The Best Comic Books of 2015

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20. Archie
Writer: Mark Waid
Artists: Fiona Staples, Annie Wu
Publisher: Archie Comics

As recently as last year, one was more likely to find an Archie Digest at the drug store than in a comic store. But with 2015’s Archie rebranding from Mark Waid, Fiona Staples and Annie Wu, the company brought on popular comics creators and took the Riverdale squad into the 21st century. An unbashed (and super fun) update, the series flips the Betty-Archie-Veronica love triangle on its head, with dopey Archie Andrews as the frequent cause of independent Betty and fish-out-of-water Veronica’s troubles.

Oh, yeah, and the titular character’s hot. And with the first few issues drawn by Saga favorite Fiona Staples, it suddenly becomes a little clearer why girls would actually fight over Archie. Tini Howard

19. Black River
Writer/Artist: Josh Simmons
Publisher: Fantagraphics 

Informed by dreams and shot through with gut-level anxiety rather than heroic cliché, Black River winds in an unpredictable pattern. No one is safe. No one is nice. Any one of its characters could be us. As population density increases, the idea of starting anew with all the amenities of modern life and very few of the world’s current people has a kind of appeal, but Black River is nothing but nightmare. There’s no wish fulfillment anywhere in the book, which is probably what makes it burrow into your brain and stay there. Hillary Brown

18. Southern Bastards
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jason Latour
Publisher: Image Comics 

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 Latour’s excellent, expressionist artwork — dark shadows constantly cover the cast. 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 not a story of the South — it’s the story of the South. Garrett Martin

17. Pascin
Writer/Artist: Joann Sfar
Publisher: Uncivilized Books

Joann Sfar’s art in Pascin skips, skitters, blurs, jumps around, gets blotchy, and then straightens out for a bit. The panels, when they exist, are blobby and uneven. The faces recall every negative thing that’s been said about modern art since the Impressionists made their appearance on the scene. Sfar is never afraid to make his work ugly, but it always contains an underlying glimmer of delight, which is what makes his stuff so readable. It might be messy, but there’s a real joy in its execution, and he presents his subject as coming from the same place—whether or not it’s true is irrelevant. This graphic novel feels like truth, or, as Picasso said of art, it’s a lie that makes us realize truth. Hillary Brown

16. Mind MGMT
Writer/Artist: Matt Kindt
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Now concluded, Mind MGMT’s grand tapestry unfolded beautifully. Marked by its deft foreshadowing, sucker-punch back matter and clever twists, this series has always read like a labor of love that absorbed hour upon hour of writer/artist Matt Kindt’s time. That same care lies in the stylized linework and moody washes of autumnal colors as well. This book simply reads and looks singular, distilled narrative excellence that could only come from one patient auteur. Sean Edgar

15. Wytches
Writer:   Scott Snyder  
Artist: Jock
Publisher: Image Comics 

Scott Snyder  has always been a professed Stephen King fan, and that influence has never loomed larger over Snyder’s writing than in Wytches. The bare bones plot summary could apply to some of King’s most-loved works: a troubled writer in a small New England town struggles to save his family against a classic horror threat made newly terrifying. What sets Wytches apart from the slew of similarly King-inspired tales is the distorted, haunting artwork from Jock, made even eerier by Matt Hollingsworth’s wild splatters of color. Every page, even the most mundane scene, feels murky, off-kilter, and sinister. The story so far, driven by small-town conspiracies, a headstrong and troubled daughter, and grotesque, primal reimaginings of the witch myth, built beautifully to this year’s oversized first arc finale. Steve Foxe

14. First Year Healthy
Writer/Artist: Michael DeForge
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Michael DeForge had a tremendous 2014. The cartoonist’s year kicked off with Ant Colony, followed up with A Body Beneath (Koyama Press’ collection of his occasional publication, Lose), concluded with Lose #6, and featured plenty of his singular webcomic, Sticks Angelica. Those are just some of the main works that marked the 365 days that concluded last month; he catalogues the full list on his website. Not only did he produce sequential art like a comics firehose, but the quality remained unbelievably high, marked by experimentation with both form and content. Now with the new year kicked off, DeForge has released the print version of First Year Healthy, a short Christmas tale that he originally posted online. Transformed into a physical object by publisher Drawn & Quarterly, the pages feel bigger and the colors subtler; and the three different finishes on the front cover will make you want to repeatedly run your fingertips over it. Explaining what it’s about (a woman starts a new life in a small town) is, as is often the case with DeForge, besides the point. Hillary Brown

13. The Story of My Tits
Writer/Artist: Jennifer Hayden
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

Jennifer Hayden’s funny, sad, stunning graphic novel remixes various pieces of her life centered around a mastectomy in the wake of a diagnosis that 12 percent of all women encounter. Arranged in uniform four-panel pages, the loose art invites the reader on a journey that not only confronts mortality, but the neglected, bizarrely-important implications of breasts on identity and self-esteem. From Hayden witnessing her father’s living room pile of nudie magazines as a child to the daunting choice of reconstructive surgery, the impact of women’s chests on society receives a thorough examination. Hayden remains a relatable, charming guide throughout all 349 pages, offering a new touchstone of empathy and endurance that deftly complements the best work of slice-of-life prophets like Harvey Pekar. Sean Edgar


12. Zero
Writer: Ales Kot
Artists: Various
Publisher: Image Comics 

Ales Kot’s Zero is a story told in parts. Each issue, penciled by a different artist, presents a small vignette detailing the life of born-and-raised secret agent Edward Zero. In Zero, most events take place in the near future, a time that’s easily identifiable but isn’t exactly relatable. You feel like a passing tourist, not quite comfortable in your altered surroundings. Most importantly, Zero deals with loneliness, loss and the need for connection. Edward Zero has been conditioned since childhood to suppress empathy and vulnerability, only worrying about the mission — but there are cracks in that steely resolve as the reader catches glimpses of our protagonist’s humanity as he grows tired of perpetual loss. Darren Orf

11. Fante Bukowski
Writer/Artist: Noah Van Sciver
Publisher: Fantagraphics 

We’ve all had that friend: a Charles Bukowski devotee who spends more time at the bottle than the typewriter. But the difference between that guy and Noah Van Sciver’s hilarious Fante Bukowski? You don’t want your time with this successful alcoholic/failed novelist to end. The book follows Fante Bukowski, a bar-dwelling writer who subs beers for honing his craft, or as he succinctly puts it to a fellow drinker: “I’ve been trying to be a famous writer for a year and I’m still empty-handed. I need to write a book! I have to show my father that I’m not a loser!” He’s a loyal follower of the drunk romantics, John Fante and the aforementioned Bukowski, so much so that he legally had his name changed. By the time I got to Fante Bukowski’s first piece of fiction, The Tragedy of Success, I’d laughed hard enough to stir a few tears. After the opening lines, how could you not? “Nothing I do is good enough for my dad. I sit in this cheap hotel and swig cheap wine. This is who I am. Dad. Dad. I want to kill you.” We’re unabashed fans of Van Sciver’s work, and Fante Bukowski only extends his vision of smart, flawed characters—just hilariously so.
Tyler R. Kane

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