I was going to write something thoughtful about 2020 here, some noble introduction to this blog post. But you know what? The only introduction you need is that this is a list of great comics published this year. The fact that these writers, artists, and publishers even managed to put anything out is a minor miracle. Let’s celebrate that by reading these comics and graphic novels.
Presented in the form of a Moleskine sketchbook, Adrian Tomine’s graphic autobiography is an intimate portrait of his progression as a comics artist, from his childhood to the present. Under a veneer of awkwardness and absurdity is a core of love: for comics, for life, for family. Tomine is a funny writer and an even funnier artist. If you were ever interested in the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into comics creation, this book is a window to that world.
Volume two of this science fiction/horror series was collected in 2020 and it is the perfect pairing for fans of other media in the genre that deals with the experience of Black characters. Those familiar with Lovecraft Country and Ring Shout will feel right at home with this series that follows a group of monster hunters in Harlem and the Deep South. The monsters they’re rooting out? Those that have turned into demonic creatures after being infected by plagues of racism.
If you only read one comic in 2020, make it Superman Smashes the Klan. Loosely based on the 1940s Superman radio show’s story “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” which exposed actual elements of the Ku Klux Klan, damaging its reputation and leading to a steep decline in membership, comics pro Gene Luen Yang delivers a story of overcoming bigotry and hatred that embodies what Superman is all about: truth, justice, and the American ways of hope, welcoming all, and standing up for those that are mistreated. It also features an opening double page spread of Superman punching a Nazi.
Ohio’s own Derf Backderf (My Friend Dahmer, Trashed) recounts the events that led to four people being killed by the Ohio National Guard during protests over the Vietnam War. The book is a chilling one to read and approaches the story from multiple angles: through the eyes of students, protestors, government officials, and troops. The forceful response from police and National Guard troops echoes what was seen over the summer of 2020’s Black Lives Matters protests, making this book ever so timely and important.
Mika Song’s Donut Feed the Squirrels is a book appropriate for all ages 0-100 and if you have a new, younger comics reader in your life, is the perfect point of entry to the wonderful world of panels, gutters, and word balloons. The story is simple: squirrels Norma and Belly are hungry, and there just so happens to be a donut truck stationed nearby. Only problem? They don’t have money to buy donuts! Working together, they plan an elaborate, good-natured heist to steal some delicious treats. Don’t worry, this isn’t a book about learning the arts of thievery…it’s about friendship, teamwork, and learning that you don’t need to steal to get what you want.
Kurt Vonnegut’s classic anti-war novel is brilliantly adapted for comics by Ryan North and Albert Monteys. Faithfully executed and true to the source material, this graphic novel surprisingly created new insight for me, a veteran Vonnegut reader who has dived into Slaughterhouse-Five countless times. Refreshingly new and at the same time familiar, Slaughterhouse-Five (both this graphic novel and the prose original) is recommended reading.
Originally making its debut in Japan in 2016 and an English debut in 2019, Witch Hat Atelier has seen a trickle of volumes released in English during 2020. It’s the story of Coco, the daughter of a dressmaker, who learns to use the powers of magic in a rather indirect, and not quite “allowed” way. She enrolls as an apprentice, on her way to becoming a fully-fledged witch. The adventures that follow are unmistakably charming and a delight. Many compare this manga series to Harry Potter, but there’s something even more deep and magical to experience in Witch Hat Atelier for curious readers.
This might be the funniest comic you’ll ever read. Write and artist duo Fraction and Leiber team up to reimagine Daily Planet photojournalist as a vlogger? Content creator? Influencer? Anyway, he’s on the run from those who wish him harm and moves into a crummy Gotham City apartment. Told through a series of short vignettes, this book is a comedy masterwork and welcome surprise from a superhero comic that isn’t quite a superhero comic at all.
One part New York crime thriller and another part Western, Pulp is a tale about justice and setting things right. Coming in at a trim 72 pages, the book is a standout among recent graphic novels being published in the 60-90 page range, the perfect companion for a lonely afternoon. I don’t want to write too much about this book at risk of giving the ending away, but know this: it’s exciting, enthralling, and downright fun to read.
By Katie Skelly
Katie Skelly’s adaptation of the true crime story of the Papin sisters, French maids who killed their employers, is off-beat, weird, and very much disturbing – all elements that serve the story well. At some point during this book you’ll question just whose side you’re on. Do you root for the sisters even though they are a tad…off? Or do you root against them, even though the treatment they receive pushes them over the edge? The weirdest part of the story is the real-life facts. After serving their prison sentence for the murders, one of the sisters continued to work…as a hotel maid.