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Best Reads of 2019

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!

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Bone Parish

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.

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I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation

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

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.

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New Kid

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.

Warlords

Warlords of Appalachia

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.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel

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.

SGA cover

Snow, Glass, Apples

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.

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Just Jaime

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.

Wolverine S1

Wolverine podcast

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.

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Batman: The Long Halloween

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

New Kid

Jordan Banks is a seventh grader starting at a new school. Not just any school though: Riverdale Academy Day School. It’s a prestigious school where a lot of kids from rich families go. Jordan got in on scholarship for his excellent grades, but he’d have much rather gone to art school instead. He loves to draw little comics about his daily life and observations, and has dreams of doing it for a living. Now, we all know middle school is hard. But it’s even harder being the new kid, and one of the only kids of color, in the whole school. Jordan finds himself struggling to make friends and fit in, and finds solace in his drawings. How do you make a place for yourself when not everyone is willing to let you have the space?

Though this is a middle-grade graphic novel, I enjoyed it and learned a few things from it to boot. Jordan is an African American kid, and author Jerry Craft cleverly documents not only the good, but the bad parts, of Jordan’s experience at a prestigious, mostly white school. Microaggressions such as being called the wrong name and assuming he plays basketball are documented in Jordan’s comics and conversations between characters. Some are explicitly mentioned, and some are more subtle. It made me recall how my schoolmates of color were treated while I was growing up. I grew uncomfortable, but that’s okay. I am glad I can now recognize these microaggressions as an adult if I myself and or others perform them, and take appropriate action to stop them.

The art and layout of this one are straightforward. There are chapters, like a print book, so there is always a good stopping point for younger readers. My favorite part was Jordan’s comics. Two-page spreads are dedicated to his work, at least one per chapter. They are done in pencil, complete with sketch and eraser lines, so you feel like you’re actually looking inside his sketchbook. They’re also often very funny!

Kids (and adults) of any race can learn from this graphic novel. It would be wonderful for kids and parents to read together and discuss Jordan, his feelings, and his experiences. I do hope we see more of Jordan and his observant and witty comics in the future – and if I want more, so too will the target audience ;D

– Kathleen

Craft, Jerry. New Kid. 2019.

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