The 10 Best Comics of 2015

Slate Book Review critics on the cartoon stories that moved and surprised them the most.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker

Slate’s Best Books of 2015 coverage:

Monday: Overlooked books of 2015.
The best lines of 2015.
The best comics of 2015. 
Thursday: Laura Miller and Katy Waldman’s favorite books of the year.
Friday: The best audiobooks of 2015.

* * *

Incidents in the Night Book 2 by David B. Uncivilized Books.
Great comics often turn into allegories about the comics medium itself, detailing its struggles for recognition and respect. By contrast, Book 2 of Incidents in the Night (readable without the first part, though that too should not be missed) is about the magic of reading, of losing oneself in the encounter with literature of all kinds. Written and illustrated by the masterful David B. (best known for his memoir Epileptic), Incidents delves into a shadow version of Paris, one defined by the occult commerce of impossible bookshops more than the peculiarities of its arrondissements. In this world, a dream logic abides, everything connected in the way of an exquisite corpse that somehow coheres in spite of itself. JB


Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine. Drawn and Quarterly.
Spare as Adrian Tomine’s illustrations can be, his stories are often more so; Tomine is a master of the unsaid. Nowhere is this truer than in the titular short story in this new collection, which unspools around the silence of cancer, a word we never hear and a condition from which there is no escape. Unapologetically raw, these always finely rendered—and often enormously moving—narratives find Tomine at the peak of his powers. JB

Not Funny Ha-Ha by Leah Hayes. Fantagraphics.
Hayes’ small, beautifully drawn, carefully written book is sort of fiction and sort of reference book, but mostly it’s, as the subtitle suggests, “a handbook for something hard.” The hard thing is an abortion, and with great empathy and specificity, Hayes takes readers through the stories of two women, Mary and Lisa, who make a difficult choice and follow through. It’s easy to imagine the book becoming a kind of hand-me-down classic to teen girls; it’s easy to forget that a book this seemingly simple has to be made with impeccable care and craft. DK


The Oven by Sophie Goldstein. AdHouse Books.
This post-apocalyptic fable won two major Ignatz Awards at this year’s Small Press Expo, and it’s so confident a comic it’s easy to see why Goldstein is considered a major young talent. Syd and Eric travel far from home to a remote outpost, the Oven, where the sun boils down on free people who can have as many babies as they want. But what do Syd and Eric actually want? DK


Pope Hats No. 4 by Ethan Rilly. AdHouse Books.
The fourth issue of stories from the scarily talented cartoonist Ethan Rilly, who seems to have an unlimited well from which to draw sharp-edged characters in uncomfortable situations. These stand-alone stories portray a world both familiar and faraway in Rilly’s distinctive clear-line style. The long tales are moving and funny; the single-pagers mordant and surprising; the four-panel strips that end the issue as densely packed as a Lydia Davis story. DK


Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia. Fantagraphics.
Feral teenagers roam the streets of Alexandria, fighting, screwing, singing, loving, worrying, and killing. Drawn in an energetic style that feels equal parts Los Bros Hernandez and Brandon Graham, this epic story of teenage kicks gone bad thrills and surprises, even as Suburbia takes time to sit quietly with characters you come to really love. DK

Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton. Drawn and Quarterly.
Cabinets of curiosities in a house of mirrors, Beaton’s comics turn cultural history on its head, unfolding whole narratives from tiny fragments of the past. Here, she playfully satirizes everything from Wuthering Heights to early-20th-century aviation in short strips that are as funny as they are smart. The eccentric breadth of Beaton’s interests can sometimes be intimidating, but it’s ultimately inviting. Like the best criticism, her work is sly without being snide, encouraging us to reconsider the familiar and rediscover the forgotten, laughing all the while. JB


SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki. Drawn and Quarterly.
Collecting Tamaki’s online comics about life at a school for paranormal teens, this spiky, acerbic, funny book makes room for flights of odd fancy amid the angst. Though uneven—in early strips, Tamaki was clearly experimenting as she went along—SuperMutant grows along with its cast of characters, and part of the fun of reading it is seeing a creator gain confidence as she builds a world, establishes its magical and emotional rules, and then breaks them. DK

Thunder and Lightning by Lauren Redniss. Random House.
In elegant prose, Thunder and Lightning examines the ways that weather has shaped human life—and the ways that humans have increasingly shaped the weather. Never content with a single angle, Redniss travels from the Arctic seed vault of Svalbard to the dry wastes of the Atacama Desert. The gorgeous illustrations that accompany her far-ranging climatological explorations are fittingly atmospheric. Sometimes resembling richly colored petroglyphs, they weave in and out of contact with her prose, pushing at the limits of what counts as comics. Like being caught out in a storm, the total effect can sometimes be overwhelming, even when it’s at its most beautiful. JB


Wuvable Oaf by Ed Luce. Fantagraphics.
Like that of Tales of the City, the queer San Francisco of Wuvable Oaf is a community you wish existed, full of the kind of people you wish you knew. At once sexy and silly, Luce’s stories in this volume trace the burgeoning romance between the burly, eponymous Oaf and cantankerous cutie Eiffel. Though Luce’s cleanly designed illustrations appear almost entirely in black and white here, they exude a welcoming warmth, thanks in part to the book’s contagious love for its cast of characters. Even the lengthy dramatis personae that closes the volume (which resembles old Handbook of the Marvel Universe anthologies) charms. A person who is not delighted by Wuvable Oaf is probably not a person. JB

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