January 6, 2022
Comics are unquestionably unique. The interplay of art and words—as well as its particular audience and the serial medium used by many creators—allows for stories that don’t exist anywhere else, even if those stories are increasingly being adapted for film and TV.
The first year of the pandemic was a weird year for comics (and every other damn thing). Conventions were canceled. Local shops that serve as a hub for comics communities shuttered or moved to curbside pickup. Fewer comics were released due to the pandemic and an abrupt halt to distribution for many publishers in March. If all of that threw you off your normal comic-book-reading, there were a lot of outstanding releases in 2021 to welcome back your reading habit, even if there were plenty of obstacles this year as well.
It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: Any best-of-the-year list, whether it openly addresses the issue or not, is subjective. This list is absolutely that. It aims to include a variety of publishers, as well as a mix of floppies, graphic novels, one-shots, ongoing series, blood-soaked stories, and comics for younger readers. No matter your preference, there were stories worth getting excited about from alien outsiders trying to find their place on a new planet to radioactive vigilantes, hardboiled detectives to murder-for-bitcoin operations on the dark web. Here are the best comic books and graphic novels of 2021.
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Sally Cantirino
Colorist: Dearbhla Kelly
Letterer: Andworld Design
I Walk With Monsters manages to be a quiet comic about Jacey, who lived through traumatic childhood experiences, while also being a horror story about monsters that live among us. Jacey and her shapeshifting dog companion, who is also something of a father figure in his human form, are hunting down the man who abducted her brother as she decides whether she has it in her to confront and kill him. The art is not only gorgeous but evokes the feeling of falling back into traumatic memories with an eye that is both unflinching and sympathetic. It’s a striking six-issue series that wins the award for the most tender and emotional you’ll feel seeing someone say, “fuck you,” and getting the response, “fuck you, too.”
Writer: Michael Moreci
Artist: Nathan Gooden
Colorist: Addison Duke
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Barbaric has garnered a lot of buzz for a comic that only has three issues to its name. The premise feels almost deceptively simple: Owen is a barbarian who was cursed to only serve the “good.” But “good” isn’t easy to define, and helping people is pretty much never what he wants to do. For a man cursed to help others, he leaves a shocking trail of blood and bodies.
Owen travels with his talking axe, Axe. The weapon directs him toward what to do, holding him true to the terms of his curse, but it also has a drinking problem and gets violently inebriated on blood. They’re often at odds, since the bloodthirsty axe is always looking for more to feast on and Owen has a lot of rage about the awful things he wants to do that the curse prevents him from doing. It’s a funny, gory, weird comic with stunning art in muted colors. The first arc may only last three issues, but Vault has already promised “multiple new miniseries” and one-offs in 2022.