This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics
It seems like only a year ago we were getting used to writing “2014” on our Spider-Man checks, but it’s actually been more like twelve months. Things happened in those months, some wonderful and others on the ghastly end of the spectrum. Through it all there were comics, new on the market or new to us. Let’s take a knee and remember the best of the bunch.
The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez
Gadzooks, what a title! Though serialized piecemeal over the past few years, the culmination (for now, at least) of the Maggie the Mechanic story was collected in the summer of 2014. I knew little else could possibly compete even if they tacked on four extra months to the end of the year. While The Love Bunglers functions perfectly well as a self-contained OGN, it’s also the rich payoff of some three decades of storytelling in the realms of romantic, familial, and platonic love. It’s also a cartooning clinic from inevitable comics Rushmore head Jaime Hernandez. Spectacular. — Paul Montgomery
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
Cartoonist Raina Telgemeier seems to be on a schedule of releasing a graphic novel just about every two years, and each time the book is pretty much guaranteed a spot on year-end Best Of lists. This year Telgemeier’s Sisters was published by Scholastic; her third book with the kid-centric publishing house and a companion to her earlier Smile. The kind-of-a-sequel-but-totally-works-as-a-standalone book follows an adolescent Raina stuck in a car with her younger siblings on a road trip, traveling from the west coast to a family reunion in Colorado. While Smile was all about an adolescent struggle to fit in at school, Sisters looks at sibling relationships with the same smart eye. Telgemeier captures the travails of sibling relationships as well here as in any comic (or prose, for that matter) that I’ve read, smart and instantly relatable. Her cartooning is top-notch as well – colorful, infused with motion, and a true joy to read. — Josh Christie
Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley
I devoured Seconds in one sitting and then had to go back for, well, seconds. I’m not sure of the last time I read a graphic novel in one shot like that or the last time a re-read a comic; both are rare feats for me. I’m a sucker for “coming of age” stories where the protagonist should be old enough to know better. Watching 30-something Katie go back and back and back through all of her mistakes to get everything just right struck a real chord with me. It’s a book about learning the difference between what you should want, what you think you want, and what you really do want. And Bryan Lee O’Malley just kills it. By far his most beautiful book yet, Seconds is a masterpiece of sequential art. O’Malley creates bold and evocative pages that tell a story in a way that only comics can. It’s book worth visiting and revisiting. — Ali Colluccio
This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki, Mariko Tamaki
This has been a great year for comics about girls and girlhood, and This One Summer, by the Canadian writer-artist team of Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, is a standout. This isn’t always an easy or fun book to read; the Tamakis pull no punches in depicting how self-absorbed and misguided teens can be. The main character, Rose, comes with her parents to the summer vacation home that she’s always enjoyed — but her parents are fighting, she feels like she’s outgrowing her friends, and she focuses all of her energy on the wrong kind of boy. There’s a lot here that feels painfully real, about the way that teens struggle to understand the world and in the process make judgments that are unkind or just plain wrong. Jillian Tamaki’s gorgeous artwork is a striking complement to the pointedly unsentimenal storytelling; the world is full of beauty but Rose isn’t in a position to appreciate or articulate it, and that tension drives a tale that rewards multiple readings. — Caroline Pruett
Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky
Sex Criminals is one of those books that just shouldn’t work. If I pitched it to you as “a book about a man and woman who discover they can stop time with their orgasms and decide to rob banks,” you’d think it was some kind of adolescent X-men porn satire hastily sketched on the back of homework assignments and passed around in Econ class. But I was interested enough in Matt Fraction’s work to give this book a chance. And now, when I look back on 2014, Sex Criminals stands out as one of the most memorable, positive reading experiences I’ve had. Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky deliver a book with the audacity to have an honest core. To have heart. Yes, the pitch is basically what I said above, but the book is about so much more. Super-hero comics stop short of the details — they provide us with a big allegory for feeling different, feeling weird, feeling alone. Sex Criminals actually goes a step further. It gets real with you. It talks about real sexual experiences, and the feelings behind them. It talks about the complications of relationships, all of the psychological ramifications of the fallout of sex and relationships, and it does it all while wrapping it up in a tale of sex police, weird powers, and dildo weaponry.
Fraction and Zdarsky don’t just stop with the 22 pages of story content. From getting crazy with the “Previously” blurbs to a letters page that contains stories ranging from ridiculousness to bare-naked honesty (as well as sex “advice” that merited its own book), each issue of Sex Criminals is a complete package. These are two collaborators who are using the “creator owned” model of Image Comics to put something out into the world that is so utterly unique that I can’t imagine it working any other way or with any other creative talent. And that is what comics should perpetually strive for. — Dave Accampo
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Jacob Wyatt
It’s hard to think of ways to praise Ms. Marvel that haven’t been said before: Kamala’s indomitable spirit and adorably nerdy enthusiasm for everything she does. The diverse cast and the depiction of Muslims as normal, complex individuals instead of one-note stereotypes. The sketchy, elastic art that so perfectly depicts Kamala’s powers and the soft, warm coloring that makes her Jersey City a world you want to immerse yourself in (insert Jersey City joke here). Kamala telling Wolverine he’s the star of her fanfic. But the real reason I picked this book as my favorite of 2014 is because it made me smile each and every month. For me, there’s no higher praise than that. — Jess Plummer
Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega by Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez
In 2013, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez finished their masterpiece: Locke & Key. As someone who’s been following the title via trades, however, the end came out this year with volume 6: Alpha & Omega. Locke & Key was always a brilliant blend of imaginative magic, a mother dealing with loss, supernatural horror, and children struggling to come of age. Despite all its troubles, The Key House is still one fictional place I would love to visit. Alpha & Omega was a fitting, heartfelt ending to one of my favorite comic books of all time. — Chris Arnone
The Multiversity by Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis, Frank Quietly, Cameron Stewart, Chris Sprouse, Ben Oliver
Grant Morrison once told me that we had met each other in the dreamworld. I can only assume that that meeting went very well because Morrison’s worlds-spanning crossover from DC Comics, The Multiversity, is the most me-oriented comic book I’ve ever read. Outside of combining one of my favorite writers with some of my favorite artists, The Multiversity focuses on my favorite aspects of reading superhero comics: A union of various superheroes set to save the multiverse from destruction, a world of Golden Age heroes engaging in pulpy adventure, legacy superheroes inheriting a world from their superforebearers, a smile inducing visit to Shazam’s world, and finally getting to see the Charlton Comics characters do Watchmen. I couldn’t have dreamed up with a comic that would do all these things and it’s left me with a big goofy grin every time it’s come out. There were a lot great comics this past year, many vying for my favorite of the year, but when I think about pure enjoyment and fun, I keep coming back to The Multiversity. It’s epic in scale and is so meta-textual that it’s looped back around on itself and become textual, but it has a warmth to it that many other events with similar stakes lack. In just a handful of issues we’ve gotten real worlds with fully realized characters, one-shot stories that give us a peek at the inner workings of fifty-two living worlds. I have a feeling we’ll be talking about this one for a long time. — Brian McNamara
The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson, Kyle Baker
Though it came out in late 2013, I didn’t get a chance to read Vivek J. Tiwary and Andrew C. Robinson’s The Fifth Beatle until early 2014 and it remains the best thing I read all year. Its tale, which traces the life of Brian Epstein from 1961 to 1967, is a bittersweet one. Epstein was the manager of the Beatles during those years and he helped mold their look and presentation to almost unimaginable heights by the mid-1960s. While his professional life was taking off like a bullet, his personal life was never satisfying and he died in 1967 by a combination of sleeping pills and alcohol. However, Tiwary and Robinson’s presentation of his life is absolutely breathtaking. Everyone, including the Beatles, has simple lines outlining their faces, which allows for a full range of expressions and emotions. These are caricatures done right. It’s not photorealistic but it captures the look and feel of both the real people and the times they lived in. There is a dreamlike quality to the story as Epstein’s pill addiction became a bigger and bigger part of his life. It’s a beautiful, artistic exploration of an often forgotten figure in pop culture and one whose unseen fingerprints can be found throughout the Beatles’ history. Even folks who don’t consider themselves Beatles fans can find something in this title to lose themselves in as each turn of the page brings some new colorful layout to pore over. — Jeff Reid
Sexcastle by Kyle Starks
Without a doubt Sexcastle was my favorite thing I read all year. Starks’ devilishly funny riff on 80s era action movies like Roadhouse delivers on every single page. Shane Sexcastle’s road to redemption is paved with blood, nun-chucks and an A+ mullet. For something called “Comic” books, they’re very rarely outright comical. Sexcastle fights back against it. Luckily, it’ll be a big book in 2015 as Image has picked it up and will be doing a print run of the book. Don’t miss it this time around. — Chris Rohling
Copra by Michel Fiffe
Copra had me hooked since Issue #1. I’m lucky enough to call Bergen Street Comics my local comic book store, so this book popped on my radar pretty quickly. I try to keep up with indie and small press books as much as possible and when it comes to capes and tights, team books about supervillians, crooks and degenerates are my kinda kryptonite. Some may have ignored this book as a shameless Suicide Squad rip-off, which it might have been initially, but it was still pretty fantastic. It was certainly the most beautiful looking version of Suicide Squad that you would ever see and that fact that this was being written and drawn by one person on a monthly schedule is impressive. But in 2014, Fiffe turned this book into a whole new beast. He took a step back from the team and did a bunch of done-in-one’s focusing on different characters of the team. Each one had a completely different influences, styles and tones. Fiffe went from doing worship work to creating something novel and impressive. Also, it’s hard not to sit there and admire how much love clearly goes into each issue of Copra. Just pick up one of these issues in your hands and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The linework is beautiful. The colors pop off of the page. Even the quality of the paper is mind blowing, it puts to shame whatever terrible paper the Big 2 are overcharging all of us for. It might have been a bit difficult to track down these issues but there are now trades available that you should be able to purchase from your local comic store. — Eric Margolis
The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Psst. It’s me again. Shh! Don’t tell Paul I’m back! We were only supposed to pick one comic for 2014. But I’m going to try and sneak this one in at the bottom while he’s not looking. And really, Seconds is a graphic novel and The Wicked + The Divine is a series, so it’s like picking your favorite movie and then talking about your favorite TV show. Anyway.
The Wicked + The Divine is not an easy comic. It’s full of metaphor and social commentary, biased narrators and equivocation, so SO many pop culture and literary references. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have built this comic like my mom’s lasagna; layers upon layers upon layers of deliciousness that miraculously doesn’t weigh you down, but makes you want to eat more. Everyone who reads this comic will have a slightly different experience with it, and that is a wonderful thing. Then there is the sheer elegance of how McKelvie leads you through the narrative. I’ve always found the “acting” in his work to be his greatest strength, but this comic has been a masterpiece in sequential art. His layouts perfectly control the pacing of the story and guide your eye in such a way that you can feel the movement of the page. Colorist Matt Wilson is an expert at adding tone and mood to the page and the perfect complement to McKelvie’s pencils and inks. Every tiny detail of this comic is beautifully executed; it’s a true tour de force. –Ali Colluccio, again
So? How about you folks? Which comics topped your list of favorites from last year? Let us know!