ED. NOTE: As Comic Riffs has discussed with most every recent editor of the Best American Comics anthologies, culling even a single judge\’s favorites from a year down to just 10 picks is a bit of a fool’s errand — but one motivated by a fan’s passion. And so we offer this not solely as an exclusive list, but rather as one that might help you discover books you may have missed, that may lead you to similar authors and achievements not listed here. And so, with that boilerplate caveat out of the way, here we go…
“THE REVOLUTION is already here.”
Those were the words of comics scholar Scott McCloud in a conversation with Comic Riffs last month about the increasing diversity in the comics world. McCloud, author of “Understanding Comics” and the forthcoming graphic novel “The Sculptor,” says he expects a rapid rise in the number of women cartoonists, emphasizing that roughly half “of the creative community is a volcano that hasn’t necessarily erupted yet.”
A diverse span of creators, from longtime New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast to best-seller Raina Telgemeier and rising star Jillian Tamaki, is proving true to McCloud’s words. Here are Comic Riffs’ top 10 graphic novels of 2014:
By Gilbert Hernandez (Drawn & Quarterly)
As he did in “Marble Season,” Hernandez writes of being young with piercing truth and nonjudgmental clarity. His masterful follow-up about adolescence in the ’70s is both culturally specific and experientially universal — as relatable characters are set against spare backgrounds. If you like this book, you might also enjoy: “The Love Bunglers,” in which Jaime Hernandez, after decades, somehow mines the “Love and Rockets” series (co-created with brothers Gilbert and Mario) for more gold; also, Mimi Pond’s transporting ’70s memoir “Over Easy.”
CAN’T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT?
By Roz Chast (Bloomsbury)
Chast’s wry wit is well known to New Yorker magazine readers, but her graphic novel debut — a memoir about caring for her elderly parents — is a don’t-miss work of emotional depth. Powerfully funny and poignant, this is cartooning told straight from the soul.
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK GRAPHIC NOVEL: VOLS. 1 AND 2
By Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell (Harper Collins)
Russell had a tall order in turning Gaiman’s widely acclaimed macabre-for-kids tale into even pithier panels — as art now does much of the storytelling. The result is a rewarding meeting of two masters (and more contributing artists). If you like those books, you might also enjoy: The eerily enchanting “Beautiful Darkness,” by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët, and “Through the Woods,” by Emily Carroll.
THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS
By Max Brooks and illustrator Caanan White (Broadway Books)
Brooks (“World War Z”) shows a muscular flair for comics-documentary as he spotlights the real-life heroics of the Harlem Hellfighters, an all-black regiment that fought the Germans in Europe and racism back home.
HIP HOP FAMILY TREE: BOOK 2 (1981-1983)
By Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
Piskor had not been born when his new volume begins, but perhaps it’s just as well: Like a reporter with art pen in hand — and a hip-hop soundtrack in his head — the Pittsburgh cartoonist drops bold lines while steeped in deep research, bringing both a fan’s passion and a journalist’s discerning eye to this nitty-gritty history of the art form.
HOW TO BE HAPPY
By Eleanor Davis (Fantagraphics)
Davis is rightfully a rising talent, and one of her greatest gifts is her ability to build narrative momentum. She creates suspense, mystery and come-hither curiosity by never overtipping her artful hand. If you like this book, you might also enjoy: The warped and electric-tinted world-building of Michael DeForge’s wry-funny “Ant Colony.”
SAGA: DELUXE EDITION, VOL. 1
By Brian K. Vaughan and illustrator Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
World-class talent teams up to create this galactic adventure that is comics’ best space opus of our time. Vaughan (“Y: The Last Man”) crisply depicts the perils of parenting in wartime, and Staples’s Harvey Award-winning pen dazzles on almost every page.
THE SHADOW HERO
By Gene Luen Yang and illustrator Sonny Liew (First Second)
Yang reaches back to the 1940s to uncover what may well be the first Asian American superhero in comics history (created by Chu F. Hing). Then he crafts an original back story and humorous, highly engaging adventures for the Green Turtle. If you like this book, you might also enjoy: The insightful writing of “Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal.”
By Raina Telgemeier (Graphix)
As a follow-up memoir to her hugely popular “Smile,” Telgemeier recounts her real-life relationship with her sibling — and the car trips of their childhood — for another intelligent hit with middle-school readers. If you like this book, you might also enjoy: Cece Bell’s textured memoir of growing up deaf: “El Deafo.”
THIS ONE SUMMER
By Mariko and Jillian Tamaki (First Second)
The cousins Tamaki (“Skim”) have an amazing way with summoning the moods and emotions, sights and sometimes-threatening sounds of summer, before adolescence overtakes us like a wave. The demographic is teen readers; the joy is for all ages.
(Cavna is The Post\’s graphic-novel reviewer for Book World.)
(courtesy of DC Comics)
AS SUPERHEROES dominate the box office and populate the small screens, let us not forget the gold nuggets so frequently mined by Hollywood: the comic books themselves (some of us still take great joy in those 22- to 30-page visual adventures). Here are Comic Riffs\’ 10 favorite superhero graphic novels of 2014:
Vol. 5: Zero Year (collects Batman #25-27, 29-33)
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo
The second and concluding volume of Snyder\’s New 52 Batman origin tale (with characteristically fantastic art from Capullo) pits a young, still inexperienced Batman against a seemingly already-in-his-prime Edward Nygma/Riddler, who has all of Gotham City under his control. Bruce Wayne must use everything he\’s learned in his journey to become the Dark Knight if he is to defeat an opponent who always seems two steps ahead of him.
Vol. 1: Higher, Faster, Further, More (Captain Marvel # 1-6)
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: David Lopez
One of the Marvel universes\’ top heroines is flying solo in space (although not for long, as she quickly gains ship-mates and gets a visit from the Guardians of the Galaxy) as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel quickly learns that being an Avenger and one of Earth\’s mightiest heroes won\’t make solving intergalactic mysteries any easier.
MILES MORALES: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN
Vol. 1: Revival (Ultimate Spider-Man #200, Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #1-5)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley, Mark Brooks, Stuart Immonen, David Lafuente, David Marquez
Miles Morales continues to be the top hero in Marvel\’s Ultimate Universe. He\’s gotten a little older, a little more mature, much better at webslinging, but he\’s still prone to make a drastic teenage mistake or two. Not only must Miles take on the man who killed the original Ultimate Spider-Man, Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, but he also has to deal with the suspiciously mysterious return of the Peter Parker.
THOR: GOD OF THUNDER
Vol. 4: The Last Days of Midguard (Thor: God of Thunder #19-25)
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Esad Ribic
Volume 4 of Aaron\’s incredible run on Thor: God of Thunder concludes the two-year story that led Thor on a path to eventually becoming unworthy to hold Mjolnir — an act that has led a mystery woman to now claim Mjolnir and the mantle of Thor.
Vol. 4: The Kill Machine (Green Arrow #17-24 and 23.1)
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
The first volume of Lemire and Sorrentino\’s run on Green Arrow, featuring a much younger Oliver Queen, not only gave DC Comics a dream scenario of having a hit comic to go along with the popularity of the CW\’s \”Arrow\” show — it also quickly became one of the New 52\’s top-notch titles. Good luck to those who try to top this run on the character.
Vol. 1: Engines of Vengeance (All-New Ghost Rider #1-5)
Writer: Felipe Smith
Artist: Tradd Moore
Young. Fresh. Different. From the authentic East L.A. slang, to muscle cars instead of motorcycles, All-New Ghost Rider was one of Marvel\’s most entertaining and unique debuts of the year. Robbie Reyes is the new Spirit of Vengeance, driving the fastest and most lethal flamed-out car in the West while trying to care for his kid brother.
Vol. 1: Devil at Bay (Daredevil #0.1, 1-5)
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Peter Krause, Javier Rodriguez, Chris Samnee
Waid continues to defy odds by writing a Daredevil that is fun, funny, colorful and out of the shadows. The Man Without Fear now resides in San Francisco, accepting that his secret identity is anything but. It\’s a new locale and a new love for a title that is, month to month, always one of Marvel\’s best.
Vol. 1: Infamous: (Magneto #1-6)
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Javi Fernandez, Gabriel Hernandez Walta
After a stint of fighting with the good guys, the Master of Magnetism is back to his menacing ways. Luckily for the people he\’s hunting down (people who have committed crimes against Mutants), his powers aren\’t what they used to be. Bunn, who is no stranger to spooky tales, provides a first-person perspective into the mind of Magneto and the fear that he instills in the aftermath of his destructive demonstrations. It\’s an interesting take that proves Magneto will always be one of Marvel\’s most popular Mutants.
BATMAN AND ROBIN
Vol 4: Requiem for Damian (Batman and Robin #18-23
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artists: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray
Given the title, and DC Comics\’ decision to kill Damian Wayne (the son of Batman and the most recent Robin the Boy Wonder), Requiem for Damian focuses on Batman\’s grief over Damian\’s death while fighting his never-ending war on crime. Batman becomes consumed with guilt and must deal with the consequences of his increasingly erratic behavior, and the effect it has on others in the Bat family. And though some could cry \”publicity stunt\” over the rumors that Damian could rejoin the living in ways not even Batman may not fully comprehend, any return of Damian wouldn\’t detract from this deeply dark and emotional tale.
Writers: Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart
Artist: Babs Tarr
Batgirl #35 is the only comic on this list not collected in graphic-novel form, but the new take on Barbara Gordon debuted so spectacularly that it wouldn\’t feel right to leave it off our list. Rarely do youthful makeovers of major comic-book characters knock it out of the park on the first swing. Fletcher and Stewart have captured a feel of hipster millennialism (filled with texting, social media, quick hookups and lots of coffee), in a bat-book without alienating, and Tarr\’s artwork breathes new life into the character.