Welcome to the Multiversity Year in Review for 2020! While this has been, by many accounts, a terrible year, there were a number of fantastic comics released in 2020, and over the next ten days, we’ll be highlighting our favorites across 25 categories. If you want to give your thoughts on our picks or share your own, feel free to do so in the comments!
A lot of awards focus on individual creators or series. Sometimes though, it’s cool to zoom out and look at the big picture. You can tell a lot by the quality of books that come out of a particular publisher. And that quality is determined by a lot of decisions made by editors, publishers, and executives. A lot of care goes into those decisions, so every year we celebrate the companies who had the best, most exciting collection of comics overall. These are our top publishers for 2020.
If you don’t know that VIZ one of the finest publishers in comics, I simply don’t know what to tell you at this point. I’ve been beating this drum for years! They are untouchable in terms of variety of product, quality, and price point. The digital Shonen Jump platform remains the best deal in comics, providing a convenient and friendly jumping on point for new readers. Their line of black and white tankōban collections offer a much better bang for your buck compared to the trade collections published by DC and Marvel. If you’re looking for something a bit classier, take a look a their Signature line or the beautiful hardcover collections for books like “Full Metal Alchemist” or “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.”
This year saw VIZ give a big push to new series “Chainsaw Man,” one of the best comics I’ve read in ages. We also had continuations of long running favorites like “My Hero Academia” and “One Piece.” Under the VIZ Signature banner, VIZ published new volumes from legendary creators like Inio Asano, Junji Ito, and Naoki Urasawa. The publisher’s newest initiative, VIZ Originals, also launched in 2020. Focused on “publishing original graphic novels developed by manga-inspired creators,” the imprint released the first volume in a delightful adaptation of Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl.”
Manga continues to dominate the western comics market and VIZ continues to offer a fantastic mix of affordable, high quality product for readers to enjoy. Be it shonen, shojo, seinen, or something else entirely, VIZ’s vast portfolio likely has something for you. – Zachary Wilkerson
It is a bit strange that DC is on this list at all this year. They lost their Co-Publisher, many of their ongoing series floundered, and they needed to reshuffle their creative decks to a huge degree, simply to attempt to survive their new AT&T owned existence.
But the reason is fairly simple: because they’re hitting on what matters.
“Dark Nights: Death Metal” has been one of the most fun events in recent memory. High-quality prestige miniseries like “Wonder Woman: Dead Earth” and “Superman Smashes the Klan” are among the best DC Comics of the millennium thus far. James Tynion IV’s “Batman” has revitalized a title after years of Tom King abuse. Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo’s “Suicide Squad” totally rewrote the rules for the title and gave a stand alone story that sits nicely on a shelf nice to John Ostrander’s run. The inroads into Middle Grade and Young Adult OGNs has been productive.
DC may not be at its best, but it is effectively rewriting its DNA for the future (state) and, just maybe, the future looks bright. – Brian Salvatore
Historical fiction, horror, sci-fi or high-concept, Vault can do it all. This year was no exception, despite the pandemic, the independent publisher managed to give us new volumes to the lesbian Viking story “Heathen”, the sex-in-space erotic comedy “Money Shot”, the space opera “Wasted Space”, the sequel? to “Fearscape”, “A Dark Interlude”; and the space western “Vagrant Queen” (which had a TV series on SyFy!)
We also had new books like the horror story “The Autumnal”; “Vampire: The Masquerade: Winter’s Teeth” based on the RPG; the emotional trigger “Finger Guns” (get it?); the vampire sci-fi “Bleed Them Dry”; the space epic “Engineward”; the magic-PI book “Shadow Service”; a solar-punk tale in “No One’s Rose”; the Punisher-in-purgatory “Heavy”; a female samurai in ancient japan with “The Devil’s Red Bride”; and their newest hit, the post-Mecha book “Giga”, which sold over 28,000 copies.Continued below
But just publishing comics doesn’t put you in this list, they’re here because of their constant work and partnerships. They allied with Playboy to publish short-stories of “Money Shot”; Vault also partnered with Heavy Metal to sell exclusive variant covers, digest books and merch trough the magazine’s shop and three of their titles are currently being released free on Tapas.
During the pandemic they created their own “Vanguard ComicCon” to promote their books; they released sampler packs for five bucks and gave away two digital coloring books; also, in support of comic shops, with the sale of a gift card, Vault sent digital advanced copies of “Heavy” and “Hundred Wolves”, and in support of the WHO COVID-19 Response Fund they released a special edition T-Shirt. Plus, following DC’s steps, they announced their YA-focused graphic novel imprint Wonderbound which will release next year. All of this tells us they are en route to become a top publisher soon. -Ramon Piña
What would I say is the one way Marvel elevated themselves in 2020? They finally stopped relaunching. Regardless of quality, the waves of retitlings, renumberings, cancellations and retcons over the last ten years at Marvel has just been creatively smothering. It seems like the Merry Marvelites spent so long trying to find what sticks, that by just settling for a while they’ve found the solution. Longevity.
We also started to see a better range in the kinds of books Marvel was putting out, anthologies like “Marvels: Snapshots” and “Giant-Size X-Men” managed to give the publisher some more artistic and creative range. Meanwhile, there was a bigger penchant for licensed comics like the rebooted “Star Wars,” “Conan” and “Ultraman” comics. It really seems like the way to bring in new kinds of readers. Variety.
Also, it genuinely feels as though Marvel are challenging themselves to do better by subverting these tropes and cliches they have established for themselves over the years . “Immortal Hulk” brings taxonomy and deeper psychology to the slapdash ‘tortured monster’ characterisation of the character’s past, the ‘Dawn of X’ titles satirise the X-Men’s penchant for death and rebirth by showing how you can maintain urgency and stakes in comics full of immortals, ‘X of Swords’ even managed to shirk off the usual event fatigue in a way that you just don’t see in modern comics.You could also point to blockbuster writers like Donny Cates taking the scale and angst of 90s comics and bringing this new level of sincerity to it. Emotionality.
This year has, despite everything, been a success for Marvel, one that makes me really want to see what this new House of Ideas can do in a year without interruption, one where they really can go ever upward. – James Dowling
1 (tie). BOOM
One of the most famous library scientists of history is S.R. Ranganathan, who came up with the five core principles of operating a library, the five laws of library science. In library school, this is one of the first things you learn, the guiding principles for operating a library and building a library collection.
When I think about my selections for Best Publisher, two of those rules come to mind.
Every book its reader.
Ever reader its book
The most successful publishers are those that abide by those principles, and that’s something I see throughout BOOM! Studios’s catalogue. Like complex horror? There’s “Something Is Killing the Children.” Want to make the dream of the 90s alive again? There’s “Firefly” and all of BOOM!’s Buffy universe. Want fun slice of life, sometimes with a twist? Try on “Wicked Things,” “Ghosted in LA,” or revisit “Giant Days.” Whatever your favorite genre is, I’m pretty sure BOOM! has something for it.
While other publishers talk about diversity in their creative teams, BOOM! lives and breathes it. Without much fanfare, women, nonbinary individuals, Black, and Hispanic creators are the backbone of their books, hired time and again to tell stories on their own time and their own terms. The commitment to representation behind the scenes adds another layer to their success in providing a book for everyone.
But what most impressed me about BOOM! Studios this year is BOOM! Box, their all ages imprint. Although their tentpole, “Lumberjanes” will end this year, 2021 looks to be bright in all ages stories that continue that guiding principle of something for everyone: the queer paranormal “Specter Inspectors,” the dark fantasy series “The Last Witch.” The imprint isn’t afraid to tackle social issues head on in an age-appropriate way. Many of their stories, from “Lumberjanes” to the upcoming “Specter Inspectors” feature queer characters front and center. And the most powerful graphic novel I read this year, “Eat, and Love Yourself” brought home the multifaceted struggle with eating disorders. Parents looking to find books to keep their kids engaged in reading in a year when it would be very easy to check out of education, or looking for a gentle way to start hard conversations about sensitive topics, would do well to look at BOOM! Box for inspiration.Continued below
Come to BOOM! Studios in 2021, and you will find the right book for you. Had Ranganathan been a comics reader, I have no doubt he would be proud of BOOM!’s efforts. -Kate Kosturski
1 (tie). Image
Image Comics is a frequent presence at the top of our Best Publisher list each year, a consistent accolade for a consistently surprising outlet. Image is never content to be just one thing, or to have books that speak in one unified voice. Instead, throughout 2020 Image used their laughably deep bench of creators—coupled with a fresh batch of up-and-comers—to present an array of perspectives, themes, and genres, all of which were rooted in some damn fine storytelling.
Attempting to summarize all of Image’s great work this year is a fool’s errand. The gentle queer slice-of-life dramedy of “Getting it Together” coexisted with the unpredictably inventive horrorshow of “Ice Cream Man.” The twisting, improvisational horror of “Blue in Green” matched the haunting uncertainty of “Gideon Falls.” Complex portraits of trauma, masculinity, and class wove through “Lost Soldiers,” “Middlewest,” and “Excellence.” Breakout creators like Stephanie Phillips, Chris Condon, Daniel M. Bensen, and Remy Bodell brought some of the most inventive and compelling characters of the year, from feminist pirates to small town criminals, anthropomophic emo Londoners to science fantasy slaves and conquerors. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky reached a thoroughly, ahem, satisfying climax with “Sex Criminals” #69.
It would be criminal not to mention the reliably top shelf epic fantasy of “Monstress,” the world-bending literary madness of “DIE,” the exploration of generational trauma in the Eisner-winning “Bitter Root”—and that’s only a small sampling of Image’s wares. You could go on and on and barely scratch the surface of their 2020 success stories. Numerous heavy-hitters that deserve mentions among the best of the year must go unmentioned here, simply because at a certain point this blurb has to end.
Stepping back and looking at the many varied publications Image put out this year, it’s hard not to notice just how many of their biggest triumphs came from underrepresented creators, writers and artists who seized the platform Image provided to tell their stories in their own voices. None of the major publishers have an outstanding record in terms of representation—in fact, a major stain on Image’s year was their unapologetic publishing of the work of a known abuser—but Image’s successes are a testament to what can happen if you open the door a little wider and nurture a broader pool of talent. -Reid Carter