Best Graphic Novels of 2013

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen cover

Here’s what I thought were the best graphic novels of 2013, in order, based on what affected, entertained, and enlightened me. For more information on any of the following titles, the links take you to my reviews.

(Yes, I’m a month late — but I’d rather post after the year is done than two months early and risk leaving out good books that happened to be published in November or December.)

  1. Relish
    Food carries memory, and in this memoir, Lucy Knisley tells of key moments in her life based on the dishes she remembers eating. Recipes punctuate beautifully simple art in deceptively restrained colors, creating a welcoming memoir with universal appeal.
  2. The Initiates
    Etienne Davodeau spent a year teaching a winemaker about graphic novels while the winemaker showed the artist his craft in return. The exploration of what it means to make art, told through different fields with more similarities than suspected, is enlightening and inspiring.
  3. Bad Houses
    Lewis is helping his mother with her estate sale business in this gorgeously illustrated tale of sorting through what’s left of other people’s homes by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil. The impermanence of housing is a particularly timely theme, especially once Anne, someone looking to find feelings of belonging with other people’s artifacts although she knows the danger of hoarding due to a loved one’s challenges, enters his life. Ultimately, broken homes and broken families can only be repaired by the choice to try again.
    Relish: My Life in the Kitchen cover
  4. The Cute Girl Network
    This modern romance by Greg Means, MK Reed, and Joe Flood captures the uncertainty of young adult love combined with a love of place and community. The challenge comes when making one’s own decision whom to love in spite of well-meaning opposition and well-intended advice. Adorable!
  5. Barnaby
    A 1942 comic strip by Crockett Johnson (Harold and the Purple Crayon) would seem to have limited application to today’s readers, but this story of a boy and his cigar-chomping, might-be-a-con-man Fairy Godfather is charming, imaginative, and entertaining, even if the storylines involve coffee rationing, air raid sirens, and Nazi spies (who are also Ogres).
  6. Woman Rebel
    Margaret Sanger’s life story, told by Peter Bagge, is startling. Not only did she fight to make birth control and medical knowledge legal for all, she lived in outspoken and determined fashion to give women control of their lives through management of their own fertility.
  7. Adventures of Superhero Girl
    Superhero stories are often thought to be played out, these days, but Faith Erin Hicks demonstrates a fresh, relatable take with a young woman struggling to master powers and life on her own. Immensely funny, immensely talented, this is a superhero for a new generation.
  8. Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist
    A puzzle story manga about two identical women, a famous author, plagiarism and writer’s block, identity, caretaking, and pretense by Asumiko Nakamura. It’s difficult to say what even happens in this book, but it sticks with the reader long after finishing, due to the striking visuals.
  9. The Property
    The effects of the Holocaust still extend to survivors and their descendants in this tale of a woman traveling with her grandmother to reclaim Polish property lost during the War. However, it’s Rutu Modan’s use of humor and careful observation of human traits that provides a sense of hope for the characters and reader.
  10. Bloodhound: Brass Knuckle Psychology
    A near-forgotten, eye-opening take on modern superheroes with in-your-face attitude and a refreshing lack of valorization. Dan Jolley and Leonard Kirk’s tales were republished this year, along with a new followup series, in a period that hopefully is more ready for a clear-eyed take on how disruptive exceptional abilities can be.

I think that’s a pretty good list. There’s fiction, non-fiction, superheroes, historical reprints, and even a manga. (My best manga list of 2013 is still in progress and will follow in a few days.) As in past years, I contributed to the PW Comics World Critics Poll, and as in past years, my tastes don’t exactly match up, although my overall track record was better this time around than some previous.

I also have an honorable mention list. These books were released this year and recommended by me but didn’t quite make the top ten.

My thanks to all the creators represented, and the many more out there, for providing such wonderful reads.

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