The 25 Best Comic Books of 2016

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GHOSTS Front Cover.jpg
10. Ghosts
Writer/Artist: Raina Telgemeier
Publisher: Scholastic Graphix

Raina Telgemeier is our generation’s comics ambassador, producing touching, funny graphic novels that not only reach a ton of readers, but engage folks who lie outside the male adult demo most associated with the medium. Ghosts adds an intoxicating dose of magic to the cartoonist’s masterful grip on character and relationship; protagonist Catarina’s family forces her to move to a shady NorCal town to facilitate her sister, who’s diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. Not only does Catarina accept the presence of the playful undead, she also faces issues of mortality. Big issues for a kids comic, right? Leave it to Telgemeier to articulate daunting concepts with kindness and clarity, while packing her panels with a dizzying array of dancing skeletons and smiling ghouls. Sean Edgar

9. The Wicked + The Divine
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Jamie McKelvie, Various
Publisher: Image Comics 

Few books capture the zeitgeist like The Wicked + The Divine. The gods of old are back as pissy, prissy teen pop stars, adored by countless fans for two years and then snuffed out… Only someone is extinguishing the current pantheon before its time. Creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie bring every skill they’ve honed together over the last decade of collaboration to their work on WicDiv, from McKelvie’s expert facial “acting” to Gillen’s knack for perfect “wish-I-had-thought-to-say-that-during-my-last-breakup” dialogue. WicDiv, much like Saga, knows exactly how to leave its audience gasping and grasping for the next issue, and its ability to reach readers beyond comic-shop regulars make it one of the medium’s best cultural ambassadors. What could have been a cynical row on Rihanna, Kanye, Gaga and other overexposed pop stars has become a meditation of mortality, morality and the seeming invincibility of youth, with ample style and pure coolness to spare. Steve Foxe

8. Big Kids
Writer/Artist: Michael DeForge
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

The experience of reading Big Kids is almost synesthetic; it puts inarticulable emotional states into unrelated visuals that evoke those feelings with pinpoint precision. How can a six-panel page of two squiggly lines intertwining suggest a late-adolescent sexual encounter? Do guilt and shame translate as a body slowly absorbing raindrops that feel like tiny, heavy metal balls? How does one draw the concept of becoming aware of a new dimension of thought and feeling? Big Kids posits crazy and ambitious goals, and cartoonist Michael DeForge doesn’t always achieve them, but his work here is reliably intellectual and emotionally intelligent, as well as garishly beautiful. Hillary Brown

7. The Vision
Writer: Tom King
Artists: Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Michael Walsh
Publisher: Marvel Comics 

Under Tom King’s direction, The Vision was Marvel’s most interesting character, thanks to this witty, startling, gorgeous series illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Michael Walsh with colorist Jordie Bellaire. The premise is simple: the synthezoid Avenger literally makes himself a family and moves to the ‘burbs. Needless to say, shenanigans ensue, but not the type of winky, not-quite-funny antics of most of Marvel’s “quirky” titles: in this comic, the sci-fi horror plays out unflinchingly and tragically, like a lost Shakespeare play (The Visions of Verona?). This is a violent, over-the-top nightmare and a revealing look at domesticity. Mark Peters

6. Hot Dog Taste Test
Writer/Artist: Lisa Hanawalt
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Lisa Hanawalt’s second collection of work isn’t only about food, but it does have blurbs from Momofuku’s David Chang and Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold on the back, so food is certainly a large part of it. Most food writing can fall into insufferable extremes: too full of adjectives, too gross, too focused on morality at the expense of deliciousness, too boring, too self-important and/or too much about the writer. Hanawalt manages to avoid any of these traps. She is appreciative of weird foods without coming off like a dilettante, and expresses a love of junk without seeming like a glutton. She can even be directly autobiographical without being annoying, exemplified in her comic about how she prefers her egg yolks thoroughly cooked. One explanation is that she keeps things brief instead of rhapsodizing for 6,000 words on breakfast. A better reason is that her comics on food are no different from her comics on anything: the product of a mind with a marvelously weird perspective. Hillary Brown

5. Paper Girls
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Publisher: Image Comics 

Set in the 1980s, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls are menaced by something even weirder and more malevolent than teenage boys. In this sci-fi mystery, writer Brian K. Vaughan brings the heart and charm of Saga to a story about kids that’s not just for them. This title is also a strong contender for the most Kirby-esque current comic. The lead characters are a gender update of The King’s many boy gangs, and Cliff Chiang’s art is bold and innovative. Whether illustrating a sci-fi gizmo or drunken stepmom, Chiang’s clear lines (and Matt Wilson’s evocative, day-glo colors) convey the wonder, fear and excitement of near-teenhood. This is one of the best recent comics to share with your friend who doesn’t read comics—especially if they have a hankering for the ‘80s. Mark Peters

4. Dark Night: A True BatmanStory
Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Eduardo Risso
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

More than two decades ago, Batman: The Animated Series writer, producer and editor Paul Dini was attacked by two men with such ferocity that parts of his skull were “powderized.” The event ignited a crisis of faith in Dini, who grappled with his day job of telling stories of good perpetually triumphing over evil when…sometimes it doesn’t. Is it irresponsible? Do men and women dressed in costumes offer facile escapism that deters its fans from acknowledging the severity of existence?

What starts as a harrowing autobiography spirals into something far more daunting and analytical, placing the very concept of fiction on trial. Artist Eduardo Risso renders Dini’s narrative in striking violence and moody, sensual palettes, balancing the impact of the event around a whirlwind of failed romances and supportive friends. But Dark Night isn’t just gorgeous, it’s one of the bravest, most intelligent expressions of the medium in recent memory. Sean Edgar

3. Panther
Writer/Artist: Brecht Evens
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Let’s cut to the chase: Panther is fucking terrifying. Belgian cartoonist Brecht Evens covers similar terrain as previous graphic novel, Night Animals, showing the perils of little girls cavorting with storybook monsters. In this lush, watercolored fever dream, adolescent Christine bonds with the talking, titular cat who emerges from the lowest drawer of her dresser. Panther regales Christine with fanciful tales of Pantherland before parading a medley of red flags, including emotional co-dependency, inappropriate touching and sketchy, sketchy, sketchy friends. As their time together grows, Panther stretches comic-book tension to its most affecting extremes, and attempting to reveal a metaphor or resolution is equally unnerving. Like some unholy love child between Winnie the Pooh and Harmony Korine, Panther is the harrowing comic event for 2016. Sean Edgar

2. The Sheriff of Babylon
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

The Sheriff of Babylon is a murder mystery set during the fallout of Saddam Hussein’s rule, though the audience is fully aware of who murdered whom and why they did so. Writer Tom King takes full advantage of Alfred Hitchcock’s advice to let the watcher feel empathy through the characters instead of themselves. Watching police trainer Christopher, diplomat Sofia and disgruntled ex-cop Nassir collide and repel is far tenser than any clue-finding exercise could be—and more addictive. But it’s the small details and delicious slivers of characterization that make this dissection of unilateral politics so impressive. In a subject that’s often morally simplified, King calls upon his years as a CIA agent to explore a world with onion layers of morality. When Sofia states, “There is something about dirty Arab children that makes senators say yes,” there’s a dark realization that countless variations of this conversation fuel every warfare and reconstruction scenario. The Sheriff of Babylon is a thinking man’s comic grounded in realpolitik horror, where the corpses of patriotism litter yesterday’s battlefields. Sean Edgar

1. March Book Three
Writers: Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
Artist: Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell conclude the autobiography of Lewis’ journey through the Civil Rights Movement, and this book’s importance can’t be overstated. Lewis played an integral role in combatting racial inequality throughout the ‘60s (and beyond), and these graphic novels have expertly captured that battle, whether against Jim Crow legislation or even state authorities attempting to block the movement’s voting campaign in Alabama.

The very fact that the creators chose the comic medium speaks to the genre’s versatility and potency. Artist Nate Powell’s expressive facial expressions and soulful streets imbue a sense of melancholy and hope to this defining chapter of American history. With this finale, it’s impossible to imagine a work with this degree of emotion, submersion or relevancy as anything other than the narrative of the year. Sean Edgar

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