The 20 Best Kids Comics of 2018

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Cucumber Quest Cover Art by D G. Gigi

10. Cucumber Quest
Writer/Artist: D.G. Gigi
Publisher: First Second
Gigi D.G.’s candy-colored platformer of a graphic-novel series continues to rollerskate along with grace and charm. This year brought volumes 2 through 4 (The Ripple Kingdom, The Melody Kingdom and The Flower Kingdom), each of which maintains the same mix of cuteness cut with tart self-conscious observations about how narratives of this type work. The adventures are genuinely entertaining, not to mention informed by the aesthetic of video games like the Kirby series. If you can’t handle twee, don’t go here, but damn if this isn’t some delightfully silly fun. Hillary Brown

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Sci-Fu Cover Art by Yehudi Mercado

9. Sci-Fu
Writer/Artist: Yehudi Mercado
Publisher: Oni Press
Yehudi Mercado seems to go about a zillion miles an hour. You could get that impression from a single page of his comics, which swell with color, exaggerated facial expressions, background detail and swooshy line. Or you could get it from his frequently updated website. Or from his résumé, rich with not only comics but also animation. His work caught my eye with Pantalones, TX, a few years ago, but then I stopped paying attention. That was my mistake! He’s done plenty in the meantime, and his newest project, Sci-Fu, a fluorescent all-ages hip-hop space opera comic book, is lot of fun. Out from Oni Press, it smooshes the sometimes insular worlds of rap, comics, martial arts movies and sci-fi into a Venn diagram that shows you just how much overlap they share. Hillary Brown

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The Cardboard Kingdom Cover Art by Chad Sell

8. The Cardboard Kingdom
Writers: Chad Sell, Jay Fuller, David DeMeo, Katie Schenkel, Kris Moore, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, Cloud Jacobs & Barbara Perez Marquez
Artist: Chad Sell
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers/ Random House
The Cardboard Kingdom builds on the strong modern foundation of middle-grade comic publishing, telling the stories of a neighborhood of kids as they create adventures and identities for themselves out of cardboard. Created, organized and drawn by Chad Sell, the book features contributions from a slew of different writers, each one telling a story in the same shared cul-de-sac. Sell’s art may be familiar to fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race, as he has created beautiful art of the oversized personalities from that show for years, as well as popular cheeky superhero pin-ups. It comes as little surprise that the cast of characters he helped create is diverse in gender, race, ability and orientation, making a world where as many young readers as possible will feel welcome and represented. His style is big and colorful and cheerful, helping to create a lot of story in a small amount of space—perfect for a kids’ book. Equal parts Hey Arnold! and a slightly younger Nimona, The Cardboard Kingdom is a good opportunity to explore a lot of new comics talent all in one book—and to celebrate the concepts of play and imagination. Caitlin Rosberg [Full disclosure: Paste Comics editor Steve Foxe edited this title while at his former position. He is no longer an employee of Random House.]

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Be Prepared Cover Art by Vera Brosgol

7. Be Prepared
Writer/Artist: Vera Brosgol
Publisher: First Second
One of the things that’s hardest to teach our daughters is that it’s okay not to be happy all the time. You can learn this lesson as an adult over and over again and be annoyed when you’re asked to smile by strangers, but it’s not easy to try to correct your kids into at least putting on a mask of cheerfulness. Vera Brosgol is fighting the good fight in that department, with female characters who aren’t afraid to be mopey, grouchy, envious, class-conscious and disappointed in others. Be Prepared isn’t about that, but, like all her work, it incorporates it, which is what makes it a solid read for eight-to-14-year-olds. Hillary Brown

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All Summer Long Cover Art by Hope Larson

6. All Summer Long
Writer/Artist: Hope Larson
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Over the past 10 years, Hope Larson has shifted a bit from being primarily known as an artist to being better known as a writer, but she’s great at both things, and her newest book All Summer Long lets her show it. It’s more disciplined than her early work in some ways—or maybe it would be fairer to call it less lyrical—but it has the same gently probing interest in adolescence that is present throughout her career. There’s nothing very dreamy in All Summer Long, her latest preteen-friendly release from publisher Farrar, Straus and Giraux, and that makes it a stronger book. For those unfamiliar, All Summer Long finds protagonist Bina discovering music just as her relationship with longtime friend Austin starts to drift in the wake of puberty and the countless changes that come with turning 13. The lessons in it are subtle (but there!), and the characters feel real. Hillary Brown

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The Prince & The Dressmaker Cover Art by Jen Wang

5. The Prince & The Dressmaker
Writer/Artist: Jen Wang
Publisher: First Second
Jen Wang wowed readers with her art for In Real Life with Cory Doctorow, and her 2018 release sees Wang handling both script and art for an identity-bending romance set in old-timey Paris. Prince Sebastian’s parents are seeking a bride for their son, but Sebastian is much more passionate about his secret life as Lady Crystallia, Paris’ favorite fashion icon. Sebastian lives his fabulous second life with the help of his dressmaker best friend Frances, who keeps his secret but longs for greatness beyond her silent success with Lady Crystallia. Wang delicately navigates questions of personal identity and the responsibilities of friendship while spinning a charming love story and bringing to life a gorgeously decadent period in French fashion and culture. The Prince & The Dressmaker is a timeless, teen-appropriate, queer-inclusive fairy tale for the modern age. Steve Foxe

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The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America Cover Art by Jaime Hernandez

4. The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America
Writer/Artist: Jaime Hernandez
Publisher: Toon Graphics
The combination of Jaime Hernandez and Toon Books feels super overdue, but that doesn’t mean it’s not very welcome! Hernandez has drawn fairy tales, fables and nursery rhymes before, in First Second’s multi-artist compilations of those forms, but here he gets a book all to himself in which to put forward three Latin American folktales. It’s hard to say whether color adds anything to Hernandez’s always-formidable line work, but it certainly doesn’t detract from its wonderful clarity. The stories are goofy, occasionally violent (more in what they say than in what they show), humorous and full of interesting characters. The way you expect them to go, if you’ve been raised on the Brothers Grimm, is not necessarily the way they do, which leads to good conversations with your kids. An afterword provides more information about the original stories and how they function in their origin culture. Hillary Brown

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The Nameless City Vol. 3: The Divided Earth Cover Art by Faith Erin Hicks & Jordie Bellaire

3. The Nameless City Vol. 3: The Divided Earth
Writer/Artist: Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: First Second
Consider this an endorsement of the entire Nameless City trilogy written and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks, with colors by Jordie Bellaire, which concluded this year with The Divided Earth. Set, sort of, in 13th-century China, it never feels like a history lesson as it follows the adventures of two friends from very different backgrounds. Who’s the insider and who’s the outsider? It depends on your perspective. That kind of poking the reader to reimagine their preexisting ideas is one area in which Hicks excels. The other, as you’ll see even flipping through the pages, is action. There wasn’t so much of that in Hicks’ earlier Friends with Boys or Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, but there’s tons of running, jumping, climbing and diving here, all rendered with superlative energy and clarity. Hillary Brown

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Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules Cover Art by Tony Cliff

2. Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules
Writer/Artist: Tony Cliff
Publisher: First Second
The Delilah Dirk series is one of the most pure delights in comics. It’s like a magic trick every time, reminiscent of Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series of YA novels but fueled by Tony Cliff’s neat yet action-packed drawings. Cliff can put all the character in the world into the tilt of a nose, and god help you when he gets to draw Dirk leaping onto a horse or being thrown from an explosion. These books are for all ages and interests, including people who love superheroes. Hillary Brown

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Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall Cover Art by Drew Weing

1. Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall
Writer/Artist: Drew Weing
Publisher: First Second
The second volume of Drew Weing’s utterly delightful all-ages Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo series, The Monster Mall, came out at the end of summer, but Halloween is the season in which it shines. Have you been wondering whether Echo City has vampires? It does, but they’re vegans, and they live in the abandoned mall. Weing fleshes out his fantastic world further, while still leaving plenty of room to explore it in the future, with funny, complex, thoughtful drawings and a great sense of pacing in his narrative. Hillary Brown

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