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The 25 Best Comic Books of 2018

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This was a weird year to review. Unlike the past few years, this list came together in fits and starts, not as one massive roll call that needed to be whittled down. That’s not to say that comics were lacking in 2018, but that the playing field felt more even—which is reflected in the breadth of choices below, from self-published wrestling comics to superhero horror stories, pseudo-magazine comics journalism to a lit-AF update of one of the longest running comic strips around. Paste always aims to take a wide view of the medium when compiling our Best-of ranking, which means high-minded “literary” releases sit side by side with Men of Steel and delinquent super-teens. There are bound to be inclusions—and exclusions—that frustrate you, but what’s a year-end list without a little heated discussion? If your favorite didn’t make the cut below, keep an eye peeled for the rest of our lists arriving throughout December. But if you want to know the 25(ish) titles we feel best represent 2018’s sequential-art bounty, keep on scrolling.


Nancy Art by Olivia Jaimes

Honorable Mention: Nancy
Writer/Artist: Olivia Jaimes
Publisher: GoComics
Olivia Jaimes’ deeply relatable update to Ernie Bushmiller’s iconic little brat did what most things related to women on the internet do: set the hellish bowels of the comment section on friggin’ fire. If you choose to read Nancy on the GoComics website, do yourself a favor and never scroll below Jaimes’ whip-smart, thoroughly modern jokes about technology, art and the long-running rapscallion’s adorably selfish quirks. Jaimes is a pseudonym, but we know that she is the first woman to ever write and draw the strip, and she’s probably wise to keep a distance between her expertly crafted daily comics and the weirdos who suddenly decided to care about the purity of a nearly century-old fictional character. Bizarre pushback aside, Jaimes’ strips are drolly hilarious, utterly self-aware and one of this garbage year’s most consistent treats. We only relegated Nancy to an Honorable Mention because our friends at the AV Club beat us to the punch—and because nothing else on this list would stand a chance against Nancy’s big mood. Steve Foxe


Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles Cover Art by Ben Caldwell

25. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Mike Feehan
Publisher: DC Comics 
Well, no one expected this from DC Comics’ revival of its Hanna-Barbera properties. The ‘50s/’60s animation juggernaut churned out beloved property after beloved property, but wasn’t particularly known for the transgressive storytelling on display in DC’s Flintstones comic, for instance, which uses the charming, dinosaur-slave-labor-exploiting prehistoric family as a way to discuss class and workers’ rights; or Wacky Raceland, which transports the goofy drivers of Wacky Races to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. At the top of 2018, Flintstones writer Mark Russell returned to the H-B corner of DC with artist Mike Feehan for Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, a mini-series that envisions the pink mountain lion best known for exclaiming, “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” as a closeted gay playwright in New York during the “Red Scare” panic over communism. S.P., as he’s known, hobnobs with the real-world intellectual and cultural elite of the era while maintaining his hidden private life at venues like the historic Stonewall Inn gay bar. Exit Stage Left is frequently tough reading—life wasn’t a walk in the park for queer individuals of the era, feline or not—but it still stands out as one of 2018’s most thought-provoking surprises, especially thanks to Russell’s keen, bone-dry wit. Steve Foxe


Persephone Cover Art by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

24. Persephone
Writer/Artist: Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky
Publisher: Archaia/ BOOM! Studios
Retellings of well-known myths and legends can be fairly hit or miss; skew too close to the original and the value of a new version is difficult to identify, but step too far and the adaptation feels strangely divorced from the source material. Persephone resolves that conflict by pulling the skeleton of a plot, along with a few familiar names, from the tale of the queen of the underworld, but completely reshaping the rest. It’s a poignant and beautiful story of a young girl trying to discover how her past shapes her identity, and what choices she can make to break away on her own. What sets Persephone apart from other 2018 releases stories with the same themes is Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky’s colorful art and world building. The book feels like something from Studio Ghibli thanks to the ambitious scope of the world that Persephone lives in, and is honest about how difficult things can get without losing an intrinsic kindness to the characters. Locatelli-Kournwsky’s inks are detailed and delicate, each page washed in a soft, almost muted color palette. Persephone is one of the year’s most fully realized stories—and would make a great gift for any book-loving young person or the young at heart, especially those who love tales like Spirited Away and Labyrinth. Caitlin Rosberg


Prism Stalker Cover Art by Sloane Leong

23. Prism Stalker
Writer/Artist: Sloane Leong
Publisher: Image Comics 
Prism Stalker is easily one of the most beautiful comics of 2018. It’s Sailor Moon meets Octavia Butler—a magical girl story that explores colonialism and the ways it impacts culture, both on a larger scale and individually. Prism Stalker follows Vep, a young girl whose tribe is rescued from a contaminated planet by an intergalactic consortium who rescue (or subdue) sentient peoples they find productive. Vep is recruited to a mysterious academy that promises notoriety and stability to those who excel in its service, but is forced to confront her distant relationship with her culture and what it means for her ability to succeed in the Chorus’ employ. Leong’s art is stunning, the rough linework and vibrant palette breathing emotion into every panel; Prism Stalker is powerfully atmospheric, creating a rich backdrop for Vep’s personal journey to find her place in a world that wants her to forget what little she knows about herself. This is a powerful and engrossing comic that leans heavily into all the weirdness the sci-fi genre has to offer. C.K. Stewart


Eternal Cover Art by Eric Zawadzki & Dee Cunniffe

22. Eternal
Writer: Ryan K. Lindsay
Artist: Eric Zawadzki
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Eternal is a special book. Written by Beautiful Canvas co-creator Ryan K. Lindsay, drawn and lettered by The Dregs breakthrough artist Eric Zawadzki and colored by Rednecks colorist Dee Cunniffe, Eternal tells the story of an isolated band of shieldmaidens who refuse to cede their land to invading men, and of their leader who will stop at nothing to preserve her way of life—or avenge it. If you think you’ve read this Viking story before, you haven’t—or at least not executed on the level at which Zawadzki and crew operate. Eternal was Black Mask Studios’ first entry into the original graphic novel format, with a page count that allows Lindsay, Zawadzki and Cunniffe to orchestrate a symphony of snowy violence and Viking vengeance that demands its oversized space on your shelf. You’d be forgiven for forgetting Eternal—it came out way back in January—but now’s the time to refresh your familiarity with 2018’s first great comic. Steve Foxe


Glorious Wrestling Apocalypse Cover Art by Josh Hicks

21. Glorious Wrestling Apocalypse
Writer/Artist: Josh Hicks
Publisher: Self-Published
Not a wrestling fan? Pick this up anyway. Josh Hicks’ Glorious Wrestling Apocalypse will teach you everything you need to know about the wrestling industry in all its unbelievable weirdness. Could the patriarch of a major industry franchise really be running things from a cryogenic chamber? Hicks’ Glorious Wrestling Apocalypse really makes you think. Third in his self-published series about the Glorious Wrestling Alliance, GWA follows the potential implosion of the titular company and what it means for the stars involved. Hicks’ sense of comedic timing and the economy of his six-panel pages are perfectly suited to the weirdness of pro wrestling, and as the stakes grow ever higher and the hijinks get increasingly wacky, Hicks still manages to imbue his unusual roster of characters with a heart you might not expect of a self-published poet named Death Machine. Josh Hicks packs a powerful comedic punch in a 24 page one-shot; you won’t regret picking Glorious Wrestling Apocalypse up on its own, but just know you’ll be itching to start the trilogy from the beginning once you finish it. C.K. Stewart


Brazen Cover Art by Penelope Bagieu

20. Brazen
Writer/Artist: Penelope Bagieu
Publisher: First Second
Brazen developed out of a series Penelope Bagieu published on a blog with the renowned French newspaper Le Monde, and you can feel her passion for the subject in her drawings, which are as bewitching as they are intelligent. Each story ends with a two-page single-image spread that somehow captures everything important in the preceding three to eight pages of story, most of which are arranged in a classic nine-panel grid. Bagieu’s not afraid of color, but she’s also smart enough to use a limited palette for each story, keyed to its themes. Leymah Gbowee (Liberian social worker and activist, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize), for example, appears in reds and greens, the colors of the pan-African flag; Tove Jansson in the bright, primary colors one associates with the covers of her Moomin books; Katia Krafft, volcanologist, with a fiery lava-like red running through her panels. Bagieu’s line is finer and more scribbly here than in some of her other work; one might even call it a feminine drawing approach. What it allows her to do is sneak in that heavier subject matter because the look of the pages is light and joyful. It’s a celebratory book, to be sure, but one that doesn’t need its subjects to be perfect to elevate them. Hillary Brown


The Strange Cover Art by Jérôme Ruillier

19. The Strange
Writer/Artist: Jérôme Ruillier
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
It’s a cliché that literature (which includes comics, duh) allows us to connect with people of wildly different backgrounds from our own through fostering empathy, but damn if it isn’t often true. Jérôme Ruillier’s book about undocumented people takes an unusual approach to this task, however, showing things not from the perspective of the “strange” in question but by laying out the reactions of the people around him. Deftly and gently, he fills in the rest of the world, leaving a hole in the shape of the person whom others don’t quite see. With its areas of color filled in all scribber-scrabber and its pencil-work soft and wobbly, it makes room for complexity as it builds a world that resembles our own. Hillary Brown


Monk! Cover Art by Youssef Daoudi

18. Monk!
Writer/Artist: Youssef Daoudi
Publisher: First Second
The full title of Youssef Daoudi’s biography of the eponymous jazz musician is as ambitious as the book itself; Monk!: Thelonious, Pannonica, and the Friendship Behind a Musical Revolution is thick both physically and in content, which is no surprise given the subject. Though Thelonious Monk is not an unfamiliar name even to people who are not particularly fans of jazz, the specifics of his contribution to the genre and his relationship with his main patron are not well known. Daoudi’s palette for the book is tightly contained, which gives the art and the story a chance to shine. It’s the type of biography that feels both deeply intimate and huge in scope, drawing back far enough to give the reader perspective on what was happening in the rest of the world while Monk and Pannonica grew up, met and became irrevocably and completely entwined with one another. The respect and affection that they felt for each other is clear and leaves room for deep wells of emotion and humor. The book touches on politics and racism, music theory and Monk’s style, mental health and the meaning of the word family. It’s a must-read for people who love jazz, and a wonderful experience even for readers who couldn’t name a single jazz musician off the top of their heads. Caitlin Rosberg


Ice Cream Man Cover Art by Martin Morazzo & Chris O’Halloran

17. Ice Cream Man
Writer: W. Maxwell Prince
Artist: Martin Morazzo
Publisher: Image Comics 
Ice Cream Man billed itself as a Twilight Zone-inspired horror(ish) anthology out of the gate, and its first two issues, flush with lycanthropic frozen-goods peddlers, killer spiders and the ravages of drug abuse, reinforced that horror. The third issue marked a turning point when it tuned into a different frequency, relying more on melancholy than outright fear. That story’s protagonist is a washed-up one-hit-wonder who now spends his days at the local diner, reminding the waiter of his past glory and wondering if he only ever had that one song in him…until an extra-dimensional crew of musical heroes (styled after some very recognizable faces) shows up to recruit the sad sack into an epic war for all of creation. Each issue since has become more and more confident in its weirdness and resistance to tidy categorization. Writer W. Maxwell Prince pivots from corporate existentialism to crushing regret to Invisibles-esque mind-expanding action with ease, and artist Martin Morazzo displays a range in these issues that demonstrates how close he is to becoming a go-to name for the weird and wonderful. Mainstream monthly comics is bereft of a strong, strange short-story scene; Ice Cream Man is singlehandedly doing its best to fix that. Steve Foxe


Action Comics Cover Art by Steve Rude

16. Action Comics
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Ryan Sook, Patrick Gleason, Yanick Paquette
Publisher: DC Comics 
Never let it be said that we can’t admit when we’re wrong. Paste wasn’t too impressed by Brian Michael Bendis’ first two Superman shorts in Actions Comics #1000 and DC Nation #0, but it didn’t take long for the newly exclusive DC writer to prove that his take on the Man of Steel wouldn’t be just a palette-swapped version of his Marvel Comics work. Bendis gets Superman, and that goes for both the costumed hero and the bespectacled reporter. Both Superman and Action Comics have had core ongoing plots—Rogol Zaar in the former and organized crime in the latter—but Bendis isn’t really plotting tightly for the trade here, and Action Comics #1004, in particular, stands on its own, especially with the stunning addition of Ryan Sook artwork. During Bendis’ Man of Steel mini-series, Superman’s dad, Lois and Jon Kent all decamped for space, but then Lois came back…and she didn’t tell Superman. What sounds on paper like a cringeworthy crumbling of DC’s premiere couple is actually one of the most genuinely romantic stories you’ll read in a mainstream superhero book all year, with a final page likely to bring a tear to your eye. If you’ve been on the fence about the Bendis Super-era so far, let it be known: this is the S-shield standard-bearer we’ve been waiting for. Steve Foxe


Manfried the Man Cover Art by Kelly Bastow

15. Manfried the Man
Writer: Caitlin Major
Artist: Kelly Bastow
Publisher: Quirk Books
What if people were pets? What if cats were just as bad at adulting as most of us? Manfried the Man is catnip for cat-lovers and anyone looking for a sincere and lighthearted look at what it means to finally grow up. When Steve Catson’s stray man, Manfried, makes a daring escape, Steve is forced to fess up to his lack of personal responsibility as he dives headlong into a quest to find his beloved two-legged friend. Writer Caitlin Major and artist Kelly Bastow offer up a truly absurd premise and deliver a surprisingly thoughtful exploration of being a young-ish adult when you’re not sure how to be responsible for yourself, much less for another person or pet. Bastow’s art is adorable (and manages to keep a book full of tiny little naked fellas from being too weird) and Steve Catson is deeply relatable, particularly to creatives trying to keep themselves going “in this economy.” C.K. Stewart


Runaways Cover Art by Kris Anka & Matthew Wilson

14. Runaways
Writer: Rainbow Rowell
Artists: Kris Anka, David LaFuente
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Finally. Just in time for the television adaptation last fall, The Runaways got another shot at comics, this time from massively celebrated YA author Rainbow Rowell and slick, stylish fan-favorite artist Kris Anka. The last volume (not counting an enjoyable but in-name-only Secret Wars tie-in mini-series) concluded before its time in 2009, with writer Kathryn Immomen and artist David LaFuente dropping a bit of a cliff-hanger that Rowell and Anka amazingly picked up a full eight years later. Anka’s eye for fashion and attitude is perfectly suited for Nico and the gang, and Rowell has ample experience navigating teens’ interior lives. Throughout 2018, this misfit family has experienced break-ups, hook-ups, falling-outs and the return of some world-ending foes (or their kids, anyway). While the original run by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona made such a deep impact partially based on Vaughan’s penchant for jaw-dropping reveals (more on that in an upcoming entry), Rowell and Anka’s take can go issues at a time without too much actually “happening”—yet never feels slight or stretched out. This cast is established, and no longer needs apocalyptic threats around every corner to keep us hooked. Rowell and Anka have such a strong grasp on the Runaways and what we like about them that we’re even tempted to say…best run ever? Steve Foxe


I Am a Hero Cover Art by Kengo Hanazawa

13. I Am a Hero
Writer/Artist: Kengo Hanazawa
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Manga, which our contributors tend to binge rather than follow regularly, is sadly underrepresented on this list—which is something we’ll strive harder to address in 2019. For the time being, Kengo Hanazawa is as perfect a representation of the medium as anyone could hope. Each double-sized collection of I Am a Hero peels away more unexpected layers to Hanazawa’s particular flesh-eating apocalypse, most recently including the revelation of not-quite-zombified humans with enhanced abilities. If that sounds goofy and too shonen, it’s not—these hybrids owe more to Junji Ito’s twisted fleshy abominations than to any action-packed horror-lite adventure. I Am a Hero began as a fairly straightforward infection story as Japan quickly succumbed to the “ZQN” plague, but 2018’s installments expanded the scope, showing Taiwan and Paris under siege, introducing new bands of survivors using…unusual methods and debuting monstrous new undead behemoths. The volumes released this year further explore the uniqueness of Hanazawa’s approach to the walking dead, as some of the infected begin to display seemingly supernatural abilities instead of merely becoming semi-sentient garbage disposals. If you’ve got a high tolerance for terror, I Am a Hero is one of the best horror stories in comics today—and one of the best manga on the stands. Steve Foxe


The Lie and How We Told It Cover Art by Tommi Parrish

12. The Lie and How We Told It
Writer/Artist: Tommi Parrish
Publisher: Fantagraphics 
The cover of Tommi Parrish’s sort-of major label debut The Lie and How We Told It doesn’t really tell you anything about its plot, but it does tell you plenty about what Parrish’s work feels like. It resists being put in boxes, and this scene of a couple of dozen people at a club (men, women, ambiguously gendered folks; people who are enjoying themselves, people who are not; people who are on the make; people reading, drinking, smoking, dancing, flirting, working; looking at each other or looking past one another; in their own heads and very much out of their heads; and then more on top of that) spills off the edges. Parrish’s stuff isn’t all that clearly worked out, but it’s often about things that aren’t so well defined, especially sex and relationships, which get muddy in a hurry. The interior—which features the reunion of two high school friends who wander around, chatting, interspersed with black-and-white line drawings that make up a book within the book—has similar things going on, and Parrish doesn’t clean up the edges of the panels. Everything is bleeding into or over everything else, and you can’t tell what’s a top and what’s a bottom (double meaning very much implied!). Hillary Brown


The Song of Aglaia Cover Art by Anne Simon

11. The Song of Aglaia
Writer/Artist: Anne Simon
Publisher: Fantagraphics 
French cartoonist Anne Simon’s book is populated by the kind of female characters who exist in Greek drama, which is to say it is the kind of feminism that throws the need for sanctification out the window. Aglaia is a thoroughly human character, betrayed and oppressed before she betrays and oppresses. The narrative moves with force, like an arrow shot from a powerful bow, and Simon’s weird, highly patterned drawings ripple around it like visual representations of speed and energy. Her world looks like Tove Jansson’s in many ways, but it’s violent (physically and emotionally) and fraught with danger, much like the non-Bowdlerized versions of the myths it evokes. Hillary Brown


Klaus and the Crying Snowman Cover Art by Dan Mora

10. Klaus and the Crying Snowman
Writer:   Grant Morrison  
Artist: Dan Mora
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Did we mention that we’re currently loving the Superman titles at DC Comics? Well, we are—but BOOM! Studios’ annual Klaus stories are still better Superman stories than anything starring the Man of Steel himself. Klaus and the Crying Snowman doesn’t come out until the 19th, but we got an early look, and there’s just no denying it a spot on the top 10. Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s initial Klaus series was fine, but took until the final issues to really feel like a Morrison joint. Each subsequent Christmastime one-shot, on the other hand, encapsulates the boundless imagination—and unfettered optimism—that marks Morrison’s finest work. Every scene of Klaus and the Crying Snowman contains more creativity than dozens of straightforward superhero series that came out in 2018, and Mora’s artwork has grown by leaps and bounds with each passing year (this issue makes a strong case that Marvel needs to get him on Thor before Ragnarok claims us all). Christmas can be a stressful, or at least expensive and heavily commercialized, time of year, but in Morrison and Mora’s hands, it’s exactly what it should be: a reassuring, warm embrace in the middle of winter’s coldest nights. Steve Foxe


Saga Cover Art by Fiona Staples

9. Saga
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples 
Publisher: Image Comics 
Ongoing series like Saga, The Wicked + The Divine, Giant Days and Monstress always get short shift in Best-of lists after their first year of publication. Regardless of their sustained quality, they simply can’t compete with the attention-seeking quality of the new…unless, over 50 issues into the run, a creative team kills off more main characters than their readership can process and then declares a one-year hiatus. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ most recent arc of Saga should come with a discount coupon for a therapy dog visit, just to lessen the blow (and no, we won’t spoil who dies, but rest assured that we’re still not okay). A body count alone doesn’t justify a top-10 placement, though; what does is Vaughan and Staples’ ability to shockingly upend the story in ways that never feel cheap or exploitative. Like a rollercoaster ride in the dark, Saga’s next twist is never, ever predictable. It’s beyond cruel that we have to wait a year after that issue, but there’s not a doubt in our minds that Saga #55 will make every second worth it. Steve Foxe


The Dreaming Cover Art by Jae Lee

8. The Dreaming
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Artist: Bilquis Evely
Publisher: Vertigo/ DC Comics 
Of the four Sandman Universe titles that debuted this year, none carry the torch of Neil Gaiman and co.’s landmark literary epic like The Dreaming. Writer Simon Spurrier, artist Bilquis Evely, colorist Mat Lopes and letterer Simon Bowland have worked in perfect lockstep to bring Sandman devotees back into a realm both familiar and inexorably changed, with each issue reintroducing familiar (and not-so-familiar) faces in unpredictable ways. Spurrier’s writing on titles like Cry Havoc and the current Coda handily prove why he was the right voice to follow—not imitate—Gaiman, but it’s the team of Evely and Lopes who steal the show each month; every page of their work feels like an event, something not meant for a “mere” monthly comic. Even the original Sandman never looked quite like this. It was a controversial decision to bring back the world of The Sandman without Gaiman’s pen directly guiding happenings, but Spurrier, Evely and the rest of the creative team have made an undeniable argument for passing the reins and keeping Dream’s story alive. Steve Foxe


The Nib: Death Cover Art by Oliver Hibert

7. The Nib: Death
Editor: Matt Bors
Publisher: The Nib
In an era during which quality political cartooning is in decline, one of the first things to get the cut as print media continues to struggle with its role in the world, The Nib has defied the odds by putting out smart, pointed political and educational comics with an admirable consistency. The Nib: Death is the first issue in the site’s foray into print, a magazine full of comics, art and illustrated essays from contributors both new and familiar. On their own, each comic is a remarkable, informational piece of creative work; together, they make up one of the best books of the year. Insightful and incite-ful, the comics tackle the new business of death, statistics and history that will surprise even people who consider themselves fairly well informed. Of particular note are Andy Warner’s “Who Wants to Live Forever? Silicon Valley Tries to Disrupt Death” and Ted Clossen’s “As Before, so Behind: A Memoir of Losing a Child.” The latter is a deeply personal piece about grief, and the former a thoroughly researched and biting investigation of the technologists who are shaping our lives and our media consumption in ways that will unsettle most readers. The Nib has launched a membership called Inkwell, and each of the essays they publish on the site are just as good as what’s in Death. Independent media and thoughtful political cartooning live on in at least this small corner of the world. Caitlin Rosberg


Girl Town Cover Art by Carolyn Nowak

6. Girl Town
Writer/Artist: Carolyn Nowak
Publisher: Top Shelf/ IDW Publishing
Carolyn Nowak contributed some impressive issues to Lumberjanes, but don’t confuse Girl Town for a similarly empowering all-ages romp. This collection of short stories, a mix of previously published content and brand-new material, is messy in the best, most invigorating way. The common thread, beyond Nowak’s ever-shifting cartooning (isometric cutaways! fantasy theme parks! fireside pagan dances!) is girls: girls who cope with a breakup by buying a robot boyfriend, girls who get anxious around their best friends, girls who have a weird podcast, girls who just want to be held. There’s a distant whiff of Scott Pilgrim and Seconds in how Nowak deftly weaves genre elements into early-20-something malaise, but Girl Town is never twee and never at risk of being overwhelmed by its robot tongues or other oddities. Girl Town, like its protagonists, is caught in a swell of uncertain feelings, and will stick with you long after you’ve finished the short stories within. Steve Foxe


Why Art? Cover Art by Eleanor Davis

5. Why Art?
Writer/Artist: Eleanor Davis
Publisher: Fantagraphics 
You’d think that I’d be running out of things to write about Eleanor Davis’ comics. Luckily, she’s not content to do the same thing over and over, which makes it easy on a writer. Why Art?, her latest standalone release, is a joke that turns serious—both a series of silly drawings and an actual attempt to grapple with a gigantic question. It’s a smart way to address a labyrinthine task. Art is complicated, and unless you’re going to rule out the role of pleasure in people’s lives (a valid approach but not a fun one), writing about it is like trying to lasso a shadow. What is it? How does it do the things it does? Should we do it at all? Can we humans even stop ourselves from making it? This fat little book performs a sort of magic trick, sidling up to these big scary questions and disarming them before it reveals its teeth. Hillary Brown


Land of the Sons Cover Art by Gipi

4. Land of the Sons
Writer/Artist: Gipi
Publisher: Fantagraphics 
Gipi has focused on the tangled mess that is masculinity for years now, especially on adolescence, when personalities are still being forged and feelings run closer to the surface. Land of the Sons takes those concerns and inflates them, stretching the surface ever thinner and creating greater tension as a result. Some sort of disease has ravaged the land (or has it?). A father and his two sons live virtually alone, scavenging for food; pretty much everyone else is dead (or are they?). Literacy no longer exists, but the idea of it still does, causing the brothers to become enraged that they can’t read a book their father is writing. That’s the kick that sets the story in motion, like an angry wolverine rolling down a hill. At times, Land of the Sons is almost unbearable to read. It made my heart race. It made me feel like I was beyond wanting to cry because my intestines were too tight. It made me wonder if I shouldn’t have had children. Does that sound like fun? It’s not, but it’s a great example of the fact that not all good art has to be fun. Hillary Brown


Grafity’s Wall Interior Art by Anand RK, Jason Wordie & Irma Kniivila

3. Grafity’s Wall
Writer: Ram V
Artist: Anand RK
Publisher: Unbound
Ram V has had a great year. Paradiso remains a weird sci-fi highlight, These Savage Shores is one of the most promising launches of 2018’s final quarter and his first foray into “Big Two” comics arrived on leathery bat wings. His greatest triumph in 2018 is the one that’s easiest to miss: Grafity’s Wall, a graphic novel funded and released through Unbound. Following an eclectic cast of young people in bustling Mumbai, Grafity’s Wall is a snapshot of a culture too rarely explored in Western media, told with heart and authenticity by Ram V and his collaborators, Anand RK, Jason Wordie, Irma Kniivila and Aditya Bidikar. Anand RK’s dizzying art gorgeously captures not just the exciting hustle and bustle of Mumbai, but its challenging underside, as a barefoot muralist, an illiterate wannabe rapper, an awkward but sweet-hearted waiter and an aspiring actress carve out an existence in the margins of the densely populated city. There are echoes of Taiyo Matsumoto’s Tekkon Kinkreet here, but Grafity’s Wall is ultimately its own bittersweet perfection. Steve Foxe


The Immortal Hulk Cover Art by Alex Ross

2. The Immortal Hulk
Writer: Al Ewing
Artists: Joe Bennett, Others
Publisher: Marvel Comics 
Writer Greg Pak’s work on The Totally Awesome Hulk these past few years has been an awesome showcase for the character Amadeus Cho, but the Jade Giant portion of the book never quite clicked as well as it does with the classically cursed Bruce Banner. Following his bow-and-arrow demise in Civil War II (if anyone read that book), Banner came back—and he couldn’t die again even if he wanted to. In Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s horrorific The Immortal Hulk, killing Banner does nothing to kill the Hulk, who rises again each night like a green ghoul to wreak his emerald-tinted havoc. Bruce Jones, Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben have all explored the scarier potential of the Hulk before, but Ewing and Bennett unlocked a potent combination of body horror and psychological manipulation, culminating in a hellish surprise development in the most recent issue that sent emerald jaws dropping to the floor. It’s difficult enough to sustain horror across an ongoing series, let alone one fully immersed in a shared superhero series. Ewing and Bennett don’t just sustain the terror, though—they keep ratcheting it up. Marvel’s iconic heroes returned left and right this year: Tony Stark is a dashing iron-suited hero again, Dude Thor has a hammer once more and Captain America almost definitely isn’t a fake Nazi now. The Immortal Hulk isn’t just a return to form for the Banner/Hulk dynamic—it’s one of the scariest examinations of the body and mind in modern comics. Steve Foxe


Berlin Cover Art by Jason Lutes

1. (Tie) Berlin
Writer/Artist: Jason Lutes
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
When Jason Lutes started releasing what would end up running 580 pages back in 1996, Bill Clinton was president, the Internet was barely a thing and Drawn & Quarterly was still in its early youth. It’s weird to pick what is in some ways an old book as the best book of 2018, but what is “weird,” anyway, these days? As history goes around and around, the past has plenty to teach the present. Lutes knew that when he started Berlin, but he didn’t know how relevant his book, which covers the titular city’s atmosphere in the years before Hitler became chancellor, would become. How did Nazism rise to power? What were ordinary people thinking and feeling that they enabled the evils to come? Lutes doesn’t have easy, bird’s-eye-view answers to these questions, and although he flits around the city from story to story, he’s more a sparrow than an eagle, diving down to the ground level when something catches his eye. It’s a sympathetic portrayal of a wide variety of people that may technically be in black and white, but is metaphorically very much in shades of gray. Hillary Brown


Upgrade Soul Cover Art by Ezra Claytan Daniels

1. (Tie) Upgrade Soul
Writer/Artist: Ezra Claytan Daniels
Publisher: Lion Forge
Call it a copout, but when it came time to pick the single best comic of 2018, the chance to juxtapose a sweeping look at the past with a glimpse into the future was too good to pass up, and we have our first-ever tie for first place. A personal anecdote about the “future” half of that pairing: Lion Forge sent me an advance review PDF of Upgrade Soul during a busy week, and I put it off…and put it off…and put it off, until just recently after I returned from a vacation in Japan, unable to readjust to Eastern Standard Time, flipping through files on my iPad at three in the morning. I started Ezra Claytan Daniels’ earth-shattering sci-fi story out of a sense of delayed obligation, but hardly wanted to blink after a few pages. In Upgrade Soul, a well-off elderly couple funds an experimental new medical treatment to restore youth, on the condition that they’re the first human test subjects. When they wake up days later, they discover that the test wasn’t exactly a success. It’s difficult to explain much more without undercutting Daniels’ masterful pacing, but Upgrade Soul has profound things to say about mortality, aging, identity and the fundamental sense of self. One could shallowly compare it to an episode of Black Mirror, but it’s operating on a higher level, reaching at some of the same themes explored by Kazuo Ishiguro and Ted Chiang. Every choice, every component of Upgrade Soul simply works, and I don’t regret further destabilizing my sleeping schedule to read it one sitting, or to reflect on it in the hours and days that followed. Steve Foxe

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