Some of the best comics of 2017

Well, damp sack of Krampus, 2017 has sucked, huh? But it turns out that in between the crying and general existential dread, comics creators have still found time to pen responses to the rising ambient horror, or delightful escapes from it. 

We've been on hiatus for a while, and there's no best-of podcast this year. But apparently Roger wrote his 2017 list anyway. Muscle memory or something, we don't know.

Anyway, here's a quick roundup of the books we really, really liked, out of the reading we did get round to in 2017

Pantheon - Hamish Steele

Mythopoeia with the mind of a smutty schoolboy. Calling this an irreverent retelling of Egyptian myth doesn't quite cut it. This book is a big daft delight. 

The art style is this brash, side-on valley-of-the-kings-papyrus pastiche, via Saturday morning cartoons (leading to an amazing visual gag), and it covers the (mis)adventures of the ancient pantheon. From Atum wanking the world into being to the rise of man. 

It helps that the source material really is that weird - this is a well-researched piece, and also the funniest thing I have read in years. Pantheon has pitch-perfect comic timing and a real ear for change-of-register gags. 

Livestock - Hannah Berry

You know how we mentioned that the world is like a special recursive trash fire somehow made of other trash fires? This is a response. An indignant howl at the sickness of where we might be headed and the injustices of quite how.

A government department just let slip that they quietly legalised human cloning in a PFI blunder, and are now trying to clear up their mess. The public of course are more interested in the antics of suspiciously squeaky-clean, childlike, and on-message pop star Clementine Darling. 

Livestock really lets its world emerge, without ever feeling quite hectoring or overly on-the-nose. It's interspersed with social media splashes and tabloid fragments, and it opens deep in its own celeb-culture narrative, letting the reader slowly realize (and  want to scream at its characters for not caring about) what's going on. It's brilliantly constructed.

Hannah Berry's visual style here is soft, really letting the faux-cheery plastic monstrosity of it all unwind as you read. It's things astonishingly loudly unsaid, around completely plausible cynicism. It's media manipulation, energy companies lionized like sports teams, people like fungible meat. Read it with a stiff drink, but read it. 

Something City - Ellice Weaver

Beautiful life-vignettes in a colourful pseudo-pace. Ten intertwined stories in a strange city. We reviewed it here, and enjoyed it tremendously.

In particular, Weaver's visual style here feels really fresh. Layered-up screen prints give a feels that's both blocky/architectural and loose and casual. Again, check out the review for a bit more.

The Backstagers - James Tynion (writer), Rian Sygh (artist)

Actually lovely. You entirely can do sincere charm while winking to the reader a little and this does that. Who'd look backstage at a high school drama club? Surely the techies and prop makers couldn't be up to anything as interesting as the actors

Yeah, so, obviously there's an interdimensional portal to a world of confusing wonder and mild peril that must be kept at bay by endearing misfits. And such endearing misfits. Did I mention lovely? Backstagers is warm and kind, and kinda queer and inclusive. It's got a cartoony feel occasionally breaking into intricacy, and really good use of light. We did a podcast on what feels like a new wave of sincerity and this was front and centre in my picks.

Spinning - Tillie Walden

Tillie Walden excels at filling little spatial scenes with emotion and felt life. Her figure skating memoir is no different. Changing high schools, the pressure of competition, coming out and finding first loves, it's all there with her charged use of light and shade, and the movement of space around her.

Godshaper - Simon Spurrier (writer), Jonas Goonface (artist)

It's a neo-dustbowl bluesman future future. Technology doesn't work, and money doesn't exist, but everybody has their own personal god. Or almost everybody. Also, the colours are gorgeous. 

Spurrier has a history of bloody nailing high concept and this is no exception. 

It's the story of Ennay, a "godshaper" - a pariah with no god of his own, but the ability to shape the gods of others, and Bud, a god (fittingly) without a person. Also: a kind of weird fantasy skiffle/blues/something alt music genre, mobsters, pansexual nomads, and beautifully, gloriously weird visuals. A little bit like Carnivàle but funny and not relentlessly depressing. 

Things everybody else thinks are great but we haven't read yet 

Well, if anyone wants to buy us presents...

What? Of course it's just Zainab's list.

Still good!

The series we already loved and have carried on loving this year:

Other lists

Don't just take our word for it. Look:

So, yeah, 2017 had some comics, huh. What did we miss? Can haz comments? 

Jonathan Cape *didn't* send us their entire 2016 catalogue gift-wrapped in fivers, and what happened next may surprise you…

For the last few years The Guardian has done a "best of the year" comics roundup. It's pretty good. Lots of sites do it. We do one too - it's practically a Christmas tradition.

Just as much of a tradition, however, is pointing and laughing at The Guardian's for being:

  1. basically just whatever Jonathan Cape published that year
  2. a little bit nose-in-the-air Worthy/joyless

This year's did not disappoint:

When I began writing about graphic novels a decade ago, I remember worrying slightly about the supply line: would I really be able to find a good one to review every month?

[but...] if there isn’t something to suit everyone on the bulging list that follows, I’ll eat my copy of Persepolis.

Uh huh...

Anchoring your readers on Persepolis, saying "Graphic Novels", authorizing yourself with the decade thing, and worrying that (in 2006, FFS) there weren't enough? There's a klaxon or two sounding there, a grasp for validity.

The list that follows is - of course - mostly from Serious Publisher Jonathan Cape.

But is our scepticism really fair? We did a budget data journalism to find out.

I say "data journalism" - it's more "twenty minutes of titting about in Excel". For the record, my analytical methodology was: quickly, with a glass of Valpolicella.

The spreadsheet's here, if you want it. You don't.

What comics get coverage?

Let's start with that publisher representation that's so easy to mock. Is it really all from Mr Cape's Emporium Of Authorised Tomes?

Best of year, by publisher (ahem)

Not all, no, but heavily. 


That distribution does make it look a little shabby, but I'm actually open to the idea that Jonathan cape might publish a disproportionate chunk of a year's comics worth reading. They have some amazing creators.

The omissions are where it starts to fall down. Over those last five years of roundups, the Guardian's best-of has:

  • been ~45% Jonathan Cape
  • strongly leaned to black & white solo cartoonist books
  • suggested two webcomics, in print collection
  • never, ever, featured a book from Image
  • or Vertigo
  • or Dark Horse
  • or NoBrow
  • or Avery Hill
  • or First Second
  • or Myriad
  • or Cinebook
  • or 2000 AD
  • or ever even bothered to fucking mention manga

And then there's this:


(my hasty categorizations, "collection" should probably have been "print anthology". Blame the Valpolicella)

Again, in fairness, the monthly floppies may not be the most consistent home of quality. Comics culture is pretty toxic, and riddled with store-level gatekeeping. The distribution model is broken as all hell. But there's still some quality stuff hitting the shelves every month. Trees, Squirrel Girl, Harrow County, Paper Girls, Southern Bastards, After Death, no? That's just off the top of my head from this year.

Fine, sneer at the singles market. Could they not have grabbed a trade paperback from Foyles?

Incomplete is not the same as incorrect, but I guess I just find it a bit sad and lazy.

Perhaps they're cleaving to a very particular definition of Graphic Novel? We'll come to that, especially as you do get the odd collection when the authors are big-ticket worthy (Spiegelman, Pekar), or the publisher is Drawn & Quarterly.

Another rough breakdown:


Not a problem, per se, but also not really representative of the work being done at large.

What causes what? Well, if you're 45% Jonathan Cape, and have never even picked up a Marvel, DC, or Image book, that's probably about the expected distribution. Serious comics are the work of the lone auteur genius, after all...

Either Jonny C's PR department is relating publically harder than anyone ever did publically relate, or there's a filter operating here that's excluding a fuck of a lot of stuff. 

Let's put this "Graphic Novels" bollocks to bed

Here, just read this, it puts it better than I will:

The Term 'Graphic Novel' Has Had A Good Run. We Don't Need It Anymore

Or take a pull quote:

it's a perfect time to retire terms like "graphic novel" and "sequential art," which piggyback on the language of other, wholly separate mediums. What's more, both terms have their roots in the need to dissemble and justify, thus both exude a sense of desperation, a gnawing hunger to be accepted.

Of course, papers have readers, and The Guardian's may not be ready yet for the C word. The gnawing hunger may be theirs. After all, surely dinner party ridicule will befall anyone seen advocating a book with pictures that doesn't also have the raw worthiness of being about a middle-aged man doing middle-aged man anxiety in fidgety black and white. From Jonathan Cape.

At the end of the day, The Graun's list is probably harmless, and I'd rather live in a world where Alison Bechdel gets heat and shelter. But I'd like it even more if that world had comics coverage that didn't feel lazily snooty and suspiciously narrow.

But Roger, aren't these books actually good?

Yep, absolutely. They're great. So are the reviews. It's good work about good work.

It's just not as broad as it could be. There's wonderful stuff that doesn't make it through. For example, Aama gets a mention in 2013, and it's fantastic (our review). So they're clearly not closed to Sci Fi, but then why not Trilium, or Space Dumplins, or any number of things. 

SupermutantKate Beaton's there, and so is Jillian Tamaki, so we're not averse to levity with depth. But then, where are the rest of the amazing webcomics?

The art, too. So much amazing visual work never gets a mention.

Here's Slate's list for 2016. Some of the stuff is even the same, but it doesn't look like it needs a Booker Prize before its daddy will love it.

Given their stable of creators, no, Jonathan Cape's dominance of the Guardian list isn't surprising. But 45% twitches an eyebrow, and the omissions kick off a pronounced nervous shudder. 

The kind reading is that rather than snobbery or churnalism, they're playing it safe for an assumed audience. That's a missed opportunity, and it's pretty patronising. Your Guardian-reading geek friend deserves better Christmas presents.

If, unkindly, they actually are lazily reading only what they're sent, then, oh, I don't know, can we have some range and get Zainab Akhtar to do it instead? Please?