(as selected by Joe Gross, May 2014)
Summer has become the de facto season of the 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.
No. 50: Puma Blues
by Stephen Murphy & Michael Zulli
(Aardvark One International / Mirage Studios, 1986-1989)
It started as an environmental, post- disaster sci-fi book featuring mutated, flying manta rays as a surprisingly creepy allegory about chaotic pollution - and ended as an almost plot-less prose poem with Zulli's gorgeous animal drawings. Puma Blues is John J. Audubon listening to Crass and dreaming about the Book of Revelations. One of the weirdest comics of a deeply weird era.No. 35: Journey
by William Messner-Loebs
(Aardvark Vanaheim / Fantagraphics Books, 1983-1986)
If the world were a better place, comics fans the world over would know this amazing 1980s series - about a 19th-century Michigan frontiersman named Wolverine MacAlistaire - as the equivalent of Jack London's outdoor tales, illustrated with the comic bounce of Will Eisner's Spirit strips. Yes, of course there is bear fighting! Why would you even ask?No. 16: Cerebus
by Dave Sim
(Aardvark Vanaheim, 1977-2004)
You think you write ambitious, philiosophical graphic novels? Dave Sim would beg to differ. From 1977 to 2004, over 6,000 pages spread over 300 issues, writer-artist Sim - along with his mono-monikered, occasional collaborator Gerhard, who drew the eye-poppingly elaborate backgrounds - created the Remembrance Of Things Past of North American comics. It's a sprawling saga that went from a Conan parody about a barbarian aardvark to a mediation on both governmental and sexual politics, monotheism, the end of Oscar Wilde and, later, Sim's increasingly distasteful philosophy regarding gender and monotheism. The result could be unfocused, pretentious and an extremely tough read at times, yet there remains absolutely nothing like it.