It’s hard to talk about the best new comics this year without acknowledging that the coronavirus pandemic really threw the comics world for a loop.
Back in March, schools, stores, restaurants, and, yes, all of our favorite local comic shops were forced to close their doors. Even Free Comic Book Day was postponed. In the wake of this, comic shops adapted, shifting their focus to online sales, shipping out orders and, in some cases, offering curbside pickup. Because there were no new print issues coming into shops, my own beloved LCS began pushing their backlist titles on Instagram and moving a lot of their community-building events—like Dungeons & Dragons campaigns and comics drawing classes—online.
Then the industry’s primary distributor, Diamond Comic Distributors, shut down. It was a bit of a holy shit moment.
During that time, when I was not gazing wistfully at the list of comics I had been waiting to purchase, I was forced to read not-comics.
The other week, my LCS finally reopened its doors to (limited) browsers and I was able to pick up a large haul of books. And thank god. I had somehow fallen into a pattern of reading dense tomes about gender imbalances within healthcare and, well, there are only so many books one can read in a short span of time about how you’re totally screwed because of your gender.
If you’re feeling similarly burnt out on not-comics, I have your back. Here’s a list of some of the best new comics in 2020—most already out; some forthcoming—that will totally hit the spot. Find more comics coverage here.
Go with the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann
It feels like eons have passed since I read this one, but Go with the Flow came out at the beginning of the year. This graphic novel is about a group of female friends who go up against a high school administration that’s squeamish about the fact that half of their student population menstruates. Despite how enthusiastically one of these ladies wants to raise hell, however, the rest of her friends aren’t convinced that calling attention to their flow is the way to go. Will their friendship survive? This book was charming as hell and such a fun way to teach body positivity, so obviously I’m saving it for my daughter.
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh
Speaking of my daughter, I passed this one along to her after reading it myself. She’s since read it…well, I’ve lost count. She’s obsessed with it, because: magic. I love how this sweet story—about a girl who befriends her town’s witch, managing to find herself along the way—manages to subtly weave in so many diverse viewpoints, from the single mom who’s worried about placing too much pressure on her young daughter to the best friend who’s exploring her gender identity to the androgynous older lesbian who gave up on love long ago.
Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn and Nicole Goux
Late last year, I wrote a piece on the adaptations being done between the prose and graphic forms and I managed to get my hands on an advance copy of this beauty. In it, Cassandra Cain—a teenage assassin who’s been raised to believe that she was born to be bad—becomes fascinated by the story of Batgirl and begins to wonder if she has what it takes to be a hero, too.
Go to Sleep (I Miss You) by Lucy Knisley
After reading Relish, I would follow Knisley anywhere. And I very much appreciate graphic memoirs that manage to capture the particular angst of new motherhood. Last year, I bawled over Teresa Wong’s Dear Scarlet. Go to Sleep is a lot lighter, but it hits me in the feels in much the same way, in that it makes me feel seen. Knisley initially posted these short cartoons on her Instagram page, but the best of them were collected into this book earlier this year.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 12: To All the Squirrels I’ve Loved Before by Ryan North, Derek Charm, Rico Renzi, Travis Lanham, and Erica Henderson
Squirrel Girl is the first superhero I fell deeply in love with, and her long-running series stayed strong throughout. This year saw the publication of the last volume in the series and the book managed to keep me laughing while also emotionally destroying me. Pick up a copy for an object lesson in how to perfectly end a beloved series.
Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks & Scones by Ngozi Ukazu
Despite a rocky start, comics this year have excelled at hitting me right in the feels, and this second book from Ukazu is no different. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, this webcomic-turned-graphic novel is a coming-of-age story about a young man (and fabulous baker) trying to fit in as he goes off to university, joins the hockey team, and falls in love. In this second book, we follow our protagonist in his last two years at Samwell University, during which he grapples with identity and coming out. In the meantime, he learns a lot about family—both the one he was born into and the one he created for himself.
Something Is Killing the Children, Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV, Werther Dell’Edera, and Miquel Muerto
Lest you think my taste in comics is all rainbows and ponies and some light sobbing, let me introduce you to one of my deepest loves: horror comics. After some of my favorite horror comic series came to an end the other year, I went through a bit of a dry spell. But then BOOM! Studios released the first issue of Something Is Killing the Children, in which…well…something is killing the children. And then a mysterious monster killer comes to town. The first arc of this series released as a trade paperback just the other month. It’s a satisfying read, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
You Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez and Julie Maroh
I didn’t even realize this YA graphic novel was set in the DC universe until the main protagonist spotted Superman flying in the distance. And even then, it was easy to forget that he lived in a universe populated by superheroes. The first half of the book is a quiet story about a boy who’s both questioning his sexuality and dreaming of something more than life in his hometown of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. There’s also his childhood best friend, who doesn’t understand the sudden rift that’s grown between them. But then our protagonist discovers that the strange blue markings on his skin—which his mother always insisted were merely birthmarks—grant him some strange powers, and things get wild.
Primer by Jennifer Muro, Thomas Krajewski, and Gretel Lusky
My 6-year-old is a self-proclaimed artist who also dreams of being a superhero. So I had to buy her this middle grade graphic novel about an artistic 13-year-old who, while snooping around her foster mom’s closet, stumbles upon body paints that grant her superpowers. In much the same vein as Shadow of the Batgirl, our hero learns that she can rise above her troubled past. This book is charming as hell—for you or for your little ones.
The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Justin McElroy, and Carey Pietsch
By the time you read this, the third book in this graphic novel series based on a podcast based on a tabletop roleplaying game (did you get all that?) will have recently released. But as I write this, I am still waiting with bated breath for the book that I PREORDERED IN OCTOBER FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Just two years ago, I wouldn’t have expected to be obsessed with a graphic novel adapted from a live D&D campaign, but here we are. In this third installment, our merry band of adventurers is attempting to apprehend a master thief and reclaim an ancient relic. Hijinks, of course, ensue. Be prepared to LOL on every page.
Fangs by Sarah Andersen
I usually rely upon Andersen for cute cartoons about introversion and books and cats, all of which hit a little too close to home. But I fell hard for this love story between a vampire and a werewolf. These series of vignettes started out as a webcomic, but the book version comes out in September.
Basketful of Heads by Joe Hill and Leomacs
The first issue in this series released on January 1, 2019. It was one of several premier titles in Joe Hill’s new horror comic imprint with DC, Hill House Comics. The last title in this limited series was postponed thanks to the pandemic. But I was finally able to read the end of this sordid tale at the end of March. If you want to read it all in one gulp, the trade comes out in September. I don’t want to give away too much, but the story involves small-town corruption and a cursed Viking axe.
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
Despite my enthusiasm over the next Adventure Zone book, this particular graphic memoir may actually be the most anticipated comic of the last seven years…which is when Brosh published her first book, Hyperbole and a Half. After that, this new title sat on Amazon FOR YEARS, its pub date pushed back and then switched to “unknown,” before it just disappeared from the site entirely. (I know this because I checked. Repeatedly. For three years.) Brosh’s first book—which was so hilarious I found myself cry-laughing on every single page—also dealt with some incredibly weighty topics, including her depression. So it should not have come as a surprise when Brosh decided to take a break from the public eye. But now she’s back with more humorous (and humorously illustrated) stories about her life, and the only thing I can complain about now is the fact that I have to wait until September to read it.
Dracula, Motherf**ker by Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson
I wouldn’t need to know anything about this graphic novel beyond the fact that Henderson is involved, but the fact that it’s a psychological horror is definitely a bonus. The pulp-tastic story apparently jumps back and forth between two different periods in Dracula’s life and involves three of his brides, a crime scene photographer, and a mystery. I mean, sure. Count me in. Out in October.
Lumberjanes: True Colors by Lilah Sturges, polterink, and Jim Campbell
If I could linger in the Lumberjanes universe forever, I would. I mean, who wouldn’t want to befriend endless magical creatures with a gang of other hardcore lady-types? I loved their last standalone graphic novel, The Shape of Friendship, so I expect good things from this team’s latest, which focuses in on the irrepressible Ripley, who has come to wonder if maybe being unique isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If I know anything about those Lumberjanes, I know that her friends will likely set her straight. Pick this one up if you need a sparkly, warm hug.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera and Celia Moscote
This last one doesn’t come out until December, but at least we have something to look forward to? This graphic novel is an adaptation of a YA novel I absolutely LOVED. In it, a queer Puerto Rican from the Bronx (who is afraid to come out to her family) goes looking for answers from the most unlikely of characters. The characters are the type of people you wish you could be BFFs with and the story as a whole has a lot of heart. I’m really excited to see it brought to life in this way.
WELCOME BACK, COMICS!