Even if no one sheds a tear for 2016, at least the year produced such an amazing crop of comics that we need two No 1 spots.
Some of the best contemporary work in the medium emerged from startling corners this year: Marvel’s decision to let artist-driven books go more than a month between issues made room for some beautiful uninterrupted work from people such as Black Widow artist Chris Samnee, while at Marvel’s competitor Image, Dustin Nguyen and Jeff Lemire’s watercolor space opera Descender remains one of the comics shop’s prettiest offerings, alongside Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s improbably, er, touching Sex Criminals.
And several long waits finally ended. Dave McKean’s stunning graphic album Black Dog finally emerged from Dark Horse, and the New York Review of Books started reprinting obscure comics, most notably Mark Beyer’s influential, under-read Agony. Drawn & Quarterly dug up Ben Katchor’s delightful Cheap Novelties, and John Lewis and Nate Powell’s remarkable March finished with book three.
It wasn’t all great – trolls chased female comics creators off Twitter at least twice, and DC relaunched its shared-corporate-property universe by introducing a character from Watchmen into the world without even bothering to inform the creators, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, reminding everyone that if an artist wants to maintain control of her work, corporate hero comics may not be the place to start. But in the main, the focus of the industry has shifted toward the cartoonists themselves, with new work from established masters such as Raina Telgemeier and Daniel Clowes and newer voices like Matt Furie and Emil Ferris.
Carpet Sweeper Tales by Julie Doucet
The indie comics pioneer Julie Doucet’s absence from the form lasted far too long, but at least she’s back, and in predictably unpredictable form. With Carpet Sweeper Tales, the Canadian cartoonist has reordered the pages from a bunch of Italian photo comics – comic books that use pictures of actors instead of drawn panels – and inserted speech bubbles made of text from 1950s back issues of Better Homes and Gardens and Good Housekeeping, among others. The effect is something like if one of the English artist Richard Hamilton's pop-art collages was made into a comic at the direction of Gertrude Stein. “Read it out loud,” Doucet instructs at the book’s beginning, and if you’re willing to do this (observation: this will make you less popular on the subway) you may often find yourself stopping the narration to laugh as a young woman communicates with her suitor entirely in hisses and squeals, or flummoxed when an entire chapter’s dialogue is quote marks and ellipses. As with the romance comics Doucet mangled to make it, the subjects of Carpet Sweeper Tales are still men, women, and the way they fail to understand each other; Doucet benefits greatly from turning that fundamental misunderstanding on its head. (Drawn & Quarterly)