‘This One Summer’ Tops PW Comics World’s 2014 Critics Poll

A slowly unfolding tale of a lazy summer as unforgettable for readers as for the characters in its pages, This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki has topped our 2014 Critics Poll with six votes. Already a winner of the prestigious Canadian Governor General’s Award, This One Summer was one of the notables in an unusually rich year for comics and graphic novels.

Capturing the endless promise of summer, rendered in a placid indigo ink that mirrors sea and sky, This One Summer follows Rose and Windy, two girls on the cusp of adolescence. Summer at Awago Beach has always been a carefree time, but this year, things will change. Kelly Thompson called the book a “touching, emotionally riveting story of two summertime friends growing steadily apart. Beautiful and subtle work by both writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Jillian Tamaki – cousins who previously collaborated on Skim. However, the visuals are especially powerful. Easily my best read of the year and one that managed to be bittersweet and also hopeful and uplifting at once.” Sam Riedel noted, “The Tamakis released a stunning YA graphic novel this year with ruminations on puberty and sexuality, trauma, first love, and the terrifying transition between childhood and being an adult. Incredible monochrome visuals and a gripping plot make this a standout from a fine crop of young readers’ titles.”

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The two next most buzzed about graphic novels of the year, with five votes apiece, were Roz Chast’s National Book Award finalist Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, a sometimes painful account of her parents’ last years; and Beautiful Darkness by Fabian Vehlmann and Kerascoët, a brutal fable about power and survival among painfully cute fairies that ushered in what might be called the Year of the French Comic.

Of the Chast book, John DiBello wrote, “Both hilarious and tear-jerking, this chronicle in cartoons provides cathartic ‘you are not alone’ support to those caring for aging parents. This is a cartoon memoir to laugh and cry, and heal, with – Roz Chast’s masterpiece.” And Calvin Reid said, “This book manages to be a primer on end-of-life issues, while capturing the hilarity, memories, stress, and despair of caring for aging parents who, more often than not, refuse to cooperate.”

As for Beautiful Darkness, its Disney does Lord of the Fliesart style captivated many readers. “The juxtaposition of its glorious artwork and nightmarish sensibilities make this graphic novel nothing short of profound,” Glen Downey said. “Indeed, it gets at something that lies deep within the human psyche.” And John Seven praised it as “an invigorating and disturbing comic that takes fairy tales and turns them inside out, allowing the innards to drip all over everything, including the reader.”

Aside from the top three books, dozens of other volumes spoke with sure and individual voices. Many observers have been calling this a golden age for graphic novels, and looking at the list, we find it hard to argue. While the books chosen span various publishers, First Second, Fantagraphics, and D&Q had the strongest outings, to little surprise. These publishers seem to have hit the sweet spot for both hiring established talent and finding the newest voices, mixing translated books and originals.

Here are the rest of the top vote-getters, with related commentary, as chosen by several of PW’s graphic novel reviewers. Participating critics were Chris Barsanti, Brian Heater, Lydia Conklin, John Seven, John DiBello, Zainab Akhtar, Kelly Thompson, Calvin Reid, Heidi MacDonald, Sam Riedel, Lucas Adams, Glen Downey, and Steve Bunche.

FOUR VOTES

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, Box Brown (First Second)
Brown’s clean, thick-lined, heavy-inked cartoon style meshes perfectly with the larger-than-life biography of the famous wrestler and actor, bringing a winking humor and critical visual eye to his story. It’s hard to imagine that a prose biography could feel as intimate and touching as this. (JDB)

Here by Richard McGuire (Pantheon)
Tracking one piece of land and the effects humanity and nature have on it over the centuries is the sort of thing modern scientific narrative nonfiction would do brilliantly. The scenario is depicted with near-magical mastery in this simple-in-concept but almost–impossible–in-execution graphic novel. Each page offers a window onto the passing of epochs and the thrilling dance of the human experience. (CB)

How To Be Happy, Eleanor Davis (Fantagraphics)
This collection of the bulk of Eleanor Davis’s short story comics work – mostly webcomics – is impressively varied and emotionally resonant. With images ranging from scratchy black-and-white line drawings to robust images saturated with color, Davis is comfortable in a variety of styles, carefully choosing each one to best fit her tone and mood. (KT)

Seconds, Bryan Lee O’Malley (Ballantine)
If O’Malley never created another work after the seven-volume Scott Pilgrim saga, he’d still likely be remembered as one of the early 21st century’s most accomplished and influential creators. Then he surprised us all with a single volume: startlingly adult and yet playfully fantastical. Otherworldly occurrences (an everyday, matter-of-fact convention in Scott Pilgrim) here are hidden and harrowing, with ultimately serious consequences for chef Katie, who seeks to rewrite her past – literally. O’Malley’s familiar big-headed cartoon characters now move against a more darkly shaded and toned background, and his skill for sharp dialogue and characterization elevates the narrative and mood. It’s funny, haunting, and most important, a vital quantum leap in O’Malley’s work, both in his art and storytelling. (JDB)

THREE VOTES

Ms. Marvel: No Normal, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona (Marvel)
An inspiring book that illustrates the importance of representation in the comics medium and in others as well. Wilson skillfully navigates the minefield of introducing a Muslim protagonist to a Marvel legacy book, investing hours of careful research and editing to ensure the heroine grows in an authentic way. (SR)

Sugar Skull, Charles Burns (Pantheon)
Burns brings his long-running trilogy of terror to an end, tying up all the mysteries of the previous volumes while revealing that the greatest horror of all is something as simple as accepting adult responsibility. A masterpiece that fuses the shocks of real life with a grim fantasy world just as painful and mundane. (HM)

The Love Bunglers, Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
The artist Ray Dominquez returns to Maggie’s life, though not quite under ideal circumstances. Hernandez fills us in on both Maggie and Hopey, many years older now but as irresistible as ever, peeling back the years to reveal a lifetime of powerful relationships, rejections, infidelities, and adventures. (CR)

TWO VOTES

Ant Colony, Michael DeForge (Drawn & Quarterly)
This story about a disintegrating ant colony is a touchstone for the year in comics storytelling, teaching us not only about insects, but about ourselves. (GD)

Arsène Schrauwen, Olivier Schrauwen (Fantagraphics)
Occasionally, a creator kicks the comics-medium football not only over the goalposts but into another stadium entirely. Schrauwen’s off-the-wall ode to his grandfather’s life, love, and virus-induced mental walkabout – rendered in burnt orange and cornflower blue – is artistically simple but deeply symbolic. The whole book has the hallucinatory feel of a curious found item that inspires an uncanny anxiousness. (JDB)

Blacksad: Amarillo by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse)
This latest adventure finds ’50’s-era feline detective Blacksad hired to deliver a car to its owner, but what should have been an easy gig goes down the toilet when the car is stolen by a pair of beatniks. The duo’s trail leads Blacksad down a trail of jazz, drug addiction, and murder. Every panel of the noir-drenched narrative holds the reader as tightly as a hulking thug armed with a pipe wrench, as Blacksad pursues the bike-riding thieves across a bleached desert. All of the action is delineated by artist Guarnido’s stunning animation-influenced art. (SB)

Bumperhead by Gilbert Hernandez (D&Q)
Hernandez returns to familiar but not over-tilled territory with this dark, multi-layered portrait of a restless, rootless punk. Set in the 1970s, the story follows a man who veers from promise and hope as a child to empty existence as an adult, his long decline distilled into a series of seminal incidents. What’s most alarming is how Bumperhead could be every one of us. (HM)

How The World Was, Emmanuel Guibert, First Second
More of Alan Cope’s self-reflections, this time on his childhood in California, revealing more about what it means to be human than one has any right to expect from such a low-key presentation. (JS)

In Real Life, Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang, First Second
Given the crisis in gaming and with the word “gamer,” this book is not only a timely addition to the canon, but also a welcome one. There’s nothing cynical, jaded, or mean about Doctorow and Wang’s story, even though it deals with some harsh realities as a gamer girl works to reconcile wrongs committed both inside and outside a game. Wang’s magnificent visuals are uplifting, with a richness in color that makes the most of the contrast between game life and real life. (KT)

Kill My Mother, Jules Feiffer (Liveright)
This graphic novel by Feiffer is, for lack of a better phrase, an exhilarating experience – a complex, fascinating tale of hidden secrets, dual identities, mystery, and murder. (GD)

Nobrow 9: It’s Oh So Quiet, Various Artists (Nobrow Press)
A packed anthology about silence that takes full advantage of the blinding dazzle of the current comics scene. (HM)

Saga Deluxe Edition, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)
This must-have volume collects all 18 issues of the first arc of this critically acclaimed interplanetary epic of romance and political intrigue. Though available in several smaller collections, the series is best read in hefty doses, and this serves as a handsome and convenient all-in-one edition. (SB)

The Late Child and Other Animals, Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger (Fantagraphics)
Van Cook’s elegiac memoir of growing up in post WWII Britain presents her development from child to teen to unsentimental young woman, alive to the richly evoked world around her. Though a child of the city, Van Cook presents moving memories of childhood years spent in the English countryside, and summer vacations in France filled with adolescent impatience and flirtation. As thoughtful a book on growing up as you’ll find anywhere. (CR)

Sex Criminals Vol. 1: One Weird Trick, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky (Image)
Bold, daring, gorgeous, imaginative – is there anything to say about this delightfully accessible cross-genre sensation that Fraction and Zdarsky haven’t already said about themselves? The tale of a couple who become unlikely bank robbers – they discover they can stop time when they orgasm – more than lives up to the outrageous premise. (SR)

Sisters, Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic Graphix)
Telgemeier brings her A-game to a very funny, very touching book about the complexities of sibling rivalry. Her masterful grasp of panel and page pacing should serve as lessons for aspiring comics creators – and already does. (JDB)

Through the Woods, Emily Carroll (S&S/McElderry)
Emily Carroll’s magnificent first collection – a selection of some of her most gruesome horror webcomics, as well as a few new stories – is both stunning and terrifying. An exceptional realization of her web work translating remarkably well to print, mixing stark black and white with high-impact colors. (KT)

The Wrenchies, Farel Dalrymple (First Second)
Strange and dreamlike, this is the sort of book that warrants several reads. Teens from a decimated future earth and characters from a comic book in that world team-up to save the world. Dalrymple’s sumptuous art helps the reader along every step of the way. (BH)

ONE VOTE

ABC Warriors: The Mek Files 01, Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neil, Brendan McCarthy, Mick McMahon, Dave Gibbons, Carlos Ezquerra, Simon Bisley, and Brett Ewins (2000AD)

An Age of License: A Travelogue, Lucy Knisley (Fantagraphics)

Barbarella: Collector’s Edition, Jean-Cluade Forest and Kelly Sue DeConnick (Humanoids)

Casanova: Luxuria, Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon (Image)

Cat Person, Seo Kim (Koyama Press)

Chilling Tales of Sabrina, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack (Archie)

Doomboy, Tony Sandoval (Magnetic Press)

Dragons Breath: And Other True Stories, MariNaomi (Uncivilized)

Empowered Vol. 8, Adam Warren (Dark Horse)

Fury: My War Gone By, Garth Ennis and Goran Pavlov (Marvel)

Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People: An Ollmann Omnibus, Joe Ollmann, (Conundrum Press)

Hilda and the Black Hound, Luke Pearson (Flying Eye Books)

Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 2, Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)

Hoax: Psychosis Blues, by Ravi Thornton (Ziggy’s Wish)

Invincible Days, Patrick Atangan (NBM)

It Never Happened Again: Two Stories, Sam Alden (Uncivilized)

Lazarus, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, Santiago Arcas (Image)

The Leaning Girl, Benoit Peters and Francois Schuiten (Alaxis Press)

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel, by Anya Ulinich (Penguin)

Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, Various (Locust Moon Press)

Moon Knight Vol. 1: From the Dead, Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey (Marvel)

Moonhead and the Music Machine, Andrew Rae (Nobrow)

Mr. Punch: 20th Anniversary Edition, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (DC/Vertigo)

Over Easy, Mimi Pond (Drawn & Quarterly)

Polina, Bastien Vivés (Vintage Digital)

Rocket Girl, Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder (Image)

Safari Honeymoon, Jesse Jacobs (Koyama Press)

Scaffold Vol .1, VA Graham & JA Eisenhower (Hic and Hoc)

Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague, Joyce Brabner and Mark Zingarelli (Hill and Wang/FSG)

Silver Surfer Vol. 1: New Dawn, Dan Slott and Mike Allred (Marvel)

Swamp Thing by Brian K. Vaughan, Brian K. Vaughan and Roger Petersen (DC/Vertigo)

Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)

The Amateurs, Conor Stechschulte (Fantagraphics)

The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft, Reinhard Kleist (SelfMadeHero)

The Complete Zap Comix, R. Crumb, Rick Griffin, Paul Mavrides, Victor Moscoso, Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, Robert Willams, and S. Clay Wilson (Fantagraphics)

The Hospital Suite, John Porcellino (Drawn & Quarterly)

The Man Who Laughs, XX (SelfMadeHero)

The Park, Oscar Zarate (SelfMadeHero)

The Shadow Hero, Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew (First Second)

The Sock Monkey Treasury,Tony Millionaire (Fantagraphics)

The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy (DC/Vertigo)

The War of Streets and Houses, Sophie Yanow (Uncivilized)

Tippy and the Night Parade, Lilli Carre (Toon Books)

Tomboy, Liz Prince (Zest Books)

Treasure Island 2, Connor Willumsen (Breakdown Press)

Trees Volume 1, Warren Ellis and Jason Howard (Image)

Truth is Fragmentary, Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized)

Velvet Volume 1, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (Image)

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: The Don Rosa Library Vol. 1, Don Rosa (Fantagraphics)

White Death, Robbie Morrison and Charlie Adlard (Image)

Zenith: Phase 1, Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell (2000AD)

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