The “comics”, once wrote the great American cartoonist Art Spiegelman, “are a drug of access to literacy”. At the time, it was about defending the art form against the charge of childish lack of seriousness, hinting at the wealth and beauty of its best followers. Of course, due in large part to the work done by Spiegelman and his contemporaries, such a defense is unnecessary today. If the expression sounds strangely to modern ears, it is because graphic literature has long since moved beyond the realm of mere literary aperitif, and is now a meal in itself, a buzzing and thriving feast of drama, suspense and beauty. that rivals any art published in most years. . Since 2021 was no exception, let this list serve as a gateway drug to some of the best graphic novels of 2021.
Simon Hanselmann Crisis Zone (Fantagraphics)
Simon Hanselmann’s Crisis Zone brings together a year of webcomics in his Megg, Mogg and Owl series, which were originally posted for free on Instagram during the pandemic year. If you think this sounds like a light fare to put together in a collection, then you are seriously wrong: Crisis Zone is one of the densest, most rewarding graphic novels you’ll read all year round. Unique among this year’s entries, it was written during and about the pandemic, albeit in a universe many degrees from ours. The series’ titular characters – Megg the Witch, Mogg the House Cat, and Owl, their tense, risk-averse companion – end up regrouping as Covid lockdowns sweep the world, and are soon joined by a growing roster. more volatile from additional hangers, Werewolf Jones and his unruly children, and Draculas, Jr and Sr. It all leads to panic, illness, a few live sex shows, and at least one massively fatal treehouse fire. Crisis Zone is a scatological, profane and murderous journey through the horror and banality of life in confinement, but it’s also a searing accusation of the human condition, whether its characters are human or not.
I see a knight by Xulia Vicente (ShortBox)
Unlike most little girls, Olivia is followed by a headless knight whom only she can see. Over the course of I See a Knight, aptly titled, written and drawn in Vicente’s beautifully flowing manga style, Olivia comes to love and respect her vigilant guardian and learn the secret of his presence in her life. The revelations come slowly – or about as slowly as 36 pages allow – but pack a huge emotional punch, in this beautifully rendered and devastating reflection on childhood, grief, and earthly duty.
In. by Will McPhail (Hodder)
There are few better cartoonists than The New Yorker’s Will McPhail, and we can now officially confirm that there are few better graphic novelists. The protagonist of In. Is Nick, a designer living in an unnamed contemporary city, who looks like a mishmash of the coolest blocks in New York or London (the architecture distinctly resembles Brooklynite, while our protagonist does referring to his mother as “mom”), but it could be defined anywhere where cafes have tongue-in-cheek names and charge their customers based on the number of pages they write of their screenplay. Nick lives the empty and independent class life of a working artist and finds himself unable to make human connections, even in the face of a personal tragedy he doesn’t have the vocabulary to deal with. His family, future dates, baristas, and even the man summoned to fix his toilet, all become a glove of fictitious chatter and chatter – a dialogue brilliantly captured by McPhail’s perfect speech for the staid flow of the human conversation. There are books that are called funny because they elicit a few sane laughs, and then there are books that make you gasp with laughter and read several paragraphs to any long-suffering companion that happens to be. within earshot. In. is quite the latter type of book, which makes his exhilarating dives into pathos and depth all the more risky and all the more surprisingly rewarding.
No One Else by R Kikuo Johnson (Fantagraphics)
Tender is one of those adjectives that sound like low praise, sometimes conjuring up thoughts of something preposterous, complacent, or insignificant. Nothing could be further from the truth with R Kikuo Johnson’s No One Else proving just how powerful tenderness can be. Single mom Charlene looks after her son Brandon on her own in their home on the island of Maui, Hawaii. A diligent parent, she is distracted by a recent tragedy and the senseless severity of her attempts to get into medical school, leaving Brandon hungry for both her absent father and her missing cat, Batman. Into this mix comes Robbie, Charlene’s lazy brother, who returns to the family home, offering welcome help and unwelcome criticism of the family dynamic he encounters. There are few fireworks or awe-inspiring dramatic moments, just the lived-in and eerily real machinations of people just trying to get out of it. Johnson’s clean lines and clear dialogue only add to the bittersweet beauty of this magnificent family portrait.
Ghosting by Debbie Jenkinson (silver lining)
What happens when that person you love stops calling, never to be seen again? For Ghosting protagonist, Dublin Bus driver Stevo, the abrupt disappearance of his new Italian lover leaves him with pain, paranoia, and dark thoughts about what could have gone wrong. Left to navigate life on his own, he’s torn between accepting that he’s been a ghost for the same mundane reasons his friends tell him, and investigating to see if anything more sinister is brewing. Ghosting is a gripping story of contemporary Dublin, told with humor and melancholy perfectly suited to Jenkinson’s squeaky and characterful designs. Long after reading, like the memory of a whirlwind romance, ghosting lingers in the mind.
Turning Roads by Various Artists (Limit Break)
Staying with Irish talent, there is a bumper crop of creators in Limit Break’s Turning Roads, an anthology of short tales drawn from Irish myth, legend and folklore. Changeling by Colin O’Mahoney and Mari Rolin reimagines the story of the fairy snatching a baby as a rumination on the treatment the church reserves for women and children. Hugo Boylan and Hugh Madden remix the King of Cats in a Miyazaki-scented Slice of Life, while British artist Dominique Duong borrows from Irish fairy myth to establish a far more gruesome version of the titular Fairy Cakes food item. With 18 different stories from 36 creators, this is another welcome demonstration of the gross health of Irish comics. The stories might be short, but there is something here to get everyone to eat.
Tunnels by Rutu Modan (drawn and quarterly)
The Rotu Modan Tunnels are an Edwardian adventure, commentary, and farce all in one. In fact, the list of hyphens you could give it might lead you to think it’s a bit of a mess. Suffice to say that it is anything but. Nili is an amateur archaeologist who races to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant using a series of underground tunnels that can take her at her cost, or could take her deep into dangerous territory. Modan’s beautifully clean lines make obvious comparisons to HergÃ©, but it’s a style that suits both the thrills of its main storyline and the deeper undercurrents of social and family unrest that lie beneath the surface. like so many hidden tunnels. It is both an exciting and fun adventure and a clever, low-key character piece, which muddles the weaknesses of avid academics and the madness of right-wing settlers, without ever seeming to hit you on. head with one of its beautifully drawn shovels.
Stone Fruit by Lee Lai (Fantagraphics)
What is a family and what do we do to keep it going? These are the central questions of the beautiful and moving Stone Fruit by Lee Lai, which centers on the couple Bron and Ray, whose troubled relationship is maintained by their love for Ray’s young niece, Nessie. Together, the three are portrayed as wild mythical beasts with wide eyes, detached from the pressures of adults and the banalities of everyday life. When Bron leaves Ray in an attempt to reconcile with his religious family, the spell falls apart, and all three have to reckon with the unraveling of their makeshift family unit, and where he leaves them once he’s gone. Stone fruit is most touching when it plunges lost connections and stunted emotional states into the weeds, with unwavering honesty and at times outright sadness. Like the fruit of its title, it is sweet and deeply rich, but the hard core cannot be avoided no matter what we may try.