The 10 Best Graphic Novels and Comics of 2010

It was a good year for a wide array of comics collections and graphic novels. From superheroes to memoirs of old age to vintage reprints, there was something for anyone — which is to say, everyone — interested in visual storytelling. In no particular order:

Picture This, Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly) Barry’s follow-up to her remarkable What It Is is, once again, a combination how-to book, a memoir, and an inspirational book of the highest order. Picture This will tap into the artist you may have hidden in the recesses in your soul, encouraging you to pick up pencil or paintbrush and begin to enjoy the pleasure and thrill of making art yourself. “You move your hand and you scribble all you want and it feels very good,” she writes. Barry speaks the truth, always.

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, Sarah Glidden (Vertigo/DC)
A memoir of a trip this left-leaning Jew takes to Israel, determined to have her ideas about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict confirmed. Of course, things turn out more complicated than Glidden had imagined. So do her deceptively simple line drawings, their delicate watercolor shadings, and the thinking that informs the vivid dialogue in a graphic nonfiction novel of subtlety and understated wit.

• Nipper 1963-64, Doug Wright (Drawn & Quarterly) These Canadian newspaper strips, free of dialogue but full of vivid line drawings, depict the mischievous adventures of a little boy. Wright, a stay-at-home cartoonist and father, doubtlessly drew quite literally on personal observation and experience, but the fluidity of his inks and his storytelling makes this an all-ages special.

• Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke (IDW) Cooke, whose best-known work has probably been for DC Comics (The New Frontier, his reinterpretation of The Spirit), proves again that he can capture in pictures the terse storytelling of Donald Westlake, who used the pen name Richard Stark for his brutally succinct hard-boiled novels featuring the canny thief Parker. Adaptations of novels generally tend to concentrate on getting the plot and dialogue down accurately, but Cooke is working on a higher level: He wants to be sure you experience the cold amorality of the Parker stories. He does so by drawing Parker as a series of sharp, flat angles, and by avoiding film noir visual clichés in precisely the same way Westlake/Stark avoided hard-boiled-fiction clichés.

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, Moto Hagio (Fantagraphics) Ostensibly Japanese comics aimed at the adolescent-girl market, these so-called Ten Stories of the Human Heart are lush mixtures of dreamlike imagery and realistic depictions of young people’s yearnings, hopes, reveries, and fears. Gathering representative work from four decades of publication, A Drunken Dream exerts a hypnotic pull on the reader, Moto Hagio knows both her commercial audience and her ideal audience — which is to say, the world.

Batwoman: Elegy, Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams (DC Comics) The year’s most intriguing superhero art came from Williams, who shattered the conventional arrangement of panels in a comic book, drawing in the broken shards in a manner that suited the fractured consciousness of Batwoman. Writer Rucka gave her a worthy foe, an insane criminal, Alice, who leads a cult of crime. This hardcover collects six issues of Detective Comics, and demonstrates just how far adventurous creators can venture the erroneously perceived boundaries of commercial comics.

Denys Wortman’s New York (Drawn & Quarterly) Probably the historical discovery of the year in comics, this volume — subtitled “Portrait of the City in the 1930s and 1940s,” edited by James Sturm and Brandon Elston, offers a sumptuous gathering of one-panel, pencil-and-ink drawings that summon up an earlier era of city life. Working for The New Yorker, Life, and, most prolifically, the World newspaper, Wortman incorporated overheard and imagined snatches of dialogue among working-class citizens and dowagers, rushing commuters and toff businessmen. No one is ridiculed; everyone is placed in a context that gives each life dignity. Which is not to say Wortman’s cartoons are without a vinegary tang: In the midst of the Depression, a pet-store owner is shown responding to a woman who’s come in bearing her pet bird in a cage. “Listen, lady,” he says brusquely, “your bird ain’t sick. Can you show me anybody today feels like singin’ every single morning when he gets up?” Timely as ever.

Special Exits, Joyce Farmer (Fantagraphics) A long-form narrative about the decline of her parents’ health, Special Exits avoids cheap pity and piousness by doing what any good art should: focusing on specifics — the ways in which Farmer’s parents slide into old age and ill health; the care they require and receive. That this is also a portrait of a strong marriage is an added benefit. Frank, never shying away from the awkward indignities of aging, Special Exits illuminates two lives, as well as that of the author’s.

The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW) A seasonal book that can be read all year ’round, The Great Treasury collected tales originally published in comic-book form by superb cartoonists such as Walt Kelly (Pogo), John Stanley (Little Lulu), and Richard Scarry. If you’re looking for a picture book that offers alternatives to familiar holiday tales, you can’t do better than this sturdy volume, with its stories including “Santa and the Pirates” and “Christmas Comes to the Woodland.”

Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940-1980, edited by Dan Nadel (Abrams) As with Nadel’s eye-boggling previous anthology, Art Out of Time, this thick book offers an array of artist-writers both famous and little-known. What they all shared was employment on the more disreputable fringes of the comics industry, bending familiar genres (superheroes, horror, thriller) to their will. Nadel again demonstrates his knack for selecting mainstream work that can look like the dreams of surrealism, or the most brutish of art brut, or the wooziest of romanticism. You’re summoned beneath the spell of this work.

What graphic novels and comics caught your eye and mind in 2010?

Comments (64 total) Add your comment
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  • SM

    Where is Diana Gabaldon’s The Exile??? By far the best graphic novel of 2010!!

    • SKK023

      That is the first thought I had!

  • Connor

    Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour.

    • Flip

      This.

    • sarah

      YES!

    • Erika

      I’m the same with Moore’s work, and I think all his best work is a chore. But that’s kind of the point: It has a depth of thought beihnd it that other graphic novels don’t. He can tell a more complex story and use the medium to his advantage better than most, though Warren Ellis clearly has the same DNA but with a more accessible, if rawer, edge.

  • Jacob

    What about Geoff Johns/Ivan Reis’s “Blackest Night,” Grant Morrison’s “Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne” or Matt Fraction’s “Iron Man: World’s Most Wanted”? Why didn’t they make the list?

    • Amanda Kiwinerd

      Because they’re crap.

      • Say what?

        obviously you do not know crap abot comics!

      • Clifton

        Amanda = TROLL!!!!!!!! LOL!!

    • BG

      Don’t look down your nose at genre comics. Like genre books and movies, they are not thought of as artsy enough. These specific titles may or may not be great, but just presuming that they are low-brow crap because they are about well-know super heros is snobby.

      • KarlHall

        Case in point, Serious house on Serious Earth. About Batman and Joker, but WHAT a fantastic psychologically-powerful book.

    • Summer

      I’m sure they would have made the cut if they were doing top 20.

  • Ryan

    Batwoman was so great! I can’t wait for her ongoing series.

  • Tim Sheridan

    Hows about Return of the Dapper Men? It was excellent.

  • Simply Chad

    If I were making the list, it’d have to include John Layman’s “Chew”. It’s the best thing out there. Rob Guilory’s art is as involved and detail as the story. Funny,quirky, sick, disgusting. I love it.

    • Melissa

      I just read the first volume of Chew and I was amazed at how much I loved it!

  • Daniel F

    - Jeff Lemire’s SWEET TOOTH
    - Jonathan Hickman’s FANTASTIC FOUR
    - Christos Gage’s AVENGERS ACADEMY

  • René De Beaumarchais

    No Japanese ones?

    • Pupshaw

      Drunken Dream is a Japanese book translated to English.

    • anakinjmt

      That’d technically be manga, not comics.

      • person

        Manga means comics in Japanese.

      • cheese

        But technically Manga is a genre. Like Film Noir, or Impressionist paintings. You can’t lump everything together into one simple topic.

  • Doug

    I’m kinda surprised it took 3 comments until somebody would mention the F’in Batman or Blackest Night. But Scott Pilgrim? A fun comic, yes, but a relevant piece of work it is not. p.s. same goes for the F’in Batman and G.D. Blackest Night. Personally? I’d like to see the folks at EW select my Eisner Award Winners for 2011.

  • David Willis

    Have not read any for the past decade. Too addicted to the internet and lazy to read. I still got tons of comic books to read. Might as well just sell them.

  • mangagirl

    Very glad that Ms.Haggio’s work is included in this list, her work is always sublime and noteworthy. Here’s hoping Fantagraphics will publish more books by the “49′ers” and other early manga creators.

  • Rob

    Totally missed the charming “Smile” by Raina Telgemeier, a great book for teens, and hold up well for adults

    • Rick

      I don’t know if Smile came out this year or not, but it was probably the most effective graphic novel I read this year. My children loved it, and we read lots of regular comics and graphic novels, so that’s saying a lot. Very powerful stuff about a regular girl’s teenage years.

  • observer

    Batwoman is a trade collection not a graphic novel seeing as it is a collection of issues from Rucka’s run on Detective Comics, and while I agree that several of the other comics (Blackest Night, Batman, Iron Man, FF) are good they’re ongoing comics which is the biggest reason they don’t fall into the Graphic Novel category. Same goes for a couple of the others in the comments.

    • comixchick

      “Watchmen” was a collection of issues, too, but it’s still considered a (great) graphic novel. Maybe it’s the “single story” element that classifies it? Personally, I don’t care, but it’s something I’ve wondered about.

      • ds

        Yes, although serialized, it is self contained story

      • Syamsul

        True indeed. Now, why such a noamrl thing for a person to do is so embarrassing if EVERYONE DOES IT?Maybe I’ll never know .BTW, funny comics you got here. Searching for a picture of instant noodles is how I got to your site.

  • Rory Murray

    I’m surprised to see THE END: ARMY OF DARKNESS did not make the list. Written by the wonderful new talent, MICHELLE BRYSON and illustrated by the legendary FRANK BRUNER. It’s published by SILVER COMICS. A great gift for anyone!

    • Rory Murray

      THe END: The SKULL Army, I meant to say. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Pat

    you forgot Nemesis

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