One of the perils of compiling Best Of lists lies in the inherent absurdity of attempting to fit often radically disparate works of art into one reductive category. (Another of the perils is in thinking, even for a moment, that Best Of means anything other than Personal Favorites, but what can you do.) Even when a category feels like it makes sense as a discrete entity, you still wind up with a list comprising wildly different things, which make you feel wildly different ways. But, actually, that’s kind of great, isn’t it?
And perhaps there’s no better example of this than the following list of the year’s best illustrated books. Some of them are memoirs, some are fiction; some are dense with expository text, others are far more spare, and one doesn’t even use real words to get its message across. But all of these are beautiful examples of the ways in which graphic art and the written word can work in harmony together, complementing the other, making for a whole that is both visually and intellectually arresting, sometimes hilarious, other times full of despair, but always, always worth spending time with and savoring.
Here are our favorite illustrated books of the year.
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
For anyone who wants to feel fully eviscerated by the fiction they consume, Sabrina is undoubtedly the graphic novel for you. It is filled with contemporary horrors; everything from incel-dominated chat rooms to the numbing terror of living in a country perpetually at war to the daily realities of living in a society where violence against women is the norm, are represented here. Drnaso expertly shows the ways in which modern America is a twisted house of horrors, and how it’s encouraged the flourishing of wild conspiracy theories, because reality is too difficult to understand on its surface. This book will haunt you in the most profound way possible, staying with you long after you turn its final page.
Love That Bunch by Aline Kominsky-Crumb
Raucous and raunchy and filled with examples of how a young woman’s sexual desires often conflict with her politics, Love That Bunch is an exhilarating ride, taking readers from New York City in the ’60s, when Kominsky-Crumb was figuring out who she wanted to be in this world, to years later, when she’d grown up, had children, and was still figuring things out. This book comprises many of Kominsky-Crumb’s best early comics, as well as a new story, “Dream House,” which also visits her childhood but from a perspective of 40 years in the future. This is a perfect book to give to any woman, of any age, in your life.
Coyote Doggirl by Lisa Hanawalt
This gorgeous book, filled with watery yellows and pinks, is a specifically strange, beautiful, sad story about a girl and her horse, and about the expansiveness of love and the unlimited possibilities present once we allow ourselves to be less alone. And it’s even further proof of Hanawalt’s peculiar genius, her ability to access difficult truths in the most absurd ways possible.
Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal
Can you imagine a world with no men? Don’t worry if you can’t; Aminder Dhaliwal does it for you in this smart, funny look at a dystopia (men have been wiped out by a birth defect) that actually kind of resembles something verging on utopian, as women are able to live free of the constraints of anything resembling the patriarchy, and can tell their own stories, make their own rules, and determine for themselves what it means to be happy, to be human, to be alive.