Assembled below are 23 comics that should be on your radar for 2023. To be perfectly honest, I started this post in December with the hopes that I would publish it in mid-January at the latest. But alas.
Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunleavy
Laugh, learn, laugh some more, and ponder the messages of history's great thinkers as Van Lente and Dunlavey deliver this comprehensive cartoon history from the pre-Socratics to Jacques Derrida!
I don’t know if this material has ever been collected in one volume before, but I’m definitely going to pick up this new edition. Using modern characterization to put a humorous spin on great philosophers of the Western tradition, Van Lente and Dunleavy created the best sequel to Histeria one could hope for.
Combining immaculate prose and stunning artwork, Alison is a complex love and coming-of-age story, as well as a meditation on female friendship and empowerment, class and patriarchy, the creative process and the thorny world of fine art.
Lizzy Stewart had a remarkable year in 2021, releasing her poignant and insightful graphic novel about drifting friendships, It's Not What I Thought It Would Be and the excellent collaboration with Molly Naylor, Lights, Planets People. Stewart's ability to tell illustrated stories seems rather effortless. She understands something about the human condition, and, more particularly, the way we communicate with one another that she is able to grasp the essentials of interaction and channel those subtleties into her drawings to the point that the little in-betweens.
Release Date Not Confirmed (Kickstarter Successful!)
It turns out that even as adults, living with your sibling brings back the dynamics of tween rivalries. As Mel tries to rebalance things with her brother, she navigates how to offer help to someone who doesn’t want to need it
I find Ellice Weaver's artwork to be utterly sublime. She has cut her teeth the past few years providing delectable illustrations to articles in various glossies and newspapers, the content of which usually fails to match the images Weaver provides. Her post-impressionist surrealist funk-pop art is full of nuance punctuated by exaggeration. For what is literally a big story, it's the perfect combination. Early previews through Avery Hill's Kickstarter also indicate that her color palette will be earthy and contrasting, a choice I think highlights the flowing liveliness of her exaggerated forms.
Blood of the Virgin
Like a kaleidoscope, Blood of the Virgin shifts and evolves with each frame, allowing the reader to zoom out and see that at its core, this book is about the making of a man.
I can't put it much better than that myself. Serialized in Harkham's excellent Crickets, Blood of the Virgin is a spiraling tragedy that captures the tradeoff between creation and happiness. Harkham perfectly captures the aura of the early 70s, and chips away at the concept of the American Dream at a time when that notion seemed far more concrete. This is cartooning at its finest.
Box of Light Volume 2
Seven Seas Press
I can't wait for the return of Darkness Cat, and for volume two of Box of Light as a whole. I just finished the first volume this weekend, reading it in two sittings. The first thing I did was google the arrival of the second part. Erisawa has a breezy storytelling approach that works perfectly for this surreal, often intentionally confusing story. The worst part about worldbuilding is the stories that focus entirely on exposition, driving the point home while ignoring any sense of development. I feel like Erisawa eschewed much of the exposition in favor of driving the plot forward, dusting portions of the story with little specks of the backstory here and there. A volume in and we've just begun to dig into these characters and their place in a convenience store at the crossroads of life and death.
The Cloven Book Two
Garth Stein and Matthew Southworth
Moody and mysterious and atmospheric as a fever dream, The Cloven is a raucous, funny, and dynamic sci-fi graphic novel series about James "Tuck" Tucker, a genetically modified human organism known as a Cloven.
The first volume of this series caught me by surprise. I'm not sure at what point I realized it was Racing in the Rain dude's first graphic novel, but I was far enough into it that I couldn't reckon with it. The Cloven is the type of book that I would give to a mainstream comics fan who is eager to learn what else is out there. Southworth's artwork is dark and deliberately imperfect, with thick ink lines that look like they were made with Sharpie marker. There is a raw contrast to the overall - I wouldn't say "polish" as much as "experience" - Stein as a writer brings to the text.
Disney Villains: Scar
Chuck Brown and Trevor Fraley
A plan is starting to formulate within Scar's corrupt mind, which will bring him face-to-face with the mysterious shaman, Rafiki.
Overall, I'm excited that Disney comics are back on the shelves. While I'm not as invested in The Lion King as I am with Darkwing Duck or Uncle Scrooge (come on, Dynamite, make it happen), I am 100% invested in Chuck Brown, whose work alongside David Walker and Sanford Green on Bitter Root produced an absolutely exceptional series. While I don't think we're going to get, say, Mark Russell Flinstones level experimentation and satire- I just don't think Disney would allow that for such a valuable property - I know that Brown is still going to layer the commentary in this book and explore the depths of Scar as a character.
Goes Like This
Featuring over a dozen short stories (spanning multiple genres) published over the past 25 years, Goes Like This is a gorgeously packaged anthology (including varying paper stocks and rounded corners) from master cartoonist Jordan Crane.
Keeping Two was one of my favorite reads of 2022, so a Jordan Crane anthology is a no-brainer for most anticipated books this year. I'll be honest and say that prior to reading Keeping Two, I had very little background on Crane. Thus, Goes Like This is going to be a good primer for me, or anyone like me, who enjoyed his storytelling and is eager to see more of his portfolio.
The He-Man Effect: How American Toymakers Sold You Your Childhood
Brian "Box" Brown
Brian “Box” Brown’s The He-Man Effect shows how corporate manipulation brought muscular, accessory-stuffed action figures to dizzying heights in the 1980s and beyond.
Wait a second - my 1980s childhood was commodified? By whom? By whom, I ask? Seriously, though, do you remember when you first realized all of the shows you loved as a kid were actually advertisements to buy toys? Alas, our idyllic youths of creating our own basement battle scenes that pitted Dr. Doom against Admiral Ackbar for control of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sewer dojo spawned from the seed of marketing. Box Brown is uniquely adept at telling these stories. Explanatory without being condescending, he's able to expose the perpetrators without necessarily blaming the perpetrated-upon. This might be a tough read for me and my late Gen-X, elder millennial crowd, but most likely a necessary one.
Deb JJ Lee
This stunning debut graphic memoir features page after page of gorgeous, evocative art, perfect for Tillie Walden fans. It's a cross section of the Korean-American diaspora and mental health, a moving and powerful read in the vein of Hey, Kiddo and The Best We Could Do.
I know very little about this book, but the cover alone is enough to tell me that this is a serious cartoonist who is bound to tell us a beautiful story. The brief previews I've seen display an interior that does indeed recall Tillie Walden, specifically her earlier work, while also featuring beautiful pencil shading. Lee attempts to address both the immigrant experience and late-adolescent mental health and I think they are going to end up with a book that is on a bunch of end-of-year lists.
The Last Count of Monte Cristo- Azize Jama-Everett and Tristan Roach Abrams/MegascopeApril 26
This speculative update pushes the narrative into a future hundreds of years after the polar ice caps have melted and submerged our planet into a new era of technology and culture.
I have a big place in my heart for the original Count of Monte Cristo, and I’m curious to see how it works as a commentary on climate change. Abrams’ Megascope Imprint has produced a nice catalog thus far, and I am additionally curious to see how the creative team retrieves some of the cultural legacy of Alexandre Dumas.
Noah van Sciver
From a multiple-award-winning cartoonist, Noah Van Sciver comes the brand new three-part autobiographical comic series, Maple Terrace. Hilarious and forlorn stories from the author's childhood, surrounded by 90s comics, cartoons, toys, deprivation, and painful nostalgia.
What kind of run is Noah Van Sciver on these days? It seems like he is churning out books at a breakneck pace, and there doesn't seem to be any sort of dilution that would lead to a decrease in quality thanks, I would assume, to the varied topics and lengths of works Van Sciver picks. Joseph Smith and the Mormons was very much an American epic in graphic novel form, and it expressed a new version of Noah Van Sciver's storytelling in an extended format. But at times, it felt more like a dutiful read than a pleasurable one. I'm happy to see Van Sciver return to autobiographical comics - Please Don't Step on My Jnco Jeans was fantastic - and in the periodical format.
Memoirs of a Man in Pajamas
In the vein of sitcoms like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Roca’s comic vignettes brilliantly satirize the pesky pitfalls of modern-day life.
Roca's House is one of my favorite graphic novels of the past few years, and it served as my introduction to his work. Since then, I've read what Fanta offers us via translation, and I've been more than impressed at Roca's ability to work in different genres and formats. Thus, to hear that this edition offers small, humorous vignettes, I'm intrigued. Roca has a sense for wry humor, not necessarily dark, but cockeyed enough. This should be excellent.
Bill Watterson and John Kascht
Simon and Schuster
In a fable for grown-ups by cartoonist Bill Watterson, a long-ago kingdom is afflicted with unexplainable calamities. Hoping to end the torment, the king dispatches his knights to discover the source of the mysterious events. Years later, a single battered knight returns.
A benefit of taking nearly three months to write a beginning-of-the-year preview post is that more recent announcements have been able to make it into the fray. I don't think I should have to explain this one. How can one not anticipate a book written by one of the most famous cartoonists of the 20th century, who created an iconic piece of cartooning that resonates well beyond the world of comics, and who has remained fairly silent for the nearly 30 years since the finale of his masterpiece? That this book seems oceans away from the tone, style, and substance of Calvin and Hobbes is that much more captivating. After 28 years, I can't help but wonder what Watterson has to say, why he chose this time to emerge, and how John Kascht will evoke the message through his startling art.
Drawn and Quarterly
The emotionally and erotically charged imagery collected in this third volume remains as shocking and vivid today as it did upon its debut fifty years ago.
Well, ok then. But honestly, since Drawn and Quarterly started issuing these Tsuge collections courtesy of Ryan Holmberg's translation (and often, research), they've been must-reads. I know next to nothing about manga, and I assuredly know even less about alternative or underground manga, and that's part of the reason I find these books so enthralling. The way my mind works, I love to make connections. I love to look for books that inspire other books, or ideas that inspire other ideas. And even when I'm (almost always) not educated enough to grasp the antecedents of various styles or perspectives, I find some comfort in the notion that the counter-culture will always have an underlying component that defines it, regardless of era or location.
Otto Binder, Robert L. Reiner, Angelo Torres, and Stefan Koidl
Never before published and now unearthed, The Unwanted is Binder's response to the 1950s McCarthy era, couched in metaphorical science fiction terms.
A true time capsule, an early 50s version of underground literature, The Unwanted is one my most anticipated books of the year because I want to see exactly what we missed with this book that "languished, unread, in a yellowing file folder for decades," according to Fantagraphics. Binder is perhaps most famous for his work on Fawcett's Captain Marvel at the height of the character's popularity. His work following the Big Red Cheese never reached those same heights, but he certainly had a perspective that was informed by science fiction and thus in turn informed his own science fiction prose pursuits.
Outpost Zero: The Complete Collection
Sean Kelly McKeever, Alexandre Tefekgi, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and Ariana Maher
School, friends, the fights every Friday night-there's plenty to distract her, yet Alea's sure there's something else out there. And when tragedy strikes, Alea vows to uncover the truth...even if it upends her world forever.
I adored this series. It was my introduction to Alexandre Tefenkgi, and I found myself often staring at the beautiful landscapes and vistas that filled pages of the book and brought to life the world he and McKeever created. Scott and I talked before about artists who can capture the acting of their characters, and Tefenkgi certainly showed he could do that out of the gate. Sean Kelly McKeever is adept at these kinds of stories - he understands dialogue in a way that is both authentic and lean. He lets the story work for itself, rather than using the characters to explain everything going on around them.
I have to say I'm disappointed by two elements here: 1. the 6X9 format - I get it; that's the size of manga and of many YA graphic novels. So, to the extent that this book gets a second life in our libraries and bookstores by finding an entirely new audience, cool, I'll live with that. But it also needs an oversize treatment. 2. Jean-Francois Beaulieu's colors are the definition of crucial to the story, as is Arian Maher's lettering technique, and they both should be listed on the cover. Again, I get it; it's probably the ownership thing, but still.
Drawn and Quarterly
A memoir ruminating on memory and place and the people who pass through his life, this chapter of Nothing Lasts closes with a seminal event in Seth’s young life.
I continue to stand in awe of Clyde Fans four years after reading it. One particularly enjoyable feeling of reading it is seeing the evolution in Seth's artistic style. His linework changes, both in shape and thickness. He changes perspectives and angles as the book evolves over the two decades he serialized it, ultimately settling into a more geometric feel that typifies his current mode of abstract formalism. I often try to think of Seth as a storyteller and not specifically a visual artist, because if I don't, I tend to find myself hypnotized by his little boxes, packed full of way more than we could ever hope to find on a splash page.
Roger Langridge and Brett Parson
Not your regular babysitter! Pandora Perfect, the hilarious criminal mastermind, crash-lands into her very own collection!
Turning Mary Poppins on her head by casting Pandora as a cat burglar of the highest caliber, Roger Langridge and Brett Parson created delightful strips for the 2000 AD Regened all-ages series. It was a beautiful series of strips - what else would one expect from Roger Langridge - and I'm excited to read it in collected format.
Santos Sisters 4
Greg and Fake
Floating World Comics
The unceremonious return of Bridget Spinner and Fondu! Plus Ambar and Alana find out the difference between etymology and entomology in a story that will make your skin crawl. All this and more! Once again printed in full-color on your favorite decadent newsprint!
Admittedly, the original draft of this included Santos Sisters 3, which arrived on stands at the beginning of February. But it's been a busy beginning to 2023 for your 347th favorite comic critic, and I wasn't able to meet many a deadline. But redemption is here in the form of satiric nostalgia, courtesy of another quarterly Santos Sisters publication. The best parody, I have long contested, is rooted in some level of admiration. This is the coup for Greg and Fake.
Birdcage Bottom Books
Starting as a hardscrabble misfit and minister's son in the Bible Belt, followed by a stint as a suburban So-Cal Black punk, and onward to bicycle-obsessed, graphic novelist and dad in Oakland, Steady Rollin' is a portrait of the author in time-lapse.
I have a particular fondness for graphic memoirs that do not translate to their prose cousins, for whatever reason. I think there is something about the graphic memoir that allows a better portrayal of events (duh, pictures) while also being far more compact. Much of Noland's work has been autobiographical in tone if not substance, but I'm curious to see how he puts it all together for a retrospective of his life. I've thoroughly enjoyed works like Black Sheep and his more recent short cartoons like Taco Tuesday because of the way he manages to combine foresight and hindsight, and I expect the same from Steady Rollin'.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High
Tegan Quin, Sara Quin, and Tillie Walden
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Before Tegan and Sara took the music world by storm, the Quins were just two identical twins trying to find their place in a new home and new school. From first crushes to the perils of puberty, surviving junior high is something the sisters plan to face side by side, just like they've always faced things.
Who doesn't love Tegan and Sara? Who doesn't love Tillie Walden? I feel like I don't need to explain much here. But, alas. I'm very hit or miss with YA lit in general, mostly because - when it's bad, or even just mediocre - it feels a little too calculated and entirely too haughty. But I don't know if Tegan, Sara, or Tillie are even capable of such things, because their art has always been sincere. I'm eager to read the twins' take on their days of early adolescence. And, let's be honest, Tillie Walden could illustrate the phonebook and I'd stare at it.
Ram V, Lalit Kumar Sharma, Rain Beredo
With some hinting that they call themselves The Vigil. What were they after? Why did they intervene? Are there metas among us? Stay tuned for more/ /.../ /you are being watched./
Ok, a little bit of cheating here because my tardiness with producing this post allowed for this announcement to land before I completed my final draft. I'm farther away from superhero comics than I ever have been before - the only monthly I'm reading at this point is Ram V and Rafael Albuquerque's Detective Comics - but I'm very excited about the potential for new characters to enter the DC Universe. I'm skeptical of any diversity initiative from a faceless corporation such as whatever amalgamation DC's Warner parents have become at this point in terms of it being a hollow marketing idea, but I'll always be more optimistic about the inclusion of diverse voices within comics, and boy does this We Are Legends have some great names attached to projects. To double down, my beloved DC Universe is in dire need of new blood, and that doesn't mean just the tired retread of retconning a character to change their identity. No, I love the idea of introducing new characters with their own identities that can shine and flourish via the pen and ink of writers and artists who created those characters and understand exactly what they should be about. Moreover, I feel at this point that Ram V has earned must-buy status. He is one of the most complete writers in the industry, and from the moment he was given a chance to create new visions at DC, he brought a new version of Swamp Thing that is the freshest take on the character in twenty-plus years, and that uses Ram's own Indian heritage in an integral way.
Ok, so what'd I miss? Plenty, I'm sure.
I Am The Law by Michael Molcher is already on shelves and isn't technically a graphic novel, but it's certainly worth a read. Where I'm Coming From by Barbara Brandon-Croft is also already likely in your reading pile, but grab it if it isn't. Kent State isn't new, but Derf's masterpiece arrives in paperback and should be a must-buy if you haven't had the chance to read it or, like me, don't actually own it because the library is so great. Of course, you should read Marry Me a Little by the wonderful Rob Kirby. Ditto for Roaming by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. Both books entered my radar a little late in the game. I'm going to read Crimson Quays, but it didn't happen to crack the top 23. Cest la vie. Superheroes have little appeal to me anymore as discussed above, but the kinds of series that do are Silver Surfer: Ghost Light and I Am Iron Man. Before you were spoiled by The Wire, I was spoiled by Homicide: Life on the Streets, so I'm definitely picking up that graphic novel adaptation.
Enjoy 2023, my friends. I hope the impending Spring brings a rebirth for you in all the ways you need.