25. Catherine’s War
Writer: Julia Billet, Claire Fauvel
Artist: Claire Fauvel
Description: A magnificent narrative inspired by a true survival story that asks universal questions about a young girl’s coming of age story, her identity, her passions, and her first loves.
At the Sèvres Children’s Home outside Paris, Rachel Cohen has discovered her passion—photography. Although she hasn’t heard from her parents in months, she loves the people at her school, adores capturing what she sees in pictures, and tries not to worry too much about Hitler’s war. But as France buckles under the Nazi regime, danger closes in, and Rachel must change her name and go into hiding.
Why it Made the List: When you have a YA book like this that approaches a devastating topic like The Holocaust what you do and don’t say are equally as important. Here the reader and the children in the story are kept at similar distances. It is clear death is ever-present with the German threat growing. Everything from their home to their name to their beliefs are taken from them to remain safe. Catherine’s War shows despite what was taken from them people like Catherine were able to hold onto who they are
Catherine, who she is eventually named to rename safe, is based on a real story and is an inspiring figure. A person despite being a kid herself looked after those around her that needed the safety of a parent-type figure.
Capturing the world around her with her camera she stays at a distance from what seems like a twisted fantasy. At the same time she studies the intricacies of all the new places she is forced to flee to in order to remain safe. This was wonderfully told and illustrated. Catherine comes alive once more.
24. Windows On The World
Writer: Jon Sack, Robert Mailer Anderson, Zack Anderson
Artist: Jon Sack
Description: An undocumented immigrant father has been bussing tables at the famous Windows on the World restaurant to support his family in Mexico. Then, tragedy strikes. His family hears no word for weeks. Refusing to give up hope, they send young Fernando on a quixotic mission across the border to find his father and bring him home. Along the way, Fernando experiences a warm embrace from fellow immigrants and a cold shoulder from The City That Never Sleeps. Told with empathy and nuance, this emotionally resonant story reflects on how the pains of our recent past have shaped the character of America.
Why it Made the List: I did not think there was much new ground when it came to examining the immediate aftermath of 9/11 but this finds some as a son tries to find his father. He was working in the towers as an undocumented worker meaning he will be undertaking this journey alone without support.
Considering the chaos of that time this task seems nearly impossible. While the search is what drives the narrative it is not necessarily the essence of this story. What we see is an exploration beyond that to the soul of who the country became and how this shaped the US as a nation.
How the US can be this monolith looking out to the rest of the world ignorant to the complications of others. How empathy can help seal a wound but is too often overpowered by residual anger. This shows you can better understand your own culture by seeing it through the eyes of an outsider. All that is wrapped within this family story about parenthood and learning life is never as simple as when you are a child.
23. Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children’s Crusade
Writer: Ryan North (adaptor), Kurt Vonnegut Jr
Artist: Albert Monteys
Description: The first-ever graphic novel adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great anti-war books.
An American classic and one of the world’s seminal antiwar books, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is faithfully presented in graphic novel form for the first time from Eisner Award-winning writer Ryan North (How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler) and Eisner Award-nominated artist Albert Monteys (Universe!).
Why it Made the List: Now this is how you do a comic book adaptation of a renewed work of literature. You use the strengths the medium of comics gives you to tell the story in a new and exciting manner. Trust the art to tell the story and find new ways to approach classic material.
Reading through this I would stop and wonder how this could be anything but a comic. When you have shifting timelines that change on instant visual representations strengthened those sequences to make them even more dramatic. The humor is as on point as ever and feels so modern. If someone was to pick this up knowing nothing about the source material not only would they enjoy it but be surprised to know when the original book was published.
22. Year of the Rabbit
Writer/Artist: Tian Veasna
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Description: Year of the Rabbit tells the true story of one family’s desperate struggle to survive the murderous reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized power in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Immediately after declaring victory in the war, they set about evacuating the country’s major cities with the brutal ruthlessness and disregard for humanity that characterized the regime ultimately responsible for the deaths of one million citizens.
Why it Made the List: Every year there are those comics you can hold up as examples of why the medium can be such a powerful tool to tell extremely important stories. That is this book. This depicts just how fragile society is and how quickly it can crumble into chaos.
I have not read much about the genocide that took place in Cambodia in the 70’s so getting to see this account of that time was educational, to say the least. What I found the most surprising was how reserved it was in both depicting tragedy and violence. That will make it a bit more approachable for younger readers (middle school/ high school). You can clearly understand just how dire things are as violence is often In shadows or referred to rather than explicitly shown.
Considering the world we find ourselves in this is worth reading to grasp our own dark history and what we take for granted. And realize the horrors so many endure that drives them to seek a new home despite the cost and danger.
21. Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy
Writer: Dan G. Newman
Artist: George O’Connor
Publisher: First Second
Description: An intruiging and accessible nonfiction graphic novel about the role wealth and influence play in American democracy.
Despite our immense political divisions, Americans are nearly united in our belief that something is wrong with our government: It works for the wealthy and powerful, but not for anyone else. Unrig exposes the twisted roots of our broken democracy and highlights the heroic efforts of those unrigging the system to return power to We the People.
Why it Made the List: This was one of the more comprehensive looks at the current issues with our political system, how we got to this point, and the pathway to counteract the problems that have broken the system we rely on for a representative government.
The heart of the issue is money. Especially how those with massive cash flows are able to manipulate the system from working as intended. How wealth has this corrosive nature that reforms everything from small-town elections to college courses to fit a specific agenda.
If you are going to tell the problems it is best to include solutions as well. This provides proven solutions, the people who fought for those solutions, the problems they faced, and a realistic approach to expanding upon their success. For example the Democracy voucher program.
Real-life success and failures are peppered throughout to provide context and evidence. A strong organizational structure was key to keeping the fluidity strong. I’ve read similar books that become adrift in the sea of information that is being covered.
Of course when politics are discussed people will come expecting bias and an agenda. This is very upfront with its targets. It is all about the money. From dirty to clean to government-funded. I am sure it simplifies some of the proposals but every point is well-argued And backed with evidence and comprehensive examples. The case here is strong and one that should be heard.
20. Superman Smashes The Klan
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: DC Comics
Description: The year is 1946, and the Lee family has moved from Metropolis’ Chinatown to the center of the bustling city. While Dr. Lee is greeted warmly in his new position at the Metropolis Health Department, his two kids, Roberta and Tommy, are more excited about being closer to their famous hero, Superman!
Inspired by the 1940s Superman radio serial “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers and Saints, The Terrifics, New Super-Man) presents his personal retelling of the adventures of the Lee family as they team up with Superman to smash the Klan.
Why it Made the List: There is so much about Superman Smashes the Klan that I adore. From the format that is akin to combining the smaller manga style with the traditional American format. Adapting a classic Superman audio drama and staying true to that time makes you realize why Superman was the perfect type of hero for that day. Also it shows how he can appeal to a younger audience today as well. DC tried to put a lot of focus on appealing to a younger market this year and this was one of the best examples because it felt fresh and traditional at the same time.
Superman is one of my favorite characters because of what he stands for both inside and outside the pages of comics. This felt like a continuation of Superman’s original purpose. To tell the tale of those less fortunate than can be beaten down by society. People say Superman is outdated. This shows he is needed now more than ever.
Writer/Artist: Frederik Peeters
Publisher: Top Shelf
Description: Award-winning Swiss graphic novelist Frederik Peeters (Blue Pills) soars to new heights with an existential interplanetary epic that never strays far from the human heart.
Lupus Lablennorre is a man on the run. Like a cosmic Odysseus, he wanders from planet to planet, haunted by his past and orbiting around a woman.
It starts as a fishing trip with his old pal, Tony. Their friendship has started to feel different lately, and not just because of the drugs. Picking up Sanaa, a beautiful runaway, only complicates the situation. When tragedy strikes, they’re forced to flee to new worlds, each offering many ways to disappear. But Lupus will find that the tendrils of friendship, love, and family are not so easily severed.
Why it Made the List: Really loved this book. A science-fiction tale that breaks from all genre convention. It was like taking characters you may typically see in a Richard Linklater movie and placing them in a space adventure. Far less about the gadgets and more about the personal exploration
How these characters are trying to find themselves as they try to stop the universe from crashing in on them. Ends up being akin to a Bonnie and Clyde-like adventure except their crimes are more by accident than purposeful rebellion.
It is the type of narrative where the small moments matter the most. People being put in a situation where they have to face deep personal truths. Compelling from start to finish with imperfect characters that explores those imperfections.
18. Spy Island
Writer: Chelsea Cain
Artist: Elise McCall
Publisher: Dark Horse
Description: Super spy Nora Freud (no relation) has a plum assignment. She’s stationed on a tropical island. Her mission? Keep an eye on things. Her problem? The island is on the lip of the Bermuda Triangle, where anything can happen. Her other problem? This particular island is a den of intrigue, populated by spies, tourists, and evil villains set on global domination.
Why it Made the List: When your comic opens with the line, “The mime was collateral damage”, you have hit peak comic book in my mind. And that was only issue number three. This worked because of how much-unfiltered fun I had reading it. Plus it was like a magic trick seeing all these random threads that seemed unrelated come together to form the narrative. I could see some not enjoying this book because it takes a different approach to storytelling. One that goes at its own pace and does not follow a typical trajectory. Just know that everything matters for one reason or another. Comics like any medium can become stale if you do not get books like this that refuse to conform. My hope is the comic community will support it because comics are better when risks are taken.
This does not impact the overall quality of the book but I have to call out the covers for each issue as well. They were all works of art that had so many fun storytelling tidbits. Plus they feel like they could exist inside the world of Spy Island. I am sad we only got four issues because the concept could go on for much longer. Than it again shows how this series is different. It does not bleed something dry until it is this shriveled version of what was once fresh and original. Leaving you wanting more is an underused trate.
17. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Steve Lieber
Publisher: DC Comics
Description: Jimmy Olsen must die! Wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Jimmy Olsen lives! Superman’s best friend and Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen tours the bizarre underbelly of the DC Universe in this new series featuring death, destruction, giant turtles, and more, combining Silver Age energy with a distinctly modern sensibility! It’s a centuries-spanning whirlwind of weird that starts in Metropolis and ends in Gotham City. Award-winning writer Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals, Hawkeye) makes his DC debut with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, an irreverent, hijinks-filled journey across the weirdest and wildest corners of the DCU, illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Steve Lieber.
Why it Made the List: I love that comics can be silly again. Not just silly but completely out there to the point that Jimmy Olsen turning into a giant turtle is just a brief moment of ridiculousness in a jammed back book of crazy.
This year this series ended and someohw maintained it’s off the wall pace. As the series turned the corner to the final act the general narrative became strong without losing the fun that made this a standout from the beginning.
Steve Lieber needs to draw more comics. The world is better when he is given the freedom this book allows. All that insanity would not work if the person drawing it could not make everything look convincing. Lieber makes it look easy.
16. Bitter Root
Writer: Chuck Brown, David F. Walker
Artist: Sanford Greene
Publisher: Image Comics
Description: Monster-hunting has been the Sangerye family business for generations as they battle the jinoo-hideous creatures born out of hate and racism. But now, the Sangeryes face a different threat-the deadly inzondo, a new kind of monster born out of grief and trauma. With one of their own turning into an inzondo, and an army of tortured souls on the attack in 1920s Harlem, the Sangerye family must once again fight to save the world, unless their own pain and suffering transform them into monsters as well!
Why it Made the List: I have to assume that Sanford Greene is having the time of his life with this comic. He is taking the 1920’s Harlem setting and this massive influx of mythological beings and making this comic his own. This is the type of book that should make him into a massive star. I am amazed at how this book has refused to slow down. Despite the frantic pace, it has been able to juggle a cavalcade of characters in a very short time. It is simply unlike any other comic out currently, while there are plenty of other science fiction and fantasy stories none have this mixture of place, personality, and story.
I love that this won the Eisner earlier this year. For one it is reassuring when you praise a book as much as I do with Bitter Root and see I am by no means alone. Secondly, creators Chuck Brown, David F. Walker, and Sanford Greene have gone far too underappreciated by the comic book community. So it is about time they get the recognition they have long deserved.
15. The Immortal Hulk
Writer: Al Ewing
Artist: Joe Bennett, Ryan Bodenheim, Matias Bergara, Tom Reilly, Germán García
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Description: The horrific, critically acclaimed saga of the Immortal Hulk continues! General Fortean has been pursuing his undying foe for some time without success, and now he must make a fateful decision. There can be no more half measures. No weapon is off the table. But his enemy, Bruce Banner, is only getting started. Banner is about to declare war on human society, and he might just be the most dangerous man in the world! As secrets from the far future leak into the past, the Immortal Hulk will be drawn into conflict with the Roxxon Corporation and its ruthless CEO, the man-monster Dario Agger. But when you mess with the Minotaur, you get the horns! And the ever-scheming Agger plans to recruit a Hulk of his own.
Why it Made the List: Al Ewing and Joe Bennett have put together a script that is able to balance a horror tone along with this lofty exploration into the relationship between humanity and divinity. They have used the Hulk as a vessel to examine some complex and difficult questions, as well as some classic horror filled smashing. Ewing has always been an ambitious writer and with The Immortal Hulk he has found a way to utilize that ambition in a groundbreaking way, and he has found a muse with Joe Bennett that is doing his career work with the twisting ways he renders some jaw-dropping body horror.
Now over forty issues in this has to be the run of this generation. It may not be my highest Marvel book this year but when you look at the entire run as a whole Immortal Hulk has set the new bar for what Marvel can be when given the right talent at the right moment.
14. Banned Book Club
Writer: Ryan Estrada
Artist: Hyung-Ju Ko
Publisher: Iron Circus Comics
Description: When Kim Hyun Sook started college in 1983 she was ready for her world to open up. After acing her exams and sort-of convincing her traditional mother that it was a good idea for a woman to go to college, she looked forward to soaking up the ideas of Western Literature far from the drudgery she was promised at her family’s restaurant. But literature class would prove to be just the start of a massive turning point, still focused on reading but with life-or-death stakes she never could have imagined.
Why it Made the List: I have to thank this book for informing me a great deal regarding life in South Korea during their totalitarian regime. It is not a part of World history I am informed about. This shows the fight for freedom comes in all sizes as well as from unlikely sources.
It is interesting how tactics have shifted. During this time it was about the control of information to keep people conformed to a specific state of being while now it is about overwhelming with information so truth becomes an impossibility. With no truth knowledge is useless in the chaos.
The style here is similar to other YA manga titles but the content is much heavier. Also, this reads like a western comic but those influences are clearly there. It is a nice meshing of both styles and probably an indicator of where comics are headed. When we discuss freedom we tend to look at the grand scale. Reading can be a form of rebellion in the right context. Learning is a tool that can topple regimes. That is powerful to know and see realized in this comic.
13. Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio
Writer/Artist: Derf Backderf
Publisher: Abrams ComicArts
Description: On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard gunned down unarmed college students protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State University. In a deadly barrage of 67 shots, 4 students were killed and 9 shot and wounded. It was the day America turned guns on its own children—a shocking event burned into our national memory. A few days prior, 10-year-old Derf Backderf saw those same Guardsmen patrolling his nearby hometown, sent in by the governor to crush a trucker strike. Using the journalism skills he employed on My Friend Dahmer and Trashed, Backderf has conducted extensive interviews and research to explore the lives of these four young people and the events of those four days in May, when the country seemed on the brink of tearing apart. Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, which will be published in time for the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, is a moving and troubling story about the bitter price of dissent—as relevant today as it was in 1970.
Why it Made the List: When our current political division is brought up references to the 60’s/70’s are often made as a time we now echo. The Kent State shootings were a pivotal moment during that time and in modern US history. Here Derrick Backderf looks to answer the what and why. Starting a few days prior to the eventual shooting the stage is set to place you in the mindset of this time, the campus, and the four individuals who will eventually tragically lose their lives.
What it shows is a series of events, bad leadership, and the compounding impact of fear and anger. A fear and anger that were more than one day or one event. How polices that broke our fundamental right of freedom made the Kent State shooting an eventuality. This is a docu comic but it is not without a point of view that will call out right from wrong. No direct links to the world today are made and they weren’t really needed. The lesson here is clear and one can only fear we are headed for history to repeat itself once again.
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Marco Checchetto, Jorge Fornés, Chris Sprouse, Francesco Mobili
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Description: As Matt Murdock rekindles his alliance — and possibly more — with Elektra, New York Mayor Wilson Fisk works on some deadly allegiances of his own. But a war is building in Hell’s Kitchen as Hammerhead makes his move, and the Owl takes a stab at the Kingpin! Matt Murdock must come to terms with what being Daredevil truly means. And he had better do it soon, as a new and deadly foe has arrived on the scene with a decisive strike — and all hell is about to break loose. As the streets burn, a gang of lethal super villains runs riot, and the Kitchen is left hanging by a thread. That thread…is Daredevil.
Why it Made the List: Nearly every issue of this current run of Daredevil has been solid, however when Marco Checchetto is on art duties this book is on another level. Issue number twenty-three was some of his best work. Daredevil was out to make things right which included visiting old friends like Elektra and old enemies like Kingpin. Really though the standout moment was a conversation between Daredevil and Spider-Man working through things between them and themselves. We have seen so much of heroes fighting heroes lately that you can forget characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil share a unique bond. When you can tap into that in the right way the results are special.
At first glance, this may seem like nothing new for the character of Daredevil, and in a way that first impression is right. Since Chip Zdarsky took over the book he is not rewriting what makes for a great Daredevil comic but finding ways to slightly tweak it and go further with ideas to play against expectations. The parallel stories of Mayor Fisk and Matthew Murdock complement each other as contentment is placed against regret. Fittingly it is biblical in execution like a superhero parable about the importance of conviction to self and duty.
11. Tiananmen 1989: Our Shattered Hopes
Writer: Lun Zhang, Adrien Gombeaud,
Publisher: Top Shelf
Description: Over 30 years ago, on April 15th, 1989, the occupation of Tiananmen Square began. As tens of thousands of students and concerned Chinese citizens took to the streets demanding political reforms, the fate of China’s communist system was unknown. When reports of soldiers marching into Beijing to suppress the protests reverberated across Western airwaves, the world didn’t know what to expect.
Lun Zhang was just a young sociology teacher then, in charge of management and safety service for the protests. Now, in this powerful graphic novel, Zhang pairs with French journalist and Asia specialist Adrien Gombeaud, and artist Ameziane, to share his unvarnished memory of this crucial moment in world history for the first time.
Why it Made the List: One of the best-crafted comics I read all year touching on a massively important time in world history. We have all seen the infamous moment of tank man and this covers in detail how things got to that moment.
Being told from the perspective of someone who was there gives it a major level of credence. The sheer amount of detail and information is impressive. One of the best researched and presented works on this topic in any medium. No doubt will be a major Eisner favorite next year.
Comic Books have made their living telling stories of heroes and here is a story about unsung heroes who fought for something far bigger than themselves and still do not get their just due, nor have their goals been met. Maybe there is some solace knowing there are those still taking up their cause. Whatever the case this is a read worth taking to understand their story and know what would drive a man to stare down a tank using nothing more than sheer will.
10. Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics
Writer/Artist: Tom Scioli
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Description: Told in vivid graphic novel form by a groundbreaking Eisner-nominated comics creator, the long-overdue biography of the legend who co-created Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and many more superhero favorites.
This sweeping, full-color comic book biography tells the complete life story of Jack Kirby, co-creator of some of the most enduring superheroes and villains of the twentieth century for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and more. Critically acclaimed graphic novelist Tom Scioli breathes visual life into Kirby’s life story–from his days growing up in New York during the Great Depression and discovering a love for science fiction and cartoons to his time on the frontlines in the European theatre of World War II where he experienced the type of action and adventure he’d later imbue his comic pages with, and on to his world-changing collaborations at Marvel with Stan Lee, where the pair redefined comics as a part of pop culture.
Why it Made the List: It takes a lot of gumption to create a comic based on the person who is nearly unanimously considered the greatest creator of comics ever. Considering Jack Kirby’s mantra of pushing comic creators to forge their own path and style, Tom Scioli is an ideal person to do a book like this. When you look at his work there is little question he is not trying to copy what is popular. Rather he pushes to be his own person. You see if he is doing a book like this or creating a Go-Bots comic.
Another bold choice was to tell this story from a first-person perspective. It was the right choice because it gives it much more of an imitate feel rather than coming off as a series of random events. Sure, he was a legend. Scioli gets to who Kirby was not just what he was. That road was paved with a lot of heartache, frustration, and fighting through the second World War. At times the perspective will switch to those close to Kirby as well, which again anchored the intimacy of this tale.
Any comics fan knows some of the key points in Kirby’s life and how he was mistreated by a number of key figures like Stan Lee. There are still a lot of questions about what did or did not happened I was curious how it would handle some of those moments. Due to that shifting of perspective Scioli was able to provide full insight to all sides involved.
Not that he let Lee of the hook. Reading this you can feel Kirby’s anger as his hard work goes underappreciated and underpaid. Scioli does his research to unearth key elements in Kirby’s life that are not discussed much at all. He clearly sought to tell his story in a way that would make Kirby proud and even make him understand why he was such a legend.
9. Big Black Stand at Attica
Writer: Frank “Big Black” Smith, Jared Reinmuth,
Description: FOUR DAYS IN 1971 CHANGED THE COURSE OF AMERICAN HISTORY. THIS IS THE TRUE STORY FROM THE MAN AT THE CENTER OF IT ALL.
In the summer of 1971, the New York’s Attica State Prison is a symbol of everything broken in America – abused prisoners, rampant racism and a blind eye turned towards the injustices perpetrated on the powerless. But when the guards at Attica overreact to a minor incident, the prisoners decide they’ve had enough – and revolt against their jailers, taking them hostage and making demands for humane conditions. Frank “Big Black” Smith finds himself at the center of this uprising, struggling to protect hostages, prisoners and negotiators alike. But when the only avenue for justice seems to be negotiating with ambitious Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Big Black soon discovers there may be no hope in finding a peaceful resolution for the prisoners in Attica.
Why it Made the List: ‘A man is worth more than $40 and a suit’ This recounts four days at Attica prison during the 1971 uprising and prison massacre. Told largely through the perspective of Frank ‘Big Black’ Martin who lived through the event to become an advocate for Prisoner’s rights.
It is an unrelenting takedown of the prison system and the brutality that occurs within it. How Attica was an eventuality due to the inhumane conditions prisoners were forced to live through. This peels back the coverup to show what actually happened and why on that bloody afternoon. The art here is phenomenal as it shifts and adjusts style and design to fit the tone of each sequence.
At times a measured shadow of reality that looks like news footage resurfaced. Other times things are more abstract and stylized. Reading through this it is remarkable how the phrase ‘Attica! Attica!’ has entered the lexicon but the meaning and power behind those words have been hallowed.
This looks to right that wrong to remind us of the injustices that occurred, how their effects still linger, and how the Societal thoughts of the prison system have remained unchanged despite the racist motivations of their origins. As the Attica massacre was an eventuality so is the trajectory of history repeating itself if it cannot be moved to heal and learn.
8. Dragon Hoops
Writer/Artist: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: First Second
Description: Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.
But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.
Why it Made the List: Gene Luen Yang is such a natural storyteller. Here he steps out of his comfort zone into the world of sports specifically basketball. Telling the story through a first-person perspective his naivete works well as he tries to understand the why behind it all.
Down to where and why the sport was created and how that relates to the storied history of the high school team he is following. This encapsulates a lot from the personal history of the players and coaches to Yang’s struggles with how to tell this story to the world at large.
This succeeds the same way a good documentary succeeds. It starts with having a good story but the key is knowing what to do with that gift. How to frame each major moment to add emotional investment and personal stakes. How to avoid cliche even when that is what you are handed. Most importantly is the element of truth. Finding it, maintaining it, and being honest when you aren’t being honest. It made the major theme of taking that first step…well ring true.
Writer/Artist: Kat Leyh
Publisher: First Second
Description: Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon is a magical realist graphic novel about a young girl who befriends her town’s witch and discovers the strange magic within herself.
Snap’s town had a witch.
At least, that’s how the rumor goes. But in reality, Jacks is just a Crocs-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online. It’s creepy, sure, but Snap thinks it’s kind of cool, too.
Snap needs a favor from this old woman, though, so she begins helping Jacks with her strange work. Snap gets to know her and realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic–and an unlikely connection to Snap’s family’s past.
Why it Made the List: Giving someone the ability to accept themselves for who they are is priceless gift and Snapdragon does as good of a job as any comic this year of doing just that. The craft here is impressive. For a rather brisk read, this narrative has depth with some fantastic characters. Even side characters like Snapdragon’s mom feel fully fleshed out and realized. These are people who do not fit tightly into the confines of society and they are fully okay with that fact.
Snapdragon is a wonder. Headstrong and caring she fights for what is right but isn’t fully sure what makes her the person she is or is meant to be. Here the journey she takes helps answer that question both through self-discovery and a few history lessons.
You get the sense this is a story just getting started as things turn to a much higher gear in the final act. To tell more would be to spoil the fun as this is a story that likes to keep the surprises coming.
Writer/Artist: Inio Asano
Publisher: VIZ Media
Description: From the Eisner-nominated, best-selling author of Goodnight Punpun and solanin, a dark look at what happens when living the life of your dreams becomes your downfall.
Selling copies is the only thing that matters.
So what if your first series just ended and you have no idea how to start the next one, your marriage is breaking up, your pure love of manga has been destroyed by the cruel reality of the industry and nothing seems to fill the sucking void inside you…
Find the secret combo for a new hit manga series and everything will be okay.
Why it Made the List: If you are a Manga creator and I know your name you have to be one of the best creators in comics. When Inio Asano has a book out I am there. This tells the very human story of a Manga writer who lacks fulfillment despite his past success. His false sense of superiority is catching up with him as his flame is flickering in the wind.
As his first series concludes his failure to start anew is leading to self-destruction as he pushes those close to him away. It’s hard to witness at times as this man is not one you have any form of sympathy for. That doesn’t make his plight less fascinating.
You wonder if there is any type of self-reflection in this work seeing someone trying to juggle fame and how serious to take his work and the medium he calls a profession. Almost a cautionary tale of the glorification fandom can lead towards.
5. Paying the Land
Writer/Artist: Joe Sacco
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Description: The Dene have lived in the vast Mackenzie River Valley since time immemorial, by their account. To the Dene, the land owns them and it is central to their livelihood and very way of being. But the subarctic Canadian Northwest Territories are home to valuable resources, including oil, gas, and diamonds. With mining came jobs and investment, but also road-building, pipelines, and toxic waste, which scarred the landscape, and alcohol, drugs, and debt, which deformed a way of life.
In Paying the Land, Joe Sacco travels the frozen North to reveal a people in conflict over the costs and benefits of development. Sacco recounts the shattering impact of a residential school system that aimed to “remove the Indian from the child”; the destructive process that drove the Dene from the bush into settlements and turned them into wage laborers; the government land claims stacked against the Dene Nation; and their uphill efforts to revive a wounded culture.
Why it Made the List: Comic Book investigative journalism may be as niche’ as it gets. Stories like this demonstrate why it can be an effective method in tackling layered issues that are often ignored by the mainstream media infrastructure.
Here the topic at hand is the Dene people their connection to the Canadian Northwest Territories. The issue is the controversy and conflict with governments and private industries like those dealing in natural gas. Through a series of interviews, we see this story told from the early beginnings to today.
As a piece of journalism is was well researched, finely tuned, and brought forth the importance of this story. As a piece of art, it was bold and full of life. The art was detailed and so true to life that you can forget you are looking at a comic page.
There are comics that are entertaining, some that move you emotionally, while books like this are primarily important. Important to show the tool of the comic medium is as legitimate as any. Lastly, it is important because these people need their voices heard.
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Description: Max Winters, a pulp writer in 1930s New York, finds himself drawn into a story not unlike the tales he churns out at five cents a word—tales of a Wild West outlaw dispensing justice with a six-gun. But will Max be able to do the same, when pursued by bank robbers, Nazi spies, and enemies from his past? Find out in this must-have thriller from one of comics’ most acclaimed creative teams, perfect for fans of The Fade Out and Criminal.
A darkly mysterious meditation on a life of violence, Pulp is unlike anything the award-winning team of Brubaker and Phillips have ever done. A celebration of pulp fiction, set in a world on the brink.
Why it Made the List: Ed Brubaker is my favorite comic book writer ever and he does his best work with Sean Phillips so of course I adored this. The original graphic novel format suits their style very well. Much of what makes a book like Criminal so go is found here but there is a bit more.
Part of what makes a good story is choosing an interesting setting. With Pulp it is not just about the place but the time. It is this weird place in time that feels like two separate worlds colliding. Where a person who lived during the Old West also lives long enough to write Golden Age comics about his past life. From riding horses to riding in subways in one life time. Outside of that it is this Pre-World War II time where American nationalism is on the rise to push an isolationist agenda.
That backdrop makes for a compelling story of the criminal trying to pull one last job. People get so caught up with plot but the truth is great storytelling is much more. Character, theme, and structure is where Pulp finds its greatness.
3. Blue in Green
Writer: Ram V.
Artist: Anand R.K.
Description: The dark and haunting portrayal of a young musician’s pursuit of creative genius — the monstrous nature of which threatens to consume him as it did his predecessor half a century ago. From creators Ram V (Grafity’s Wall, These Savage Shores) and Anand RK (Grafity’s Wall), BLUE IN GREEN is an exploration of ambitions, expectations and the horrific depths of their spiraling pursuit.
Why it Made the List: Blue in Green is one of those books where reading through it once and even twice might not be enough to fully grasp everything it is doing. Revisiting it as bit of a treat as well because you get to once again witness the awe-inspiring art of Anand R.K. put into this book. It was as if the entire mindset going in was to rewrite the rules of comic book making and what you can do with page layouts. Each page was this portrait of creativity and inspired storytelling.
At the heart of the narrative is this search. What search? The search. The search we go on for fulfillment in ourselves. Whether it if for the lost affection from the love that got away or that chase to be great at an artistic passion. There is this forever sense of longing that dominates every aspect of life.
I could see nearly every person who reads this coming away with a very different and valid interpretation. Like a mesmerizing jazz song it hits each ear in a different way and what stands out to you often says more about you than it does the work.
Aditya Bidikar lettering may be the lynchpin to everything working is such a succinct way. He stylized each bit of dialog or sound to fit each specific scene. With layouts like this that stretch the imagination, it is not simple knowing where to put each bit of lettering to make the page work. Like a seasoned background singer, Bidikar knows where exactly to bring the audience so they are setup for each key moment.
You have a book that is firing on every creative cylinder. Each person is doing their part to create this poetic work of self-discovery. A type of comic that pushes the medium to do more and to never settle.
2. The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist
Writer/Artist: Adrian Tomine
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Description: What happens when a childhood hobby turns into a lifelong career? The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, Adrian Tomine’s funniest and most revealing foray into autobiography, offers an array of unexpected answers. When a sudden medical incident lands Tomine in the emergency room, he begins to question if it was really all worthwhile: despite the accolades, awards, and opportunities of a seemingly charmed career, it’s the gaffes, humiliations, slights, and insults he’s experienced (or caused) within the industry that loom largest in his memory.
But as those memories are delineated in excruciatingly hilarious detail, a different, parallel narrative plays out in the background. In between chaotic book tours, disastrous interviews, and difficult interactions with other artists, life happens: Tomine fumbles his way into marriage, parenthood, and an indisputably fulfilling existence. While mining his conflicted relationship with comics and comics culture, Tomine illustrates the amusing absurdities of life and how we choose to spend our time. Through these cringe-inducing moments, a deeper emotional story emerges, and we see Tomine’s life develop into something much more robust than the blunders.
Why it Made the List: This is awkward in comic book form. Imagine taking that uncomfortable walk down Artist Alley where everyone is a bit on edge and showing how everyday life can feel like that for a cartoonist trying to make it in the industry.
I was taken back by the sheer honesty Adrian Tomine brought to this. His mistakes, failures, successes that can sometimes lead to more failures and general insecurities are all here to he poked, prodded, and picked apart. He doesn’t hold back or glamorize anything. Even for a second. You would think he would just one time. Nope. Never.
Comics may be his life but anyone who has put anything else in the world can relate to what is on these pages. It is also a type of story that can only exist within the comics industry. Where even the a famous success can only rise to a medium level of notoriety.
As it gets more into the family aspect I found myself enthralled. There is a scene with a upset child I laughed at loud to in large part to how true this. It’s true because it is unsure. Reading this made me realize it is okay to be unsure because we all feel that way time to time.
1. John Constantine: Hellblazer
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Artist: Matias Bergara, Aaron Campbell
Publisher: DC Comics
Description: One of DC’s and the Sandman Universe’s most iconic characters is back for more dark and twisted antics in volume two of one of the most critically acclaimed series of the year! Will Constantine protect a group of British fishermen from an ancient merwoman? Or stop a disgraced royal from unleashing a bloodthirsty horror? It all leads to John Constantine facing his final reckoning with the older version of himself who’s been seeding magical chaos all around England. Can the evil in John’s heart ever be contained? Or will it destroy the one life he would give anything not to corrupt?
Why it Made the List: Now were are down to the best book of the year according to me. Making this selection is not an easy task. It is something I think about from the moment I started reading comics on January 1st until this is published. I decided to go with Hellblazer for a number of reasons.
Comics can be a hard gig because you want to try to establish your own voice while maintaining what made a character a series special. For whatever reason when it came to Hellblazer no one could get it right for some time. That has changed with this run by getting the essence of who John Constantine is and then placing him into stories that are relevant to the world today.
When I compare it to other monthly titles I feel like it is in an entirely different league. How each issue was a complete story that still further a grander narrative. No disrespect to other books but it was like eating at nothing but Fast Food restaurants then you come to Hellblazer and it’s a four-course meal with dessert cooked by accomplished chefs.
Looking at my favorite book last year American Carnage and this I see many similarities. Both are Vertigo/Black Label books and have a pointed point of view designed to comment and discuss our current state of the world. Hellblazer though is a bit harsher with its criticism. It directly calls out world leaders and their broken policies. It is activism through an artform. When you pair that with phenomenal storytelling you have comics in their purest form.