The Best Non-Superhero Comic Of All Time

Over a year ago, I read this post on 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)


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.


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.


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”.


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.


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.


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: 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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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.


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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.

Best non-Superhero Comics of all time: 41-50


We seem to be in the nerd part of the list, as 6 of the 10 books I’m talking about today are planted firmly within the science fiction genre.

Strike that, I just realized that this entire list is the nerd part of the list. Let’s get back into it, shall we?

50. Finder by Carla McNeil (Dark Horse, 1996)


I could write a hundred pages just about Finder, and it still wouldn’t be enough. One of the most detailed, comprehensively planned comics of all time, Finder isn’t so much a comic book, as it is a world. A worldmight I add, that we’ve only seen a tiny portion of. McNeil’s comics take me forever to read, as they’re not something you can skim through. Ever word has a purpose, and every panel has layers of thematic subtext.

49. Revolver by Matt Kindt (Vertigo, 2010)

Matt Kindt seems to have hit the sweet spot between indie credibility & mainstream success. Super Spy got him mainstream attention, but it’s Revolver that really was his first great work. We’re in pure sci-fi territory here, with our hero jumping between two different realities, with a new jump each time he wakes up. While Kindt has now written dozens of franchise books for Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse, it’s only on books where also does the art, that I feel that his storytelling really opens up.

48. The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowski & Moebius (Humanoids, 1981)


The greatest incomprehensible mess in the history of comics. The Incal by pretty much any definition, is a terrible comic book. The plot makes no sense, the characters are one dimensional, and I couldn’t tell you what it’s about, even though I’ve read it numerous times. So why is The Incal considered such a great book? Because of Moebius, my friend.Because of Moebius. Now, I could have picked literally dozens of other Moebius comics that quite frankly are “better” comics than The Incal. But none of them really showcase his formidable chops as well as Jodorowski’s white whale does. One of the great “art” comics of all time.

47. Scarlet Traces by Ian Edginton & D’Israeli (Dark Horse, 2002)


Do you love War of The Worlds, but thought the wrong team won? Then Scarlet Traces is the comic for you. It’s essentially Edginton & D’Israeli’s sequel to one of the greatest science fiction stories of all time. And it is absolutely fantastic. I’m a huge fan of D’Israeli’s work, but Scarlet Traces might be the very best example of his steampunky brilliance. Check out the the prequel, and sequel, as well.

46. Hark A Vagrant by Kate Beaton (Fantagraphics, 2008)

Hark a vagrant

More of an ongoing anthology of comic strips than an actual comic book, Beaton’s witty & charming approach to history & literary criticism is a perfect pick for that friend of yours that just can’t get into comic books.

45. Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly, 2007)


Tomine’s Optic Nerve has produced some great dramatic short stories over the years, but this 3 issue run may be his magnum opus. Tomine’s sharp, tight lines are a perfect complement to this tense exploration on relationships, race, and cultural identity. Although Ben Tanaka is a loathsome protagonist, our desire to see him “learn his lesson” keeps us engaged, and keeps cheering him on. Wonderful example of how comics can be used as effective character studies.

44. Casanova by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon (Image, 2006)


Fans of the twists & turns of Sex Criminals might be surprised to find that Matt Fraction has written something even more more complicated and obtuse. So much so, that it makes Sex Criminals feel as accessible as the Smurfs, in comparison. Part science fiction epic, part action thriller, Casanova wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve: Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels, Thomas Pynchon’s work, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and dozens of others. Ba & Moon’s frenetic density showcase the unlimited storytelling possibilities capable by modern comic creators, like few comics ever have.

43. Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly, 2004)


Delisle has done 4 graphic travelogues of variable quality, but it’s his in depth adaptation of his 2 month stay in North Korea that has stuck with me the most over the years. The sheer lunacy of a government that teaches it’s citizens that it’s leaders have superpowers is perfect fodder for a draftsman of Delisle’s talent.

42. King City by Brandon Graham (Tokyopop, 2008)


Even more than Casanova, no other comic on this list defies description quite as much as King City does. Technically it’s sexy, funny science fiction, but that really doesn’t do justice to just how whackadoodle King City really is. There’s a plot, kind of. And there’s characters, some times. But what it’s really about, is simply being a wildly inventive comic. What King City is, who the characters are, are fluid, and simply cogs in the mechanics of Brandon Graham’s brilliance.

41. Berlin by Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly, 1996)


This work of historical fiction is set in pre-WW2 Berlin, during the decline of the Weimar Republic. Although Jason Lutes has been working on this for almost 20 years, Berlin still has 6 issues to go before it wraps up. With Berlin, Lutes sets up a diverse cast of characters and puts them against the backdrop of one of the most important settings of the 20th century. There aren’t nearly enough comics like this on the stands these days, and every issue is a masterclass on how to tell small stories, in a big way.

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)


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)

box office poison

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)


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)

Hip Hop Family Tree

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, 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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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.