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Rachel Cookes best graphic books of 2016

From dazzling biographies to fantastic fantasy and wry observation, the years graphic books would make great Christmas presents

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? And it was tricky, sometimes. But what a difference 10 years has made. Im now in the awful business of running a beauty pageant: I have too many darlings, not too few. This year, especially, has been a bumper one. Memoirs, novels, biographies, reissued classics: if there isnt something to suit everyone on the bulging list that follows, Ill eat my copy of Persepolis.

First, memoir. It seems sometimes to be taking over, and this is as true in the world of graphic books as elsewhere in literature. Regular readers will know that I was waiting anxiously for the second volume of The Arab of the Future (Two Roads 18.99), Riad Sattoufs series of comics about his childhood in France and the Middle East, and when it arrived, it did not disappoint. But aAnyway, a reminder: its truly great. Picking up the story in 1984, when Riad is six, the Sattoufs are now back in Ter Maaleh, Syria, a situation that seems not to be making any of them very happy. Funny, dark and occasionally revelatory, this and its predecessor are my graphic memoirs of the year.

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Stan and Nan by Sarah Lippett: one for fans of Raymond Briggss Ethel & Ernest. Photograph: Sarah Lippett

In no particular order, I also loved Notes on a Thesis (Jonathan Cape 16.99) by Tiphaine Rivire, a hilarious, consistently clever account of the authors struggle to complete her PhD; Stan and Nan (Jonathan Cape 16.99), Sarah Lippetts lovely elegy for her beloved grandparents and the lost England they represent (one for fans of Raymond Briggss Ethel & Ernest); and Saving Grace (Jonathan Cape 17.99) by Grace Wilson, which relates with immense wit its young authors seemingly impossible quest to find a room she can afford to rent. While were on the subject of life writing, Munch by Steffen Kverneland (SelfMadeHero 15.99) is a satisfyingly fat and digressive biography of the badly behaved Norwegian artist.

What about fiction? The most sumptuous and captivating graphic novel of 2016 is surely The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg (Jonathan Cape 18.99), a feminist fairytale, which I recommend particularly (though not exclusively) if youre looking for a Christmas present for a teenage girl. Inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, this book returns us to Early Earth, the magical land to which we were first introduced in Greenbergs bestselling debut. High-born Cherry and her maid, Hero, are secretly and happily in love. But their bliss is about to be interrupted. A friend of Cherrys husband, a boor and a bully, has bet him he can seduce her over the course of 100 nights (the complacent husband will be away). What will the women do? Hero, like her creator, puts her faith in storytelling, distracting him with fable after fable. A wondrously intricate book, and a witty attack on the patriarchy, this is an instant classic, to be loved and kept for all time.

Special mentions, too, for Patience (Jonathan Cape 16.99), Daniel Clowess first graphic novel for five years, a tale of (what else?) time travel, murder, wrongful conviction and obsessive love; Hubert by Ben Gijsemans (Jonathan Cape 16.99), a book about loneliness in the big city that comes with some of the most delicately gorgeous illustrations Ive seen in years; Irmina by Barbara Yelin (SelfMadeHero 16.99), a lovely, rather old-fashioned novel of imperilled ideals in 1930s Oxford and Nazi Germany; and The Return of the Honey Buzzard by the award-winning Dutch artist Aime de Jongh, which is about a failing bookshop and its troubled owner (SelfMadeHero 14.99). I also press on you In Search of Lost Time: Swanns Way, Stphane Heuets deft retelling of Marcel Proust, whether you have already read him or not (Gallic Books 19.99).

If you like the idea of graphic short stories, you could do worse than invest in Spanish Fever, Fantagraphics new best-of anthology (ed Santiago Garca; trans Erica Mena) of work by contemporary Spanish cartoonists, while Last Look (Jonathan Cape 16.99) is just a reminder Charles Burnss magnificently creepy Xed Out trilogy (XEd Out, The Hive, Sugar Skull) in one volume for the first time. A great gift. Burns, of course, is strong meat, and genuinely mind-bending at his best. Much gentler, if were talking sci-fi, is Tom Gaulds lovely Mooncop (Drawn & Quarterly 12.99), the plangent story of a policeman who lives and works on the moon. The twist here is that, the moon having long been populated (there is even a coffee shop), people are now leaving it and returning to Earth, for which reason this slim book would make a neat companion, present-wise, for Hubert. The cook in your life, meanwhile, might enjoy Hot Dog Taste Test (Drawn & Quarterly 16.99), Lisa Hanawalts ribald graphic skewering of foodie culture, which is funny, weird and definitely not one for the clean-eating brigade. The day she spends shadowing Manhattans most famous molecular gastronomist, Wylie Dufresne, is priceless.

julius
Ben Katchors Cheap Novelties: a world of lost diners, derelict canneries and cheap souvenirs. Photograph: Ben Katchor/Courtesy of the artist

Cheap Novelties: the Pleasures of Urban Decay by Ben Katchor, a recipient of Guggenheim and MacArthur grants and a cartoonist for the New Yorker, was first published in 1991 in an unassuming paperback. Twenty-five years on, and now widely considered a classic, Drawn & Quarterly has reissued it in a beautiful hardback edition (14.99). It chronicles, in black and white, the wanderings of Julius Knipl, a tramping old-school real estate photographer, through the merchandise district of New York a landscape since changed beyond all recognition by gentrification and the rise of the chain store. A world of lost diners, derelict canneries and cheap souvenirs, read this one only if you can bear the melancholy that will undoubtedly sweep over you.

New York Review Books recent move into comics is also yielding results, classics-wise. From its small but excellent list, I recommend the lost-for-decades Soft City (20), an epic vision of a single day in a dystopian world by the Norwegian pop artist Hariton Pushwagner, republished with an introduction by Chris Ware; and What Am I Doing Here? by Abner Dean (13.99), a forgotten innovator of American comics from the 40s. Dean draws single-frame gags with a difference: being so deeply odd and more or less unexplainable, theyre too disquieting to be funny. Certainly, you wouldnt say his work is exactly throbbing with Christmas cheer: Will the three wise men please step forward! shouts one of his solitary naked everyman figures through a loud-hailer into a black void. But in these uneasy, topsy-turvy times, paradoxically, this might just be the book that winds up consoling you more than any other.

Click on the titles to order any of the books above for a special price. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/04/observer-graphic-books-of-year-2016-stan-nan-hundred-nights-hero-lost-time-proust-irmina-mooncop


Love and Rockets to Wonder Woman: 20 comics and graphic novels to look forward to

From the return of an underground classic to the rebirth of a superhero, here are some of the titles to pick up in late 2016 and early 2017

Exits by Daryl Seitchik (Koyama Press, September)
Seitchik follows up her Ignatz award-nominated Missy comics with a debut graphic novel focusing on mirror-store clerk Claire Kim, who hates herself and the world she lives in. Claire spends her days showing customers their reflections while dreaming about erasing her own: a wish that ends up coming true. ZA

Cheap
Photograph: Drawn and Quarterly

Cheap Novelties by Ben Katchor (Drawn & Quarterly, September)
Subtitled The Pleasures of Urban Decay, this collection of one-page strips featuring real-estate photographer Julius Knipl was originally published in 1991. Twenty-five years on, its observations of what is lost as cityscapes evolve and shift due to gentrification and changing demographics are still fresh and relevant. DB

Equinoxes by Cyril Pedrosa (NBM, September)
The second of Pedrosas books to be given an English translation, Equinoxes promises to be another work of watercoloured gorgeousness. Divided into four sections (to correlate with each season), it follows several unconnected people who, as they seek equilibrium and meaning, begin to cross paths. ZA

Mooncop
Mooncop. Photograph: Drawn & Quarterly

Mooncop by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly, September)
Gauld will be no stranger to Guardian readers, with his cartoons appearing in the paper and online every Saturday. In Mooncop, he turns his deceptively simple style to a tale that is both heartwarming and sad; the story of the last policeman on the moon at a time when the novelty of the lunar lifestyle is fading for almost everyone else. DB

Cat
Photograph: Koyama Press

Cat Rackham by Steve Wolfhard (Koyama Press, September)
Wolfhards early, out-of-print Cat Rackham comics are collected here in one satisfyingly comprehensive volume. Although it fills him with existential dread, Rackham still gets out of bed every morning to somehow, yet again, find himself mired in trouble of the strangest kind. ZA

Fatherson by Richie Pope (Youth in Decline, September)
Popes career has been on a rising trajectory these past few years, as he established himself with layered, sophisticated narratives such as last years Newdini, and his superlative illustration work. This latest book, a touching and surreal narrative of fatherhood, looks set to further cement his reputation as a fine contemporary talent. ZA

Dali
Photograph: Self Made Hero

Dal by Baudoin (Self Made Hero, October)
Self Made Hero continues its trend of exemplary graphic biography with this piece on Salvador Dal by French creator Edmond Baudoin. The three-time Angoulme international comics festival award winner was commissioned by the Pompidou Centre to put together this look at the life and work of the surrealist extraordinaire. DB

Detail
Detail from the cover of Nightlights. Photograph: Nobrow

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez (Nobrow, October)
An impressive year for Nobrow looks set to continue with Alvarezs charming childrens story about fear and creativity: Every night, tiny stars appear out of the darkness in little Sandys bedroom. She catches them and creates wonderful creatures to play with until she falls asleep, and in the morning brings them back to life in the whimsical drawings that cover her room. Until somebody finds out. ZA

Space
Photograph: Oni Press

Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Reiss (Oni Press, October)
GBBO and Masterchef fever makes its way to comics with a galactic twist. Amateur pastry chef Peony finds herself the sole earthling contestant in a popular TV cooking competition. Excited about the opportunity of a lifetime, doubts soon arise as Peony realises that the show shoots on location on a spaceship and her alien competitors dont play nice! Reiss brings the story to life with some joyfully expressive, colourful art. ZA

Rolling
Detail from the cover of Rolling Blackouts. Photograph: Drawn & Quarterly

Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden (Drawn & Quarterly, October)
Continuing the grand tradition of graphic journalism most eminently practised by Joe Sacco, Sarah Gliddens remarkable Rolling Blackouts adds a new twist to the form. Glidden accompanies a team of journalists through Syria and Iraq and her muted watercolours record not only the lives of people in war zones but the way the media interacts with them. Highly recommended. DB

Ghost
Photograph: Self Made Hero

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by MR James, Leah Moore and John Reppion (Self Made Hero, October)
Jamess ghost stories have been fertile ground for adaptions on TV and radio: now husband-and-wife writer team Moore and Reppion, along with four different artists, have brought four of Jamess most famous and well-loved spectral tales Canon Alberics Scrap-book, Lost Hearts, The Mezzotint and The Ash-tree to graphic novel form (and just in time for Halloween). DB

Liberty Annual 2016 (Image, November)
This yearly release from Image comics features a wealth of graphic talent telling the stories of true heroes who have made a difference in the world. Ordinary people who take a stand, suffragettes, campaigners and activists all get a look in from creators including Mary and Bryan Talbot, Paul Pope and Anina Bennett, with proceeds going to the censorship-busting Comic Book Legal Defence Fund. DB

Clear
Photograph: Cinebook

Clear Blue Tomorrows by Fabien Vehlmann, Ralph Meyer and Bruno Gazzotti (Cinebook, November)
Clear Blue Tomorrows provides an amusing dystopian set-up: engineer Nolan Ska travels back in time to prevent the ruling dictatorship made possible by the inventions of one FG Wilson. His plan? To encourage Wilsons first career of novelist. But the man who will eventually become a seemingly immortal despot turns out to be a poor author, and its up to Nolan to serve as his ghost writer. ZA

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto (Viz, November)
Taking its name from the dilapidated yellow Nissan Sunny used by the residents of a childrens care home as a refuge and play area, this is the sixth and final volume in Matsumotos melancholy, beautiful series. Each chapter serves as a story in itself, with Matsumotos art reinforcing the emotional current of the narrative: dreamlike, yet rooted in something tangibly real. ZA

Paper
Photograph: Image Comics

Paper Girls, Volume Two (Image, November)
Brian K Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilsons homage to 1980s horror and sci-fi is a delight; think Stranger Things but with more girls and more aliens. Its probably not wise to leap into Vaughans convoluted plot with this second collection of the monthly comic, but youve still got time to catch up with book one before this is out. DB

Rumble
Photograph: Image Comics

Rumble 3: Immortal Coil by James Harren and John Arcudi (Image, December)
Formerly a great warrior who has been reduced to a sorry, vestigial creature, Rathraq looks to avenge himself with the help of Bobby and Del, a couple of normal twentysomethings. The third instalment in what is an overlooked gem, this series is filled with wit, heart and fantastic art from Harren. A stellar example of how entertaining and impressive graphic storytelling can be. ZA

Harrow
Detail from the cover of Harrow County volume 4. Photograph: Dark Horse

Harrow County Volume 4: Family Tree by Cullen Bunn (Dark Horse, February 2017)
Harrow County is one of the best and creepiest horror titles on the market, from writer Bunn and artist Tyler Crook. True southern gothic, its steeped in rural folklore and dark doings in the woods, with teenager Emmy discovering she is the carrier of a shadowy, witchy legacy, in a landscape haunted by creatures and myths both benign and alarming. DB

Wonder
Photograph: DC Comics

Wonder Woman: Rebirth by Greg Rucka (DC, March 2017)
In her 75th year, Diana of Themyscira Wonder Woman to you and me gets the DC Rebirth treatment, a new project by the comics giant to reposition their classic characters in a bid to make some sense of their tangled continuity. Writer Rucka, with artists Nicola Scott and Liam Sharp, has been making Diana relevant for 2016 since summer in monthly comic form; the collected edition of this beautiful new series is out in spring. DB

Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-Sik Hong (D&Q, March 2017)
Drawn & Quarterly brings Korean cartoonist Yeon-Sik Hongs acclaimed tale of a young couple who leave the noise of the city in order to live off the land to English for the first time. Her characters soon discover that living remotely on a mountain-top comes with a unique set of obstacles, as they tend their crops, fight depression in the intense solitude, and tramp through snow on grocery runs. ZA

An
Detail from the cover of the forthcoming issue of Love and Rockets. Photograph: Supplied

Love and Rockets by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics, autumn)
Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez are the darlings of the independent comics scene thanks to their 35 years spent creating Love and Rockets. These anthologies are most famous for Jaimes punky Locas stories, featuring Maggie and Hopey, and Gilberts epic Heartbreak Soup, set in a remote South American village. After a few years being released in album form annually, theyre returning to regular magazine publication this autumn. DB

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/20/love-and-rockets-to-wonder-woman-20-comics-and-graphic-novels-to-look-forward-to


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