Each year, most of the comic book attention falls on the big two. Event series, larger than life stories, classic characters we all love to follow - it all makes up the bigger comic book picture, year in and year out. Just beneath that hysteria, other companies release different, more thoughtful fare. Some of these are collections, some original stories, but all of them unique and often breathtaking.
Taking time out of the continuing coverage of the big two, I present twenty amazing selections of graphic novels and collections released in 2013. Unlike the other lists, there is no singular winner, each of these is in a class by itself. 2013 is also the first time work from the majors made its way onto this list. So, saddle up and check out Twenty Amazing Graphic Novels In 2013.
1. MARCH: BOOK ONE by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf
Congressman John Lewis was a key figure in the civil rights movement and an American icon. His story is an astonishing tale of triumph that begins in a segregated schoolroom and spans all the way to President Obama presenting him with the Medal of Freedom. Book One focuses on Lewis’s youth in rural Alabama, his meeting with Martin Luther King Jr., and the Nashville Student Movement’s battle against segregation. Beautifully written, with equally gorgeous art.
2. BOXERS/SAINTS by Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: First Second
In Boxers, Yang tells the story of Little Bao, a Chinese boy who watches as supposed western “missionaries” destroy his village. Bao leads a grass-roots uprising against his oppressors. Saints tells another side. Vibiana has found a home with the Christian missionaries, one threatened by the Boxer Rebellion. As the conflict grows to a fevered pitch, Vibiana must choose between Christianity and her people. Yang’s writing is balanced and fascinating, as is his art. A must own.
3. MARBLE SEASON by Gilbert Hernandez
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
From the mind of the man who brought is Love & Rockets comes an effective tale involving '60s suburban culture. Preadolescent Huey, a seeming surrogate for Hernandez, spends lazy days with his brothers Chavo and Junior. The story is softer than Hernandez’s other work, without any dark shadows to interrupt the tranquil innocence. Still, as slight as it might feel, Marble Season is a charming slice-of-life story that is a pleasure to read.
4. THE PROPERTY by Rutu Modan
Translator: Jessica Cohen, Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
One of my favorites of the past year is this staggering read. Following the death of her son, Regina Segal takes her granddaughter Mica to Warsaw, hoping to retrieve a family property lost during WWII. As the two tour through modern Warsaw, Regina must deal with difficult memories of her past, including fleeing the area as a young girl, pregnant and terrified. Mica begins to wonder if there is not a deeper reason Regina has returned to Warsaw. Modan’s caustic wit permeates all situations and characters. Her ability to turn the smallest gesture or scene into something engaging is what ties the book together. The Property demands to be read.
5. BATTLING BOY by Paul Pope
Publisher: First Second
Arcopolis is awash with horrible monsters and sadistic men in creepy costumes, both swallowing children into horrible nightmares. The only man who stands between the children and ultimate evil is Haggard West. Problem is, Haggard West is dead. In a desperate time, a new hero crashes into Arcopolis, a 12-year-old boy who has no idea what he’s doing. The sensational Paul Pope is at the top of his game here.
6: JOKER: DEATH OF THE FAMILY by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
Publisher: DC Entertainment
Quite simply one of the best Joker stories ever told. Scott Snyder’s run on Batman has been consistently excellent, and this collection exemplifies it. After reinventing the Gordon family, Dick Grayson, and Gotham City, Snyder turned his attention the Joker. More menacing, more sadistic, and oozing with more insanity than he has in years, this Joker is out to destroy the Bat-Family, and all in service to Batman. An exciting, visceral story, with incredible art by Greg Capullo and Jock. An extra bonus in the collection is how it weaves the back up stories into the main arc. A must own.
7. VERY CASUAL by Michael DeForge
Publisher: Koyama Press
DeForge is as prolific as he is bizarre. Very Casual collects multiple bits of his work, from online comics to anthology contributions to mini-comics. If you think stories about meat-filled snowmen, dog hybrids, or forest drag queens is your taste, then this is the book for you. Absolutely wonderful from front to back.
8. BAD HOUSES by Sara Ryan & Carla Speed McNeil
Publisher: Dark Horse
Coming of age stories are a dangerous game. Often times, they can be overly sentimental and usually boring. Author Sara Ryan avoids all of that by crafting a touching and realistic story of two people refusing to succumb to the sadness that grips their dying town. Ryan’s story is brought to life beautifully through McNeil’s pencils.
9: HAND DRYING IN AMERICA by Ben Katchor
Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes you just have to experience something for yourself. This is just such an event. A book of narratives covering how property reflects our cultural values, this is a mind blower. The Brotherhood of Immaculate Consumption deals with products that outlive their owners, construction vests are marketed as a way for lonely people to be noticed, a plastic forest for those with hay fever are just some the oddities in this collection. A work that is absolutely unique. One that will alter how you look at buildings and other inanimate objects around you.
10. PUNK ROCK JESUS by Sean Murphy
A reality show focused on a clone of Jesus Christ causes an uproar throughout the world. Murphy takes his writing and art to new arenas with this masterpiece. Bringing together the questioning of organized religion, the greed of corporations, the ideology of punk rock, and the violence of the IRA, Punk Rock Jesus is a black eye to the status quo in comics, the Black Flag of mini-series. Stunning visuals explode off the page, showing Murphy at the top of his game.
11. INCIDENTS IN THE NIGHT by David B.
Publisher: Uncivilized Books
David B. has long been one of France’s best cartoonists, as well as a co-founder of the iconic L’Association. Here, he sets out to explore the legendary book stores of Paris, a quest that becomes focused on in a nineteenth century journal shrouded in mystery. Along the way, the artist meets Bonapartists, occult conspiracies, and the angel of death.
12: BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl & Cassandra Jean
Publisher: Yen Press
In the slow southern town of Gatlin, nothing ever happens save for Lena Duchannes, a girl trying desperately to conceal a power and curse that has haunted her family for generations. Meanwhile, Ethan Wate has been trying desperately to get out of Gatlin. When Lena moves to the town’s infamous plantation, he is drawn to her for reasons he cannot understand. I’m not usually a manga fan, but this book could turn me.
13. CALLING DR. LAURA by Nicole J. Georges
Publisher: Mariner Books
The heartbreaking story about lies and deception centers on Georges herself and the truth about her father. Georges has been told her whole life that her father was dead. At 23, a psychic tells her he’s alive. Her guilt-ridden sister confesses that the family has conspired to keep her father a secret. Thrown into a depression and questioning her own identity, Georges turns to radio talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger for advice. An exceptional debut.
14. MY DIRTY DUMB EYES by Lisa Hanawalt
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
The wit and whimsy of Hanawalt’s comics and illustrations are compiled into one gigantic compendium. Her crisp delivery and deep spectrum of color makes it as entertaining as it is bizarre. Prepare to be assaulted with humor, charm, and gorgeous art.
15: RELISH: MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN by Lucy Kinsley
Publisher: First Second
The child of a chef and gourmet, Lucy Kinsley tends to measure her life through food. This is a memoir, one told using honesty, passion, and humor. Each story of her life is framed by what she’s eating at the time and life lessons learned about food. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe that is a personal favorite of Kinsley.
16. CAPTAIN FREEBIRD: AN AMERICAN PRAYER by The Fillbach Brothers
Publisher: First Comics
An interesting twist on both vigilantism and the new ‘Merica tells the story of a former Vietnam veteran, partially possessed by a Native American shaman, who wages a war on those he finds to be decaying his idea of America. Freebird is a loose cannon, fairly close to insane, and the cat and mouse game between him and his pursuers is fun to read. The Fillibach Brothers’ style of storytelling is heavy on humor and action, and their art is a clinic on the proper use of black and white shading in a more cartoonish style. You might have to track them down at a convention to get a copy, though, as it's hard to find.
17. THE DEVIL IS DUE IN DREARY by David Parkin & Allan Jefferson
Parkin says the inspiration of this book was to write a western without the standard trappings of a western, and he succeeds across the board with this odd blend of rock-n-roll and western mythology. Two strangers arrive in a town called Dreary and step into a world filled with paranoia perpetuated by an enigmatic preacher. They have to figure out the town’s secret before, you guessed it, the Devil gets to Dreary. Parkin’s writing crackles with energy, and Jefferson’s art is elegant yet still works with the rugged story.
18: GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS: THE COMPLETELY COMPLETE EDITION by Ryan Browne
This is one of those comic stories you love to hear. Browne started with a 24-hour comic idea that grew into a web comic, then a Kickstarter campaign, and now Image will be publishing the paperback version. It’s hard to explain, so I won’t try. Just know that this is one of the best, and a most surreal and exciting kick to the nuts of superhero idea. Mobster owls and bears who practice the dark mystical arts, an angry immortal with a swollen cow head. Trust me, you need to find this book and treasure it.
19: R.E.M. by Ryal Colucci & Zsomber Huszka
Publisher: Spoke Lane
Another gorgeous black and white book from the underground tells the story of Michael Letto, a brilliant neuroscientist devastated by the loss of his one true love. Locking himself inside his lab, Michael develops a chair that allows a full night’s sleep in a matter of minutes. When the military and religious groups seek his discovery, the paranoid scientist’s life enters a dangerous cat and mouse game. Colucci’s story is not only entertaining, but also written in style that brings the surreal mood of the story to the surface. Huszka’s art is a revelation, some of the best I have seen all year.
20. A FROZEN WORLD by Nick Andors
Publisher: Eyekon Publishing
Last, but in no way least, is this book where Andors creates an absolute monolith of a world. Irongates is a massive city in a dystopian future. One made up of mazes, endless streets, and buildings raising as far as the eye can see. Each story frames Irongates as a merciless and brutal world. Some of these tales are linked together, others stand alone, but all of them are incredibly creepy and exciting. Andors’ art is just eerie. A nod to horror books taken through a filter of deep shading and '60s underground styled imagery. Wonderful work across the board.