As is traditional these days, here is an end-of-the-year list. These are not necessarily comics and graphic novels published this year, though many of them were, but a list of what I read in the past twelve months. This is, as it must be, a partial list. I am sure I read things this year that I am forgetting. And since this is a best of list, there are many things that I’ve read that are not here at all, and some of those things were good. Still, this became a longer list than I was anticipating when I first came up with the idea of doing this. And that’s not because I’m reading more. If anything, I feel like I’m reading less. There are just more good books out there, more quality publishers, and more artists. Long gone are the days when the only good books were shoved into the back of the comic book store next to the porn, and there only one or two I actually wanted to read. I can check out graphic novels from my library these days. On-line. While lying in bed. And that’s why I think lists like this can be helpful.
This list is organized alphabetically by title.
Arsène Schrauwen and Parallel Lives by Olivier Schrauwen
I discovered the work of Olivier Schrauwen this year. It started with trying Arsène Schrauwen out through Hoopla. Then I went and bought Parallel Lives. The final story in Parallel Lives is a different take on a classic sci-fi trope: discovering a new world. In a way, it reminded me a bit of the beginning of Moebius’s Aedena, but the characters in Schrauwen’s work, while having god-like power through their technology, are not being deified by their creator. They are average people who are excited by their discoveries, but oddly blasé about their personal safety.
Beneath the Dead Oak Tree by Emily Carroll
I’ve been getting the ShortBox packages for a little while now. Every one has at least one book that I really love and several others that I appreciate having been published. If you don’t yet know about ShortBox, check it out. Emily Carroll is one of those comics artists whose work I buy sight unseen. Her color work is gorgeous and her sense of line is sensuous, which contrasts nicely with the horrific nature of her subject matter. Beneath the Dead Oak Tree is a short book, but shocking in how quickly it devolves into unbridled evisceration.
Calamity Jane by Christian Perrissin and Matthieu Blanchin
This book surprised me. I usually don’t like biography in comics. It’s a difficult genre to do well and many comics biographers oversimplify their subjects. But the character of Calamity Jane is full of exuberant contradictions. And while the actual story presented here may not be true, it offers a glimpse into what life was like on the U.S. frontier, especially for a woman. And the art is sketchy and evocative. If you ever consider what graphic novel to give to someone who doesn’t normally read graphic novels, this is a title to add to your list.
The Case of the Missing Men by Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes
I bought this for the cover. I admit it. But what I discovered was a very creative mystery story. At times, it tries a bit too hard to be odd and there are some distracting non-sequiturs. Overall though, the story is really entertaining. If you want a fun read, this book is it.
Eight-lane Runaways by Henry McCausland
I read volumes 2 and 3 this year. Basically, Eight-lane Runaways is like an Olympic event from your most fevered dream. The art is the first thing you will notice here. The line is clear and the composition is evocative, favoring the panoramic. The story itself, such as it is, pivots on acts of nature and strange devices and articles of clothing. The book seems less of a race and more of a quest that the characters are on to fully know themselves or at least find where their lane ends.
Equinoxes by Cyril Pedrosa
Another book I checked out from my library digitally through Hoopla. Pedrosa’s books sometimes are all mundane detail and not much story. But his art is always amazing. Equinoxes managed to move me, partly because it intermeshes the lives of several characters so we don’t get too bogged down in any one place. And there are some interesting stylistic choices in the book that make it engaging formally, as well.
Geis: A Matter of Life & Death by Alexis Deacon
I’m not a big reader of fantasy, but the art of this book drew me in. Often, that’s a trap and I get stuck reading a poorly written piece of inhuman drivel. But Geis has an engaging story and an engaging cast of characters who seem real, not like poor copies of characters from some other fantasy story. What I tend to dislike about fantasy is that it is so often, ironically, unimaginative, preferring to regurgitate genre conventions instead of being actually fantastical. But Geis is different. It’s like a fairy tale from another age, though modern in its concerns and pacing. I look forward to reading more of the story.
Gonzalo by Jed McGowan
Another ShortBox book. I had never seen McGowan’s work before I received this ShortBox. Gonzalo is a post-apocalyptic story told from the point of view of a robot bear. Besides being about survival, it’s a story about the environment and the doubts of parenting. It’s a beautiful little sci-fi story.
Houses of the Holy by Caitlin Skaalrud
This isn’t a book I would recommend to just anyone. Personally, I love it, but you have to be willing for forgo plot and embrace poetry and personal metaphor. And you also have to be willing to go to some dark places. Skaalrud’s book is about suffering and moving through it. In some ways it reminds me a bit of Martin Vaughn-James’s The Cage, but while that book lacks any human subjects, Houses of the Holy is all about the human. Because of that, it’s moving in a way that The Cage simply can’t be.
John, Dear by Laura Lannes
The story here has echoes of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” even featuring a partner named John whom the woman feels compelled to defer to since society extols the virtues of men like John. And therein lies the trap. Instead of the horror playing out on the walls, it plays out on the narrator’s body. The dark and life-like drawings are disturbing and haunting. Since this book is composed of narration and attendant single-page images, the reader is encouraged to linger over the pictures and see what wriggles there in the darkness.
The Ladies-In-Waiting by Santiago García and Javier Olivares
I’ve liked Javier Olivares’s art for a long time, but never fully loved the books his art graced. But this take on Velázquez’s famous painting and the stories surrounding it is the perfect vehicle for Olivares’s bold, geometric art. And the art shifts in styles to match the change in time and subject of the chapters. It’s just a great book.
Land of the Sons by Gipi
Gipi is one of my all-time favorite comics artists. So, yeah, I am biased. This book is in some ways a traditional post-apocalyptic story where people have to give up a part of their humanity to survive. Yet by focusing on the point of view of kids who have grown up in this world, there is a level of mystery and longing to everything. The boys may lack a moral sense, but they still yearn for the things all children want. That conflict drives the emotional heart of the book.
Out in the Open by Javi Rey and Jesús Carrasco
This is one of those books I bought on a whim on ComiXology. The story here is of a type you may have seen before: a young person ventures out in a harsh world, only to meet a tough but caring older person, and by the end it becomes clear that the young person will later become that old person; they are but different generations of the same individual. Still, the art is so spare that it really matches the story and makes the reader work. It’s like some quiet foreign film that you love but can never remember the name of.
The Perineum Technique by Florent Ruppert and Jérome Mulot
This book may have a suggestive title and be about sex, but the actual scenes often take place in a kind of on-line game iwhere an orgasm is depicted by people jumping off a cliff with swords in their hands. While at times the imagery may be wild, the dialogue is wonderfully real. This is a funny and engaging story about trying to find connection and love in our wired world.
Pretending is Lying by Dominique Goblet
To be honest, I have some reservations about this book. Like many memoirs, it is often a series of scenes that don’t always add up to something larger or are analyzed in any way. And I have trouble with memoirs where the main character/artist has a partner who is a complete schmuck. Still, Goblet manages to capture dialogue and body language amazingly well. And I really like her drawing style. The ending of the book is very poetic.
Sound of Snow Falling by Maggie Umber
I had seen people discussing this book on-line, so I finally got it. It’s a beautiful meditation on the life of owls, kind of like a quiet nature documentary in comics form. It reminds me a lot of a children’s books The Secret River by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr. But, as I say, it’s more nature documentary than kids’ book. But the thick painted images make the book as much about the art as its subject matter. It’s just a beautiful little piece.
Through a Life by Tom Haugomat
I love wordless comics and this book, with its carefully designed pages of one image per page, is just beautiful. The story itself, while being about space exploration at one point, doesn’t transcend its human story. That’s both a blessing and a curse, as the book ends with a whimper. But sometimes that’s life.
Why Art? by Eleanor Davis
I always love Davis’s work. The concept of Why Art? is so good and, of course, her art is simple yet beautiful in its graceful line and full forms. Just read it.
Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures by Yvan Alagabé
This book is a classic, so worth checking out for that alone. But Algabé’s art and the way he approaches narrative is something any serious reader of graphic narrative should study. Then there is his subject matter, which takes on immigration, race, and sexual desire in France. This is an important book.