Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
Beaton’s beloved webcomic skips lightly among minutiae from Canadian history, English literature, 80s corporate culture, and superhero fandom, yet it’s all of a piece, her subject matter as deceptively messy as her gleeful drawings. The resulting collection of curiosities is both unmistakably feminist and snortingly funny. Indeed, some of her lines are so pithy and memorable that, over the years, they’ve been stolen from her to sell other people’s merchandise. As far as posterity’s concerned, it doesn’t matter. I’m sure Beaton has turned more than one person on to Wuthering Heights just so they could better laugh at her Dude Watchin’ With the Brontes strip, or sent them frantically trawling Wikipedia for the backstory behind this or that eccentric Canadian politician. It is a riot, yes – and, like all the best riots, it’s also an education.
Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine
Each of the short stories in Tomine’s masterly collection is drawn in a different style, but all are brimming with wit and pathos. Tomine’s mania for process is well-known: every interior in his graphic novel Shortcomings was carefully modelled on a real location – a huge expenditure of effort. In Killing and Dying, Tomine makes a dazzling feature of his capacity for taking pains, while also showing his gifts for rich characterisation and spare, cutting dialogue.
Berlin by Jason Lutes
An astounding feat of craftsmanship and patience, Lutes’s 22-years-in-the-making graphic novel about the last years of Weimar Berlin ought to feel ponderous but is more urgent than ever, as Lutes examines the way fascism divides families and ends friendships. This huge book is both profound and precise. Lutes renders a cast of Dickensian size in careful, consistent strokes, with his characters forced to choose between political loyalties; between combat, flight and assimilation; between one another.
Glen Ganges in The River at Night by Kevin Huizenga
A mercilessly recursive graphic novel about a man named Glenn, who spends his evenings exploring the depths of his own psyche as he fails to get to sleep. It is so visually inventive and so clever about the ways our brains fool themselves that it’s impossible to put down. Huizenga’s throwaway jokes rival The Simpsons (a promotional blurb on the cover of a book called A History of a Synecdotal Item reads: “I heard this was really good”) while peeling back the layers of Glenn’s life, so we understand his relationship with his wife, his place in the world and even the nature of consciousness itself.
The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis
A couple in rural Kentucky live in a campground filled with a pickup truck, a trailer, a shed and a house that may never get built. As they work, meet idealistic activist friends and fall foul of a cruel legal system, they try in vain to have a child. There’s so much pure life in Davis’s slim graphic novel, with every page depicting an underexplored truth of hardscrabble American life. Davis’s characters appear sometimes in quick, cartoonish lines as she describes their movement over many panels; sometimes in full, breathtaking portraiture. A book of rare beauty and plasticity.