2015 has come to an end, which means it’s about time for Bleeding Cool’s 11 Best Graphic Novels list. Looking back over the books that have been released this year, it’s clear that their have been many memorable works. However, not everything deserves the title of “Best Graphic Novel.” So, without further ado…the combined powers of Rich Johnston and Christine Marie bring you the works that made the 2015 cut.
The Divine, from First Second by Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka and Boaz Lavie
The bloodiest of my choices but a truly beautiful comic book. On the surface the plot seems trite and simple, ex-army sort pulled back in for one last private sortie back into the field in a country where Americans aren’t even supposed to be there. In fact, as it turns out, reality isn’t supposed to be there. A war comic that sees not just two cultures of war, two ways of seeing the world in conflict, even adults vs children, but actual reality itself at war. And, yes, a dragon. A better allegory over modern war, terrorism and civil war strife I could not hope to find. It took me back to Donna Barr’s Stinz, but with a gloss and a sheen that grabs the eye and refuses to let go. Seductive in its horror.
Everything Is Teeth from Jonathan Cape by Evie Wyld and Joe Sumner
This graphic memoir of the life of a young Evie Wyld merges fantasy and reality as neatly as Terry Gilliam‘s Tideland, with a shark-obsessed youngster being accompanied by them in her everyday life. She taking them home in her mind’s eye after finding a dead shark washed up on a coastal holiday. They then appear to swim around urban London where they swarm the streets and drawing rooms of the capital, bringing life to Evie’s fears about the world. But then something happens, they become a way for Evie to face up to her fears, to find them comforting even, something she can deal with as she sees them swim in and out of her line of vision. Each time they maintain a difference, an otherworldiness, drawn in rich textures, pencils and pastels against the harsh black and white ink contrasts of Evie’s world. And they are present when Evie’s father dies, and provide a conduit for dealing with this most tragic of events. It’s a testament to the mind of a child and how it survives the world around it and a remarkable comic book in tapping into that transformative experience.
Wayward Vol. 1, from Image Comics, written by Jim Zub with art by Steve Cummings.
You can’t get much cooler than a comic about teenagers with superpowers that fight crazy monsters. With that said, this story surprised me, because it’s so much more than that. We meet main character Rori Lane as she’s leaving Ireland to go live with her mother in Japan. Trying to start a new life in a new country is a challenge for any normal person, so what happens when you’re gifted with some special powers? Things get a bit more complicated. When Rori meets a blue-haired new friend, Ayane, she discovers that she’s not the only one with a gift. In fact, there are a few more new friends with special powers. By name, Shirai and Nikaido. I have to stress that what’s really special about this story is you get to experience the origins of a team coming together and figuring out what to do with their powers. Zub’s script is honest, heartfelt, and powerful, and Cummings art provides us with a beautiful Japanese/manga inspired cast of characters/landscape.
Feathers, from Archaia, written and illustrated by Jorge Corona.
It’s a heartwarming origin story, about a boy covered in feathers named Poe and the adventure he goes on with his new friend Bianca. I loved that we got to see Poe from the beginning. On top of that, there’s this Pinnocchio/Geppetto feel to his relationship with his father, which enhances the already classic fairytale feel that fills the town, characters, and story in general. The art is simply breathtaking. Jorge Corona transports you to a world that is beautifully constructed and well thought out. From facial expressions, to the details on the buildings in the background, the book was captivating. It’s not often that you come across a story with so much heart.
They’re Not Like Us Vol. 1, from Image Comics, written by Eric Stephenson, with art by Simon Gane.
The first volume of They’re Not Like Us captured my attention so well that I felt like someone had grabbed the collar of my shirt, pulled me close, and screamed in my face, “Keep reading!” From the first section to the last, your heart will pound. They’re Not Like Us takes a hopeful spin on being different and even knocks on the door of talking about mental illness. That kind of subject matter can sometimes get a little sticky, but Stephenson writes it well. When main character Syd tries to kill herself because she’s been suffering from hearing voices for her entire life, she finds out that she’s really telepathic, and can be part of a small group of people with similar powers. While it has a slight superhero-y feel, the incredibly realistic art style beautifully drawn by Simon Gane, makes this comic one of a kind. It starts with a bang, and ends with a bang.
Oddly Normal Vol. 2, from Image Comics, written and illustrated by Otis Frampton.
This story is about a girl named Oddly who is a half-witch with green hair. She finds herself transported to a world much different than the one she grew up in, with the hope that this one might be better. The second volume of this wonderful, whimsical series moves past the foundation of Oddly’s story and brings us through some fun adventures. She has a new life to start in Fignation, and with that comes new friends, new mishaps, and clues to uncover. Otis Frampton has created such a well developed world for us that you really feel like you’re there, or better yet, sitting next Oddly in class listening to her whisper to her friends. Oddly Normal is kid-friendly, but tells a story that is quite enjoyable for adults as well. The script is emotional, heartfelt, and playful, and the art will make you want to pack your bags and move to Fignation.
Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard Vol. 3, from Archaia, written and illustrated by David Petersen.
What made this collection so special to me was the amount of talented people personally selected by series creator David Petersen to join forces in Mouse Guard fashion. Once again, patrons at the June Alley Inn are challenged to tell the best Mouse Guard tale, with the winner getting their tab cleared! An array of creators are featured throughout the book including: David Petersen, Mark Buckingham, Skottie Young, Dustin Nguyen, Jake Parker, Ramon K. Perez, Becky Cloonan, and many more! I will say that Skottie Young’s The Mouse and the Moon definitely resonated with me the most out of all of the tales. It’s an incredibly symbolic story that appears to be simple, but the message that lies beneath the text is so strong. Besides that, Young’s whimsical style of illustrating combined with a wacky mixture of colors is incredibly appealing. With all that said, there is truly something for everyone in this book. It’s a combination of so many different styles, but remains true to the heroic feel you look forward to when picking up a Mouse Guard book.
This is the graphic novel that, more than any other, has haunted me this year. Showing the present day and the past mixing and matching after the invention of time travel and a time-fluid “ultranet” hasn’t so much changed the world as been changed by the world, as it explores the inertial dampers of humanity and its innate luddite nature in the face of the the biggest of changes until inevitability flips reality completely. A slice-of-life kitchen sink drama, drawn in a mundane, matter of fact, easy to consume fashon, where like everyone else in the book, you can just flick to the end to find out what happens but very few people do. Technology doesn’t bring happiness in There’s No Time Like The Present. At least not initially. It just is. And what changes it actually brings sneaks up on you in a very unexpected manner.
Sandman Overture from DC Comics by Neil Gaiman and JH Williams III
Prequels aren’t meant to be better than the original. You know, apart from The Magician’s Nephew. And X-Men: First Class. And bits of The Godfather Part II. Instead they are obsessed with explaining the unexplained, removing the mystery, ticking the boxes to tidy up the mess that made the original so glorious. In Overture we got something that just added more of the magic. And did so with Williams; incredible artwork, jumping from one style to another, one medium to another, all on the same double page spread. Constantly surprising, full of eye candy, funny as well as containing just enough nostalgia to comfort the palate without sickening the stomach, and finding a way to confront the inevitability of a prequel’s progress by repeatedly presenting ways out of the story for the characters – and the reader. It survives pages being ripped from its narrative, stretched across the turn of the page, a rare trick. A dangerous game but beautifully played.
Ruins from SelfMadeHero by Peter Kuper
Ostensibly it’s a road trip movie, only in that the driver is a Monarch butterfly, making the trip from Canada, through the United States, to Mexico, and we see the people he passes by and their lives as they spin off on tangents, and covering the rich landscapes that the Americas have to offer, contrasting with the sometimes mundane, often miserable, but occasionally inspired lives of the country’s citizens. And the butterfly’s journey playing off a similar journey, from New York to Mexico, that the human leads in the book take.
And there is the colour of it all, the oranges of the butterfly playing off against the dulled blues of the world around it, as well as the portrayal of culture through colour, with Mexico as the only possible destination for such an orange and yellow butterfly, destined to make it there…
Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
An incredibly charming modernist revision of the classic patriarchal fantasy villain, this cold have been deathly dull if it wasn’t so funny, silly and, frankly, so wonderfully coloured, the reds and ochres leaping out of the blacks, dark browns and greys. It seemed the year of the bad guy, with Darth Vader, The Illuminati, and Doctor Doom getting leading roles but Nimona was the most accomplished of these, granting this villain a shapeshifting sidekick with ideas above her station, with questions of motivation, whether ends justify means, the role of government, the point of a code of honour and the best ways to emasculate with insult. It’s also really, really sweet.