Comic books provide infinite opportunities for creative expression in the interplay between text and artwork, and 2018 has been a remarkable year for titles with unique, confident perspectives. From invigorating takes on decades-old properties to new works about interspecies romance, “alt-right” conspiracy theories, and gender-fluid space explorers, the best books released in the first half of 2018 highlight the massive potential of the medium with a multitude of styles and themes. Below you’ll find our top 10 picks for the year’s most compelling, entertaining, and provocative comic books and graphic novels, providing a great jumping-off point for readers who want to experience the full scope of this art form.
Green Lantern: Earth One (DC Comics)
In the pages of Gabriel Hardman, Corinna Bechko, and Jordan Boyd’s Green Lantern: Earth One, the Green Lantern ring is a weapon that anyone can wield. You don’t need to be chosen because you have extraordinary willpower. There’s no oath you say to charge the ring’s energy. These are significant changes to the Green Lantern concept that universalize it for a brand-new continuity; if you find a ring and a battery, you can tap into that power and use it for good or ill. The creative team behind Image’s Invisible Republic brings the same level of thoughtful detail to this new take on Hal Jordan and other members of the Green Lantern Corps, delivering cosmic fantasy blended with the sci-fi horror of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Hardman and Bechko’s story holds on to the willpower theme by detailing how Hal Jordan overcomes personal tragedy to find a new purpose among the stars. The artwork by Hardman and Boyd grounds this superhero adventure with detailed visuals that have real weight and texture.
Mech Cadet Yu (Boom! Studios)
What will it take to turn Mech Cadet Yu into a movie? A lot of comics feel like pitches for big-screen projects, but Mech Cadet Yu is the kind of book that feels like it could permeate pop culture if it had the exposure of a live-action or animated feature film. Written by Greg Pak with art by Takeshi Miyazaki, Triona Farrell, and Jessica Kholinne, the series combines a number of commercially successful ideas in a story full of heart and reverence for the giant robot and monster properties that came before it. There’s an inclusive cast of young heroes paired with mechs that have evocative, action-figure-ready designs, and they’re thrust into a high-octane action plot that has them opposing authority to save Earth from alien invaders. This book is pure fun that will appeal to readers young and old, with exhilarating artwork that channels the intense enthusiasm of the mech cadets as they show the world their full potential.
My Boyfriend Is A Bear (Oni Press)
Adorably charming with valuable insights into the struggles of modern dating, Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris’ My Boyfriend Is A Bear follows an unconventional courtship between a human woman and the bear that falls for her after a chance encounter in the woods. This interspecies romance is used as a metaphor for finding a person who doesn’t match the expectations of friends, family, and the rest of society, but gives you everything you want in a relationship. Ribon’s script is heartwarming with an undercurrent of tragedy as the couple braces for the bear’s inevitable goodbye during hibernation season, and she makes exceptional use of the comic book medium to blend visual lists and comic-strip-style storytelling into a larger narrative. Farris bolsters the book’s playful spirit with animated artwork overflowing with personality, imbuing the book’s ursine love interest with a warm, kind aura that spotlights why he’s such a pleasant partner.
Olivia Jaimes’ Nancy is the biggest surprise of the year, a revival of an 80-year-old comic strip that taps into the zeitgeist without losing the essential spirit of the character. Nancy has always had a relationship with modern technology, and Jaimes situates her in the present by incorporating smart phones, computers, and streaming services into her hijinks. Jaimes uses these devices to explore the human condition, with a recent Sunday strip examining how Nancy uses online rage to combat the existential crisis of realizing she’s an insignificant speck in a vast universe. Strips centered on Nancy’s aunt and teacher shift the focus to adult concerns, capturing a palpable sense of longing to return to the carefree days of youth they witness in Nancy and her friends. Jaimes’ impeccable timing shows her deep understanding of comic strip rhythms. The combination of current subject matter and classic aesthetic principles takes Nancy into an exciting new era.
Prism Stalker (Image Comics)
The “oh shit!” factor of Sloane Leong’s Prism Stalker is incredibly high, with each issue of the “bio-punk” sci-fi series containing moments where Leong’s imagination gives readers something truly shocking and unique. A young woman is ripped from her homeland, forced into a life of indentured servitude, and enlisted in a private military firm settling alien territory, a journey that combines commentary on colonialism with an emotional through-line rooted in overcoming oppression in ever-changing forms. Leong creates environments with distinct tactile qualities—slimy, spongy, smooth, coarse—and colors them with a blazing palette of neons and pastels, making risky, ambitious choices that highlight the transportive power of severely saturated color. Working with letterer Ariana Maher, Leong creates a mesmerizing action-adventure with a bold design sensibility, building a comprehensive world that refuses explanation and just lets readers live in its vibrant glow.
Sabrina (Drawn & Quarterly)
Government black sites. Crisis actors. Conspiracies designed to desensitize civilians so they don’t realize their rights are being stripped away. Nick Drnaso creates a chilling story from these paranoid talking points in Sabrina, which follows a trio of people dealing with the aftermath of a murder that gains national attention. This brings out “alt-right” conspiracy theorists who are desperate to connect this senseless act of violence to a tyrannical plot, exposing the dark side of internet communities and how they can be manipulated to terrorize people. Drnaso’s second graphic novel is more plot-forward than his debut, Beverly, a similarly somber but more inert chronicle of suburban sexual frustration. His stark, sterile art style heightens the alienation felt by these grieving people as their pain is written off as performance, and a 24-panel grid sets a claustrophobic tone as they become trapped by weaponized opinions that turn into digital attacks.
Why Art? (Fantagraphics Books)
Because we need it. Because it captures our fundamental identities and gifts them to a future that won’t know our living selves. Eleanor Davis’ graphic novel manifesto tackles the nature of art and the role of the artist in creating the world and its spirit, delivering a sprawling, satirical, and oh-so-satisfying story so much bigger than the book’s pocket-sized dimensions. Why Art? begins as a tongue-in-cheek guide book explaining basic categories of art before delving into deeper emotion properties, but things take a major turn when Davis introduces a group of artists preparing for a gallery showing that unfortunately coincides with the apocalypse. Faced with the total destruction of everything they know, these characters turn to art to save themselves, with Davis using these heightened circumstances to reinforce why artists are necessary for social progress.
X-Men Red (Marvel Comics)
It’s been far too long since the X-Men line had an extraordinary flagship title, but that changed this year with X-Men Red, a series that puts the newly resurrected Jean Grey in charge of a team of mutants on a mission to change the world. After redefining the former X-23, Laura Kinney, in the pages of the excellent All-New Wolverine, Tom Taylor applies his talents to a broader X-concept in this series, assembling a team of new and familiar faces with an agenda that speaks to the current political moment. The X-Men Red Annual is arguably the best Jean Grey story ever told, using her time off the page to give her a fresh perspective on the world that sets her on a new path to fix the problems faced by the mutant community, exacerbated by the return of Professor X’s evil twin sister, Cassandra Nova. Mahmud Asrar’s sleek artwork maximizes the spectacle and emotion of Taylor’s scripts. This creative team’s chemistry has made X-Men Red a must-read superhero title.
XTC69 (Koyama Press)
In Jessica Campbell’s scathing take on gender dynamics, a trio of gender-fluid space explorers return to a futuristic Earth, abandoned for 700 years, in hopes of finding men to repopulate their society. The only living thing they find is Jessica Campbell, who was left in stasis for centuries because, as a broke artist, she really needed the $50 promised to her by a medical study. Campbell’s presence in the narrative adds a personal touch to this sci-fi comedy, her trivial freelance concerns about getting her $50 check contrasted with the life-and-death stakes of the scouting group’s mission. The humor really takes off when they eventually discover a planet ruled by men, where women are forced to wear garments that cover everything but their “jubblies” and the government center is the main hub for cross-fit, drones, fishing, amps, and comics. Campbell skewers contemporary misogyny in these pages, but also praises the strength and perseverance of women and non-binary individuals who have to deal with this bullshit on a constant basis.
Yellow Negroes And Other Imaginary Creatures (New York Review Books)
Political, poetic, and highly expressionistic, Yvan Alagbé’s comics are challenging works that place readers in situations that force them to grapple with painful ideas surrounding isolation, prejudice, nationalism, and colonialism. Translated in English for the first time, the comics in this collection are rendered with brushed inks that shift from crisp detail to abstraction, reflecting the ways Alagbé’s storytelling wavers between matter-of-fact bluntness and introspective contemplation fueled by emotional tension. This is especially evident in the titular work, which delves into a French-Algerian policeman’s obsession with an undocumented immigrant. Alagbé deftly balances socio-political commentary with characterizations complicated by years of internalized trauma. His comics ask a lot of questions but don’t provide many answers, putting pressure on his audience to fully consider heavy issues and develop their own opinions.