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

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

buddha_1_HC-600x813

 

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)

monstermen2

 

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)

changler-overview

 

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)

heck_001

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)

untitled-2-1330464741

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)

image 3 (p. 49).400 pixel width of page

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)

buttonmannowarning

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)

Strangers in Paradise 2010 print

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)

roadtoperditioncomics2

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)

i-kill-giants

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…

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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)

nightlynews02p03-04-1289428545

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)

damnsoapopera

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)

richard-corben-gallery-9

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)

hip_flask_and_Savanna_by_moritat

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)

jason musketeer

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)

smoke012

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)

Barry-Ween_4098

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)

blacksad1-page5-case2

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)

dmz_box_art

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)

Green-River-Killer-Eisner-Jonathan-Case-565x441

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!