I truly believe were are in a new Golden Age of comics. Not only have they invaded the mainstream via cineplexes and TV screens, the funny books themselves have gotten increasingly varied, earned higher exposure, and received more respect than they ever have. With that in mind, I compiled a list of what I consider to be the five best graphic novels and collected works released in 2016. As I said, variety has been key, as this list contains everything from talking biker monkeys, time-travel, slackers, Batman, and the very real battle for civil rights.
Patience – Fantagraphics
Daniel Clowes latest, Patience, is perhaps his best work in a long time. A time-travel and psychedelic epic, the story of a grieving man’s quest to go back in time and avert his wife’s murder is both highly accessible and mind-bending unique. It’s the kind of genre story only Daniel Clowes could tell. It also features some of the most gorgeous art Clowes has produced in years, with Jack Kirby inspired layouts and designs that leap off the page. It’s a beautifully bound book too, with the highest of printing qualities. More than a one-time read, this is a must own.
Dark Night: A Batman Story – DC/Vertigo
Paul Dini’s and Eduardo Risso’s original graphic novel is one of the most powerful books DC/Vertigo has ever done. Dini, best known as one of the creative forces behind the juggernaut that was Batman: The Animated series, tells a highly painful and personal story about loneliness, the dark side of success, and how a violent and random act can almost destroy a person. In opening up about his mugging and battles with depression, Dini uses Batman and his rogues’ gallery as metaphors for the aspects of one’s own psyche. Risso, using different art styles, brings it all to life and creates some truly haunting and gut-punching images. It’s a Batman tale we have never seen before.
Minimum Wage Book Two: So Many Bad Decisions – Image Comics
Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage returned to Image after an original run on Fantagraphics. But that decade-long sabbatical did nothing to affect the book, as Minimum Wage continues to be funny, relatable, and compulsively readable. The on-going story of Rob, his many attempts at romance, success in comics, and experiences in New York with his motley crew of friends is some of the most fun you can currently have reading comics. With art that is reminiscent of the best of Mad Magazine and underground comics, Minimum Wage will keep you laughing and turning pages. Book Two brings in a new job for Rob, a friendship with comedian Marc Maron, and of course another heartbreaking break-up. This is the best modern sitcom not currently on television.
The Humans Volume Two: Humans Till Death – Image Comics
The Humans by Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Nelly is truly unique. A ‘70s Roger Corman style biker movie on paper with an added twist; the characters are all anthropomorphized apes. And this isn’t done in a Planet of The Apes-style twist, it’s just taken as a matter of fact. And although there are actual humans in the book, they are slaves and feral. The story is a drug-fueled, crime filled tale of rebellion and counter-culture madness right out of classic underground comics and books. The art is refreshingly hand drawn in look and has some of the best use of panel structure and lettering I have seen in years. The Humans has been slowly making waves in the comics world, and I truly hope it becomes the breakout hit it deserves to be in 2017.
March: Book Three – Top Shelf
Without a doubt the most important comic on this list. In fact, it’s one of the most important books of the year and was the recipient of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. March: Book Three is the final volume in Congressman John Lewis’ powerful autobiography of his catalytic involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Co-written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated with great detail, emotion and atmosphere by Nate Powell (Any Empire), it’s a significant achievement for the power of comics to tell a compelling and necessary part of history. As comics mature in the United States, books like March prove that “comics” are a medium and not a genre. That sequential art can sit among the best novels and textbooks in classrooms and libraries across the world. It’s a monumental achievement on many fronts, and a culture event not to be missed.
So there you go folks. What other graphic novels and collected works did you enjoy this year? Leave some comments below!