Comics writers and artists are often better equipped to tackle contemporary events and issues before anyone working in any other medium, and many graphic novels that came out this year demonstrate this perfectly. Both the anxiety and tentative sense of possibility that comes from living in deteriorating liberal democracies, climate change, and changing paradigms around sex and gender are all on display in everything from superhero series to indie comics. All these ideas and much more are explored in these titles, which represent some of the most innovative art and sharpest writing to be found in 2018.
1. Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
This is the first graphic novel to be longlisted for the Booker Prize, and is well deserving of the distinction. No book captures the feeling of living in 2018 America the way this one does. Reading Sabrina Drawn & Quarterly, published by , is like dreaming a quiet nightmare, the kind where nothing loud happens, and yet there’s an unshakable unease, and you wake up drenched in sweat. Nick Drnaso’s meticulous paneling and spare art style are the perfect vehicle for this story about the constant violence and paranoia seemingly hanging in the air all Americans breathe. Utterly unforgettable. —Daniel Schindel
2. Love That Bunch by Aline Kominsky-Crumb
Today there are a multitude of female icons in books, movies, and television shows who defy stereotypes of womanhood and take agency over their lives. But when Aline Kominsky-Crumb was making art in the 1970s, this was rare. As Hillary Chute writes in the forward to Love That Bunch, the collected edition of her work published by Drawn & Quarterly, “Kominsky-Crumb’s comics offer a revelatory look into the complicated, contradictory lives of women.” Republishing her stories of women who explore their own bodies and struggle to find creative respect and success, Kominsky-Crumb’s graphic storytelling reads as if it was written today. —Megan Liberty
3. All the Answers by Michael Kupperman
In deviating from a large body of work characterized by satire and offbeat humor, New York City cartoonist Michael Kupperman unearths traumatic personal history in his black-and-white graphic memoir All the Answers, published by Simon & Schuster. Kupperman examines his father Joel’s long-suppressed legacy as a child prodigy and recurring panelist on American radio program Quiz Kids during World War II. An endeavor augmented by the author’s discovery of “five massive, crumbling scrapbooks” stowed away at his parents’ house, Kupperman’s comic untangles the story of his father’s childhood stardom, but that’s just part of it. Painful connections are built between this past and the relationship that Joel and his son never had, and through confrontational, photorealistic illustrations and terse narration in All the Answers, Kupperman also depicts a dark era for the United States that isn’t very far behind us. —Dominic Umile
4. Berlin by Jason Lutes
Jason Lutes has been publishing chapters of this opus since 1996, but it was only this year that it was finally completed and collected in a single massive volume. Published by Drawn & Quarterly, this chronicle of the waning years of Germany’s Weimar Republic is sprawling in its historical survey but intimate in its depiction of the lives of the people living out that history. Lutes’s drawings render every cobblestone and craggy face in Berlin with transporting detail, and he understands the interplay between the personal and the political like few other writers. —DS
5. Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures by Yvan Alagbé
Yvan Alagbé has been a vital member of the French comics scene for years, and this is the first official translation of his work in the US. If his stories, published by New York Review Books, about immigrant lives in Europe seem all too timely, it’s only because he intuitively grasps the timeless dimensions of alienation and racism. His evocative use of thick brush strokes in his art has no close comparison in the form. —DS
6. Chlorine Gardens by Keiler Roberts
Since she began self-publishing autobiographical comics, Keiler Roberts has never shied away from the harsh truths of depression, pregnancy, and motherhood. Her most recent book published by Koyama Press, Chlorine Gardens, is no exception. Ranging from the mundane nuances of family life (taking care of her daughter and dog, spending time with her parents) to the more life-altering (selecting her OBGYN and giving birth to her daughter), Roberts’s comics maintain deadpan humor. When we read her black-and-white panels, we don’t feel ashamed of our moments of imperfection; instead, we feel seen. —ML
7. The Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parrish
Two high school friends reuniting spurs various short stories exploring myriad themes of sexual and gender identity, and the way relationships evolve, and sometimes deteriorate, around them. Parrish’s art decouples its subjects from many traditional ideas about gender through its unique caricature. Everyone has enormous bodies, long limbs, and small heads. The book, published by Fantagraphics Books, emphasizes small gestures over big moments, continually capturing little beats in conversations that would be gone too quickly to spot were it all shown as a movie. —DS
8. On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
On a Sunbeam, published by Avery Hill Publishing in book form this year after running as a webcomic, is dramatic in all senses. First, there’s Tillie Walden’s sweeping use of color, with a moody palette of blues, purples, and pinks that create a dreamlike feel. Then there’s the epic space-set love story, between two apprehensive women at distant ends of the galaxy. Like the setting, the book is gorgeous. —Christine Ro
9. Why Art? by Eleanor Davis
This book, published by Fantagraphics Books, has a simple title that spurs a survey of sorts of different kinds of art, and how artists make it and what observers take from it. Sculpture, conceptual art, performance — these all demand different things from audiences, while the practitioners who populate the cast find themselves dissatisfied with their craft. Eventually, the story becomes something else entirely, a haunting parable about trying to build another, better world out of what we desire, both from ourselves and others.—DS
10. Tentacles at My Throat by Zerocalcare
Tentacles at My Throat, by mischievous Italian cartoonist Zerocalcare and published by Europe Comics, manages to be both dark and goofy — an endearing combination. It’s a coming-of-age story about school kids dealing with a secret, which haunts them for years to come. Like the dialogue, the art is funny, sharp, and off-kilter. —CR
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