NOTE: Of What I’ve read and not in specific order
1. Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet (Drawn & Quarterly) – Translated from Belgian comics, writer Vehlmann’s deep discussion of the human pecking order and what happens in a quasi-Lord of the Flies society is complemented with amazing artwork from the duo of Kerascoet. The watercolors and Disney-esque, old-school animated artwork infuses an eerie tone into the story, raising it into rarified air. A must read.
2. Battling Boy: The Rise of Aurora West by Paul Pope, JT Petty and David Rubin (First Second) – Aurora West is a hero in training in a city besieged by monsters. Her family lineage puts her on the path but she must be the one to take it. The prequel to last year’s terrific Battling Boy, David Rubin capably parallels Paul Pope’s artwork while putting his own stamp on the action. One barely needs to read the words to understand the action, but what is written is terrific. It stands on its own two feet as a book about Aurora West but there are also hints of what’s to come in the Battling Boy series. A terrific series of books for the tween or adult in your life.
3. Andre The Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown (First Second) – How much of Andre the Giant’s story is life and how much is legend is up to the reader to discern, which is sort of the point. So much of wrestling is in preserving how the business operates, ensuring a certain level of impenetrability that the public cannot pierce. That being said, this book recounts story after story of Andre interacting with the public, his family, his size and his health. Brown’s style lends to the cartoonish nature of wrestling (publicly anyhow), with sparse daring lines, letting the artwork stand there for all to see. Andre was larger than life, perhaps outshining even his own.
4. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (Margaret McElderry Books) – My second-favorite book of 2014, it actually compiles several years of Carroll’s online horror works. Her art is evocative and distinct, brushed with care. The seeming lack of color in some stories actually makes the eye go towards the reds and blues, further accentuating a feeling of anxiety. Her stories give one goosebumps and lets the imagination go wild with what could possibly be until all is revealed (or isn’t revealed and lingers even more in the reader’s brain). Five full stories of dread. Enjoy. And keep a light on.
5. Ant Colony by Michael DeForge (Drawn & Quarterly) – Weird. Crazy. Imaginative. All these words can be used to describe this book, one where a group of ants live in an impossibly dark yet funny world. Told in a bunch of vignettes and various layouts (with homage to cartoon strips), DeForge uses incredible colors and hilarious character models to create his world. His work on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time shines through in a much more adult manner.
6. Blacksad Amarillo by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse) – The newest Blacksad book takes the cat detective to the United States where he ends up investigating a murder in a deeply racist, deeply secretive town while also going some crazy writers who stole his car. The story stems from Guarnido’s amazing art. Every line is conveyed perfectly and the color is masterful. The way the anthropomorphic characters are modeled are so natural that the reader doesn’t even notice after a few pages. This is my favorite book of 2014, and a must-read for any fan of the either noir or crime.
7. The People Inside by Ray Fawkes (Oni Press) – Fawkes is now writing superhero comics, but he’s actually an accomplished artist and burst onto the scene with One Soul in 2011. The People Inside expands on the narrative ‘trick’ in that book, telling 24 individual stories and many more relationship stories all at once. Panels merge and break up as the people do as well. Panels blacken entirely until only one relationship, and one person, are left. Done with pen and ink, the innovative layout and the intense, true-to-life humanity within these pages make it a must-read for 2014.
8. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki (First Second) – Awago Beach is where Rose Wallace and her family vacation. It’s also where secrets let themselves loose and devastate everyone in their wake. A coming-of-age tale, the book is heavy while still being charming, the latter mostly coming through in her friend Windy. A teenagers’ rather adult problems are at the periphery of Rose’s adventures, and she isn’t sure if she wishes to dive in. The color work in the piece is faded and with blue tints, denoting a time gone past. Jillian Tamaki is the artist, and she takes a humanistic style to her characters. The terrific double-page splashes are set at perfect junctures within the story and drawn with loving care by Tamaki. This book is a great read for any teenager unsure of that weird see-saw between childhood and adulthood.
9. Youth is Wasted by Noah Van Sciver (AdHouse Books) – Van Sciver’s most recent collection of short stories are deeply personal and discuss the idea that one is going nowhere and fast. He also weaves his way through mental despair, the drudgery of a nowhere job, and of course creating his own Brothers Grimm fairytale. Because of course he did. It’s in a very detailed, classic cartoon style, with exaggerated heads and decidedly un-flattering bodies. All in all, the reader is bound to find their favorite story here which they’ll re-read over and over again.
10. Spider-Man: Family Business by Mark Waid, James Robinson, Gabriele Dell’Otto and Werther Dell’Edera (Marvel) – Spider-Man has a sister?! Surely this will change things forever for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man! Perhaps, perhaps not, but what we do get is an engaging tale involving a gregarious, wise-cracking Peter Parker, one of the best villains ever created in the Kingpin, and a new character named Teresa. Spy intrigue is not something one would normally ascribe to a Spidey book, but the stellar art by Dell’Otto (normally a cover artist due to the level of detail and time it takes to create his pages) and Dell’Edera really evoke a sense of the expansiveness of the story and the immediacy of the action. The painted style lends itself perfectly to creating the narrative. It’s certainly the best thing to come out of either of the ‘Big Two’ companies this year as far as graphic novels are concerned. Check it out.
Any others? Mention them below!