"Ghosts" by Raina Telgemeier is a new graphic novel for middle-grade readers (Raina Telgemeier 2016/Raina Telgemeier 2016)

The creative state of the graphic novel has never been healthier. Everything from a Southern congressman’s riveting memoir to a California woman’s textured fantasy tale is finding favor with wide audiences. This year has bestowed graphic-novel fans with an embarrassment of pictorial riches.

"The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye," by Sonny Liew (Pantheon/Pantheon)

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

By Sonny Liew (Pantheon)

The fictional title character, a cartoonist himself, is a deft framing device for viewing Singapore’s culture and history through many crisp prisms. Liew keeps us fully awake to his intellectual ambition and political potency by unveiling a parade of shifting visual aesthetics — with nods to such comics legends as Winsor McCay.

"Cousin Joseph" by Jules Feiffer (Liveright/Liveright)

Cousin Joseph

By Jules Feiffer (Liveright)

In this prequel to his acclaimed “Kill My Mother,” the 87-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist looks back to a detective noir of his youth. The palette is efficiently spare and the language is retro-colorful, often spoofing the very form it celebrates.

"Ghosts" by Raina Telgemeier (Handout/Handout)


By Raina Telgemeier (Graphix)

Telgemeier is best known to young fans for her keenly spun memoirs, including “Smile” and “Sisters.” “Ghosts” represents a departure from memoir, though Telgemeier again draws from the personal to depict young courage amid change. Here, the realities of childhood disease meld readily with science fiction and spirituality. And if the book prompts classroom research into the history of indigenous California tribes, then all the better.

Hot Dog Taste Test

By Lisa Hanawalt (Drawn and Quarterly)

Hanawalt, one of the creative forces behind Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman,” is also one of the funniest observational artists working today. Her latest collection spotlights a comic voice that is growing sharper and more engagingly offbeat, whether she is rendering “snack realism,” menstrual huts or plucky Icelandic ponies.

Last Look

By Charles Burns (Pantheon)

Through each work in this trilogy — “X’ed Out,” “The Hive” and “Sugar Skull” — Burns keeps us visually unnerved with surreal dreams meeting warped realities. The epic benefits from being collected here as a single set of inspired weirdness.

HANDOUT IMAGE: Three" by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (Top Shelf /Top Shelf )

March: Book Three

By John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illustrated by Nate Powell (Top Shelf)

The final installment in Lewis’s civil rights trilogy completes one of the most powerful graphic memoirs ever. “Book Three” achieves Black Lives-era relevance by illuminating the ’60s struggle with poignant resonance. From church bombings to Selma beatings, Powell’s art never blinks in conveying the costs of the fight for voting rights. As a guiding light for rising generations, this Eisner-winning book belongs on every school library shelf. Winner of the National Book Award for young people’s literature.


By Tom Gauld (Drawn and Quarterly)

This British cartoonist is a master of heightening humor through restraint. Here, the monochromatic moonscape matches the subdued blues of a lunar donut-muncher who can’t get transferred off this rock. The story gathers wit over the slow-burning ride.

"Patience," by Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics/Fantagraphics)


By Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

Science fiction and obsessive love converge in these pages with the heat of crossed laser rays. Clowes keeps us expertly in the dark, even as we stand in the psychedelic illumination of spaced-out discoveries. He has built a masterful fun-house of mirrors that keeps us moving forward.

Rosalie Lightning

By Tom Hart (St. Martin’s)

The pain of losing a 2-year-old daughter seems beyond words. And yet Hart, in this heart-rending memoir, finds the words and pictures to convey the gaping sensory experience of his tragedy.

Sheriff of Babylon (Vol. 2): Pow. Pow. Pow

By Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads (Vertigo)

Baghdad’s last cop works a murder case after America’s invasion of Iraq. This grim and graphic subject matter is scripted with knowing nuance by King, a former operation officer with the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. The action is riveting, the characters compelling, and the art positively cinematic. “War noir” for the 21st century.

Michael Cavna is creator of the “Comic Riffs” column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Washington Post.


Notable fiction books in 2016

Best audiobooks of 2016

Best mystery books and thrillers of 2016

Best poetry collections of 2016

Best romance novels of 2016

Best memoirs of 2016

Best children’s and young adult books of 2016

Best graphic novels of 2016

The big book news of 2016