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Underrated: The Best Comics of 2021

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: the Best Comics of 2021 .


I didn’t do a Best Of List for 2021 because I thought my sampling of comics wasn’t as wide as it had been in years past because I’d been reading a lot more graphic novels and books than I had been typical comics. While this is a fantastic way to catch an entire story in one go – or a few if you’re reading one of Marvel’s Epic Collections that contains comics from the 60’s and early 70’s – it did mean that I typically wouldn’t pick up a floppy comic before either my current book or tpb I had on the go.

But as I was filing away the books I had read this year, I realized I’d still read more than I expected – and as luck would have it, almost all of the books I’d enjoyed the most weren’t from the Big Two (Daredevil being a notable exception to that), and so here we are at an Underrated Best of 2021 list. I didn’t realize until I’d made the list that for the most part there’s only one book from each publisher – that wasn’t intentional, unlike me choosing to avoid a traditional top five/ten, just a happy coincidence.

By The Horns (Scout) Markisan Naso, Jason Muhr and Andrei Tabacaru aren’t one of the more well known creative teams in comics, but they’re certainly one of the best. By The Horns is a story set in a lusciously vibrant fantasy world with technology not unlike what you’d see in the Star Wars franchise. It’s a beautifully illustrated and written series that should be on every person’s pull list.

This series was hands down one of the very best from 2021 from any publisher. For my money, only Daredevil came close to matching the excitement I had to read each issue. Easily the best of the year.

Shadowman (Valiant) Valiant have had some ups and downs this year, but the unequalled high point for the publisher was this book from Cullen Bunn and Jon Davis Hunt. In what is probably my favourite take on the character, we get four issues that are essentially stand alone comics with an overarching theme. It’s a brilliant story so far, and one that leads into what’s promising to be an epic event in the Valiant universe.

Once And Future (Boom) It’s almost cheating to include this given the buzz that surrounds the comic on a consistent basis, but here we are. Once And Future brings fairytales, myths and legends from Europe into a more modern setting. The series has been consistently brilliant with the stakes escalating in an organic and believable way – there’s no out of the blue or unexpected twist when it comes to villains, but rather a genuine progression from where the series has progressed from the first issue to the current. Keiran Gillen, Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain have never produced any less than a good comic book month after month.

Wrong Earth: Night and Day (Ahoy) The best way to describe the premise of Wrong Earth is that the Batman from the 1960’s TV show switched places with Ben Affleck’s version of Batman; one, an idealistic man with gadgets not unlike the Bat-Shark Repellant, and the other, a vigilante who’s far more violent (and deadly) in his approach. The two men have to adapt and survive in the other’s world, and the actions they take are often hilarious. The series takes jabs at the innocence of the Silver Age and the grimdark comics we have now all while extolling the virtues of each. You’ll come away from the series on a meta level even more confused about why one era is more beloved than the other, but there’s no doubt about the fact that what you’ve read is absolutely top tier stuff.

Two Moons (Image) A supernatural comic set in the late 1800’s staring a Native American soldier in the titular role, the series deals with identity, the erasure of native culture and the freedom of self. It’s dark, atmospheric stuff, but it was the sleeper hit of the year for me because I picked the series up in one chunk based on the cover art more than anything having completely missed anything to do with the solicitations.

Eniac (Bad Idea) Bad Idea have been an interesting experiment. The publisher has had so many off the wall ideas when it comes to marketing, appealing to fans and even releasing their books into stores. So much so, that the quality of the books is often overlooked when it comes to the discussion of the publisher. I haven’t read a bad comic from Bad Idea yet, but the best of the bunch has remained the very first series to be released. A tale about an evil computer that has decided to take the world into a peaceful direction… at any cost. If you can find the issues for a reasonable price, it’s worth checking out.

Home (Image) A story about a mother and son being separated at the border as they try to find a better life in the states, the first issue was utterly heart breaking. I had no expectation of what would follow, and so as the book’s world expands and we see how the son is part of a legacy of people with powers, the book becomes a coming of age tale with the protagonist constantly on the run from immigration enforcement. Maybe the book impacted me because I am an immigrant (albeit with a much different story), but Home is a comic that everyone should read.



Join us next week where there will doubtless be another movie, series, comic or comic related thing discussed that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

The Best Comics of 2021

2021 was another strange year for the comic industry which saw a lot of changes in almost too many ways to count.

But, despite all of those changes, there were some amazing comics released.

Here’s 10 that stood out to me from the year.

The full list of everything that stood out from the year!

Graphic Policy’s team’s “best of” lists!

The 10 from the video:

Blue, Barry & Pancakes (First Second)
Story/Art: Daniel Rajai Abdo, Jason Linwood Patterson

Glamorella’s Daughter (Literati Press)
Concept: Jerry Bennett Story: Charles J. Martin
Art: Jerry Bennett Letterer: Charles J. Martin Sensitivity Editor: Brandy Williams

BRZRKR (BOOM! Studios)
Story: Keanu Reeves, Matt Kindt Art: Ron Garney
Color: Bill Crabtree Letterer: Clem Robins

Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? (Albatross Funnybooks)
Story: Harold Schechter, Eric Powell Art: Eric Powell

The Other History of the DC Universe (DC Comics)
Story: John Ridley Layouts: Giuseppe Camuncoli
Finishes: Andrea Cucchi Color: José Villarrubia Letterer: Steve Wands

Robin & Batman (DC Comics)
Story: Jeff Lemire Art: Dustin Nguyen
Color: Dustin Nguyen Letterer: Steve Wands

The Recount (Scout Comics)
Story: Jonathan Hedrick Art: Joe Bocardo
Color: Sunil Ghagre Letterer: Christian Docolomansky

Shadow Doctor (AfterShock)
Story: Peter Calloway Art: George Jeanty
Color: Juancho! Letterer/Backmatter: Charles Pritchett

Solo Leveling (Yen Press)
Original Story: Chugong Translation: Hye Young Im
Rewrite: J. Torres Letterer: Abigail Blackman

Stray Dogs (Image Comics)
Story: Tony Fleecs Art: Trish Forstner
Color: Brad Simpson Layouts: Tone Rodrigeuz, Chris Burnham Flatter: Lauren Perry

We Were Scared: Horror in the year 2021

I’m not one to look back on a year and say the horror produced in it was a reflection of how bad things were. Every year finds its sources of fear, be it war or global pandemics or even economic strife. There’s no shortage of things that inspire terror.

What’s been a constant throughout time is how we turn to stories to work through our collective fears. This year saw no shortage of them, and so we recognize them.

Ahead you’ll find a list of horror across media that stands as some of the most impressive, surprising, disturbing, and downright scary that came out in 2021. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive or a definitive list nor is it in any particular order. It’s a look at the stories that got us to confront the horrors of everyday life, for that is what horror does best: create monsters and specters to helps us sift through the madness of reality. Oh, and it’s entirely subjective, as every list is.

Without further ado, the list for some of the most compelling things in horror in 2021.

1. Resident Evil 8: Village (PS/Xbox/PC/Stadia)

The Resident Evil franchise went through a legitimate transformation with the arrival of RE7, the entry that shifted from the third-person perspective into the first-person. It got the series to reconsider the places it could extract fear from. RE8 builds upon this by taking a more action-heavy approach, but like the classic Resident Evil 4 before it, the faster pace allowed the game to be infused with a more violent and visceral sense of horror, turning each encounter into a nerve-shattering experience. We once again follow Ethan Winters as his family drama extends into a village bursting at the seams with grotesque creatures and insidious conspiracies. The new werewolf villagers Ethan faces are superbly designed and they carry themselves with the same degree of doom and maliciousness as The Ganado did in RE4, but deadlier. It’s one of the best horror games in recent years and it foretells of an indulgingly dark and exciting future for the franchise.

2. Red Room (Fantagraphics)

Ed Piskor has the most macabre and twisted book to have come out in recent years in comics, period. Red Room is not for the faint of heart. It’s for those who don’t mind watching cruel individuals tearing those hearts out. The comic centers on an on-going dark web streaming show, supported by cryptocurrency, called The Red Room where serial killers dismember, disembowel, torture, and kill in the most creative ways imaginable, building a fanbase in the process. The more gruesome the kill, the more crypto tips the killer gets. In a sense, it’s a story about the depravity of creativity in things considered evil, but it’s also about how dangerous something like the dark web can be and how crypto figures into something like this. Piskor said he didn’t base the story on an actual red room-like website he knows about, but that he wouldn’t be surprised if such a place already exists. The thought of that alone is frightening enough and the comic pulls on the same strings. There’s nothing like Red Room on the stands. Nothing.

3. The Night House (TSG Entertainment/Dir. by David Bruckner)

Some of the best horror movies manage to find that well-worn formulas never truly reach a point in which everything is said and done with them. The Night House is one such movie. Beth (played by Rebecca Hall) is dealing with the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, a man whose departure hints at something darker lurking in his backstory. Beth notices her lake house is behaving strangely, possibly haunted, and that her husband might be back for a visit. The movie excels at making the house seem labyrinthian, a place where memories are dangerous and the architecture itself contains hidden images if looked at from certain angles. Rebecca Hall plays Beth with a sense of sadness and anger that sets her apart from the usual haunted protagonist, more of an active participant in her grief rather than a victim to it. All of the elements of a haunted house story are also there, but then the movie pushes every expectation down a different route to come out the other end as a more disquieting experience. It deserves to be talked about more.

4. Evil Dead Trap (Unearthed Classics 2021 Blu-Ray edition, originally released in 1988)

Okay, I’m cheating a bit on this one—being that it’s the Blu-Ray edition of a Japanese giallo-inspired horror movie from 1988—but that Unearthed Classics restored this gem and made it available for gore hounds in 2021 was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. Evil Dead Trap follows a TV reporter that sets off with her team to an abandoned factory where a mysterious snuff filmed was shot. As they search for answers, the video’s creator starts in on the killing, one team member at a time. The movie’s director, Toshiharu Ikeda, who started out in the industry directing pink films (movies with risqué or explicit sexual content), takes a lot of inspiration from the Italian slasher genre and manages to craft some truly memorable death scenes. Unlike giallo films, though, Evil Dead Trap opts to pay more attention to story and character motivations. It all adds up to a brutal experience that’s unafraid to go far beyond concept to push the envelope on genre conventions.

5. Two Moons (Image Comics)

Given the controversies surrounding anything related to the American Civil War in today’s political climate, I found John Arcudi and Valerio Giangiordano’s Two Moons to be quite the surprise. It’s a Civil War horror comic about a Pawnee soldier fighting for the North and the procession of creatures and monsters that he meets along the way. Whether these beings are real or imagined is part of the story’s mysteries, but what’s certain is that Giangiordano’s designs are nightmarish and worthy of mention. Arcudi treats the subject matter in a very clever way, avoiding moralistic pitfalls for a more complex narrative that explores hatred, myth, and the types of violence war inspires. It’s an impressive example of horror storytelling.

Midnight Mass

6. Midnight Mass (Netflix, dir. by Mike Flanagan)

Religion and horror together is like a highly dysfunctional marriage that still manages to work. It gets at the root of some of the darkest aspects of faith and how people try to keep it even when that darkness starts seeping through. Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass is precisely about that, but then it also throws a terrifying creature into the mix. The story follows a small town with a waning sense of religious devotion with a few key personalities ready to turn that around. In comes a new priest that holds a terrible secret that he thinks comes with good intentions but is actually entirely the opposite. Hamish Linklater as Father Paul Hill keeps the tension on a razors edge, going from approachable spiritual guide to fire and brimstone orator. The promise of hope and salvation religion provides proves to be dangerous when it asks for blind devotion and Flanagan makes sure the sentiment comes across without it being overbearing. It’s thought-provoking horror with a creature that will haunt you long after you’re done with it.

7. Nothing But Blackened Teeth (Tor Nightfire)

Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth finds that haunted houses and destination weddings are pure horror gold, especially when the house is a Heian-era Japanese mansion with the bones of a dead bride in it. A group of thrill-seekers make their way to a mansion for their friends’ wedding and very quickly discover the ghosts that inhabit it like to torture their victims by bringing their past mistakes and personal misgivings come to the fore. Each character is confronted with themselves all the while a bride with black teeth roams the halls of the mansion. For such a short novel, the narrative feels dense and quite heavy tone-wise, but never to its detriment. Khaw gives readers enough information to get them acquainted with cast so that the haunting hits harder with each twist and turn. The book also invites repeated reading as it reveals layers upon layers of meaning the more time you spend between its tight and superbly crafted sentences. Truly a standout book you’ll want to keep on your permanent collection.

8. Magic: The Gathering- Innistrad Midnight Hunt/Crimson Vow (Wizards of the Coast)

MTG has had an impressive set of expansions in recent years despite the hardships of running a competitive card game during a global pandemic. Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow stand as two of its best, both parts of a whole centered on werewolves (Midnight Hunt) and vampires (Crimson Vow). Wizards of the Coast made a great decision in bringing back the day/night cycle for its werewolf cards, which allows for dual-identity creatures on double-sided cards. They play differently based on whether the sun is out or the full moon is up. The mechanic is simple and fair and adds another layer of strategy that directly affects deck building in surprising ways. Crimson Vow is set in a decadent vampire wedding and its spells are based on that concept. Zombie waiters and vampiric guests of honor grace its cards, giving the game a touch of celebratory gruesomeness that’s also playful with its elements. The day and night cycle doesn’t impact the vampires as much is it does the werewolves, but they complement each other well and make for a very story-driven affair. The Crimson Vow bundle comes with a collectible invitation to the wedding that is worth the price of it alone.

9. The Nice House on the Lake (DC Black Label)

James Tynion IV and Álvaro Martínez Bueno’s The Nice House on the Lake is set to become one of the best horror comics of the decade. No surprise, then, that it makes the list. The story unravels like an apocalyptic puzzle box horror mystery with an exceptional cast of characters and an overall visual design that gives everything a hazy vibe not unlike the kind found in dreams. An odd man called Walter brings a select group of friends to a very well-stocked house that’s just outside the fiery apocalypse’s reach. Each entry in the series peels back a few layers, but what they really like to sink their teeth into is individual backstories that explain how each person made it to the house and how Walter figures into their lives. Each character houses volumes of story and not one reveal is wasted as their personalities clash and lean on each other as they try to figure out what’s going on. This year saw the first half of the series run its course, making 2022 the year we finally get to see what the nice house on the lake truly is.

10. The Amusement Park (Communicator’s Pittsburg, dir. by George Romero)

George Romero left behind a vast collection of scripts, posters, props, and unreleased movies when he passed away back in 2017. It’s so extensive, in fact, that the George A. Romero Foundation (who possess the majority of the legendary filmmaker’s collection) is still uncovering new material. Back in 2018, the GARF discovered a feature-length film called The Amusement Park, a movie about how people treat their older population and how they get left behind and forgotten. It’s presented in a kind of surrealist way that leans on psychological horror as we witness the mistreatment of older folk in a strange amusement park that is not only indifferent to them but also hostile. The movie has a dystopic feel to it that isn’t all-encompassing. Instead, it’s an imposed way of life dictated by age. The older you get, the more life starts to resemble a dystopia. It hits hard and there’s a sadness coursing through it that separates it from the traditional psychological horror fare. The iconic horror elements Romero is known for make it into the film in a variety of ways, especially in terms of how regular people can become monsters. It’s necessary viewing and I hope it continues to promote discussion.

And there you have it, a look at what Horror was in 2021. Here’s to making monsters out of the things 2022 will definitely give us to scream at, and then confront them.

Logan’s Favorite Comics of 2021

Even though it was a shitty year overall, I found some great comics to enjoy in 2021, both old and new. Beginning with its “Future State” event, DC easily shot up to become my favorite mainstream publisher thanks to its renewed focus on different visual styles instead of a Jim Lee-esque art style and its emphasis on LGBTQ+ characters even after Pride Month. Vault and Image continued to be the homes of both my favorite creators and SF stories, and AWA, Dark Horse and even Black Mask and Archie had titles that surprised me even if they didn’t make the cut on this list. Finally, continuing a trend that I jumped on in 2020, I continued to read or revisit classic comics (Both old and new) in 2021, like Copra, Invincible, The Umbrella Academy, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman: True Amazon, The Invisibles, Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Force, Hawkeye, and Black Bolt among others.

So, without further ado, here are my ten favorite comics of 2021

10. Alice in Leatherland (Black Mask)

Alice in Leatherland is a wholesome, sexy, and hyper-stylized slice of life romance comic from the creative team of Iolanda Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli. The book is about Alice, a children’s book writer, who leaves her small town for San Francisco when her girlfriend cheats on her and captures the fear and adrenaline of taking a big step in your life. The series explores sex and love through an expansive cast of LGBTQ+ characters that I wanted to spend more than five issues with. Romboli uses fairy tale style visuals as a metaphor to examine Alice’s feelings and self-growth throughout the series, and she excels at depicting both the hilarious and erotic. Alice in Leatherland is an emotional, funny read with well-developed queer characters and made me immediately add Zanfardino and Elisa Romboli to the list of creators I’ll read anything by.

9. The Autumnal (Vault)

The Autumnal by Daniel Kraus, Chris Shehan, and Jason Wordie was the most unsettling comic I read in 2021. The book follows Kat Somerville and her daughter Sybil as they leave Chicago for the town of Comfort Notch, New Hampshire. However, this town isn’t a rural oasis, but incredibly creepy. Kraus’ script unravels the foundation of blood that the town is built on while Shehan and Wordie create tension with the fall of the leaf or a crackle of a branch. I also love how fleshed out Kat is as she deals with being an outsider in what turns out to be an unfriendly space with her parenting style and approach to life being critiqued by her neighbors. Finally, The Autumnal is the finest of slow burns beginning with NIMBY/Karen-like behavior and then going full-on death cult. It’s a must read for anyone who has lived or experienced a place where time seems to stand still, or who thinks a NextDoor app post could be the basis of a good horror story.

8. The Joker (DC)

Contrary to its title, James Tynion, Guillem March, Steffano Rafaele, Arif Prianto, and others’ The Joker isn’t a comic looking at the Clown Prince of Crime’s inner psyche, but is a globe-trotting P.I. type story featuring Jim Gordon trying to capture the Joker for some folks that looks shadier and shadier as the story progresses. Tynion and (predominantly) March show the effect Joker has had on Gordon’s life and his family while also showing him discover himself outside the bounds of Gotham and its police department. As the series progresses, The Joker shows the impact that Batman and his rogue’s gallery have had on the rest of the world, and the ways governments, intelligence agencies, and more nefarious organizations deal with threats of their ilk. Along with a crime novel set in present time, James Tynion, Matthew Rosenberg, and the virtuosic Francesco Francavilla created several flashback comics showing the development of Jim Gordon’s relationship with the Joker over the years, and how it effected his family life and career almost acting as a “Year One” for Gordon as Francavilla’s art style shifts based on the era the story is set in. Plus most issues of Joker feature colorful backup stories with Harper Row trying to bring Joker’s newest ally Punchline to justice in and out of prison from Tynion, Sam Johns, Sweeney Boo, Rosi Kampe, and others.

7. Kane and Able (Image)

Kane and Able is a dual-cartoonist anthology featuring work by British cartoonists Shaky Kane and Krent Able. Kane’s stories flow together in a Jack Kirby-meets-David Lynch kind of way blurring the lines between fiction and metafiction, reality and unreality while also acting as an opportunity for him to draw cool things like dinosaurs, space women, aliens, the King of Comics, and even himself. Able’s stories have more of a grindhouse, body horror quality to him as a chainsaw-wielding Bear Fur battles a boom box wielding cockroach woman, who flesh bonds everyone in a listless, major city. Both creators have delightful, distinctive styles and put their own spin on genres like sci-fi, exploitation, and superhero. Kane and Able is free-flowing, clever, and most of all, fun and is tailor made for the larger page format of treasury editions.

6. Static Season One (DC/Milestone)

As far as pure visuals go, Static Season One by Vita Ayala, Nikolas Draper-Ivey, and ChrisCross was easily one of the best looking books on the stands in 2021. This was in addition to reinventing the iconic Black superhero through the lens of contemporary social movements, like Black Lives Matter and protests against police brutality in summer of 2020. Static Season One doesn’t merely pay homage to the classic Milestone series, but brings it into 2021 with fight sequences straight out of the best shonen manga and a three dimensional supporting cast that holistically explore the Black experience in the United States while also being a coming of age and superhero origin tale. Draper-Ivey’s character designs are sleek as hell, and his high energy approach to color palette adds intensity to fight and chase scenes. I’m excited to see what the talented creative duo of Ayala and Nikolas Draper-Ivey bring to Static’s journey as Season One wraps up and Season Two (hopefully) begins in 2022.

5. Renegade Rule (Dark Horse)

Renegade Rule is an original graphic novel from Ben Kahn, Rachel Silverstein, and Sam Beck that is a perfect fusion of a sports manga and a queer romance story set in the world of competitive video games. Even if you’re like me and have only attempted to play Overwatch a single time, Renegade Rule and its world are quite accessible via things like hypercompetitiveness, sexual tension, and breathtaking fight choreography. The in-game sequences are almost like musical numbers and use shooting, sniping, and various acrobatics to make characters’ unspoken thoughts real. Renegade Rule is like if your favorite sports movie and romantic comedy had a gay baby who loved kicking ass at video games, and I pumped my fist every time the Manhattan Mist overcame adversity or overwhelming odds and smiled when certain characters ended up with each other…

4. Echolands (Image)

After a four year absence from interior art, co-writer/artist J.H. Williams III didn’t mess around with Echolands, a love letter to both genre fiction and double page spreads. Done in collaboration with co-writer Haden Blackman and colorist Dave Stewart, Echolands is an epic fantasy quest loaded up with all kinds of genres and art styles leaking off the page and was one of the most immersive comics I read in 2021. It has a sprawling cast and world, but Blackman and Williams know when to slow down and dig into Hope Redhood and her allies and antagonists’ motivations and when to drop in a multi-page underwater or underground chase sequence. With its unique landscape layouts and all the details in J.H. Williams and Stewart’s visuals, Echolands is definitely a book worth picking up in physical format and has backmatter that both humorously and seriously adds to the worldbuilding.

3. DC Pride (DC)

In honor of Pride Month, DC Comics put some of its most talented LGBTQ+ creators on its most iconic LGBTQ+ characters in a super-sized celebration of overcoming adversity, being yourself, and loving whoever you want to love. DC Pride covered a spectrum of sexual and gender identities from a fast-paced date night story featuring the non-binary Flash, Jess Chambers, to James Tynion and Trung Le Nguyen’s fairy tale influenced story of Batwoman’s younger days and even the first appearance of transgender superhero Dreamer (From the Supergirl TV show) in the comics. Depending on the character or creative team, the different stories could be adventurous and flirtatious, heartfelt and emotional, or a bit of both. This book shows that superhero comics have come a long way since the stereotypes of the 1980s and 1990s, but there’s still room for improvement as many of the characters featured in this anthology are relegated to backup stories or are supporting cast members of cisgender, heterosexual heroes.

2. Barbalien: Red Planet (Dark Horse)

Barbalien: Red Planet is a masterfully crafted, queer rage infused superhero/sci-fi comic from Jeff Lemire, Tate Brombal, Gabriel Walta, and Jordie Bellaire. It understands subtext is for cowards and draws parallels between Barbalien coming out as gay and a Martian with his new friend/potential lover Miguel, who is a Latino activist fighting for the US government to do something about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Barbalien: Red Planet pays homage to the Black and Latinx activists who fought for queer liberation and is also an emotionally honest character study for Barbalien, who is easily my favorite character in the Black Hammer universe. Lemire, Brombal, and Walta use the superhero and sword and planet genres to explore the conflict between queer folks and power structures as Barbalien struggles with trying to fit into Spiral City as a white cop or being his true, gay Martian self. And to get personal for a second, Barbalien: Red Planet inspired me to speak out against my city’s Pride organization’s open support of police even though it led to me resigning as chairperson of my work’s LGBTQ+ employee affinity group. It’s both a damn good superhero book and a story that had a huge impact on my life in 2020-2021.

1. Die (Image)

My favorite comic of 2021 was Die by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans that wrapped up with the mother of all quest arcs. But beyond having cool fantasy landscapes and wrapping up each party member’s arc, Die nailed the importance of stories, whether games, comics, films, prose, TV shows etc., to change how we view and interact with the world in both a heightened and realistic manner. Most of the realism came in Die #20 where the main characters escape the world of the game into our reality with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing and have emotional reunions with loved ones or just hang out by themselves. However, the final arc of Die also is full of existential nightmares courtesy of Hans’ visuals as well as awakenings and self-realization, especially in Die #19 where Ash comes out as non-binary and discusses how games and fiction shaped their identity. The final issues of Die is a double-edged look at the power of narrative and games to shape us done in both glorious and surprisingly intimate fashion, and I felt I really knew Ash, Matt, Angela, Isabelle, Matt, Chuck, and Sol in the end.

Honorable Mentions: Casual Fling (AWA), Nightwing (DC), Made in Korea (Image), Barbaric (Vault), Superman and the Authority (DC), Catwoman: Lonely City (DC/Black Label)

Brett’s Favorite Comics of 2021 and a Reflection on the Past Year

The Recount #1

Much like 2021, It feels weird writing a “best of” list for the past year since it’s been so difficult for so many. Comics, and entertainment as a whole, continued to be an escape from the rough reality of the year that was. Things struggled to get back to normal, whether you think it was too soon or not.

Comics have been an escape for me as I myself remained holed up at home, forgoing movie theaters and generally the public as a whole.

To pick one that stood out above all the rest doesn’t quite feel right as there was so much that was fun and entertaining.

The comic industry continued to shift in massive ways as creators figured out new ways to become independent or were lured by the promise of big paydays by venture capital. Publishers got bought out and some struggled to stay open. Stores opened. Stores closed. Distribution continues to shift. The industry continues to be disrupted in many ways. Some ways for the better. Some for the worse.

Things shifted for everyone.

Publishers canceled projects, shifted schedules, and continued to look to go directly to the consumer. Publishers faced distribution issues as ports backedd up and printing issues as paper became scarce. Creators looked for new ways to earn money and also go directly to the consumer. Consumers had more choices than ever before that made it easier to escape the world burning around them and find enjoyment in make-believe worlds where justice prevails in the end.

In the end, though 2021 continued to look bleak, it left the comic industry as a whole stronger than ever before with many challenges ahead and many answers yet to come.

It feels weird doing this “best of” but at the same time I feel like I want to “honor” and spotlight the comics that got me through the year and had me excited to read the next issues. This is what I’ve read so if you don’t see something mentioned it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, I just might not have read it. Sorry, I can’t read everything (there was a massive glut in webcomics but more manga for me).

All of these are listed in no particular order (hell it’ll probably just be in alphabetical). Enough with the rambling… lets get on with some comics!

The comics that had me excited in 2021 and have me excited for 2022. It turns out maybe I enjoy horror more than I know?

  • Barbaric (Vault Comics) – The series caught me off guard with a classic fantasy barbarian story with a twist. I don’t want to go into it too much but if you haven’t read this one, definitely check it out. I can’t wait for more to come.
  • Black Panther (Marvel) – John Ridley taking over Black Panther, nuff said. The series has grounded the character in political paranoia and assassination attempts on undercover agents.
  • Blue, Barry & Pancakes (First Second) – I’ve been loving the releases focused on kids and this series about a trio of friends is one I enjoy reading each release over and over with my daughter. They’re goofy fun.
  • BRZRKR (BOOM! Studios) – I’ll admit I went into this series rolling my eyes as it felt like a pitch for a movie/television series for Keanu Reeves. But, while the series has a lot of action its focus on its main character of B and what makes him tick has been a welcome surprise. It’s surprisingly deep and more about the character than the action.
  • Dark Ages (Marvel) – In a year with so many “alternate takes” on classic characters this one of a world where technology is nerfed and the heroes and villains must bring it together is an interesting one. Here’s hoping we get more of these stand-alone miniseries from Marvel as this works so well.
  • DC vs. Vampires (DC Comics) – The premise of vampires rising up and attacking the DC Universe sounds simple enough. But, the series so far has eschewed simple fights instead going for paranoia where you don’t know who is a vampire and who will get killed.
  • Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? (Albatross Funnybooks) – The true story about Eddie Gein is haunting with art that walks the line of crossing over to gross out levels.
  • Fear State (DC Comics) – I wasn’t the biggest fan of the start of James Tynion IV’s run on Batman but when “Fear State” got rolling things quickly shifted. The story was intense and did an amazing job of folding in “Future State” as well. Speaking of which…
  • Fist of the North Star (VIZ Media) – The classic manga is back and being reprinted in beautiful hardback versions as part of VIZ Signature. Yeah, it’s martial arts Mad Max but it’s so good.
  • Future State (DC Comics) – A two-month event that took us to a possible future DC, the comics were mostly great with the glimpses of the future being used when the series returned. It was a great use of an event to breathe new life into a line and drive the narrative for months to come.
  • Glamorella’s Daughter (Literati Press) – A fun series about the daughter of the world’s superhero that has such a great sense of itself with great humor and fun characters.
  • Impossible Jones (Scout Comics) – A blast in every way introducing us to a new world of superheroes and villains and leaves us wanting more.
  • Karate Survivor in Another World (Seven Seas) – In a year that felt like every other manga was about someone getting killed and reincarnated in another world with some hook, this one stood out. With a grounded premise, the story is about Nozaki Hitoshi who is sent to another world where his only skill is karate. But, there’s a twist that’s teased out and works so well.
  • Kraken Me Up (Holiday House Publishing) – In a year where I read lots of comics geared towards kids I loved the art in this one and it had such a cute story about a pet Kraken and the girl who loved it.
  • Maniac of New York (AfterShock) – I’m not a fan of horror films but this take on the slasher genre had me hooked as it felt like an homage to the genre and something all its own.
  • The Other History of the DC Universe (DC Comics) – John Ridley delivers a blunt history lesson about DC from the perspective of characters who rarely get the spotlight. Amazing art added to the enjoyment in what felt like a college course in comics.
  • Robin & Batman (DC Comics) – Dick Grayson’s early years as Robin is explored with beautiful artwork.
  • The Recount (Scout Comics) – Talk about a series that was too close to home. The series focused on a nation split due to a corrupt government and an uprising after the assassination of the President. Coming out around January 6 made the first issue hit even more.
  • Serial (Abstract Studio) – The series has gotten better and better with every issue with a serial killer at the center of it all. It’s really done an amazing job of serialized storytelling and has my on the edge of my seat more and more to see what happens next.
  • Shadow Doctor (AfterShock) – The true story about a African American Doctor who can’t get money to open a practice and has to turn to Al Capone for funding. The story is just a great mob story but the fact it’s true makes it all the more amazing.
  • Solo Leveling (Yen Press) – 2021 saw me getting more into manga and manhwa and this series saw three volumes released. It’s about a world where dungeon crawling is an actual profession and the world’s worst, who actually has something a bit special about him. It’s just a great mix of comics and video game nostalgia with solid art.
  • Stray Dogs (Image Comics) – The miniseries was a murder mystery from the perspective of dogs. Did their master kill their former owners? Will the dogs make it to safety? Mix in amazing art and this was a miniseries that had everyone talking.
  • Task Force Z (DC Comics) – Red Hood has to lead zombie versions of Batman villains in a Suicide Squad like team. The concept is silly but works so well with a focus on the ethical aspect of it all and an amazing team dynamic. Mr. Bloom? Really!?
  • Timeless #1 (Marvel) – When it comes to end of year one-shots, Timeless is the best Marvel has put out. Its focus on a character and a real focus on him as a person. There’s some solid teases of what’s to come but it’s the story of Kang front and center that’s the real draw. It might be a tease of what’s to come but beside that, it’s a good one-shot anyway.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar (Marvel) – The series shook up the character’s history in major ways and as a fan of Warhammer 40K I was all into it. It definitely pissed off “fans”, so bonus?
  • We Live (AfterShock) – The series has been an amazing apocalyptic adventure as kids attempt to make it to get to a ship to get off the planet. The series was a gut punch over and over and had me in tears.
  • Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons #1 (DC Comics) – We just got one issue from Kelly Sue Deconnick and Phil Jimenez but this look at the history of the Amazons is amazing. The art was jaw dropping with the only flaw being the pages having a middle seam.
  • Yasmeen (Scout Comics) – The comic series about horrible events in Iraq and a young girl’s experience was an emotional punch with every issue. It shows the power of comics.

Why the Best Horror Book of 2020 is Clown in a Cornfield

Clown in a Cornfield
Clown in a Cornfield, cover

To an extent, the title of Adam Cesare’s latest book, Clown in a Cornfield, feels like an affront to expectations. We have a YA horror book about teens navigating social media, high school, and rage-filled teachers all hinging on the promise of an actual clown possibly picking off kids in a cornfield. Having read Cesare’s excellent, and surprisingly meta, cannibal movie homage Tribesmen, which shows a profound love and understanding for 1970s horror cinema, I knew something else was hiding in the fields. And that something turned the book into one of the best examples of horror fiction in the context of Trump’s America, and the year’s best in the process.

Clown in a Cornfield follows Quinn, a high schooler that moves into the town of Kettle Springs with her dad following the death of her mom. Now an ex-city girl, Quinn goes about understanding the town and its people but also the looming presence of its recent past, the thing that divides the town into those who see progress as moving forward and those who see it as keeping up with traditions. This is where the titular clown comes in. The rest deserves to be read.

The setup is deceptively recognizable, seemingly on purpose. The story starts with a look at Quinn and her dad going though a short adjustment period, Quinn in particular getting to know the people she’ll eventually get to rely on to survive the deadly events that clown authors.

Cesare takes his time putting every piece in place before taking the reader through a hellish gauntlet of inventive slasher violence, all of which takes cues from John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and a lot of 1990’s horror movie imagery if only to build on them and make them his own. Once the killing begins, the book settles into high tension and doesn’t let up even when commenting on the ideas that prop up the story.

The buildup to the clown horror comes with a few twists on the formula that sets this story apart from the conventional slasher. The teens that drive the story don’t fit the traditional mold of jock, nerd, hot, or final girl characters of old. Instead, Cesare skillfully dodges some of the sexual and “school as a rite of passage” subtexts that govern a lot of classic slasher stories in favor of showing a group of teens that more genuinely reflects the current state of American society.

Adam Cesare

Instead of prom and homecoming queen and king competitions or relationship woes tied to characters losing their virginity, Cesare creates a cast of young Americans that talk about guns, are comfortable around them, and know how to handle them; that embrace social media and make it a point to flirt with its most dangerous aspects; and who know perfectly well what they represent to the older townsfolk (hints of The Lost Boys here).

Kettle Springs is a small town where it’s not hard to imagine every other car sporting a ‘Make America Great Again’ bumper sticker. And yet, the book doesn’t judge the entirety of the town for its conservative leanings. On the contrary, it provides a more complicated human panorama of it, with varying degrees of political inclinations even within the targeted group.

This is perhaps one of the most impressive things Cesare accomplishes with his characters. He breaks away from the black and white morality of the traditional slasher, in which the ‘good’ teens and the ‘bad’ teens could be identified from a mile away, in favor of presenting teens that are not just different from one another but also from the preconceived notions we have of them. This bleeds over into the book’s take on what small-town America was, is, and could be.

Explaining what Cesare does with slasher morality in the story would result in spoiling some the book’s biggest surprises, but it does make for one hell of a killer clown. Frendo is a part of the town’s economic history, being the face of an abandoned factory that at one point was at the heart of Kettle Springs. He was a symbol of success at one point only to later become an imposing symbol of defeat.

Frendo wastes not a single instance of violence on simplicity. Every death, blood spurt, or dismemberment is masterfully choreographed, unafraid to go into detail, leaving the reader with just enough information to let him or her fill in the rest. It’s also hauntingly realistic in parts. Whereas many slasher movies go over the top to create memorable death sequences, Clown in a Cornfield keeps things more plausible, holding back to make the more explosively violent parts truly unforgettable.

Frendo is one unsettling clown, but what drives the killings and how sinister things get in the process is what really scared me to the core. Unlike the Freddies and the Jasons of the genre, Frendo is one killer I completely believe can come after me. Whereas the aforementioned slashers are known for carrying a sense of dark fantasy and myth about them, Frendo seems like an actual inevitability should America continue on the path it’s currently on.

Adam Cesare gave us an important horror book in 2020, one that hits closer to the real horrors America has lived through these past four years. Its commentary on tradition, progress, and what’s expected of newer generations is as sobering as it is terrifying. Give Clown in a Cornfield a read and make sure your windows are closed and your doors locked because Frendo isn’t the stuff of nightmares. It’s the stuff of reality.

Brett’s Favorite Comics of 2020 and a Reflection on the Past Year

The Recount #1

It feels weird writing a “best of” list for the past year since it’s been so difficult for so many. Writer Ron Marz Tweeted something like any comic that helped to get you through it is a favorite, and deep down I agree with that. It’s been a rough year for so many and it’s one where the comic industry was forced to mature and face reality in many ways.

Things shifted for everyone.

Publishers canceled projects, shifted schedules, and looked to go directly to the consumer. Creators looked for new ways to earn money and also go directly to the consumer. Stores were forced to market more taking to video, email, and social media to keep customers aware of the latest offerings and remind them of classics they might have missed. Some stores didn’t make it through the year. Others expanded. New ones joined the industry. Consumers had more choices than ever before that made it easier to escape the world burning around them and find enjoyment in make-believe worlds where justice prevails in the end.

In the end, though 2020 looked bleak, it left the comic industry as a whole stronger than ever before.

It feels weird doing this “best of” but at the same time I feel like I want to “honor” and spotlight the comics that got me through the year and had me excited to read the next issues. This is what I’ve read so if you don’t see something mentioned it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, I just might not have read it. Sorry, I can’t read everything (there was a massive glut in webcomics and manga for me).

So, in a bit different spin I’ve split this list into three sections.

  1. Comics where I’ve only read one issue so far, because that’s what’s been released, but am excited to see what comes in the new year.
  2. Comics I enjoyed each month and are kind of a “silver medal” for me. I wanted to acknowledge them but also didn’t want this to be an overwhelming essay. They’ll get more of a nod when I do a video of this.
  3. The ones I was excited to read each month or had an impact on me. These are the ones that go into my regular suggestions of comics to read down the road. The art, the stories, the presentation, they’re all at that “top of the game” level.

All of these are listed in no particular order (hell it’ll probably just be in alphabetical). Enough with the rambling… lets get on with some comics!

2020 gave us one, here’s ones I’m excited to read their second issues in 2021!

  • Batman: Black & White #1 – The first issue had some solid stories but it’s the art that really stood out. It was mind-blowing and one of the best comics visually released this year. Almost every story broke away from standard panels and was just amazing to look at. I have no idea if future issues will be like this but here’s hoping.
  • Black Cat #1 – The last volume was a lot of fun to read and this first issue continued that. Despite being a King in Black tie-in, the issue kept the focus on what Black Cat does best, steal things as everything collapses around her. There’s just a certain style and attitude that the creative team nails with this. It was a fun debut that you could just sit back, laugh while reading, and enjoy.
  • M.O.D.O.K.: Head Games #1 – Marvel’s trying to make M.O.D.O.K. a thing. It’s kind of been his year between an upcoming HULU series, a popular miniature in Marvel: Crisis Protocol, and this comic. The first issue had me laughing and I’m hoping that continues.
  • The Other History of the DC Universe #1 – John Ridley is one of my favorite creators out there. His work in film and television have blown me away. It looks like DC has given him the opportunity to deliver a brutally honest take about the DC Universe from the perspective of people of color and the first issue is one of the best things I read all year. I can’t wait until the second and this man should be allowed to do whatever he wants.
  • The Recount #1 – The issue hit a bit close to reality. The President is a crook and assassinated and there’s an uprising to purge the country of everyone who supported him, from the Vice President down to voters. It was a hell of an opening issue and one that was chilling in so many ways.
Shang-Chi #1

Comics to check out…

These were all great reads and should go on your reading pile. These are ones I made sure to read every month and jumped at reading as soon as they crossed my desk. They’ll all get more love in my video version of this.

The comics that really stood out for the year.

All of these comics were ones that kept me thinking well after I read them and I’d be happy to read them again. Many are still ongoing while others have wrapped up their runs. Each stands out in its own special way.

Ginseng Roots #3
  • Black Widow – Kelly Thompson, Elena Casagrande, Jordie Bellaire, and Cory Petit are the main creators on what’s been released so far and every issue has been amazing. Black Widow has been captured and brainwashed into believing a domestic life is real and hers. There’s been a great mix of humor, action, in this spy thriller and it’s sure to ramp up now based on the latest issue’s final moments. This is a great mix of storytelling and visual coolness.
  • Dead Day – Man, I really want this to be done as a television series and absolutely need more comics. Ryan Parrot, Evgeniy Bornyakov, Juancho!, and Charles Pritchett deliver a masterclass in world-building. Not only do they deliver an interesting story but have crafted a bigger world. For one night, the dead return, and while the comic really told the story of one family, each issue fleshed out enough of what this event’s impact would be elsewhere to get you to think and imagine.
  • Far Sector – N.K. Jemisin, Jamal Campbell, and Deron Bennett have breathed a breath of fresh air into the Green Lanterns with this series. We’re taken to an alien world where a new Lantern named Jo must solve a murder which takes her deep into a corrupt society. It does what science fiction does best, explore our real world. The visuals are stunning as well in what is a comic that’s timely capturing the current zeitgeist.
  • Ginseng Roots – Craig Thompson explores his childhood in what’s one of the most original comics this year. In a small format and with minimal colors, the comic tells us the history of ginseng and Thompson’s childhood.
  • Harley Quinn Black + White + Red – DC really shook things up this year and one way was a greater focus on digital releases. This series was an anthology that delivered a different creative team with every chapter. We got to see over a dozen different takes on Harley Quinn each of which was entertaining. If you want to see how much the creators matter when it comes to the storytelling, here you go. This is also a perfect example of where digital comics should be going from major publishers.
  • Kill a Man – This story focused on a gay man’s battles within the world of MMA was an updated take on the Rocky formula and done so well. You can come at it as a fan of MMA, as someone who’s LGBTQ, both, or just wanting good storytelling. Emotional with great action, it’s a home run from the team of Steve Orlando, Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Al Morgan, and Jim Campbell.
  • Superman Smashes the Klan – The miniseries was collected and it’s amazing. Gene Luen Yang, Gurihiru, and Janice Chiang deliver a comic that captures the heart of Superman. Based on the groundbreaking radio play where Superman takes on the KKK, this comic is amazing in every aspect, from the story to the visuals. Add in some extra material from Yang about his own experiences and it becomes a comic everyone should read and one that helps define Superman in one of his best depictions ever.
  • Vlad Dracul – Matteo Strukul, Andrea Mutti, Vladimir Popov, and Joel Rodriguez tell us the story about the very real Vlad, the inspiration for Dracula. I learned a hell of a lot and would love to see more comics like this. It’s a crazy read that can be enjoyed for the history and education and/or the brutal story itself that would fit any fantasy world.
  • We Live – The first issue was perfection and got me to choke up. Each subsequent issue has built upon the world. In this story humanity is almost over but a mysterious entity from space will save 5,000 children but first they must get to extraction points. This is a few kids’ stories and their journey of survival. By Inaki Miranda, Roy Miranda, Eva De La Cruz, and Dave Sharpe each issue is visually amazing plus there’s some awesome bonus music you can listen to while reading.
  • Yasmeen – Talk about an emotional gut-punch with each issue. Saif A. Ahmed, Fabiana Mascolo, and Robin Jones tell the story of Yasmeen who was captured and tortured by Isis and her attempt to deal with the PTSD while settling after in the United States. Just an amazing blend of storytelling and real recent history.

Logan’s Favorite Comics of 2020

2020 definitely felt like a year where I embraced comics in all their different formats and genres from the convenient, satisfying graphic novella to the series of loosely connected and curated one shots and even the door stopper of an omnibus/hardcover or that charming webcomic that comes out one or twice a week on Instagram. This was partially due to the Covid-19 pandemic that shut down comics’ traditional direct market for a bit so I started reviewing webcomics, trade paperbacks, graphic novels and nonfiction even after this supply chain re-opened. I also co-hosted and edited two seasons of a podcast about indie comics where we basically read either a trade every week for discussion, and that definitely meant spending more time with that format. However, floppy fans should still be happy because I do have a traditional ongoing series on my list as well as some minis.

Without further ado, here are my favorite comics of 2020.

Marvels Snapshots: X-Men #1 – But Why Tho? A Geek Community

10. Marvels Snapshots (Marvel)

Curated by original Marvels writer Kurt Busiek and with cover art by original Marvels artist Alex Ross, Marvels Snapshots collects seven perspectives on on the “major” events of the Marvel Universe from the perspectives of ordinary people from The Golden Age of the 1940s to 2006’s Civil War. It’s cool to get a more character-driven and human POV on the ol’ corporate IP toy box from Alan Brennert and Jerry Ordway exploring Namor the Submariner’s PTSD to Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, and Benjamin Dewey showing the real reason behind Johnny Storm’s airhead celebrity act. There’s also Mark Russell and Ramon Perez’s take on the classic Captain America “Madbomb” storyline, Barbara Kesel’s and Staz Johnson’s sweet, Bronze Age-era romance between two first responders as the Avengers battle a threat against the city, and Saladin Ahmed and Ryan Kelly add nuance to the superhuman Civil War by showing how the Registration Act affects a Cape-Killer agent as well as a young elemental protector of Toledo, Ohio, who just wants to help his community and do things like purify water. However, the main reason Marvels Snapshots made my “favorite” list was Jay Edidin and Tom Reilly‘s character-defining work showing the pre-X-Men life of Cyclops as he struggles with orphan life, is inspired by heroes like Reed Richards, and lays the groundwork for the strategist, leader, and even revolutionary that appears in later comics.

9. Fangs (Tapas)

Fangs is cartoonist Sarah Andersen’s entry into the Gothic romance genre and was a light, funny, and occasionally sexy series that got me through a difficult year. Simply put, it follows the relationship of a vampire named Elsie and a werewolf named Jimmy, both how they met and their life together. Andersen plays with vampire and werewolf fiction tropes and sets up humorous situations like a date night featuring a bloody rare steak and a glass of blood instead of wine, Jimmy having an unspoken animosity against mail carriers, and just generally working around things like lycanthropy every 28 days and an aversion to sunlight. As well as being hilarious and cute, Fangs shows Sarah Andersen leveling up as an artist as she works with deep blacks, different eye shapes and textures, and more detailed backgrounds to match the tone of her story while not skimping on the relatable content that made Sarah’s Scribbles an online phenomenon.

8. Heavy #1-3 (Vault)

I really got into Vault Comics this year. (I retroactively make These Savage Shores my favorite comic of 2019.) As far as prose, I mainly read SF, and Vault nicely fills that niche in the comics landscape and features talented, idiosyncratic creative teams. Heavy is no exception as Max Bemis, Eryk Donovan, and Cris Peter tell the story of Bill, who was gunned down by some mobsters, and now is separated from his wife in a place called “The Wait” where he has to set right enough multiversal wrongs via violence to be reunited with her in Heaven. This series is a glorious grab bag of hyperviolence, psychological examinations of toxic masculinity, and moral philosophy. Heavy also has a filthy and non-heteronormative sense of humor. Donovan and Peter bring a high level of chaotic energy to the book’s visuals and are game for both tenderhearted flashbacks as well as brawls with literal cum monsters. In addition to all this, Bemis and Donovan aren’t afraid to play with and deconstruct their series’ premise, which is what makes Heavy my ongoing monthly comic.

Amazon.com: Maids eBook: Skelly, Katie, Skelly, Katie: Kindle Store

7. Maids (Fantagraphics)

Writer/artist Katie Skelly puts her own spin on the true crime genre in Maids, a highly stylized account of Christine and Lea Papin murdering their employers in France during the 1930s. Skelly’s linework and eye popping colors expertly convey the trauma and isolation that the Papins go through as they are at the beck and call of the family they work almost 24/7. Flashbacks add depth and context to Christine and Lea’s characters and provide fuel to the fire of the class warfare that they end up engaging in. Skelly’s simple, yet iconic approach character design really allowed me to connect with the Papins and empathize with them during the build-up from a new job to murder and mayhem. Maids is truly a showcase for a gifted cartoonist and not just a summary of historical events.

6. Grind Like A Girl (Gumroad/Instagram)

In her webcomic Grind Like A Girl, cartoonist Veronica Casson tells the story of growing up trans in 1990s New Jersey. The memoir recently came to a beautiful conclusion with Casson showing her first forays into New York, meeting other trans women, and finding a sense of community with them that was almost the polar opposite of her experiences in high school. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the evolution of Veronica Casson’s art style during different periods of her life from an almost Peanuts vibe for her childhood to using more flowing lines, bright colors, and ambitious panel layouts as an older teen and finally an adult. She also does a good job using the Instagram platform to give readers a true “guided view” experience and point out certain details before putting it all together in a single page so one can appreciate the comic at both a macro/micro levels. All in all, Grind Like A Girl is a personal and stylish coming of age memoir from Veronica Casson, and I look forward to seeing more of her work.

5. Papaya Salad (Dark Horse)

Thai/Italian cartoonist Elisa Macellari tells an unconventional World War II story in Papaya Salad, a recently translated history comic about her great uncle Sompong, who just wanted to see the world. However, he ended up serving with the Thai diplomatic corps in Italy, Germany, and Austria during World War II. Macellari uses a recipe for her great uncle’s favorite dish, papaya salad, to structure the comic, and her work has a warm, dreamlike quality to go with the reality of the places that Sampong visits and works at. Also, it’s very refreshing to get a non-American or British perspective on this time in history as Sampong grapples with the shifting status of Thailand during the war as well as the racism of American soldiers, who celebrate the atomic bomb and lump him and his colleagues with the Japanese officers, and are not shown in a very positive light. However, deep down, Papaya Salad is a love story filled with small human moments that make life worth living, like appetizing meals, jokes during dark times, and faith in something beyond ourselves. It’s a real showcase of the comics medium’s ability to tell stories from a unique point of view.

4. Pulp (Image)

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (with colorist Jacob Phillips) are two creators whose work has graced my “favorite comics” list many times. And this time they really outdid themselves with the graphic novella Pulp about the final days of Max Winters, a gunslinger-turned-Western dime novelist. It’s a character study peppered with flashbacks as Phillips and Phillips use changes in body posture and color palette to show Max getting older while his passion for resisting those who would exploit others is still intact. Basically, he can shoot and rob fascists just like he shot and robbed cattle barons back in the day. Brubaker and Phillips understand that genre fiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is informed by the historical context around it, which is what makes Pulp such a compelling read. If you like your explorations of the banality of evil and creeping specter of fascism with heists, gun battles, and plenty of introspection, then this is the comic for you.

3. My Riot (Oni Press)

Music is my next favorite interest after comics so My Riot was an easy pick for my favorite comics list. The book is a coming of age story filtered through 1990s riot girl music from writer Rick Spears and artist Emmett Helen. It follows the life of Valerie, who goes from doing ballet and living a fairly conservative suburban life to being the frontwoman and songwriter for a cult riot girl band. Much of this transformation happens through Helen’s art and colors as his palette comes to life just as Valerie does when she successfully calls out some audience members/her boyfriend for being sexist and patronizing. The comic itself also takes on a much more DIY quality with its layouts and storytelling design as well as how the characters look and act. My Riot is about the power of music to find one’s identify and true self and build a community like The Proper Ladies do throughout the book. Valerie’s arc is definitely empowering and relatable for any queer kid, who was forced to conform to way of life and thinking that wasn’t their own.

2. Getting It Together #1-3 (Image)

I’ll let you in on a little secret: slice of life is my all-time favorite comic book genre. So, I was overjoyed when writers Sina Grace and Omar Spahi, artist Jenny D. Fine, and colorist Mx. Struble announced that they were doing a monthly slice of life comic about a brother, sister, and their best friend/ex-boyfriend (respectively) set in San Francisco that also touched on the gay and indie music scene. And Getting It Together definitely has lifted up to my pre-release hype as Grace and Spahi have fleshed out a complex web of relationships and drama with gorgeous and occasionally hilarious art by Fine and Struble. There are gay and bisexual characters all over the book with different personalities and approaches to life, dating, and relationships, which is refreshing too. Grace, Spahi, and Fine also take some time away from the drama to let us know about the ensemble cast’s passions and struggles like indie musician Lauren’s lifelong love for songwriting even if her band has a joke name (Nipslip), or her ex-boyfriend Sam’s issues with mental health. I would definitely love to spend more than four issues with these folks.

1. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott (Avery Hill)

My favorite comic of 2020 was The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott , a debut graphic novel by cartoonist Zoe Thorogood. The premise of the comic is that Billie is an artist who is going blind in two weeks, and she must come up with some paintings for her debut gallery show during that time period. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott boasts an adorably idiosyncratic cast of characters that Thorogood lovingly brings to life with warm visuals and naturalistic dialogue as Billie goes from making art alone in her room to making connections with the people around her, especially Rachel, a passionate folk punk musician. The book also acts as a powerful advocate for the inspirational quality of art and the act of creation. Zoe Thorogood even creates “art within the art” and concludes the story with the different portraits that Billie painted throughout her travels. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott was the hopeful comic that I needed in a dark year and one I will cherish for quite some time as I ooh and aah over Thorogood’s skill with everything from drawing different hair styles to crafting horrific dream sequences featuring eyeballs.

Best Comics of 2019 with Nea Chingy, Sara Century & John Arminio

4 critics share our favorite comics of the year. We’ve got all-ages comics any kid will love, comics about Watchmen, comics about sex workers fighting for their rights, comics about Archie vs Predator. Hear which series had the best endings and find out the books we can’t wait to read in 2020. You’ll leave with a big reading list (or gift list).

Nea aka Chingy L Gay is a writer, comedian, and critically acclaimed ex-girlfriend. She writes about queer identity, nerd shit, and her weird sex life and has been featured at MTV News, Out Magazine, Jezebel, and Autostraddle. https://twitter.com/TheGayChingy

John Arminio is a long-time comic book devotee and retailer who peddles his wares at Comix Connection in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Along with comics, another of his great passions is film, and you can hear him discuss that artistic medium on recent episodes of the podcasts Hellbent for Horror, Film ’89, and 26 Movies from Hell. https://twitter.com/QuasarSniffer

Sara Century is a writer of short stories, articles about comics and film, and many, many zines. She is an artist, comic creator and filmmaker as well as cohost of the weekly podcast Bitches on Comics. https://twitter.com/saracentury (Here’s the episode of her podcast that I, https://twitter.com/Elana_Brooklyn guested on: https://bitchesoncomics.com/episode-14-a-quintessential-jewish-experience-of-christmas/)

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