Paste's Favorite Comics of All Time: Contributor Shea Hennum

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This Thanksgiving season, the Paste comics crew is taking a deep, inquisitive gaze into our bookshelves, iPads and souls to pay thanks to the books that set us upon a lifelong love affair with an art form that gives so much more than it takes. What makes this medium so much more addictive to us? It could be the near-endless modern mythologies, the rotating cast of hyper-talented storytellers and artists, the sterling optimism of mainstream super heroics or the branching literary epiphanies from the indie library. (Also: it’s smarter. Comic books singularly engage both the visual and symbolic dimensions of our brains, leading to a far more complex, and arguably gratifying, deciphering process.)

For the next two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, each member of the Paste Comics Team will be taking a reprieve from basting turkeys and hiding their parents’ Josh Groban holiday albums to dive into their favorite comics of all time. Feature writer, reviewer and manga/europhile Shea Hennum unearths the international ‘80s gamechangers of Frank Miller, Moebius and Katsuhiro Otomo.

Paste’s Favorite Comics of All Time
Barry Thompson, Contributor
Tobias Carroll, Contributor
Tini Howard, Contributor

10. From Hell

Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Eddie Campbell
Publisher: Top Shelf

It took 10 years for Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell to finish serializing From Hell. And why not? The series is nothing if not ambitious. It's an intensely visceral attempt to solve the mystery "Who is Jack the Ripper?" But Moore takes a holistic approach and tries to "solve" the whole of Victorian England. Rendered with Campbell's scratchy aesthetic, the book is the truest embodiment of the term "graphic novel," and it reads like the Platonic ideal of what Moore has spent his entire career questing to achieve. For me, it's one of the best examples of what comics can do—formally, aesthetically, intellectually. It's not a lot of fun, but it is compelling.

9. Hellboy

Writer: Mike Mignola
Artists: Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo
Publisher: Dark Horse

Mike Mignola comics are just cool. That's not a question. It's a fact. With his use of shadows and his blocky, abstract aesthetic, he's incapable of producing anything that doesn't look awesome. Mignola isn't out to make the most complex comics on the racks, but he is interested in making something sincere and heartfelt, something pulpy, something fun, something with a very human core. In that goal he succeeds. And he does it by ensconcing his characters in the opaque blacks of German Expressionism and pitting them against Nazi cyborg gorillas. Chris Ware is interesting and all, but is there anyone who would rather read Jimmy Corrigan being sad than read Hellboy eating pancakes for the first time?

8. The Metabarons

Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky
Artist: Juan Gimenez
Publisher: Humanoids

If you read The Metabarons then you don't really have to read another Jodorowsky comic. The El Topo director manages to hit every single one of his bizarre obsessions and fetishes into the mammoth saga of the greatest family of assassins in the universe's history. Gimenez' work on the series is often undersold, and as the series drags on, it would be almost unreadable without his signature style and grimy, slimy colors. That may sound like a criticism, and it is; the series isn't perfect. But Metabarons mostly consists of high points—explorations of genealogy, family, power, and loss rendered in extraordinary detail by Gimenez. It's like peering directly into Jodorowsky's id (or the id of his public persona), and sometimes that's an irritating experience, but mostly it's a rewarding challenge.

7. Appleseed

Writer/Artist: Shirow Masamune
Publisher: Dark Horse

There aren't a lot of things I like better than comics about sociology, politics and economics where robots have shoot-outs. Fortunately, Appleseed is all of those things, and Shirow Masamune expertly incorporates violence into discussions about the evolution of geopolitical dynamics. In fact, there was a period when Shirow was writing some of the smartest comics in the medium, and drawing some of the best looking ones, too. I can't say I'm a fan of his latter-day work, but Volume 4 of Appleseed is one of the best-drawn comics. Period. And the way he plays around with time and spatial relationships in that volume's infamous knife fight forced me to deconstruct a comic page for the first time. I needed to understand how and why it worked the way it did. Not a lot of comics since have had such an effect on me.

6. Heavy Liquid

Writer/Artist: Paul Pope
Publisher: DC/Vertigo

I actually think Paul Pope's 100% is the better comic, but Heavy Liquid plays more in a sandbox that I tend to enjoy. The graphic novel leans heavily on its noir roots, a great example of the tricks Pope picked up while he was grinding away in the manga industry. It's a book where its author digests all manner of Japanese and European influence and they all congeal into an interesting crime comic full of overt references to Pablo Picasso. Like a lot of other books on this list, it just appeals to my sensibilities more than anything. It's sci-fi (light on the science) inflected with noir, brimming with international influences. And like a lot of other books on the list, Heavy Liquid proves inventive and weird and personal, and Pope makes more interesting choices per page than most cartoonists do in their careers.

5. Ronin

Writer: Frank Miller
Artists: Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

Yeah, this is the peak of Frank Miller's career. Hard Boiled almost made it into this list, but it just barely got edged out. Ronin features Miller riffing on Lone Wolf & Cub and Moebius, and there's nothing in his career that looks better. I'm a sucker for cyberpunk stuff, and this delivers on that front. But at its core, Ronin is a weird comic. It's Miller clawing at the boundaries of what mainstream comics could do, what American comics could look like, stretching its creator's artistic capabilities. Sin City knocks, and Dark Knight Returns remains a masterclass in inventive page layouts, but there's nothing quite as personal and bizarre as this samurai cyberpunk trans-generational love story.

4. Akira

Writer/Artist: Katsuhiro Otomo
Publisher: Kodansha

I can't overstate how much Katsuhiro Otomo's comic means to me. The Akira series and the anime adaptation have shaped so much of what I think is cool or good comics. The use of sound effects, the clothes, the technology—this is the benchmark everything else gets compared to in my head. Every time I re-read it, I'm always awed by Otomo's sense of space, scope and design. His cities and characters feel real. There's a visceral sense of impact when you watch Neo-Tokyo blow up, and there's never a question about the fashion sense of the street-punk protagonists. You just get that, "Yes, they would totally dress all cool and shit like that." Sci-fi isn't a genre I love innately, but this kind of tech-light earth-based cyberpunk sci-fi just resonates for reasons that I don't, and don't care to, understand.

3. New Gods

Writer/Artist: Jack Kirby
Publisher: DC Comics

People give the '70s Kirby material a lot of flack for being too weird and hippy-dippy, but that's the most inventive period of his career for me. He was pumping out Kamandi, The Demon and OMAC—the wildest, most insane concepts, all of which dwarfs the '60s Marvel comics he did. Those Stan Lee collaborations always receive the lion's share of praise, and those first appearances of Galactus are untouchable, but I don't understand how those can even compare to his Fourth World cycle. With New Gods, Kirby literally set cosmic fire to every other pantheon of gods and had the swagger to say, "Alright, here are my guys, and they're the best." Nobody does that anymore. No one is even attempting to claim the crown. New Gods is representative of a guy working at his peak and making sure everyone else knew it.

2. Dragon Ball

Writer/Artist: Akira Toriyama
Publisher: VIZ Media

How can I not love Dragon Ball? People tend to deride the series (particularly, its second part—Z), calling it big, dumb and childish. And it totally is. There are weird poop jokes, and almost all the characters' names are puns that will fly over the heads of American readers. But Dragon Ball is also a serious contender for the funniest comic of all time, and it's the GOAT fighting comic. Toriyama is a seriously talented cartoonist, and he blends action and humor (and wonderful car designs) into something much smarter than people give it credit for. But my love for Dragon Ball exists on a gut level: the series is heartfelt and sincere. It's the product of a wildly-skilled cartoonist trying to have the most fun he can. What more could I want from a comic?

1. Airtight Garage

Writer: Moebius

There is no hyperbole when it comes to this comic. It is, for me, the alpha and omega. Everything that the medium can do is on display. There's nothing else to it. Moebius is comics' greatest draftsman and its most imaginative practitioner—he's influenced…well…basically everyone. While I highly encourage everyone to seek out any Moebius, Airtight Garage is an interesting locus for all of the cartoonist's obsessions and interests. It's criminally out of print at the moment, but it is the dude working at the top of his game. It's fun, smart and formally compelling. Each page is packed with enough ideas to fill a thousand novels, and anyone who reads through it will have their brains irrevocably expanded. I genuinely believe in the ability of art to improve the people who consume it, and I think Airtight Garage is something that has a lot to teach people.