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.

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