Rounding off our Staff Picks for 2019 (be sure to give our favourite Fiction and Non-Fiction a look if you haven’t already!), we look back on some our favourite graphic novels of the year. With offerings from the big hitters and small indies, from a ground-breaking repository of LGBTQ history, to romps through fantasy worlds, sci-fi dystopias and the 90s web, read on for our eclectic picks.
Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide by Kate Charlesworth
(Myriad Editions, 9780993563348, £17.99)
This book has been a highlight of my year. Not just reading it, but also going to the launch at the Cartoon Museum (where they hosted a little exhibition of queer history), and listening to Kate talk about the book with Myriad publisher Corinne at Gay’s the Word. I met some amazing new people at these events, which is kind of what the book is about – our community and how it has evolved. The comic is a personal history of growing up queer set against a political history of the LGBTQI+ movement. From 1950, when gay men could face custodial sentences, violence against queers, and lesbian invisibility, through to Stonewall, Act Up, Section 28, and the Lesbian Avengers, and onwards to equal marriage and trans rights, Sensible Footwear is a real achievement and something I’ll definitely keep going back to.
Is This How You See Me? By Jaime Hernandez
(Fantagraphics, 9781683961826, £17.99)
I’ve loved Jaime Hernandez’s Love & Rockets stories for years and years, so much so that I have his characters Maggie and Hopey tattooed on my leg. Whenever a new comic is announced I am giddy and Is This How You See Me? had me ecstatic because it’s a new comic dedicated especially to Maggie and Hopey. They first met as punk kids and over a span of 30 years have been getting into all kinds of trouble as both pals and lovers. Now middle-aged, they’ve settled down with other people but in Is This How You See Me? they head back to their old neighbourhood for a punk scene reunion. As with everything Jaime creates, the story is funny and silly with moments of real poignancy that make your heart flip.
Mimi and the Wolves by Alabaster Pizzo
(Avery Hill Publishing, 9781910395486, £14.99)
I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything Avery Hill has published since we started working with them, and honestly it was quite hard to choose just one for this roundup (big up also to Internet Crusader and Walking Distance). Mimi and the Wolves is VERY charming. Its about Mimi, who lives a peaceful life in a tree house with her pal Bobo. Then she is forced to travel into the dangerous Evergreen Woods to find creatures that can help her solve the mystery of a haunting, recurring demon-based dream. It’s an epic quest in miniature form, and it’s very wonderful.
Horizontal Collaboration by Navie & Carole Maurel
(Korero Press, 9781912740017, £16.99)
Korero Press’s first graphic novel is a thing of beauty. A poignant, sepia-toned story, Horizontal Collaboration digs into the taboo of ‘sleeping with the enemy’ against the backdrop of Nazi-occupied France. Carole Maurel’s illustrations are so lush and dreamlike, and add a whole extra layer to Navie’s fascinating story about a hidden love story between a Nazi officer and a woman trying to save her Jewish friend. Honestly, I can’t recommend this one enough. Even just to hold it is so lovely (but obviously, like, you should go further and read it).
The Umbrella Academy Volume 1: Apocalypse Suite (Library Edition) by Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá, et al
(Dark Horse Comics, 9781506715476, £33.99)
All right, I confess: I hadn’t read the Umbrella Academy before the TV series. But I watched it and I loved it and then people started telling me that I reminded them of Klaus but sober-er (is that good or bad?) and so now I am A Fan. Besides, as a 2000’s teen who liked to wear a lot of converse and weird coloured eyeliner (electric blue, green), anything involving Gerard Way gets a thumbs-up from me. This edition of Apocalypse Suite is lovely, featuring fifty bonus pages of artist sketches, plus the short stories ‘Mon Dieu!’ and ‘But the Past Ain’t Through With You’ alongside the 2008 limited edition collection of the complete first series. Emo swoon.
Internet Crusader by George Wylesol
(Avery Hill Publishing, 9781910395516, £14.99)
Internet Crusader kind of reminds me of Adventure Time or Rick and Morty, purely in terms of colour palette and bizarro-ness. It’s an early-Internet onslaught, following the exploits of BSKskater191 after he gets sucked in by a mysterious woman on a chat room, tries to download her nudes, and accidentally summons the devil. Yeah, it’s mind bending. Internet Crusader is super layered and detailed, a painstaking recreation of what a trip through the online realm looked like about 20 years ago. But, you know, with bonus God.
Invisible Kingdom: Volume One by G Willow Wilson & Christian Ward
(Dark Horse Comics, 9781506712277, £16.99)
Space Nuns! Gun-toting pilot ladies! That’s all you need to know about this one, really. I’ve been following it in single issues, and I’m so glad the trade is here to force on everyone at Christmas. A truly unique galaxy-spanning epic about two completely different women uncovering a huge conspiracy, it is challenging, strange, and brilliant. With lots of commentary about life, the universe, and everything, Invisible Kingdom is sci-fi at its very best – every month I think I’ve finally figured this world out, and every month it surprises me with something completely new.
O Maidens In Your Savage Season 1 by Mari Okada & Nao Emoto (Kodansha Comics, 9781632368188, £10.99)
I picked this one up during a lull at our MCM show this year because I liked the vibrant red of the cover. I’m so glad I did, as it turned out to be one of my favourite manga this year. Surprisingly sweet and subtle, O Maidens follows a group of girls in a book club as they reckon with the woes of puberty. Sex, first crushes, gendered expectations and even a hint of queer themes, it all comes to pass as they discuss the suggestive scenes in their books. Full of heart and teenage awkwardness, O Maidens is an underrated gem about love, sex and sexuality, with plenty of things to say about literature, too.
Internet Crusader by George Wylesol
(Avery Hill Publishing, 9781910395516, £14.99)
Internet Crusader is by far the strangest thing I read this year. Coloured in a nostalgic VGA palette and told entirely through Windows 3.1 chat screens and Geocities pages, it follows thirteen-year-old BSKskater191 as he tries to solve the disappearance of his friend Nathan ‘dudewhersmycar0’ after accidentally summoning the devil online. With cascading pop-ups, fluorescent Comic Sans, DOOM clones and even a Blue Screen of Death, Internet Crusader lovingly recreates the 90s computing experience. It is a study of early internet culture, a love-letter to a forgotten online existence, and an unforgettable reading experience.
Death Threat by Vivek Shraya & Ness Lee
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 9781551527505, £12.99)
How do you turn something hateful into art? Arsenal Pulp have published a ton of wonderful books this year (go back over our fiction and non-fiction picks for just a couple) but it was Vivek Shraya’s graphic novel debut that really blew me away. Transcribing into comic form the transphobic hate mail the artist received in 2017, Death Threat takes the work of an online troll and transforms it into something beautiful. In a striking and surreal set of panels, any of which I would gladly frame, Vivek and Ness Lee vividly animate both the physical and emotional experience of being a target of online vitriol. A boundary pushing use of the graphic novel medium and an ingenious retaliation to a hateful attack. Read it!
Killtopia Volume 2 by Dave Cook & Craig Paton
(BHP Comics, 9781910775202, £8.99)
The extremely good follow-up to Dave Cook and Craig Paton’s cyberpunk foray Killtopia, Volume 2 delivers on everything I hoped for in a sequel. Namely even more of the wacky wonderful stuff that got me reading it in the first place. For those unfamiliar, Killtopia takes place in the disaster future-scape of Neo-Tokyo, here the residents are distracted from their situation by the consumerist cornucopia that is the blood-sport ‘Wreck-Fest’. In volume 2 the shenanigans spill out into Neo-Tokyo itself and delightful chaos ensues. Striking chords with everything from Akira and Evangelion to the daily absurdities of late-stage capitalism, Killtopia continues to be a joy to read.
The Bad Bad Place by David Hine & Mark Stafford
(Soaring Penguin Press, 9781908030276, £14.99)
A delightfully devilish, exuberantly horrible horror story, The Bad Bad Place was a welcome surprise from Soaring Penguin this year and the perfect companion to these dark winter evenings. Revolving around a dilapidated house on the edge of a now-deserted town, where people go in and never come out, at the heart of this tale is a mystery that is slowly and horribly unravelled. I’ll avoid spoiling things by going into detail but if you’re looking for something genuinely skin-crawling (but in the best way), and illustrated in suitably and stunningly gothic style, you’re in for a goodun.
Spider-Man: Life Story by Chip Zdarsky & Mark Bagley
(Marvel Comics, 9781302917333, £20.99)
As part of Marvel’s 80th Anniversary celebrations this year, Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley took us on a unique journey paying tribute to the history of their flagship character. Life Story imagines if Spider-Man aged in real time from his debut in 1962 up to the present with six chapters that each focus on a separate decade. Zdarsky has a terrific grasp on Spidey’s history and seamlessly weaves real life events with the stories that were coming out in that decade. Various new twists on stories that I grew up with from Spider-Man history including The Clone Saga, Secret Wars, Kraven’s Last Hunt, Coming Home and The Superior Spider-Man are flawlessly tied together whilst Zdarsky never loses touch of who Peter Parker is and why he’s such a popular character (in addition to providing some stunning covers).
Meanwhile Bagley continues to prove why he is one of the most iconic artists to draw Spider-Man, turning in some of his greatest work and doing a tremendous job at depicting the passage of time that passes Spidey and his supporting cast. In addition to being one of my favourite comics of the year, Life Story is one of the best Spider-Man stories of the modern era and is one fans will be talking about for a long time.
Witch Hat Atelier 1 by Kamome Shirahama
(Kodansha Comics, 9781632367709, £10.99)
One of the manga highlights of the year was getting to see Kamome Shirahama handle interior illustrations. Having enjoyed her cover work for Marvel and DC, I was keen to see what she did next. Witch Hat Atelier allows her to show of her considerable skill when it comes to storytelling and worldbuilding. Everything about this series is fantastic from Shirahama’s insanely detailed and intricate art to the plucky protagonist Coco – who embodies an everyman spirit that set her aside in a world where everyone can perform magic. Many manga and anime projects often get the label ‘Ghibliesque’, but this is a series that could happily sit aside anything to come out of Studio Ghibli. This was some of the most fun I had reading a comic all year. Anyone looking for a top quality fantasy series should seek this out.
The Golden Sheep 1 by Kaori Ozaki
(Vertical Comics, 9781947194809, £10.99)
Kaori Ozaki’s previous manga the gods lie. is one of my all-time favourites. It was a highly moving story that examined some very serious issues. This year, Ozaki’s The Golden Sheep was released in English which is an equally hard-hitting affair. Examining the pains of growing up and separation from friends, Ozaki’s depiction of how time can change people is something many people can relate to. We’ve all had experiences growing apart from our friends and Tsugu’s painful realisation that her once tightknit group of friends might be permanently unravelled is some of the most powerful stuff I’ve seen in comics all year. And once again, Ozaki’s perfect artwork heightens the already strong impact of the story she’s telling. This is one series I’m looking forward to seeing through to the end.
Pass Me By: Gone Fishin’ by Kyle Simmers & Ryan Danny Owen (Renegade Arts Entertainment, 9781988903590, £17.99)
This touching graphic novel centres on Ed, a reserved man dealing with deteriorating memory and emotional issues in a small town in rural Canada. In striking teal, pink, and white, we are introduced to his friends and family and given an intriguing glimpse into his glam rock past – a past he finds himself slipping into more and more as his life in the present seems to crumble around him. Pass Me By: Gone Fishin’ draws on Kyle Simmers’ experience growing up in a tiny town in central Alberta, and as the first in a series of five books, I can’t wait to see what they and Ryan Danny Owen give us next.
The Forbidden Harbor by Teresa Radice & Stefano Turconi
(NBM, 9781681122328, £25.99)
A big, weighty hardback tome of a book, The Forbidden Harbor looks like a ship’s manifest or captain’s log from the period it’s set in: namely the early 1800s. The tale is thus: Her Majesty’s Navy’s Explorer picks up a young shipwrecked man off the coast of Siam who can remember nothing but his name – Abel. The Explorer’s captain has absconded with the ship’s treasures, and when Abel returns to England he meets the three daughters of the fugitive captain and sets about recovering his memory, uncovering secrets in the process. Originally published in Italian and drawn in a captivating, unique black (or grey) and white pencil style, this naval adventure is clearly deeply researched. There is fascinating, full-colour back matter comprising research and development sketches on various locations, ships, costumes, and other historical detail, as well as a list of historical texts referenced throughout the story.
Kinderland: A Childhood in East Berlin by Mawil
(Reprodukt, 9783956401985, £22.99)
Legendary German comics creator Markus ‘Mawil’ Witzel tells the story of the fall of the Berlin Wall through the eyes of a young boy in this gorgeous, colourful winner of the 2014 Maz & Mortiz Award for Best Comic. This is a bestseller in Germany with more than 20,000 copies sold and it’s immediately evident why from the first engaging page. The mundanity of everyday life is illustrated amongst the momentous happenings of the 1989 time period, as our main character Mirco gets himself in trouble with a couple of bullies from the Free German Youth, and the only person who can help is the mysterious new kid in school. This is a funny, touching picture of life in Communist East Germany and an endearing coming-of-age story at a pivotal historical moment.