25. 20th Century Men
Writer: Deniz Camp
Artist: S. Morian
Publisher: Image Comics
Synopsis: At the end of the 20th century, superheroes, geniuses, madmen, and activists rush towards WWIII! A Soviet “iron” hero, a superpowered American president, an insane cyborg soldier, an Afghan woman hellbent on building a better life for her people-these strange yet familiar beings collide in a story that mixes history, politics, and comic book mythology into something totally new. Welcome to 20TH CENTURY MEN, where the edges of our reality and fiction touch, overlap…and then explode.
Why it Made the List: 20th Century Men is an apt title because this comic encapsulates so much about the twentieth century both in the realms of real-world history and pop culture. It speaks to the impact of Science Fiction along with the Cold War. This has some of the sharpest and most pointed social commentaries in a comic since the heyday of Vertigo comics.
So much of this feels like a Vertigo comic, especially the art of S. Morian. It is ugly in a beautiful sense. The world and its characters are rugged and damaged to represent the themes that are being explored. How the vile nature of pop culture and politics are leading to a depraved world.
This is also a throwback to how so much story is packed into each and every issue. Single issues today can be a breeze to read due to limited dialog and story. Not the case with 20th Century Men. It is a comic you need to pay attention to, and the more patient you are as a reader the more you are rewarded.
24. Look Back
Writer/Artist: Tatsuki Fujimoto
Publisher: VIZ Media
Synopsis: A heart-wrenching single-volume story about the struggles of being an artist, from the creator of Chainsaw Man.
The overly confident Fujino and the shut-in Kyomoto couldn’t be more different, but a love of drawing manga brings these two small-town girls together. A poignant story of growing up and moving forward that only Tatsuki Fujimoto, the creator of Chainsaw Man, could have crafted.
The overly confident Fujino and the shut-in Kyomoto couldn’t be more different, but a love of drawing manga brings these two small-town girls together. A poignant story of growing up and moving forward that only Tatsuki Fujimoto, the creator of Chainsaw Man, could have crafted.
Why it Made the List: Tatsuki Fujimoto is one of the biggest names in comics right now, but this is a story that is so different from his other current works. The best way I could describe it would be as if Rob Zombie decided to make a movie you would typically see done by Richard Linklater. A person is known for the extreme stripping all of that away to tell a very human tale. I am here for it.
The one word that fills my mind when thinking of Look Back is drive. Drive is what these characters are obsessed with as they attempt to become the best artist at their school. The continuous motif of the slouching back of a young person as they spend hours at a drawing board is a striking one. It evokes a feeling of isolation that becomes so important with the shocking conclusion.
23. The Night Eaters, Vol. 1: She Eats the Night
Writer: Marjorie M. Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Synopsis: The first volume in a new graphic novel horror trilogy from Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda—the creative team behind the New York Times bestselling series Monstress
Chinese American twins, Milly and Billy, are having a tough time. On top of the multiple failures in their personal and professional lives, they’re struggling to keep their restaurant afloat. Luckily their parents, Ipo and Keon, are in town for their annual visit. Having immigrated from Hong Kong before the twins were born, Ipo and Keon have supported their children through thick and thin and are ready to lend a hand—but they’re starting to wonder, has their support made Milly and Billy incapable of standing on their own?
When Ipo forces them to help her clean up the house next door—a hellish and run-down ruin that was the scene of a grisly murder—the twins are in for a nasty surprise. A night of terror, gore, and supernatural mayhem reveals that there is much more to Ipo and her children than meets the eye.
Why it Made the List: Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda is a series I always respected more than I enjoyed. The craftsmanship was undeniable but I could never get as emotionally invested as I would have liked. That was not the case with The Night Eaters.
The Night Eaters wears its allegory on its sleeve as it is designed to represent the plight of the Immigrant parent. The conflict between trying to acclimate their children to the culture of their new home so they do not feel ostracized by their peers, but that can lead to a division as the parents and children seem like they are from two very different worlds.
Sana Takeda has a knack for making the disgusting look elegant. Eating the tentacles of demonic creatures almost appears high class. With this only being the first book in a trilogy the majority of time was spent on understanding these characters and their relationships. What’s the best way to do that? Throw everyone into chaos and see how they react.
22. Always Never
Writer/Artist: Jordi Lafebre
Publisher: Dark Horse
Synopsis: Not all love stories are made equally. Some take decades to blossom, seeming almost to go in reverse. Such is the case for Zeno, a 60-year-old PhD student and nomad bookshop owner, and Ana, a freshly retired mayor, mother, and wife. After years of popping in and out of each other’s lives, crossing paths but never quite able to grab hold, their impossible but unshakable love may just have one last chance to flourish, before the final curtain…
Why it Made the List: Always Never is one of the best-looking comics I have read in all of 2022. Jordi Lafebre has a very heavy line that yields some expressive characters and worlds. That along with an eye-popping color palette give it a look akin to the most pristine animated films.
The narrative takes the classic ‘The one that got away’ love story and gives it a bit of a spin as it is told in reverse order; starting with Chapter 20 and ending with Chapter one. This may be a bit of a gimmick but its purpose is well established within the text, and the truth is the book oozes with so much charm it doesn’t matter what direction you are reading it in.
Plus it is a romance story that is nearly void of any trope typically associated with the genre, or if one does approach it keeps it at arm’s length. Fitting since these are characters that are also so close to one another but something is there making a complete connection impossible.
21. Acting Class
Writer/Artist: Nick Drnaso
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Synopsis: From the acclaimed author of Sabrina, Nick Drnaso’s Acting Class creates a tapestry of disconnect, distrust, and manipulation. Ten strangers are brought together under the tutelage of John Smith, a mysterious and morally questionable leader. The group of social misfits and restless searchers have one thing in common: they are out of step with their surroundings and desperate for change.
A husband and wife, four years into their marriage and simmering in boredom. A single mother, her young son showing disturbing signs of mental instability. A peculiar woman with few if any friends and only her menial job keeping her grounded. A figure model, comfortable in his body and ready for a creative challenge. A worried grandmother and her adult granddaughter; a hulking laborer and gym nut; a physical therapist; an ex-con.
With thrumming unease, the class sinks deeper into their lessons as the process demands increasing devotion. When the line between real life and imagination begins to blur, the group’s deepest fears and desires are laid bare. Exploring the tension between who we are and how we present, Drnaso cracks open his characters’ masks and takes us through an unsettling American journey.
Why it Made the List: You know those people that complain that there aren’t enough new stories? Well, I think Nick Drnaso exists to counteract their point as proven again with his most recent book Acting Class.
Concept wise Acting Class seems as simple as can be as a group of strangers sign up for a free acting class. What transpires is this contemplative account of how our reality is one we make for ourselves, and because of that, it can be reshaped if our internal desires are pushed every so gently in the right direction.
Drnaso casts a wide net with the number of characters he places within the story, but I also think that is purposeful because this is a type of story that does not want you to get too comfortable. Before you know it you have moved on to another character.
With that structure, its dry sensibility, and non-descriptive art this is not a comic that is going to work with a lot of people. If you are not a patient reader it is probably going to get dull rather quickly.
What I found working with this was how it demonstrates the power indoctrination and how it is the most powerful when you are not looking for it. How art, politics, religion, or even a random hobby can fill a void that eventually changes what we value. Once you change that who are you?
20. The Treasure of the Black Swan
Writer/Artist: Paco Roca
Artist: Andrea Rosenberg
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Synopsis: May 2007. When an American treasure-hunting company uncovers a shipwreck containing the greatest underwater trove ever found, the world is captivated by their discovery. But over in Spain, a group of low-level government officials surmises that the sunken ship is in fact an ancient Spanish vessel. Thus begins a legal and political thriller, pitting a group of idealistic diplomats against a rich and powerfully connected treasure hunter, in which vital cultural artifacts and hundreds of millions of dollars hang in the balance.
Cartoonist Paco Roca and writer Guillermo Corral bring a cinematic flair to this graphic novel, combining threads of Tintin-inspired seafaring adventure, political intrigue, tense courtroom drama, and, in the midst of it all, a budding romance. A gripping dramatization of a little-known, unbelievable true story of money, political power, and cultural heritage.
Why it Made the List: Paco Roca is such a natural storyteller. It may seem like an odd comparison but he reminds me of Aaron Sorkin in the crisp way he writes dialog and how lively his characters are, and how their investment into the issue at hand is so strong it gets you invested as well.
Roca takes a real-life event I knew nothing about and makes me wonder how was this not a much bigger story across the world. It is a type of story you may read the headline of and not think much about, but as everything progresses the stakes increase to epic proportions. If Roca’s name is on a book I am reading it, and The Treasure of the Black Swan is another example of why that is a great rule to live by.
19. That Texas Blood
Writer: Chris Condon
Artist: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Synopsis: As a winter storm looms over Ambrose County in January of 1992, a local woman’s body is discovered and believed to be the latest victim of a horrifying West Texas serial murderer known as the Red Queen Killer.
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL (Halt and Catch Fire, The Blue Flame, Iron Man) calls the series: “…the perfect kind of Texas noir-timeless, sinister, funny, kind, and poignant.”
Why it Made the List: There is so much about That Texas Blood that is uncommon in today’s comic book world. It is an indie series that has hit twenty issues, it is a crime story that has zero supernatural elements, and it has continued to get better and better with each new arc. This last arc That Texas Blood hit another level and this is a book I have loved since it began.
With volume three the story gets into the world of serial killers and I was worried at first because serial killers have been done to death–pun not intended. When the execution is great that does not matter. I was amazed by the amount of dread that was evoked with every issue. Just looking at the mask sends classic shivers down my spine. Why this all works though is because I have grown to really care about this world and characters over these last twenty issues.
Bottomline That Texas Blood has been one of the most consistent comics over the last few years that builds on its own success as well as anything I have read.
18. Fantastic Four: Full Circle
Writer/Artist: Alex Ross
Colorist: Josh Johnson
Publisher: Marvel / Abrams ComicArts
Synopsis: In Fantastic Four: Full Circle, it’s a rainy night in Manhattan, and not a creature is stirring except for . . . Ben Grimm. When an intruder suddenly appears inside the Baxter Building, the Fantastic Four — Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards), the Invisible Woman (Susan Storm Richards), the Human Torch (Johnny Storm), and the Thing (Ben Grimm) — find themselves surrounded by a swarm of invading parasites. These carrion creatures composed of Negative Energy come to Earth using a human host as a delivery system. But for what purpose? And who is behind this untimely invasion?
The Fantastic Four have no choice but to journey into the Negative Zone, an alien universe composed entirely of anti-matter, risking not just their own lives but the fate of the cosmos!
Why it Made the List: What a joy to see Alex Ross do interior art again! Alex Ross has become king of covers over the last decade and when you look at his work on series like Immortal Hulk you can understand why he doesn’t have time to do interiors. When it does happen it is a treat as Fantastic Four: Full Circle showcases.
Ross is a student of the game as this attests. This is the Fantastic Four in their purest form going on an adventure that is sure to go wrong. It has links to some of the most iconic Fantastic Four stories of all time, but some of the more forgotten tales as well. Credit should also go to Josh Johnson who colors Ross and gives the art a much different look. Gone is that painted sheen you would expect with comics like Marvels. It has a harsher look that exemplifies shadows a bit more, but the palette also explodes in cosmic beauty to make the essence of Jack Kirby proud.
17. Little Monarchs
Writer/Artist: Jonathan Case
Publisher: Margaret Ferguson Books
Synopsis: Little Monarchs is a new kind of graphic novel adventure–one that invites readers to take an intimate look at the natural world and the secrets hidden within. Elvie and Flora’s adventures take place in real locations marked panel-by-panel with coordinates and a compass heading. Curious readers can follow their travel routes and see the same landscapes–whether it be a secluded butterfly grove on the California coast or a hot-springs in the high desert. Through both comic narrative and journal entries, readers learn the basics of star navigation, how to tie useful knots, and other survival skills applicable in the natural world.
Creator Jonathan Case acquired the fact-based portion of Little Monarchs through intensive research and several expeditions to study monarchs across the western United States. Scientific support also came from the Xerces Society, the world leaders in monarch preservation.
Why it Made the List: I picked up Little Monarchs knowing absolutely nothing about the story, and based on the cover assumed it was going to be a sweet tale of a girl finding her way while learning about butterflies. In a roundabout way that is what happens, but that journey was a bit more complex and dangerous than I expected.
This was a dystopian future tale done in the best possible way. No tired concepts you normally get with this genre, and to replace them is a stunning amount of originality and detail. This reminded me a lot of the book and movie The Martian where you have really smart people trying to solve a cavalcade of impossible problems in ways that would actually work in real life. I had no idea of the power of butterflies but it goes to show how something that looks so delicate can be mighty.
Writer/Artist: Naoki Urasawa
Publisher: VLZ Media
Synopsis: When Asa’s mother goes into labor yet again, Asa runs off to find a doctor. But no one bats an eye when she doesn’t return—not even as a storm approaches Nagoya. Forgotten yet again, Asa runs into a burglar and tries to stop him on her own, a decision that leads to an unlikely alliance.
Why it Made the List: I would describe Asadora as a slow burn not because of a methodical pace, but because it is a story that slowly reveals it is a type of genre story. At first, it seems like this could be a true-life account of surviving a natural disaster in 1959, but bit by bit some more fantastical elements begin to show themselves. I adore the characters in this, especially Asa, who is a ball of fire. Not often a friendship starts with kidnapping but there is a first for everything.
With the volumes that came out this year that slow burn engulfed into a massive fire as the monster that started it all returned. Beyond the use of kaiju, this also touches on how Japan tried to adjust its stance in the world after World War II with the use of the Olympics. Love how much this story builds and builds with each volume and uses real-life events to signify how much time is passing.
15. Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands
Writer/Artist: Kate Beaton
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Synopsis: Before there was Kate Beaton, New York Times bestselling cartoonist of Hark A Vagrant fame, there was Katie Beaton of the Cape Breton Beatons, specifically Mabou, a tight-knit seaside community where the lobster is as abundant as beaches, fiddles, and Gaelic folk songs. After university, Beaton heads out west to take advantage of Alberta’s oil rush, part of the long tradition of East Coasters who seek gainful employment elsewhere when they can’t find it in the homeland they love so much. With the singular goal of paying off her student loans, what the journey will actually cost Beaton will be far more than she anticipates.
Arriving in Fort McMurray, Beaton finds work in the lucrative camps owned and operated by the world’s largest oil companies. Being one of the few women among thousands of men, the culture shock is palpable. It does not hit home until she moves to a spartan, isolated worksite for higher pay. She encounters the harsh reality of life in the oil sands where trauma is an everyday occurrence yet never discussed. Her wounds may never heal.
Why it Made the List: Fitting that in a year when major Student Loan legislation is made in the US we get a comic like Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands where the creator recounts her time working on oil fields in order to pay massive student loan debts.
Kate Beaton accomplishes many things with this memoir including showing what life is like for a type of life so many of us know nothing about but heavily rely upon. How that type of isolation can lead to a multitude of issues especially if you are a woman in such a male-dominated world. It is not an easy read at times as Beaton opens up about some rather serious abuse that occurred. Abuse and harassment were so much part of life it became the norm.
So is this a hit piece designed to expose an industry for its failures to protect its workers? That would be a massive simplification of what this is doing. What you see consistently with this is people being stuck and how those with power can take advantage of that fact.
Beaton’s greatest skill may be in the way she expresses character. A challenge considering everyone in this book is based on a real-life person, and there is quite a cavalcade of people she encounters throughout her experience. Beaton brings us into this world by letting us to get know who those people are and what drove them all to work this hellish job.
14. Shuna’s Journey
Writer/Artist: Hayao Miyazaki
Translator: Alex Dudok de Wit
Publisher: First Second
Synopsis: From legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki comes a new manga classic about a prince on a quest for a golden grain that would save his land, never before published in English!
Shuna, the prince of a poor land, watches in despair as his people work themselves to death harvesting the little grain that grows there. And so, when a traveler presents him with a sample of seeds from a mysterious western land, he sets out to find the source of the golden grain, dreaming of a better life for his subjects.
It is not long before he meets a proud girl named Thea. After freeing her from captivity, he is pursued by her enemies, and while Thea escapes north, Shuna continues toward the west, finally reaching the Land of the God-Folk.
Why it Made the List: Maybe some would consider this a cheat since this was made decades ago, but since this is the first time it was released in English I am counting it. Similar to why Bomba was also included.
Hayao Miyazaki is one of the best storytellers of his generation no matter the medium. The mind beyond such iconic movies like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke has a generational gift for creating worlds and all of that can be found in Shuna’s Journey. Any Miyazaki fan would be doing themselves a disservice if they skip this one.
13. Hakim’s Odyssey
Writer/Artist: Fabien Toulmé
Translator: Hannah Chute
Publisher: Graphic Mundi
Synopsis: What does it mean to be a “refugee”? It is easy for those of us who live in relative freedom to ignore or even to villainize people who have been forced to flee their homes. After all, it can be hard to identify with others’ experiences when you haven’t been in their shoes.
In Hakim’s Odyssey, we see firsthand how war can make anyone a refugee. Hakim, a successful young Syrian who had his whole life ahead of him, tells his story: how war forced him to leave everything behind, including his family, his friends, his home, and his business. After the Syrian uprising in 2011, Hakim was arrested and tortured, his town was bombed, his business was seized by the army, and members of his family were arrested or disappeared. This first leg of his odyssey follows Hakim as he travels from Syria to Lebanon, Lebanon to Jordan, and Jordan to Turkey, where he struggles to earn a living and dreams of one day returning to his home.
Why it Made the List: With how war-torn the world has become the term refugee is one that has become more and more common. So common it can be easy to forget the individual stories behind those numbers spouted on the evening news. A series like Hakim’s Oddesy works to provide context to what the lives of those individuals are actually like.
With the complexity of these situations, no one story should be used to represent everyone, and this is something creator Fabien Toulmé works to demonstrate. A key takeaway is how the path of the refugee is not a linear one. It is one struggle after the next as people simply try to live after everything they know is torn away from them.
There is a personal touch to this story’s approach as it is done in an interview style. We see Toulmé and Hakim interact in between the interview segments to represent the entire process, how challenging it can be to relive this experience and also to understand this journey is far from over.
12. Flung Out of Space: Inspired by the Indecent Adventures of Patricia Highsmith
Writer: Grace Ellis
Artist: Hannah Templer
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Synopsis: A fictional and complex portrait of bestselling author Patricia Highsmith caught up in the longing that would inspire her queer classic, The Price of Salt
Flung Out of Space opens with Pat begrudgingly writing low-brow comics. A drinker, a smoker, and a hater of life, Pat knows she can do better. Her brain churns with images of the great novel she could and should be writing—what will eventually be Strangers on a Train— which would later be adapted into a classic film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951.
At the same time, Pat, a lesbian consumed with self-loathing, is in and out of conversion therapy, leaving a trail of sexual conquests and broken hearts in her wake. However, one of those very affairs and a chance encounter in a department store give Pat the idea for her soon-to-be beloved tale of homosexual love that was the first of its kind—it gave the lesbian protagonists a happy ending.
This is not just the story behind a classic queer book, but of a queer artist who was deeply flawed. It’s a comic about what it was like to write comics in the 1950s, but also about what it means to be a writer at any time in history, struggling to find your voice.
Why It Made the List: Did you ever not like a story because you couldn’t find a character that was likable? Well, then this comic may not be for you because Patricia Highsmith was the type of person who did not work well with others. She may have had a hard edge, but that hard edge is what made her compelling and one of the best writers of her day.
Most importantly when you see her life you can understand where that is coming from. She lived during a time and place where who she was as a person was seen as a disease that needed to be cured. (Sadly for some that is still the case) She worked in comics, which may seem like a great job but at the time was looked down upon. Biographies can be stale and matter-of-fact, and that was never the case here. Grace Ellis and Hannah Templer did not just tell us what happened. They told us who Patricia Highsmith was, barbs and all.
11. Follow Me Down
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Synopsis: The FIFTH BOOK in the best-selling Reckless series is here!
Bestselling crime noir masters Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips bring us another original graphic novel starring troublemaker-for-hire Ethan Reckless.
In the wake of the 1989 earthquake, Ethan takes a trip to San Francisco to search for a missing woman. But almost immediately he finds himself going down a path of darkness and murder in her wake, in a case unlike anything he’s faced before.
Why It Made the List: Death, taxes, and Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips make great comics. Actually considering the tax loopholes the richest of the rich tend to find Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip making great comics might actually be more certain.
Follow Me Down is the fifth installment of the Reckless franchise and so far this series has not lost a step. I miss getting monthly issues of Criminal but I cannot deny the results of putting these together into one complete package. This might be the boldest of all the installments so far considering the actual scope of this story. Considering we are getting a break from Reckless for a bit I can understand the choice as this could end the series altogether if needed, but Brubaker and Phillips are smart enough to give themselves plenty of room if they were to ever return in the future.
10. Open Bar
Writer/Artist: Eduardo Medeiros
Publisher: Oni Press
Synopsis: Lenny and Beardo are two childhood friends with a lot of road behind them. When Beardo’s deadbeat dad dies and leaves them his old bar, they make a go of it as business partners. Easy enough, right? Maybe not.
Running a business in a low-traffic area of town isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but luckily for the boys, the one-two punch of viral media attention when their neighbor gets crushed by a 747 engine that falls from the sky and a sorta suspect (but very potent) beer recipe they stumble into catch the public’s imagination at just the right time.
Things get even more complicated when Lenny’s ex-girlfriend Amanda shows up again, pregnant. Can our two heroes weather the ravages of success any better than they dealt with being losers? Can Lenny level up and be a good dad? Can Beardo forgive his dead, absentee father? Will the general public run them out of town when they find out what was in that beer? These questions and more are answered inside!
Why It Made the List: This opens with a letter from Kyle Starks talking about how much he loves this story, and part of me just wants to put what he said verbatim. Being a Starks fan his endorsement means a lot and I can see why a comic like this would work for him. It has a lot of what I loved about his work starting with sharp cartooning, a snappy wit, and it all builds to quite the emotional payoff.
A big reason I have rated it so highly was due to the emotional impact it had on me. I was ready for the comedy and laughed when it wanted me to laugh, but I was not expecting the level of heart it also portrayed. I almost missed this one and it became one of the best surprises of the entire year for me.
9. Talk to My Back
Writer/Artist: Murasaki Yamada
Translator: Ryan Holmberg
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Synopsis: Set in an apartment complex on the outskirts of Tokyo, Talk To My Back (1981–84) explores the fraying of Japan’s suburban middle-class dreams through a woman’s relationship with her two daughters as they mature and assert their independence, and with her husband, who works late and sees his wife as little more than a domestic servant.
While engaging frankly with the compromises of marriage and motherhood, Yamada remains generous with the characters who fetter her protagonist. When her husband has an affair, Chiharu feels that she, too, has broken the marital contract by straying from the template of the happy housewife. Yamada saves her harshest criticisms for society at large, particularly its false promises of eternal satisfaction within the nuclear family—as fears of having been “thrown away inside that empty vessel called the household” gnaw at Chiharu’s soul.
Yamada was the first cartoonist in Japan to use the expressive freedoms of alt-manga to address domesticity and womanhood in a realistic, critical, and sustained way. A watershed work of literary manga, Talk To My Back was serialized in the influential magazine Garo in the early 1980s, and is translated by Eisner nominated Ryan Holmberg.
Why It Made the List: This is a look at the challenges of motherhood and how women can lose their identity to an assumed role society has constructed for them. The Loneliness that comes with it, but it is also an example of how to reclaim your life as your own
This may not seem revolutionary for today but this was first made in the late 70s and is now being translated for English audiences. The art has moments of Impressionism where the details and features of the world seemingly dissipate to reveal the level of emptiness that exists.
A bit fascinating considering how much of the subject matter approached in this is still controversial in some circles. Yamada Murasaki is a pioneer in storytelling and hopefully, this new translation of her work can shine more light on her skill as a creator and insight as a human. As a father and husband, this is a worthwhile read to shake you into the reality of how easy it is to fall into these assumed roles that exist to this day.
8. Negalyod – The God Network
Writer/Artist: Vincent Perriot
Publisher: Titan Comics
Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic far future/alternate world, dinosaurs roam the desolate land, while the last denizens of humanity survive together in technological cities run by a military regime.
Why It Made the List: One of my favorite things about comics is when you read a comic you know nothing about and are absolutely blown away. (Something that is a lot easier to do thanks to the library). I mean truly blown away; not just that you enjoyed it or were impressed by it. Rather it captivated your attention to such a degree you could focus on nothing else but reading, and once you are finished you wish you could wipe your mind and read it again for the first time. That happened to me while reading Negalyod: The God Network.
When you combine Westerns and Dinosaurs you have connected with both my old soul and my childhood. So I don’t doubt that helped aid in my overall enjoyment. Beyond that, this is why Science Fiction can work so well in the comic book medium. With no budget to worry about you can have these massive ideas and vivid worlds that would cost billions to make if done on the screen. With a gifted artist, you can have well-rendered dinosaurs on one panel and a retro-futuristic world on the next. The amount of detail that was used in those city landscapes was something to behold.
Still, all of that means nothing if you don’t have a great story with great characters behind it. Narratively you have a classic hero’s journey mixed with a revenge tale. A shepherd trying to find the person responsible for killing his herd feels like it was taken straight from a John Ford movie. That was just the beginning as it leads to a much larger tale of fighting back against a fascist regime, and then it all comes together by reflecting on humans’ relationship to nature.
7. Animal Castle
Writer: Xavier Dorison
Artist: Felix Delep
Synopsis: On the Farm all animals were equal. In the Castle some are more equal than others. For fans of the bestselling Stray Dogs and the Eisner Award winning Beasts of Burden comes an animal fable at once familiar and surprising! You may think you know the story, but set aside your assumptions. This animal uprising is unlike any you have read!
Nestled in the heart of a farm forgotten by men, the Animal Castle is ruled with an iron hoof by President Silvio. The bull and its dog militia savor their power, while the other animals are exhausted by work, until the arrival of the mysterious Azelar, a traveling rat who will teach them the secrets of civil disobedience.
Collecting issues 1-5 of the bestselling comic series into a handsome hardcover volume, with complete cover gallery and bonus material, including behind the scenes info and illustrations.
Why It Made the List: Based on its tagline, “On the Farm all animals were equal. In the Castle some are more equal than others.”, Xavier Dorison and Felix Delep were not trying to hide where their inspiration comes from. Where Animal Farm examined the practice of communism Animal Castle goes the other way with the focus on fascism and some could argue capitalism as well. Mostly though it was a tale of civil disobedience and how to rebel against prejudicial working conditions.
What better than animals to use to demonstrate humanity and all its forms? Felix Delep’s art is what makes this all work. Drawing animals that demonstrate human emotions while staying true to their real-life designs is not easy, especially in a comic. His rendering was on-point the entire time especially when it came to body language. This is a great book to study on how to use design to inform personality.
6. It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth
Writer/Artist: Zoe Thorogood
Publisher: Image Comics
Synopsis: Cartoonist Zoe Thorogood records 6 months of her own life as it falls apart in a desperate attempt to put it back together again in the only way she knows how. IT’S LONELY AT THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH is an intimate and metanarrative look into the life of a selfish artist who must create for her own survival.
Why It Made the List: The future of comics! A label that feels like it will do nothing but set someone up to fail especially when they are as early in their career as Zoe Thorogood. So why not make a comic like It’s Lonely at the Center of the Earth that examines the struggle of creating comics at a time when the world is falling apart?
I could see how this would drive some readers crazy with how it seems to meander and almost belittle its own existence, but I found myself enthralled with how open Thorogood was. How she use that openness to experiment with the language of comic books. Her style, form, and even designs will change as she tries to discover what this actual comic was meant to be.
I was reminded of one of my favorite recent comics The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist by Adrian Tomine in how both depict the lack of glamor that exists for comic book creators. Showing how you can be this award-winning author that is seen to be at the top of your field, yet extremely unknown to the vast majority of the people around you.
So is Zoe Thorogood the future of comics? I hope so because the world of comics is better when we get work like this because as we know it is so relatable. So relatable.
5. The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere.
Writer/Artist: James Spooner
Publisher: Mariner Books
Synopsis: A formative coming-of-age graphic memoir by the creator of Afro-punk: a young man’s immersive reckoning with identity, racism, clumsy teen love and belonging in an isolated California desert, and a search for salvation and community through punk.
Apple Valley, California, in the late eighties, a thirsty, miserable desert.
Teenage James Spooner hates that he and his mom are back in town after years away. The one silver lining—new school, new you, right? But the few Black kids at school seem to be gangbanging, and the other kids fall on a spectrum of micro-aggressors to future Neo-Nazis. Mixed race, acutely aware of his Blackness, James doesn’t know where he fits until he meets Ty, a young Black punk who introduces him to the school outsiders—skaters, unhappy young rebels, caught up in the punk groundswell sweeping the country.
Why It Made the List: I have read plenty of graphic memoirs but few had the level of introspection of James Spooner’s The High Desert. Spooner looks back at his high school years specifically at a time when he returned to Apple Valley, California at a time he was just trying to understand who he was. A common task amongst teenagers but Spooner’s situation was anything but common.
Being one of the few black kids in his neighborhood he already felt out of place and it seemed the only thing that made sense to him was Punk rock music. Although, being a black kid living the Punk lifestyle did lead him to have a bit of an identity crisis at times.
What I found fascinating about this memoir was how Spooner looked back at those times with the eyes of the present to show how not understanding things like internal racism can make people feel even more lost. He has a way with words and art to craft this picture of what his life was like and how small moments had a massive lingering impact on who he was as a person. Anyone who has ever felt out of place will find a level of wisdom in Spooner’s journey to relive what brought him to where he is today.
4. Do a Powerbomb
Writer/Artist: Daniel Warren Johnson
Publisher: Image Comics
Synopsis: Lona Steelrose wants to be a pro-wrestler, but she’s living under the shadow of her mother, the best to ever do it. Everything changes when a wrestling obsessed necromancer asks her to join the grandest pro-wrestling tournament of all time, which is also the most dangerous! It’s THE WRESTLER meets DRAGONBALL Z, in a tale where the competitors get more than they ever bargained for!
Why It Made the List: Daniel Warren Johnson is the most dynamic artist in major comics today. After series like Murder Falcon, Extremity, Betta Ray Bill, and now Do A Powerbomb I feel safe in saying if he is putting out a book it will be among my favorites of the year.
Even if you are not a wrestling fan, seeing the way Johnson displays the movement of the wrestlers can give you an appreciation you never had. Characters are graceful and viscous all within the same sequence. One of my favorite panels this entire year was within this series as a wrestler does a moonsault off the top rope. Johnson knows where to put the camera to capture the spectacle in such an awe-inspiring manner.
As has been his staple, Johnson finds the heart in the most out-there concepts as well. At the center of this story is the desire to see someone you lost again. To get that second chance so many would dream about getting. You have countless reasons to be invested, and you are rewarded for that investment each and every time.
3. The Human Target
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Greg Smallwood
Publisher: DC Comics
Synopsis: Christopher Chance has 12 days to solve his own murder! Superstar writer Tom King and acclaimed artist Greg Smallwood continue the noir examination of a classic DC character!
Christopher Chance has made a living out of being a human target—a man hired to disguise himself as his client to invite would-be assassins to attempt his murder. He’s had a remarkable career until his latest case protecting Lex Luthor when things go sideways.
An assassination attempt Chance didn’t see coming leaves him vulnerable and left trying to solve his own murder, as he has 12 days to discover just who poisoned him. After discovering clues, the death of a Green Lantern and a torrid romance with Tora Olafsdottir, a.k.a. Ice, DC’s top bodyguard may meet his match when Beatriz da Costa, otherwise known as Fire, steps into his life. Only time will tell what secrets this flaming femme fatale might hold, and just how badly The Human Target might get burned.
Human Target is a hard-boiled, gritty story in the vein of classic detective noirs, told by bestselling and critically acclaimed creators Tom King and Greg Smallwood!
Why It Made the List: Every so often we get a comic from Marvel or DC that has everyone involved at the top of their game. It’s like watching the greatest basketball team in history where everyone has a role and plays it to perfection, and knows what they need to do to make the person next to them even better.
Tom King, Greg Smallwood, and Clayton Cowles are exactly that team with The Human Target. Tom King has a knack for taking lesser characters and finding new and exciting ground for them. He is also a great crime writer and all those skills are used here. Greg Smallwood is an artist I have always admired and here he has leveled up even more. His coloring especially does so much to make this book feel special. This is a noir tale but its palette is not restricted to the norm of the genre because this is a noir tale set in a superhero world. If he does not get at least nominated for an Eisner it will be a shame.
This is far and above anything else being put out by Marvel and DC at the moment.
2. As a cartoonist
Writer/Artist: Noah Van Sciver
Synopsis: Acclaimed cartoonist Noah Van Sciver puts to use all the creative arrows in his quiver in this captivating collection of fiction, biography, memoir, and more. Van Sciver juxtaposes fictional stories about what life as a “19th Century Cartoonist” might have looked like with a series of autobiographical strips about life as a contemporary cartoonist, along with pieces about his father and childhood that inform the path in life he has chosen. The resultant effect is a routinely funny (Van Sciver never takes himself too seriously unless it is intended for comedic effect) but also deeply relatable book that touches on some of life’s big questions, whether about the ways we measure happiness or success, the ways we often define ourselves by our careers, or ways we can sometimes lose sight of the most important things. Van Sciver displays a love of the history and form of cartooning that recalls Art Spiegelman, a Lynda Barryesque thirst to unpack ideas of what creativity really means, and a Harvey Pekar-like way of just trying to stay alive in the face of despair.
Why It Made the List: This is Noah Van Sciver’s introspection of the world of cartooning and his own personal life. It has the salt of the Earth stylings of a Harvey Pekar and the sardonic sense of humor of a Daniel Clowes.
In a mixture of vignettes and memoirs, the knowledge of what is real is always in question but it’s never really the point. Sciver seems to be undergoing a form of imposter syndrome therapy in the way he harkens back to the earliest Cartoonist in order to juxtapose their struggles with his own. Wondering if the pioneers can be forgotten, who will be remembered?
It is an interesting question to ponder especially with the medium of comics where even great success has massive limitations. Sciver is always truthful and down to earth while bringing plenty of the funny with him. I clicked with the entire sensibility that was presented.
1. Days of Sand
Writer/Artist: Aimée de Jongh
Synopsis: A moving and unforgettable tale, inspired by real-life stories of courage and perseverance during the Dust Bowl of 1930s America
United States, 1937. In the middle of the Great Depression, 22-year-old photographer John Clark is brought in by the Farm Security Administration to document the calamitous conditions of the Dust Bowl in the central and southern states, in order to bring the farmers’ plight to the public eye. When he starts working through his shooting script, however, he finds his subjects to be unreceptive. What good are a couple of photos against relentless and deadly dust storms? The more he shoots, the more John discovers the awful extent of their struggles, coming to question his own role and responsibilities in this tragedy sweeping through the center of the country.
Why It Made the List: When it came to picking my number one comic of the year it required a lot of thought. Sometimes I know right away, but this year I had a lot of comics I considered. Really my top three are extremely close. Days of Sand gets the slight edge due to having a little bit of everything I look for in a comic.
Days of Sand is a work of historical fiction as an up-and-coming photographer John Clark is given his first assignment to photograph life in the Dust Bowl in hopes of capturing the horrendous condition to raise funds for the residents.
But the question is can he truly capture what he sees? Relying on his given checklist of what to photograph there is this consistent conflict over what he has to do. Is this to help or to exploit? Can a photo be honest even if the scene is manufactured? Does intent excuse a lie?
All of this is explored as this world of “No Man’s Land’ is replicated in astonishing detail. A comic that is saturated in brown and yellows will feel off-putting but here it is atmospheric to the point that you feel like you are there. As if the pages you are holding are rusting in front of you.
Dust is as much of a character as Clark is with how it dominates the page. While there is never any doubt that this is a manufactured story with how cleanly it comes together it does represent that world in an authentic way. Honesty in art, humanity’s ineptness to the force of nature, and the will to adapt all are showcased here.