The 25 Best Comics of 2014

Comics Lists
The 25 Best Comics of 2014


Looking over the various year-end picks from Paste’s editors and contributors for comics, one very important question had to be asked: are we getting lazy? Many of last year’s best comics happen to be this year’s best comics as well, and preaching to the choir is a cardinal sin for any online publication. But ultimately, complaining about sustained excellence (I’m sure most of you can already think of the titles we’re referring to) is a fool’s game. We’re witnessing masterpieces unfold across years now, not just months, and rewarding anything less would be the bigger crime. With that said, the new graphic novels and comics that hit our bookshelves in 2014 more than held their own. Much like 2013, the last twelve months witnessed an influx of salient ideas and gifted storytellers, spurred by an industry learning how to both steward long-standing properties and create new ones. May we face the same “problem” in 2015.

25. Deadly Class
Writer:   Rick Remender
Artist: Wesley Craig
Publisher: Image


Guns and vampires are both totally awesome, but nobody in the real world appreciates either actually existing in his or her general vicinity. Evidentially, writer Rick Remender — the man who convinced me to stop hating Deadpool with his run on Uncanny X-Force — encountered his share of non-fantasy bloodshed during a youthful stint in late ‘80s Phoenix, Arizona. “Violence was just something you got used to being around,” he writes in the afterward to Deadly Class, Volume 1: Reagan Youth. We can only speculate on how much of Remender’s personal history has been channeled into Deadly’s protagonist misanthrope, Marcus Lopez. While it’s improbable he attended an arcane high school that specializes in grooming top-shelf international assassins, Remender’s accounts of homelessness and LSD overload resonate with authenticity. Barry Thompson

24. Gast
Writer/Artist: Carol Swain
Publisher: Fantagraphics


Everything about Carol Swain’s work whispers minimalism: her brief titles, her preference for shorter formats (she hasn’t produced a book-length narrative in a decade), her spare dialogue and, most of all, her quiet, repetitive panel composition. Swain was born in Wales, the setting of her latest book, Gast; the country remains isolated and rural, intent on maintaining a separate identity from the rest of the United Kingdom. That identity includes its own language, which supplies the title of the book (“gast” translates as “female dog”) and colors a good deal of its atmosphere. Hillary Brown

23. Through the Woods
Writer/Artist: Emily Carroll
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books


Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods has done a pretty good job of getting under my skin in recent months. Though many of the stories told here have an archetypal, folk tale-like sensibility, Carroll’s also unafraid to delve into Junji Ito-style body horror, and that sense of unpredictability ratchets up the unease and horror considerably. Tobias Carroll

22. Pretty Deadly
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Emma Rios
Publisher: Image


Kelly Sue DeConnick’s script, heavy on myth and metaphor, is ably realized by Emma Rios’ expressionist art, with its thickets of rough lines. Her flat, slightly abstracted figures give a sense of heightened reality that fits the script. That tone is also reinforced by Jordie Bellaire’s dark and ruddy palette, which often has a supernatural glint. Art and story alike refute our expectations, making Pretty Deadly feel less like a western than a new myth. Garrett Martin

21. New Avengers
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Various
Publisher: Marvel


Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers will give you the same adolescent sensation as learning that your parents aren’t perfect, grinding the modern myths of the Marvel Universe down to troubled, struggling men. Each issue presents a new shade of grey as characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Mr. Fantastic, Black Panther and Namor attempt to define the greater good with marginal consensus. The threat? A new cataclysm that’s sent universes hurtling into one another; either two worlds collide and destroy each other, or one is prematurely sacrificed for the sake of the other. If a hero destroys a parallel universe, is he still a hero? Welcome to the most complex, intellectual comic from a major publisher. Sean Edgar

20. Doctors
Writer/Artist: Dash Shaw
Publisher: Fantagraphics


It would be easy to start off this review with the exact same sentence that began the last review I wrote on one of comics’ most unique voices: “Dash Shaw is a relentless experimenter, never content to rely on the processes and approaches that garnered him acclaim the last go-round.” Normally, the impulse to tinker is an aggravating one. Think about your reaction each time your computer prompts you to install a new version of iTunes, or Facebook plays around with the design of its news feed. The same can be true when an artist refuses to settle into a pattern, especially if he or she has had great success with a particular approach. But Shaw’s constant push into new territory is never completely isolating, as his line (wobbly, thick strokes; sad and somewhat primitive eyes) remains constant, as does his intuitive sense to craft interesting, engaging work. Hillary Brown

19. Prophet
Writer: Brandon Graham
Artists: Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis, Others
Publisher: Image


I had no clue comics like Prophet still existed. Here’s the best way I can explain Brandon Graham’s surreal space odyssey: think of the VHS box art to every grindhouse sci-fi movie in the ‘70s and ’80s. If all of those movies accurately reflected the air-brushed, hyper-imaginative splendor hinted at in their cover, and merged into a giant 100-hour epic directed by Moebius, it would probably look something like Prophet. So, yeah, this is the story that might have played in your head when looking at that glorious art before being disappointed by something that a Roger Corman protege shat out. A more relatable comparison might be the endless adventure and years-deep mythologies of Robert E. Howard with a heavy dose of Cronenberg body horror. But Prophet carries a much more subversive, deeper undertone. This is the story of a cloned space nomad attempting to destroy the manufactured remains of humanity. Sean Edgar

18. Trillium
Writer/Artist:   Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Vertigo


The best moments of Trillium are the ones that superficially say the least. If Lemire has adopted the quicker pacing of his recent mainstream works, he still knows when to pan the camera back and let his layouts project the vivid imagination bustling inside of him. And that’s what makes Trillium such a special work: this is a piece of an artist pulled from a deep place nobody’s ever seen before. And for Lemire to share that, all we can say is thank you. Sean Edgar

17. Wonder Woman
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Cliff Chiang, Others
Publisher: DC


Azzarello’s story rediscovers Wonder Woman’s identity on a storytelling and meta-narrative level. What does Wonder Woman mean to the DC universe, or even modern fiction? Is she a feminist symbol? A valiant outsider? The Last Amazon? A caring friend? A powerful warrior? Or a God of Olympus? Exploring those questions is why Azzarello’s 35 issues of Wonder Woman will be remembered. As Diana learns about herself, so do we. In the end, she embodies all of these roles in certain ways. That’s what makes this run so great, because, like all of us, discovering who you are is never easy — even if you’re an Amazonian demigod princess with superpowers. Darren Orf

16. Ant Colony
Writer/Artist: Michael DeForge
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly


Much like Albert Camus’ The Stranger, this book is rarely explicitly philosophical, and it provides no real answers. Even the holy prophet child only answers ‘what will happen?’ in a series of possibilities, any of which is as likely as the next. Still, there is a kind of comfort in the chance of a good outcome, or at least an idea that it is generally better to exist than not to, as well as an amused perspective from above at our helplessness and thrashing about. A book this thought-provoking and gorgeous deserves acclaim. Hillary Brown

15. Black Science
Writer:   Rick Remender
Artist: Matteo Scalera
Publisher: Image


An infinite procession of parallel universes, the ramifications of scientific hubris and the boundless ability to wonder “what if…” Black Science is vintage sci-fi wrung through a punk rock meat grinder. It’s Rod Serling and Stephen Hawking pondering the mysteries of the universe on psychedelics. Matteo Scallera and Dean White’s art is electric, and from Lovecraftian frog-monsters to Native American war machines, every page — every panel! — is nothing short of impeccable. Combine that with Rick Remender’s penchant for making characters miserable, and you have one of the most consistently impressive books out today. Robert Tutton

14. Hawkeye
Writer:   Matt Fraction
Artists: David Aja, Annie Wu
Publisher: Marvel


As it’s progressed from an urban grind-house noir to a West Coast coming-of-age joyride, Hawkeye has remained uncompromisingly — even willfully — inventive. To hear author Matt Fraction describe it, this series is what happens when a fictional character who’s historically failed to support a comic for more than six issues finally finds success. Editors relax, writers write, artists draw, and a laissez faire aura of creation welds comics with infographics, pizza-eating dogs, sign language and, um, sushi girls (don’t ask). Whatever gets you there. Most importantly, these characters breathe and converse with a naturalism that simply doesn’t exist in superhero comics. With Fraction set to wrap this nifty indie feature of a comic, it’s a shame we’ll never be able to see what wonders he could have worked with other alleged dollar-bin characters at Marvel. Sean Edgar

13. Andre the Giant
Writer/Artist: Box Brown
Publisher: First Second


Box Brown’s new project doesn’t quite create a dichotomy with his previous oeuvre. The artist’s stripped-down visual style, which deals in outlines and flat planes of black and white rather than 3D modeling or gray washes, creates connections between both kinds of stories. His laconic narration not only fits with the minimalist art, but also intensifies the pathos of the events depicted. Understatement, especially when it addresses overwrought conventions like addiction, mortality and pro wrestling narratives, can be a powerful way to communicate depth. Hillary Brown

12. Ms. Marvel
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Adrian Alphona, Jake Wyatt
Publisher: Marvel


Adolescence often feels like a metaphysical changing room of identities and values. You only truly discover who you are by escaping your parent’s safety to venture deeper into the maw of life, with all of its depravities, perils and joys. G. Willow Wilson takes this progression to brilliantly literal levels with Kamala Khan, a Pakistani teen who gains the power to shape-shift after a nightly stroll in some Terrigin (aka alien power-granting) Mists. The resulting journey incorporates a subtle sensitivity to Islamic culture and genuine look at what it feels like to be a good kid balancing the tight rope of inner growth and familial expectation. Ultimately, Ms. Marvel is a delightful lil bildungsoman with disarming dialogue (“I am 911!”), bolstered by Wilson’s unique cultural perspectives. Sean Edgar

11. This One Summer
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Jilllian Tamaki
Publisher: First Second


To pigeonhole This One Summer as a young adult graphic novel would be a real shame. Yes, the narrative may be perfectly suited to that age group, but the label would motivate many readers to write off the book without giving it the time it deserves. Creators (and cousins) Jillian and Mariko Tamaki have fashioned a subtle, beautiful, intelligent read that happens to have two female teenagers as its main characters. The story deals with issues that are particularly important to that time in one’s life, such as how much the attention of males matters to one’s fluid self-definition. Most of all, the book pulls off the clever trick of rendering nostalgia without romanticism, capturing the feel of summer when it actually meant something. Hillary Brown

10. Southern Bastards
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jason Latour
Publisher: Image


Southern Bastards is about a man coming to grips with the evil of his predecessors and the hopeless place he hails from. It’s most evident in Jason Latour’s excellent, expressionist artwork — dark shadows constantly cover Tubb and most of Craw, with flashbacks to Tubb Sr. tinted blood red. Any worthwhile Southern lit gets compared to Faulkner or O’Connor or McCullers, and even though the violence is at the forefront of Southern Bastards, the sadness and the pain of the South lies almost visible just underneath. It’s a story of the South — it’s the story of the South. Garrett Martin

9. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
Writer/Artist: Roz Chast
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA


The mess behind Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? isn’t so much accidental as deliberate, a reflection of the stressful, horrible experience of becoming the parent to your parents, of cleaning out their closets, managing their finances, finding professionals to take care of them and hating every minute of it while also, thankfully, using the act of creation to develop some distance and structure to process it all. Chast’s strained relationship with her mother makes the task more difficult, more frightening and (possibly) more transcendent. The drawings that end the book, which she sketched in her mother’s final days, are a sort of Zen act, an acknowledgment of death’s finality and our limitations. As such, they reflect the project of the book as a whole: an act of compartmentalization, written and drawn to help the author work through her experiences and, most likely, one that will help others do the same. Hillary Brown

8. East of West
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Publisher: Image


Trying to succinctly summarize Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s East of West is a loaded game. The ongoing Image title is set a few decades in the future, but it’s also the future of an alternate timeline, where the Civil War dragged on for decades, causing the United States to fracture into multiple nations. There’s also a heavily fantastical element: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse drive the story of a prophecy foretelling the end of days. But that’s part of the charm of the book: it’s equally (and wonderfully) over-the-top and human, with briefly-encountered ideas that could sustain a series on their own. Tobias Carroll

7. Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream
Writers/Artists: Various
Publisher: Locust Moon Press


The most evocative entries in Dream Another Dream border on the profound, exploring the universal mission of translating dreams into realities. John Cassaday subverts the Nemo formula, beginning his page with the young boy in bed and ending it with a moment of subliminal awe that challenges the definitions of awake and asleep. J.H. Williams III fits a lifetime in one page, chronicling a Nemo whose waking life curiously parallels that of his creator. The last-panel reveal gloriously ties this theme to the original strip with grace and emotion. Not every entry plumbs into such existential depths, nor should it — dreams come in all shapes, sizes and moods. Ultimately, though, Dream Another Dream affirms Winsor McCay’s transcendental legacy over generations of talent, inspiring hope more than a century later and proving that dreams truly never die. Sean Edgar

6. The Wake
Writer:   Scott Snyder
Artist: Sean Murphy
Publisher: Vertigo


The Wake may be the best ‘80s creature feature that never was. Much like he did in American Vampire and Severed, writer Scott Snyder dives deep into the nostalgia well (and Arctic Ocean) to drum up a yarn brimming with escapism and otherworldly threats. Instead of revisiting the Roaring Twenties or Great Depression dioramas that tend to occupy his narratives — including his exceptional 2006 short story collection, Voodoo HeartThe Wake feels ripped straight from the Reagan Era, if only by osmosis. Mysterious Cold War bureaucracies, grotesque sci-fi fiends, and a strong female protagonist all allude to some vintage cinema homage to works like The Abyss and The Thing. A second act set in the flooded remains of a post-apocalyptic wasteland only stretch this epic into a ballsy direction that few creative teams could successfully pull off. Taught, beautifully-drawn and undeniably enthralling, The Wake reassembles a slew of genre fragments into a work that surpasses many of its inspirations with panache. Sean Edgar

5. Beautiful Darkness
Writer: Fabien Vehlmann
Translator: Helge Daschler
Artist: Kerascoët
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly


This graphic novel is astoundingly beautiful, whether the creative team renders an 11-panel page packed with a range of angles and close-ups or just a single full-page image. The illustrations develop in complexity alongside the narrative: the opening pages are unpaneled, simplified and candy-colored, setting the scene for a story more in the whimsical Disney vein. Shortly after, a few pages of horror (a rainstorm, a narrow escape, the introduction of fate and finality) arrive steeped in a series of grays. But then the sun comes out, and bright lovely color once more saturates this volatile landscape. By story’s end, there’s considerably more detail on the pages, executed in earth tones and well-deployed shadow. You could strip out the words entirely and still absorb the impact of Beautiful Darkness. Hillary Brown

4. Lumberjanes
Writers: Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis
Artist: Brooke Allen
Publisher: BOOM! Box


Trying to pick the best thing about Lumberjanes, the second series from “experimental” BOOM! Studios imprint BOOM! Box, is like trying to pick the best thing about Game of Thrones. Sure, there are all kinds of sociological and theoretical angles to pursue, but most of all, it’s just so dang enjoyable. Rather than spending their time complaining about a problem, writers Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis and artist Brooke Allen have decided to fix one. There are literally no male characters in this entire first issue, but that fact only becomes clear in retrospect, after a good deal of pondering. The gender omission speaks to how strong the writing is, how winning the art looks and how feminism in action can be a good bit different from feminism in theory. Hillary Brown

3. Arsène Schrauwen
Writer & Artist: Olivier Schrauwen
Publisher: Fantagraphics


Published by the indie stalwarts at Fantagraphics, Olivier Schrauwen’s Arsène Schrauwen is one of the most complex, and simply best, comics released this year. Ostensibly the story of the author’s Grandfather, Arsène, and his adventures in an unnamed African country, the graphic novel self describes as “a comic about Arsene, venture, love, architecture, freedom, fear, lust, the unknown, nothing, projection, expectation, new acquaintances, bullshit-artistry, entrapment.” That description sounds about right, yet also fails to capture the full scope of the book, which uses simplified drawings, collage-like text and two colors (red and blue) to convey a narrative that moves between the real and the fantastic with grace and facility. The result is an experience both utterly original and strangely familiar, like a dream. Hillary Brown

2. Saga
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image


What else is there to say about scribe Brian K. Vaughan’s and artist Fiona StaplesSaga that hasn’t been said before? It’s great and you should be reading it. Period. At this point, the only major dispute regarding its quality comes when people argue whether or not an issue is great or merely really good. But in all seriousness, few ongoing comics thoroughly hold readers in such rapt attention, dying to get their hands on the next installment. Mark Rozeman

1. Sex Criminals
Writer:   Matt Fraction
Artist: Chip Zdarsky
Publisher: Image

Sex Criminals is a splendid introduction to an immediately likable character, and the final twist is both genuinely unexpected and an intriguing set-up for the book’s true plot. I wouldn’t trust most comic creators to turn a sexual awakening into compelling pulp fiction, but Fraction and Zdarsky pull it off masterfully. Garrett Martin