50 Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels - Rolling Stone
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The 50 Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels

Disaffected hipsters, cyberpunk dystopias, cranky ducks and boy geniuses: Here are the greatest comic-story collections that don’t feature caped crusaders

We live in an era superhero movies, and while some of us still love a good guy-in-a-cape-fights-for-truth-justice-etc. comic book, some counterprogramming is in order. Here are 50 outstanding comics — graphic novels of literary fiction, journalism, sci-fi, fantasy, the works — that do not contain superheroes whatsoever.

Note: No daily or weekly newspaper strips were included here, so apologies to outstanding works like Peanuts, Doonesbury, Calvin and Hobbes, Dick Tracy, Life in Hell, anything by Saul Steinberg, and Krazy Kat (still the Beatles of newspaper comics). Also, fanpersons, we’re aware that chances are your favorite title is not on here; you’ll undoubtledly hate the ranking order; and you’ll find some selections idiosyncratic at best and outrageous at worst. But since those of us who love comics also love nothing more than complaining about comics, you’re welcome.

3

‘Maus,’ Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegleman had been serializing the extraordinary story of his father’s time in Auschwitz in his art-comix magazine Raw since 1980, with mice standing in for Jews and cats for Nazis. After some revisions, Pantheon published the game-chaing first half in 1986, popularizing the term “graphic novel” in the process. (A sequel, a partial reflection on the success of the first half, arrived in 1991.) The language barely existed to honor such a creation, yet that didn’t stop Spiegelman’s anthropomorphic story of wartime atrocities from winning a special Pulitzer in 1992. It’s the single best comic of a year that also produced Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which is saying something.

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2

‘Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Boy on Earth,’ Chris Ware

The graphic novel that really started the “No, seriously, maybe this stuff is worthy of, say, an American Book Award and the Guardian First Book Award.” Along with Dan Clowes, Ware practically owned the Nineties when it came to alt-comics largely thanks to this story, first serialized in the Chicago paper, New City. The writer-artist turned his hyper-detailed, delicately designed style into the story of a very lonely middle-aged man who meets his father for the first time, intercutting the familial repetition-of-tragedy-through-generations of the family and stretching the narrative back to the Civil War and the 1893 Chicago Exposition — settings that beautifully complement Ware’s ragtimey design style. It’s easily the emotional equal of anything by Dave Eggers (a devout fan) or Zadie Smith.

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1

‘Love and Rockets,’ Los Bros Hernandez

Imagine the Clash or R.E.M. or Run-DMC not only never broke up, but, for 30 years, never once released a less-than-excellent record. Imagine their command of their craft just became more pronounced year after year, earning the unshakable admiration of their fans and peers. Imagine they made the best record of their career, 30 years on, this decade. This is essentially what Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez have done with Love and Rockets, the greatest American comic book series of all time.

Hell, between Jaime’s “Locas” storyline on aging punks (probably the best piece of fiction about punk ever created) and Gilbert’s “Luba,” a semi-magical-realist epic about several generations of a Central American family, they are two of the most important contemporary Latino writers of their generation. Not to mention that Jaime’s recently collected storyline, “The Love Bunglers,” is a stone-cold masterpiece. Their entire body of work is as essential as anything by, well, the Clash or R.E.M. or Run-DMC.

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