[This post originally appeared on Hazel & Wren, and it might still be viewable there with the accompanying images.]
It was a really good year for comics! Or it was at least a really good year for me getting to read good comics. In looking back at what came out and looking forward to what I’ll inevitably reread, I was surprised at how many books were funded via Kickstarter, often having been serialized online for free beforehand. I don’t know if anyone still has negative preconceptions about crowdfunded books, but this year’s crop is, for the most part, polished, sturdy, and comprehensive. They’re indiscernible from books published through traditional means.
Speaking of traditional publishers, I bought fewer monthly pamphlets this year than I have in the past. I have too much stuff, and I’ve been actively culling my bookshelves and boxes down to just the books I know I’ll read again someday. I realized I was buying a lot of monthly books on the promise of what might eventually happen in them; they rarely turned out as good as I hoped, though, and then I had a bunch of mediocre books sitting around my house. No more!
So with those trends in mind, here are books I think I’ll read over and over. (Many of them can be read for free online; click the titles to read them!)
Reprints & Collections
SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki (Drawn & Quarterly, 2015)
SuperMutant Magic Academy is what happens when teens with powers don’t fight other teens or adult authorities. These fights serve as overblown and violent metaphors for growing up, and they usually eclipse the personal, internal struggles that fill our school years.
Using mostly one- and two-page scenes, Tamaki zeroes in on that emotional turmoil: awkward anxiety, deadpan disgust, pipe dream romance, and more. But it’s real funny too.
Mighty Star and the Castle of the Cancatervater by A. Degen(Koyama Press, 2015)
A penny dreadful superhero fights cloudy allegories amidst somnambulist landscapes in a hectic and wordless comic. Degen’s art captures a sense of herky-jerky movement, as if the whole thing is an automated toy in a shadow box with someone turning a crank to make it wiggle.
O Human Star by Julie Delliquanti (self-published, 2015)
Famed roboticist Alastair Sterling wakes up to a world that isn’t what he remembered. He learns that he died but had his consciousness uploaded into a perfect robotic replica. In trying to figure out who brought him back and why, he moves in with his old lover/business partner, Brendan, and Brendan’s robot daughter, modeled on Alastair before she decided she was a girl.
Delliquanti gracefully balances sci-fi concepts with intersections of gender and sexuality. Come for the high concepts; stay for the well-developed characters and masterful pacing.
Eat More Comics by Matt Bors (editor) (The Nib, 2015)
Chances are you’ve already seen comics from The Nib. They’ve made the rounds on social media because they’re the best editorial comics being made. This collection is a very nice package, but it isn’t without its problems. There are a number of typos, such as misspelling some of the contributors’ names. Also, a tier of panels is printed twice. If these things bug you, wait for a corrected printing. In the end, though, it’s worth having these comics around despite the small flaws. Check out some of my favorites:
– “The Highgate County Fancy Chicken Show” by Eleanor Davis
– “Lighten Up” by Ronald Wimberly
– “Not All Men” by Matt Lubchansky
The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal by EK Weaver (Iron Circus Comics, 2015)
Weaver’s road trip/romance comic began serialization in 2009, and it finally gets the book treatment it deserves. Inside a handsome cover, TJ and Amal get high, get in fights, get busy, and eventually get where they were trying to go. Weaver excels at trapping her characters in well-defined spaces like car interiors and hotel rooms; she contrasts these tight quarters with sublime American vistas. This physical squeeze-and-release mirrors the ebbs and flows of the titular characters’ growing relationship.
Orion Omnibus by Walt Simonson & friends (DC Comics, 2015)
Originally serialized from 2000 to 2002, Orion finally gets the collection it deserves. Almost. Sort of. The series is a tightly plotted sci-fi superhero book that draws inspiration from Greek tragedy: success leads to hubris leads to a fall and, because it’s a modern superhero book, comes back to redemption. Simonson is an expert at seeding multiple plots and cleanly tying them all together, and Orion is him at the top of his abilities.
The original issues had a lead feature and a back-up feature that spoke to the main feature in some way: sometimes it revealed past events, sometimes it followed a character that split from the main narrative, and sometimes it was world-building. Unfortunately, the omnibus collection puts all the back-up stories in one chunk at the end of the book, leaving a number of plot points unexplained if one reads the book straight through. Boo.
Well Come by Erik Nebel (Yeti Press Comics, 2015)
Nebel’s three-panel comics are boldly colored meditations on biology, relationships, metamorphosis, and cause and effect. Some feel anxious, as though the changes are unexpected and unwanted. Others are calming, with strange beings accepting a strange world. Nebel’s book gives him a chance to showcase longer work, stringing strips together until it feels like wandering through a dreamlike retro sidescrolling game.
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen, & more (Boom! Studios, 2015)
A girls’ camp overrun by myths and monsters! Deep secrets of camp bureaucracy! The power of friendship! Also romance, good jokes, and neat merit badges. Look at the fun they’re having:
Captain America & the Mighty Avengers by Al Ewing, Luke Ross, Iban Coello, & more (Marvel Comics, 2015)
This was almost a real good comic! It had a multi-ethnic, multi-generational team of cool people with cool powers that sometimes argued but then teamed up to fight bad guys that represented bad things in the real world, like racism and corporations. It had snappy dialogue and clear storytelling. It had a grumpy wizard. It referenced Nextwave: Agents of HATE, the greatest superhero comic ever (or at least the vinegar reduction of superhero comics).
Unfortunately, Ewing and company had to tie their book into the events playing out in the rest of the Marvel universe, shoehorning in random plots that displaced the fun character work of Mighty Avengers. Then it got canceled because the Marvel Universe got destroyed (I think).
Fütchi Perf by Kevin Czap (Czap Books, 2015)
Czap shows us a comic mixtape about a small-scale utopia where every party is as fun as you hoped it would be. It’s beautifully printed in sherbet tones of blue, pink, and purple. Czap’s lines undulate like friendly sound waves. It’s fearlessly optimistic, like a love letter from the future.
Grease Bats by Anna Bongiovanni (Autostraddle, 2015)
In a world where Archie Comics gets an avalanche of good press for acknowledging that gay men exist, Anna Bongiovanni is doing the real work of portraying queer besties and their daily struggles. The emotional range of the strips is great, from small, everyday worries (combating summer funk by perfecting your chair dance routine) to the wider concerns of queer culture (like the straight gentrification of queer events). There’s also the ever-present concern over romance, crushing, and Tinder-swiping.
Bongiovanni’s scratchy line is perfect for protagonists Scout and Andy’s adventures, from stoopin in the sunshine to drunkenly stumbling through a club, and I love the recent dips into spot coloring to highlight lovingly embroidered butts and last-minute jelly bean costumes.
Big Pussy by Gina Wynbrandt (2dcloud, 2015)
When it’s time to become an adult, you must participate in the time-honored tradition of trying to get some cats to give you superpowers but then just hanging out with them, drinking and fornicating, until you end up on a daytime talk show. Big Pussy is the weirdest, funniest comic I read all year. The scariest thing that happened all year was that I thought I lost my copy, so I bought a second one, but then I found my first one, so I left it out on my coffee table. My roommates and their boyfriends read it and couldn’t comfortably discuss it. Wynbrandt’s photo-referenced art approaches an uncanny valley, feeling like a kid kept posed for a photograph for too long; and I mean that in the best way, since it perfectly fits the awkward demands of bully mentor cats with human meme faces.
Well, everyone, that’s 12 comics for you to buy and parcel out to yourself over the next year.