25. Second Coming: Only Begotten Son
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Leonard Kirk, Richard Pace
Publisher: Ahoy Comics
Description: The long-awaited second volume of the book ComicsBeat called “the world’s most dangerous comic book and the most lovely.” As superhero Sunstar anticipates becoming a father, he agonizes over how – and if – he can use his powers to make a better world for his child. And as Jesus Christ loses his bedroom to a nursery, he struggles to find a new place in a society that distorts and exploits his message for profit.
Why it Made the List: As someone who grew up going to church three times a week I see a lot of truth in the points brought up in this series. Considering the subject matter I am sure some will disagree. Either way you cannot deny it is both smart and full of great jokes. One scene, in particular, has stuck with me this entire year and it is when Jesus comes upon a man threatening to commit suicide. This moment was the embodiment of grace and empathy you would want to see in any figure. Now of course there was plenty of time spent critiquing religion as well. A massive and well-executed critique of the capitalistic tendencies of a lot of organized religions.
24. Wasted Space
Writer: Michael Moreci
Artist: Hayden Sherman
Publisher: Vault Comics
Description: Billy, Molly, and Dust finally make it to Earth–and nothing is what it seems. Danger and deception awaits at every turn as the Creator makes a diabolical move against Billy. What started as a mission to kill a god turns into something much more sinister.
Why it Made the List: Wasted Space has been one of my favorite titles for a few years now so I was a bit sad to see it come to an end, but on the bright side the ending was everything I could have hope for when it came to this book. You have this great group of characters that are just functional enough to get over their internal disfunction. It is also a book that explores some deep and important questions while making the most ludicrous jokes. If you are the type of person that enjoyed shows like Firefly I could see this meshing with your sensibilities. Hayden Sherman draws like one else in comics and that style helps establish the off-the-wall personality of this book. Vault has grown a great deal since this first debuted, and a lot of that growth was due to the quality of books like Wasted Space.
23. The City of Belgium
Writer/Artist: Brecht Evens
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Description: As night falls in the city of Belgium, three strangers in their late twenties—a most dangerous age—arrive at a popular restaurant. Jona is about to move away; he calls his wife, who’s already settled in Berlin, before trying to make plans with friends for one last night on the town. No one bites—they’re all busy, or maybe they just don’t want to party—but he’s determined to make this night something to remember. Victoria is lively and energetic, but surrounded by friends and family who are buzzkills, always worrying about what is best for her. Rodolphe is consoled by a friend and snaps out of his funk, becoming the life of the party. The three careen through the city’s nightlife spots and underbelly, chasing pleasure—or at least a few distractions from the thrum of the humdrum. Each has a series of adventures that reveal them to be teetering on the edge between lucid dream and tooth-grinding nightmare.
Why it Made the List: Brecht’ Even’s The City of Belgium is as unique of a reading experience you can have this year. The general premise centers on three separate individuals whose separate nights out on the town get intertwined in some unexpected ways. It is one of those stories where the less you know about it the better. What really fascinated me with this was the use of dialog as I have never seen such natural conversations inside a comic before. It was the equivalent of mumblecore for comics the way people would trip over each other’s words and have messy conversations. The star of the show was Even’s art, especially his colors. If you ever wanted to study how to use coloring to set a mood this is the book to study. Using a vibrant palette made up of oranges, yellows, and neon greens to bring you into this world of colorful nightlife, but then picking the right time to remove the vibrancy to make the world feel void of humanity or overcome with dread.
It is one of those books I could see just looking through constantly just to see the artistry on display. You could take nearly any page of this place it into any modern art museum and it would fit right in if not overshadow whatever it is near.
22. Cyclopedia Exotica
Writer/Artist: Aminder Dhaliwal
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Description: Doctor’s office waiting rooms, commercials, dog parks, and dating app screenshots capture the experiences and interior lives of the cyclops community; a largely immigrant population displaying physical differences from the majority. Whether they’re artists, parents, or yoga students, the cyclops have it tough: they face microaggressions and overt xenophobia on a daily basis. However, they are bent on finding love, cultivating community, and navigating life alongside the two-eyed majority with patience and the occasional bout of rage.
Why it Made the List: Through the use of Cyclopes Aminder Dhaliwal constructs one of the sharpest takes on the construction of prejudicial social norms and systemic racism. Despite being a brisk read the book packs a lot into its pages. Quickly a number of compelling characters are constructed as we see the world through their eyes or eye. It is as funny as it is insightful with clear allegorical implications to the way our world functions. There is a level of depth as well showing the complexity of emotions and thoughts one can go through in a world not designed for them. From the lingering effects of being bullied for being different to the hallow corporatization of representation for malicious purpose. You’ll laugh at the well-executed gags while you reconcile with the way society functions.
21. The Immortal Hulk
Writer: Al Ewing
Artist: Joe Bennett
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Description: The gamma monsters are back — converging, one by one, on New York City. Who can stop them now? Who can save us…from the immortal Hulk? The Avengers will give it their best shot — but last time, they destroyed an entire town while fighting the Hulk. Now they’re in the middle of New York, about to take on a very different kind of monster…and it’s become personal. In the wake of this earth-shattering confrontation, a shaken Hulk will turn to the one person who always understood him. It’s finally time for truths to be told, but will it be Betty Banner who tells them…or the Red Harpy? And how will they affect the eternal life of the immortal Hulk?! Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s acclaimed run reaches its horrific end! Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!
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. I was curious how they would bring this massive story to a conclusion and they did not disappoint. Going to the Comic-Prose style allowed for a deeper exploration as this tale finally came to its end. Looking back at these fifty issues this run will no doubt go down as one of the greatest in the history of the Hulk.
20. Usagi Yojimbo
Writer/Artist: Stan Sakai
Description: Usagi seeks out an old teacher, Sojobo, but upon finding him, learns that a new brand of Tengu mountain goblins have invaded the Western Peak. Savage and relentless, they are determined to drive the established Tengu out and prey upon the people of the area. For the first time, Usagi must ally himself with yokai against an even greater enemy, in “Tengu War!”
Why it Made the List: It is easy to forget just how good Usagi Yojimbo is and has been for thirty-five years. Everything about it reflects the presence of the creator Stan Sakai. Understated and never overtly trying to capture your attention. There is silent confidence that continues to execute with each and every issue. All comic creators should study Usagi Yojimbo to understand how you can have a longstanding comic that can appease fans as well as newcomers. You can pick up nearly any issue of this series and it gives you everything you need. It is a modern-day fable. This year also so the inclusion of some new major characters and that brought with it some new life. With the upcoming Usagi Yojimbo Netflix show, I hope more and more people become inclined to read this book because it should be seen as one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of comics to be this good for this long.
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Jorge Fornés
Publisher: DC Comics
Description: It’s been 35 years since Ozymandias dropped a giant interdimensional squid on New York City, killing thousands and destroying the public’s trust in heroes once and for all. And since that time, one figure in a fedora, mask, and trench coat has become a divisive cultural icon. So, what does it mean when Rorschach reappears as a gunman trying to assassinate a candidate running against President Redford? Who is the man behind the mask, and why is he acting this way? Now it’s up to one detective to uncover the identity of this would-be killer and expose a web of conspiracies that will change the world forever.
Why it Made the List: I know many hated the idea of this comic existing before it ever came out. I get where that disdain for creating a Rorschach comic comes from. Should DC leave Watchmen go and stopped making stories within this universe. I could understand that argument but at the end of the day I am basing this on how good the comic was and this was fantastic. Jorge Fornés needs to be nominated for an Eisner for his work in this. Never does he try to recreate the original work of The Watchmen, but he does everything he can to live up to it. I especially love the one issue where we get three concurrent stories at once. It was a masterclass on how to craft a comic, and that was the case for nearly every issue. This barely resembles The Watchmen and I think that was a good thing. Instead, this was a noir crim mystery with Watchmen wrapping paper. I did like how it built on the source material but not through plot mechanics. Instead commenting on the influences that made Watchmen what it was.
18. Dead Dog’s Bite
Writer/Artist: Tyler Boss
Publisher: Dark Horse
Description: Cormac Guffin has gone missing. It’s been three days and no one has seen hide nor hair of her. The police have nothing, and the townsfolk are acting more like a funeral procession than a search party. If Cormac has any hope of being found, it rests on the slouching shoulders of her best friend Joe. Joe will need her wits about her though because, like any story worth hearing, nothing is what it seems.
Why it Made the List: With Dead Dog’s Bite Tyler Boss created a comic that was Coen Brothers by way of David Lynch. The central story was this mystery of a missing girl but every so often it was dive into the surreal. Especially enjoyed the use of a narrator in this because he would get strange in the best of ways. Boss also has a knack for fantastic dialog. The way people talk to each other feels real and does a great job to inform the character. Right away you understand people’s relationships with one another based on their very first interactions. Oh, and his art is full of sleek style. I was looking forward to this book but it still shattered my expectations and became one of my favorites of the year.
17. Reckless Series
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Description: It’s 1985 and things in Ethan’s life are going pretty well… until a missing woman shows up in the background of an old B-movie, and Ethan is drawn into Hollywood’s secret occult underbelly as he hunts for her among the wreckage of the wild days of the ’70s. It’s 1988, and Ethan has been hired for his strangest case yet: finding the secrets of a Los Angeles real estate mogul. How hard could that be, right? But what starts as a deep dive into the life of a stranger will soon take a deadly turn, and Ethan will risk everything that still matters to him.
Why it Made the List: It is hard to come up with good things to say about comics that are done by Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips. Chances are if they are doing a book together it is going to make this list. Their Reckless series is also looking to change comics, or at least show there is a major market for a series of graphic novels. I love the issue format but there is something about getting a complete story in one sitting. This year we got three installments to the Reckless series and each was fantastic. All taking Ethan into different and more dangerous directions.
16. Ballad for Sophie
Writer: Filipe Melo
Artist: Juan Cavia
Publisher: Top Shelf
Description: A young journalist prompts a reclusive piano superstar to open up, resulting in this stunning graphic sonata exploring a lifetime of rivalry, regret, and redemption. 1933. In the small French village of Cressy-la-Valoise, a local piano contest brings together two brilliant young players: Julien Dubois, the privileged heir of a wealthy family, and François Samson, the janitor’s son. One wins, one loses, and both are changed forever. 1997. In a huge mansion stained with cigarette smoke and memories, a bitter old man is shaken by the unexpected visit of an interviewer. Somewhere between reality and fantasy, Julien composes, like in a musical score, a complex and moving story about the cost of success, rivalry, redemption, and flying pianos.
Why it Made the List: This was one of the last comics I read before doing this list and clearly based on its placement I am glad I did. Art is a fickle beast in any form, and this shows how even those that master it may not fully feel complete or adequate. I love the trope of the cranky old man slowly opening up to someone and that is exactly what happens here. It is a beautiful and poignant tale drawn with some gorgeous art. Music is a hard thing to display in comic book form but Juan Cavia made the right call by focusing on the feeling rather than the sound. Like a great sympathy, it is full of ups, downs, and unexpected turns but everything has its place.
15. Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness
Writer/Artist: Kristen Radtke
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Description: There is a silent epidemic in America: loneliness. Shameful to talk about and often misunderstood, loneliness is everywhere, from the most major of metropolises to the smallest of towns. In Seek You, Kristen Radtke’s wide-ranging exploration of our inner lives and public selves, Radtke digs into the ways in which we attempt to feel closer to one another, and the distance that remains. Through the lenses of gender and violence, technology and art, Radtke ushers us through a history of loneliness and longing, and shares what feels impossible to share.
Why it Made the List: Like a great documentary, this combines a personal tale along with a well-researched and crafted analysis of a specific topic. In this case, being the way humans, specifically Americas, communicate or perhaps more fittingly don’t. While this book was not a response to the current Covid crisis it no doubt is coming out at the right time as the issue of loneliness is on the forefront as ever. It is more than being able to relate to what are on these pages it is the feeling of being better informed about the world we find ourselves and where these social constructs originate. From understanding the science behind laughs tracks to the biological ramifications of isolation. It is not only fascinating iti is always visually interesting.
14. I Never Promised You A Rose Garden
Writer/Artist: Mannie Murphy
Description: Mannie Murphy is a gender queer Portland native. This work of graphic nonfiction, told in the style of an illustrated diary, begins as an affectionate reminiscence of the author’s 1990s teenage infatuation with the late actor River Phoenix but morphs into a remarkable, sprawling account of the city of Portland and state of Oregon’s dark history of white nationalism. Murphy details the relationship between white supremacist Tom Metzger (former KKK Grand Wizard and founder of the White Aryan Resistance) and the “Rose City” street kids like Ken Death that infiltrated Van Sant’s films — a relationship that culminates in an infamous episode of Geraldo. Murphy brilliantly weaves 1990s alternative culture, from Kurt Cobain and William Burroughs to Keanu Reeves and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with two centuries of the Pacific Northwest’s shameful history as a hotbed for white nationalism: from the Whitman massacre in 1847 and the Ku Klux Klan’s role in Portland’s city planning in the early 1900s to the brutal treatment of Black people displaced in the 1948 Vanport flood and through the 2014 armed standoff with Cliven Bundy’s cattle ranch. In Murphy’s personal reflections and heart-racing descriptions of scenes like infamous campfire kiss in My Own Private Idaho, the artist’s story becomes a moral anchor to a deeply amoral regional history and marks the incredible debut of a talented new voice to the graphic medium.
Why it Made the List: One of my favorite things about this book was its design. Using classic line paper that gave it this aged journal feel. It was less like you were reading a comic and more the inner workings of a person coming to terms with the world around them. The story itself casts a wide net but eventually comes together as this cautionary tale of easy it is to get caught up in the rhetoric of cultic beliefs especially when you feel lost within your own world. Also how many of the White Nationalists beliefs that have come to the forefront in recent years have been there from the beginning in many communities and are what so much of Capitalistic society is built upon.
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Bruno Redondo
Publisher: DC Comics
Description: Nightwing is back—and his drive to keep Blüdhaven safe has never been stronger! But his adopted city has elected a new mayor with the last name Zucco. When Nightwing enlists Batgirl’s help in investigating the politician bearing the same name as the man who murdered his parents, she unearths details that will shock and fundamentally change the hero. The New York Times bestselling team of writer Tom Taylor (DCEASED, INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US) and artist Bruno Redondo (INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US, SUICIDE SQUAD) are about to take Nightwing to the next stage of his evolution as a hero!
Why it Made the List: I am a strong believer that it is impossible to ruin any character within superhero comics. DC tried to test that theory with what they did to Dick Dick Grayson over the last few years. Enter Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo to give us the Nightwing book so many fans have been waiting for. One issue in and this became one of DC’s best comics. All the voices of the characters were there and Bruno Redondo constructed some eye-popping imagery on each and every page. It has the uplifting feeling you want with a Nightwing book. Yes there are serious stakes and bad things happen, but this fun energy is always there. A type of book that will immediately put a smile on your face the moment you open it.
12. Beta Ray Bill
Writer/Artist: Daniel Warren Johnson
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Description: The second-most famous wielder of Mjolnir! Beta Ray Bill is tired of life in Thor’s shadow — and with Bill’s own mighty hammer, Stormbreaker, recently destroyed at the thunder god’s hands, Bill finds himself at a crossroads. The Korbinite must strike out in search of his destiny — assuming he can first defeat a Knullified Fin Fang Foom! Bill begins a hunt for Odin in hopes of resurrecting his golden weapon — but Stormbreaker is never coming back. Nonetheless, there is one place where Beta Ray Bill could restore his full powers. The All-Father of Nothing offers the Korbinite a path to immortality — but at a price not even a god can afford! Who will join Bill on a dangerous and deadly cosmic quest?
Why it Made the List: I have been a huge Daniel Warren Johnson fan for years now and was super excited when I heard he was going to do this book. His larger-than-life style felt perfect for a character like Beta Ray Bill and it was. Easily the best book Marvel put out this year. I feel like Marvel gave him the room to tell the story he wanted and it paid off. It was full of heart as Beta Ray Bill was trying to work to become whole again, and a great group of characters. Seeing Pip the Troll play a big role was a treat. To top it all off you have the bombastic art of Daniel Warren Johnson. His ability to be dynamic is up there with the best artists today. Especially love how the final battle had a feel of a classic WWF throwdown. It felt like Heavy Metal meets Wrestlemania 3. Everything was big and bold and with a purpose.
11. The Waiting
Writer/Artist: Keum Suk Gendry-Kim
Artist: Janet Hong
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Description: The Waiting is the fictional story of Gwija, told by her novelist daughter Jina. When Gwija was 17 years old, after hearing that the Japanese were seizing unmarried girls, her family married her in a hurry to a man she didn’t know. Japan fell, Korea gained its independence, and the couple started a family. But peace didn’t come. The young family of four fled south. On the road, while breastfeeding and changing her daughter, Gwija was separated from her husband and son. Then seventy years passed. Seventy years of waiting. Gwija is now an elderly woman and Jina can’t stop thinking about the promise she made to help find her brother.
Why it Made the List: Keum Suk Gendry-Kim’s last book Grass shook me to my core. That story of her family member surviving the Japanese occupation of China-made you question everything you knew about humanity. The Waiting was perhaps a less brutal experience but another important read to place the world we live in perspective. It is easy to look at the news and where we find ourselves and think this is as bad as things get. Then you read something like this and realize the ignorance of that idea. In America, we often do not spend much time talking about the ramifications of wars we help the cause. We forget the mothers, fathers, and sisters who have their lives ruined because of something they had nothing to do with. Waiting shows how a family can quickly be torn apart when fleeing from the devastation of war, but the spirit of hope thinking life can become hole once again.
Writer/Artist: Guillem March
Publisher: Image Comics
Description: Spanish writer and artist GUILLEM MARCH, best known for his work on Batman, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn, takes up his pen for a cutting-edge story about a highly unconventional angel named Karmen and the young woman she takes under her wing when heartbreak strikes too hard. Packed with intriguing twists and metaphysical musings, this gorgeously drawn series brings tenderness, heart, and humor to the delicate and difficult matters of life and death that we all face.
Why it Made the List: One of the more fascinating things about Karmen was how it was designed as a graphic novel but released in the US in issues. Typically that would be a format that would lead to awkward pacing and issues ending in ways that feel abrupt. However, it was constructed well enough that I would have never guessed it was not designed to be released in issues. A small feat, but one to point out nonetheless. The story itself is a life-affirming tale that is brutal at times and at others rather uplifting. Suicide is not an easy topic to talk about in any format. Guillem March constructed a scenario though that eased into the issue while looking at it from all possible sides. Also helps the pages were filled with some of the best art of the year. If you are an artist and want to know how to draw a world that feels alive this is a book to study.
9. Barbalien: Red Planet
Writer: Jeff Lemire, Tate Brombal
Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Publisher: Dark Horse
Description: Mark Markz has found his place on Earth as both a decorated police officer and as the beloved superhero, Barbalien. But in the midst of the AIDS crisis, hatred from all sides makes balancing these identities seem impossible–especially when a Martian enemy from the past hunts him down to take him back, dead or alive. Collects issues #1-#5 of the series
Why it Made the List: Black Hammer has put out some great comics and I could make an argument this was one of the best. It was the one that felt the truest to life with how it took on real issues like the Aids crisis. Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s use of the nine-panel grid was one of the best uses of the technique in quite some time. It was less about controlling the pacing of the story and more about enhancing the thematic resonance. Each line of panels tells a story and that middle panel is used to represent the central emotion. How hands are used to show love, life, death, anger, and power. A powerful motif that was one of the biggest reasons this was one of the best comics this week. When people talked about the storytelling that is alive in comic book art it works like this.
8. My Alcoholic Escape from Reality
Writer/Artist: Kabi Nagata
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Description: Nagata Kabi’s downward spiral is getting out of control, and she can’t stop drinking to soothe the ache of reality. After suffering from unbearable stomach pains, she goes to the hospital, where she is diagnosed with pancreatitis–and is immediately hospitalized. A new chapter unfolds in Nagata Kabi’s life, as she struggles to find her way back to reality and manga creation in the wake of her breakdown.
Why it Made the List: Nagata Kabi is a comic creator who faced two major challenges. The first was overcoming her addiction to alcohol and the other was deciding if her struggle was one she should share. In her latest comic My Alcoholic Escape from Reality, we see both of those struggles play out. The book opens as she learns she has acute pancreatitis due to her massive consumption of alcohol. Meaning if she were to drink more she could die. Faced with no options she works to get better although under this cloud of shame and failure. To her credit, she is open and honest about when she was not open and honest. As she tries to get back to as normal of health as she can she wonders if this experience is another one for her to write about. As someone who has written primarily about her life in the past would this be going a step too far. Now it may be odd that a major conflict within the book is answered by its very existence but in reality, the result is not the most important factor. As cliche, as it may sound it is the journey, and that experience is one worth sharing. Her cartoon is rough and sketchy to fit the scene and the use of this distinct orange color puts you in the right type of headspace.
7. Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?
Writer: Harold Schechter, Eric Powell
Artist: Eric Powell
Publisher: Albatross Funnybooks
Description: One of the greats in the field of true-crime literature, Harold Schechter (Deviant, The Serial Killer Files, Hell’s Princess), teams with five-time Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist Eric Powell (The Goon, Big Man Plans, Hillbilly) to bring you the tale of one of the most notoriously deranged murderers in American history, Ed Gein. DID YOU HEAR WHAT EDDIE GEIN DONE? is an in-depth exploration of the Gein family and what led to the creation of the necrophile who haunted the dreams of 1950s America and inspired such films as Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs.
Why it Made the List: Do you know what the movies Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs all have in common? They were all inspired by the same true-life story of Eddie Gein. In “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done” by Harold Schechter and Eric Powell we see that true-life story actually explored. These creators went to painstaking lengths to uncover the reality of who or what Eddie Gein was. What would breed such madness?
This has as close of an answer as any showing the woman that raised him and the power she had over nearly everyone including Gein. Living a life of false purity where religion was used as such a closed-in shelter the outside life became this foreign world of moral decay. Repression is this hovering beacon holding back sadistic tendencies until it no longer can. Still, the point here is to relive the reality, not trying to excuse it, not even trying to explain it, simply trying to tell it, and that’s exactly what they did.
As a fan of Powell’s art his style could not fit this scene better. His aesthetic has this AMericana aspect to it if it was born out of films like the Grapes of Wrath meets Universal monsters. In lives in an exaggerated reality similar to this tale. Certain scenes within this will be forever etched into my memory banks. Wearing a suit will forever have a different connotation to me now.
6. Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts
Writer: Rebecca Hall
Artist: Hugo Martinez
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Description: Wake tells the story of Dr. Rebecca Hall, a historian, granddaughter of slaves, and a woman haunted by the legacy of slavery. The accepted history of slave revolts has always told her that enslaved women took a back seat. But Rebecca decides to look deeper, and her journey takes her through old court records, slave ship captain’s logs, crumbling correspondence, and even the forensic evidence from the bones of enslaved women from the “negro burying ground” uncovered in Manhattan. She finds women warriors everywhere.
Why it Made the List: I have often heard the phrase, “History is written by the winners”, and sometimes it is hard to fully fathom what that means. Well, Wake: The Hidden History Women-Led Slave Revolts does the work to show us how history can be manipulated by those who have to maintain control throughout history. Rebecca Hall dives deep into centuries-old records to find the history that was forgotten or erased. It was a remarkable feat before a comic page was even made. Putting this story within the pages of a graphic novel was a fantastic choice. Seeing not only the story of what Hall went through but also the imagery she was unearthing in real-time. It is an eye-opening read that makes you wonder how much do we really know about the world we live in, and how much women have been silenced throughout history. This is a type of comic I can see being taught in schools for years to come.
5. A Journal Of My Father
Writer/Artist: Jirō Taniguchi
Publisher: Ponent Mon
Description: The book opens with some childhood thoughts of Yoichi Yamashita spurred by a phone call at work informing him of his father’s death. So, he journeys back to his hometown after an absence of well over a decade during which time he has not seen his father. But as the relatives gather for the funeral and the stories start to flow, Yoichi’s childhood starts to resurface. The Spring afternoons playing on the floor of his father’s barber shop, the fire that ravaged the city and his family home, his parents’ divorce and a new ‘mother’.
Through confidences and memories shared with those who knew him best, Yoichi rediscovers the man he had long considered an absent and rather cold father.
Why it Made the List: As I read through this book I kept thinking this had to be based on a true story. It is not but it made me wonder why I thought that. A big reason was just how reserved the drama was throughout. Some major things happen like an entire town being destroyed by fire, yet the way the characters approached those challenges always felt real. Major reactions did not happen immediately but that event caused cracks that became wider and wider with time. As someone who lost his mother last year, this also hit very close to home. How losing someone causes you to look back at life to what went right and wrong, and wonder if you could have done more to better that connection. Exploring that myself as I was reading this was a big reason it hit as hard as it did.
4. The Many Deaths of Laila Starr
Writer: Ram V.
Artist: Filipe Andrade
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Description: Humanity is on the verge of discovering immortality. As a result, the avatar of Death is cast down to Earth to live a mortal life in Mumbai as twenty-something Laila Starr. Struggling with her newfound mortality, Laila has found a way to be placed in the time and place where the creator of immortality will be born.
Will Laila take her chance to stop mankind from permanently altering the cycle of life, or will death really become a thing of the past?
A powerful new graphic novel from award-winning writer Ram V (These Savage Shores, Swamp Thing) and artist Filipe Andrade (Captain Marvel) that explores the fine line between living and dying through the lens of magical realism.
Why it Made the List: What is life without death? What role does death play in how society functions? Ram V. and Filipe Andrade explored those ideas and more by creating a story where Death was fighting for her right to existence. There are those stories that entertain you, those that make you laugh, and those that make you cry. The Many Deaths of Laila Starr did all of that and more. A story centered on death made me appreciate life even more with each passing issue. Death is a scary thing and something so much of us have dealt with recently more than we thought we would as a worldwide pandemic continues to rage. Art can often be a tool to help us heal and I feel like this story did that for me in some ways.
Writer/Artist: Barry Windsor-Smith
Description: Monsters is the legendary project Barry Windsor-Smith has been working on for over 35 years. A 380-page tour de force of visual storytelling, Monsters’ narrative canvas is both vast and deep: part familial drama, part political thriller, part metaphysical journey, it is an intimate portrait of individuals struggling to reclaim their lives and an epic political odyssey across two generations of American history. Trauma, fate, conscience, and redemption are just a few of the themes that intersect in the most ambitious graphic novel of Windsor-Smith’s career.
Why it Made the List: When you hear that something is thirty years in the making it is typically hyperbole but with Bary Windsor-Smith’s Monsters it is an apt description. This has been a long-rumored work that many wondered would see the light of day. When a book like that works up a massive reputation you do wonder if there is any way it can match what is in people’s minds. Well, Monsters may not fully live up to those impossible expectations, but looking at it as a single piece it is one of the most captivating reads in some time.
Barry Windsor-Smith has had a career for some time and this is clearly is Magnum-Opus designed to push himself and the medium to new heights. His artwork here is immaculate and with the fine engrained detail, massive layouts, and impressive character work there is no wonder it took three decades to complete. The book comes in over 300 pages and you certainly feel it.
The general premise may seem a bit simple for such an epic. A government-created Monster on the loose that simply wants peace is a cliche as old as comics, and the genesis of this was intended to be a Hulk story but grew to be so much more. Delving into the trauma of the monster and how it originates from his abusive father.
What this does is delve deep into that family life and backstory showing how his father was morphed by the horrors of World War II into something completely different. Yes the theme of ‘Humans are the real monsters’ is here but it is not alone. It is a comic oozing in ambition and executing that ambition with pretty amazing effect. Allowing scenes to breathe and build in tension to the point where you become engrossed in every little laid in front of you. An inspiration both in the story itself but more so for Bary Windsor-Smith’s dedication to making the story he wanted despite the massive challenges.
2. Run: Book One
Writer: John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
Artist: Nate Powell
Publisher: Abrams Books
Description: After writing one of the most acclaimed comic series of the past decade with March the creative team have returned with Run to pick up where they left off. March was as look back at the life of John Lewis leading up to the march on Selma. Run takes place after the signing of the Vptomg Rights act as organizations like the SNCC attempt to get African-Americas registered to vote despite the emise opposition. Seeing this story through the eyes of a Civil Rights Icons like John Lewis lends so much credence to this work. You see the doubt he had wondering if there was still place from him in the movement as the tides were turning. The dangers he and so many went through as they fought for their basic civil liberties and seeing the tragic lives that were lost in that struggle. A time in history we try to gloss over as if the signing of one act was enough to fix generations of racism and prejudice. Nate Powell also continues to impress with his cartooning. He has the right sense of realism so you are reminded this is a representation of true life. We may have lost John Lewis but we still have his story and his spirit certainly remains within the pages of this comic His failures and doubts are there along with the triumphs. It is a lesson we need to know and especially remember it is a struggle that still remains to this day.
Why it Made the List: After writing one of the most acclaimed comic series of the past decade with March the creative team has returned with Run to pick up where they left off. March was a look back at the life of John Lewis leading up to the march on Selma. Run takes place after the signing of the Voiting Rights act as organizations like the SNCC attempt to get African-Americans registered to vote despite the massive opposition. Seeing this story through the eyes of a Civil Rights Icons like John Lewis lends so much credence to this work. You see the doubt he had wondering if there was still a place from him in the movement as the tides were turning. The dangers he and so many went through as they fought for their basic civil liberties and saw the tragic lives that were lost in that struggle. A time in history we try to gloss over as if the signing of one-act was enough to fix generations of racism and prejudice. Nate Powell also continues to impress with his cartooning. He has the right sense of realism so you are reminded this is a representation of true life. We may have lost John Lewis but we still have his story and his spirit certainly remains within the pages of this comic His failures and doubts are there along with the triumphs. It is a lesson we need to know and especially remember it is a struggle that still remains to this day.
1. In: A Graphic Novel
Writer/Artist: Will McPhail
Publisher: Mariner Books
Description: Nick, a young illustrator, can’t shake the feeling that there is some hidden realm of human interaction beyond his reach. He haunts lookalike fussy, silly, coffee shops, listens to old Joni Mitchell albums too loudly, and stares at his navel in the hope that he will find it in there. But it isn’t until he learns to speak from the heart that he begins to find authentic human connections and is let in—to the worlds of the people he meets. Nick’s journey occurs alongside the beginnings of a relationship with Wren, a wry, spirited oncologist at a nearby hospital, whose work and life becomes painfully tangled with Nick’s.
Why it Made the List: Is one of the biggest challenges in your life having a meaningful conversation? Well, then you will really relate to Will McPhail’s most recent graphic novel In. The story follows Nick who is a young illustrator that has trouble connecting with people. That includes his own family like his mother who is facing a major medical decision. What fascinated me the most with this was how its emotional core sneaks up on you. Nick feels like your typical aloof man-child we see a lot in film and TV at first but what makes it different is seeing that sardonic presence dissipate when facing overwhelming grief. McPhail is an effective cartoonist and appreciates the openness he uses with his page design. You’ll have these different dreamlike sequences that work at bringing you into an entirely new world. There are three panels in this book that hit me on a level I was not expecting as we see Nick finally reveal what is really eating away at his soul. It was a barrage of honest emotion that brought the entire reading experience to an entirely new level. As we are in a time and place when many have lost so much there is something to be said when a piece of art can encapsulate that experience in only a few words. That was the case for In and why it was such a meaningful reading experience for me.