The 25 Best Comic Books of 2017

From Superhero Social Commentary to Deeply Personal Memoirs, These are the Best of the Best

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15. Everything Is Flammable
Writer/Artist: Gabrielle Bell
Publisher: Uncivilized Books
Gabrielle Bell’s comics arrive from unexpected angles. Whether her stories are dream-like fiction or drawn from life, Bell avoids the predictable, leading the reader to sucker-punch emotional truths that emerge organically from words and pictures. Her work is subtle in its execution and grand in its scope, and never quite goes where one might expect. Over the decades, the focus of Bell’s work has shifted slightly: the off-beat surrealism of her shorter works collected in 2009’s Cecil and Jordan in New York has given way to the nuanced nonfiction of books like 2012’s The Voyeurs. Bell’s latest confessional, Everything is Flammable from Uncivilized Books, chronicles her experience after a fire consumes her mother’s California house. The graphic novel experiments with structure, telling Bell’s story along with several other narratives that serve as counterpoints. It’s a deft narrative, a moving story with a tactile sense of place throughout. Tobias Carroll

14. Boundless
Writer/Artist: Jillian Tamaki
Publisher: Drawn & Quartery
At its core, Jillian Tamaki’s Boundless is a series of short stories examining concepts of connection—the ever-constant search for purpose. What makes the book feel simultaneously so contemporary and yet time-capsule specific is the pervasive lens through which this theme is explored: a chronicling of modern interactions with technology and culture, often with a focus on how the former has impacted the latter. In the age of tech, connection comes via consumption, relationships with culture defining relationships with people, and defining the individual self.

But people don’t change. As much as the means, modes and dressing may alter, human nature remains constant. People want belonging, place, fulfillment, to feel part of it all, or part of something. In “Body Pods,” a woman charts her partners in relation to their enthusiasm for a cult film. Developments in the actors’ lives and the production of a remake parallel events and meaning in her own. “Jenny” posits a mirror Facebook, where information gleaned from the site is used to create another “you.” The titular character becomes fixated on the differences between her and her mirror self’s lives—the possibilities of alternative, better paths. “Sex Coven” is an internet fable about a strange music file that takes on mythic qualities. At first it’s overlooked, gaining a small following, an object of popularity and misunderstood hysteria, before becoming a thing around which commercialism and “irony” arise. In “Darla!” a retro sitcom finds a new life on the internet, giving its director renewed relevance as he makes the convention circuit rounds, even as he worries he’s part of a joke and that people aren’t “getting it” the way it was intended. Boundless is many things: contemplative, cynical, amusing, surreal, but mostly it anchors Tamaki as a formidable essayer of modern life, and undeniably one of the finest cartoonists of this generation. Zainab Akhtar

13. Paper Girls
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Publisher: Image Comics 
After encapsulating the nostalgia of Midwestern ‘80s youth in its first year, Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s sci-fi bildungsroman has only gotten weirder and better as its mysteries unfurl. Image’s latest blockbuster takes four girls on a Cleveland paper route and thrusts them into a time-space conflict between the aging establishment and youthful disruptors. And though golden-era Spielberg may have served as a starting point, Vaughan’s excellent characterization and rising stakes ratchet the tension past escapism: what does a kid do when she learns that she won’t survive into adulthood? And worse: how does a kid respond when she learns she’ll age into a mediocre, uninspired adult? These existential buzzkills loom over a candy-colored topiary of giant, warring water bears, dinosaur-mounted authoritarians and analogue robots. Artist Cliff Chiang and colorist Matt Wilson immerse the fantastic around adolescent girls who look and react like adolescent girls, a seriously impressive feat in comics. Sean Edgar

12. Extremity
Writer/Artist: Daniel Warren Johnson
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound
Paste named Extremity one of its most anticipated comics of 2017, and for good reason: Space Mullet’s Daniel Warren Johnson has long been one of the comic industry’s best-kept secrets, an “artist’s artist” who hasn’t quite broken through to the wider readership. Extremity, his violent, bizarre Skybound debut, finally rectifies that travesty. Like an outer-space Fury Road, Extremity is a bloody, fast-paced tale of tribal warfare in a sci-fi world that never conquered class stratification. And like Fury Road’s George Miller, Johnson thrusts his readers right into protagonist Thea’s revenge-driven conflict at breakneck speed, making for one of the most purely exciting comics in recent memory. Steve Foxe

11. The Abominable Mr. Seabrook
Writer/Artist: Joe Ollmann
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
In his introduction to The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, cartoonist Joe Ollmann writes movingly about what attracted him to the globetrotting scribe: his honesty and his insecurity. (Ollmann also notes that both he and his subject have struggled with alcohol, and both blended/blend a desire to believe in the supernatural with an inherent skepticism.) Above and beyond, this volume, which encompasses the scope of a life, makes the case for Seabrook’s continued relevance as a writer, and charts an unsettling decline and fall. Ollmann has been involved with continuing Seabrook’s legacy in other ways as well, helping facilitate the release of new editions of Seabrook’s books Asylum (about his efforts to get sober) and The Magic Island (an account of his visit to Haiti). Before reading Ollmann’s clear-headed and empathic account, the name William Seabrook may have been foreign; by the end of it, readers will likely want to order one of his books—the mark of a comprehensive and compelling literary biography. Tobias Carroll

10. Songy of Paradise
Writer/Artist: Gary Panter
Publisher: Fantagraphics 
Following his cover version comics of Dante in Jimbo’s Inferno and Jimbo in Purgatory, legendary punk artist Gary Panter now completes his trilogy (sorta) with Songy in Paradise. In many ways—its title, its dimensions, its less-than-100-percent reverential approach to canonical literature—it’s a continuation of the project. In others, it’s a departure. Rather than featuring Jimbo, Panter’s alter ego with a buzz cut, it takes Songy, a simple hillbilly, as its protagonist. And, despite the book’s title, which seems to suggest the last third of The Divine Comedy, in which Dante ascends through the celestial spheres, it tackles Milton’s Paradise Regained. It’s a Protestant tale rather than a Catholic one, written in blank verse that sets its sights on majesty rather than Dante’s nimble concatenations.

It’s also a lot to take in, and although it’s partially a joke, it’s also partially not. If Panter were only making the case that Songy is a moron, you might be able to file the book under parody, but Songy in Paradise is as serious as it is goofball, as awesome (in the original meaning) as it is entertaining, as much of a tribute to Milton’s vision as it is a testament to Panter’s own. Hillary Brown

9. The Mighty Thor
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Russell Dauterman, Others
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
“What’s the best Thor run?” used to have an easy answer, or rather two easy answers: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did more than create Marvel’s version of the Norwegian thunder god in the ‘60s—they crafted a sprawling epic that was often more creative than their Fantastic Four run. Then in the 1980s, a long creative drought ended when Walt Simonson brought a cosmic scale and sense of humor back to the title, along with his gorgeous, dynamic art. But these untouchable runs are in touching distance, thanks to Jason Aaron and a string of talented artists. Since taking over the Odinson in 2012, Aaron has been crafting a multidimensional, multi-Thor saga that’s more ambitious and fun than anything else Marvel’s been putting out in the same time frame, or maybe any time frame, even under the latest Legacy banner with the milestone 700th issue. With the Jane Foster Thor saga, Aaron has incorporated a meta-element into the comic seamlessly, as Odin’s rejection of female Thor represents comic fans who can’t handle change, especially change involving women. Odin—the ultimate old white man—stands for male domination at its worst, and he’s supported by dumbass followers who hang “False Thor” signs that mirror the complaints of change-hating and/or misogynist fans. When Foster clobbers Odin with Mjolnir, it’s a beautiful moment. As she puts it, “…when you’re a ninety-pound woman dying of cancer…it does feel pretty good to punch god in the face.” Mark Peters

8. Hostage
Writer/Artist: Guy Delisle
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Guy Delisle’s library has largely stemmed from the cartoonist’s international ventures through exotic geographies including Jerusalem, Burma, North Korea and China. His intimate, stylized lines escorted readers through the areas via travelogues, volleying exciting bits on culture and history with each new panel sequence. Hostage is a jarring departure in both tone and approach. The 436-page doorstop relays the trials of Christophe Andre, a Doctors without Borders employee who was tossed into solitary confinement for 100 days while working in North Caucasus. Instead of the breakneck parade of culture clash and architecture, Delisle now traps readers inside four grim walls alongside his protagonist for a very, very, very long time. This book is an exercise in brutal empathy, a meditation on the sparsely worded monotony and terrifying ambiguity of human captivity. The result is simply intense, a crystalline example of what sequential storytelling is capable of communicating. Sean Edgar

Davis Bike Koyama front cover.jpg
7. You & a Bike & a Road
Writer/Artist: Eleanor Davis
Publisher: Koyama Press
In March of 2016, Eleanor Davis decided to ride her bicycle from her parents’ house in Arizona to Athens, Georgia, where she lives. Here and there, she drew things she saw and put them on Instagram. Followers received little dispatches as she made her way from Southwest to Southeast. Sometimes she was discouraged. Other times she seemed overcome at the beauty of the world or the kindness of strangers. The story unfolds slowly, without a classical narrative structure or predictable spikes of drama, but it is fascinating. You & a Bike & a Road collects those drawings and captures the journey, while compressing the time that it took. It’s easily one of the year’s best books; The sense of immediacy and unfiltered emotion—its most notable features—are rare and difficult to do well. Hilary Brown

6. 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Tyler Boss
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss’ wildly inventive and fearless tale of adolescents facing adult realities shipped just two of its five issues in 2017, but we can’t deny how well the creative team stuck the landing. The book thrives off sharp characterization, coupled with Tyler Boss’ pin-point facial expressions and hilarious fantasy sequences, and an impending darkness lurking behind it all. Within this mini-series from publisher Black Mask, childhood friends Paige, Pat, Berger and Walter hatch a plan to steal cash to pay off a group of thieves intimidating Paige’s father. The inherent clever oozing out of these panels is breathy and rhythmic, probably obscuring the fact that this work was meticulous labor that took years to complete. Like a gorgeous remix of ‘80s nostalgia art directed by visual icon Saul Bass, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank ultimately ventured into our hearts. Sean Edgar

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