8 Poetry is Useless, Anders Nilsen, Drawn & Quarterly
Maybe more a sketchbook than a graphic novel, but Nilsen’s gather-up- of strips and sketches reveals an obsession with death and God (or the lack thereof). The result is a kind of comedy of despair. It will make you laugh and fill you full of existential fears at the same time.
7 First Year Healthy, Michael DeForge, Drawn & Quarterly
A minor (and short) entry after last year’s epic Ant Colony, but this acid trip of a story is once again proof that DeForge is already a fully-formed cartoonist with a unique vision. And he’s still in his twenties. Show off. First Year Healthy is a graphic novella that fuses mental illness with catlike creatures. Full of dread and fear and beauty, it is a sort of Christmas fable. SO it would go down well on Boxing Day when you’ve sickened of Quality Street and festive cheer.
6 Trash Market, Tadao Tsuge, Drawn & Quarterly
Bleak, bleaker, bleakest. This compilation of strips by the alternative Japanese cartoonist Tadao Tsuge from the 1960s has a baleful weight to it. It is full of student riots, domestic violence, depression and the selling of blood. Tsuge’s pencils are artfully crude and potent. But why pursue perfection when the world you describe is so imperfect?
4 Drawn & Quarterly, 25 Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics and Graphic Novels, Drawn & Quarterly
A monster of a book. This celebration of the Canadian publisher’s quarter-century of publishing comics – without it we might not have heard of Seth or Chester Brown or Adrian Tomine – has, perhaps inevitably, an air of back-slapping to it. But it’s not excessive and in between the essays there are page upon page of very fine cartooning from some of the greats and soon-to-be greats of contemporary comics.
3 Melody, Sylvie Rancourt, Drawn & Quarterly
This 1980s graphic memoir of Rancourt’s years as a stripper in Montreal in the 1980s is full of basic art and base emotions, and yet it throbs with the messiness of lived experience. Expect drug-taking, nudity, orgies and egregious examples of ugly male uselessness. The fact that Rancourt seems so matter-of-fact and non-judgemental about it all somehow gives the whole thing an extra punch.
2 Supermutant Magic Academy, Jillian Tamaki, Drawn & Quarterly
Another D&Q title (they’ve had a very good year), Tamaki’s rough and ready Harry Potter-meets-superheroes-as-told-by-Woody Allen comic strips make it into the list because they will make you laugh like a drain. The fact that they are also wonderful and acute on teenage angst is just an added bonus.
Killing and Dying, Adrian Tomine, Faber
I am conflicted about this book. It deserves much of the praise it has received since it was published because it is beautifully crafted, its lines are simple and clean and the book’s emotional territory – the failing lives and loves of ageing Gen Xers – is rendered with stiletto sharpness. And yet, and yet … Does anyone else find it all a little too sour? No? Just me then.
Step Aside, Pops, Kate Beaton, Jonathan Cape
The only reason it didn’t make the top ten is that Supermutant Magic Academy elbowed it out at the last minute. Beaton’s literary and historical cartoon strips are laugh-out-loud funny. A delight.