Here is our collection of the 20 greatest graphic novels in comic book history with the first part breaking down No. 20 down to No. 11…stay tuned for part two!
By Trevor Dueck — Staff Writer
Follow on Twitter @TrevDueck
I’m by no means a comic book expert but I do like to pick up an occasional graphic novel to read from time-to-time. So I thought I would talk to a few people and come up with a top twenty list. I had a tough time trying to figure out a good order and I probably failed, so just look at this list as graphic novels I recommend reading. If you are a casual reader like me or maybe you are looking for something different, here is a great list of classic graphic novels you should check out and include in your library. Today we start from #20 to 11. Enjoy.
20. A Dame to Kill For (Sin City) – Frank Miller
I was a fan of the entire Sin City series. This was #2 in the series, released in 1993 by Dark Horse Comics, written and illustrated by the legend himself…Frank Miller.
Synopsis: Stuck with nothing but a seedy gumshoe job and some demons, Dwight’s thinking of all the ways he’s screwed up and what he’d give for one clear chance to wipe the slate clean, to dig his way out of the numb gray hell that is his life. And he’d give anything. Just to feel the fire. One more time. But he can’t let himself lose control again, can’t ever let the monster out. And then Ava calls. With a new look generating more excitement than ever before; a third edition has been released as the story will be on the silver screen as the sequel to Sin City expected to be released in the Summer of 2014. The third edition is the perfect way to attract a whole new generation of readers to Frank Miller’s masterpiece!
19. 300 – Frank Miller
If we are doing a best of list there is no doubt that a lot of Frank Miller’s work will be included. 300 is another classic that was released by Dark Horse Comics in 1998. Although it’s not necessarily historically accurate, it’s still a kick ass story that was written and illustrated by Frank Miller with painted colors by Lynn Varley.
Synopsis: An emperor amasses an army of hundreds of thousands, drawn from two continents, to invade a third continent and conquer a tiny, divided nation. Only a few hundred warriors stand against them. Yet the tiny nation is saved. It sounds like the plot of a preposterous fantasy novel. It is historical fact. In 481-480 B.C., King Xerxes of Persia raised forces in Asia and Africa and invaded Greece with an army so huge that it “drank rivers dry.” Then they entered the mountain pass of Thermopylae and encountered 300 determined soldiers from Sparta….
18. Transmetropolitan: Vol. 1: Back on the Street – Warren Ellis
A post-cyberpunk comic book series written by Warren Ellis, with art by Darick Robertson, this is simply one of the best comic series of the last few years, mixing great characters, drama, humour and using the futuristic setting to parallel present day problems with wit and biting satire. DC’s Transmetropolitan Volume One is a collection of monthly issues #1-6 of the acclaimed Vertigo series that was launched in July of 1997. The series was later reprinted in an array of ten trade paperback volumes, and also featured two “specials” (I Hate It Here and Filth of the City) with text pieces written by the Spider Jerusalem character and illustrated by a wide range of comic artists.
Synopsis: After years of self imposed exile from a civilization rife with degradation and indecency, cynical journalist Spider Jerusalem is forced to return to a job he hates and a city he loathes. Working as an investigative reporter for the newspaper The Word, Spider attacks the injustices of his surreal 23rd century surroundings.
17. Ghost World – Daniel Clowes
Although I never personally read it, there has to be a place on the top 20 for Daniel Clowes 1997 cult classic that also spawned a movie in 2001. It is a darkly graphic novel which became a commercial and critical success; it was very popular with teenage audiences. The story was an intermittently sombre exploration of friendship and modern life, Ghost World has become renowned for its frank treatment of adolescence. Powerfully and authentically spelling out the realities of teen angst it’s beautifully drawn, with a subtle and convincing storyline.
Synopsis: This graphic novel tells of the adventures of Enid Coleslaw and Beck Doppelmeyer, two bored, supremely ironic teenage girls. They pass the time complaining about the guys they know and fantasising about strange men they see in the local diner.
16. From Hell – Alan Moore
This is another great piece of fiction written by the master of comics in Alan Moore and drawn by one of the best artists in Eddie Campbell. The book eventually became a critically acclaimed film directed by the Hughes brothers in 2001. Moore and Campbell created a gripping, hallucinatory piece of crime fiction about Jack the Ripper, the most infamous serial murderer of all time. Many have said that ‘From Hell’ is a modern masterpiece of crime noir and the most detailed works of fiction regarding the Whitechapel murders ever written. Alan Moore names Dr. Gull as the villain and creates the most compelling and terrifying psychological study ever undertaken. Many are going to wonder why I haven’t ranked this in the top ten, but like I said in the introduction, it was very difficult to rank these classics.
Synopsis: The premise of the book is taken from Stephen Knight’s theory that the Jack the Ripper murders were part of a conspiracy to conceal the birth of an illegitimate royal baby fathered by Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence. Without giving too much away, it’s an interesting take on a dark tale.
15. Batman: Year One – Frank Miller
In the late 1980’s DC started re-writing the histories of many of its legendary heroes except they felt that Batman should stay true to the history that was written in 1939. That said the editors felt the public should know more about how Batman got started in his vigilante ways. In 1988 the legendary Frank Miller and artist David Mazzuccelli decided to retell the story of how Bruce Wayne became Batman with some edge and darkness added for good measure.
This really is one of the greatest Batman stories ever and one of Frank Miller’s best – high on the list of most important and critically acclaimed Batman adventures ever, Year One defined Batman for a new generation!
Synopsis: It’s the story that tells the beginning of Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming one of the greatest super heroes of all time. Lieutenant James Gordon deals with corruption in Gotham’s police force, and Batman has early difficulties in protecting and using his arsenal of weapons, and the first villains he chooses to pursue. There are many cool surprises and should be a must have for all Batman fans.
14. V for Vendetta – Alan Moore
Remember, remember the 5th of November! Another classic written by the great Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. This is probably one of the most influential graphic novel of all time. It has created the Guy Fawkes mask into a worldly icon for fighting oppression. Many demonstrators across the world will dawn the Fawkes mask as a way to hide their identity while protesting. The world famous hacker group Anonymous uses the mask as their logo. The book was written in the early eighties and was made into a film in 2005. The overall message of anarchy and the story of V have stood the test of time and the book has actually had a rebirth over the last five to six years. It’s a very important graphic novel to have in your collection.
Synopsis: The story depicts a near-future UK after a nuclear war, which has left much of the world destroyed, though most of the damage to the country is indirect, via floods and crop failures. In this future, a fascist party called Norsefire has exterminated its opponents in concentration camps and now rules the country as a police state. V, an anarchist revolutionary dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask, begins an elaborate, violent, and intentionally theatrical campaign to murder his former captors, bring down the government, and convince the people to rule themselves.
13. Maus: The Complete Maus (Maus I and Maus II combined) – Art Spiegelman
This is the first graphic novel to have ever won the Pulitzer Prize and many other awards. Completed in 1991 by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman, it’s a book that is part autobiography, and one part historical fiction. It depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. What makes this graphic novel so unique is the depiction of races of humans as different kinds of animals, with Jews as mice, Germans as cats and non-Jewish Poles as pigs. The book has become a literary wonder and has been used in English classrooms around the world. It is considered by many to be the most important graphic novel ever written.
Synopsis: In the frame tale timeline in the narrative present, beginning in 1978 in Rego Park, New York, Spiegelman talks with his father about his Holocaust experiences, gathering material for the Maus project he is preparing. In the narrative past, Spiegelman depicts these experiences, starting in the years leading up to World War II. Much of the story revolves around Spiegelman’s troubled relationship with his father, and the absence of his mother who committed suicide when he was 20. Her grief-stricken husband destroyed her written accounts of Auschwitz.
12. Preacher: Vol. 1: Gone to Texas – Garth Ennis
I remember an old college roommate of mine throwing this graphic novel series at me and I couldn’t put it down. This is not a series you want to give to your child as it is very raw and violent. Preacher focuses on narrative storytelling with an unapologetic handling of religious and supernatural themes. Preacher’s full-on, with dark and frequently violent humor, plus a wide range of allusions to popular culture outside of comic books. Once you start reading volume one, you will want to read the rest of the chapters in one sitting. I personally believe it is Garth Ennis’s finest work.
Synopsis: After merging with a bizarre spiritual force called Genesis, Texan preacher Jesse Custer has become completely disillusioned with the beliefs to which he had dedicated his entire life. Now possessing the power of “the word,” an ability to make people do whatever he utters, Custer begins a violent and riotous journey across the country.
11. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Vol. 1 – Alan Moore
As you can tell by now there seems to be an Alan Moore theme on this list. The man is a genius and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Vol. 1 is one of his best pieces of work. Illustrated by Kevin O’Neill and put together in 1999, the concept of this novel was influenced by DC’s Justice League but instead we have an all-star team of heroes from classic Victorian literature like Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, the Invisible Man, and others. The book was also the influence for a film of the same name released in 2003, but the film only borrowed from the book and didn’t really follow the same storyline which was a shame. I highly recommend picking this up as it is a rare and wonderful treat for any fan of chronological storytelling and another example of how much the graphic novel medium can add to the written word. This is a very fun read and that is why it is high on my list.
Synopsis: What if Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dr Henry Jekyll (together with Edward Hyde) and the Invisible Man were brought together by a Miss Mina Harker (who once had a dalliance with a certain Count from Transylvania), to fight the menace of Fu Manchu? Now, despite fighting their own personal demons – and each other – they must join forces to save the world.