Paste's Favorite Comics of All Time: News Editor Jim Vorel

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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. In this round, news editor Jim Vorel discovers the depth of ‘80s Vertigo and a whole lotta Batman.

10. Bone


Writer/Artist: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Cartoon Books

Bone is a fantasy epic that is truly fit for any audience, a real all-ages comic that is funny enough for kids, while still being clever and compelling enough a story for adults. The three Bone cousins who make our protagonists are like a modernized Marx Brothers outfit, representing archetypes: The everyman, the joker and the charlatan. They're swept up into a grand, medieval adventure running the full gamut from romance and questing to magic and some surprisingly scary moments. It's a well-balanced story that has something for every kind of comics reader, much in the same way as Fables. They're simply likable characters. If I was introducing my kids to graphic novels for the first time, I'd probably start them on Bone as soon as they were old enough to read it.

9. Preacher


Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Steve Dillon
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

Preacher is the next graphic novel series to get the big AMC TV adaptation treatment, and it's as deserving a property as The Walking Dead was, although significantly weirder and probably a bigger challenge to make into a reality. Preacher is a story about a small-town pastor who becomes physically inhabited by a heavenly being of god-like power, and slowly comes to master his new abilities. It's a bloody, pulpy comic series with tons of great ancillary characters, from right-hand man Cassidy, a hard-drinking Irish vampire, to The Saint of Killers, a western take on the old Grim Reaper trope. Much of the writing that makes Garth Ennis' run on Constantine great also shows up here. It's a decidedly adult series; it will be very interesting to see how AMC tackles its often absurd, violent, sexual and blasphemous storylines.

8. Gotham Central


Writers: Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
Publisher: DC Comics

Gotham Central is another series that made me reconsider what comics could be/were "supposed to be," thanks to its shift in perspective in looking at a familiar universe. It follows Jim Gordon's G.C.P.D. as they tackle street-level crime in Gotham, as well as occasional forays into the well-known rogues gallery of Batman. It's a true police procedural with many complex, fascinating characters who all occupy different stations on the police officer's cross. Being a freaking beat cop in Gotham is a job you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy--can you imagine being a member of a SWAT team trying to take down Mr. Freeze and his absolute zero guns? Every day as a cop in Gotham is a carnival of horrors, so kudos to Gotham Central for making us think about the "average people" who try to make a difference in a world of superheroes.

7. A Contract With God


Writer/Artist: Will Eisner
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Will Eisner's groundbreaking A Contract With God and follow-ups A Life Force and Dropsie Avenue were a fairly big departure in my comics experience when I discovered them in a university library. Credited with popularizing the term "graphic novel," this 1978 work calls on the memories of Eisner's childhood in Brooklyn from the '20s to '40s to tell the lives of various tenement dwellers, dreamers and antagonists all attempting to improve their lots in life. It was a much more realistic, grounded comics series than I had read in the past, and the real-life stories made an impression that will probably always stay with me, particularly in the way I imagine historical New York City. The people of A Contract With God are exaggerated but familiar, and feel like the cast of colorful characters in your grandfather's well-worn war stories.

6. Hellboy


Writer/Artist: Mike Mignola
Publisher: Dark Horse

People who are truly into comics know that Hellboy is one of the best series of the last decade, but outside the faithful, it seems like Hellboy has never really gotten the respect it deserved. Perhaps it's because the pulpy (though entertaining) films never delved too deeply into the lore of the series, or the title character's multifaceted nature, but not enough readers are aware of just how well-written a comic it really is. Hellboy himself is such a great character; the cranky, smart-alecky but empathetic and emotional demon who resists his destiny as a would-be conqueror to slay monsters, seek romance and pal around with ghosts and cats. From beginning to end, he undergoes one of the more satisfying arcs in modern comics, and the series continues on today via Hellboy in Hell.

5. The Walking Dead


Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound

Robert Kirkman's ubiquitous horror franchise sucked me into Walking Dead fandom with its characters and stories more than any other element. As in Game of Thrones, I love how ruthless Robert Kirkman is with his characters—I still get the sense, even now, that he wouldn't hesitate to kill the likes of Rick or Carl if he felt it served the story. I've also been amazed by the way the main story has progressed since the Grimes Gang overcame their biggest adversary--I won't spoil it, but the current storyline has taken their setting into completely uncharted waters that manages to keep The Walking Dead feeling fresh by tackling a whole new era of the post-zombie world. I'm still excited to read every new Walking Dead trade paperback.

4. Hellblazer


Writer: Various
Artist: Various
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

John Constantine is just so cool, and such an inarguable prick, you can't help but love and loathe him at the same time. You have to start with the Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis runs in the late '80s to early '90s to truly understand the roots of the character, his guilt and what drives him to help people and investigate occult happenings in his own sardonic way. Along the way, Constantine gets infused with demonic blood, spits in the devil's face and generally gets every single person he befriends killed somehow. He tries to do good, but in the great celestial balance it's always difficult to tell if John has really done more to help or to harm himself and others. The one constant is that you won't be able to help yourself from chuckling at his audaciousness when dealing with forces far beyond his control.

3. The Sandman


Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Dave McKean, Various
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

The Sandman, along with Watchmen, was probably the first time I started reading a comic specifically because it was "important," that it was something all comics fans should read. I didn't quite know what to make of it at first—the original trade paperback, "Preludes & Nocturnes," only hints at the depths of storytelling present later in the series. Morpheus, the personification of Dream lives among gorgeous, imaginative vistas, in a story that stretches thousands of years and dozens of generations, as the machinations of godlike beings slowly come to fruition. Books of The Sandman are broken up into compelling individual stories that often touch on history and mythology, but it's the way they weave back together into the epic whole of Morpheus' journey toward empathy that makes The Sandman a masterpiece of the genre.

2. Fables


Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Mark Buckingham, Others
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

Fables was one of the first comic series I started reading after Batman, picked up in the same university library after the artwork drew my eye. Once again, I made an incredibly lucky pick in selecting that particular trade paperback off the rack, because Fables went on to become not just a favorite of mine, but one of the finest series of the last two decades. The remarkable thing about it is the diversity of stories that author Bill Willingham was able to tell. Fables borrows liberally from every genre imaginable and explores so many sides of its key characters. There are adventure stories and war stories, espionage/spy stories and romances. Tragedies. Comedies. Horror. Science fiction. Fables encompasses every type of story, because it's a narrative about stories.

1. Batman


Writer: Various
Artists: Various
Publisher: DC Comics

I recall reading The Dark Knight Returns and marveling at how the comics version of Batman could capture the grittiness I had seen a year earlier in the first of Chris Nolan's Batman films. With no context, I'd always mistakenly assumed the comics version of the character would feature a more childish essence, but what I found in the stories of authors like Frank Miller, Jeph Loeb, Brian Azzarello and Grant Morrison was a cold, calculating vigilante. I loved Batman's detective nature and resourcefulness, the way he had a contingency plan in place for every awful scenario. That's ultimately what makes him such a frightening figure in the DC universe—despite the fact that he's sworn not to kill, he has a contingency plan to take down anyone, including his allies. Even superheroes with godlike powers routinely get their asses handed to them by Batman.