How do the people who sell these things gauge what's best? It's time to find out!
Marc Arsenault, Wow Cool:
I'm with Phoebe Gloeckner on categorizing the "Best." I was asked for five or ten. I sort of stuck to that. My long list was over thirty titles. No way was I going to be able to do just five. It felt cruel to cut out some books—like the heartbreaking A Bubble by Geneviève Castrée (Drawn and Quarterly) and the soul searching on the subject of coping with the loss of Dylan Williams by Tom Neely in unfinished... (Silver Sprocket). I also had to make the hard call and cut most of the series and focus more on solid single units. I spent too much time thinking about all the 'annuals,' one-shots, anniversary issues, and special editions from Marvel and DC Comics this past year that featured contributions from a storied cast of creators taking one more shot at the characters they had been identified with. Batman: Secret Files somehow came out at the top of that stack. It's one of the better things DC cranked out in the last twelve months, with some notable bits. But up against DC's better product of 2018, like the Young Animal line, Sandman Universe, and Tom King and Mitch Gerads' Mister Miracle it trailed way behind, and none of those seemed likely to crawl to the top of a best of the year list, as enjoyable as they are. Marvel had some fun books too. I haven't actually read Immortal Hulk yet, so forgive me for not talking about it much more. The final issue of Berlin by Jason Lutes was the single best comic I read all year... That's not on this list either, as it is part of a much larger work and will be remembered that way. It pained me to not include any Noah Van Sciver, but 2017's Blammo #9 (Kilgore Books) was the perfect comic. That's a tough act to follow.
So... in no particular order, a Top Comics of 2018 list:
Best Anthology: NOW, edited by Eric Reynolds. (Fantagraphics Books) Eric Reynolds goes way out of any comfort zone and makes connections from page to page with the sequencing of stories in the Now books that few would dare attempt. He pulls it off every time. The work commissioned or selected also delivers again and again in a satisfying way that you don't often get. The first and third issues are my favorites for flow... I think, but four feels like a culmination of... Something. Boom boom boom for the first half (exploding in the intense "Waves" by Rebecca W. Kirby) and then a slow pulling away until the end.
Best Free Comic Book Day Comic Ever: Street Angel's Dog by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca. (Image) I don't know how many full comics have been unique to their FCBD issue... It can't be very many. Sure there are some exclusive pages or two in anthologies—the Matt Furie "Death of Pepe" comes immediately to mind. But a full story? In color? I imagine it will be collected somewhere, sometime, but as far as I know the FCBD Street Angel's Dog is only available as it is right now. I've loved Street Angel from the start, but this is my favorite so far. There is some bonkers action on display here... In the color, the composition, the ever-changing technique...
Best Broadsheet: LAAB by Ron Wimberly. (Beehive Books) Ronald Wimberly does things with color on the printed page the likes of which have not quite been seen before. After a long era of muddy over-rendered computer color with ridiculous effects that leave the storytelling in the balloons, his work is a breath of fresh air. There's been a few bits and pieces here and there, but this is finally the solid showcase for the fresh textures and pallet that he brings to the game. The content of the work is a much needed wake up call that has a lot of resonance for a lot of different people and feels like a vital part of an afro-punk renaissance that includes things like the Black Panther movie and the works of Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino.
Best Video Game/D&D/Fusion-type comic (from a publisher you never heard of): Ark Land by Scott A. Ford (Chigraphic) Nearly a decade back there was a lot of noise about a happy place for talking about comics and making comics that was a sort of new 'being comfortable with all your likes'—Hi-, and Low-Brow. Scratchy art zines, wrestling, elves, Master of Kung Fu, Picasso and Henry Darger all drank mead and butter beer at the same bar in the Bushwick neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York (East Williamsburg in the rental listings). Nearly a decade later, comics that are essentially video games or dungeon campaigns are still coming into their own. There was no shortage of competition this year (sorry Clandestinauts), but this one book clearly leveled up in the dungeon more than the rest in gloriously acid-drenched full color.
Best solo anthology: Fielder #1 by Kevin Huizenga. (Fielder Media) Best stand-alone comic all year. No question. No contest. It feels like too long a wait for this one too. Only complaint, I'm sick of Glenn Ganges damn head on the cover. It's a new series! Please switch things up Kevin!
Best collection of some other language material in English/I never thought I'd see this collected in my lifetime: Mort Cinder by Alberto Breccia & Hector Oesterheld.(Fantagraphics) Not sure what I can say about this book. Very happy that it received the deluxe packaging it got along with the excellent reproduction on opaque heavy paper. Seriously never thought I would get to read these legendary comics by the master. Apparently there is more to come. I'm gonna spend a lot of time staring at this amazing art and eventually actually reading it.
Best Meta Comic About Art: Why Art? by Eleanor Davis. (Fantagraphics) There should be a best Eleanor Davis book category, but she would probably win most years. Eleanor Davis is that rare comics creator who has been on-game since her earliest published student work (One of the very few other notable examples is Ron Wimberly—see above). She brings an intensity and a sureness of line that is so good and so hers that she can get away with something as sparse and stretched out as Why Art? You will actually want to take the time to engage with it; and, you will be satisfied that you took the time, and wonder how you could have ever questioned.
Mike & Heidi Bender, Split Rock Books:
We could make a longer list just of comics from last year that we're super excited to read and haven't had a chance to yet, but we were lucky enough to read several great ones.
We Are All Me by Jordan Crane. (TOON Books) Not sure if this is 100% a comic, but TOON Books put it out and it blew us both away. Absolutely gorgeous.
All the Sad Songs by Summer Pierre. (Retrofit) She may work in our bookstore now, but we read this before that, and it would've made our list anyway. This fantastic graphic memoir is about music, relationships, and taking care of your shit.
My Brother's Husband 2 by Gengoroh Tagame. (Pantheon) If you've read the first volume of this you've probably been eagerly awaiting the sequel, and Tagame definitely delivers!
Belonging by Nora Krug. (Simon & Schuster) Krug's riveting examination of the complicity of ordinary Germans in the Holocaust is made even more impressive by the fact that four of those Germans are her grandparents. Hard to get through but worth it.
Piero by Edmond Baudoin & Yellow Negroes and other Imaginary Creatures by Yvan Alagbé. (NYRC) NYRC is killing it. The book design is great, the comics are great, we can't wait to keep reading whatever they put out.
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol. (First Second) This is the only comic we actually fought over who got to read first this year. A treat for all ages!
Mother's Walk by Lauren Weinstein. (Youth In Decline) Wonderful work on motherhood. We love seeing excellent comics from Frontier year after year and hope they keep it up.
Jennifer Haines, The Dragon:
Okay, so I have 11 picks, because I couldn’t narrow it down. To look back on this year, I would say that it was characterized by an excess of product. This was good and bad. Having so much selection made it hard to predict what customers would want. Titles that historically would be hot sellers sat on the shelf, and others that were shots in the dark became bestsellers. On the other hand, it meant there was a lot more selection for people new to comics. We welcomed a lot of new customers into the store this year who were drawn in by things like DC’s Metal, Dark Horse’s Stranger Things, and Marvel’s Cosmic Ghost Rider. Most of our newer customers are book-buyers, so we rely quite heavily on collected editions and graphic novels. It's a lot easier to manage those in the end, because they can be reordered and it's easier to see trends as releases are much more drawn out. The glut of product coming out from the big two caused fatigue in some regulars and we saw several people reducing their weekly comic pulls and switching to collected editions and trying out product from other companies as a result.
For me, there were so many amazing and brilliant things to choose from this year, that it was quite hard to narrow this list down. But, here are my top 11 books for 2018.
Upgrade Soul, by Ezra Claytan Daniels. (Lion Forge Comics) This is the book of the year for me. The story is absolutely captivating - touching, fascinating, thought-provoking, and horrifying in various ways. Once I started reading this book, I could not put it down, and it left me examining life and its meaning for quite a while afterward. A masterpiece.
Herakles Vol. 1, by Edouard Cour. (Lion Forge Comics) I happen to hold a Masters in Classics and have long been fascinated with the story of Herakles. He's not a good guy, but became idolized for certain characteristics, while others were overlooked. I actually always wanted to write a book about Herakles' darker side. This is that book, and way better than I could ever do it!
Skyward, by Joe Henderson and Lee Garbett. (Image Comics) I was immediately captivated by this book. The art is gorgeous and the story is definitely full of intrigue (and the ending to volume 1...wow!). But I was most impressed by the world-building. It's clear that a lot of thought has been put into the impact gravity has on society, and the result is an extremely believable world. This is sci-fi at its best.
Wet Moon Vol. 7, by Sophie Campbell. (ONI Press) I've been reading Wet Moon since it first hit store shelves (we stocked this book when it was first solicited), and have been wowed by the progression of this series. Watching Sophie explore her art style and explore her own life through the pages of this series has been a real honour. But, I honestly can't understate just how good this final volume is. It's a culmination of Sophie's exceptional talent and a showcase of the level of storytelling maturity that she's reached.
Be Prepared, by Vera Brosgol (First Second) As soon as I read this one, I declared that it would win awards! This is a perfect all-ages book that is satisfying for kids struggling to find their place in the world, and for adults looking back on their childhood. The story is told from a very personal place, which fills it with honesty and heart. An excellent choice for fans of Telgemeier or Chmakova.
Erased, by Kei Sanbe (Yen Press) I just started reading this series this year (volumes 4 and 5 were released in 2018) and was immediately sucked in. I don't read a lot of manga, but this one got so many rave reviews from my staff and customers that I had to check it out. It feels a bit like Monster by Urasawa in its approach, but with a time travel component that allows it to stand on its own. The mystery and twists-and-turns have me waiting eagerly for the next volume.
Fence by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad. (BOOM! Studios) This book is just full of absolute joy. Although a pretty simple story, the characters are so well-realized that I found myself instantly invested in their lives. There is such a myriad of types of person in this story, done so naturally and with so much authenticity, that it's possible to find yourself in one of the many characters. I think it's rare for a book to evoke so much happiness in the reader. This is that book.
Royal City Vol. 2, by Jeff Lemire (Image Comics) Like Essex County, Jeff told this particular story in 3 distinct story arcs. For me, volume 2, the story of Tommy and what happened to him, is a standout; it's exceptionally solid storytelling, masterfully building the reader's relationship with the character, and then brutally ending that relationship. Jeff also shows off his visual storytelling skills, effectively creating the walls of sound in Tommy's head.
Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang (First Second) This is a darling and complex story about a prince who loves to wear women's clothes and a girl struggling to become a fashion designer. Their relationship goes through the twists and turns of a real relationship, as they attempt to deal with secrets and identity. Jen's art is absolutely beautiful, and the story is heartfelt and touching.
Firebug, by Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain. (Image Comics) Yes, this was originally serialized in Island in 2017, but I will argue that its release in another format qualifies it as a book of this year. It's on this list because Johnnie Christmas might be the most underrated artist in comics. This book is steeped in myth and folklore, lusciously realized by Christmas' pencils and Bonvillain's colours. Every beautifully rendered page is worth poring over, and the story is pretty darn good as well.
Isola, by Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl (Image Comics) The world-building is off the charts in this book, and the execution of the world-building is so good that the reader is immediately immersed in a world that is instantly understood and accepted. The story is filled with intrigue and questions are answered in ways that hint at a much larger narrative at play. I'm very excited to see where this series is going. And I'm very happy to see Karl start to get the recognition he deserves; he's super-talented!
Brian Hibbs, Comix Experience:
As a retailer, I might think about and process the “best” comics differently than a lot of the other contributors simply because of the ordering cycle and the mechanics of running a store. We also run a pair of Graphic Novel of the Month Clubs that, driven predominately by staff votes, try to assess the best GN release each and every month. So, since we’ve already done that work, here’s a summary:
Adult Graphic Novels
January 2018: Black Bolt by Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward [Marvel Comics]
February 2018: Spy Seal by Rich Tomasso [Image Comics]
March 2018: The Prince & The Dressmaker by Jen Wang [FirstSecond]
April 2018: Dalston Monsterzz by Dilraj Mann [Nobrow]
May 2018: Bug: The Adventures of Forager by Lee & Mike Allred [DC Comics]
June 2018: Young Frances by Hartley Lin [Adhouse]
July 2018: Dark Knights: Metal by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo [DC Comics]
August 2018: Come Again by Nate Powell [IDW / Top Shelf]
September 2018: Coyote Doggirl by Lisa Hanawalt [Drawn & Quarterly]
October 2018: Check, Please! By Ngozi Ukazu [FirstSecond]
November 2018: Mage v5: The Hero Denied v1 by Matt Wagner [Image Comics]
December 2018: Maestros by Steve Skroce [Image Comics]
Kids / YA Graphic Novels
January 2018: Cloudia and Rex by Eirck Frietas & Ulises Farinas [Lion Forge]
February 2018: Mech Cadet Yu by Greg Pak & Takeshi Miyazawa [Boom!]
March 2018: My Summer With the Hawaiian Fire Goddess by Kent Silveira & Diego Jourdan [Alternative Comics]
April 2018: Mega Robo Bros by Neill Cameron [Scholastic]
May 2018: The City on the Other Side by Mairghred Scott & Robin Robinson [FirstSecond]
June 2018: Rocket Robinson & The Pharoah’s Fortune by Sean O’Neill [Dark Horse Comics]
July 2018: Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke [Scholastic]
August 2018: Cottons: The Secret of the Wind by Jim Pascoe & Heidi Arnhold [FirstSecond]
September 2018: Sheets by Brenna Thummler [Lion Forge]
October 2018: Criminy by Roger Langridge & Ryan Ferrier [Dark Horse Comics]
November 2018: Edison Beaker, Creature Seeker by Frank Cammuso [Viking]
December 2018: Norroway by Kit & Kat Seaton [Image Comics]
Of course, the nature of the publishing world means that releases tend to get packed into “seasons” which means a bit of feast of famine when looking at things monthly, so there are several books that were exceptional, and with slightly less competition would have won that month (or were too expensive for our GN club’s fixed pricing); those would include for adult books (more or less in release order):
Godshaper by Simon Spurrier & Jonas Goonface [Boom!]
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso [Drawn & Quarterly]
Abbott by Saladin Ahmed & Sami Kivela [Boom!]
Long Lost by Matthew Erman & Lisa Sterle [Scout Comics]
Rock Steady by Ellen Forney [Fantagraphics]
Poochytown by Jim Woodring [Fantagraphics]
It Will All Hurt by Farel Dalrymple [Image Comics]
Roly Poly by Daniel Semanas [Fantagraphics]
Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal [Drawn & Quarterly]
Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan Daniels [Lion Forge]
Coda by Simon Spurrier & Matías Bergara [Boom!]
Home After Dark by David Small [Liveright]
Lost Soul, Be at Peace by Maggie Thrash [Candlewick]
Isola by Brenden Fletcher & Karl Kerschl [Image Comics]
On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden [FirstSecond]
Berlin by Jason Lutes [Drawn & Quarterly]
And for Kids/YA:
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol [FirstSecond]
All Summer Long by Hope Larson [Farrar, Straus & Giroux]
Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell [Knopf]
The Hidden Witch by Molly Ostertag [Scholastic]
I’d also like to mention a few periodical-only in 2018 titles, especially Barrier by Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin [Image], Mister Miracle by Tom King & Mitch Gerads [DC Comics], The New World by Ales Kot & Tradd Moore [Image], and though I’m shocked I am saying this out loud, Doomsday Clock by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank [DC Comics]
If you’re interested in more information about the Comix Experience Graphic Novel Clubs, please go to www.graphicnovelclub.com/start
Jen King, Space Cadets Collection:
1. Boom Comics Shattered Grid run in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and GO GO Power Rangers (couldn't keep these on the shelf. Sold through my re-orders roughly 3 times)
2. A tie across the board for these books from Vault Comics: These Savage Shores, Friendo, Fearscape (don't make me choose a fav amongst these. All are amazing and different)
3. Donny Cates's mind blowing run on Venom. Its like no one told him that you can't have a new character, kill a character, create a new power, etc in every single issue. They all became must have books.
4. Image put out some masterpieces this year (Magic Order, Gideon Falls, the Weatherman, Farmhand, Unnatural, Dead Rabbit, Saga....) but the one that lit a fire under my customers was Ice Cream Man.
5.Tom King's masterful storytelling in Batman. I never ever read Batman (as a fan) before his run. Whatever he has, I needed and so did my customers.
Also absolutely needs mentioning: -Scout Comics is killing it with Stabbity Bunny and most of their other books. Everyone should be reading at least one book from their line. Watch this company, as many of their titles will be in development for TV or movies.
-Dark Ark and A Walk Through Hell from Aftershock are books I read and have huge fan bases. Dead Kings also had an almost immediate sell out of its first issue.
I am a huge fan of comics. I think they are an important medium. They have given Hollywood inspiration for a large number of the movies that we see and have seen. Everyone should be enjoying them, no matter their age or interests, because there is a book out there for everyone.
Jason Levian, Floating World:
I read a bunch of comics in 2018, but it was a new-found Bronze age obsession that dominated my reading pile. If you avoid the popular collectible characters (Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men) you can find most of these treasures for next to nothing. I enjoyed a lot of modern comics too, but the pacing, density and aesthetics of these '70s and '80s comics provided a particular storytelling experience that was just right. A lot of newer books read way too fast, sometimes you have to read an entire trade to get the amount of story that came in a single issue. Some of these older comics have a slight hurdle in the first 5-6 pages, maybe because they are more text heavy. But once you lock into that narrative groove it feels like a deeper and more immersive daydream.
Master of Kung Fu (1974) by Doug Moench & Paul Gulacy. (Marvel) Moench and Gulacy’s Master of Kung Fu is the gold standard. Shang Chi is a great character, trying to balance his pacifism in the face of injustice and supervillainy. A friend recommended the Gene Day issues which was the equivalent of chasing the dragon and actually catching a ride.
My favorite revelation was the Levitz/Giffen Legion of Super-Heroes, collected in “The Great Darkness Saga” and “The Curse”. Each issue is a weird cocktail of Euro-style sci-fi/fantasy, tearful romance soap opera, and a juggling act of multiple superhero missions all happening at once. I’ve found a bunch of other fun Giffen books throughout the years, but nothing quite matching the highs of this Legion run.
Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story - provided a nice overview of the different editorial eras of Marvel Comics, and also a lengthy list of books that sounded interesting.
Marvel Comics (1939) - Bill Everett’s Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner “ventures to America, to wage a war of espionage against the white man”. In Namor’s early appearances he terrorizes Americans, destroys New York City with his bare hands, scoffs at fools.
Black Panther: Panther’s Rage, by Don McGregor & Billy Graham. (Marvel) What an epic action packed adventure. T’Challa’s struggles are relentless and brutal but Don McGregor and Billy Graham deliver each page with graceful poetry.
Steve Englehart - Absolutely check out his issues of Detective Comics with Marshall Rogers, who also drew some great Doctor Strange and Silver Surfer. Also read some fun issues of Captain America. The original ‘Secret Empire’ storyline is worth checking out. I’ve been picking up his Green Lantern issues with Joe Staton art and those have a lot of style. Also see: Manhunter by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson.
Walt Simonson’s run on Fantastic Four are the most fun comics I read all year. The artwork is incredible, the adventure is nonstop, and the characterization feels right on. Most of these are collected in the Epic Collection Into the Time Stream. I’m slowly piecing his Thor run together.
Conan the Barbarian by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith - there’s a lot of different formats to track these issues down. Avoid the Dark Horse recolored editions and track down Conan Classic or the b&w Conan Saga reprints. I just got a cheap copy of the Marvel Treasury Edition with the “Red Nails” storyline.
Crisis on Infinite Earths - This Crisis stuff kept popping up in issues of Englehart’s Green Lantern and that Krona story was mentioned in Legion too. For the first 8 issues or so the volume is cranked up to the max, it’s full volume, non-stop chaos and destruction, a huge explosion filled with characters inside. Such a strange sadistic concept. The story is basically an editorial mandate, to cancel half the DC universe, but put into story form so you have to watch the creations suffer. The final battle with the Anti-Monitor is incredibly long and satisfying it feels never ending. And then the denouement is extra painful. Usually we just see the survivors mourning what was lost, but for some reason there’s a few leftover characters from the cancelled DC Universes still lingering for an issue and you have to suffer through all their tears.
I guess Geoff Johns thought it would be interested to lock onto that pathos and so a bunch of unnecessary sequels. I’m beginning to think he’s just as responsible for the ‘darkness’ of the DC cinematic universe as Zack Snyder. If you just isolate these individual moments from the past of comics, add time, you will always get tragedy. Grant Morrison has done a little bit of meta-commentary on this with Final Crisis, Multiversity, or even The Filth. Interestingly, I did finally enjoy a Geoff Johns book with Justice League: The Darkside War. Set in the New 52, he takes Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis notes of turning the JLA into New Gods, but intelligible. And combining the Anti-Monitor with the Anti-Life equation was very clever.
That reminds me of one other book I really enjoyed, Tom Taylor’s Injustice. It’s sort of like a Civil War Batman vs Superman storyline in an Ultimate DC Universe. Since it’s based on a video game Taylor has a lot of liberties to play with just about every DC character, and kill off whoever he wants. It never tries to be too clever or meta, it’s just fun and keeps the pages turning. Taylor only writes the first half before a fill in writer and then I was shocked/felt dumb when I got to the end and remembered that it was just the prequel to the video game - so the finale is actually in the video game, which had me scanning youtube cutscenes. Ridiculous. There’s a sequel Injustice 2, which starts off kind of interesting, but ultimately totally unnecessary. It’s just - more
Andrew Woodrow-Butcher, The Beguiling & Little Island:
Acquicorn Cove, by Katie O'Neill. (Oni)
The Antifa Comic Book: 100 Years of Fascism and Antifa Movements, by Gord Hill. (Arsenal Pulp)
Evie and the Truth about Witches, by John Martz. (Koyama)
Making Friends, by Kristen Gudsnuk. (Scholastic/Graphix)
My Brother's Husband: Volume Two, by Gengoroh Tagame. (Pantheon)
New Shoes, by Sarah Varon. (First Second)
The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang. (First Second)
That Blue Sky Feeling, by Okura and Coma Hashii. (VIZ)
Upgrade Soul, by Ezra Claytan Daniels. (Lion Forge)
Vacation, by Blexbolex. (Enchanted Lion)