A note on methodology: For the sake of comparing apples to apples, this list is comprised solely of bound comics volumes released in 2018. Ongoing series released as individual staple-bound issues were only eligible in the form of their collected editions (which is why Mister Miracle isn’t here, given that its bound collection won’t be available until 2019). We also kept things simple by only surveying (a) volumes containing previously uncollected material and (b) comics initially released in English. Okay, on to the books.
2. Sabrina by Nick Drnaso (Drawn + Quarterly)
Grief and fake news swirl together in a heady brew that’ll turn your stomach. There has been much ballyhoo about Nick Drnaso’s latest book this year, and the attention is well-earned, as this is one of the most unsettling comics ever put out by a major publisher. A woman disappears and, driven by anxiety and grief, her significant other makes questionable decisions while shacking up with a friend who works a desk job for the military. As the circumstances of the disappearance are called into question by the paranoid fever swamps of the internet, both men’s lives are thrown wildly out of balance and one sees how chillingly easy it would be to find oneself trapped in a similar morass with no clear way out. Most alarming of all, perhaps, is what Drnaso builds in front of our eyes with an unmistakable visual deftness: chunky figures with incongruous smiles and dead exurban landscapes where terror is always just below the mind’s crust.
1. Berlin Book Three: City of Light by Jason Lutes (Drawn + Quarterly)
As our own era darkens, an epic sticks the landing and finds a relevance it could never have imagined at its inception. Jason Lutes began serializing Berlin in 1996 and, for more than 20 years, readers have been over the moon about this ongoing narrative of the sunsetting Weimar Republic. Two volumes had already been released, City of Stone and City of Smoke, both of them better than just about any comic ever published, and this year finally brings the completion of the story-cycle in City of Light. The Teutonic ensemble is all here: Marthe the artist, Kurt the journalist, Anna the bon vivant, Irwin the revolutionary, Silvia the street kid, Otto the Brownshirt, and on, and on, and on. We begin with shocking cameos from historical figures and then quickly get on with the business of taking everyone’s journey — and the journeys of a city and the democracy it failed to uphold — to a climax that both stirs and surprises. We do not end with the stereotypes one might expect from a story about the rise of the Nazis, which makes sense because Berlin was never really a story about the rise of the Nazis. As a goose-bumps-inducing series of two-page spreads brings matters to something resembling a conclusion, you’ll see that Lutes, with his nano-thin lines and perfectly rendered faces, was always trying to send us an urgent message: All that is good is only supported by all that is kind.