Here is Comics Grinder’s Guide to Graphic Novels for 2013. Don’t know much about graphic novels? Well, don’t you worry about that. This is the place to be. I love comics. If you were to cut me, I’d bleed ink. I know what it’s like when people claim to not understand comics in general or even my own work. You then approach someone else, and the difference can be like night and day. That panel above comes from a graphic novel that really stuck with me by one of the greats, David B. What makes him great? Just take a close look at the above couple. He’s truly developed the heart and soul of a first-rate cartoonist with such a distinctive style at work creating a beautiful world. That’s nothing to sneeze at. That’s why his “Black Paths” had to be included in this list.
This was a banner year any way you look at it! Where to begin? Well, I began the process by whittling down to a top ten list of titles. Then I went back and focused on more books that would make the list more useful. Considering all of the books that hit my radar, I considered categories that they might be filed under: historical, political, offbeat, personal, and so on. Of course, some titles may fall under more than one category or might elude easy classification. Categories are open to interpretation. “Personal,” for instance can just refer to a life’s journey, not necessarily autobiographical.
I first stuck with books that fell well within the definition of a graphic novel: works in the comics medium that tell an extended story using sequential panels. I wanted to have the focus on work that truly added up to a cohesive whole. And then I considered work that wasn’t totally a graphic novel, per se. And that brought in a few more books that were collections of work.
On the whole, what I look for in what I review during the year is a compelling vision from one independent creator or an exceptionally strong team of writer and artist. Anyway, what I intended to do with creating this list is to give a good sense of the general thinking about contemporary graphic novels and a decent sampling for 2013. You’ve got an overview of 20 titles from 2013 that I had the pleasure to review. You can’t go wrong.
4. – Boxers & Saints (First Second) – by Gene Luen Yang. If you want to better understand China, take a look at the Boxer Rebellion. Yang’s narrative is exhilarating. He knows how to tap into myth, strip away sentimentality, maintain an exciting pace, and gain insight. Review here.
5. – Black Paths (SelfMadeHero) – by David B. This is a very different window into history. This is a quirky love story set in the netherworld after World War I. We follow the strange activities of a little mouse of a nation state that roared under the leadership of an eccentric poet. Review here.
6. – RASL (Cartoon Books) – by Jeff Smith. Leave it to the creator of “Bone” to create one of the most satisfying graphic novels of the year. Here you have elements of mystery, mysticism, and science fiction in support of a most unusual love story. Review here.
7. – Strange Attractors (Archaia Entertainment) – by Charles Soule and Greg Scott. Soule marveled over the fact that, within a year after the tragic events of 9/11, New York City was back on its feet and functioning while, years after Katrina, New Orleans continued to struggle. What was so special about NYC? Review here.
9. – Complex: Ways of Life, Volume 1 (Alterna Comics) – by Michael Malkin, Kay, and Dekara. The cover to the first volume of “Complex” grabs your attention and makes you want to see more. It’s a dude screaming holding a crystal ball of a dude screaming ad infinitum. Intriguing, no? Review here.
10. – The Encyclopedia of Early Earth (Little, Brown & Co.) – by Isabel Greenberg. What Isabel Greenberg does with her debut graphic novel, “The Encyclopedia of Early Earth,” is tap into the joy and spirit of storytelling. She does this with a good-hearted determination and a well-reasoned integrity. Review here.
11. – The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story (Dark Horse Comics) – by Vivek J. Tiwary and Andrew Robinson. Essential reading for any Beatles fan, and who isn’t, right? You will go on quite a magical mystery tour as you see how the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, turned a ragtag band from Liverpool into the most famous band in the world. Review here.
12. – Look Straight Ahead (Cuckoo’s Nest Press) – by Elaine M. Will. This one I really like. LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD brings to mind Nate Powell’s SWALLOW ME WHOLE. It has its own distinctive style and voice with that same quality that Nate brings to the game. Review here.
13. – Pompeii (PictureBox) – by Frank Santoro. Santoro maintains the spontaneity of sketchbook drawings in a well orchestrated narrative. This is a story about learning how to see the world as it really is and perhaps gaining solace from how it may have been. Review here.
14. – Battling Boy (First Second) – by Paul Pope. It’s up to Battling Boy to help save Acropolis, a city under siege by all kinds of monsters. If you’re sensing that this is a way cool superhero story, one with a fresh new energy we could all use more of, then you’d be right. Review here.
15. – The Lengths (Soaring Penguin Press) – by Howard Hardiman. Howard Hardiman has written and drawn a graphic novel about a youth out of control and in conflict. It is a very rough story about a rough subject that Hardiman navigates quite well. Review here.
16. – Beta-testing the Apocalypse (Fantagraphics Books) – by Tom Kaczynski. “Beta Testing The Apocalypse” brings together, thanks to Fantagraphics Books, an impressive collection of social satire with a distinctive voice. Review here.
17. – The Minimum Security Chronicles: Resistance to Ecocide (Seven Stories Press) – by Stephanie McMillan. For everyone who questions capitalism, this is a good place to start. Review here.
18. – Failure (Alternative Comics) – by Karl Stevens. This collection shows growth but it’s consistent growth. There isn’t a weak page in the whole lot. It’s more an evolving viewpoint: the angry young artist keeps pushing and pushing until he gets what he wants, a reaction; afterward, he finds he’s pushed his way into new terrain and he finds himself breaking new ground. Review here.
19. – Delusional: The Graphic and Sequential Work of Farel Dalrymple (AdHouse Books) – by Farel Dalrymple. This is such a keeper. You too will believe in all sorts of urban legends and myths once you’ve entered the world of comics genius Farel Dalrymple. Review here.