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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!