There’s never enough time (or money) to read all the graphic novels published in the current year, much less previous years, but this year I did come across ten graphic novels published before 2014 that I enjoyed and hope you will as well.
Alias the Cat! (2007) Kim Deitch (Pantheon)
You’ll either love or hate Kim Deitch’s wild, often staggering Alias the Cat! but I doubt you’ll be able to forget it. Deitch and his wife Pam are actual characters in the book, searching for new pieces for Pam’s collection of Halloween cats from the 1920s and 30s. When they stumble upon the story of Alias the Cat – which was both a comic strip and a film serial – they discover stories within stories, with each story crazier than the last. I love Deitch’s character’s constant state of shock and horror at each revelation about Alias the Cat. Just when you think things can’t get any weirder, they do. This is my first – and hopefully not last – exposure to Deitch’s work.
Battling Boy (2013) Paul Pope (First Second)
I could describe this book in so many ways, but I think the best advice I can give you is to do what I did: go into the book with as little knowledge about it as possible. All you need to know is that it’s a sf adventure story, but it’s so much more. Pope has a style that’s unique and full of energy and humor. Your local library probably has it, but after you’ve read it, you’ll want to own it. Winner of the 2014 Eisner Award for Best Comic for Teens.
Bikini Cowboy (2010) Fresherluke (L. Frank Weber)
From ComiXology: Set in the 1800’s American frontier, a woman by the name of Whisky Jill must protect a young boy with innate abilities that his original captors seek to exploit.
Together they go on a spiritual journey that shows both the light and dark sides of humanity, and attain enlightenment.
Fresherluke’s Bikini Cowboy defies what we might expect from the book’s title, delivering a truly unique Western adventure story with a protagonist named Whisky Jill – a character you won’t forget. Despite the title, Bikini Cowboy is a heartfelt tale with lots of humor and plenty of action. Weber’s art (which seems to be 100% pencil work) is astounding.
The Collector (1984/2012) Sergio Toppi (BOOM! Studios/Archaia)
A man fishes off the bank of a quiet creek in a remote area of northwestern Missouri in 1880. He’s a journalist, taking a break from his work, but still thinking about the man he’s obsessed with interviewing: the mysterious figure known only as the Collector. The Collector — tall and lanky, sporting an odd-looking moustache — seems to drop in from nowhere and agrees to grant the journalist an interview, but only for an exchange of information.
“Let’s get one thing straight,” the Collector says to the journalist. “I only collect things of deep personal meaning to me, things that have ‘lived,’ actors in histories I alone know, from research. Once I obtain them, I set them aside. No one else ever sees them again.” The Collector is seeking such an item in America, and the journalist knows where it is. Thus begins the first of five stories which chronicle the Collector’s passion, ingenuity, intelligence, daring and possibly foolhardiness.
Hicksville (1998) Dylan Horrocks (Drawn & Quarterly)
I first heard of Dylan Horrocks after reading his short story “Steam Girl” in Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rick and Strange Stories edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant. I instantly fell in love with Horrocks’s modern-day story of two young social outcasts and knew I’d want to read more of his work. After reading Hicksville, Horrocks’s work has now become a must-buy.
Hicksville is the story of Leonard Batts, a young man who travels to New Zealand to gather research for a biography of world-famous cartoonist Dick Burger. When Batts arrives in Burger’s hometown of Hicksville, he can’t believe all the animosity the locals have toward the cartoon legend. Hicksville is so rich in its storytelling, character development and pacing that it’s almost too good to be true. This is a book I plan to return to again and again. I can’t say that about very many books, but few are as good as Hicksville.
The Nao of Brown (2012) Glyn Dillon (Harry N. Abrams)
Nao Brown is a 28-year-old woman with OCD who lives in London and works at a toy shop. Nao has dreams of love and longing as well as extremely violent urges, often simultaneously. Telling you more about the plot would be pointless. The Nao of Brown is a work you have to experience for yourself. Besides the gorgeous watercolor artwork, Dillon has created a uniquely complex character that’s both surprising and touching. This is a very different graphic novel, one that’s very good and maybe even great. I’ll definitely read this one again.
Red-Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes (2013) Matt Kindt (First Second)
In the city of Red Wheelbarrow, Detective Gould has never faced a crime he couldn’t solve. Until now. Matt Kindt’s work is not only worth reading, it’s worth reading multiple times. Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes no doubt rewards even more upon multiple readings, which I plan to do soon. I’ve really enjoyed Kindt’s work on Super Spy and Mind MGMT, but Red Handed may be his finest work yet.
Saga (2012 ongoing) Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples (Image)
I am always skeptical of any artistic work that practically everyone on the planet is lauding to the skies. That’s why I held off reading Saga for so long, but after reading the first three trade paperbacks, I can tell you that in this case, you can believe the hype. Saga is one of the best comics being published.
Put simply (far too simply), Saga is a sprawling space opera focused on the plight of a husband and wife, each from different races involved in a long-standing galactic war. If all Vaughan did was deliver an exciting adventure story, Saga would be worth reading, but he’s not content to stop there. Saga touches on issues of racism, family, identity, responsibility, and so much more. And the humor is priceless. Fiona Staples’s art is wildly imaginative and often jaw-dropping. Some of her character interpretations initially seem so fantastically weird, but after you’ve spent time with them, they become not only familiar but you wonder why no one’s ever thought of them before.
Although it’s definitely not for kids, Vaughan and Staples have given comics readers a title that’s both wildly entertaining and thought-provoking.
Showa: A History of Japan, 1926-1939 (2013) Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly)
Showa 1926-1939 is the first of a four-volume set from Shigeru Mizuki, one of Japan’s most recognized cartoonists. The story is told from three different points of view: first through fairly traditional text boxes, then from Shigeru’s own coming-of-age narration, and finally from Nezumi Otoko, a cartoon character as recognized in Japan as Donald Duck is in America. You can read more of my review at The Comics Alternative.
Vattu: The Name & the Mark (2013) Evan Dahm
Evan Dahm’s Vattu: The Name & the Mark is an atypical fantasy graphic novel in that it presents a story we can easily follow, yet takes its time in conveying information, not immediately answering questions we raise after only a few panels. You might think such an undertaking frustrating, but that’s not the case. You can tell just from the cover that this is a quest story involving fighting, survival and determination. The cover doesn’t need any words and the graphic novel itself doesn’t contain all that many either. Dahm does a wonderful job of showing rather than telling (Oh, how I wish all graphic novel creators understood this….) and the things he shows are spellbinding.
Dahm won the Ignatz Award for Best Online Comic at the 2014 SPX. You can read Vattu and his other work on Dahm’s website.
I hope you find something to enjoy in these suggestions. Let me know what you enjoyed this year, whether it was published in 2014 or not.