Our favorite graphic novels, one-shots, and archives of 2015

Our favorite graphic novels, one-shots, and archives of 2015

Two stunning works by twin brothers. A biography of Adolf Hitler by a manga master. A first-person account of the civil rights movement from one of its key figures. A webcomic about race in superhero comics. These are just a few of the exemplary graphic novels, one-shots, and archive editions releases in 2015, and these titles showcase the wide range of storytelling possibilities available when words and pictures come together on the page. Here’s part two of The A.V. Club’s picks for the top comics of the year, focusing on graphic novels, one-shots, and archive editions.

1. Bacchus Vol. 1 by Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf)

Most artists are lucky to get one magnum opus per career—Eddie Campbell has three. Besides collaborating with Alan Moore on From Hell, and having also produced some of the most essential autobiographical comics in the medium’s history (compiled in 2010’s massive Alec: The Years Have Pants), he is also responsible for the sui generis fantasy saga collected here in the first of two projected volumes. Originally conceived as an attempt to do an “American style” comic book filled with various superpowered beings at odds—who even occasionally get into fights!—it never really succeeds in being anything other than a reflection of the eclectic interests and general deadpan style of its creator. That’s no bad thing. Bacchus is the ancient god of wine, women, and song, who we first meet sitting in a jail cell, run down after four thousand years of—well—wine, women, and song. Over the course of over 500 pages we meet his extended family (a gnarled tree cribbed by Campbell from a copy of Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths), a motley crew including Joe Theseus, Hermes, and the grotesque Eyeball Kid. Campbell’s style veers pleasingly from sketchy and conversational to the occasional bursts of baroque illustration when the gods appear to step right off the pages of myth, usually for the purpose of doing something disgusting or petty. But mostly they drink, because that’s something that the gods seem to want to do a lot. [Tim O’Neil]

2. Bright-Eyed At Midnight by Leslie Stein (Fantagraphics)

In the right hands, a “page-a-day” comics project is an enlightening exploration of a cartoonist’s artistic impulses, and Leslie Stein’s daily chronicle of her 2014 is one of the best. Bright-Eyed At Midnight collects the best of her 365 pages—she confesses to cutting some of the early ones where she was still getting the hang of the format—and it’s an immensely charming read that spotlights Stein’s artistic versatility. The majority of the entries are rendered in a stripped-down style that combines minimalist, but highly expressive, linework with delicate painted colors, and there’s a lot of strength in the simplicity of her storytelling. Interspersed between the short comics about daily experiences and past memories are abstract illustrations and collages that show a different side of Stein’s talent, and the moments of experimentation make for some of the most striking pages. A particularly compelling segment involves Stein juxtaposing quotes from The Journal Of Jules Renard with illustrations of her life, ending with a quote about how the present is enough for Renard. That final message speaks to the merit of Stein’s book, which finds artistic value in the everyday moments that define her life. [Oliver Sava]

3. Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt (IDW)

So many people make comics they think are cool. You know the type. They’re the people you can just picture coming up with some hackneyed “X meets Y” logline and patting themselves on the back until they die. They team-up with a “cool” artist—i.e., someone with a more-or-less illustrative style, the kind of aesthetic that would look good on a superhero book but the kind of cartoonist who appears bored doing a superhero book. Mitch Gerads, Garry Brown, Phil Noto, those kinds of guys. Of course, none of those books are actually cool. They’re stiff and overly posed. That coolness is an obvious forgery and it runs like spray-on hair caught in the rain. Corto Maltese, on the other hand… Corto Maltese is the kind of book that starts a dozen trends before it’s finished its morning cup of coffee. The titular sailor moves with a casual elegance, constructed out of thick, inky brush strokes and sultry, curvilinear pen marks. Maltese kicks his feet up on his enemies’ desks and his cigarette smoke becomes an alluring extension of himself. Forgive the cis-het analogy, but he truly is the guy all the women want and all the men want to be with. It doesn’t matter who this character is; it doesn’t matter what challenges he faces. Now, if you read Corto Maltese, you’ll find that those things prove Maltese is cooler than you. But if you read Corto Maltese, you’ll also find that he doesn’t need to prove anything. [Shea Hennum]

4. Deep Dark Fears by Fran Krause (Ten Speed)

At the surface, the prospect of an entire book of reader-submitted fears in comic form doesn’t necessarily sound like a promising graphic novel, but Fran Krause’s simple art style and the consistency of the four panel format serve to display the universality of fear. The colors are often anemic and a little sickly, watercolor washes that underscore the tone and content of each secret terror someone has shared with Krause. Many of the entries are ridiculous and many are existential, but it’s both comforting and freeing to realize that you have the same secret shame as at least one stranger out there in the world. Ultimately, that’s the core appeal of Deep Dark Fears: discovering that you’re not the only one afraid an elevator will chop you in half or you’ll be revealed to be an improbable imposter. By giving nearly every comic an identical format, a similar lyrical rhythm, and only printing the source for each fear at the very end of the book, Krause has made it easy for the reader to feel even just a moment of sympathetic anxiety. The book includes comics that are featured on Krause’s blog as well as 50 new ones never seen before; Krause is adding content online all the time and will likely soon have enough for a second volume. [Caitlin Rosberg]

5. Displacement by Lucy Knisley (Fantagraphics)

Lucy Knisley is probably best known for her honest and sometimes raw autobiographical graphic novels, though she’s contributed to other people’s intellectual property in the past. (Full disclosure: Knisley has done some illustration work for The A.V. Club.) Books like Relish and An Age Of License celebrate her love for food and travel and family, but Displacement is different. Despite her concerns for their failing health, Knisley ends up taking her aging grandparents on a cruise by herself and documents their adventures in comics format. Her style is simple but not spartan, rich with detail and emotion. Unlike An Age Of License, which is also a travelogue, Displacement has warm watercolors adding depth to the pages, which helps to keep things feeling light. It is not an easy read sometimes, the weight of Knisley’s concern and frustration as her tries to keep her grandparents safe and happy without any assistance wearing quickly. This is the struggle of caregivers all over the world, walking the fine line to balance their own needs and those of their charges, and Knisley gracefully investigates her own emotions and the aching sense of helplessness in the face of time and age. She does it without robbing herself or her grandparents of dignity or ignoring the depth of their love for one another. It’s a must read for anyone with aging family members, perfectly capturing the sense of loneliness and helping to lessen it at the same time. [Caitlin Rosberg]

6. Dressing by Michael DeForge (Koyama)

Michael DeForge is one of the industry’s most exciting cartoonists, largely because he puts out a huge amount of work that consistently pushes boundaries. In addition to working as a character and props designer on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, DeForge had four new comics releases from Drawn & Quarterly, Youth In Decline, and Koyama Press this year, each one distinct and compelling in its own way. Or in many ways in the case of Dressing, which collects 14 different short comics in a petite hardcover. DeForge experiments with color, shape, layout, and narrative across these pieces, spotlighting his multi-faceted talent and mercurial artistic perspective. He’s not an artist that puts himself in a box, and he makes dramatic stylistic leaps between comics. In just the first three shorts, DeForge jumps from a coming-of-age story combining grounded text with abstract imagery to form a bold sci-fi tale on Mars to a surreal strip about a Silicon Valley employee and a mermaid, and while the tone and style changes with each piece, the confidence of DeForge’s storytelling never wavers. [Oliver Sava]

7. Fante Bukowski by Noah Van Sciver (Fantagraphics)

2015 was Noah Van Sciver’s year: Between the small press releases My Hot Date! And Blammo 8.5, and the one-two punch of big-time Fantagraphics books Saint Cole and Fante Bukowski, Van Sciver’s tireless work ethic and ever-refining comedic chops made him the cartoonist to beat. In a year of highlights, however, Fante Bukowski is the volume to recommend to anyone still in the dark. Fante is a terrible writer with far more ego than talent who changed his name in tribute to his literary hero Charles. When he’s not spending his time drinking at the world’s saddest bar he’s crashing the most exclusive literary soirees in hopes of finding someone, anyone, to publish his drivel. It’s a triumph to get a poem published in a journal with a print run of two dozen. (All his poetry is about how much he hates his dad.) When he actually does get around to writing a book, it’s a not-so-thinly-veiled photocopy of The Unbearable Lightness Of Being. We’ve all known someone like poor Fante: not a lick of talent and the profoundly repellent personality to back it up. Fante Bukowski succeeds partly because it’s relatively brief. More time spent in this guy’s company would be a tragedy. But Van Sciver knows how to give the reader just enough to enjoy the sensation of holding poor Fante in pleasant contempt. [Tim O’Neil]

8. House Of Hem by Fred Hembeck (Marvel)

For fanboys of a certain age, few cartoonists are more likely to bring a smile than Fred Hembeck. A fixture of fandom for almost 40 years, Hembeck made a name for himself drawing adorable caricatures of your favorite heroes delivering old Jack Benny routines. Amazingly, he figured out how to get paid to do this, and House Of Hem (the puns only get worse from here on, folks) collects the essential highlights from his sporadic career as Marvel’s in-house jester. Hembeck was the mastermind behind the Fantastic Four Roast, produced in 1981 to honor the 20th anniversary of Marvel’s first family. It features rarely seen work by Marvel’s best creators at the time, including folks like Frank Miller, John Byrne, and Michael Golden. It’s also got Thor making puns and the Hulk trying his hand at stand-up comedy. Eight years later Fred Hembeck destroyed the Marvel Universe in Fred Hembeck Destroys The Marvel Universe, wherein Death decides it’s time to kill all the superheroes. It’s one of the stranger books Marvel has ever published, basically a comedic snuff film with Ant-Man taking a nap in the microwave, Disco Thanos, and the ghost of Uncle Ben swooping in to save the day (it’s all set-up for a rice joke, don’t worry). The rest of the volume is padded out with a few strips from Hembeck’s tenure producing strips for Marvel Age, and a pair of more recent stories. Even in an age where everything gets reprinted it was still a surprise to see these stories back on the shelf, and a very nice one at that. [Tim O’Neil]

9. The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ And Amal by E.K. Weaver (Iron Spike)

Road trips are the perfect venue for storytelling. Physical proximity and emotional intimacy are forced by the vehicle, and the surrounding landscape further establishes personalities and underscores or foreshadows the story. The very best road trip stories are travelogues both literally and emotionally, rather than a journey from wrong to right, and E.K. Weaver’s The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ And Amal hits every note required for a really successful foray into the genre. Published online for the better part of the last decade, the adventures are collected in an omnibus printed this year, displaying the love and effort put into two fascinating characters. Thought was put into everything from the route the boys would take to the music they’d listen to on the road, and it results in a comic that feels very authentic. TJ and Amal are both fully formed, and because they are in their 20s, it’s no surprise that they’re still trying to figure out who they are. Their problems are human and relatable, the feelings they have for one another are authentic and flawed at once. Weaver’s art, almost exclusively in grayscale, is honest without being unsympathetic, and the men are shown for who they are rather than who they could or will be. It makes for a handsome, beautifully illustrated jaunt across the country that doesn’t so much end as it does fade into possibilities, allowing the reader to wonder and wish for what they want. [Caitlin Rosberg]

10. Lighten Up by Ronald Wimberly (Web)

Ronald Wimberly is, simply put, one of the strongest cartoonists working today. All of his work is brimming with an intellectual curiosity that makes most other comics appear hermetic. In “Lighten Up,” a short work for the now-defunct Nib, he interrogates the racial politics of Marvel comics, not as a reader but as someone who is being asked to put those politics into praxis. While it read as abrasive to Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso, for the rest of us, it read as incisive and important. Wimberly, the author of Prince Of Cats, asks vital questions, and he poses them not as accusations but as interrogations. He’s not arrogant; he’s curious, and he combined this curiosity with a powerful visualization. His paneling is simple; he doesn’t seek to impress with formalist gymnastics—he just wants to get his point across. He then fills those neatly organized and cleanly arranged panels with simple, direct images. One panel is taken up by a silhouette of himself and the Pantone color number that matches his skin tone. Within the context of the work, the idea is simple and elegantly stated. Smart, dense, engaging, beautiful, “Lighten Up” was just the latest in career of work that is just better than most other cartoonists’. [Shea Hennum]

11. March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Top Shelf)

When it comes to the civil rights movement, few people can offer as much first-person insight as Congressman John Lewis, who, as a young man in the ’60s, served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and played a key role in organizing 1963’s March On Washington. Lewis’ graphic memoir trilogy, March, explores his early days with the help of co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, who translate Lewis’ story into a captivating work of activist art. At nearly double the length of the first installment, March: Book Two goes deeper and hits harder, making for a visceral read that depicts Lewis and his comrades’ experience in evocative, oftentimes painful detail. The story of Book Two benefits by covering a shorter, but more turbulent period of time than the first, chronicling a three-year period that includes major events like the Freedom Rides, Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” and the March On Washington. The script has higher stakes and stronger emotions, all captured with expressive black-and-white artwork that intensifies the harrowing, but ultimately inspiring narrative. [Oliver Sava]

12. The Nib’s Eat More Comics by various (self-published)

There are some things that are easier to understand in images than they are in text. There are some messages that hit harder in images than in text. And there are some jokes that only work with images to show off the visual gag. The Nib has been publishing comics with a startling breadth and depth of style and subject for the last two years, everything from political cartoons to comic diaries to info-heavy pieces meant to explain the stock market or the tech industry’s gentrifying influence on the Bay Area. Editor Matt Bors has assembled a diverse and talented team of creators that are doing really great work, and this year they successfully funded a self-published print edition of some of their best comics using Kickstarter. Included in this is the likes of Ronald Wimberly’s Lighten Up, one of the best comics of 2015 in its own right, as well as a slew of other comics with a range of topics and seriousness. Because of the sheer number of artists involved, the style of each comic ranges from simple and cartoonish to heavy with detail, and the length of each piece varies greatly. It’s a coffee table book of comics that’ll push your brain and ask uncomfortable questions with an unrelenting sense of both purpose and humor. The Nib shows it’s possible to educate and laugh at the same time. [Caitlin Rosberg]

13. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (Harper)

Noelle Stevenson’s had a big year, between Lumberjanes and one-shots at both Marvel and DC. At the heart of all of that activity has been her webcomic-turned-graphic novel Nimona, one of the first major projects she’s undertaken and certainly the one she can credit with her now-busy schedule. Nimona is very similar to a lot of young adult fiction in that it neatly transcends genres with a character-driven story full of challenges and surprises. Science is dominant in a world that boasts plate armor and medieval clothes, government organizations feel realistically dystopian and absurdly mustache-twirling at the same time. The main character is likeable in her irreverence and sense of humor but relatable in her fear and flaws. Stevenson rejects the good versus evil binary that some YA fiction relies on, instead creating a world and characters that are full of nuance and complicated layers of motivation that sometimes conflict with one another. While Nimona may be the focus of this story, the world she lives becomes increasingly interesting and compelling as the book goes on, presenting the reader with the sense that there are many more stories to be found there. Like the very best YA, Nimona may be an ideal fit for young people, and in this case particularly young women, but it’s a compelling enough read for adults, too. [Caitlin Rosberg]

14. One-Punch Man by ONE and Yusuke Murata (Viz)

ONE, the writer of One-Punch Man, has the wonderful knack of simultaneously demonstrating his sincere love for a thing and sharply mocking that thing. Equally indebted to the wonderfully dynamic and powerful cartooning of Yusuke Murata, One-Punch Man is the story of Saitama, a superhero who has become so powerful that he can defeat opponents with one punch. His cyborg compatriot Genos hangs around as device to incorporate the protracted fight sequences that Murata peerlessly draws, but Saitama essentially serves as a joke machine. The butt of these jokes are superhero and shōnen manga tropes—cliché characters, tired story points—and ONE is an effective humorist. Even if the tropes being made fun are unfamiliar, the jokes still land (thanks, in no small part, to Murata’s ability to shift from pseudo-real illustration to expressive cartooning and back in between panels). That parodic tone is only half of the series, though; the other half is totally sincere, and you can feel that ONE and Murata know these tropes so well because the gleefully devour superhero comics. This blend of nostalgia and sincerity (combined with, and this cannot be overstated, perfectly intense action cartooning by Murata) sets One-Punch Man apart—not just in manga, but it’s distinct with American superheroics as well. It’s the perfect embodiment of its genre: funny, fun, aggressive, and with an actual point of view. [Shea Hennum]

15. Poetry Is Useless by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly)

The cartoonist’s sketchbook is a genre of its own, and Anders Nilsen’s Poetry Is Useless makes a fine addition to this canon. The variety of different pieces on display reflects the variety of Nilsen’s interests—from mixed-media found photograph collages to figure drawing and desktop doodles, the contents reflect the work process of a capacious talent. There are even comic strips, with round-headed silhouette people debating philosophy at random intervals throughout. Being a sketchbook, it’s impossible to talk about it in terms of narrative or even theme. Anyone familiar with Nilsen’s diverse body of work should find something familiar here, be it the existential nature stories of Big Questions or the desolate sadness of Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow—there are warm-ups and experiments in every mode here. But as with any other sketchbook, the joy comes in the little details: a quick sketch of Norah Jones’ haircut, for instance, or a quick ballpoint pen sketch of a cat that suggest a speed that belies his typical precision. Nilsen is prodigiously skilled and anyone who enjoys looking over the shoulder of a working artist should be able to while away an hour or two leafing through these pages. [Tim O’Neil]

16. Private Eye: Deluxe Edition by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente (Image)

Brian K. Vaughan has had no shortage of innovative ideas turn into successful comics, so it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that he thought the grand experiment of Panel Syndicate was likely to fail. Along with artist Marcos Martin and colorist Muntsa Vicente, Vaughan began offering pay-what-you-like issues of Private Eye online, ending with issue 10 in March. Set in a not too distant future, the people of Private Eye has become obsessed with privacy after “The Flood,” when data stored in the cloud was shared and lives were ruined. After a generation or two without the internet, the world finds itself in a sort of inverse of Transmetropolitan: people use masks and holograms not to become more themselves, as in Warren Ellis’ always-connected future, but instead to hide their true identities in a world where nothing is networked at all. Vaughan is a master not only of the long game, but also of throw-away surprises, revealing aspects of characters or history at unexpected moments that may not contribute directly to the plot but serve to flesh out the sharp, expressive, candy-colored world that Martin and Vicente have created. Private Eye serves not only as commentary on the world we live in now, but also the opposite extreme that the pendulum could swing to. All 10 issues and a special making of book are still available on the Panel Syndicate site, and Image is printing a deluxe edition available this month. [Caitlin Rosberg]

17. Russian Olive To Red King by Kathryn Immonen and Stuart Immonen (AdHouse)

A heartwrenching account of loss and survival, this graphic novel by the husband-and-wife team of writer Kathryn Immonen and artist Stuart Immonen is part romance, part ghost story, and part psychological study, exploring how a tragedy impacts the lives of romantic partners Olive and Red. When a plane crash leaves Olive stranded in the wintry wilderness, Red is sent into an emotional tailspin as he struggles to cope with the potential loss of his lover, and Kathryn Immonen approaches both threads with an emotional nuance that heightens the intimacy of the narrative. Olive and Red’s respective experiences are depicted with considerably different approaches by Stuart Immonen, who gives Red’s story a claustrophobic quality that is a stark contrast to the expansive natural imagery of Olive’s trek through terrain that is beautiful, but imposing in its grandeur. Russian Olive To Red King makes a dramatic format change in the last third as the traditional comic structure is replaced by an extended text piece accompanied by a series of photographs, and its an extremely effective shift that draws the reader into Red’s headspace and puts the preceding events in a new context. The Immonens have a clear love for the medium and the relationship between words and images, and that passion comes through in every page of their poignant graphic novel. [Oliver Sava]

18. The Sandman: Overture Deluxe Edition by Neil Gaiman, J.H. Williams III, and Dave Stewart (Vertigo)

There was no reason at all why Overture had to be any good, and every reason to think it wouldn’t be. Every time a veteran creator returns to their most famous work, there’s not merely a good chance but a high probability that they’ll find diminished returns. With J.H. Williams III on board for art, it was a sure bet that the book would at least look good, but there was no guarantee Neil Gaiman could still bring the heat after having been away from comics for so long. Surprise, surprise: Far from being merely another nostalgia exercise, Gaiman came back from the wilderness with an actual story to tell. Gaiman’s greatest strength as a writer was always his ability to write for his artists, and he knows how to use Williams. The result is a kaleidoscopic cosmic travelogue, an epic of universe-spanning proportions crafted, at least in part, as an effusive tribute to Jack Kirby. Story-wise, Overture succeeded in large part because it doesn’t feel tacked-on or superfluous: this is a very important story that fills in some prominent gaps from the original run of Sandman. But more than just addressing a few nagging details, Overture asks a few questions we didn’t even know to ask, including providing the heretofore-unguessed tragic origin of the original series’ most significant antagonism. The absolute worst part of Overture is that it makes the Sandman feel like a new concept all over again, filled with tons of new ideas for potential stories and future conflicts. It’d be a shame if those stories never got told. [Tim O’Neil]

19. Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler by Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly)

As this list was being prepared, news broke that Shigeru Mizuki had died at the age of 93. The universally beloved mangaka has been lauded across the world for his contributions to cartooning, a long list of achievements that includes not just the adventures of his most famous character—the one-eyed ghost boy Kitaro—but a substantial body of more serious work. On the heels of their successful translation of Mizuki’s four-part Showa, an autobiographical chronicle of life in 20th-century Japan, comes his single-volume examination of the life of Adolf Hitler. It’s tempting to see Hitler (translated by Zack Davisson) as a companion of sorts to Showa, even if Hitler (released in 1971) preceded the later works by almost two decades. Still, it’s not hard to see the same interests at work here, the same conscientious curiosity animated by a desire—having experienced some of the worst fighting of the war—to peel back the skin covering the origins of the deadliest conflict in human history. As with the later work, Mizuki alternates between a deceptively simple cartoon style and a highly composed illustrative mode for rendering historical detail. With just a few well-placed lines he manages to trace Hitler’s evolution, from the superhumanly self-assured orator of the early 1930s to the pale weeping husk of a man who died in 1945, his physical decay a reflection of the damage wrought on his county and the world by years of total war. Just one more masterpiece from a life spent producing some of the world’s greatest comics. [Tim O’Neil]

20. Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto (Viz)

There are few comics that will break your heart like Sunny. Taiyo Matsumoto’s greatest gift as a writer and as a cartoonist is to construct something simultaneously universal and local, and in Sunny he employs that gift to totally devastate his reader. The series, which concerns a number of children living in a group home, is populated by people and scenarios that we can all see ourselves in. The quotidian is given center stage, and Matsumoto depicts small, simple activities that everyone has experienced. The sound of cicadas in the heat of summer; the moment when you realize your parent is a person with a life outside of yours. Each beat is imbued with a tender reality that is so still and quiet that it borders on the unnerving, and when those children cry, you cry. When they experience loss and heartbreak, you feel that in a direct and visceral way. How Matsumoto is able to affect this may seem perplexing, given his lumpy, messy aesthetic. But that aesthetic feels raw, and the narrative is given more power than it probably would with a more illustrative look. His ink washes and watercolors feel direct and personal, whereas a digital coloring job (or even a precise one) would feel too artificial, and he revels in the handmade quality of drawing comics by eyeballing the lines. There’s just so much of Matsumoto in the work, and there’s no one quite like Matsumoto. [Shea Hennum]

21. Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton (Drawn & Quarterly)

For anyone who has read and enjoyed Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant, Step Aside, Pops! will feel like a comforting homecoming. Beaton is the person you desperately want to have on your team for trivia night: she not only knows way more about history than you do, but has such a great sense of humor that she’ll keep you laughing between questions. History often has a reputation for being dry and boring, but Beaton uses visual gags and an almost lyrical rhythm to the words to prove that once you start including gossip and actual honesty the subject becomes fascinating and hilarious. Her art style is deceptively simple, in black and white with sketchy lines, but where her skill really shines is with expressions and posture. Historical figures you thought were beyond dull prove to be the opposite; advertisements from decades ago show that people have always been absolutely ridiculous. Walking the fine line between funny and informative is certainly not easy, but Beaton’s got a talent for it, including a bunch of notes about where to find more information and great resources for other historical art and ads for interested readers. History may be written by the winners, but if there was a way to get Beaton to contribute to textbooks, people may actually enjoying reading about it. [Caitlin Rosberg]

22. The Divine by Boaz Lavie, Asaf Hanuka, and Tomer Hanuka (First Second)

Inspired by Apichart Weerawong’s haunting photograph of twin child-soldiers Johnny and Luther Htoo, this magical realist graphic novel follows an ex-military explosives expert who flees his lackluster civilian life by taking a military contract in the Southeast Asian country of Quanlom. Once there, he finds himself on a nightmarish journey through a land ripped apart by war, and discovers the supernatural forces that have allowed two young twins to lead a fight against a technologically advanced militarized opponent. The story by Boaz Lavie is an unflinching examination of the physical, emotional, and cultural destruction caused by warfare, rendered with breathtaking artwork by twin brothers Asaf and Tomer Hanuka. The Hanukas have an impeccable talent for dramatic composition, nuanced characterization, and lush, evocative coloring, pulling the reader deep into a foreign world full of beauty and mystery. The Divine is one of the most striking comics of the year, and the powerful imagery created by the Hanukas elevates the story to make it a particularly memorable read. [Oliver Sava]

23. Trash Market by Tadao Tsuge (Drawn & Quarterly)

Tadao Tsuge led a lascivious and licentious life. The cartoonist, whose semi-autobiographical stories are collected in Trash Market, was a stalwart of the alt-manga magazine Garo, and that idiom is apparent in his work. He prefers a detached journalistic perspective, and he likes his subjects really in the mud—poor, troubled, perverse. The farther from making ends meet, the better. This is graphic vérité: fiction comics couched in the language of fact, populated by people who may have been real. Aside from thematic similarities, the only trace of the stories’ authorship is Tsuge’s intrusive, sometimes-crude aesthetic. The way he draws faces and bodies, and the way he relates these bodies can not help but shape an understanding of the work, but he doesn’t play formalist games—no elaborate paneling or ornate composition. He doesn’t drive the reader to obviously intended affect. Tsuge relates the story of the post-war Japanese lower-classes, and it’s never clear that these stories are anything more than narrative qua narrative. This is not a “teachable moment.” Tsuge just wants you to see. He tries to leave the work as unmediated as a comic book can be (a futile effort, no doubt), because he’s not interested in art so much as he in reportage. This is obvious, though his authorial fingerprints smudge the work. Tsuge was striving for something closer to the evening news than Jimmy Corrigan, and while he did fail, that failure is more weird and ambitious than interesting than almost anything else that came out this year. [Shea Hennum]

24. Two Brothers by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)

For the follow-up to their award-winning 2010 miniseries Daytripper, Brazilian twin cartoonists Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá picked a project that couldn’t be more perfectly suited for them. Two Brothers is a graphic adaptation of The Brothers, the novel by Brazilian writer Milton Hatoum about the animosity between Brazilian twin brothers and the ways that impacts the rest of their family. The creative chemistry of the cartoonists is as strong as the rivalry between the brothers at the heart of Hatoum’s story, and their sincere reverence for the source material enriches the narrative as it’s translated to a visual medium. The plot revolves around the contrast between brothers Omar and Yaqub, and Bá’s black-and-white artwork accentuates that theme by adjusting the intensity of the inks to increase and decrease tension throughout the book. The script retains Hatoum’s rich language, but Moon and Bá know when to let the visuals carry the storytelling, particularly when it comes to establishing the vivid setting of Manaus. The emphasis on environment, combined with Bá’s highly animated character work, draws the reader deep into this world, gorgeously reinterpreting Hatoum’s novel while maintaining the spirit of his work. [Oliver Sava]

25. Virgil by Steve Orlando, J.D. Faith, and Chris Beckett (Image)

Publicly outed as gay and on the hunt for the people who kidnapped his boyfriend, Jamaican police officer Virgil is at the center of writer Steve Orlando and artist J.D. Faith’s “queersploitation revenge tale” graphic novel, a socially conscious, hyperviolent attack on the oppressive homophobia of Jamaica. Like Orlando’s Midnighter, Virgil features a queer hero that is extremely proficient at kicking ass, but this graphic novel is much more grounded than the DC Comics ongoing, reinforcing the tragic reality of what Jamaica’s LGBTQ community has to face. Faith’s heavy inks add weight to the characters and environment, and the bluntness of his action staging showcases Virgil’s strength but doesn’t glorify his violent action. The fights in this book are painful, and they take a toll on Virgil’s emotions as his hands get bloodier and bloodier. Chris Beckett’s coloring brings a lot of style to the visuals with a broad palette that brings out the grittiness of the setting, but also embraces bright neons and gentle pastels to mark the tonal shifts of Orlando’s script. The mix of Faith’s grisly fight choreography and Beckett’s high-contrast colors intensifies the action, but the art team is equally skilled at capturing the emotional heft of the tender moments that give the story its heart. [Oliver Sava]