chandor

Someone online described this as the “Anti-Godfather”, and that’s pretty apt. There definitely late 70’s gangster movie vibe here, mostly as because it’s a gangster movie set in the 1970’s. Oscar Isaac pulls off a performance that’s heavily indebted to early Pacino & De Niro, but not hamstrung by that influence at all. Might be a little slow for some, but I loved this character study.

Like, 20 albums by Sun Ra

If Sun Ra hadn’t moved on to Jupiter, or Saturn, or wherever the fuck batshit crazy jazz musicians go when they die, he would have been 100 last year. And so his catalogue, which is in sore need of a clean up, is getting a clean up. It’s not an easy job. Sun Ra, and his Arkestra (AKA Myth-Science Arkestra. AKA Solar Arkestra. AKA Astro Infinity Arkestra. AKA Afro Infinity Arkestra. AKA Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra. AKA Intergalactic Research Arkestra), released dozens of albums over the decades, through a myriad of record labels.

They would then reissue these albums, sometimes with different names, and with different covers. And often, the only place you could buy them were from the band itself, as they travelled the cosmos. And so just cataloguing the various releases is next to impossible, not to mention how bad the sound quality sometimes is. But the Sun Ra Music Archive seems to be up to the task, and has rereleased over 30 albums in the last several months. So far, so great, and I’ll be writing more about these as I explore them.

 

Best non-superhero comics of all time: 31-40

From steampunk, to educational comics, to crime noir, this batch of comics is all over the map. Continue to let me you know what you think, and I’ll continue to tell you why you’re wrong.

40. Scott Pilgrim by Bryan O’Malley (2004, Oni Press)

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A hugely influential comic, and one of the great Canadian graphic novels. Bryan O’Malley’s hugely influential series works on numerous levels. It has kinetic martial arts action for some, twee-hipster slacker comedy for others, and a real heart and soul for everyone. One of those comics you lend to your friend who thinks they don’t like comic books.

39. Sin City by Frank Miller (1991, Dark Horse)

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It’s getting more difficult to remember just why we all thought Frank Miller was so great in the first place, with all of the terrible Batman comics, and the being batshit crazy. Sin City is a fine refresher, though Ronin is definitely more impressive from an art perspective.

38. Granville by Brian Talbot (2009, Dark Horse)

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One of the more impressive comics of recent years, Talbot’s steampunk/talking animal/geopolitical mash-up, covers a lot ground. Talbot’s impressive draftsmanship, as well as his complex subject matter, make this an always entertaining epic.

37. A Treasury Of Victorian Murder by Rick Geary (1985, NBM)

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Rick Geary deserves more than one slot on this list. In fact, if I made a “Best 100 comics by Rick Geary” blog post, it still wouldn’t be enough. His Treasury graphic novels area a great place to start, especially for true-crime aficionados.

36. Musical Legends by Justin Green (1992, Last Gasp)

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Earlier, underground work like Binky Brown  cemented Green’s status as a legend. But it was his decade-long stint as the cartoonist for Tower Record’s Pulse magazine, that I love the most. Some issues would feature one-page musical autobiographies, while some would feature the story of his daughter’s various concert exploits. But it was all about one thing: Green’s overwhelming passion for music. Not quite as well known as it should be, I’d say.

35. Cartoon History of the Universe/Modern World by Larry Gonick (1990, Doubleday/Collins)

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Another series that rarely gets discussed on lists like this, though fans of more recent work like Van Lente & Dunlavey’s Action Philosophers will find much to love here. It’s also the most aptly named series on this entire list. Quite literally, it’s the history of the universe, as told to us by a cartoon professor. Gonick delivers a humanistic, objective, approach to history that’s refreshing, and best of all, hilarious. Immaculately researched, and painstakingly drawn, the chapters on India & China are particularly impressive.

34. The Goon by Eric Powell (1999, Dark Horse)

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This started as a comedic monster of the week goof, and has evolved into one of the great character pieces in modern comics. Even more so than it’s lead character, Powell’s artwork is the real star here, delivering a post-modern interpretation of a wide range of influences.

33. Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Waterson (1985, Andrews McNeel Publishing)

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I’ve heard a lot of disagreements regarding where I’ve  placed certain titles on this list. Everyone has their favourites, and you can’t make everyone happy. But I doubt there’s a single person on the planet that would have a problem with C&H being on this list. Very few comics have made such a huge dent on popular culture, and for good reason.

32. Criminal by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips (2006, Icon)

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Almost 10 years on, and it’s hard to fathom that there are still comic lovers who haven’t read Criminal. Although there may be “better” comics on this list…I’d argue that there are few that show just how good comic book writing can be, as well as this one does. More than any other comic book writer, Brubaker’s work constantly makes me stop and wonder just how he got this good. Phillips is the perfect collaborator for Brubaker’s sprawling crime epics, and they’ve gone on to do dozens of entertaining books of all genres together.

31. Little Nemo by Winsor McCay (1905, New York Herald)

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The earliest comic on this list, and arguably the granddaddy of them all. It’s not a big leap to say that comics as we know it would not exist without Winsor McCay. And it’s startling to realize just how much these strips hold up today. Each page is a design masterpiece, with a dozen little stories crammed into each panel. Probably the most influential comic on this list, even if most creators today don’t realize it.

The 40 Best Movies of 2014

Why 40? Why not. This has been an interesting (and to my mind, excellent) year for. There are a lot of truly great films being made these days, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.  What is in doubt, is whether or not this level of quality can be maintained considering that more and more people are only going to see big tentpole releases. The big tentpole action movie market is fairly strong, with Hunger Games, and Disney doing boffo box office. And new advances in technology and funding models are allowing independent film makers to make inroads they’ve never been able to make before. But while both of those scenes have built in audiences that aren’t really going anywhere, the mid-level budget Hollywood film seems to be a dying breed. Do you know how many movies in the US top 20 cost less than $50 million to make?

Exactly two.

Folks, there are a lot of great movies being made every day, that cater to every type of taste. You just have to look for them.

A few notes about this year’s list:

This isn’t comprehensive. It’s just not possible to see every highly rated film, and still have a job. Plus, the fact that some of the higher profile buzz movies don’t make it out until the end of the year, and some don’t even get released where I live until 2015, make it even more difficult. So things like Selma, and Inherent Vice, just couldn’t be considered.

Here we go.

40. A Most Wanted Man directed by Anton Corbjin

39. Finding Fela/Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown directed by Alex Gibney

38. Faith Connections directed by Pan Nalin

37. Obvious Child directed by Gillian Robespierre

36. The Master Builder directed by Jonathan Demme

35. The Grand Piano directed by Euginio Miro

34. X-Men: Days Of Future Past directed by Brian Singer

33. Only Lovers Left Alive directed by Jim Jarmusch

32. Locke directed by Steven Knight

31. Life Itself directed by Steve James

30. The Double directed by Richard Ayoade

29. Jodorowsky’s Dune directed by Frank Pavich

28. Snowpiercer directed by Bong Joon-ho

27. Tim’s Vermeer directed by Teller

26. The Babadook directed by Jennifer Kent

25. The One I Love directed by Charlie McDowell

24. Mommy directed by Xavier Dolan

23. Winter Sleep directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

22. Two Days, One Night directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

21. John Wick directed by David Leitch & Chad Stahelski

20. Cheap Thrills directed by E.L. Katz

19. Guardians of the Galaxy directed by James Gunn

18. Blue Ruin directed by Jeremy Saulnier

17. It Follows directed by David Robert Mitchell

16. Gone Girl directed by David Fincher

15. Captain America: The Winter Soldier directed by Joe Russo & Anthony Russo

14. Starred Up directed David Mackenzie

13. Force Majeure directed by Ruben Östlund

12. Under The Skin directed by Jonathan Glazer

11. Boyhood directed by Richard Linklater

10. Grand Budapest Hotel directed by Wes Anderson

9. Frank directed by Lenny Abrahamson

8. Citizenfour directed by Laura Poitras

7. The Raid 2 directed by Gareth Evans

6. Wild Tales directed by Damián Szifrón

5. Whiplash directed by Damien Chazelle

4. Venus In Fur directed by Roman Polanski

3. Enemy directed by Denis Vileneuve

2. Nightcrawler by Dan Gilroy

1. Birdman directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu