It’s that post you look forward to all year: Graphic Novelty2‘s Best Reads post! Here we have each compiled the five most exemplary graphic novels we’ve read in 2019, in no particular order. Enjoy!
Nancy: Cullen Bunn has created a new dark and dangerous graphic novel series, and this necromantic horror story grabbed me on the first page and never let go. The Winters family of New Orleans has discovered how to manufacture the ashes of the dead into a powerful hallucinogenic drug that lets the person snorting the drug to experience everything the dead person lived through when they were alive. In charge of this operation are Grace and Andre, with their four adult children. There are a few twists and turns in the narrative, with a surprising revelation that will make you backtrack to look for clues. The story has the potential for a thought-provoking moral debate about drug culture and the sanctity of life and for the body after death. I loved Jonas Scharf’s art, and am eagerly awaiting the concluding volume later this month (V2 came out in September) and I will review both of them together at that time.
Kathleen: This was a sort of accidental read, in that for some reason I thought it was fiction, but in fact was non-fiction. In the end, it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise! Comic artist Natalie Nourigat documents how she transitioned to the animation industry in this part autobiography, part how-to graphic novel. She shares not only her background as an artist, but all the hard work she did to get into animation: building a portfolio, interviewing, and moving somewhere totally new to her. Included are interviews with animator friends and coworkers. The art and layout are simple and clean, to allow the text with information shine; it’s worth saying that while this graphic novel is more text-heavy than others, there is never a point where the reader feels bogged down by text. By reading this, I learned a lot about something I previously had no knowledge of, and had fun doing it.
Harrow County series
Nancy: This eight-book series is an eerie southern gothic fairy tale about a young woman Emmy who is trying desperately to understand the mysteries of her possible origin and the decades-long secrets that the townspeople have. This story is so much more than an atmospheric supernatural tale- it touches on friendship, destiny, good vs evil and the choices we make and how they define us. Authored by Cullen Bunn, I read this soon after Bone Parish, so Bunn has quickly become a favored author of mine. But with all graphic novels, it is often the art that truly sets a book apart, and in this case, Tyler Crook’s illustrations do that. His haint creatures were creative and varied, and I thought of his work and H.P. Lovecraft’s as being similarly inspired. His work came to define Harrow County for me with its townspeople, rural landscapes and sinister woods.
Kathleen: This middle-grade graphic novel, written and illustrated by Jerry Craft, follows Jordan Banks, a seventh-grader who starts at a new school. Not just any school – the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School. Jordan is an excellent student, and he got in on a scholarship, but he would have much rather gone to art school. He feels this way more and more as the school year goes on, as he experiences alienation and micro-aggressions from his predominantly white classmates and teachers. Jordan is able to express himself through his drawing and comics, but all he wants more than anything is to fit in. Reading this book and realizing what Jordan was going through made me uncomfortable, but I welcomed the discomfort, because it meant I was learning. Jordan’s story and all the hard truths that came with it were presented in an easily digestible manner for it’s targeted younger audience. Ideally both children and parents are able to use this graphic novel as a tool to grapple social and racial biases.
Nancy: Set in the near future, a corrupt dictator has been voted in as president, which plunges America into the Second Civil War. Afterward, Kentucky refuses to rejoin the nation, leaving them a demilitarized zone and caught in the cross-hairs of the fascist leader who will do anything to bring these rebels into line. In the midst of this, mechanic and former soldier Kade Mercer reluctantly becomes Kentucky’s de facto leader as he leads his townspeople into the woods to escape from a military attack. Mystery surrounds his silent young son, who is kidnapped and held as ransom by the army, and in regards to the “blueboys” who live hidden in the mountains. Author Phillip Kennedy Johnson was new to me, but I found out that he is a musician in the Army. This explains his familiarity with the armed forces and their inner workings, plus the beautiful folk-like songs that begin each chapter. Artist Jonas Scharf (mentioned in Bone Parish earlier) elevated this story further for he captures the look of Appalachia and it’s inhabitants, while also realistically rendering the military scenes. Unfortunately, this graphic novel seemed to be a one-and-done, as I have not seen further stories from this duo.
Kathleen: This graphic novel adaptation was my first experience of Margaret Atwood’s classic story. It follows the Handmaid Offred, a woman who lives in service to the Commander and his wife. Offred’s service is to bear their children, and nothing more. She is not allowed to read, write, or own anything, but she remembers a time before, when she was able to do these things and more. When she and the Commander begin to carry on a more-than-professional relationship, Offred realizes she might be playing for her freedom. The art of this graphic novel was, hands down, the best I’ve seen this year. Thin washes of watercolor and tiny, wobbly lines of ink give off a light and airy, yet foreboding and uncertain quality, as if (to quote from my original review) “you’re in a dream that could very quickly and easily turn into a nightmare.” The story was undeniably compelling, in a morbidly curious way, but Renée Nault’s spellbinding art is what sold this experience for me.
Nancy: Every Halloween I like to find a spooky read, and this year it was a twisted fairy tale from the esteemed Neil Gaiman whose dark and whimsical tales are sure to please. He once again tackles the Snow White story, but this story is told from Snow White’s stepmother’s perspective and she is far from a wicked witch. Instead, the twist is that young Snow White is the evil one, and is a vampire who manipulates others. Plus, there is quite the erotica element to this tale, so it is for mature audiences only. While Gaiman’s tale is excellent, it is the art by Colleen Doran that makes this book stand out. She draws in an Art Nouveau style and takes inspiration from famed artists Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley. Her art is reminiscent of stained glass windows with deep jewel blues and purples. She incorporates mandalas and nature into the backgrounds, so the illustrations are a feast for the eyes.
Kathleen: Lifelong friends Jaime and Maya have finally reached the last day of seventh grade! But they haven’t reached it together. Jaime feels that her and Maya don’t have the friendship they used to have, and wants to fix it on this special day. Maya has been pressured by the older and more popular Celia to end her friendship with Jaime, who she says has been bogging down the friend group. Will Jaime and Maya repair their relationship, or let it go along with the rest of seventh grade? Terri Libenson wrote and illustrated this middle-grade graphic novel, and perfectly captured a wealth of issues – friendship, maturity, reputation, drama – over the course of one day. We alternate chapters told from Jaime and Maya’s points of view, but their format differs too. The heavier introspective side of Jaime’s story is told in mostly prose with little illustrations. Maya’s story involves others, so we see her side in mostly graphic novel format, in order to witness firsthand what others are putting her through. Though alternating points of view is a common trope, never before had I seen different formats for the different characters; it was extremely effective here.
Nancy: My wildcard is not a graphic novel, but the outstanding two-season Marvel podcast about Wolverine. The premise: Following a string of mysterious deaths in Burns, Alaska, Special Agents Sally Pierce and Tad Marshall arrive to investigate. They soon find there’s more going on than meets the eye. Season one proved to be more a murder mystery, while Logan was kept on the periphery of the narrative, but in season two he is front and center, with an adventure in New Orleans that includes Gambit and Weapon X. Each season consisted of ten episodes that were about 30-40 minutes in length, which made my 45-minute drive to work enjoyable. Check out the podcast online at Sticher, as the episodes are free to listen to.
Kathleen: Y’all didn’t think I was gonna go through 2019 without letting a DC title on this list, did you? Get outta here ;D One Halloween night in Gotham City, Johnny Viti, the nephew of mob boss Carmine Falcone, is murdered. Surrounding his body are dollar-store Halloween decorations. Thus begins the spree of the “Holiday” killer: picking off members of the Falcone family one by one on a holiday, and leaving that holiday’s trinkets near the body. Allies Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and ADA Harvey Dent wanted to take down the mob, but not like this. Soon the lies, double-crosses, and finger points begin to affect them to the point where they suspect each other. At the time of publication, this was a groundbreaking story that I believe changed the way Batman’s character and stories were told thereafter. All parties involved in the story are human, and therefore fallible. We see them each fall as they each believe they are doing the right thing. The art is stark, dark, and minimalist, with a great emphasis on light and shadow, which allows for greater movement of the story and greater focus on the characters and their intentions. If you’re a Batman fan, you need to read this comic. End of story.
There you have it: Nancy and Kathleen’s unequivocal Best Reads of 2019! Nancy read many excellent horror and creepy stories this year, while Kathleen found some phenomenal middle-grade novels. Most shocking is how only one superhero read and listen made the list apiece, from our die-hard DC and Marvel fans! The world just might be ending 😉
Thank you all for sticking around another year. We both hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!
Nancy and Kathleen