The 25 Best Comic Books of 2018

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The 25 Best Comic Books of 2018

This was a weird year to review. Unlike the past few years, this list came together in fits and starts, not as one massive roll call that needed to be whittled down. That’s not to say that comics were lacking in 2018, but that the playing field felt more even—which is reflected in the breadth of choices below, from self-published wrestling comics to superhero horror stories, pseudo-magazine comics journalism to a lit-AF update of one of the longest running comic strips around. Paste always aims to take a wide view of the medium when compiling our Best-of ranking, which means high-minded “literary” releases sit side by side with Men of Steel and delinquent super-teens. There are bound to be inclusions—and exclusions—that frustrate you, but what’s a year-end list without a little heated discussion? If your favorite didn’t make the cut below, keep an eye peeled for the rest of our lists arriving throughout December. But if you want to know the 25(ish) titles we feel best represent 2018’s sequential-art bounty, keep on scrolling.

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Nancy Art by Olivia Jaimes

Honorable Mention: Nancy
Writer/Artist: Olivia Jaimes
Publisher: GoComics
Olivia Jaimes’ deeply relatable update to Ernie Bushmiller’s iconic little brat did what most things related to women on the internet do: set the hellish bowels of the comment section on friggin’ fire. If you choose to read Nancy on the GoComics website, do yourself a favor and never scroll below Jaimes’ whip-smart, thoroughly modern jokes about technology, art and the long-running rapscallion’s adorably selfish quirks. Jaimes is a pseudonym, but we know that she is the first woman to ever write and draw the strip, and she’s probably wise to keep a distance between her expertly crafted daily comics and the weirdos who suddenly decided to care about the purity of a nearly century-old fictional character. Bizarre pushback aside, Jaimes’ strips are drolly hilarious, utterly self-aware and one of this garbage year’s most consistent treats. We only relegated Nancy to an Honorable Mention because our friends at the AV Club beat us to the punch—and because nothing else on this list would stand a chance against Nancy’s big mood. Steve Foxe

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Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles Cover Art by Ben Caldwell

25. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Mike Feehan
Publisher: DC Comics 
Well, no one expected this from DC Comics’ revival of its Hanna-Barbera properties. The ‘50s/’60s animation juggernaut churned out beloved property after beloved property, but wasn’t particularly known for the transgressive storytelling on display in DC’s Flintstones comic, for instance, which uses the charming, dinosaur-slave-labor-exploiting prehistoric family as a way to discuss class and workers’ rights; or Wacky Raceland, which transports the goofy drivers of Wacky Races to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. At the top of 2018, Flintstones writer Mark Russell returned to the H-B corner of DC with artist Mike Feehan for Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, a mini-series that envisions the pink mountain lion best known for exclaiming, “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” as a closeted gay playwright in New York during the “Red Scare” panic over communism. S.P., as he’s known, hobnobs with the real-world intellectual and cultural elite of the era while maintaining his hidden private life at venues like the historic Stonewall Inn gay bar. Exit Stage Left is frequently tough reading—life wasn’t a walk in the park for queer individuals of the era, feline or not—but it still stands out as one of 2018’s most thought-provoking surprises, especially thanks to Russell’s keen, bone-dry wit. Steve Foxe

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Persephone Cover Art by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

24. Persephone
Writer/Artist: Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky
Publisher: Archaia/ BOOM! Studios
Retellings of well-known myths and legends can be fairly hit or miss; skew too close to the original and the value of a new version is difficult to identify, but step too far and the adaptation feels strangely divorced from the source material. Persephone resolves that conflict by pulling the skeleton of a plot, along with a few familiar names, from the tale of the queen of the underworld, but completely reshaping the rest. It’s a poignant and beautiful story of a young girl trying to discover how her past shapes her identity, and what choices she can make to break away on her own. What sets Persephone apart from other 2018 releases stories with the same themes is Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky’s colorful art and world building. The book feels like something from Studio Ghibli thanks to the ambitious scope of the world that Persephone lives in, and is honest about how difficult things can get without losing an intrinsic kindness to the characters. Locatelli-Kournwsky’s inks are detailed and delicate, each page washed in a soft, almost muted color palette. Persephone is one of the year’s most fully realized stories—and would make a great gift for any book-loving young person or the young at heart, especially those who love tales like Spirited Away and Labyrinth. Caitlin Rosberg

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Prism Stalker Cover Art by Sloane Leong

23. Prism Stalker
Writer/Artist: Sloane Leong
Publisher: Image Comics 
Prism Stalker is easily one of the most beautiful comics of 2018. It’s Sailor Moon meets Octavia Butler—a magical girl story that explores colonialism and the ways it impacts culture, both on a larger scale and individually. Prism Stalker follows Vep, a young girl whose tribe is rescued from a contaminated planet by an intergalactic consortium who rescue (or subdue) sentient peoples they find productive. Vep is recruited to a mysterious academy that promises notoriety and stability to those who excel in its service, but is forced to confront her distant relationship with her culture and what it means for her ability to succeed in the Chorus’ employ. Leong’s art is stunning, the rough linework and vibrant palette breathing emotion into every panel; Prism Stalker is powerfully atmospheric, creating a rich backdrop for Vep’s personal journey to find her place in a world that wants her to forget what little she knows about herself. This is a powerful and engrossing comic that leans heavily into all the weirdness the sci-fi genre has to offer. C.K. Stewart

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Eternal Cover Art by Eric Zawadzki & Dee Cunniffe

22. Eternal
Writer: Ryan K. Lindsay
Artist: Eric Zawadzki
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Eternal is a special book. Written by Beautiful Canvas co-creator Ryan K. Lindsay, drawn and lettered by The Dregs breakthrough artist Eric Zawadzki and colored by Rednecks colorist Dee Cunniffe, Eternal tells the story of an isolated band of shieldmaidens who refuse to cede their land to invading men, and of their leader who will stop at nothing to preserve her way of life—or avenge it. If you think you’ve read this Viking story before, you haven’t—or at least not executed on the level at which Zawadzki and crew operate. Eternal was Black Mask Studios’ first entry into the original graphic novel format, with a page count that allows Lindsay, Zawadzki and Cunniffe to orchestrate a symphony of snowy violence and Viking vengeance that demands its oversized space on your shelf. You’d be forgiven for forgetting Eternal—it came out way back in January—but now’s the time to refresh your familiarity with 2018’s first great comic. Steve Foxe

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Glorious Wrestling Apocalypse Cover Art by Josh Hicks

21. Glorious Wrestling Apocalypse
Writer/Artist: Josh Hicks
Publisher: Self-Published
Not a wrestling fan? Pick this up anyway. Josh Hicks’ Glorious Wrestling Apocalypse will teach you everything you need to know about the wrestling industry in all its unbelievable weirdness. Could the patriarch of a major industry franchise really be running things from a cryogenic chamber? Hicks’ Glorious Wrestling Apocalypse really makes you think. Third in his self-published series about the Glorious Wrestling Alliance, GWA follows the potential implosion of the titular company and what it means for the stars involved. Hicks’ sense of comedic timing and the economy of his six-panel pages are perfectly suited to the weirdness of pro wrestling, and as the stakes grow ever higher and the hijinks get increasingly wacky, Hicks still manages to imbue his unusual roster of characters with a heart you might not expect of a self-published poet named Death Machine. Josh Hicks packs a powerful comedic punch in a 24 page one-shot; you won’t regret picking Glorious Wrestling Apocalypse up on its own, but just know you’ll be itching to start the trilogy from the beginning once you finish it. C.K. Stewart

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Brazen Cover Art by Penelope Bagieu

20. Brazen
Writer/Artist: Penelope Bagieu
Publisher: First Second
Brazen developed out of a series Penelope Bagieu published on a blog with the renowned French newspaper Le Monde, and you can feel her passion for the subject in her drawings, which are as bewitching as they are intelligent. Each story ends with a two-page single-image spread that somehow captures everything important in the preceding three to eight pages of story, most of which are arranged in a classic nine-panel grid. Bagieu’s not afraid of color, but she’s also smart enough to use a limited palette for each story, keyed to its themes. Leymah Gbowee (Liberian social worker and activist, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize), for example, appears in reds and greens, the colors of the pan-African flag; Tove Jansson in the bright, primary colors one associates with the covers of her Moomin books; Katia Krafft, volcanologist, with a fiery lava-like red running through her panels. Bagieu’s line is finer and more scribbly here than in some of her other work; one might even call it a feminine drawing approach. What it allows her to do is sneak in that heavier subject matter because the look of the pages is light and joyful. It’s a celebratory book, to be sure, but one that doesn’t need its subjects to be perfect to elevate them. Hillary Brown

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The Strange Cover Art by Jérôme Ruillier

19. The Strange
Writer/Artist: Jérôme Ruillier
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
It’s a cliché that literature (which includes comics, duh) allows us to connect with people of wildly different backgrounds from our own through fostering empathy, but damn if it isn’t often true. Jérôme Ruillier’s book about undocumented people takes an unusual approach to this task, however, showing things not from the perspective of the “strange” in question but by laying out the reactions of the people around him. Deftly and gently, he fills in the rest of the world, leaving a hole in the shape of the person whom others don’t quite see. With its areas of color filled in all scribber-scrabber and its pencil-work soft and wobbly, it makes room for complexity as it builds a world that resembles our own. Hillary Brown

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Monk! Cover Art by Youssef Daoudi

18. Monk!
Writer/Artist: Youssef Daoudi
Publisher: First Second
The full title of Youssef Daoudi’s biography of the eponymous jazz musician is as ambitious as the book itself; Monk!: Thelonious, Pannonica, and the Friendship Behind a Musical Revolution is thick both physically and in content, which is no surprise given the subject. Though Thelonious Monk is not an unfamiliar name even to people who are not particularly fans of jazz, the specifics of his contribution to the genre and his relationship with his main patron are not well known. Daoudi’s palette for the book is tightly contained, which gives the art and the story a chance to shine. It’s the type of biography that feels both deeply intimate and huge in scope, drawing back far enough to give the reader perspective on what was happening in the rest of the world while Monk and Pannonica grew up, met and became irrevocably and completely entwined with one another. The respect and affection that they felt for each other is clear and leaves room for deep wells of emotion and humor. The book touches on politics and racism, music theory and Monk’s style, mental health and the meaning of the word family. It’s a must-read for people who love jazz, and a wonderful experience even for readers who couldn’t name a single jazz musician off the top of their heads. Caitlin Rosberg

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Ice Cream Man Cover Art by Martin Morazzo & Chris O’Halloran

17. Ice Cream Man
Writer: W. Maxwell Prince
Artist: Martin Morazzo
Publisher: Image Comics 
Ice Cream Man billed itself as a Twilight Zone-inspired horror(ish) anthology out of the gate, and its first two issues, flush with lycanthropic frozen-goods peddlers, killer spiders and the ravages of drug abuse, reinforced that horror. The third issue marked a turning point when it tuned into a different frequency, relying more on melancholy than outright fear. That story’s protagonist is a washed-up one-hit-wonder who now spends his days at the local diner, reminding the waiter of his past glory and wondering if he only ever had that one song in him…until an extra-dimensional crew of musical heroes (styled after some very recognizable faces) shows up to recruit the sad sack into an epic war for all of creation. Each issue since has become more and more confident in its weirdness and resistance to tidy categorization. Writer W. Maxwell Prince pivots from corporate existentialism to crushing regret to Invisibles-esque mind-expanding action with ease, and artist Martin Morazzo displays a range in these issues that demonstrates how close he is to becoming a go-to name for the weird and wonderful. Mainstream monthly comics is bereft of a strong, strange short-story scene; Ice Cream Man is singlehandedly doing its best to fix that. Steve Foxe

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Action Comics Cover Art by Steve Rude

16. Action Comics
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Ryan Sook, Patrick Gleason, Yanick Paquette
Publisher: DC Comics 
Never let it be said that we can’t admit when we’re wrong. Paste wasn’t too impressed by Brian Michael Bendis’ first two Superman shorts in Actions Comics #1000 and DC Nation #0, but it didn’t take long for the newly exclusive DC writer to prove that his take on the Man of Steel wouldn’t be just a palette-swapped version of his Marvel Comics work. Bendis gets Superman, and that goes for both the costumed hero and the bespectacled reporter. Both Superman and Action Comics have had core ongoing plots—Rogol Zaar in the former and organized crime in the latter—but Bendis isn’t really plotting tightly for the trade here, and Action Comics #1004, in particular, stands on its own, especially with the stunning addition of Ryan Sook artwork. During Bendis’ Man of Steel mini-series, Superman’s dad, Lois and Jon Kent all decamped for space, but then Lois came back…and she didn’t tell Superman. What sounds on paper like a cringeworthy crumbling of DC’s premiere couple is actually one of the most genuinely romantic stories you’ll read in a mainstream superhero book all year, with a final page likely to bring a tear to your eye. If you’ve been on the fence about the Bendis Super-era so far, let it be known: this is the S-shield standard-bearer we’ve been waiting for. Steve Foxe

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