The Best Comics of 2016

From Noah van Sciver’s DISQUIET

For me, it was tough figuring out where to start reading the best comics of 2016, where to even start looking for them. I had heard of the Eisner Awards, but I didn’t think to look there because what I knew of the Eisners mostly featured mainstream action and superhero comics. I was looking for the rest of comicdom: graphic novels, graphic memoirs, the quiet, the dark, the weird. So I didn’t look at the 2016 Eisner nominations–as a matter of fact, I still haven’t.

I sort of accidentally discovered the Center for Cartoon Studies and Slate Studio Prize, and I used their long list of nominees to get started. From there, I figured out which books were for grown-ups (sorry all-age authors!) and which of those I could get through the Ann Arbor District Library or the inter-library loan program. That brought me this list:

  • March Book 3, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
  • Rolling Blackouts, Sarah Glidden
  • Rosalie Lightning, Tom Hart
  • The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, Sonny Liew
  • The Longest Day of the Future, Lucas Varela

Back when I first started thinking about this, I was actually in the middle of my “Comics Canon” binge read, and didn’t really have time to start in for real on the 2016 books. I was excited to find this list and start getting a feel for what was going on in comics right now, so I did read Rosalie Lightning and The Longest Day of the Future. But I couldn’t do much more than that and still get through the project I was in the middle of then, so I left the list alone for awhile.

Next, I read March, but that was really part of another project also, one where I read all of the really big comics–the big award winners. I read March Books 1-3, Maus 1 & 2, El Deafo, This One Summer, and Fun Home. March Book 3 was in there, and I think about it when I think of what’s happening in comics now–what last year shaped up to be–but I sort of mentally sequestered it from the other books from 2016 in some way, for some reason. Maybe that’s the wrong way to think about it. I don’t know.

Eventually, I discovered the Ignatz Awards, and that list helped me out, also. That helped me rediscover Kate Beaton, whose comics I’d seen shared over and over again on Facebook and on 9gag. But what really cooked my goose was the Comics Journal.
At the beginning of this year, I didn’t know what the Comics Journal was. And if there’s one thing I’m really, really glad I discovered other than the individual comics that I read, if there’s one comics industry/commentary thing that I get to be super grateful for, it’s this. Reading through their recent reviews section fills me with wonder and hope and awe at all of the amazing stuff that’s out there.
The Comics Journal’s best of 2016 list was enormous, sprawling and baroque, with more suggestions than any one person could reasonably read (much less afford) in a given year.

From there, I started making lists of things that were suggested and, as before, I checked them against what I could get from the Ann Arbor District Library. I probably made it a third of the way down the page. Here’s what I read that was listed or referenced there:

  • Disquiet, Noah van Sciver
  • Saint Cole, Noah van Sciver (Background for 2016’s Disquiet, also by Noah van Sciver)
  • How to Be Happy, Eleanor Davis (Background for 2016’s Libby’s Dad, also by Eleanor Davis)
  • Hot Dog Taste Test, Lisa Hanawalt
  • Demon Vol. 1, Jason Shiga
  • Beverly, Nick Drnaso
  • Patience, Daniel Clowes
  • What Is Obscenity?, Rokudenashiko
  • Irmina, Barbara Yellin
  • Peplum, Blutch

But there were still comics that I wanted to read that were listed that I couldn’t get through the library, mostly because they were smaller pieces, mini-comics and almost-mini-comics. So I broke down and bought my first non-superhero comics this year. They were:

  • The Garden of Flesh, Gilbert Hernandez
  • Libby’s Dad, Eleanor Davis
  • Blammo #9, Noah van Sciver

I had hoped that some sense of what was happening in comics would come through reading all of these, but it didn’t really happen that way. Either I was too close or too far or too ignorant to pick out the trends. But it felt good knowing, if not what next year was going to feel like, at least what last year did feel like.

Then I started thinking about the syllabus, about how I would organize these books into a class. Which is a way, for me, into getting down what some of my thoughts and associations are about these works of art.

That syllabus will come in due time. Next, though, might be something completely different.