Kent State, Derf Backderf, Abrams Comics, £17.99
The account of the 1970 shooting at Kent State University by Derf Backderf is a work that combines rage and sorrow, reminding us of the icy horror of American soldiers opening fire on innocent students. It’s sobering to be aware of where that can lead at the end of a presidency that has amplified political division and ignited rage. The good, clear-eyed drawings of Backderf, the product of a detailed reading and original analysis, bring this home very clearly. Book of the Year for Graphic Material.
Flake, Matthew Dooley, Cape of Jonathan, £ 18.99.
Funny, sad, and evidence that even flat comics can feel three-dimensional, one of the most exciting graphic novels of the year. The tale of a fight between half-brothers over an ice cream truck reads like a lost story about Alan Bennett. You should not ask for recognition higher than that.
Peter Bagge, The Full Hate, Fantagraphics, £ 105.
Peter Bagge’s splenetic, viciously politically incorrect, barkingly funny slacker sitcom is now collected in a three-volume box set, granted new life by publisher Fantagraphics in comic form. Renewing our acquaintance with Buddy Bradley and his friends is healthy, if sometimes painful. Back then, we weren’t always like that, were we? Or have we been?
Peter Bagge on The Full Hate Read more:
Familiar Face, Drawn & Quarterly, Michael DeForge, £16.99.
There is no interest in versatility or realism in Michael DeForge. He creates comic book worlds that verge on psychedelic; in wild, alien, surreal environments, full of rubbery, often vaguely humanoid creations. And yet his work speaks to the present moment explicitly. In Familiar Face, he tackles the society of body image and grievances. A clever distortion of who we are by cartoons.
Ghostwriter, Fantagraphics, Rayco Pulido, £17.99.
This crime story, set in Barcelona in the 1940s, is a satisfying thriller, but Rayco Pulido’s black and white graphics are what make it stand out (with splashes of red when appropriate). His line is reminiscent of Jaime Hernandez and Jose Munoz, but it is more stylized and architectural than either. Jaime Hernandez and Jose Munoz echo his thread, except it’s more architectural, more geometric than any of them. A new take on noir fiction is the outcome.
Adrian Tomine, Faber & Faber, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, £16.99.
It could be tempting on the face of it to think of these brief, sharp biographical strips, taken from Tomine’s own life, as another indie cartoonist’s pity party. But more assured and good-humored than that are his cleanly drawn cartoons, and the book ramps it up with a strong, extended final tale that manages to find genuine poignancy in the mundane. There is also an elegant touch to the presentation of the Moleskine notebook.
Billie Scott’s Threat of Blindness, Zoe Thorogood, Avery Hill, £ 12.99.
In comics, this is the debut of a bright new voice. Thorogood is 21 (I know, it’s gross) and she tells herself about an artist trying to complete 10 pieces of art before she goes blind with a simple, gritty plot. It’s a tale of strength and goodness, outlined in delicious lines and color splashes. It’s a book that wears its heart on its sleeve, but it will affect you profoundly if you put aside your usual skepticism.
(Assorted) Cookies, Jenny Robins, Myriad Editions, £16.99.
One more remarkable debut. What stands out about the book by Robins is its ambition. With a large ensemble cast, Biscuits (Assorted) takes a look at multiracial life in London, at love, sex, loneliness, female solidarity and burlesque. That Robins always seems in control of this sprawling story is a testament to her skills as a cartoonist and storyteller.
Read more: Jenny Robins on Biscuits (Assorted).
Breakwater, Katriona Chapman, Avery Hill, £12.99.
Small publisher Avery Hill has had a very good 2020, with good books from Zoe Thorogood (see above) and Charlot Kristensen’s tale of everyday racism, What We Don’t Talk About. Katriona Chapman’s Brighton-set tale of friendship and mental illness is another publishing triumph. It’s a slow, sweet, increasingly sad story set in an old movie theater that never tips into the melodramatic. Chapman’s penciled pages are full of character and charm, and the pacing is engaging.
Avery Hill also gave us perhaps the finest graphic novel of the year. Owen Pomery’s slim book about lives drifting apart as