It’s been a great decade for comics, and this was no easy task, but after much evaluation and re-evaluation — plus a few Tums — I’ve made some painful cuts and trimmed things down to my 20 favorite comics of the decade. By and large my most important criteria when determining which books made the cut and which fell by the wayside, in addition to quality of story and art, was how much they stuck with me over time, which I think makes perfect sense, as the books that make an impression tend to be the ones we return to again and again. I’m not one for lengthy preambles myself, but I think clarifying my thought process is only fair before asking you to consider my choices, and so, without any further ado —
20. Big Kids by Michael DeForge (Drawn + Quarterly, 2016) – For my money the purest distillation of all things DeForge does better than anyone else — transmogrification, body horror, sexual awakening, all served up with a healthy dose of the unexpected. Ruminations on the phenomenon of identity don’t come much stronger than this, but you’ll still be wondering who you are by the time all is said and done.
19. Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba (DC/Vertigo, 2011) – As formally and structurally inventive as it is emotionally poignant, this end-of-life reminiscence paints a compelling portrait of a person, sure, but also of the times and places and events that informed their existence. As confident as comics storytelling gets, and a legitimately unforgettable experience.
18. Rolling Blackouts : Dispatches From Turkey, Syria, And Iraq by Sarah Glidden (Drawn + Quarterly, 2016) – The decade’s standout work of comics journalism, Glidden does much more than carry on the torch passed by the likes of Joe Sacco, she imbues her reportage from the Middle East with a fresh, unique perspective both narratively and visually. By turns complex and simple, harrowing and heartwarming, this is must-read material for anyone who really wants to understand the world.
17. Crossed+100 Issues 1-6 by Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade (Avatar Press, 2014-2015) – Cleverly disguised as a post-apocalyptic zombie yarn of grotesquely delightful proportions, Alan Moore in reality crafts a love letter to pulp and genre fiction, and his world-building has never been stronger as he and horror artist supreme Gabriel Andrade create a fully-realized society with dialect, customs, and rules all its own. The only work-made-for-hire project on this list, and about a thousand times better than it has any right to be.
16. The Bulletproof Coffin and The Bulletproof Coffin : Disinterred by David Hine and Shaky Kane (Image, 2011-2012) – Superhero revisionism has been done to death, but Hine and Kane didn’t let that stop them from mining the premise for all it’s worth and then some in this masterful tour-de-force that takes in everything from the Golden Age to the present day, filters it through a lens unlike any other, and reminds us of everything we love about masked vigilantes, while never shying away from their shortcomings, innate absurdity, and dodgy social messaging. Plus, it’s just an expertly-constructed metafictional narrative that says as much about its authors as it does about its characters. A synthesis of a million different elements that somehow defies the odds and ends up being truly original.
15. King-Cat by John Porcellino (Self-Published, Ongoing) – Poetic, wistful, poignant, sharply-observed, funny, expertly-crafted — we can (and should) say all this and more about John Porcellino’s decades-long exploration of life in both the general and personal sense, but if I had to sum it up in one word, it would simply be : magic. The most intimate long-form comics project perhaps in history, and something to look forward to every year.
14. Everything Is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized Books, 2017) – Bell is likely the most honest cartoonist working today, and this long-form work is a clinic on how to structure autobio as both therapeutic exercise and exorcism, frayed familial bonds, personal turmoil, and understated generational conflict combining to form a reading experience that’s emotionally exhausting, but never less than completely enthralling. A master of the medium at the absolute height of her remarkable powers.
13. Grip by Lale Westwind (Perfectly Acceptable Press, 2018-2019) – A frenetic and celebratory salute to women working in the skilled trades, Westvind’s wordless feminist treatise is pure visual and thematic power writ large, a whirlwind of motion and emotion, with a transcendent message at its core. Plus, the riso-printed colors are every bit as vibrant as the narrative itself.
12. The Lie And How We Told It by Tommi Parrish (Fantagraphics, 2018) – Exquisitely painted on the one hand and delicately rendered on the other, Parrish’s dual/dueling narratives navigate fragility and desire in all their myriad forms, from strained friendships to bathroom hook-ups to relationships that defy easy categorization or even rationalization. We are each of us an unfathomable mystery, and if the end result of that is a work like this, then hell — I wouldn’t have it any other way.
11. Qoberious Vol. 1 by D.R.T. (Self-Published, 2018) – A hermetically-sealed “reality” unlike any other, D.R.T. constructs not so much a “story’ as a self-referential alternate universe, rife with near-impenetrable motivations, interactions, and symbolism, all richly illustrated and following a strange yet agreeable internal logic. At the heart of it all seems to be a kind of fear of physical and emotional disability, or at least a loss of agency, but at the end of the day — your guess is as good as mine. And that’s what makes this utterly unlike anything else, before or since.
10. How I Tried To Be A Good Person by Ulli Lust (Fantagraphics, 2019) – Radical anarchist politics, love triangles, emotional and mental maturation, Lust’s second massive work of comics memoir has it all, plus a distinctively dense and expressionistic cartooning style that reeks of a richly-deserved confidence that the younger version of herself the story revolves around clearly lacked. Perhaps the most impossible to put down book on this entire list.
9. Angloid by Alex Graham (Self-Published/Kilgore Books, 2018) – Part autobio, part metafiction, part metaphysics, part “slacker” comedy — yet every bit as seamless as it by all rights shouldn’t be. Graham has one of the most unique perspectives on the world and her place within it of any cartoonist working today, and a richly-detailed illustration style that prizes expression and reaction above all, while taking no appreciable shortcuts with anything else. Simply put, she draws the hell out of every panel, and few comics you’ll ever read have as much heart and soul poured into them as this one.
8. Berlin by Jason Lutes (Drawn + Quarterly, ongoing concluded in 2018) – If spending over two decades on a work was enough to guarantee its placement on lists such as this, then Seth would be on here, too, so rest assured — Lutes earns this spot with his meticulously-crafted historical masterpiece. Unforgettable characters, a keen eye for detail, and an unnerving ability to key in on the subtle (and, eventually, less-than-subtle) encroachment of fascism combine to create a sprawling, soaring elegy to Weimar Berlin as it both was and could have been. “Epic” is probably too small a word.
7. Tad Martin by Casanova Frankenstein (Profanity Hill/Teenage Dinosaur 2015; Domino Books 2019) – The cartoonist formerly known as Al Frank returned to his signature creation after far too long an absence twice in the past decade, the first being a harrowing autobiographical tale of life well beyond the societal margins drawn on restaurant guest checks and cocktail napkins, the second being a hallucinatory nightmare of nihilistic depravity. Frankenstein reinvents both himself and his project every time out, and the results never fail to sear your brain and eyeballs.
6. Love And Rockets by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics, ongoing) – Long the only reason to go to the comic shop, a burst of creativity in the medium has still in no way diminished Los Bros’ place within it, and since returning to their original and much-missed magazine format, Beto has delved ever more deeply into the lives of his ensemble, while Jaime has produced what I would contend to be the finest Maggie and Hopey strips ever. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — we’re just plain spoiled by this comic, and no one should ever take it for granted.
5. Alienation by Inés Estrada (Fantagraphics, 2019) – A feminist and sub-utopian science fiction epic like no other, Estrada has thought through every facet of her speculative world, but never takes her eye off what really makes her story tick : the couple at its beating, very human heart. Wonderfully fluid art that casts a spell all its own seals the deal for this vaguely psychedelic, absolutely singular high-water mark in sequential genre storytelling.
4. The New World: Comics From Mauretenia by Chris Reynolds (New York Review Comics, 2018) – Two decades’ worth of sporadically-produced work from the inimitable Reynolds was finally collected in a beautiful hardback last year, and reading it all together is a staggering experience. At once unfathomable yet quietly familiar, this world of rich inky blacks and detailed cross-hatching mimics the looks of woodcut art, but feels like nothing else: the alien invasion has come and gone, they’ve won, new and vaguely sinister religious beliefs are emerging, time is moving differently — and there’s no real guarantee that most people either notice or care.
3. Farmer Ned’s Comics Barn by Gerald Jablonski (Fantagraphics Underground, 2017) – Speaking of long-overdue collections, this oversized Jablonski retrospective takes us from the 1990s to the present day, and yet nothing’s changed — nor should it ever. Jablonski breaks every rule of comics storytelling not so much deliberately as out of sheer obliviousness; his strips are dense, hilarious, repetitious, and operate by entirely self-created rules. Outside of even “outsider” art, nothing can really prepare you for this work — so just dive right in and forget everything you thought you knew. You’ll be glad you did.
2. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics, 2017) – A book that not only lives up to, but unquestionably surpasses, all the hype surrounding it, Ferris arrived fully-formed with a story that could only be told by her, and only in the manner that she told it. If someone had told you a few years ago that one of the bravest and most momentous comics you’d ever read in your life would be drawn with Bic and Flair pens on notebook paper, you’d probably have laughed, yet here is all the proof you need that utilizing the tools at one’s disposal can often yield revelatory results. A work OF another age, perhaps — but FOR the ages.
1. Providence by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows (Avatar Press, 2015-2017) – Ostensibly a sprawling Lovecraftian horror epic, in actuality this is Moore’s magnum opus, an exhaustively-researched and unbelievably dense deconstruction, reconstruction, condemnation, and celebration of both its subject and the genre he worked within (indeed, helped create), as well as the hidden history of New England and, perhaps, this entire dimension we call home. Regardless of what his narrow-minded and aesthetically-rigid detractors may claim, Burrows’ clean-line style is absolutely pitch-perfect for the material, and the end result is likely the finest horror comic ever created. Not so much a soaring achievement as it is a truly staggering one.