Honestly, this list of our favorite comics and graphic novels of 2018 could easily have been twice as long. Surely we’re living in a golden age of comics, to the point that there aren’t enough hours in the day to read all the good stuff coming out on a monthly basis—though we’re trying our best. (It’s a good problem.)
This year, we’ve looked at old heroes in entirely new ways (Batman as a villain; Superman as a milkman) and encountered deeply personal narratives from creators with stories to tell. Some of the books on this list are charming and fun, some are riddled with drama and angst, and some are literally world-shattering. Long-running favorites upped their games with jaw-dropping twists, while newer ones took their first steps toward becoming classics. If there’s a common thread between all of these very different books, it’s that they are the products of bold, distinct, and individual voices—not a one of whom is afraid to toss out the rulebook when necessary.
Infidel, by Pornsak Pichetshote, Aaron Campbell, Jose Villarrubia, and Jeff Powell
This modern haunted house story follows Aisha, a Muslim woman who meets with hostility from the new neighbors in her apartment building. An act of violence years before set the stage for their xenophobia, but there’s also a more tangible hateful presence in the building, fueled by bigotry, possessing Aisha and tormenting them all. Could Infidel have said what it has to say (and it has a lot to say) if it weren’t also a nerve-jangling work of horror? Maybe, but the two halves of the story have been made inseparable, bringing home the terrifying isolation felt by someone feared only for her skin tone and head scarf. It’s a stunning accomplishment, all the more so for being so painfully timely.
Batman: White Knight, by Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
Gotham City has a new hero: Jack Napier, the reformed Joker, who is determined to bring healing to the city he once terrorized with the help of the long-suffering Harley Quinn. This new Joker becomes a civic hero by exposing corruption in Gotham City, part of a crusade which sees him discrediting the man he sees as Gotham’s true villain: Batman. The past soon closes in on both Jack and Bruce, threatening to destroy them both in a clever exploration of the fine line between the two men. This cinematic and stylish standalone work marked the debut of DC’s Black Label imprint, which gives A-list creators the chance to offer their own takes on DC’s iconic characters. If this is any indication of what the line has in store for us, we’ll be mad for it.
Marvelocity: The Marvel Comics Art of Alex Ross (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Alex Ross, Chip Kidd, and J. J. Abrams
There’s no one in comics quite like Alex Ross, whose style is somehow both hyper-realistic and painterly, creating the feeling that his superheroes are going to step off the page and bust up your living room. His stunning work for DC was previously collected in the bestselling Mythology, and this year, his work for Marvel comics got the same treatment. Marvelocity spotlights his work on iconic characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther, the Avengers, the X-Men, Doctor Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Fantastic Four. Drawing from both published and previously unseen material, as well as sketches and preparatory art, the collection is rounded out with a new 10-page Spider-Man story (the exclusive B&N edition includes a Spidery poster). It’s a retrospective, sure, but also a drool-worthy work of art in and of itself.
Bingo Love, by Tee Franklin, Jenn St-Onge, Joy San, Cardinal Rae, Erica Schultz, and Genevieve FT
One of the year’s most exciting graphic novels doesn’t involve superheroes or explosions, instead telling a charming queer love story spanning half of a century. It’s a solid reminder that comics is a medium well-suited to all kinds of stories, and that a more intimate and personal book can have big emotional stakes. Hazel and Mari meet at church bingo in 1963, but their families push them apart, and each goes on to marry other people and carve out very different lives for themselves. Another heated bingo game 50 years later brings them back together, forcing them to reconsider their lives and what their love for one another means. The queer black love story is challenging and sweet, with gorgeous artwork.
The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, and Carey Pietsch
What began as a one-off audio experiment from veteran podcasting trio the McElroy brothers (Justin. Travis, and Griffin as Dungeon Master) and their dad (D&D neophyte Clint) became a cult sensation, attracting a loyal following and a million pieces of Tumblr fanart over the course of a three-year run. The show is essentially a Dungeons and Dragons campaign crossed with a comedy improv routine, plus a fair bit of heart. Here There Be Gerblins! is a graphic adaption of the first campaign, and it makes the transition surprisingly seamlessly, preserving the in-jokes and references fans will eat up, while remaining perfectly accessible to new readers (perhaps the book’s neatest trick). Worthy of particular praise is co-writer/artist Carey Pietsch, who accomplished with aplomb the seemingly thankless task of creating a visual style for a story that has taken on a life of its own in the fan community and in the imaginations of tens of thousands of listeners.
Saga, Vol. 9, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
This past summer, we learned Saga is taking an extended break (for at least a year), but not before co-creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples dropped this game-changing volume, which races to a brutal conclusion made even more devastating by the indefinite hiatus. Volume 9 begins by exploring the fallout from Prince Robot IV’s idea to sell his life story to the press, a decision that comes to have truly horrific ramifications for himself, his family, and for Marko, Alana, and Hazel—and, well, just about every other character. Every volume of Saga is brilliant, but this (temporary) finale reminds us just how daring it still is, even nine volumes in. Only a book this good can traumatize us this much.
Paper Girls, Vol. 5, by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson
Things keep getting weirder and more time-twistingly complicated in the fifth trade collection of Brian K. Vaughan’s other blockbuster sci-fi series. He and and co-creator Cliff Chiang take things to the next level with this eventful chapter in the award-winning story about a group of paper delivery girls from the mid-1980s who find themselves bopping through time in the wake of the various forces waging a temporal war. Finally, a few questions about the whos and hows of the conflict are answered (even as yet more questions are introduced): we learn the origins of the “old timers” who have been hounding our girls, even as the plot hops from the year 2000 and the Y2K crisis into the far future. Like Vaughan’s Saga, this is a book that started great and only gets better with… time.
Dark Nights: Metal: Deluxe Edition, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
The best event comics are the ones that truly cut loose, and it doesn’t hurt that DC’s 2018 mega-event was crafted under the watchful eyes of two of its most reliable creators: the long-time Batman dynamic duo of Snyder and Capullo. Batman spent years researching metals with mysterious properties before discovering that the materials are linked to a grim multiverse: a nightmare realm of multiple worlds observed by an evil force determined to drag all of the other universes into the darkness. When our Batman becomes trapped on the dark side, multiple twisted and nightmarish Dark Knights invade, with only the Justice League to stand in their way. It’s all way over the top (Batman riding a dragon, oh my), and so much the better for it.
DC/Young Animal: Milk Wars, by Steve Orlando, Gerard Way, Jody Houser, Cecil Castelucci, Jon Rivera, ACO, Ty Templeton, Mirka Andolpho, Langdon Foss, Dale Eaglesham, and Nick Derington
Another of this year’s biggest, weirdest events also came from DC: this one a universe-jumping, milk-themed mega-crossover. In its brief lifetime, DC’s Young Animal imprint (currently on hiatus) has produced some of the best new superhero comics on the stands of late: books that are smart, weird, and irreverent in the best ways. In this series, characters from the DCU proper meet up with the Young Animal teams and characters to battle a reality-bending corporation called “Retconn,” with dramatic, bizarre, and retro results. Superman becomes Milkman Man, monstrous paragon of wholesomeness taken to extremes. Wonder Wife fights dirt with a golden vacuum cleaner. And Funko Pop-esque toys are made of meat. It’s wonderfully oddball, while also taking a few sharp jabs at readers who cling too hard to empty nostalgia. It’s the perfect antidote to Big Event fatigue.
Monstress, Vol. 3 (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
In the shadow of war, teenager Maika Halfwolf shares a psychic connection with a powerful monster. The latest chapter in the multi-Eisner-winning epic fantasy series sees Maika forced to find allies as invasion looms (no easy feat for a woman so accustomed to standing on her own). Confronting trauma and racism with a cast of powerful and nuanced women, the series remains among the most visually stunning books on the stands, and continues to evolve its story and its world, inspired by East Asian history and aesthetics. The B&N edition features a variant cover and a two-sided poster, all of them filled with more of Takeda’s beautiful, detailed, character-rich work.
The Pervert, by Remy Boydell and Michelle Perez
Perez and Boydell share a series of vignettes drawn in a deceptively simple watercolor style that nonetheless perfectly matches the book’s washed-out look at life. It’s the story of a young trans woman doing sex work in Seattle, struggling to survive in a dangerous and stressful environment. At first refusing to work as anything other than a woman, she eventually gives in and passes as a rent boy when money gets tight. It’s a new type of coming-of-age story, with hope and inspiration to be found, even as a happy ending remains elusive.
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan
A conversation had several times this year: here’s a book that has no business whatsoever being as good, nor as interesting, as it is. A second banana Hanna-Barbera character is reimagined as a queer southern playwright in the late 1950s who draws the attention of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Seen as a threat and a subversive, Snagglepuss loses almost everything he has before playing his last card. It’s a portrait of a specific era, but also resonates in any era in which its demanded that someone hide who they are to get by in the world. Snagglepuss works particularly well as a stand-in for any number of public figures who’ve paid a price for being true to themselves. It’s an unexpected and impossibly bold spin on a cartoon classic.
Maestros, Vol. 1, by Steve Skroce, Dave Stewart, and Fonografiks
Once banished from an alternate realm to Earth, Orlando-based millennial and magician-for-hire Will is surprised to inherit a magic kingdom after his entire otherworldly family is murdered by monsters. Now next in line to be Wizard King, Will suddenly finds he has enemies on all sides—but he also has access to a spell that grants him god-like powers. This is punk rock fantasy with a dark sense of humor that will appeal to fans of Curse Words, with trippy, hyper-detailed, and gleefully gory art. It’s easy to see why it garnered that Best New Series Eisner nod.
Runaways by Rainbow Rowell, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka
This year saw two volumes of Rainbow Rowell’s relaunch of Runaways, and they’re totally worth a binge read. Created by Brian K. Vaughan, it was once one of Marvel’s buzziest series, but in the wake of the first run’s cancellation, the various characters (Alex, Nico, Chase, Karolina, Molly, telepathic dinosaur Old Lace, and others) were dispersed into the larger Marvel U. Novelist Rowell made it her mission to get the old gang back together, reassembling almost the entire original team—even if it meant literally resurrecting its (deceased) heart and soul, Gert. The book welcomes new readers but feels absolutely of a piece with Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s run, and the fashion-forward art from Kris Anka (with popping colors from Eisner-winner Matt Wilson) is pure candy. Like Rowell’s novels, perfect gems of pop culture fizz and real heart, this is killer stuff: angsty, romantic, and consistently surprising.
Isola, Vol. 1 (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, and Msassyk
Inspired by the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, but nevertheless its own animal, Isola is a visually stunning story about the Queen of Maar, who has fallen under the influence of an evil spell that has transformed her into a tiger, and the captain of her guard who will stop at nothing to save her—though the only hope lies half a world away on the mythical island of Isola. There’s a strong emphasis on the visuals, with the minimal dialogue reflecting the difficulty these two very formidable women find in mere communication—ostensibly because one’s a tiger and the other isn’t, but also because of their wide gaps in class and experience The story is compelling, but truly, Isola is is an absolute feast for the eyes. Aside from some preliminary sketches and a variant cover, thee B&N edition includes an exclusive 10-page prologue available nowhere else.
Von Spatz, by Anna Haifisch
The Von Spatz Rehabilitation Center for Artists caters to some of the 20th century’s finest: names like Tomi Ungerer, Saul Steinberg, and even Walt Disney himself. An exploration of drive and insecurity among artists, Haifisch imagines the trio as animal-headed patients at an art therapy retreat where the they develop a slow-earned friendship—sort of a Toon Town for cartoonists. It’s absurdist and experimental book, but also funny and heartwarming, with an impressively realized exploration of the creative process at its core.
Truth, Justice, and the American Way: The Joe Shuster Story, by Julian Voloj and Thomas Campi
A comics industry history that’s itself an impressive piece of (gorgeously painted) graphic storytelling, this book presents the deeply researched life story of Shuster, the shy and visually impaired co-creator of one of the 20th century’s most enduring cultural icons (we’re speaking, of course, about Superman, who celebrated his 80th birthday this year). It’s an essential slice of history that’s both inspiring and poignant: an exploration of the creative process as well as the tale of an artist who resorted to a job delivering packages before finally seeing some measure of recompense for his world-changing work.
Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso
One of the year’s most trenchant graphic novels isn’t necessarily an easy read, only because of how well it encapsulates our present moment. Three individuals connected by tragedy are drawn into the world of online conspiracy theories, each having their experiences co-opted and dismissed as theatre by people looking to use the web to weaponize opinion. It’s the first graphic novel ever to be nominated for the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and with good reason.
Fence, Vol. 1, by C.S. Pacat, Johanna the Mad, Rebecca Nalty, and Joana LaFuente
Troubled fencing prodigy Nicholas Cox gets accepted into the prestigious Kings Row only to find himself facing down his half-brother as well an an unbeatable rival. Inspired by the best sports manga, it’s an old-school coming-of-age story full of athletic competition and queer characters from the author of the Captive Prince novels. The art is bright and crisp, capturing the fluidity of the fencing scenes and the delicate character work with finesse. It’s a sports-centric book full of angst and romance, with dramatic action that just happens to take place during fencing bouts.
Moonstruck, Vol. 1, by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, Kate Leth, Caitlin Clark, Laurenn McCubbin, and Clayton Cowles
This book comes from Lumberjanes‘ creator Grace Ellis (working with co-creator Shae Beagle), and shares a similarly quirky, cute fantasy vibe: Julie wants nothing but to be a normal girl with normal girlfriend and a normal barista gig. Unfortunately, she turns into a werewolf when she gets upset. Whoops. Luckily, the world of Moonstruck is full of fantasy creatures living unremarkable lives, so Julie and her centaur best friend Chet don’t draw too much attention when they lock up the coffee shop in order to save their friends from a magical conspiracy. You know… just your typical werewolf-QPOC romcom-fantasy/magic book. At its heart, though, it’s about self-acceptance: loving yourself whether your hang-up is gender, body type, or occasional lycanthropy.
My Boyfriend is a Bear, by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris
Nora has had many awful boyfriends, but things turn around when she meets a charming, romantic bear. (Join the club.) But this is, like, a literal bear: a 500-pound American black bear, to be precise. The two meet in the Los Angeles hills, and it’s love at first sight. Of course, there are challenges: getting friends and family to accept her slightly unconventional romance isn’t easy; also, he hibernates all winter long. It’s an impressively heartfelt and funny book about the trials and triumphs of any relationship. Writer Pamela Ribon (who we’ve loved since her days as a prolific, early-internet blogger) also created roller girl saga Slam! and wrote Disney’s Moana and Ralph Breaks the Internet.
What’s your favorite comic of 2018?