Graphic novels made history in 2013 — even if the best books sometimes reveled in making history up. Half the books on this top-10 list delve into the past, ranging from 20th-century wars to rights movements to the birth of hip-hop. And part of what makes these history-dipping graphic novels sublime is that their creators know how to bring stories alive; they paint distinct characters that ripple off the page and often create immersive worlds that resonate with the real. Before diving in, though, a couple of qualifiers: First, in a year that held an embarrassment of mainstream superhero riches, my Comic Riffs blog is offering a separate top-10 list of the best superhero titles of 2013. And second, the year provided some great comics works that didn’t happen to be graphic novels, so I also urge you to check out titles such as Art Spiegelman’s excellent retrospective “Co-Mix” and Joe Sacco’s posterlike “The Great War.”
By Gilbert Hernandez
(Drawn and Quarterly)
One of the legendary cartoonists of “Love and Rockets,” which began publication in the early 1980s, here weaves readers through scenes from a semi-autobiographical ’60s childhood. “Marble Season” sometimes feels like one long, seamless shot of budding love, brimming violence and suddenly struck friendships. This is a highly physical, meta-“Peanuts” suburban universe in which adults are off-camera, but navigating other kids is plenty harrowing.
By Rutu Modan, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen (Drawn and Quarterly)
The “Exit Wounds” author creates an utterly believable world in which a woman and her grandmother travel to Warsaw to reclaim property stolen from the family during World War II. Each small detail makes the relationships feel real — and the art reflects an unusual approach: Modan hired models to act our her scenes.
MY DIRTY DUMB EYES
By Lisa Hanawalt (Drawn and Quarterly)
Hanawalt has one of the sharpest senses of humor in all of comics. She also has a colored-pencil and watercolor style that blends beautifully with her knowing voice. Whether she’s spoofing pop culture or getting intensely autobiographical, she’s unfailingly funny.