Turnaround’s 2020 Staff Picks – Graphic Novels

We’ll be honest with you reader, here at Turnaround we love graphic novels, and it’s our distinct pleasure to distribute some of the biggest comics publishers and most exciting independents in the land. This year they knocked it out of the park, sweeping Best Of lists from Gosh! Comics to The Guardian. But what about our most favourite of faves? (Follow the links for our Staff Picks in Fiction and Non-Fiction) Well whether your knew to the world of graphic novels or a reader of experience, here’s twelve fantastic tomes you should not miss.

Browse the full list on Bookshop.org.

Liam recommends…

Zebedee and the Valentines by Abs Bailey
(Avery Hill Publishing, 9781910395547, £12.99)

Abs Bailey’s debut graphic novel follows the titular band through 1982, as they play to miniscule crowds, betray one another, and make several deals with the Devil. All in a day’s work, then. Zebedee and the Valentines has a psychedelic feel, like one of those truly bizarre kids shows from the late 60s. It wouldn’t be a surprise for H.R Pufnstuf to crop up in one of Bailey’s playfully time-twisting panels.

The challenge in writing or drawing about music is that it’s hard to capture a sonic impact in a soundless medium, but Zebedee and the Valentines is a dynamic book that doesn’t let such constraints hold it back. A loud ride.

Or from your local bookstore.

Goblin Girl by Moa Romanova
(Fantagraphics, 9781683962830, £21.99)

Who among us hasn’t spotted a dubious celebrity catfish or two on Tinder? Personally, I remember with fondness the time someone tried to catfish me using pictures of Shane off the L Word. Not the actor who played Shane, mind you. The character. Anyway, because of events like this we tend to believe that there are no real celebs on dating apps. But Moa Romanova is here to disprove that. In Goblin Girl she tells the true story of matching with a very famous man on the app. Their relationships starts out promising, but soon begins to turn sour. Just like, let’s be honest, meeting a non-famous man on Tinder. Bitterly funny and drawn in a distinctive style, Goblin Girl shows why Moa Romanova is one of Sweden’s foremost cartoonists.

Or from your local bookstore.

Kimiko Does Cancer by Kimiko Tobimatsu & Keet Geniza
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 9781551528199, £14.99)

It’s not really the plan to have cancer in your 20s is it? Granted, it’s not really the plan to have cancer at any time, but it seems particularly egregious to get sick young. Such a thing is incongruous with our ideas of what early adulthood should look like. In Kimiko Does Cancer, Kimiko Tobimatsu and Keet Ganiza upend the traditional cancer narrative. They deal with the unique issues that result from being a cancer patient who is a queer, mixed-race woman, as we follow Kimiko while she navigates her way out of such a crisis.

Or from your local bookstore.

Anouk recommends…

Dungeons On A Dime: Quest 1 – In The Red by Brian Tyrrell (BHP Comics, 9781910775240, £9.99)

Ok so it’s only kind-of-sort-of a graphic novel, but I love it so I had to sneak it in somewhere. Dungeons and Dragons is one of the few things that has kept me sane this year, even if we had to take our campaign online. Dungeons on a Dime is a really fun, beautifully illustrated and useful guide for first-time players, compatible with a bunch of roleplaying systems. It breaks down the more intricate mechanics of a game and focusses on what really matters: telling a good story with friends, and having a lot of fun while doing it. A critical success in my books.

Or from your local bookstore.

Breakwater by Katriona Chapman
(Avery Hill Publishing, 9781910395578, £12.99)

I loved Katriona Chapman’s semi-autobiographical Follow Me In. Breakwater is entirely fictional but has the same quietly wistful tone that I loved so much in Chapman’s earlier book. It follows the story of introverted, lonely 40-ish-year-old Chris as she slowly gets to know her new co-worker Dan. As she gets to know Dan better, Breakwater becomes a beautiful greyscale meditation about the duties and responsibilities of friendship, and more importantly, the importance of boundaries.

Or from your local bookstore.

J + K by John Pham
(Fantagraphics, 9781683962229, £34.99)

J + K is a work of art inside and out, and one of the most visually striking books I’ve ever seen. It comes with a variety of nicely produced extras (a little vinyl record, trading cards, a zine, and more), that feel like forgotten objects from another time, adding a sense of nostalgia to the mostly upbeat little comics. A real treasure trove of delights.

Or from your local bookstore.

Eleanor recommends…

Spit Three Times by Davide Reviati, translated by Jamie Richards
(Seven Stories Press, 9781609809096, £22.99)

This incredible coming-of-age graphic novel set in postwar rural Italy showcases Reviati’s impressive control of light and shade, as well as his ability to render harsh realities in haunting, poetic language. We follow the stories of Guido, Moreno and Katango, three students of a local vocational high school who spend their days getting high to forget the bleakness of their surroundings and prospects, and driving into nearby towns drawn by their bright lights and temptations. Running parallel is the depiction of the evolving conflict between the boys’ town and a Romani family who settled there to escape persecution after World War II, exposing the casual cruelty and prejudice of the townspeople. This is an extraordinary story based in fascinating historical detail that took Reviati over seven years to create – and it’s not hard to see why, though its 500+ pages fly with a fluidity that betrays his mastery of the form and the excellent translation by Jamie Richards. Highly, highly recommended.

Or from your local bookstore.

Sword Daughter Volume 3: Elsbeth of the Island by Brian Wood, Mack Chater, and Lauren Affe (Dark Horse, 9781506707846, £16.99)

This is the third volume of a gorgeously rendered saga following a father and daughter, Dag and Elsbeth, through Viking-age Europe, the sole survivors of a raid on their village by a murderous clan known as the Forty Swords. Dag confronts a member of the Forty Swords to challenge them at last, while the readers are shown Elsbeth more than ten years later in an interesting split narrative. The action when things get going is so well done and draws clear inspiration from the visual cues of classic samurai films, and the compelling father-daughter relationship at the core of the story gains new depths.

Or from your local bookstore.

Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins Library Edition Volume 1 by Jody Houser, Matthew Colville Olivia Samson, et al
(Dark Horse, 9781506721736, £33.99)

If you’re a hardcore, long-term fan of Matthew Mercer, Marisha Ray, Laura Bailey, et al or someone new to the smash-hit streaming DnD phenomenon that is Critical Role, this deluxe hardback collection of the first two volumes of the Vox Machina Origins saga is sure to pique your interest. As someone who only recently got into the whole thing (and is desperately trying to catch up with the over 200 episodes), this stunning edition was a treat. Featuring never-before-seen artwork and a great foreword by Gail Simone, who penned DC’s Birds of Prey!

Or from your local bookstore.

Ben recommends…

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott by Zoe Thorogood
(Avery Hill Publishing, 9781910395561, £12.99)

“Billie Scott is an artist. Her debut gallery exhibition opens in a few months. Within a fortnight she’ll be completely blind.” With this gripping premise there was little doubt I would be picking up Zoe Thorogood’s debut work. Set in the post-austerity bleakness of modern Britain, in charts an eventful period in a young artists life where she must come to terms with her disappearing sight, and answer the question of why she draws at all. Vibrant and hyperdetailed, I could not get enough of Zoe’s artistic style. And she explores the themes of her comic with great insight and depth. Continuing its well-earned reputation of discovering fantastic comics talent, The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott is another knockout for Avery Hill, and well worth picking up.

Or from your local bookstore.

Biscuits (Assorted) by Jenny Robins
(Myriad Editions, 9781912408290, £16.99)

I first learned Myriad would be publishing Biscuits in the summer, after returning from a long and weird furlough it what had already been a long and weird year. Promising a vibrant cast of women living across London, their lives peered into through a flurry of interweaving stories. Suffice to say it was something to look forward to. Fast forward to today and it did not disappoint. Biscuits is a delight. A hilarious and heartwarming trip through the once bustling streets of London, with all the secrets and stories its inhabitants contain. And a much-needed escape from our poorly written dystopian plot line into something resembling normality. The equivalent of cracking open a tin of Quality Streets to find an assortment of friendly faces.

Or from your local bookstore.

Mongrel by Sayra Begum
(Knockabout Comics, 9780861662692, £19.99)

Autobiographies have always made a fine match when it comes to the comics medium, and Sayra Begum’s comics debut is no different. A mixed-race Muslim living in Britain, Sayra finds herself constantly torn between two very different worlds, the devout Muslim sphere of her household and the country she lives in. With rich and often dreamlike illustrations Sayra immerses us in both as she grapples with increasingly frayed family life, and absconds from the path of tradition to marry a non-Muslim. This is a gripping and insightful look into the realities of growing up with a mixed-race heritage in multicultural Britain, and another strong outing from an exciting new creator.

Or from your local bookstore.

Leo recommends…

Hellsing Deluxe Edition 1 by Kohta Hirano
(Dark Horse, 9781506715537, £41.99)

Kohta Hirano’s iconic horror manga returned to print this year in a new deluxe format, and it’s just as good as I remembered. A staple of the 2000s manga/anime scene, this series was one of the best takes on the vampire genre, with an ancient organisation in England fighting against vampire/Nazi foes with the help of an all-powerful vampire of their own. Alucard remains one of the coolest characters in manga and rookie police officer Seras Victoria’s journey from innocent police officer to rifle wielding vampire is some of the best storytelling you’ll see in manga. It has been a fun trip down memory lane revisiting this classic series and I strongly recommend those who have yet to experience it to check it out.

Or from your local bookstore.

X-Men/Fantastic Four: 4X by Chip Zdarsky & Terry Dodson
(Marvel, 9781302920036, £13.50)

Chip Zdarsky has been on quite the roll at Marvel recently recently with his acclaimed current run on Daredevil and the brilliant Spider-Man: Life Story. This year, he got a chance to play in both the X-Men and Fantastic Four sandboxes with great result. With both series having a restored prominence in the Marvel Universe, it was the perfect time to do a crossover. Mr Fantastic and The Invisible Woman find themselves at odds with Charles Xavier and Magneto over whether their powerful mutant son Franklin should move to the mutant island Krakoa to learn from the rest of his kind or to remain with the Fantastic Four. This soon elevates into a bigger conflict that not only involves both teams but brings Doctor Doom into the picture too with poor confused Franklin caught in the middle. Zdarsky does a great job portraying the Fantastic Four family dynamic whilst playing them off against the new take on X-Men found in Jonathan Hickman’s work. Additionally, the always great Terry Dodson demonstrates why he’s one of the best in the business with some truly stunning superhero art. Easily one of the best Marvel titles this year.

Or from your local bookstore.

A Man And His Cat 1 by Umi Sakurai
(Square Enix Books, 9781646090266, £10.99)

Square Enix launched their new English language manga imprint this year with a bang thanks to this adorable series about A Man and His Cat. Frequently ignored by customers at the pet store due to his perceived ugliness, Fukumaru has given up hope of finding an owner. But one day he meets Mr. Kanda who only has eyes for him, and what follows is a unique take on the pet manga genre with two main character who go far against the grain from what you’d expect in a series of this kind. It’s easy to see why this series has such a huge following in Japan and now has a TV drama in production. This is a perfect comic for anyone looking to have their spirits lifted – it is a guaranteed result. Read it, and make sure you follow Sakurai-san’s Twitter for the latest pages and some of the best feel-good content you’ll ever see.

Or from your local bookstore.

Complete your 2020 reading recommendations with our Staff Picks in Fiction, and Non-Fiction. And for more great graphic novels, see what are favourites were back in 2019.

As bookshops across the UK face re-open their doors, they need your help to stay afloat.

If anything you’ve read about on our blog catches your eye, consider ordering from your local bookshop. Find yours here. Alternatively, you can browse your favourite indies on Bookshop.org.

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