2. All-Star Superman, by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Frank Quitely
The ‘05–‘08 comic book series that DC Comics claimed would “strip down the Man of Steel,” did just that, breathing new life into the superhero with classic, straightforward storytelling and beautiful art. Timeless.
What to read next if you love it: Astro City, by Kurt Busiek
3. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, illustrated by Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley
Originally published as periodical comics in ‘86, this is arguably the finest Batman yarn ever told and inarguably the coolest Robin in all of Robinhood. Frank Miller is a master of storytelling and the Batman of Dark Knight Returns is 55 years old, super grumpy, and absolutely perfect. He is accompanied by 13-year-old Carrie Kelley — girl Robin and tenacious badass.
What to read next if you love it: Batman: The Long Halloween, by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
4. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, the run of Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Alex Maleev
Bendis is one of the most talented superhero storytellers of our time and the complex, blind superhero Daredevil is even more compelling than usual in his capable hands. Bendis’ Daredevil stories, which ran from ‘01–‘05, read less like traditional superhero adventures and more like urban noir detective stories — with just a pinch of heightened senses. His and Maleev’s run is collected in a three-volume “ultimate collection.”
What to read next if you love it: Daredevil: Born Again, by Frank Miller
5. Hellboy, by Mike Mignola
Since first appearing in a San Diego Comic-Con Comic in ‘93, Hellboy has appeared in a multitude of comics, books, and two feature films. Hellboy is a good-hearted demon/superhero summoned from hell to earth as an infant by Nazi occultists. He grows up to become an agent for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, a delightful invention of Mike Mignola’s comics world. The books are adventure stories told with several heaping cups of hilarity, and as soon as you start them you’ll be a fan for life. There are many trade paperbacks collecting the comics — the first is Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, and the best are Conquerer Worm and Wake The Devil.
What to read next if you love it: B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth & Other Stories, by Mike Mignola
6. Kingdom Come, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
This alternate-universe story, originally published in ‘96, is set in a future where Superman and Wonder Woman (among other traditional superheroes), are on the edge of war with a group of young upstart vigilantes. Batman stands between the two groups, trying to contain both sides of the impending battle that could end the world. Sound fun? It is! The breathtaking art of Alex Ross doesn’t hurt either.
What to read next if you love it: Marvel: Civil War, by Mark Millar
7. The Maxx, by Sam Kieth
In the universe of The Maxx (‘93–‘98), there are two worlds: “The Outback,” where the titular big purple guy is a superhero protecting a jungle queen, and the real world, where he is a homeless man protected by a social worker named Julie Winters. Julie’s own Outback helps her cope, as well, from a personal history of rape and violence. The Maxx is witty and weird, but also loaded with heavy emotions and empathy for all of the weirdo characters contained within, even the villains. The comics are collected in six volumes of trade paperbacks, but the first few are currently out of print. There’s also a surprisingly faithful animated MTV adaptation from the ’90s, which covers issues 1–11 of the regular series and can be viewed online.
What to read next if you love it: Swamp Thing, by Alan Moore
8. Planetary, by Warren Ellis, illustrated by John Cassaday
With comics that ran from ‘98–‘09, Warren Ellis created a sprawling, epic history of 20th century pop culture in the form of a superhero story. The titular Planetary organization consists of three superheroes who describe themselves as “archaeologists of the Impossible” as they attempt to uncover the secret history of the 20th century. Joss Whedon wrote that “Warren Ellis draws inspiration from so many cultural wellsprings that his work truly does become a sort of history of the twentieth century as it exists in popular fiction. But this is no mere pastiche — Ellis both subverts and elevates the elements he takes, making them fit perfectly his own epic vision.” The comic is collected in both trade paperbacks and a gorgeous two-volume Absolute Planetary hardcover.
What to read next if you love it: Transmetropolitan, by Warren Ellis
9. Spider-Man: Blue, by Jeph Loeb, illustrated by Tim Sale
This limited series (‘02–‘03) by masters of mood Loeb & Sale is a melancholy story told primarily in flashbacks, which recounts Peter “Spider-Man” Parker’s ongoing grief for his long-passed girlfriend Gwen Stacy. Although it’s a pretty recent addition to the canon, Blue captures the angst of the Spider-Man story beautifully.
What to read next if you love it: Hulk: Grey, by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
10. Superman: Red Son, by Mark Millar, pencilled by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett
The premise of this ‘03 miniseries is simply “What if Superman had been born in the Soviet Union?” The result is the freshest and most exciting possible variation on the man of steel, and perhaps the best of the many “Elseworlds” stories in the ever-expanding DC comics multiverse. The perfect series for anyone who thinks they don’t like Superman.
What to read next if you love it: Superman: Earth One, by J. Michael Straczynski
11. The Uncanny X-Men, and run of Chris Claremont, illustrated by John Byrne
If you’re trying to figure out how to break into the complex world of X-Men, seeking out Chris Claremont is your best bet. He wrote the Uncanny X-Men from ‘75 to ‘91, and in that time was largely responsible for fleshing out the strong female leads of the series and introducing smart, complex literary themes to the mutant’s adventurous lives. The Essential Uncanny X-Men, Vol. 2 collects both the “Dark Phoenix Saga,” arguably the best X-Men story of all time, and also “Days of Future Past,” the popular tale that is next in line for the X-Men film franchise.
What to read next if you love it: Astonishing X-Men, the run of Joss Whedon
12. Watchmen, by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons
One of the most acclaimed comics ever published, Watchmen is a work of art and a masterpiece of structure, dialogue, plot, art, and every other goddamn piece of the comics-creating puzzle. Originally serialized from ‘86–‘87, the collected Watchmen was the only graphic novel to appear on Time’s 2005 “All-Time 100 Greatest Novels” list, where Lev Grossman wrote that it was “a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read and a watershed in the evolution of a young medium.”
What to read next if you loved it: Powers, by Brian Michael Bendis
13. The Adventures of Tintin: The Black Island and other books, by Hergé
First appearing in ‘29, the adventures of Belgian reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy were written and primarily (and delightfully) illustrated by Georges “Hergé” Remi. Hergé created a world of adventure that has since had a widespread influence on both comic artists and feisty children the world over.
What to read next if you loved it: The Adventures of Asterix, by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
14. Airtight Garage, by Moebius
A comic strip that is equally compelling and experimental, by the artist and writer Jean “Moebius” Giraud. The strips originally appeared in the French magazine Metal Hurlant (in America: Heavy Metal) between ‘76–‘80, and have since been compiled in books. Journalist and critic Chris Mautner wrote that Airtight Garage is “the only comic I have ever read that feels alive. It digresses against itself, doubles back, thinks, laughs, pauses, lurches, and eventually gracefully dances.”
What to read next if you loved it: Cerebus, by Dave Sim
15. Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo
The groundbreakingly artistic dystopian cyberpunk story Akira initially ran from ‘82–‘90 in Young Magazine in Japan and was later one of the first Japanese “manga” series to be translated and republished in its entirety in the U.S. The comic’s creator, Katsuhiro Otomo, went on to write and direct an anime version of Akira, which was released in 1988 and is considered a landmark film in the genre.
What to read next if you love it: Fullmetal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa
16. Bone, by Jeff Smith
Independently published from ‘91–‘04, Jeff Smith’s Bone is the rare case of a book that is totally appropriate for children but equally entertaining for adults. Smith was heavily influenced by both Moebius and Walt Kelly’s Pogo, as well as more traditional fantasy novels. The result is a singular smoothie of whimsical funnies and epic fantasy adventure.
What to read next if you love it: Usagi Yojimbo, by Stan Sakai
17. Fables: Legends in Exile and other collections, by Bill Willingham, illustrated by various artists
Fables, a series that began in 2002, deals with various characters from folklore and fairy tale who have been forced from their homeland and formed a community in New York City known as Fabletown. Fables has won 14 Eisner Awards and has been referred to as the best comics series currently being produced. Popular television series such as Grimm and Once Upon a Time are thought to be inspired by (/ripping off) the comic, which is still ongoing and awesome.
What to read next if you love it: Jack of Trades, by Bill Willingham
18. The Invisibles, by Grant Morrison, illustrated by various artists
Following the adventures of a cell of The Invisible College, a secret organization battling against physical and psychic oppression, The Invisibles (‘94–‘00) is eccentric Scottish writer Grant Morrison’s flawed but boundary-smashing masterpiece. Morrison has claimed that the “magical influence” of the book made him sick, and also that much of the story was told to him by aliens who abducted him in Katmandu, and yet the work itself is gripping and complex, pulling you into a world so trippy you’ll have trouble seeing straight when you look up. There are seven trade paperbacks, starting with Say You Want a Revolution and a single volume, 1,500-page omnibus edition.
What to read next if you love it: 20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa
19. Lone Wolf and Cub, by Kazuo Koike, illustrated by Goseki Kojima.
First published in ‘70, Lone Wolf and Cub is one of most critically acclaimed and influential manga series ever. The story spans 28 300-plus-page volumes, totaling over 8,700 pages, and is beautifully drawn and executed. The series tells the tale of Ogami Ittō, who is forced to take the path of an assassin after his reputation is marred by false accusations. He seeks revenge on the clan that disgraced him, bringing his 3-year-old son Daigorō along with him. The series has inspired seven films and two TV series. Dark Horse Comics has released the full series in North America, translated and in 28 small paperback volumes.
What to read next if you love it: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, by Hayao Miyazaki
20. Preacher, by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Steve Dillon
From ‘95 to ‘00, Garth Ennis wrote the most profane and violent series going in a world full of profane and violent comics. Preacher chronicles the story of Jesse Custer, a preacher in a small Texas town who is possessed by a supernatural creature. Genesis, the creature who possesses him, is the product of an angel and a demon and contains both pure goodness and pure evil and has power that rivals God. Custer, now bonded to Genesis and a superhero of sorts, goes on a trip seeking God, accompanied by ex-girlfriend Tulip and a vampire named Cassidy. Influenced by the power of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, Ennis created many of the most memorable new characters in recent comics history and entertains the reader all the way through. There are nine trade paperbacks that anthologize the entire series, starting with Preacher: Gone to Texas.
What to read next if you love it: Sin City, by Frank Miller
21. The Sandman series, by Neil Gaiman, art by various artists, covers by Dave McKean
Many people consider Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (‘89–‘96) series to be the very best in the history of the medium. Certainly, the series sets an incredibly high bar for what comics can do, the scope of the stories they tell, and the beauty of the art within. Makal Gilmore wrote in Rolling Stone that it is “the most imaginative and transfixing book in mainstream comics today — and also the most radical. It tells eerie, loopy, sometimes desolating tales about capricious, ill-starred gods and frail humans, and it pulls off the rather neat trick of making Death, at long last, something to die for. Yet even in its most otherworldly moments, Sandman’s greatest (and most disturbing) strength is that all its horrors, and all its hopes, are only as profound and familiar as the human heart itself.” Ready to have an adventure? Start with the first trade paperback, Preludes and Nocturnes.
What to read next if you love it: Cages, by Dave McKean
22. The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard
Before it was famously adapted by AMC, The Walking Dead took the zombie trend of the early ’00s to the printed page with gory, unforgiving action starring the poor soul Rick Grimes and his makeshift team, as well as the creepiest villain this side of the 21st century, The Governor. The comic is ongoing, meaning once you catch up with the 17 current trade paperbacks (plus a new one to be released later this month), you’ll have a fun excuse to visit your local comic book shop on Wednesdays and keep up with th — braaaaaiiiiiiins.
What to read next if you love it: The Punisher MAX, by Garth Ennis
23. Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Pia Guerra and others
A dystopian tale that ran from ‘02–08 and now consists of a series of 10 paperbacks, Y: The Last Man is the story of Yorick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand, who appear to be the last male mammals left on earth. The collapse of the earth’s infrastructure after all men on earth have simultaneously died provides the fascinating backdrop to Yorick and Ampersand’s adventures. Y: The Last Man’s somewhat playful premise belies its complex allegories and the abiding affection you’ll feel for many of the characters long after you’re through.
What to read next if you love it: Duncan the Wonder Dog, by Adam Hines
24. Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson
The adventures of precocious 6-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes delved regularly into matters of ethics, environmentalism, the problems of public education, and a boatload of philosophical and scientific conundrums. Oh, and it was also hilarious. The strip ran in papers from ‘85–‘95 and represents the rare case of something as universally loved and popular as it was brilliant and subversive. In ‘05, Andrews McMeel Publishing released a gorgeous three-volume edition that collects all 3,160 Calvin strips.
What to read next if you love it: Robot Dreams, by Sara Varon
25. The Far Side, by Gary Larson
A single-panel comic that ran from ‘80–‘95 and introduced an entire generation to surrealism. The strip’s humor was based on weird anthropomorphic situations, logical fallacies, and inexplicable events. The enduring mystery of the always-mysterious Far Side really seems to be “how did something so completely bizarre end up carried by almost 2,000 newspapers and translated into 17 languages?!” Thanks, Gary Larson, for making weird kids feel a little less weird for all those years.
What to read next if you love it: Feiffer, by Jules Feiffer
26. Krazy Kat, by George Herriman
A newspaper strip that ran from ‘13–‘44 and chronicled the love triangle between the titular Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse, and the bulldog Offissa Bull Pupp. The premise is slapstick: Ignatz tries to throw bricks at the lovelorn Krazy Kat, who interprets the flying objects as love letters, while Bull Pupp attempts to intervene and keep the peace. But Krazy Kat is visually and verbally elaborate and imaginative, and was one of the first comics celebrated as serious art and literature. Among the cartoonists who cite Krazy Kat as among their strongest influences: Charles M. Schulz, Patrick McDonnell, Bill Watterson, Will Eisner, Chris Ware, Sam Hurt, and Jules Ffeiffer. Where would we be without Krazy Kat? I dare not imagine.
What to read next if you love it: Eyebeam, by Sam Hurt
27. Moomin, by Tove Jansson & Lars Jansson
Finnish Tove Jansson’s chapter books for children have been celebrated worldwide for decades. Her newspaper comic strip, set in the same Moominvalley as her books, ran from 47–‘48 and then from ‘54–‘75 (in latter years, the strips were then taken over by her younger brother Lars), and was largely forgotten up until recently, when Drawn & Quarterly began reprinting the strips in beautiful hardbound editions, seven in total. These comics are earnest and charming, recounting the adventures of Moomintroll and his family, and they celebrate family, food, nature, and adventure. What more do you need?
What to read next if you love it: Little Nemo, by Winsor McKay
28. Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz
Arguably (?) the greatest comic strip there is, Peanuts is of course the story of Charlie Brown, his dog Snoopy, and their many friends. Peanuts ran from ‘50 to ‘00, with 17,897 strips in total, all of them written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz. In an issue of The Comics Journal, cartoonist Tom Batiuk wrote that “just beneath the cheerful surface were vulnerabilities and anxieties that we all experienced, but were reluctant to acknowledge. By sharing those feelings with us, Schulz showed us a vital aspect of our common humanity, which is, it seems to me, the ultimate goal of great art.” Fantagraphics is in the midst of releasing beautiful volumes of the entire run, that will total 25 volumes once complete. Additionally, most of the comics are available legally online at GoComics.
What to read next if you love it: Pogo, by Walt Kelly
29. Life Is Hell by Matt Groening
A weekly comic strip by Simpsons creator and genius Matt Groening, which began as a self-published comic book in ‘77 and ran as a weekly strip in alternative newspapers from ‘80–‘12. The strip explored a wide range of topics such as love being hell, school being hell, and life being hell. Its dark humor ran along the same lines as the early, great Simpsons, and the books that collect these strips are treasures that should be on everyone’s bookshelves. Akbar & Jeff forever.
What to read next if you love it: Bloom County, by Berke Breathed
30. 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente, by Wilfred Santiago
A joyfully illustrated non-fiction biography of Puerto Rico’s great baseball player, Roberto Clemente. 21, published in ‘11, captures both the grit of Clemente’s scrappy style of play, and the beauty of the generous way he lived his entire life. Good for all ages, and should be required reading for kids in need of a hero.
What to read next if you love it: Cross Game, by Mitsuru Adachi
31. Buddha, by Osamu Tezuka
This non-traditional biography of Siddhartha/Buddha was written by the genius Osamu Tezuka and originally published in Japan from ‘72 to ‘83. The translated North American version of the comic is available in eight total volumes. The series is gritty and irreverent, at times downright slapstick, but also deeply thoughtful, spiritual, and inspiring. The best of manga.
What to read next if you love it: Daytripper, by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
32. From Hell, by Alan Moore, illustrated by Eddie Campbell
Alan Moore’s most literary work, originally published from ‘89 to ‘96 and collected in ‘99, is an intricately woven speculative look “behind the scenes” of Jack the Ripper. To give you an idea of the scope of Moore’s aim here, there are about 30 some-odd pages of annotations in the back of this giant tome. Reading From Hell is a headfirst dive into a world of conspiracy theory, terrifying horror, and the inner workings of a sociopath’s mind. Not for the faint of heart, but one of the greatest achievements in modern comics.
What to read next if you love it: V For Vendetta, by Alan Moore
33. Louis Riel, by Chester Brown
Chester Brown’s collected-in-‘03 “comic-strip biography” of the possibly insane 19th-century Métis leader Louis Riel skips across the lines between journalism, historical writing, memoir, and essay. Brown doesn’t seem to have made up his mind about how exactly he feels about Riel, and the reader is left with as many questions as answers at the book’s end — which is precisely what makes the book groundbreaking and utterly delightful.
What to read next if you love it: Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, by Ben Katchor
34. Maus, by Art Spiegelman
Considered by many to be the pinnacle of comics-as-literature, Maus is Art Spiegelman’s 1991 blend of history, fiction, and memoir. The novel depicts Spiegelman himself as he interviews his father about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, and then tells his father’s story, beginning in the years leading up to World War II. The story is told with anthropomorphic animals — Jews are mice, Germans are cats. Speigelman himself spoke in an interview about why the comics format works so well for Maus: “I’m literally giving a form to my father’s words and narrative, and that form for me has to do with panel size, panel rhythms, and visual structures of the page. […] More than a few readers have described [Maus] as the most compelling of any [Holocaust] depiction, perhaps because only the caricatured quality of comic art is equal to the unseeing reality of an experience beyond all reason.”
What to read next if you love it: Berlin, by Jason Lutes
35. Palestine, by Joe Sacco
An intense work of comics-as-journalism chronicling Sacco’s experiences in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from December ‘91 to January ‘92. Sacco portrays the plight of the Palestinian people, details their history, and doesn’t shy away from presenting the squalor of some of the conditions he witnessed. The book also plays with the idea of whether a journalist can truly be a neutral observer as Sacco attempts to document but also involves himself in the lives of the people he encounters. This wonderful, groundbreaking work was originally published in ‘96.
What to read next if you love it: Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, by Guy Delisle
36. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud
Essential reading for, well, understanding comics. McCloud breaks down the way that stories are told visually and explains everything from smiley faces to speech bubbles. Fascinating stuff that will stick with you long after you’ve breezed through this book. Published in ‘93 — before many of the books on this list, there are elements of Understanding Comics that are now dated, but it’s still worth reading “one of the most insightful books about designing graphic user interfaces ever written” (according to Apple Macintosh co-creator Andy Hertzfeld).
What to read next if you love it: Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel & Matt Madden
37. American Elf, by James Kochalka
From 1998–2012, James Kochalka documented the everyday trials, joys, and minutiae of life with a comic strip every single day. His honest, frills-free approach to writing and drawing has been praised by the likes of comic-writing legend Frank Miller, who said that “[Kochalka] reminds me of me when I was six years old and I came into my mother’s kitchen with a bunch of sheets of typing paper folded over and stapled in the middle that were covered with drawings and I said, ‘Mom, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.’ I’ve learned a lot from people like Kochalka because they do stuff that shouldn’t work but does.”
What to read next if you love it: Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz
38. American Splendor, by Harvey Pekar
Harvey Pekar began chronicling his normal existence in Cleveland, Ohio back in 1976. Interested in comics, but not an artist himself, Pekar recruited his friend Robert Crumb, among many other talents, to illustrate his tales of working as a fire clerk, the story of his relationship with wife Joyce and their adopted daughter, and his struggles with money. The comics were adapted into an eponymous film starring Paul Giamatti in 2003.
What to read next if you love it: The Poor Bastard, by Joe Matt
39. Blankets, by Craig Thompson
An autobiographical memoir by the gifted artist and writer Craig Thompson, Blankets is as true and earnest as stories come, earning its status as a favorite of both comics readers and normals alike. The book is big and breathtakingly gorgeous, but its greatest strength is the sincerity and ease of Thompson’s storytelling. Thompson lyrically relates the tale on his coming of age, his first love, and his struggles with faith. Blankets won prizes at all three major comic book awards in ‘04, and it has already influenced a new generation of comics artists.
What to read next if you love it: Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story, by Frederik Peeters
40. Clumsy, by Jeffrey Brown
Published in ‘03, Clumsy introduced many to the painfully awkward, self-aware, sweet world of Jeffrey Brown and his relationships with girls. Brown depicts himself honestly as needy and cloying, but also sincere and thoughtful; and as he navigates a long-distance relationship, it’s hard not to find yourself cringing and crying and celebrating along with him. Once you’re done, he will feel like a friend whose candid confessions make you feel a little less alone.
What to read next if you love it: Perfect Example, by John Porcellino
41. Epileptic, by David B.
One of the finest memoirs — comic or not — of recent years, Epileptic is French master David B’s story of growing up with his older brother Jean-Christoph, who is struck by epilepsy at age 11. As their parents dragged them about seeking a cure, Jean-Christoph became increasingly sick, and David became increasingly angry, releasing his frustration by drawing fantastic, elaborate battle scenes. Honest, elaborate, and deeply stirring.
What to read next if you love it: Capacity, by Theo Ellsworth
42. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Longtime writer of the strip Dykes to Watch Out For, Bechdel turned to her own family and childhood with her first graphic memoir. Fun Home took Bechdel over seven years to complete, due to a rigorous process that included poring over family photos and photographing herself posing for each human figure in the book. Fun Home is the story of little Alison and her father, and the rest of the details are perhaps better left for when you read it. It is groundbreaking and revelatory.
What to read next if you love it: Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, by Ellen Forney
43. My Trouble with Women, by Robert Crumb
A good introduction to the wild world world of Robert Crumb, if you’re into that sort of thing. An influential storyteller and artist, Crumb has said that his three passions in life are “sex, music, and art.” This collection focuses on the first of those passions and on Crumb’s particular fixation on Amazonian women, feet and legs, and bubble butts. Crumb’s work isn’t for the easily offended but it is essential reading for both comics enthusiasts and those who share his, uh, enthusiasm for beautiful women.
What to read next if you love it: Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, by Justin Green
44. One! Hundred! Demons!, by Lynda Barry
Originally serialized in Salon and then published in ‘05, this book enthusiastically and joyfully dives into an ocean of memories, joy, and lists. Barry writes and draws loopy cluttered narratives about topics such as her personal demons, the smells of people’s houses, the colors of head lice, and her rescue of abused dogs. Delightful and celebratory, this one will make you happy.
What to read next if you love it: My New York Diary, by Julie Doucet
45. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Iranian-born French artist and writer Marjane Satrapi’s brilliant and candid ‘00 memoir of her childhood and early adult years in Iran, during the Islamic revolution and its aftermath. Expertly told and incredibly humanizing, one hopes that children worldwide will grow up reading this book and beginning to understand that we are all more alike than one might imagine.
What to read next if you love it: Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda, by Jean-Philippe Stassen
46. Stitches: A Memoir, by David Small
The story of what a young David Small endured when the radiation his father exposed him to through his radiology practice took its toll and a growth began to form on David’s neck. At age 14, he underwent surgery to remove the cyst and woke up from the operation to find he no longer had a voice — one of his vocal cords had been removed and he was virtually mute. Jules Feiffer wrote about the ‘09 graphic novel and said, “Like the boy in this autobiographical novel my first reading of Stitches left me speechless. And in awe. David Small presents us with a profound and moving gift of graphic literature that has the look of a movie and reads like a poem. Spare in words, painful in pictures, Small, in a style of dry menace, draws us a boy’s life that you wouldn’t want to live but you can’t put down. From its first line four pages in, ‘Mama had her little cough,’ we know that we are in the hands of a master.”
What to read next if you love it: Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, by Anders Nilsen
47. Aya of Yop City, by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Clément Oubrerie
Marguerite Abouet was born on the Ivory Coast and later moved to France, where she met her husband Clément, an artist. Aya is a collaboration between them that stemmed from her desire to realistically portray the Africa she grew up in, as opposed to the famished stereotypes she saw in the media. The first book, published in ‘05, was Abouet’s first venture into graphic novels and her first published work, and she has subsequently published five more Aya books to great success.
What to read next if you love it: American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang
48. Black Hole, by Charles Burns
Avant-garde writer and illustrator Charles Burns originally published the comics of Black Hole from ‘95–‘06. The comics tell the nightmarish tale of a group of teenagers in the mid-’70s who all contract a mutant STD over the summer that causes them to have a veritable grab bag of bizarre physical mutations. The teens become social outcasts and seek seclusion from society, drawing closer to one another. Metaphor much? A film adaptation of the story has been in the works for many years and has involved (and then uninvolved) Neil Gaiman, Alexandre Aja, David Fincher, and Rupert Sanders.
What to read next if you love it: A Child’s Life, by Phoebe Gloeckner
49. Bottomless Belly Button, by Dash Shaw
Unbelievably, Brooklynite Dash Shaw was not yet 25 years old when he finished his 720-page epic Bottomless Belly Button, which tells the story of the Loony family as they cope with the divorce of parents Maggie and David. Rough cartoony drawings are paired with a mature, emotional story line; the effect is something like a ghost punching you in the gut.
What to read next if you love it: George Sprott, 1894–1975, by Seth
50. Box Office Poison, by Alex Robinson
First published in single-issue form from ‘96–‘00, Box Office Poison is Alex Robinson’s black-and-white story of the drama-infested waters of New York young-adult relationships. Robinson’s stories are realistic in the “are you spying on my life?” kind of way, and this contains a multitude of fun pop-culture references, from Spinal Tap to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Reading BOP is a lot like hanging out with your friends.
What to read next if you love it: Local, by Brian Wood
51. The Contract with God Trilogy, by Will Eisner
Will Eisner began his comic writing career in ‘36 and continued to write and draw comics for the next 60-plus years, completing his last graphic novel the year before he died. But when he published A Contract with God in ‘78, he popularized the term “graphic novel” and changed comics forever. The Comics Journal called the book, which collects the stories of Jewish tenement dwellers in New York City, “the masterpiece of one of the medium’s first true artists.” Eisner followed the first “Dropsie Avenue” book with two more in the following years, and they are all collected together by Baronet Books.
What to read next if you love it: When the Wind Blows, by Raymond Briggs
52. The Collected Essex County, by Jeff Lemire
The introduction to the collected Essex County (published in ‘09) was written by Darwyn Cooke and reads “Essex County is a tremendous achievement. This heartfelt piece of graphic literature surpasses its form to stand as an enduring example of the finest in Canadian literature.” He’s right, this collection leaves “good comic” in the dust as it sails into the field of “good literature” and beyond.
What to read next if you love it: La Perdida, by Jessica Abel
53. Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes
Cult classic Ghost World, originally serialized from ‘93 to ‘97, is all angst and alienation and cool girls who go from being the friends you wish you had to the realistically disappointing people that we all accidentally become.
What to read next if you love it: Hate: Buddy Does Seattle, by Peter Bagge
54. It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, by Seth
Fiction presented as autobiography and featuring Seth himself, along with friends such as fellow cartoonist Chester Brown. The story follows Seth’s obsession with and search for a Canadian cartoonist named Kalo who had contributed to the New Yorker. Since the book was presented as non-fiction upon release, some reviewers tried to seek out Kalo themselves, but he is a figment of Seth’s impressive imagination. Beautifully rendered, as all of his work is.
What to read next if you love it: Hicksville, by Dylan Horrocks
55. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware
Considered by The New Yorker to be “the first formal masterpiece of the medium,” when released in ‘00, Jimmy Corrigan is the story of the titular character meeting his father for the first time as a middle-aged man. Flashbacks show Jimmy’s lonely childhood; while his active imagination depicts him as “The Smartest Kid on Earth,” Ware also flashes back to the character’s grandfather, a lonely boy whose father is abusive. The story is so densely rich, packed with graphic delights and somber realizations, but mostly it’s heartbreaking — so heartbreaking that you’ll occasionally have to put it down, collect yourself, and start reading again as your heart sinks further and further into your gut. A masterpiece, indeed.
What to read next if you love it: Building Stories, by Chris Ware
56. Love & Rockets, by Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez
From ‘82 to ‘96, Los Bros Hernandez penned the cult-favorite Love & Rockets, a sprawling comic containing, among other treasures, the magical realism of Gilbert’s Palomar, and the locas chicano punks of Jaime’s Hoppers 13. Sound complicated? Its rich and long history means that it is, but it’s worth diving into anyway for all the magic and laughter contained herein. Fantagraphics has recently collected the best of each brother’s main story lines into single-volume collections, so that’s a good place to start.
What to read next if you love it: Strangers in Paradise, by Terry Moore
57. Mother Come Home, by Paul Hornschemeier
This book will haunt you long after you read it. The premise is simply a father and son coping with the death of a wife and mother, respectively, deploying varying types of escapism and fantasy while leaving much of what transpires between them unsaid. Released in ‘04, this is a prime example of what graphic novels can do that pictureless literature cannot, as it conveys so much of its somber emotion through drawings, color, and format.
What to read next if you love it: Swallow Me Whole, by Nate Powell
58. The Push Man and Other Stories, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Originally published in ‘69 and reintroduced to a new North American audience by Adrian Tomine in ‘05, Tatsumi’s comic vignettes tell the short stories of sexual deviants and disturbed minds. Tatsumi’s artwork is gorgeous and evocative, but this won’t make you feel good — the characters that populate these pages are dismal and desolate. His work predates most American “alternative” comics and is smarter and bolder than much of what came before and after.
What to read next if you love it: A Zoo in Winter, by Jiro Taniguchi
59. Summer Blonde, by Adrian Tomine
Tomine is, at least artistically, the best in the game. He is an artistic perfectionist whose every panel is as gorgeous and meticulous as the last. The short stories of Summer Blonde, collected in ‘03 from Tomine’s independent comic Optic Nerve, are naturalistic and quiet, with a heavy seriousness and lonely protagonists who have difficulty relating to others. The result is unnervingly realistic and bleak.
What to read next if you love it: Ice Haven, by Daniel Clowes
60. What a Wonderful World, by Inio Asano
A Japanese manga published in the early aughts, containing nine interconnected vignettes featuring the economic and personal crises of a variety of its mostly aimless young characters. Beautifully drawn and melancholy as all get out, the comics equivalent of a Death Cab for Cutie album. Available in two cute translated volumes in North America.
What to read next if you love it: Curses, by Kevin Huizenga
61. Why Are You Doing This?, by Jason
Jason tells straightforward stories with a meticulous attention to detail when it comes to both pacing and his beautiful artwork. In Why Are You Doing This?, released in ‘05, a depressed twentysomething protagonist is drawn into a murder plot and sets out to clear his name. Like Wes Anderson meets Hitchcock, but a comic. “Jason’s work is poetry. Beautiful and frightening. Redemptive and hopeless. He is the Kafka and Keats of the comic world.” — Sherman Alexie
What to read next if you love it: Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzucchelli