Kent State, Derf Backderf, Abrams Comics, £17.99

Derf Backderf’s account of the shootings at Kent State University in 1970 is a work that balances anger and sadness, while reminding us of the cold terror of American soldiers opening fire on innocent students. At the end of a presidency that has ramped up political division and fuelled anger, it’s sobering to be reminded where this can lead to. Backderf’s potent, clear-sighted cartooning, the result of deep reading and original research, brings that home very clearly. Graphic Content’s book of the year.

Flake, Matthew Dooley, Jonathan Cape, £18.99

The Herald:

One of the year’s most purely enjoyable graphic novels, funny, sad, and proof of how even flat-style cartooning can feel three-dimensional. The story of an ice cream van dispute between half-brothers, it reads like a lost Alan Bennett story. You can’t ask for higher praise than that.

The Complete Hate, Peter Bagge, Fantagraphics, £105

The Herald:

Now gathered up in a three-volume box set, Peter Bagge’s splenetic, viciously politically incorrect, barkingly funny slacker sitcom in comic form is given a new life by publisher Fantagraphics. It’s good, if at times wincingly painful, to renew our familiarity with Buddy Bradley and his friends. We weren’t really like this back then, were we? Were we?

Read More: Peter Bagge on The Complete Hate

Familiar Face, Michael DeForge, Drawn & Quarterly, £16.99

Michael DeForge is not interested in versimilitude or realism. He creates comic worlds that verge on psychedelic; full of rubbery, sometimes vaguely humanoid creations in wild, weird, unreal locations. And yet his work speaks directly to the current moment. In Familiar Face, he addresses body image and complaint culture. A brilliant cartoon distortion of who we are.

Ghostwriter, Rayco Pulido, Fantagraphics, £17.99

The Herald:

A murder mystery set in 1940s Barcelona, this is satisfying as a thriller but what makes it stand out is Rayco Pulido’s black and white art (with splashes of red when appropriate). His line has echoes of Jaime Hernandez and Jose Munoz, but it is more architectural, more stylised than both. His line has echoes of Jaime Hernandez and Jose Munoz, but is more architectural, more angular than both. The result is a refreshing take on noir fiction.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, Adrian Tomine, Faber & Faber, £16.99

It might be tempting from the outside to view these short, sharp biographical strips drawn from Tomine’s own life as just another indie cartoonist’s pity party. But his cleanly rendered cartooning is more self-aware and good-humoured than that and the book takes things up a step with a powerful extended final story that manages to find real poignancy in the everyday. The Moleskine notebook presentation is also an elegant conceit.

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott, Zoe Thorogood, Avery Hill, £12.99

The Herald:

This is the debut of a bright new voice in comics. Thorogood is 21 (I know, it’s sickening) and she announces herself with a sweet, gritty story about an artist who is trying to complete 10 works of art before she goes blind. It’s a story about resilience and kindness sketched out in delectable linework and colour washes. It’s a book that very much wears its heart on its sleeve but if you give your default cynicism a rest it will cut deep.

Biscuits (Assorted), Jenny Robins, Myriad Editions, £16.99

The Herald:

Another notable debut. What is striking about Robins’ book is its ambition. Via a large ensemble cast, Biscuits (Assorted) looks at multi-racial life in London, taking in love, sex, loneliness, female solidarity and burlesque. That Robins always seems in control of this sprawling story is testament to her abilities as a cartoonist and storyteller.

Read More: Jenny Robins on Biscuits (Assorted)

Breakwater, Katriona Chapman, Avery Hill, £12.99

The Herald:

Small publisher Avery Hill has had a very good year in 2020, with good books from Zoe Thorogood (see above) and Charlot Kristensen’s tale of everyday racism, What We Don’t Talk About. Katriona Chapman’s Brighton-based story of friendship and mental illness is another of the publisher’s triumphs. It’s a slow, sweet, increasingly sad story set in an old cinema that never tips over into melodrama. Chapman’s pencilled pages are full of character and charm and the pacing is immersive.

The Herald:

Avery Hill also gave us what might be the most beautiful graphic novel of the year. Owen Pomery’s slim book about drifting lives, growing up and modernist architecture is full of hidden depths. It’s a quiet, limpid book that lingers in the mind. And Pomery’s gorgeous clean-lined art deserves close attention.

Read More: Owen Pomery talks architecture and comics

Glass Town, Isabel Greenberg, Jonathan Cape, £18.99

Published back in February before the world turned upside down, Isabel Greenberg’s metafictional take on the lives of the Bronte sisters and their brother Branwell deserves not to be overlooked in any measure of the year’s best. It plays with the Brontes’ own juvenile creations and explores ideas of creativity and legacy in the process.

Bluebeard, Metaphrog, PaperCutz, £17.99

The Herald:

Glasgow-based creators John Chalmers and Sandra Marrs continue their all-ages reinvention of fairy tales with this smart, beautifully rendered feminist take on one of the darkest of them all.

Blackwood, Hannah Eaton, Myriad Editions, £18.99

Hannah Eaton’s follow-up to her debut Naming Monsters is a creepy take on English folk horror which spins out over generations. Set in a rural small town, it pivots around two murders 65 years apart; murders with uncanny similarities. Yes, there are secret rituals and rumours of witchcraft, but around this, Eaton weaves domestic details, quirky folk traditions, issues of class and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also, ultimately, a rebuke to insular thinking.

Paul at Home, Michel Rabagliati, Drawn & Quarterly, £18.99

The Herald:

This latest volume of Rabagliati’s memoirs (every so slightly fictionalised) takes in difficult emotional areas; divorce, poor health, loss, grief and loneliness all figure in the life of Rabagliati’s alter ego Paul. But there’s also the solace of the everyday and the close attention Rabagliati pays to the world around him.