2018 has been another excellent year for graphic novels, least of all because one made the Man Booker shortlist for the first time. So whether you’re a long time reader or your interest in the medium has been recently piqued, here are our favourites…
The Great North Wood by Tim Bird
(Avery Hill, 9781910395363, p/b, £9.99)
Having moved to South East London last year I immediately warmed to The Great North Wood, but then it’s impossible not to do so anyway when you consider Tim Bird’s simply sublime dusky-hued illustrations, fox narrator, and local history. The Great North Wood was a sprawling ancient landscape that gradually became fragmented by the development of south London’s suburbs – but whose name lives on in districts such as Norwood, Gipsy Hill, Forest Hill and Penge. Bird tells us stories of magic and folklore – the bandits, outlaws and gypsies that once roamed the forest, and their presence that can sometimes be sensed when the city is quiet.
A New Jerusalem by Benjamin Dickson
(New Internationalist, 9781780264424, p/b, £12.99)
In Bristol, 1945, 11 year old Ralph lives with his mother, playing in the bombed-out buildings and dreaming of the day his father will come home and tell him of all his heroic battles. But when his father actually does come back, he is far from what Ralph expected: withdrawn and completely unwilling to discuss the war. This is a beautifully-crafted portrayal of PTSD and the consequences it can have on everyone around the person affected.
The Mental Load: A Feminist Comic by Emma
(Seven Stories, 9781609809188, p/b, £12.99)
A superb and timely comic about the invisible burdens women carry, as well as a whole host of social injustices, everyday outrages and absurdities. The simple line drawings of The Mental Load are deceptive: they are sharp and incisive, packing real social and political punches that will leave you reeling, laughing and crying in equal measure. Emma doesn’t confine herself to the mental load – although she has more than enough material – childcare and childbirth, the workplace, the male gaze and everyday sexism, the clitoris… before turning to police brutality, immigration and racism, addressing everyday outrages and absurdities.
Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition series by Yukito Kishiro
(Kodansha Comics, h/b, £20.99 each)
Set to be adapted into a live-action film by James Cameron & Robert Rodriguez, Battle Angel Alita is regarded as part of classic manga canon, and now re-released in deluxe hardback from Kodansha Comics, there couldn’t be a better time to read it.
For me, as a long-time anime fan, this was my first foray into Japanese comics, and is easily one of the best things I’ve read this year. The story starts in the junk city called The Scrapyard, a smoggy industrial sprawl where residents of the utopian floating city, Zalem, dump their trash. Recovered from the junkpile one day are the remains of Alita, an amnesiac cyborg girl who after being given a new body by her cyber-doctor rescuer, is thrust into a bizarre and ruthless world of bounty-hunters, bots and killers. Fantastically drawn, constantly kinetic, and viscerally violent, Battle Angel Alita is a cyberpunk adventure barely contained within the page. But it also a profound story of a girl struggling for a sense of identity, as she grapples with her superhuman abilities.
Roly Poly by Daniel Semanas
(Fantagraphics, 9781683961291, h/b, £19.99)
If there was any graphic novel worth drooling over this year, Roly Poly is it. A neon mash-up of Korean K-Pop, Japanese manga and modern internet culture, Roly Poly is set in a future South Korea where the protagonist, Phanta, embarks on a quest for social media stardom. The art is as eye-wateringly awesome as it is ingenious, and Semanas makes every page-turn pure joy. Even the most pedestrian action of opening a fizzy drink finds itself fantastically rendered, while traditional panels segue into infographics, Instagram, and even the face of a pinball machine. And things only get wackier (and more gorgeous) when Phanta gets mixed up with hallucinogenics, robot dinos and sword-wielding cultists. For sure, Roly Poly exudes a trippy kind of energy from every page, each panel could (and should) be framed and goggled at for days, and the animated trailer is all the reason we need to adapt this into an anime pronto.
Killtopia by Dave Cook & Craig Paton
(BHP Comics, 9781910775172, p/b, £8.99)
If you haven’t guessed already, I really like cyberpunk. Anything with a bit of neon shine, killer cyborgs, futuristic cityscapes or a combination of the above is definitely my cup of tea, and in that respect, it’s only fair that our October Graphic Novel of Month, Killtopia, makes this list. Set in post-apocalyptic neo-Tokyo, Killtopia has all the classic staples of the genre, rampaging robots, ridiculous weaponry, and a broken world infested with problems and yawning divide between rich and poor. In Killtopia the story revolves around rookie scavenger and bounty hunter Shinji, who must brave the deadly Sector K in order to save his sister from a killer nano-plague. If that sounds up your street, read my full review.
Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk & Cameron Stewart
(Dark Horse, 9781506706283, p/b, £16.99)
Have you ever had an imaginary friend that just won’t stay dead? Two decades on from the moment he blasted Tyler Durden out of his head on the roof of the credit card company building, our nameless Narrator is married to Marla Singer. They’ve got a kid, and a nice, comfortable life, and they are so very bored. So Marla takes matters into her own hands, and takes away the narrator’s pills in the desperate hope that the lack of them will bring Tyler back into their lives.
Hellboy: The Wild Hunt by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse, 9781506707488, p/b, £12.50)
In the story that inspired the upcoming film adaptation starring David Harbour (Stranger Things’ surprisingly pure Sheriff Hopper), Hellboy is summoned to England to participate in an ancient giant-hunting ritual. Slight problem, though; Nimue, the Queen of Blood, has risen, and she’s putting together a monstrous army ready to eviscerate all of humanity. Hellboy can stop her, but only if he first confronts the truth about his own dark heritage.
On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
(Avery Hill, 9781910395370, h/b, £24.99)
As a stunningly beautiful tome of a graphic novel and a story that creeps up inside you and ambushes your emotions, On A Sunbeam is a complete delight. I finished it in one maybe-tearful, enthralled hour-and-a-half on a Saturday morning, and then re-read it over the course of a week, slower, enjoying the colours and the deftly-drawn characters, the queer sci-fi story that once again resonated. This book is set simultaneously in protagonist Mia’s past as a teenager at space boarding school, and her present as part of a small crew that clears up ruins and makes them ready for new development. To say much more would spoil the plot, so suffice to say this is a story about love, belonging, and found family.
Walden has created a very compelling world filled with great characters, all of whom are women apart from one non-binary character. The full-colour pages follow different colour-schemes depending on where in the timeline we are, which is often used to gorgeous effect to portray transitions and scene-changes. On A Sunbeam’s illustrations are full of architectural wonders and small details that make the characters come to life. I can’t wait to read Tillie Walden’s entire oeuvre — I’m excited to start with Spinning.
The Book of Extraordinary Deaths: True Accounts of Ill-Fated Lives by Cecilia Ruiz (Blue Rider Press, 9780399184048, h/b, £14.99)
This is a small book but a strangely moving one. It seems almost silly at first – a collection of weird ways people have died throughout history, from a man who suffocates under a pile of cloaks thrown by admirers in the 7th century BC, to a pair of twins who died twin deaths in 2011. But something about it stuck with me.
Death is lurking around every (lushly-illustrated) corner in this book, as it is in life. Who knows when you may die from a gangrenous abscess after piercing your own foot while conducting an orchestra like Jean-Baptiste Lully in 1687, or be choked by your own scarf like Isadora Duncan in 1927? The odd ways you can trip through the veil remind the reader that life is fragile, and that you should never strap the decapitated head of your enemy to your saddle, lest their teeth scrape your leg while you ride and you contract a fatal infection. Which is just general good advice, in my opinion.
Three Sisters: The Love & Rockets Library Vol. 14 by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics, 9781683961147, p/b, £16.99)
I’ve been nutty about Love & Rockets forever, and although I’m more in love with Jaime’s Maggie and Hopey stories, it’s impossible not to be crazy for Luba, Fritz and the gang, too. Fantagraphics’s L&R library is stunning, collecting 35+ years’ worth of comics in a series of really fit paperbacks. In this latest edition Luba, Petra, and Fritz are moving on to the next phases of their lives in Los Angeles, where Fritz becomes a B-movie actress.
I’m including these comics in the same breath to make a point of the absolutely amazing year Avery Hill Publishing have had. Follow Me In and Retrograde Orbit were both launched at Thought Bubble in September, along with Tillie Walden’s On A Sunbeam. Eleanor has already told you how amazing On A Sunbeam is, so I’m here to urge you to read these, too.
Follow Me In is the first full-length work by creator and illustrator Katriona Chapman. It’s at once a travelogue about Mexico and a coming-of-age story about the breakdown of a relationship. Katriona’s art is some of the most striking comic book art I’ve seen in ages. It’s fully consuming, making Follow Me In a work of pure escapism. I’m 100% sure that if you open this book at any page you will be immediately taken with it, it’s that good.
Retrograde Orbit is another total dreamboat. Its protagonist is Flint, a miner’s apprentice on a distant planet. Since she was a kid, Flint has been obsessed with the idea of her ancestral planet, which suffered a natural disaster and is now untenable. Still, Flint can’t get this planet out of her head; she is restless and unhappy and wants more from her life, leaving her with the decision to stay with her mother or try to build her own life elsewhere. I’ve loved Kristyna’s art for years and was super excited to see she’d made a full-length comic. Especially one set in space! It’s brilliant.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus: Tales by Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson & Drew Goddard (Dark Horse, 9781506708027, p/b, £20.99)
There have been a lot of vampires, ghouls, and other supernatural beings in my life this year (in a good way), and so I’m rounding out my top comics of 2018 with one of the best vampire-based fictions ever made: Buffy. Buffy Omnibus: Tales is a great anthology of stories exploring the mythos and history of slayers. It’s a great jumping-in spot for anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with the comic series and is full of excellent women doing awesome things.
Keep an eye out for our top fiction picks next week, and head this way now for our favourite 2018 non-fiction, featuring The Trauma Cleaner, Michelle Tea’s Against Memoir, You Have The Right To Remain Fat and loads more.