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December 12, 2013

The Best Graphic Novels of 2013

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GraphicNovelReporter is proud to present our list of the best graphic works of the year!

Graphic Novels and Memoirs

Gene Luen Yang’s epic two-volume account of the Boxer Rebellion uses the opposing viewpoints of his young protagonists to illuminate a pivotal moment in history. BOXERS & SAINTS (First Second) succeeds brilliantly, combining faith with historical accuracy to create a stunning achievement in comics, with each half balancing the nuances perfectly: BOXERS, featuring a boy fighting foreigners in his homeland, and SAINTS, depicting a young girl who turns to Christianity and pays a price for it.

Rutu Modan’s fictional THE PROPERTY (Drawn and Quarterly) and Miriam Katin’s nonfiction LETTING IT GO (Drawn and Quarterly) both chronicle women's journeys, physical and emotional, back to Holocaust sites filled with memories of unimaginable horror. In THE PROPERTY, a TV producer returns to Poland along with her grandmother, who narrowly escaped death in a concentration camp. Romance and humor play a huge role here in this charming, solidly written tale. Meanwhile, Katin's LETTING IT GO takes itself seriously --- but always with wit, and never grimly. It deals with Katin’s sadness at seeing her son move to Berlin, a change she, a survivor, has enormous difficulty accepting. Only by traveling there herself is she able to come to grips with the past she escaped as a very young girl --- and make peace with the future. Katin’s honesty is unflinching.

MARCH: BOOK ONE (Top Shelf) comes from a highly unlikely source: Congressman John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement who worked with Martin Luther King as a young man. At first blush, the graphic format doesn’t seem the most natural one in which to tell his memoir, but within a few pages of its opening, on the morning of President Obama's first inauguration, it transports readers back through the decades and holds our attentions there. The first book of a planned trilogy, MARCH is deftly paced (kudos to cowriter Andrew Aydin, as well as illustrator Nate Powell) and perfectly captures a changing world and the peaceful movement that helped bring about that change. This wonderful piece of history is well-suited to readers of all ages.

MARBLE SEASON (Drawn and Quarterly) is a semiautobiographical comic from an absolute legend of the comic storytelling form, Gilbert Hernandez, one of the pioneering Los Brothers Hernandez and an indie-comics hero. The book depicts California life in the 1960s in a tightknit family, masterfully capturing the joy and spirit of childhood --- as well as Hernandez’s love for comic books.

AN ENCHANTMENT (NBM) is part of the Louvre Editions series published by NBM for the past few years. Each book prominently features works on display in the Parisian museum, but they are hardly a graphic-novel advertisement for the Louvre. Instead, they are all artistic in their own right. AN ENCHANTMENT shows how and why we get lost in works of art. The many nuances of the story bear up well to rereading. You’ll want to linger on the beautiful artistry Christian Durieux renders here, but you’ll be compelled to keep moving forward to find out the story’s resolution.

 

Haunting and poetic, WHEN DAVID LOST HIS VOICE (SelfMade Hero) proves how effective graphic novels can be for telling simple, human stories. The medium works particularly well for Judith Vanistendael’s tale of a man facing an increasingly devastating battle with cancer. The book shines beautifully with its unsentimental portraits of David, his wife, and his two daughters, one grown and one still a child.

 


Fantasy

 

If you are not reading SAGA (Image), you are missing out on comics’ most consistently excellent current series. This epic adventure (narrated by the grown-up version of the baby born in its very first pages) is stunning and compulsively readable. Star-crossed lovers Alana and Marko (she comes from a race born with wings, he has horns and his species can work magic) have committed the ultimate crime of falling in love and having a child when their two worlds have been at war for ages. Chased through various worlds in a cosmos deformed by never-ending military conflict, they must survive numerous assassination attempts. But the killers chasing them are just as multilayered and complex as they are. You won’t worry about who to root for, though; you’ll be too busy just having an amazingly good time.

More than a decade after its debut, FABLES continues to delight and enthrall. Bill Willingham’s long-running series about fairytale heroes and villains may seem overwhelming for new readers, but FAIREST IN ALL THE LAND (Vertigo) is a lovely jumping-on point…especially considering the wonderful artwork created by two dozen different artists.

Paul Pope’s BATTLING BOY (First Second) stars an other-dimensional boy on the cusp of manhood. To prove his mettle as a man, though, he’ll have to fight and become a hero, just as his father did before him. Given the ability to conjure the powers of several different animals, he becomes the superhero Battling Boy. Unfortunately, he’s not all that great at it. BATTLING BOY walks a fantastic line between serious and comical, achieving a perfect blend of both.


Superheroes

Two superhero books stand out for truly turning the genre on its ear. WONDER WOMAN (DC Comics) continues to be a wildly fun adventure from Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. Moreover, it’s become a real ensemble title that simultaneously reimagines the amazing Amazon and her mythological roots --- and extended family of Greek Olympians --- beautifully. In HAWKEYE (Marvel), Matt Fraction's quippy one-liners and dry humor merge with David Aja's retro-hip style to create particularly well paced tales that will make you feel cooler just for having read them. It’s different, weird, and funny, and the Pizza Dog issue illustrates what we all love about comics so much.

 


After the success of UNCANNY X-FORCE (read it; it's amazing), Rick Remender hurtles us into an Avengers team headed by Havoc in UNCANNY AVENGERS (Marvel). Mixing members of X-Men and Avengers onto one team leads to ample opportunities for thrilling adventures and, surprisingly, thought-provoking arguments on the identity politics of Marvel's mutant minority. Remender elevates the genre with crisp plotting and wonderfully rendered characterization, and each issue is a treat to read.

 


Honorable mention in this category goes to two more Marvel titles: AVENGERS ARENA (superteens fighting it out in Murder World --- a la Hunger Games, sure, but it has its own special twists) and X-MEN LEGACY (one of the most powerful villains in X-MEN history attempts to find redemption and start a new life in this cosmic yet comic yet heartbreaking title with distinctly British sensibilities).

 


Reissues

This year, we welcomed back, many special favorites --- some of which weren’t even gone that long. RASL (Cartoon Books) just ended its single-issue run in 2012, but seeing the handsome hardcover edition, which collects the entire saga in glorious color, reminds us all just how provocative and gripping this sci-fi/multidimensional story was. Multidimensional in a far different way was Terry Moore’s classic STRANGERS IN PARADISE (Abstract Studio), whose Omnibus Edition captured more than 2,000 pages of beautiful, remarkable storytelling detailing the fragile lives and love of Katchoo, Francine, and David. And finally, the SLEEPER OMNIBUS (Vertigo) wowed readers just as much as Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips’ original series did in 2003. More than 700 pages of awesome noirish antihero thrills all in one hard-to-pick-up and equally hard-to-put-down book. Something this good should be criminal.

 


Collections to Come


The following series have not yet been collected in trade form, so we can’t technically include them on our list here. But we’re enjoying them so much we wanted to mention them anyway, so keep an eye out for the collections that will come from these series next year.

THE WAKE (Vertigo): Deep underwater in the Arctic Circle, a marine biologist confronts a terrifying discovery. The suspense created by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy is gripping.

LETTER 44 (Oni Press): His first day on the job, the newly elected president receives a letter from his predecessor informing him that aliens really do exist and American astronauts have been investigating them a several-years-long mission. Charles Soule and Alberto Alburquerque create a sci-fi tale that the more paranoid among us might be tempted to read as nonfiction.

SEX CRIMINALS (Image): This is as bawdy as you’d expect…but also hilarious and thought-provoking. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky take this story, about a pair of thieves who can stop time when they, ahem, achieve what the French call "the little death," to raunchy heights, while a sweet love story slowly comes to life.