Here are ten graphic novels / comic collections, etc that I really enjoyed reading this year. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever come across. If you scroll below this post, you can read more in depth reviews about a few of them. Those books are marked with an *.
*Art Spiegelman Conversations (2007)
Great interviews of the author and his wife, history of comics. Led to finding a lot more comics based on his recommendations.
*Threads from the Refugee Crisis (2017) Kate Evans
Important and beautifully rendered book. See full review below.
*Little Nemo Vol 1 (1905-1907) and Vol 2 (1907-1908)
Friggin’ classic. Large pages with dense text and illustrations. Read a few each night before going to sleep, or when you can’t sleep.
* R.F. Outcault’s the Yellow Kid: A Centennial Celebration of the Kid Who Started the Comics (1995)
This funny lookin’ kid started it all. See full review. So much going on, on each page. This is where the term yellow journalism comes from. Interesting history.
Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer. Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life Alberto Ledesma (2017)
Great. Comics, essays, and drawings. Helps people understand what it is like to be an immigrant to the United States.
Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me Lovina Mapa. (2017)
I love this book. It starts with the author’s memories of growing up in the Philippines in the 1980’s. In 1986 there was a People Power revolution. It was a bloodless revolution in the Philippines, that overthrew an autocratic government. Which preceded, but has similarity to the colour revolutions in post-soviet Europe in the 2000’s (Putin’s worst nightmare.) The author, who moves to America and has a family of her own, visits the Philippines for her father’s funeral. The book deals with themes of religion, pop culture, adolescence, social class and politics. It’s also a beautifully drawn book.
*Barefoot Gen Keiji Nakazawa. (First serialized in Japan 1972-3. New translation 2004)
Timeless classic set in post-WW2 Japan. A book to end all wars. Masterpiece. See full review.
What Am I Doing Here? Abner Dean (1947)
Fantastic. You could call them existential cartoons. A simple caption below a one-panel illustration. People doing ridiculous things, in ridiculous situations. Easy to identify with, many brilliant ideas that critique the way things are and what we accept as normal behavior in polite society. Each one is like a Zen Koan. A great coffee table book / conversation starter.
Thomas Nast. Cartoons and Illustrations, 117 works (1974) Thomas Nast.
The first political cartoonist. He was an immigrant from Germany who came to the US in 1840 when he was six. In his day, his cartoons could make or break a candidate or election. Seperation of church and state, minorities and civil rights. Interesting history. Detailed woodblock style. This is where we get our modern image of Uncle Sam, the democratic Donkey and the republican Elephant, John Bull, and Columbia. He was a big fan of Christmas apparently, so Santa Claus too, haha.
In the Shadow of No Towers Spiegelman (2004)
The author, who has lived near ground zero for many years now, describes his and his family’s reaction to the events on 9/11, and critiques George W’s response. Huge pages filled with color and references to old comics.
10 more picks:
Dore’s Spain (1862-73) and Dore’s London (1869-1872.) Gustave Dore.
I know it’s not a comic, but this type of illustration has always been some of my favorite. Such amazing detail and line. Such interesting history, a master artist. It made sense that he had assistants, no one person could do all that! A mix of detailed illustrations, but also includes sketches that he alone worked on. It’s really cool to see those sketches too.
The Fun Family Benjamin Frisch (2016)
This book is funny. A syndicated cartoonist goes through a divorce. There’s a shady therapist and guru. Because the cartoonist gets depressed, his son takes over the strip. The baby is really cutely drawn. The whole thing is drawn in a cute style, but don’t confuse it for a kid’s book, it has dark humor. I don’t want to give away any more of the story.
Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron Daniel Clowes (89-93)
A grown man in a baby crib, a guy with crustaceans in his eyes, an orficeless dog. I would go on but it would ruin the surprise from this surreal, creepy comic. I love the detailed picture of each main character at the start of each chapter.
Cambodian Grrl (zine) Anne Elizabeth Moore (2011)
This book is about making an effect in the world. A zine maker visits Cambodia in the 90’s (a very undeveloped jungle country) and teaches girls to make zines. Very informative.
Inner City Romance Guy Colwell (72, 77. 78)
A classic underground comic. This cartoonist also makes larger works for art galleries, which I think is cool. Not for kids. Great inking and facial expressions.
Corpse on the Imjin Harvey Kurtzman (50’s,)
Classic comics, written by Kurtzman and illustrated by many different authors. These were written post WW2, about the war. The writing style is like old-school horror stories.
*Spiegelman Notebooks Art Spiegelman
Really cool to see this great cartoonist’s notebooks. See full review.
Tunnel to Hell. Lake Erie Tunnel Disasters: Tales of Heroism and Tragedy Scott Macgregor, illustrated by Gary Dumm (2017)
A mix of Irish-American immigrants and African Americans tunnel under a lake to bring fresh water to a city. The whole thing is run by corrupt bosses and politicians, resulting in preventable death and misery. A tale of corporate and political greed and corruption, based on historical events. Sad but also funny at times.
SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) Harvey Pekar, illustrated by Gary Dumm (2008)
Tells the overall history, and then some individual stories of this group that organized anti-war protests in the 60’s. Interesting, did not know about SDS before.
The Realist Cartoons 2016. Edited by Krassner and Persoff.
The Realist was a long-running American satire magazine, first published in 1958 in the New York offices of MAD. Interesting history, to understand many of the cartoons, I had to do a little research about the events and people they referenced. The Realist’s catchphrase: Irreverence is our only sacred cow.
The Trial of Roger Casement Fionnuala Doran. (2016)
Roger Casement was considered an Irish patriot and a British traitor. His research exposed the horrors of imperialism in the Congo and Peru. Therefore he is known as the father of 20th century Human Rights Investigations. He was accused of wanting to side with Germany in WW1 and the sentence was treason and death. He represented himself at his trial, and gave a passionate and reasoned speech in his defense. He was accused of being a homosexual which ruined his prospects for a fair trial in England. The book is drawn with a loose, dark, sketchy style which almost seems sloppy to me, but it suits the book theme.