Last month over at Forbes
, I wrote about my 10 favorite long-form comics of 2017. Like my much-talked about
fellow critic Nick Gazin at Vice
, I also had trouble picking ten for my list. Unlike Gazin, who somehow concluded that 2017 was not a great year for comics, my problem was sticking to ten. I also needed to be mindful, for the sake of diversity, to include a few dudes among the creators I recognized, because an overwhelming volume of the best work in the medium lately is being done by women.
A few other notes to my list: four of my top 10 were debut works: Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do
, Kristen Radke’s Imagine Wanting Only This
, Tony Medina’s I Am Alfonso Jones
(Medina is an established poet and author, but this was his first graphic novel), and of course Emil Ferris’s monumental My Favorite Thing is Monsters
. Not only was this an incredible set of first works, but I would not be surprised to see at least two of these on a “Best of the Decade” list.
Finally, my list contains the usual caveats. I counted storylines from 2016 that were collected for the first time in 2017 as original works, but did not include any of the numerous, incredible reissues of vintage comics. I can’t read everything, so I’m sure I missed a bunch of great work. Sorry about that, but please check everyone else’s list, because this year they are all different and just about everything on them is worth your attention. I’m also not a big manga fan, and leave evaluation of those works to people who know them better, like Brigid Alverson
So, without further ado, here are my top 10 in alphabetical order by title, followed by a few honorable mentions.
The Best We Could Do.
Written and drawn by Thi Bui, published by Abrams. Thi Bui’s story of her family’s turbulent journey from Vietnam balances the sweep of history and the most intimate personal remembrances. Her voice is urgent and personal, clear but full of emotion as she recounts the story of several generations growing up in wartime, then embracing a new identity as refugees in America. The spare black and white brushwork, bathed in a monochromatic red wash, perfectly accompanies the story and evokes the many moods and settings. The Best We Could Do
, like several other titles on this list, is a debut graphic novel that reads like the mature work of a master. One for the ages.
Black Hammer: Secret Origins.
Written by Jeff Lemire, drawn by Dean Ormston, published by Dark Horse Books. Superhero pastiches have been a cottage industry since the days of Watchmen:
contemporary reimaginings of the archetypes of the genre, overlaid with more complex characterizations and adult problems. Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer
offers a unique spin on the concept, with a team of heroes trapped and growing old on a farm in a mysterious small town. Secret Origins
is the overture to what promises to be a stemwinder fantasy epic, full of mysteries to be unraveled and Easter Eggs for comic buffs. Dean Ormston’s crisp art gives the series an offbeat look. One of the best mainstream-ish offerings of the year.
The Flintstones Volume 2: Bedrock Bedlam
. Written by Mark Russell, drawn by Steve Pugh, published by DC Comics. I know, right? The pitch to update a prehistoric property like The Flintstones
into a morality tale drawn in a non-cartoony, realistic style should never have worked. And yet, in the hands of writer Mark Russell, the 12-issue miniseries became the unlikely critics’ darling of 2016. Now the final arc has been collected into a trade, including Flintstones
#7 (“Another Day on Earth,” where Fred stands by a coworker injured in the quarry), which might be the best single-issue comic published this year.
I Am Alfonso Jones.
Written by Tony Medina, drawn by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings, published by Tu Books. When young Alfonso Jones is gunned down by police in the sort of “misunderstanding” that’s become all too common these days, he lingers in the afterlife with the ghosts of other victims as his family and community deals with the aftermath. This stunningly powerful debut graphic novel from poet, educator and activist Tony Medina, illustrated by the electric team of Robinson and Jennings, is intended for young adults, but is guaranteed to open the eyes of readers of all ages.
Imagine Wanting Only This.
Written and drawn by Kristen Radtke, published by Pantheon. This delicate, multi-layered mediation on memory, loss and the appeal of abandoned spaces is an astonishingly sure-footed first work. If it reads like the product of an MFA program, well, it is. But Radtke’s clear and earnest linework adds a dimension that elevates it above the standard “young person’s memoir” genre, while bringing the narrative strengths of contemporary literary non-fiction to the graphic novel format.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters.
Written and drawn by Emil Ferris, published by Fantagraphics. Strike “of 2017” from this ranking: Monsters
is one of the 10, maybe 5, best graphic novels ever. This dense, captivating work tells the story of monster-obsessed 10-year-old Karen Reyes and her family against the backdrop of late 1960s Chicago, as Karen delves into the mysterious death of her neighbor, Holocaust survivor Anika Silverman. Ferris illustrates this using crosshatched colored ballpoint pens, in linework that looks like embroidered silk on the page. It is in every sense a masterpiece, a once-in-a-generation classic that vindicates all the claims made for the graphic novel format and opens the door to new possibilities. It is also Ferris’s first published work. Volume 2
, which concludes the story, comes out next summer.
Poppies of Iraq
. Written by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim, drawn by Trondheim, published by Drawn and Quarterly. Findakly reminisces in fragments about her childhood in Iraq during the 1960s and 70s, braiding the story of her ordinary middle class family with Iraq’s gradual descent into totalitarianism, war and chaos. Her husband Lewis Trondheim, one of the world’s great cartoonists, renders all this with the spare simplicity of a children’s book. This technique at once humanizes a “foreign” experience that many Western readers might see through a certain cultural lens, and universalizes the possibility of a social order collapsing so gradually that we barely perceive it until we look back.
The Sound of the World by Heart.
Written and drawn by Giacomo Bevilacqua, published by Magnetic Press (Lion Forge). A young man chooses silence to separate himself from the bustling world of New York, but his commitment is tested when he encounters a mysterious woman who keeps turning up in his photographs. Perhaps the European pacing and format of this lyrical slice of life hindered its ability to connect with an American audience, but readers should seek it out. Bevilacqua, best known in the US for drawing licensed comics like G.I. Joe
, matches the depth of his story with luminous watercolor artwork that serves as a love-letter to New York City and its architecture.
Stone Heart: The Nameless City.
Written and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks, published by First Second Books. Stone Heart
is the second volume in Hicks’ planned trilogy The Nameless City
. It’s a rich, captivating fantasy-adventure story intended for young adults but delightful to readers of any age. Hicks’s glorious, not-quite-manga animation-style art, colored by Jordie Bellarie, is ideal for telling the story of her two protagonists, highborn Kaidu and street-smart Rat, as they navigate an action-packed plot in a setting based on Yuan Dynasty China.
Wonder Woman: The Lies, Wonder Woman: Year One
and Wonder Woman: The Truth,
written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Nicola Scott and Liam Sharp., published by DC Comics. It’s encouraging that on her 75th Anniversary, DC’s iconic Amazon Wonder Woman was as well-served in print as she was on the big screen. Writer Greg Rucka breathed new life into Wonder Woman for DC’s Rebirth with well-plotted, action-packed adventures, collected in these three trade editions. Artists Nicola Scott and particularly veteran Liam Sharp rise to the occasion with lush and graceful renditions of Princess Diana and her world that rank among the best work ever done on the character.
: The Wendy Project
(written by Melissa Jane Osborne, drawn by Veronica Fish, published by SuperGenius/Papercutz), Black
(written/created by Kwanza Osajyfeo, co-created/designed by Tim Smith 3, drawn by Jamal Ingle, published by Black Mask), Hellboy in Hell
(written and drawn by Mike Mignola, published by Dark Horse Books), Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: The Smartest There Is
(written Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclaire, drawn by Natascha Bustos, published by Marvel).
Click on the Gallery below for full-size covers of Top 10.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
Rob Salkowitz (@robsalk) is the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.