Sensible Footwear, Kate Charlesworth, Myriad Editions



In a bumper year for graphic memoirs we want to award the gold star to Kate Charlesworth’s wonderfully funny, at times understandably angry, but always deeply humane biography. It not only tells her own story of coming out as a lesbian in post-war Britain but also uses it as a way of rediscovering the history of gay and lesbian life in the country over the last 60 years. Taking in the fight to decriminalise sexuality, Clause 28, the HIV virus and same-sex marriage, it’s a reclaiming of history from tabloid hysteria and homophobia. Bravo.

Is This How You See Me? Jaime Hernandez, Fantagraphics


In which the world’s greatest cartoonist (this is not up for debate) offers the latest instalment in the lives of his greatest characters Maggie and Hopey. Set during a punk rock reunion gig, it lightly dances between past and present, desires and regrets. If it’s not quite on a par with Hernandez’s last graphic novel The Love Bunglers that’s only because very little is. As vivid and thrilling as your favourite seven-inch single.

Clyde Fans, Seth, Drawn & Quarterly


Another return to yesterday. The Canadian cartoonist whose work yearns for the past but never shies away from the darkness to be found there, invests his post-war story of two brothers in small-town Canada with a deep current of melancholy and sadness. The mood is as blue in tone as Seth’s artwork.

The Lady Doctor, Ian Williams, Myriad Editions


No book made me laugh more this year than Ian Williams’s The Lady Doctor. Set in a Welsh clinic, it’s an account of life in a GP’s surgery that is both deeply comic but also deeply discomforting. Williams, himself a GP, does not shy away from the problems that currently inflict the NHS.

In Waves, AJ Dungo, NoBrow


Over and above the fact that it is a powerful memoir about surfing, loss and grief, the great thing about AJ Dungo’s In Waves is the way it reminds us of the importance of the word “graphic” in the term graphic novel. This is a winning example of good design and how it adds real punch to the narrative.

Walking Distance, Lizzy Stewart, Avery Hill


In Walking Distance, Lizzy Stewart keeps questioning whether anyone will be interested in her thoughts on being a woman, walking and city life. But this is a well-judged piece of work that captures fear and anxiety yet also moves with beauty. It may be the best-looking graphic novel of the year and that’s saying something in a year when both Chris Ware and Seth have had books out.

Meat and Bone, Kat Verhoeven, Conundrum


Canadian cartoonist Kat Verhoeven’s started publishing Meat and Bone online in 2012. Now it has been gathered up into a hugely satisfying block of a book. The story of three twentysomething women, it’s a fascinating take on queer and straight sexuality, body image, body issues, and feminism, with a bit of Barbarella love thrown in for good measure.

Inevitably the book catalogues Verhoeven’s developing artistic style through its pages, but the narrative is coherent and strong, and in all her cartooning she has a real eye for how her characters inhabit their world (and the comic strip’s page).

Add to that a sly humour, a real gift for drama (in both word and image) and you have the best comic book soap opera of the year.

Rain, Mary and Bryan Talbot, Jonathan Cape

The latest collaboration of the husband-and-wife team is up to their enviable high standards. Part polemic, part natural sciences lecture, part love story, Mary Talbot’s story encompasses flooding in the north of England, the Brontes, grouse shooting, moorland ecology and an ecological warning. That she manages to balance all of this is testament to her storytelling skills. Husband Bryan’s art, meanwhile, is lush and evocative and powers the story along. This is the graphic novel as call to arms.

Grass, Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, Drawn & Quarterly


“I’ve never known happiness from the moment I came out of my mother’s womb.”

This is a tough, tough read. Keum Suk Gendry-Kim’s sober, thoughtfully told account of the life of a Korean girl forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during the Second World War is harrowing, verging on bleak. It’s the story of enforced brutalisation and casual cruelty, one that patiently, painfully, outlines the human cost of warfare.

In the circumstances it almost seems wrong to talk about the craft and art that has been put into this by its creator. And yet she frames the story through landscape imagery that shifts between precise detail and smudgy impressionism. Her character work is equally impressive. The result is a potent act of witness.

The Hard Tomorrow, Eleanor Davis, Drawn & Quarterly


The near future. An authoritarian government is cracking down on activists. One of the activists, a young woman, is waiting for her stoner boyfriend to build them a home. Meanwhile, she is working as a carer, hoping she might get pregnant, and finding herself drawn more and more into activism with all its attendant dangers.

Told in striking black and white imagery (the linework is gorgeous, the architectural use of black ink smart and subtle), Eleanor Davis’s dystopian story is mostly pitched at an intimate scale, although there’s a real punch and vivacity when she does pull her lens back to show the confrontations between police and protesters. It also has one genuine shock moment that will make you catch your breath.

The Book of Sarah, Sarah Lightman, Myriad Editions


Sarah Lightman’s memoir is a fascinating account of Jewishness, feminism and the search for self, told mostly in pencil, with text and illustration sometimes in rhythm, sometimes playing counterpoint to each other. This is a sophisticated piece of work that hums with real feeling.

Rusty Brown, Chris Ware, Jonathan Cape


As well as graphic memoirs, this has been quite the year for comics formalism (see also Glenn Ganges’s The River at Night). And Chris Ware remains the ne plus ultra of the form. His latest book Rusty Brown, nearly two decades in the making, at times is almost Joycean in the way it finds ways for images to relate human experience. If the tone can feel self-consciously miserabilist at times, the fact is Ware’s graphic abilities find a beauty in despair. They also require close attention. Not that that’s a problem with an artefact as handsomely designed as this is.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, Sonny Liew, Epigram Books

Talking of formalism, Sonny Liew’s doubling up of Singapore’s history with a history of comic books is an audacious piece of work. It’s also hugely affecting.

Taxi! Aimee de Jongh, Conundrum


When you catch a cab do you talk to the driver? Aimee de Jongh does, and her latest book is a report of four different cab journeys in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Paris, and Jakarta (all told in parallel narratives). If that sounds a thin concept for a book prepare to be surprised. De Jongh’s account is full of incident and colour and personality. What sells it most, though, is her vivid, expressive art.

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