Four Color Apocalypse 2020 Year In Review : Top 10 Original Graphic Novels

And so we’ve arrived at the final “best of” list of 2020, the Top 10 Original Graphic Novels, which basically just means full-length original works specifically designed as such, or put perhaps more simply : self-contained graphic novels that weren’t serialized anywhere, in print or online, previously. Let’s not waste any time —

10. Desperate Pleasures By M.S. Harkness (Uncivilized) – Not so much a sequel to Harkness’ earlier Tinderella as a response to it — the party’s over, welcome to the hangover that is adulthood without a road map. Illustrated in a breathtaking array of styles and told in a manner both frank and expressive, this is the contemporary memoir against which all others will be judged for the next few years.

9. The Puerto Rican War By John Vasquez Mejias (Self-Published) – Hey, fair is fair : my Top 10 Single Issues list featured a couple of comics that were single issues formatted as books, and here we have a full-length graphic novel formatted as a hand-sewn, newsprint comic book — and damn, what a comic book it is. Mejias’ woodcut illustrations are positively astonishing, and his story of Puerto Rican revolutionaries standing up to American colonialism in 1950 is gripping and poignant. Oh, and there’s an assassination attempt on Harry Truman thrown in for good measure, too. Comics get no more compelling than this.

8. Portrait Of A Drunk By Olivier Shrauwen, Florent Ruppert, And Jerome Mulot, Translated By Jenna Alan (Fantagraphics) – A “dream team” of Eurocomics talents delivers a pirate’s tale unlike any other awash in allegory, tawdriness, and existential angst — but with a comic touch? A black comic touch, to be sure, but nevertheless, this is one of the most unforgivingly funny books in a long time — with a heavy emphasis on the “unforgiving,” of course.

7. Familiar Face By Michael DeForge (Drawn+Quarterly) – An ever-shifting, mad world is the perhaps the last place one would expect to find an entirely coherent meditation on identity, longing, and alienation, but here it is regardless. When everything and everyone is always being “upgraded,” can any place truly be called “home” — including our own bodies and minds?

6. Paying The Land By Joe Sacco (Metropolitan Books) – The undisputed master of comics not only as journalism, but as cultural exploration, returns with his most compelling work in years, chronicling the theft of the entire way of life of the Dene people of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Supremely well-illustrated and emotively recounted, if you’re looking for a book that will both educate you and stick with you long after reading, look no further.

5. Kent State : Four Dead In Ohio By Derf Backderf (Abrams) – Rising above the usual historical accounting of one of our nation’s darkest hours by setting it firmly within the broader social and cultural milieu of Ohio circa 1970 and by taking the time to let us really get to know all the people whose lives were cut short by National Guard bullets, Backderf has delivered a career-defining work here that will likely be required reading in many a college history course in the future. This book is also, sadly, more relevant than ever given the resurgence of our nation’s deep political divisions.

4. Bradley Of Him By Connor Willumsen (Koyama Press) – The most formally exciting and innovative book of the year bar none, Willumsen’s rumination on fame, celebrity, identity, and excess utilizes the page — and I mean the whole page — in consistently enthralling and surprising ways. This is a cartoonist who knows precisely where he’s going and what he’s doing, and keeping up with him is challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

3. MOAB By Mara Ramirez (Freak Comix) – Every year there’s a book that comes completely out of left field and knocks my socks off, and this year that honor goes to Ramirez’s remarkably full-length debut. Part travelogue, part landscape study, part relationship chronicle, and part indigenous peoples’ rights treatise, this is a work that is literally about a thousand times more fluid, even poetic, than any description can really convey — as well as being the most emotionally resonant story I read all year. I’ve seen the future of comics, and their name is Mara Ramirez.

2. Breakwater By Katriona Chapman (Avery Hill) – Authentic, lyrical, and humane, Chapman’s mid-life interpersonal drama is a must-have for anyone who’s ever loved someone who suffers from mental illness as well being a subtle rumination on what “growing up” even means for someone who’s already done it. Self-care and self-preservation always come at a cost — this is a book that really makes you feel it, in addition to being one of the most beautifully-illustrated stories of the year.

1. Boston Corbett By Andy Douglas Day (Sonatina) – A historical epic unlike any other told over three volumes, this isn’t really “about” the man who killed John Wilkes Booth (at at least claimed to have done so), it’s about the perseverance of belief, especially fanatical and uncompromising belief, in the face of anything and everything — among other things. Our perspective as readers is constantly changing, but the characters themselves remain almost admirably steadfast — even when there’s no solid ground, or even solid sense of reality, to set foot on. Except when they don’t, but please don’t tell them that. The most ambitious work of the year is also, undeniably, the most singular — and one that will be dissected, debated, and discussed for years, if not decades, to come.

Are we done? I think we’re done. Let’s do it again in 12 months, shall we?


Review wrist check – Zodiac “Sea Dragon Deployant” black dial model, going “un-deployant” (or something like that, I dunno) by riding a Finwatchstraps “Vintage Suede” strap in green.

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to

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