Top 10 Comics Of 2016
2016 Produced An Array Of Top-Notch Comics Including The Black Monday Murders, The Autumnlands, Brian K. Vaughn’s Paper Girls And More
By Jake Oliveira
Special for Modern Times Magazine
Jan. 16, 2017 — Like any good top 10 list, I would like to start this out with a disclaimer: Comics have kicked so much ass lately that 10 is now far too few a number. Maybe 25 would have been better. I’ve only got so much time. Also, there are no Big 2 superhero comics on here. I do like them, and some might even be in this list if I let them but that’s just not where I wanted to put my focus.
Also, these are in no particular order.
No Mercy by Alex de Campi, Carla Speed McNeil and Jenn Manley Lee
In the opening chapter of No Mercy, a busload of American kids went over a cliff in Mexico. Since then, we’ve lost a bunch of them. Some have been killed, others maimed, some have connected, some have fractured. What starts out as a classic horror turns into several almost totally separate books as primary characters emerge, and we follow their journey away from the wreck. Tragic back-stories and future-stories abound as we get to know the not-quite-so-stereotypical-as-we-thought kids leftover from the crash. McNeil’s cartooning is unique and expressive. Lee’s colors accent perfectly. Alex de Campi brings all the grit, darkness, and ugly laughs readers of her books have come to expect. Accompanied in the back matter by essays from de Campi’s years living abroad, No Mercy is one of the most unique and interesting comics on the shelves.
The Black Monday Murders by Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker
The oversized (and therefore appropriately priced) issues of The Black Monday Murders are the densest comics I read in any given month, and the weight of them is more than just the paper stock. The story of the shadow groups manipulating the world’s markets to their own gain is fascinating and deep and upsettingly relevant. Tomm Coker is an absolute revelation. The acting in his work is fantastic and, in a book full of people in fancy clothes, each character is instantly visually distinct. The settings are stunning and moody. The Black Monday Murders is the ‘feel-bad’ comic of the year.
Black Magick by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott
Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s comic about a New England cop who happens to also practice witchcraft has really only just begun, but it already promises to be among their greatest efforts, separately or united. Both prolific creators in their own right, their collaboration here makes perfect sense and results in a book that could absolutely not be made by anyone else.
Rucka’s history with writing flawed, brilliant female leads is well documented, so I won’t go into that here but, suffice to say, practice has made damn near perfect. Combined with the power and inherent femininity of Scott’s artwork, what you have is a book uniquely focused and specific in its goals; fascinating but light hearted. In many ways, this book feels ripped directly out of the 1970s with some more modern gender politics to guide it. On hiatus now and set to return in 2017, you have time to catch up before the next installment.
Exodus: The Life After by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo
The Life After, which turned into Exodus: The Life After, is a better book than we deserve. The story of the second son of God and his adventures in the afterlife, it explores different ideas about life, family, existence, and what we decide to believe. Oh yeah, also, Ernest Hemingway is one of the main characters. Yes, that Ernest Hemingway.
Funny, irreverent, and emotional, this book is always willing to race up to the precipice of what we expect to come next and then take a huge leap right over it. Gabo’s art is wild and fun and interesting. As I write this, there is only one issue left of this incredible series. I’ll miss it a lot. It’s been such a joy.
Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson
When it comes to comic book writers, no one’s name carries more cachet than Brian K. Vaughan’s. The latest of his series’ since returning to comics, Paper Girls, works largely because of it. This series is pretty unwilling to hold your hand and instead expects the readers to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. We follow a group of four newspaper delivery girls in the 1980s as they embark on a non-stop rollercoaster filled with interdimensional travelers, sci-fi monsters and future selves.
The series really kicks into gear in the second volume. The art team of Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson is one of the best in comics, and they sell every twist and turn and emotional beat with absolute finesse. Paper Girls isn’t easy to describe but its status as one of the best books on the shelves is beyond question.
Animosity by Marguerite Bennett, Rafael de Latorre and Rob Schwager
Animosity is a new book from one of the newest publishers in comics. Only three issues have been released at the time of this piece, but already it’s absolutely one of the best books out right now. Extrapolating out the statement “I wish we could talk to animals” to fascinating result, this book explores a thought many writers have probably had. However, we should all count ourselves lucky that the person who finally executed the idea was Marguerite Bennett.
One of the most exciting young voices in comics, Bennett’s work is everywhere and getting more poignant with every release. In Animosity, she taps into all of the feelings deep within all of us for our fellow inhabitants of earth. All of the affection, guilt, awe, and fear that animals can inspire in us is on display here and used to masterful effect to examine how we handle people and creatures who are different from us. Rendered beautifully by the team of De Latorre and Schwager, this story goes right for your heart.
Island magazine edited by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios
A bit of an anomaly in this list, Island is not a series unto itself but rather, an 80ish-page monthly magazine that typically features 4 to 5 comic stories of varying lengths and styles. Edited by a pair of lauded independent cartoonists, Brandon Graham and Emma Rios, Island goes out of its way to include voices that will be new to most American comic readers alongside some of the more recognized independent voices in comics. Island typically features at least one continuing story from an earlier issue along with several new ones. It has something for everyone and is well worth picking up in any given month.
The Autumnlands by Kurt Busiek, Benjamin Dewey and Jordie Bellaire
Fantasy and comics, especially in recent history, have not always worked together. You can speculate a lot as to why but the answer may be as simple as Ben Dewey wasn’t drawing it.
The Autumnlands is a bit of an oddity in the current comics market but it continues, as it has from issue one, to be one of the most fun and interesting books on the market. A big world and time spanning mystery that always has time to stop and look at the inner workings of a village of sheep people, The Autumnlands never loses sight of the ground level, however high concept the rest of the story may get. Kurt Busiek is a legend in comics that is still creating some of his finest work and his collaboration here with Ben Dewey and Jordie Bellaire stands out among the rest of the books that come out each month. The Autumnlands has the makings of a story that could go on for a very long time.
Heartthrob by Christopher Sebela, Robert Wilson IV and Nick Filardi
The 1970s, a life of crime, and Fleetwood Mac; the bullet points for Heartthrob sound pretty appealing as is but also leave out a lot of what makes this book so weird and great. There’s a lot of questions about romance, how we treat people we love, how we let them treat us, and how much of any given relationship is about what we need that are all at the center of this story, but it never bogs itself down too much. Christopher Sebela writes Callie with the affection that writers give their favorite characters they’ve created. Because he loves her, you will love her more for it. One of the big stories of Heartthrob is the continued emergence of Robert Wilson IV. After first appearing on most of our radar with a fill-in issue on Bitch Planet, his work here is emotive and a delight to look at. Nick Filardi’s colors bring all of it together masterfully into a fun, easy-to-read package with depth that will surprise you. Heartthrob returns next year but you should go get the first volume now.
Kill or Be Killed by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are probably the best team in comics. They’ve been making beloved and critically acclaimed stories together for over 15 years now and the crazy truth is, they’re still getting better. Their last series, The Fade Out was the best work of their careers and just a few months later they reappeared with the very different but equally fascinating Kill or Be Killed. I’m going to just refuse to tell you what it’s even about because you just need to read it for yourself. What I will tell you is that it’s a crime book and it’s also maybe their funniest work together to date. The art is pushing in a very different direction than The Fade Out but, just like with its predecessor, Phillips continues to create at an incredibly high level and, once again, Elizabeth Breitweiser is here to elevate it even further. Without question one of the premier colorists working in comics today, Breitweiser work is moody and evocative and sets every scene perfectly.
Kill or Be Killed is still early in its run but that’s just all the more reason to get on board with the most consistently great team in comics. Do not let this series pass you by.
Honorable Mentions (any of these could have easily also been on this list):
The Wicked + The Divine Hinges Southern Bastards Black Hammer
Sheriff of Babylon
Dietary Restructure A family man decides to get a consultation from a nutritionist. But when he realizes that losing weight will mean cutting out food items like cheddar fries, he obfuscates: all in good taste, of course.