The graphic novel. According to the wider world, this is the title you pin on a respectable comic book. For so long this term was affixed to titles like “Batman: Year One” and the ever present “Watchmen,” which, based on original intent and publication, I would say are most certainly comic books. But we’re not here to argue semantic and painstakingly apply labels to things, are we? No! We’re here to talk about the five original graphic novels that earned to most favor from the Multiversity staff this year. These are long form, self-contained books that are not collections of single issues, but are instead artistic visions that have been presented in one deliberate chunk.
4. (TIE) The New Deal
(Mark Tweedale) I had so much fun with this book. I loved being swept into 1930s New York and the capers of Frank, Theresa, and Nina. This isn’t a complicated tale, but rather it’s a simple tale, expertly told. Jonathan Case’s characters remind me of the sorts that populate an Agatha Christie novel. Everyone has more than one face, and so every interaction is fascinating. This book is all about character, but not in a dark and ponderous way, rather a playful way.
I enjoyed every moment and I was sorry when it ended. I had been transported so thoroughly into the world and the lives of the characters, and I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to launch straight into a sequel. I hope Jonathan Case does more like this in future. I can guarantee each one would find its way to my bookcase.
4. (TIE) Sacred Heart
(Matt Garcia) “Sacred Heart” is a staggering achievement of adolescence and the apocalypse. You might have followed along with the original webcomic, but rest assured, this tome, published by Fantagraphics, stands on its own. Liz Suburbia has called the webcomic a sort of first draft of the story, and having that in place before she launched into the printed version has made this book all the stronger.
Told in stark, emphatic black-and-white images, the story in “Sacred Heart” unravels slowly, focusing more on these kids and their obstacles dealing with a new world while their hormones remain as rampant and raging as always. There’s an underlying terseness to the book, a quiet danger, and Suburbia has turned in a totally immersive, horrifying, and even somewhat moving comic. It’s a unique experience.
(Paul Lai) Here are three ways Nimona is a shapeshifter.
First, Nimona’s a shapeshifter. Noelle Stevenson’s title character is an aspiring young sidekick to requisite villain Lord Ballister Blackheart. Then she’s a dragon. Then a cat. Then a monster. And as a shapeshifter, she wreaks havoc on the draconian faux-fairyland Kingdom policed by The Director of The Institute.
Second, Nimona is a shapeshifter. The story’s first form was as Maryland Institute College of Art student Stevenson’s art school assignment. Then a popular webcomic, part of Stevenson’s meteoric rise that also included co-creating Lumberjanes. Then, the complete story (with some smoothing out in post-production) became a HarperCollins OGN. Then a sales phenomenon, a National Book Award winner, and a New York Times Notable Middle Grade book of 2015.
Third, Nimona—as a story—is a shapeshifter. Initially it appears like only another example of the sprightly and sophisticated, colorful and quirky geek-embrace of the new, young comics. But folks who counted themselves out of the target demo were fools to disregard its depth. Just as artfully subversive as Wicked or Maleficent but with the knowing wit of a New Yorker cartoon, Nimona winds up with great soul, a satisfying snip at simple morality, and a deserved place on kid and adult shelves.
2. Two Brothers
Two Brazilian twins, doing a story about two Brazilian twins – it almost seems too perfect, right? But Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, in an adaptation of a novel by Milton Hatoum, manage to subvert just about every expectation you might have about what this book is, and what it is supposed to be. There aren’t moments of giant revelation and tear jerking revelations – this book, instead is a quiet, meditative slog through the daily life of a home in Manaus. Family, love, lust, betrayal, favoritism, apathy – all of it is here. Ba’s artwork manages to do so much with so little – he might have the least amount of pen strokes on a page this side of Mike Mignola – but the book doesn’t suffer from the black and white minimalism – it thrives because of it.Continued below
(Alice W. Castle) This is one of those times where writing for Multiversity really pays off because otherwise I feel like there’s a good chance I would have missed out on “Apocalyptgirl” if it hadn’t been for my advance review. There, I pretty much explained all the reasons with this graphic novel ended up at the top of the list: it was a fun, refreshing take on dystopic fiction by a creator at the top of the game. It was a story that came from a singular vision and crafted by a single creator to be the purest distillation of Andrew MacLean’s take on the end times. If you haven’t checked this one out already, this is as good a time as any to do so.
Mike Romeo – This is always one of my favorite categories. While I thoroughly enjoyed each and every book on this list, I’m especially excited to see Liz Suburbia and Andrew MacLean make an appearance.
Brian Salvatore – This was an incredible year for original graphic novels – the list could have easily gone seven or eight deep without any real drop off in quality. With so many original stories, told by bold voices, it was one hell of a year for long form sequential art.