Cutting it down to 10 has been impossible. That’s the problem. In years past this might not always have been possible to say. But now, even setting aside the regular comic books that turn up in Forbidden Planet, A1 and other comic stores every month, there is such an abundance of good work available.
But given that we’re trying to recognise the titles of the year we have to impose some limits. So here we present the Graphic Content Books of the Year – all 15 of them.
15 Hole in the Heart, Henny Beaumont (Myriad)
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Just edging Sarah Lippett’s Stan & Nan out of the list, Henny Beaumont’s raw, painful account of her life as the mother of a Down ’s syndrome child. It’s a book that wears its heart on its sleeve, but there’s great artfulness here too. And best of all, Henny’s daughter Beth is a star.
14 Irmina, Barbara Yelin (SelfMadeHero)
This is easily one of the most beautiful graphic novels of the year. But beyond the beauty of Barbara Yelin’s art sits the toughness of her storytelling. An examination of complicity in Nazi Germany, this is a powerful examination of how getting ahead in life can often mean averting your eyes to the truth of the world you live in.
13 Saving Grace, Grace Wilson (Jonathan Cape)
Edinburgh-born and raised, Grace Wilson’s memoir of flat-sharing in London is very good at finding the humour in the everyday; jobs, sex, alcohol, and trying to find somewhere to live. All twentysomething life is here.
12 The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia, Mary and Bryan Talbot (Jonathan Cape)
There’s a danger we take the Talbots for granted, I fear. This is an astonishingly ambitious work, using the story of French revolutionary feminist Louise Michel as a way to discuss ideas of utopia, the city and revolutionary action. There is a remarkable level of craft on display here from both the author and her artist husband.
11 The City Inside, Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
Tillie Walden is the Eisner-nominated rising star of the British comics scene and this slim, sweet, sad, thoroughly lovely book will show you why. It’s a book about memory and time and loss and growing up and dreaming. It’s about the way the light hits a building and the rhythm of the heart. It made me think of Elbow’s first album of all things. Which is a good thing.
10 Big Kids, Michael DeForge (Drawn & Quarterly)
A young man called Adam turns into a tree. That’s all you need to know. That and the fact that DeForge is a cartoonist who is not interested in realism. This is about otherness, visually and emotionally. As such, it’s a comic strip about identity and sexuality as told through cartoon twigs and trees. The result is abstract, gloriously cartoony (cartoony is a good thing obviously) and wilfully strange.
9 Soft City, Hariton Pushwagner (New York Review Comics)
There is nothing remarkable about the story told in Soft City. It’s a tale of corporate and capitalist alienation in which a man gets up, battles through the rush hour, goes to work and then does the same in reverse. And again. And again. And again.
But Dutch artist Pushwagner’s rediscovered 1970s graphic novel is a visual tour de force. His use of repeated images, panel breakdowns and overpowering cityscapes brings home the sense of enclosure, of alienation, what cartoonist Chris Ware in his introduction describes as “the spiritual deadness of his existence.” The result, Ware argues is “more Schopenhauer than Schulz, more Kubrick than Kirby …” That’s a fair call. And yet no film could offer this visual density and let us examine it at leisure.
8 The Can Opener’s Daughter, Rob Davis (SelfMadeHero)
A sequel to The Motherless Oven, Rob Davis’s new book has all the zest, energy and almost offhand verbal and visual originality of its predecessor. If anything, I think this one might be better. The story of Vera Pike, her other the Weather Clock (think a mechanical Theresa May), suicide school and death days it’s a very British acid-tinged whimsy meets Grange Hill attitude. Hugely enjoyable. And it ends on a cliff-hanger.
7 For the Love of God, Marie, Jade Sarson (Myriad)
Jade Sarson’s debut takes on both sexuality and religion. No shortage of ambition there then. And it’s not misplaced. Sarson’s candy-coated art doesn’t negate the fact that she is asking big questions here. It just makes us all the keener to engage with them.
6 The One Hundred Nights of Hero, Isabel Greenberg (Jonathan Cape)
Earlier this year we summed Greenberg’s latest graphic novel as “Scheherazade meets Gloria Steinem.” It’s a combination of a feminist take on fairy tales, a story about storytelling, and a scratchy but satisfying visual style. Greenberg’s second fully formed graphic novel is notable for its ambition and, more importantly, for ambition achieved.
5 Hubert, Ben Gijsemans (Jonathan Cape)
The quietest book on this list but the echo of it has been ringing through the year since it appeared back in March. Ben Gijsemans’ graphic novel is a slow, sly tone poem that is full of melancholy and loneliness and art appreciation. It asks one thing of the reader; to be patient, to take your time. It will reward those who do.
4 The Greatest of Marlys!, Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)
Lynda Barry’s character Marlys deserves to better known. She’s a noisy, brash, unbroken kid despite life hitting her head over heels and sideways. A gather-up of regular strips Barry’s cartooning is a supple, vivid reminder how much you can do in a very simple (four panels in a one page strip) format.
3 Moon Cop, Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)
Scotland’s very own Tom Gauld’s latest graphic novel rolls up a space cop, huge moonscapes, dry humour, nostalgia for the age of lunar exploration and a large measure of melancholy into this very sweet book. Imagine if Finnish film director Aki Kaurasmaki made a space movie.
2 Panther, Brecht Evens (Drawn & Quarterly)
Take note. This is not a children’s book. Let’s be clear about that. Brecht Evens’ graphic novel may be about a girl whose cat dies and the “friendly” panther that comes to comfort her from the bottom drawer of her dresser, but for all its bright colours and beautiful picture book art this is a strange, disturbing tale about grief and even darker themes
1 The Arab of the Future, Riad Sattouf (Two Roads)
Two volumes of Riad Sattouf’s three-volume memoir have now been translated into English and both seem utterly essential. Sattouf’s account of his childhood in Syria, the son of an Arabic father and a French mother is both hilarious and heart-breaking.
The second volume’s account of Sattouf’s school years in Syria is also rather scarifying. There’s a darkness here that plays off Sattouf’s humorous “big nose” cartoon style.
The books also have a huge, horrifying resonance today. Because the 1980s Syria the cartoonist is describing is now the Syria we are seeing on the news every night. Essential.