For all things sequential art, this year was arguably a time of transition. The biggest publishers embarked on two of the riskiest and most complex projects in their given histories, issuing editorial mandates to reshape the core values and directions for dozens of properties. Between Marvel’s Secret Wars and DC’s Convergence, three fourths of the comics market leaned toward more inclusive and fun titles. While few creators hit a new stride under these parameters, it sets the stage for a more diverse and eclectic playground than available in years’ past.
On the independent front, 2015 saw continued dialogue between the digital and print world, hinting at a very comfortable symbiosis more than a ragged competition. A significant number of books on this list started life on the digital screen before segueing to more refined and tactile incarnations between two covers.
For the big strokes, it was a year that amplified breadth and scope; even as The Big Two came to terms with characters designed for a growing readership, comics continued to address every other taxonomy of form and function. Jennifer Hayden’s The Story of My Tits deftly maneuvers cancer and gender identity, carrying Harvey Pekar’s legacy to new conversations. Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell continue to chart the elusive growth of the Civil Rights movement in March, and don’t get us started on the historical tear machine that is Nanjing: The Burning City. In summary, good comics were published in 2015. Here are the ones we liked a lot.
25. Space Dumplins
Writer/Artist: Craig Thompson
Craig Thompson’s work has continually flirted with adorable sprites and embraced precious coming-of-age epiphanies, though Good-Bye, Chunky Rice, Blankets and Habibi were all firmly tailored for adult eyes. Space Dumplins makes no mistake about its intentions as a space odyssey for grade-school explorers, framed through the eyes of a young girl coping with her father’s dangerous profession snatching industrial debris from the cosmos. What follows addresses real-world issues of catastrophe-driven displacement and classism through science fiction, with one foot in ‘70s Heavy Metal (sometimes literally) and the other in ‘20s Looney Tunes whimsy. Combined with Dave Stewart’s psychedelic color palate, Thompson’s maiden voyage into kids comics is absolutely stunning and emotionally engulfing. Sean Edgar
24. Black Canary
Writer: Brenden Fletcher
Artist: Annie Wu, Others
Publisher: DC Comics
Comic books are a static, silent medium, so it’s a forgivable offense when they get music wrong. That’s not the case in Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu’s ultra-fun Black Canary, which follows a brooding Dinah Lance on a tour that makes early-‘90s Guns N’ Roses concerts look like storytime at Ben Stein’s house. Through this re-vamped take on Black Canary, Dinah’s fallen into the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle—but instead of VH1-ready storylines, the music actually has something to do with her redemption, not her downfall. Here, Fletcher’s weaved a story that is enhanced (but not hindered) by rock ’n’ roll, but Wu’s kinetic comic renderings make the whole thing work. Tyler R. Kane
23. Incidents in the Night 2
Writer/Artist: David B
Publisher: Uncivilized Books
Good luck coming up with an easy summary of Incidents in the Night, David B.’s series of graphic novels. There are elements of a paranoid conspiracy thriller: in the first volume, David B. learns of the existence of a mysterious newspaper and a secret society, and teams up with a morally grey inspector, Commissioner Hunborgne, and a reporter named Marie to investigate them. Whether it’s read as a strange meditation on storytelling and obsession or a detective story unlike any other, this volume of Incidents in the Night has plenty of strange and compelling narratives to offer. As befits a story in which rare books and obscure histories play a key role, there’s a slightly insular quality here. The story being told is cerebral and visceral in equal measure, and it succeeds impressively in both qualities. Tobias Carroll
Writer/Artist: Michel Fiffe
Publisher: Bergen Street Comics
COPRA embarks on a multi-dimensional epic featuring characters from other worlds, a macabre “no one is safe” attitude and unpredictable danger around every corner. And looking at recent issues, it’s easy to see that Michel Fiffe has no plans to take it easy on his creation; recent issues have added major tonal shifts to the book, and we’re left with a real “who will survive and what will be left of them situation.” But even with an end in mind and most pages full of doom, Fiffe has not lost any of his initial inspiration or drive. Matthew Meylikhov
21. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Writer: Ryan North
Artists: Erica Henderson
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The original Squirrel Girl may have been created by Will Murray and Steve Ditko in the early 1990s, but The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl feels like writer Ryan North (Dinosaur Comics) and artist Erica Henderson just dreamed up an entirely original character. This new title thrives in a world defined by indie, off-the-wall whimsy, but also embraces the overarching Marvel Universe by poking fun at everything in it (especially itself). And if any long-time Marvel buffs don’t like Squirrel Girl’s lighthearted style, rest assured that she doesn’t care. Lilith Wood