Turnaround’s 2021 Staff Picks – Graphic Novels

One of the best parts of life here at Turnaround – in the marketing department at least – is that we have plenty of opportunities to shout about the books we love. And we love a lot of books around here. This can make things pretty difficult when it comes to our annual staff picks, but we are nothing if not dedicated to the cause. Now, once again, we have painstakingly whittled down our vast list of wonderful books published throughout the year to pick just a few of our highlights.

This year, we’re kicking off our round-ups with graphic novels. And what wonderful graphic novels they are…

Leo

Invisible Kingdom Vol. 3 by G Willow Wilson & Christian Ward
(9781506721514, p/b, £16.99 Berger Books)

One of the best sci-fi comics series in recent memory wrapped up this year. In its third and final volume, Invisible Kingdom continues to provide incredible character work, fascinating world building and some of the most jaw dropping art you’ll see in a comic. The ongoing inner conflict of Vess as she must choose between her faith or her love interest Grix all comes to a head this volume in a suitably epic fashion. G Willow Wilson and Christian Ward have created something special that will definitely stand the test of time.

Or from your local bookstore.

The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated! 1 by Wakame Konbu
(9781646090761 , Square Enix Manga)

A fantastically zany series, The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated! is everything you could want in a comedy manga, a ludicrous premise and hilarious characters being the key ingredients. In this case, we have the former deputy leader of the Dark Realm losing her stance and appearance thanks to an overactive magical girl. Now she is forced to slum it in the human world with only a low paying job at a pub and tiny apartment to her name. Jahy’s frequent misfortune from both others and of her own making is always entertaining, but there is also something inspiring about her dogged determination to restore The Dark Realm. The strong supporting cast including her patient boss at the pub, her grouchy landlord who is also her boss’ sister, and her former subordinate Druj whom – whilst still unnervingly devoted to her mistress to the point of masochism – has managed to make herself into a business hotshot in the human world are the icing on the cake. With an anime adaptation currently running, now is the perfect time to give this series a look.

Or from your local bookstore.

Strange Academy: First Class by Skottie Young and Humberto Ramos
(9781302919504, p/b, £11.99, Marvel)

Skottie Young has long been regarded as one of the most creative talents in comics today. Whether he is writing or drawing, all his works have are packed with charm that will draw you right in. In the case of Strange Academy, he gets a chance to play with several of Marvel’s most popular magical characters alongside some not so well-known ones. Doctor Strange’s endeavour to open a school for the Mystic Arts may have been good intentioned, but things quickly become complicated as the faculty (including the likes of The Scarlet Witch, Brother Voodoo and Magik) have to not only deal with mystical threats, but also troublesome teenagers (including Emily Bright who is struggling to control her powers and Doyle – the son of the dreaded Dormammu). Young and his artist collaborator Humberto Ramos clearly are having a ton of fun with these characters and setting which really shines through in the end result. With Doctor Strange having a renewed presence in both the Marvel and Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is a great excuse to discover Marvel’s mystic line-up.

Or from your local bookstore.

Jenn

Alone In Space by Tillie Walden
(9781910395585, h/b, £24.99, Avery Hill)

After Tillie Walden’s stunning 2018 comic book epic On a Sunbeam comes another beautiful hardback edition of her work, published by Avery Hill. Alone in Space collects Walden’s three standalone collections:  I Love This Part, The End of Summer, and A City Inside. I fell in love with Tillie Walden’s work reading I Love This Part – her depiction of young queer love is dreamy, and her artwork is completely delicious and easy to get lost in. I’ve since read (and loved!) everything she’s made. Alone in Space is another Avery Hill must-have, both for Walden’s many diehard fans and new readers who are just discovering her comics.

Or from your local bookstore.

Queen of the Ring by Jaime Hernandez
(9781683964452, h/b, £20.99)

Although perhaps more an art book than a graphic novel, Jaime Hernandez is my favourite comic book creator of all time, so I had to pick this!  Queen of the Ring is sublime – it’s a large hardback collecting all Hernandez’s drawings of the women wrestlers of 60’s and 70’s lucha libre. It’s full of pinups, action shots, fictional magazine covers and posters, making up an amazing graphic world of wrestling. Despite women’s wrestling featuring throughout Hernandez’s Love & Rockets comics, Queen of the Ring is full of unpublished artwork from his secret archive.

Or from your local bookstore.

Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson
(9781683964704, h/b, £16.99, Fantagraphics)

Although originally published in 2006, I just found out about Night Fisher after Fantagraphics released this new hardback edition. When it was first published it was critically acclaimed and won an Eisner award, and reading it now, I can see why. It’s a striking coming-of-age story set in Hawaii about growing up, friendship, and adolescence. Reading it is like watching a film, it’s so natural and immersive. And I love the Maui setting, it’s a real visual treat.

Or from your local bookstore.

Lights, Planets, People! by Molly Naylor and Lizzy Stewart
(9781910395615, h/b, £16.99, Avery Hill)

Another of my favourites from this year is also published by Avery Hill and is also about space! Lights, Planets, People! follows astronomer Maggie Hill who is at once being celebrated for her career while starting therapy for anxiety. It’s an intimate, intergalactic comic that explores mental health, success, failure and loss, by dream team Lizzy Stewart (children’s book illustrator and author) and Molly Naylor (writer of Sky One comedy After Hours), taken from Naylor’s play of the same name.

Or from your local bookstore.

Eleanor

The Heart Hunter by Mickey George & V. Gagnon
(9781681160740, PB, £16.99, Legendary Comics)

This art-nouveau-inspired graphic novel takes the metaphor of wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve quite literally, to stylish and enjoyable effect. The immortal inhabitants of the cursed island of Envecor wear their hearts outside their bodies in elaborate jars. That is, until they find their soulmates, whereupon they are turned mortal and freed from the curse, released to leave the island. There are some, however, who want their immortality to remain untouchable, and for those, there are the Heart Hunters – skilled hunters who track down their clients’ soulmates to kill them and ensure their immortality. This elaborate premise lays the groundwork for an engrossing and transportive story of grief, healing, and love in its many forms, as we follow Heart Hunter Psyche on her quest to assassinate the king’s soulmate.

Or from your local bookstore.

It’s Not What You Though It Would Be by Lizzy Stewart
(9781683964353, HB, £21.99, Fantagraphics)

When Lizzy Stewart’s Walking Distance came out in 2019, I read and loved it. So I was excited to get my hands on this new collection of graphic vignettes, and was not disappointed. A gorgeous series of short stories, some interconnected, each perfectly encapsulating a moment in time, a feeling, a yearning, awkward conversation. Its common themes of teenage restlessness and female friendship ring particularly true as Stewart draws thick storm clouds above a stark but fondly-remembered council estate, teenage best friends on the forbidden roof of a school building, and the stilted reunion of two women at a party whose conversation starts well before cracking under the heavy history between them, just beneath the surface. Myriad in its deft complexities and illustrated in a range of perfectly fitting styles, this is one of my favourite reads of the year.

Or from your local bookstore.

Pass Me By: Electric Vice by Ryan Danny Owen & Kyle Simmers
(9781988903859, PB, £16.99, Renegade Arts Entertainment)

This queer love story is the sequel to the touching Pass Me By: Gone Fishin’, and tells the origin story of Ed and his youth in the glam rock ’80s. This instalment in the award-winning series is no less captivating than the first as we follow Ed in his chance encounter with the enthralling androgynous singer of the band ELECTRIC VICE, which leads him down a road he hadn’t seen coming. This coming-of-age story is rendered in the same unique restricted palette as its predecessor, its pinks and purples occasionally disrupted by a mood-shifting and evocative spread of teals and turquoises. A must-read for those who want a queer, rural, Canadian love story of the kind that rarely gets told.

Or from your local bookstore.

Khadija

Mike Mignola: The Quarantine Sketchbook by Mike Mignola
(9781506724270, h/b, £33.99, Dark Horse)

This year, Mike Mignola released a book of the collected pencil sketches he made and auctioned during the 2020 coronavirus quarantine. He raised money with them initially for José Andres’ World Central Kitchen and all profits from the sale of these books will go there as well, making this book a concrete part of comic history. Along with it being a light in the world-changing pandemic that we are all still being affected by. The art is beautifully done as you’d expect from the world-class talent Mignola and just all around this is a great gift for yourself or a loved one this Christmas.

Or from your local bookstore.

Crisis Zone by Simon Hanselmann                       
(9781683964445, p/b, £25.99, Fantagraphics)                       

Another piece of quarantine comic history in the making is Crisis Zone which published this year with tonnes of added content after releasing for free on Instagram during the earlier months of the pandemic. This book really ushered in a wave of quarantine narrative-driven comics and is my favourite of them yet. The crass humour and grody lifestyles of Megg, Mogg, Owl and Werewolf Jones are still there to wrap you up in the slightly-sticky grip of nostalgia. But this time Hanselmann uses their sardonic wit and creative sadism to dissect the pandemic, isolation and humanity’s reaction to Tik Tok.

Or from your local bookstore.

American Cult by Robyn Chapman
(9781945509636, p/b, £21.99, Silver Sprocket)

Non-Fiction graphic novels are specifically amazing ways to learn if the time period or communities discussed have very emblematic iconography or aesthetics. And what is better at gripping the imaginations and interest of the public if not a cult? This Silver Sprocket title really draws on this to create an amazing book with twenty different cartoonists exploring the history of different groups in their own style and voices. Discussing cults from America’s inception to modern day, American Cult is an absorbing read that everyone should pick up this holiday season.

Or from your local bookstore.

Emily

COMA by Zara Slattery
(9781912408665, p/b, £18.99, Myriad Editions)

It was only recently that COMA by Zara Slattery was announced winner of the British Book Design and Production Awards, and it is undeniably deserving of that title. This whimsically terrifying debut graphic novel is an account of Zara’s own experience of a medically induced coma resulting from a sudden case of sepsis. We are plunged into Zara’s psyche as her consciousness tries to make sense of the world through strange visions featuring mythological creatures and eerie symbolism. Meanwhile, using extracts from her husband’s diary and the notes of one of the hospital nurses, Zara documents what also happened around her: her children’s visits to the ICU, her husband striving to keep the family together, and their collective search for hope. COMA is a stunning and heart-breaking graphic memoir.

Or from your local bookstore.

The Roles We Play by Sabba Khan
(9781912408306, pb, £18.99, Myriad Editions)

With a background in architecture and design, it’s no surprise that Sabba Khan’s debut graphic novel THE ROLES WE PLAY is a surrealist feast for the eyes. What will surprise you, however, is Khan’s ability to tug at both your heart and mind with her drawings and writings. Through the graphic novel form, Sabba traces her history as a second-generation Azad Kashmiri migrant in East London— from her Mother’s roots, to contemporary snapshots of contemporary British Pakistani life. Her explorations of belonging, memory, identity, class and gender have awarded Sabba countless rave reviews and the title of “one of the true rising stars of UK indie comics” from Broken Frontier’s Andy Oliver.

Or from your local bookstore.

Crossroads: I Live Where I Like by Koni Benson
(9781629638355, pb, £16.99, PM Press)

Drawn by South African political cartoonists the Trantraal brothers and Ashley Marais, Crossroads: I Live Where I Like is a graphic nonfiction history of women-led movements at the forefront of the struggle for land, housing, water, education, and safety in Cape Town over half a century. Drawing on over sixty life narratives, it tells the story of women who built and defended Crossroads, the only informal settlement that successfully resisted the apartheid bulldozers in Cape Town. The story follows women’s organised resistance from the peak of apartheid in the 1970s to ongoing struggles for decent shelter today.

Or from your local bookstore.

Liam

Tales from The Umbrella Academy: You Look Like Death by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba
(9781506719108, p/b, £16.99, Dark Horse)

The TV version of Klaus is one of my all-time favourite characters, so I loved this chance to have a look into his backstory. When 18-year-old Klaus gets himself kicked out of the Umbrella Academy and his allowance discontinued, he heads to a place where his ghoulish talents will be appreciated – Hollywood. But after a magical high on a stash stolen from a vampire drug lord, Klaus needs help, and doesn’t have his siblings there to save him. What’s a shambolic superhero to do?

Or from your local bookstore.

Hypnotwist by Gilbert Hernandez
(9781683962045, h/b, £21.99, Fantagraphics)

In the Eisner Award-winning wordless comic (silent movie?) Hypnotwist, Gilbert Hernandez’s B-movie star Fritz plays a character who doesn’t seem to be going anywhere – until she puts on a pair of glittery pumps. Her wanderings become increasingly surreal as she confronts motherhood, alcoholism, a sinister smiley face, cruelty, and her worst fate. This is a great new edition of stories from the classic Love and Rockets series, expanding on Fritz’s adventures across the surreal cosmos.

Or from your local bookstore.

All The Places In Between by John Cei Douglas
(9781912634231, p/b, £11.99, Liminal 11)

Through wordless black-and-white illustration, John Cei Douglas empathetically shows the struggle to communicate how things feel when we get lost, and the wrenching loneliness that comes with mental health struggles. A quietly beautiful meditation on the seemingly endless paths we try to take simply to get back to the place where we think we should be, this is a comforting reminder that you’re not alone on your journey.

Or from your local bookstore.


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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