Top Ten Greatest Black & White Comic Book Series of All Time (Monochrome May Special)
Welcome to a special Monochrome May edition of Top Ten. In honor of our month’s theme, today we’re spotlighting the top ten greatest black and white comic book series of all time. Being that the definition of a comic book is “a magazine that presents a serialized story in the form of a comic strip” we will absolutely be including magazine-sized comic books on this list. In several instances there may have been multiple mini-series released within the series. We are counting all of those releases as part of the flagship title.
Read on and be sure to let us know which titles or series we may have left out in the comments below!
#10 – Batman Black and White
Premiering in 1996 as a four-issue mini-series, Batman Black and White featured 8-page stories from a host of guest writers and artists. This was truly a showcase of the best of the best creators that the industry had to offer at the time. Names such as Joe Kubert, Archie Goodwin, Bruce Timm, Mike Allred and Moebius graced just the first issue alone. By the time the four issues concluded, fans realized they were part of something historic.
The series proved popular enough that it spawned four additional volumes of releases, with the most recent being 2021. (We reviewed the first volume here!) It also launched a hugely popular statue series spotlighting the designs of many of the artists that were part of the franchise. Batman Black and White is as popular now with fans as it has ever been. I would not be surprised to see DC continue the series with a volume six in the future.
#9 – Sin City
Here we have a place-holder for the various Sin City mini-series and one-shots that exist, not including any appearances of the titular franchise in the Dark Horse Presents comic book series (more on that later). Sin City is a black and white noir-styled franchise created by Frank Miller, focusing on the fictionalized city of Basin City (aka Sin City). Miller is the singular creative force behind this franchise, serving as creator, writer and artist.
Sin City entered mainstream audiences’ radar thanks to the 2005 film starring Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, and Mickey Rourke. Titles included in this comic book franchise are: A Dame to Kill For, Hell and Back, The Big Fat Kill, That Yellow Bastard, and the original graphic novel Family Values. If you’re looking for a place to start reading this series, I recommend A Dame to Kill For. Yes, that was indeed the name of the movie sequel, but you’ll get a better look at the source material and a true feeling for the roots of this franchise by starting with that classic.
#8 – Dark Horse Presents
Dark Horse Presents (DHP) debuted in 1986 and was the newly formed publisher’s first ongoing series. An anthology black and white series, DHP ran until 2000, totaling over 150 issues (not including anniversary issues, annuals, etc.). The series included short stories that concluded within the same issue as well as serialized storylines that ran through several issues of the title.
Several of Dark Horse’s licensed lines saw short stories published within the pages of DHP, including Aliens, Predator, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A number of creator-owned IP’s saw their first appearances in the pages of DHP as well, such as Concrete, Sin City, and Next Men. Most impressive however, were the sheer number of comic book legends that contributed to this title. Creators such as Bernie Wrightson, John Byrne, Frank Miller, Walter Simonson, Kelley Jones, Al Williamson, and Mike Mignola are just a few of the names you’ll see in the pages of DHP. Readers can find plenty of great jumping-on points within the series thanks to so many short stories. If you can’t track down a copy of #1, might I suggest issue #20 which features a double-sized 64-page format, or DHP #34-36 which feature the first Aliens vs. Predator crossover storyline.
#7 – Vampirella
Vampirella first saw publication in 1969 and ran for 112 until its publisher Warren filed for bankruptcy in 1983. In that time however, Vampirella built a loyal fanbase and was one of the premier ongoing horror titles. Originally conceived as being another horror anthology like its other publications Eerie and Creepy (more on them later) Vampirella morphed into a series focusing on the titular character.
Vampirella would continue her adventures when publishers such as Harris and Dynamite obtained the rights to the character. It’s that initial run of black and white issues from Warren by creators such Jose Gonzalez, Archie Goodwin and Frank Frazetta that have this title appearing on our list. Vampirella was so popular during its height that there was even a motion picture in the works, starring Barbara Leigh as the titular character. Leigh also graced the cover of several issues (see issues #67, 69, 71, 74, 76, 77, 78). Unfortunately, the movie never came to fruition. Luckily for readers, the series lives on in both new adventures and numerous reprints dedicated to keeping this unique character alive.
#6 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) was a phenomenon the likes of which I’ve yet to see duplicated. The brain child of creative partners Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, TMNT would go on to spawn multiple cartoon series, motion pictures, and merchandising which has not seemed to stop since the initial action figures first debuted decades ago.
Still, it was the original black and white comic book series from Mirage Studios that started it all. Running from 1984-1993 and lasting only 62 issues, TMNT followed the adventures of four anthropomorphic turtles and their rat master. Although often depicted in pop culture as pizza loving party animals, the original series was much darker in tone and depicted themes of death, loss, and family struggle, along with the occasional pizza. TMNT the comic book series has always maintained its demand with comic book collectors. Luckily the adventures have been reprinted numerous times, several of which in color. I highly recommend seeking out reprints of the original series in their intended black and white. If you’re only familiar with the TMNT franchise from the movies or cartoons, you’re in for a big surprise.
#5 – Usagi Yojimbo
Making his debut initially in the anthropomorphic anthology series Albedo by Fantagraphics in 1984, Usagi Yojimbo has found world-wide acclaim after decades of incredibly hard and profound work from his creator, Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo is set in a world where anthropomorphic animals take the place of humans. The titular character is a wandering ronin during the Edo period of Japan’s history, where he finds random work as a bodyguard in his travels.
Usagi has had some mainstream media attention in the past, including appearing in multiple Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series as well as their associated toy line. An upcoming Netflix CGI-animated series will most likely bring even more attention to this character. Usagi Yojimbo the comic book has been published by several publishers, including Fantagraphics, Mirage Studios, but most prominently through Dark Horse where he had a 165-issue run between 1996-2018. This spot is a placeholder for each of those black and white series. Yes, there have been color adventures, and even color reprints of the originals, but Usagi Yojimbo is predominately a black and white series. It’s that time in black and white that puts him in the top five of our rankings.
#4 – Cerebus
Cerebus the Aardvark was an independently published comic book series by Canadian creator Dave Sim, who published an astounding 300 consecutive issues of his black and white creation from 1977-2004. Eagle-eyed readers will make the claim that there are only 299 issues, but loyal readers will be quick to point out that there was one double-sized issue (#112/113) which served as two-books in the series. When Cerebus ended its run at #300, it was in the Guinness World Records title for the longest-running creator-owned superhero comic book series. That title was eventually surpassed by Todd McFarlane’s Spawn.
The initial basis for the series was a sort of parody/homage to Conan the Barbarian with an anthropomorphic aardvark in the lead role. The series morphed over time, changing themes and exploring controversial topics. Along the way, Dave Sim was joined by background artist Gerhard, and the franchise found a loyal following and inspired several creators to self-publish their own work as well. Cerebus is still in production to this day, not only in reprint form, but with new issues. The most recent one-shot Flaming Cerebus Comics is a parody of the Flaming Carrot series, and was released in 2021.
#3 – Eerie
Eerie magazine was hastily launched in 1966 in ashcan form in an effort for its publisher Warren to establish the rights to the title. The idea was to introduce a competing series for its wildly popular Creepy magazine. With the launch of issue #2, Eerie morphed into its intended format, as a magazine-sized bi-monthly black and white horror anthology. It used its host, Cousin Eerie, as a bridge between stories to introduce the reader to each tale.
Eerie experienced early success, and had several top name talents contributing to the book. Unfortunately, with Warren suffering from some financial difficulty just a few years after launch, and with Creepy still being the publisher’s best seller, focus on Eerie dwindled. Several issues were released containing reprint material. Still, there were moments in Eerie in later issues where significant talent from Spain and the Philippines was brought in to breathe new life into the struggling series. Similar to Vampirella, the title ceased publication in 1983 after 139 issues, when Warren Publishing filed for bankruptcy. If not for that period of reprint material, Eerie could potentially even have ranked higher on our list.
#2 – Savage Sword of Conan
Our first and only Marvel series on this list, Savage Sword of Conan (SSOC) was a creative goldmine for Marvel, inspiring some of the best creators at the time to work for the publisher. SSOC followed the adventures of Robert E. Howard’s most famous creation. Conan’s exploits were legendary and the writers clearly enjoyed spinning tales of his vast adventures, having him play the part of thief, warrior, barbarian, reaver, or what-have-you. The possibilities were endless, and it was clear the staff at Marvel wanted to explore them all.
Introduced in 1974 with a stunning Boris Vallejo cover, SSOC would go on to run for 235 issues, and ended its incredible run in 1995. During that 21-year period, SSOC would introduce mainstream readers to not only the world of the Hyborean age, but creators that many would become lifelong fans of, including: Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Joe Jusko, Bob Larkin, Earl Norem, Boris Vallejo and many more. SSOC always seemed out of place at Marvel for many. Here was a black and white magazine-sized sword and sorcery themed book in a sea of full color superheroes. Even so, SSOC still inspires fans. The series has been reprinted numerous times, and there are books dedicated just to the artwork of the series. Mention Conan comics to any fan, and the first series they’ll bring up is Savage Sword. One of the greatest black and white comics ever produced.
#1 – Creepy
The third Warren title to appear on our list, Creepy takes the top spot as the greatest black and white comic of all-time. Similar to the Eerie format, Creepy was a bi-monthly black and white magazine-sized horror anthology. Hosted by Uncle Creepy, the series would launch in 1964 and run up to Warren’s demise in 1983. In that time frame, the creative output from this series was like nothing else. Without the restrictions of the Comics Code Authority, and under the helm of writer and editor Archie Goodwin, Creepy would capture the imagination of its readers and inspire future writers and artists to work in the medium.
The list of creators who contributed to this series reads like a who’s who of talent. Names such as Frank Frazetta, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, Steve Ditko, Angelo Torres, Bernie Wrightson and many more graced the pages of this series. Creepy ran for an incredible 145 issues, and is still being reprinted today. There was a series of Creepy reprints that focused solely on individual art contributors, but more recently, Creepy was released in archive format by Dark Horse Comics. Some of the initial issues may be too pricey to track down for casual readers, but there are still some great individual issues that can be purchased at an affordable price. Of all the black and white comic books I’ve read in my 40+ years reading comic books, Creepy stands out to me as the single greatest series. If you like horror, if you like anthology/short story telling, if you like incredible artwork, then this is the title for you.
That’s the full list! Do you have a favorite black and white comic series that didn’t make our cut? Be sure to let everyone know in the comments! And be sure to check out our previous Top Ten lists here!
Thanks for reading!
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