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.

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.

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 comic books of all-time: 61-70

70. Kane by Paul Grist (Dancing Elephant Press, 1996)

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Not sure how this happened, but these 10 additions to my list seem packed with excellent crime comics like Kane. Paul Grist is woefully under appreciated on this side of the pond, but his work hits the sweet spot between mainstream & indie, and no artist outside of Mike Mignola uses shadow & lighting as effectively as he does.

69. Perry Bible Fellowship by Nicholas Gurewitch (Dark Horse, 2001)

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I don’t think anyone has ever crammed so much story into 3 panels as Nicolas Gurewitch. Each strip feels like just a 3 panel peak into a 350 page epic that we’re just getting a taste of. Quite possibly the funniest comic strip ever made.

68. Phonogram by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie (Image, 2006)

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It’s easy to label this as the best comic about music ever made, but in reality, it’s the best comic about passion ever made. Because that’s what Gillen is working with here: Love. Love of music, to be sure, but love nonetheless. Gillen & McKelvie have evolved into one of the strongest creative teams in the business right now.

67. Battlefields by Garth Ennis & various artists (Dynamite, 2008)

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Garth Ennis gets way more attention for works like Preacher, or more recently, Crossed. But Battlefields really showcases that combination of action & character that makes Ennis such an important writer, and tones down the dumb attempts at toilet humour that he seems convinced needs to be part of much of his work. War & Comics have always been a well matched pair, and Battlefields is one of the better recent examples of that.

66. Fell by Warren Ellis & Ben Templesmith (Image, 2005)

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While Ellis & Templesmith continue to be harassed as to when the next issue is coming out, I’m content with what we’ve got: 9 issues of detective comic weirdness. In some ways Fell is a great companion piece to Kane, at least tonally, though Templesmith’s moody collages couldn’t be more different than Grist’s cartoony expressionism.

65. Mister X by Dean Motter & various creators (Vortex, Dark Horse, 1983)

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Impossibly dense, impeccably stylish, and perfectly crafted, Mister X is a truly timeless comic book. Motter’s art deco illustration combined with his twisty noir approach to storytelling, make Mister X one of those rare comics that you can learn new things from, every time you revisit it. Motter drew inspiration from Bauhaus art & Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and Mister X’s influence can be felt on everything from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, to everything that was influenced by Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

64. 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso (Vertigo, 1999)

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Yep, another crime comic. But 100 Bullets isn’t just any other crime comic. In fact, more than a few people consider this to be the best crime comic ever made. I’ll beg to differ, but there’s no arguing that Azzarello & Risso are a phenomenal creative team, who seem to produce their best work when creating together. 100 Bullets is one of the great epics of modern comics.

63. Petrograd by Phillip Gelatt & Tyler Crook (Oni Press, 2011)

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Historical fiction is an overly used genre in comics, but it’s usually used as an excuse to add fantastical elements to familiar stories (What if JRR Tolkien fought dragons? What if Napoleon was a zombie?). Petrograd resists that temptation, and grounds it’s speculation firmly in fact; Namely, the fact that British spys were in Russia at the time of Rasputin’s death during WW1, and may have been responsible for said death. Phillip Gelatt deftly plots this supposition to it’s logical conclusion, and Tyler Crook became a comics art superstar immediately upon publication due to his incredibly confident pencil work. A real gem.

62. The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple (First Second, 2014)

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The only book on this list that hasn’t actually been released yet. I’m hesitant to talk about this one too much, but if this doesn’t end up being my favourite graphic novel of the year, I’m going to eat my hat.

61. The Creep by John Arcudi & Jonathan Case (Dark Horse, 2011)

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A modern noir classic, that didn’t get nearly enough attention when it came out a few years back. Our hero is Oxel Karnhus, a private detective with advanced Acromegaly. It’s a debilitating condition in which excess growth hormone causes sometimes deforming growth. Oxel’s college sweetheart calls him to help solve her son’s suicide, and so John Arcudi spins up 4 issues of some of the best noir ever put to page in modern comic books. Jonathan Case is a superstar in the making. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!