50. Child Star
Writer/Artist: Box Brown
Publisher: First Second
Description: Child Star is a fictional documentary-style graphic novel about how growing up in the spotlight robs young actors of a true childhood.
Child star Owen Eugene had it all: a hit sitcom on prime time, a Saturday morning cartoon, and a memoir on the bestseller list. The secret to his success was his talent for improvisation . . . and his small size. On screen he made the whole world laugh, but behind the scenes his life was falling apart. Hollywood ate him alive.
Inspired by real-life child stars, bestselling author Brian “Box” Brown created Owen Eugene, a composite character whose tragic life is an amalgam of 1980s pop culture.
Why it Made the List: Box Brown is one of the best Cartoonists when it comes to taking a real-life story finding its essence and putting on the page. From stories about video games to the life of iconic wrestlers each book is engaging and informative. So it makes sense he can do the same thing even when the story is based on fiction.
Clearly inspired by actual reality Brown takes aim at celebrity culture and the way in which we celebrate it. I wondered why he would choose to tell a made-up story rather than take from real life especially based on his past history. Now I see why. For one, it would be guilty of the very thing, he is criticizing. How even these tragic stories become fodder for further dehumanization of individuals for the sake of celebrity. How once a person becomes a product they are lost within an endless cycle.
Now Brown does bring the humor as well. The spoofs on American sitcoms are so on point they hurt. Much of the absurdity is found in those moments. Brown is one of the sharpest minds in comics and his consistency is something to admire. You like one of his works you will like them all.
Writer: Alex Paknadel
Artist: Nil Vendrell
Description: Returning to Redfork, West Virginia with a laundry list of sins to make up for, ex-con Noah McGlade finds his coal mining hometown blighted by opioid abuse, economic decline, and a family that wants nothing more to do with him. Tragedy seems to follow on Noah’s heels, as no sooner does he step foot home that his younger brother is trapped in a mining collapse. But when a mysterious wildcat miner named Gallowglass not only saves his brother, but sets off to restore the town to its former glory, he puts the revitalized townspeople on a collision course with Amcore, the energy giant whose relationship with Redfork runs far deeper than commerce. There’s something terrifying lying in wait in the endless tunnels underneath the town, and it’s up to Noah to face his past, and protect the people he loves from forces both human and horrifyingly unnatural.
Why it Made the List: Redfork attempts to do for Coal Country what Stephen King novels have done for New England. The setting and location of this rustic town play majorily into how the horror is executed. Even the main antagonist has a bit of Randall Flagg in him with the way he captivates people to do some truly mind-bending evil things.
By no means am I saying creators Alex Paknadel, Nil Vendrell, and Giulia Brusco are trying to copy King’s style. No, rather what makes King’s work so effective can be found here. There is no question places like West Virginia have fallen on hard times and the fabric of those issues are woven within this narrative.
How major industry has pillaged the land to leave the people in despair, and how the lack of hope has fallen over the citizens like a decaying disease. Many have fallen on hard times and those hard times have become worse due to the opioid crisis. A lack of any type of structure to help those most in need has allowed the worse to prosper. This is a story involving otherworldly monsters but the true villains this is aiming at are clear.
Having an important message can only take you so far. You need a good story as well and that is here. Noah McGlade is an ideal protagonist who seeks to overcome a broken past and fix the place he calls home. These are people who are damaged but they are not lost. Watching them come to that realization is a hell of a journey.
48. Lonely Receiver
Writer: Zac Thompson
Artist: Jen Hickman
Description: Catrin Vander, a lonely video producer, buys an Artificial Intelligence partner that’s meant to bond for life. After ten years together, her holographic wife suddenly disconnects without a warning. The breakup drives Catrin to the point of near insanity. She’s alone for the first time in years and reeling from a loss she can’t comprehend.
Why it Made the List: Lonely Receiver is a type of book that takes a lot out of you–in a good way. It can grab hold of your emotions and stir them like smooshed grapes in a blender. If I am not in the right mental state I find it challenging to get through a full issue. When you do it is such a reward. Now a number of issues in, the horror elements have begun to seep through. There is a level of danger now that I did not fully see coming. I am fearful of what is to come next but excited to read it.
When reading this series it is hard not to relate it to the film Her as both delve into the concept of someone falling in love with an operating system. Their execution of that concept could not be more different. Lonely Receiver has a far more cynical view of that idea as this series is soaked in loneliness and despair. By a bit of twisted serendipity, this book’s message is even more relevant. The isolation that is so vividly demonstrated speaks directly to the world we find ourselves in with the Covid pandemic. Reading this it is difficult not to reflect on your own personal addiction to technology and how we can easily value the wrong types of relationships.
47. The Swamp
Writer/Artist: Yoshiharu Tsuge
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Description: Yoshiharu Tsuge is one of the most influential and acclaimed practitioners of literary comics in Japan. The Swamp collects work from his early years, showing a major talent coming into his own. Bucking the tradition of mystery and adventure stories, Tsuge’s fiction focused on the lives of the citizens of Japan. These mesmerizing comics, like those of his contemporary Yoshihiro Tatsumi, reveal a gritty, at times desperate postwar Japan, while displaying Tsuge’s unique sense of humor and point of view.
The Swamp is a landmark in English manga-publishing history and the first in a series of Tsuge books Drawn & Quarterly will be publishing.
Why it Made the List: This collection of short stories by Yoshiharu Tsuge that are being released in English for the first time. It is like stepping into a time machine as these have remained untouched minus the language change. As someone with limited manga knowledge, I am certain there are things I am missing but I am propelled to learn more.
How this differed from the manga at the time and the influence it has today is not something I can speak to with great insight. Although I can say how extremely tight the storytelling was. Nothing is overly complex but a lot is accomplished in a few pages Character, theme, message were all on display with each entry. Not a wasted moment or frame. Anyone who enjoys Akira Kurosawa or Usagi Yojimbo comics will find similar devices here.
46. Five Years
Writer/Artist: Terry Moore
Publisher: Abstract Studio
Description: The world’s nuclear powers are in a five year race to build the Phi bomb, an apocalyptic weapon that can destroy the planet. Determined to stop them, Tambi sends Rachel and Zoe to Moscow to find and recruit their top physicist. But the pair are met with deadly force, leaving Tambi no choice but to convince Katchoo to leave her wife and children for one last job. All of Terry Moore’s series unite as one epic saga in Five Years. At the center of it all is Katchoo, the haunted woman with a wild past who would do anything for the love of her life, Francine, including leave their island paradise to stop the doomsday device hailed as “The Last Bomb.”
Why it Made the List: Terry Moore has made of career of crafting stories with vast tones that start as one thing and end up as something very different. With Strangers and Paradise and now Five Years it would be like watching Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy where Jesse and Celine suddenly become CIA agents tasked with stopping an alien invasion, and somehow it all makes sense. Moore also showcases he is no slouch in constructing an effective action sequence. If you are brand new to the “Terryverse” not everything may make perfect sense as Moore puts a lot of trust in the audience as the story seemingly never looks backward. So if you are diving in head first as a new reader you may need to let the story find you. Also, it is the perfect excuse to take some time and read some all time great comics like Strangers and Paradise. Win, win.
45. Red Sonja
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Bob Q, Alessandro Miracolo
Description: Acclaimed writer and Eisner nominee MARK RUSSELL (The Wonder Twins, Second Coming) welcomes stunning artist BOB Q (James Bond Origin, The Lone Ranger) for the incredible next chapter of the ongoing saga of Sonja The Red, Queen of Hyrkania.
Hyrkania burns, from flames allowed by its ruler, Sonja. The invasion has taken its toll…hostage kings consider revolt…Sonja will venture into unfriendly lands, to seek an alliance.
Why it Made the List: Red Sonja was never a character I cared a great deal about. So I am unsure how well this series fits into the lore of the character. The only reason I started reading this series is that it is written by Mark Russell who has proven to be one of the best writers on comics today. You can certainly see Russell’s sense of humor with the character of Dragan, but what is surprising is how well he writes a character like Red Sonja. She has that commanding presence and her ability to outmaneuver her opponents makes her more than a skillful warrior in a skimpy costume.
With his run, Russell has used Red Sonja as this vice to examine what leadership looks like and entails. How much of a burden is placed on the head that wears the crown, and how the lessons that person is willing to learn will determine their and their follower’s fate.
This series had had a number of good artists but it was at its best when Bob Q, was drawing. One of my favorite pages this entire year was done by him. In a sequence that was discussing what happens to soldiers after the war it shifts to this page that is like a late Renaissance painting. You have soldiers with that arms extended with empty plates reaching out towards giant closed doors that are protected by arm guards. Those guards have turned their spears towards those begging for scraps despite probably knowing their fate will be similar. Such a powerful image that is extremely relevant for today.
44. Ice Cream Man
Writer: W. Maxwell Prince
Artist: Martin Morazzo
Publisher: Image Comics
Description: See here four more strange and sad stories of the critically lauded horror-adjacent anthology series, ICE CREAM MAN. See here a tetrad of atypical tales: a suppurating superhero satire; a lamentation of lost memory; a field guide for being a ghost; a rotten retelling of your favorite children’s stories. See here some other confections, too. See here, see here!
Why it Made the List: When people ask what is a great comic to read one I always point to is Ice Cream Man. Since each issue is its own self-contained story (for the most part) you can pick it up at any time and enjoy what is inside. That is a rarity for comics and extremely rare for indie books. Fans of shows like Tales of the Crypt have a comic that will hit similar beats-lessons for life learned to the great misfortune of others.
This also made major waves with issue number twenty because of all the Dr. Seuss variant covers. What was missed in that was how great the issue was on top of the fancy covers. Taking classic bedroom stories and giving them a horror twist worked so well. W. Maxwell Prince and Martin Morazzo have some creative minds in how they keep finding new stories to tell in exciting ways. A few years into this run and it is at its highest level still.
43. Streets of Paris, Streets of Murder: The Complete Noir Stories of Manchette & Tardi
Writer: Jean-Patrick Manchette, Kim Thompson (Translation)
Artist: Jacques Tardi
Description: In the never-before-collected Griffu, the titular character is a legal advisor, not a private eye, but even he knows that when a sultry blonde appears in his office after hours, he shouldn’t trust her — and she doesn’t disappoint. Griffu is soon ensnared in a deadly web of sexual betrayal, real estate fraud, and murder. In West Coast Blues, a young sales executive goes to the aid of an accident victim, and finds himself sucked into a spiral of violence involving an exiled war criminal and two hired assassins. This volume also offers a bonus, 21-page unfinished story by Manchette and Tardi, as well as a single page introduction to another incomplete story, both appearing in English for the first time.
Why it Made the List: This collection of short stories, some unfinished, have finally been released in English and we are better for it. This is down and dirty noir that unapologetically lives within the genre. Not that it is a cavalcade of endless tropes. You can see influences all over from Jean-Pierre Melville to Graham Greene. Anyone who is a fan of current books like Criminal or The Parker series will find similar worlds explore here. Flawed characters in broken situations that seemingly only get worse.
42. Hawkeye: Freefall
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Otto Schmidt
Description: Who is Ronin? When a mysterious and ruthless new Ronin starts tearing a destructive path through the city, suspicion immediately falls on Hawkeye – but Clint Barton has more to worry about than who’s wearing his old costume. After a clash with the Hood ends badly, Hawkeye takes on a new mission that places him in the crosshairs of one of New York’s most dangerous villains. But Clint and Ronin are on a collision course – and only one will walk away! As things around him get ever more dangerous, Clint is pushed to make some tough – and probably really bad – decisions. With everything falling apart, can he find a way to get through this crisis with clean hands – or will he be forced to return to his criminal ways? Featuring Spider-Man, Daredevil, Captain America and more of Hawkeye’s Avenging allies!
Why it Made the List: When Covid hit one of the biggest talking points was around Marvel moving a number of series to digital-only. This was part of that list and it lead to a lot of outrage. I got it because a book this good should not be shelved to such a degree. This is Matthew Rosenberg and Otto Schmidt bringing the proverbial Marvel magic.
Since the Matt Fraction and David Aja series Marvel has been trying to repeat that success. This is not that. This is doing its own thing. Much more old school Hawkeye that cannot get out of his own way. Otto Schmidt has this cartoony style that is unlike anything else you will see from the big two. This will go down as another one of those trades you can give to anyone and they will find joy in this story. I get the sense the love for this book will only grow as the years go by.
41. The Winter Of The Cartoonist
Writer/Artist: Paco Roca, Andrea Rosenberg (Translator)
Description: In 1957, Editorial Bruguera was one of Spain’s largest publishing houses, putting out hugely popular weekly magazines and comics for young and old — while retaining all rights and creative control of their artists’ work. Spanish comics superstar Paco Roca investigates the true story of five cartoonists who, spurred by poor working conditions, arbitrary editorial edicts, and nationwide dictatorial rule, went on a quest for creative freedom. Little did they know that the corporation had begun actively trying to thwart their distribution and publishing efforts, turning their battle into a real-life David and Goliath tale. The Winter of the Cartoonist provides historical context and short profiles of these artists as they serve as everyday heroes for all of those who have chased a dream, no matter how high the obstacles that stand in front of them.
Why it Made the List: When thinking of my favorite current cartoonists I often forget to include Paco Raco and based on his latest effort I really shouldn’t. Another tale based on real-life when a group of cartoonists took a risk to create their own magazine Think of it as Image but in 1958 Spain. Raco is a natural storyteller and gives insight into who these people were and the frustration of their state. Similar to American artists they were underpaid and over-controlled. Their plight is clear as is the risk.
More importantly every character feels real and there is never an ounce of melodrama. If anything Raco could have push things a bit more. Still, it is a fitting story about how not all pioneers reach their end goal. Sometimes they just make a path for future generations to follow.
40. A Radical Shift of Gravity
Writer: Nick Tapalansky
Artist: Kate Glasheen
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Description: The world is changing. Gravity, a force everyone takes for granted, has begun to disappear. As a young journalist, Noah spends his days documenting the wondrous and terrifying shifts in the world around him. But Noah’s life is changing, too. Falling in love and raising a rebellious daughter adds new meaning to lie in this mysterious floating world. As he covers the invention of new sports, interviews experts, and even journeys into space, each experience shapes how Noah views the world and, in turn, his relationship with his family. And as his daughter grows older, Noah faces the challenge every parent dreads and dreams of: letting go. A Radical Shift of Gravity is a science-fiction fable: a graphic novel that explores the ties that bind a family together, the forces that threaten to pull them apart, and the quiet beauty of a world where everyone is floating away. Against the wondrous backdrop of massive planetary transformation, this stunning watercolor graphic novel explores one family’s struggle to stay grounded.
Why it Made the List: I was taken back by how much this book speaks to our current Covid crisis. A worldwide scientific event occurs that completely restructures the way society operates and people attempt to cope in alarming and conflicting ways. It was like reading a guidebook on how to operate with our new normal. At its heart, it is this parental story of how one can raise a child in a world of chaos. How to give them a life still filled with joy. I found the way it presents these ideas profound and rightfully complicated. Answers are messy. The idea of Earth losing gravity may link back to a book like Skyward but this is much more cerebral in its approach. Still very emotionally resonant despite the heftier material.
39. DCeased: Dead Planet
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Trevor Hairsine (penciler), Stefano Gaudiano (inker), Gigi Baldissini (inker)
Publisher: DC Comics
Description: The original creative team of Tom Taylor and Trevor Hairsine reunite for the sequel to the 2019 blockbuster series DCeased! After a corrupted Anti-Life Equation turned billions into monsters—including Earth’s Greatest Heroes—our planet was as good as dead. Years later, a distress call brings Damian Wayne, Jon Kent, and Cassie Sandsmark—the Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman of Earth 2—back to a dead planet…but what will this new Justice League find waiting for them? If life still exists on Earth, who—or what—is lying in wait for these heroes?
Why it Made the List: Rarely does a sequel series to a surprise hit lead to such a fantastic book like this. Tom Taylor may be the most consistent writer in superhero comics right now as he continues to shape all his different universes. I have been enjoying this book since the beginning but I was concerned it lacked that major threat you need to keep the series on edge. One that will make you feel time is running out without having a cliche’ timebomb waiting to explode. In issue four that changed in a very, very big way. What I loved too was instead of going directly with that treat the story went elsewhere on a basic sidequest.
There was also the Unkillables and Hope at World’s End mini-series that expanded further upon this universe as well. Taylor loves to leave room for himself to tell these massively expanding stories and I am here for all of it.
Writer/Artist: Yeong-shin Ma, Janet Hong (Translator)
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Description: Lee Soyeon, Myeong-ok, and Yeonjeong are all mothers in their mid-fifties. And they’ve had it. They can no longer bear the dead weight of their partners or the endless grind of menial jobs where their bosses control everything, down to how much water they can drink. Although Lee Soyeon divorced her husband years ago after his gambling drove their family into bankruptcy, she finds herself in another tired and dishonest decade-long relationship with Jongseok, a slimy waiter at a nightclub. Meanwhile, Myeong-ok is having an illicit affair with a younger man, and Yeonjeong, whose husband suffers from erectile dysfunction, has her eye on an acquaintance from the gym. Bored with conventional romantic dalliances, these women embrace outrageous sexual adventures and mishaps, ending up in nightclubs, motels, and even the occasional back-alley brawl.
Why it Made the List: This is Real Housewives if Real Housewives was in fact about real housewives. While it has love affairs, occasional fisticuffs, and plenty of relationship drama this goes deeper to examine how the world has placed these women in lives where happiness is a constant search
Mistakes are made on all sides but what is clear is how society will pressure women to settle. They must seek their approval of living the right kind of life yet ignore the transgressions of men as just the way things are.. Beyond that economical issue, those in a lower status are taken advantage from sexual harassment to being underpaid. Survival is the repetitive beat of being treated as less than. So what happens? We see when a collective group says no more. How they fight for their social and economical freedom.
These women certainly have their flaws and freely admit them That is a major part of what makes this book so interesting. Honesty.
37. Gideon Falls
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
Publisher: Image Comics
Description: After the mind-bending destruction of the Black Barn, our heroes find themselves spread across the Gideon Falls multiverse that it contained within! While Angie struggles to survive in a 1984 version, Clara is alone in an old West version, and Father Fred is a man out of place in the cyberpunk Gideon Falls. And where Norton landed is anyone’s guess. And while these worlds all seem far apart, the Laughing Man is always closer than you think!
Why it Made the List: When this first came out I thought it was going to be this straightforward story about a small town and how it is secretly haunted. Oh, how wrong I was. This year marks the end for this series and it is extremely bittersweet. Each year since it has made its debut it made this list so next year it will be odd to have it absent.
In the meantime let’s celebrate what we have. Despite the lack of clarity, the keys to the book’s success so far have remained–the ability to build atmosphere and the downright insane art of Andrea Sorrentino and colorist Dave Stewart. When you need a book to look moody and full of dread Stewart is the exact person you call. His use of red and black within this series has been some of his best work. As this story has become more and more abstract Sorrentino’s art has expanded in its creative design and layouts. This story would not work without an artist of his ilk. He can create stories within the art itself by the way he lays a page or designs his panels.
36. Lost Soldiers
Writer: Ales Kot
Artist: Luca Casalanguida, Heather Moore
Publisher: Image Comics
Description: Vietnam, 1969. Juarez, 2009. Three men tied together by the war they left behind-on a collision course with the new one. As old grievances resurface close to the border, the bodies pile up. Can the men escape the cycles of violence, or will they be swallowed by them again, this time forever?
Why it Made the List: When I read the first two issues of Lost Soldiers I enjoyed them but the series was not quite there for me fully. Something about it was not clicking. Then issue three came out and it hit an entirely new level.
That issue started with a voracious firefight that was brutal in the most gorgeous way. The coloring did a lot of the heavy lifting to make it appear as if this violence was bringing a literal hell on Earth with it. Now having heart-pounding action is one thing. Saying something about that violence is another. In the second half, everything slows down to a brutal halt. It made me think about the scene in The Hurt Locker where Jeremy Renner’s character goes to the grocery store to showcase how out of place he feels in the regular world. This takes it even further by showing what happens after. What happens when a soldier becomes so lost he no longer has a real home to go home to. There is something jarring about seeing a man who barely escaped death sit alone on a messy couch with no real place to go. Like a tool made for a specific function that no longer exists.
As an overall theme, this plays out the tragedies of Vietnam with the current crisis in places like Juarez, Mexico. How we have developed our systems to isolate this level of chaotic violence to places and people we can easily ignore. While the majority of the world is ignorant of what is happening, soldiers are becoming lost in that sea of chaos.
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Nic Klein, Aaron Kuder
Description: The prince is now a king. All of Asgard lies before Thor, the God of Thunder, and the Ten Realms are finally at peace. But the skies above the Realm Eternal are never clear for long. The Black Winter is coming – and to triumph over this new threat, Thor must be transformed in a most unexpected way! Bursting with new power and set on a dangerous path, Thor will battle friend and foe alike. But can he convince Beta Ray Bill to let him continue his bloody mission to save all that is? The Black Winter has the power to reveal the means of any person’s demise. Thor will glimpse his future – and if the vision is true, Asgard will soon need a new Odinson to take the throne!
Why it Made the List: One of Donny Cates’s greatest skills as a writer is understanding the history of Marvel comics and all the ins and outs. With that knowledge, he also knows where the holes are that have yet to be filled. He’ll answer something small like where Knowhere really came from, or something much bigger like who or what exactly Donald Blake is beyond a secret identity. Confidence is key to do something like this because when you shake things up people will question you no matter what. Ultimately I want to be entertained and intrigued. Mission Accomplished.
I am a bit shocked this book only came out this year. Considering how much has already happened how has this not been a run of a few years? When you start with Galactus you are setting a high bar. Although, my favorite bits maybe those smaller moments, like when Thor gives an everyday man trying to live his life a gift. You can forget that Thor’s tale is ultimately one of redemption. It is nice being reminded of that.
34. Strange Adventures
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads, Evan Shaner
Publisher: DC Comics
Description: Adam Strange is the hero of Rann, a man famous throughout the galaxy for his bravery and honor. After leading his adopted home to victory in a great planetary war, Adam and his wife Alanna retire to Earth, where they are greeted by cheers, awards, and parades. But not all is as happy and nice as it seems, as the decisions Adam made during battles on Rann come back to haunt his family and threaten the entire DC Universe. And now a surprise DC hero will have to choose between saving Adam Strange and saving the world. After winning five Eisner Awards and topping year-end “best of lists,” the comic book of 2019 was Mister Miracle. The comic book of 2020 will be Strange Adventures. The Mister Miracle team of writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads are joined by fan-favorite artist Evan “Doc” Shaner to bring you an epic tale in the tradition of Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and DC: The New Frontier—a story of blood, war, and love that readers will be talking about for years to come. A story like no other, Strange Adventures is an ambitious, thrilling, shocking, and beautiful 12-issue saga that will push Adam Strange to the breaking point—and beyond!
Why it Made the List: Mitch Gerads and Evan Shaner are two of the best artists in comics today and they are showing it. Their contrasting styles come together to make one beautiful book. One of my favorite single issues this year was the sixth installment of the series. What really sold the issue was the conversation between Alanna Strange and Mr. Terrific. They are playing this game of mental gymnastics with one another to the point that they eventually land on sincerity. A conversation about dead kids is next-level despair even for Tom King’s dialog. It works because it shows a side of these characters we have not seen before, yet not fully sure is real. Each issue gives you so much to dissect.
Mistral Miracle may have been a bit more personal as that overall target here is larger in scope. With Mister you had one man’s struggle to find balance within a life of violence. Here we see an examination of the fog of war and what it can do to an individual, a country, and a movement. Where there is no single truth and one does what one has to in order to survive. Does it make someone a hero? A villain? Maybe, neither. Maybe, both.
33. The Rough Pearl
Writer/Artist: Kevin Mutch
Description: In this graphic novel, Adam Kline is an aspiring artist with bleak prospects, stuck in a thankless adjunct teaching gig and married to an ambitious woman tired of supporting his starry-eyed pipe dreams. Just as things seem to be looking up for hapless Adam, he begins to black out at random and awaken in a pitch-dark void surrounded by billions of probing eyes. When these uncanny visions appear in his real life, he starts to worry that he’s losing his mind…
Why it Made the List: What a read. An exercise of the surreal and takedown of the pretentious nature of the artistic society that celebrates its own fabricated self-worth. This is the closest comic I have read that reminds me of a David Lynch movie.
As someone who tends not to like David Lynch it made how much I enjoyed it all the more surprising. Perhaps it was due to the fact that it never took itself too seriously staying true to its thematic core. It was like Lynch through a Daniel Clowes lens. To reveal the book’s surprises would ruin all the fun considering how strange things get.
32. Sports Is Hell
Writer/Artist: Ben Passmore
Publisher: Koyama Press
Description: Some wars are for religion and some are for political belief, but this one is for football.
After her city wins the Super Bowl for the first time, Tea is separated from her friend during a riot and joins a small clique fighting its way through armed groups of football fanatics to met a star receiver that just might end the civil war or become the city’s new oppressive leader.
Why it Made the List: Ben Passmore is one of the most exciting voices in comics today. With this he takes aim at our current social and political environment and obliterates our tribal nature and the hypocrisy that goes with it.
Inventive, chaotic, and pointed Passmore does not give anyone a pass from those who quickly align with White Nationalism to the hallow support that can come from modern liberalism. This isn’t a ‘both sides’ argument more so pointing out the fundamentals being ignored. The anger is palpable and the fuel of this fire. Reading this was a cathartic experience I could only imagine what the process of making it was like.
31. Billionaire Island
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Steve Pugh
Publisher: Ahoy Comics
Description: A savage satire reuniting the critically acclaimed team behind DC’s The Flintstones, Mark Russell (Second Coming) and Steve Pugh (Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass), in an all-new creator-owned series! Welcome to Billionaire Island, where anything goes…if you can afford it. But the island’s ultra-rich inhabitants are about to learn that their ill-gotten gains come at a very high price. Every AHOY comic also features extra prose stories and illustrations.
Why it Made the List: No book did a better job punching upwards this year than Billionaire Island. Dismantling the hyper-capitalist mindset that has led to a world where a select few control and own nearly everything. In a year where unemployment is reaching all time highs and billionaires only see profits rise, Billionaire Island feels like an unavoidable prophecy of what’s to come.
Mark Russell and Steve Pugh take aim to criticize the materialistic nature of these individuals and demonstrate their success has little to do with their own abilities. If you enjoyed what this team did with The Flintstones much of that satirical wit is there just now assigned to an original property.
30. Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence
Writer/Artist: Joel Christian Gill
Publisher: Oni Press
Description: Fights is the visceral and deeply affecting memoir of artist/author Joel Christian Gill, chronicling his youth and coming of age as a Black child in a chaotic landscape of rough city streets and foreboding backwoods.
Propelled into a world filled with uncertainty and desperation, young Joel is pushed toward using violence to solve his problems by everything and everyone around him. But fighting doesn’t always yield the best results for a confused and sensitive kid who yearns for a better, more fulfilling life than the one he was born into, as Joel learns in a series of brutal conflicts that eventually lead him to question everything he has learned about what it truly means to fight for one’s life.
Why it Made the List: This was a brutal read as Joel Christian Gill recalls his childhood and the many hardships he faced. It is admirable seeing a person put themselves out there to this degree and allow all their cracks to show. It is admirable that he overcame the impossible.
On the other side, it is depressing seeing how someone can go through life getting beat down in so many ways by so many people. You kind of just want to hug him to tell him it will be okay but also know that was a bit of a lie. He will eventually get a better life but it is not without much pain along the way.
Gill puts a framework of him looking back at his past life compared to his son’s current life. Seeing him embrace his son with determination to keep him safe was as touching of a moment I read this year.
29. Something Is Killing The Children
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artist: Werther Dell’Edera
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Description: Erica Slaughter may have slain the monster terrorizing the small Wisconsin town of Archer’s Peak, but the horror is far from over. As her mysterious handler arrives in town to clean up her mess and quarantine the townsfolk, Erica sets off deeper into the woods-because the monster she killed was a mother… and now she needs to kill its children.
Why it Made the List: James Tynion IV had quite the year. His run of Batman has been adored by many and his indie titles keep garnering major attention. You could argue he is the hottest writer in comics currently. Something Is Killing The Children is the book that helped push him to the next echelon of creators.
For one that is a bold title that grabs your attention and maintains it with each issue. Let’s not forget the work of artist Werther Dell’Edera as well. He creates some grotesque creatures and when things go crazy it is a sight to see. Who would have imagined the mask iconography this started with would come into play in real life in such a major way. Some of the best accidental marketing I have seen.
28. Canto II: The Hollow Men
Writer: David M. Booher
Artist: Drew Zucker
Description: Book 2 of all-ages fan favorite Canto begins! Once, a little tin slave with a clock for a heart broke all the rules-he found love, he was given a name, and he escaped his masters to go on an epic journey to save his love’s heart. He met strange allies and terrifying enemies and, ultimately, though his adventure didn’t turn out as planned, he returned to his people and led them to freedom.
That freedom is in jeopardy when Canto discovers his people’s clocks will stop unless they return to captivity. He and his friends Falco, Rikta, and Veratta embark on a new adventure to save the lives of all their people. Can they lift the curse before their time runs out?
Why it Made the List: Canto was one of last year’s biggest surprises so with book two the expectations have risen. Canto II like the first installment, has everything you want in a good fantasy tale. Starting with the quest of noble warriors that gets more and more difficult with each step. You care about these characters because they care about one another. So when a major death occurs it matters. Not only because we will no longer get that character but also because of what the loss means for those left behind.
It bears repeating how great the character designs are of Canto and his allies. They have a bit of childlike innocence but you also see these fierce and noble warriors. If you are a fan of fantasy tales like Lord of the Rings this can give you similar feelings. Where you love the journey, you love the characters, and you love the world they inhabit.
27. When Stars Are Scattered
Writer: Omar Mohamed
Artist: Victoria Jamieson
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Description: Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.
Why it Made the List: For those who think YA books are just for kids or do not touch about important topics there is When Stars are Scattered. Omar Mohamed tells his story about living in a refugee camp with his brother during the majority of his childhood. Reviewing these types of books is a bit of impossibility because you are dealing with a real person’s life and experience. This is an eye-opening view into a part of life we honestly ignore. An issue that has been lost recently with the Covid crisis.
The cartooning is strong and contains solid storytelling. Knowing how wide the audience is for this title the art keeps things easy to read and follow/
The mundanity is what got me. How repetitive existence becomes and how trapped people are as they fight to live. Omar’s story is one that is hopeful but shows that hope comes at a cost. Nothing is easy. For those who think immigration is an easy pathway, a read like this can open a lot of eyes.
26. Wasted Space
Writer: Michael Moreci
Artist: Hayden Sherman
Publisher: Vault Comics
Description: Your favorite existential space opera is back for a third round, and this time it’s personal! Internal strife tears Billy, Molly, and Dust apart when a grew of galactic guardians hijacks their ship. Now divided, the team careens across the galaxy. Molly and Dust wage war with an evil sorcerer, while Billy is held captive on a planet that demands he cleanse his twisted soul.
Why it Made the List: In Wasted Space some massive questions like what really is the meaning of life are explored. What would drive a being like God to create existence and allow for free will? Why are we here? What is the purpose? And what burden is laid upon the being that did the creating? Some really deep questions that are given proper artistic expression. When you walk away you stand a little taller knowing comics are willing to go deep like this. They are not afraid to ask the impossible questions. Oh, and there are a few boner jokes tossed in as well. That is what works about this series. It can be really ludicrous and thoughtful at the same time.
Michael Moreci and Hayden Sherman’s Wasted Space is an ambitious piece of Science Fiction that approaches the fatality of humanity and its relationship with the concept of free will. Its brazen sardonic style makes it one of the satisfying reads in comics.