Comics Beat put together a list of their Top 100 Comics since 2010 to demonstrate not only their staff’s favorites but also the diversity on and off the page that has made this past decade so transformative in graphic novels. While they acknowledge some titles inclusion on the list or exclusion from the list will enrage the internet, it’s amazing to see so many CBLDF supporters in one place. Check out some of our favorites of their favorites, and feel free to add your own on social media. Many of these titles and creators can be found in our epic 2019 Gift Guide, so grab a signed copy for you or someone you love.
Telgemeier is not only an amazing creator, one of the best selling comic creators of recent memory, but she has also been challenged and banned all over the country for her beloved graphic novel Drama. Alex Lu writes,
Guts is, in no uncertain terms, the culmination of Raina Telgemeier’s career so far. In a way, it makes perfect sense for what is, in my opinion, her best work, to come out at the end of the decade that began with the release of her first graphic memoir, Smile. Telgemeier’s storytelling abilities evolve to another level in Guts, which focuses on her childhood struggles with anxiety.
The way in which young Raina’s anxiety is externalized through the combination of uncomfortable shades of green, inventive page compositions, and a recurring motif of swirling word-art is comics at its best. Moreover, the book’s positive portrayal of mental healthcare is something we, as a culture, absolutely need more of from our storytelling.
Telgemeier made the list twice, which isn’t a surprise if you’ve ever read her books. a great example of her devoted fan base is from her CBLDF signing at the indie comic convention SPX. One of her fans brought a giant version of her book cover to show her and it was a special moment for all.
AJ Frost writes,
Without a doubt, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile is the most influential comic of the decade. Raina’s moving story about her dental struggles are so vivid and relatable that it is no wonder that millions of readers took the book to heart. In its own way, this modest book started a publishing revolution. A decade ago, one probably wouldn’t have seen graphic novels take up prime real estate in a big box store such as Target or even have their wall at Barnes and Noble; Smile changed the paradigm.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that its story, while particular to Raina’s childhood challenges, is also relatable to anyone who struggled to define themselves while they were younger. Whether it was a physical manifestation of struggle or a mental one (see Guts elsewhere on this list), Raina’s thoughtful pen makes tangible the ways in which people are resilient even at times during life that are the most difficult to comprehend in the moment. In this way, Smile is an achievement as a singular work and as the humble book that marked the turning point of the comics market for decades to come.
Philippe Leblanc writes,
Chris Wares’ 2012 formal experiment graphic novel Building Stories is an oddity that deserves to be read. It comes in a box with 14 different stories to read, some on newsprint, some in bound books, some in small pamphlets. It has no beginning, no ending and can be read in any order (though it does provide a suggestion on the reading order). It is essentially about the tenants of a three-story apartment building in Chicago. We focus mostly on a 30 year-old woman who lives alone, and her other neighbours, a disintegrating couple and the landlady, an elderly woman who has lived there for decades.
What surprises about Building Stories is the scope and ambition of the stories. By using the building as a starting point, it allows Ware to explores the lives of people over time, showing how someone’s life evolves or deteriorates. Ware’s dry, almost clinical style is definitely not for everyone, but it’s hard to deny the level of artistry and control on display in Building Stories. It’s a reading experience unlike anything that came out this decade and as such, deserves a place on this list.
Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon
Nick Kazden writes,
A story about the vast possibilities inherent in everyday life, Daytripper is an intimate, beautifully structured look at what it’s like to be alive. The 10-issue series follows Bras de Olivias Dominguez, an obituary writer, with each issue working as a snapshot of a unique time in his life. While each issue explores different ideas and digs into different common occurrences that make life joyous or heart breaking, they all end in the same way: with Bras’ death. As each issue begins, Bras finds himself tackling new challenges in a different chunk of his life oblivious to the fact that he died.
No, this isn’t a science-fiction story where there are clones constantly replacing people, this is a careful consideration of what it means to be alive and an empathetic nudge for people to accept that death is simply a part of life. When one can die at any moment or on any day, as Bras does repeatedly throughout this series, it’s important to remember that life — even the somber moments — is special and needs to be appreciated.
John Seven writes,
Jaime Hernandez’s Locs stories can boast the remarkable achievement of following the same group of characters for nearly 40 years and still remaining fresh over the decades in a way that no comic preceding his effort ever has been. One of his strengths is that he lets the characters age, and in Is This How You See Me?, we catch up with the frequent central characters of his story, Maggie and Hopey, long past their punk days in the 1980s.
The conceit is a concert in the old neighborhood that has all the punks of yesteryear dropping in for a reunion, but what results is a night of Maggie and Hopey wandering around like the old days, being forced to confront the differences both in the place they grew up and, by proxy, who they became. Hernandez isn’t one to make things soppy or overblown though, and his cartooning skill has improved with age, so these are still very much the same characters we all met when we were young, but just like us, they have to contend with saggy skin, failing eyesight, and that feeling that everything is more fleeting that you thought it was.
Kyle Pinion writes,
Everything Jaime Hernandez has been working towards for the past 30+ years led to this very moment, particularly as it centers on his on-again, off-again romantic pair of Maggie and Ray. Hernandez does something wonderfully impressive here and he not only adds to the future of these characters, but also works between the margins to tell an untold story that in a lesser writer’s hands might feel like a cheat. Yet for Hernandez, it’s that of a master turning his audience into pure putty.
Much like his brother Gilbert, Jaime has a number of masterworks under his belt within this “slice of life” epic, and it’s debatable whether The Love Bunglers is better than say “Wigwam Bam” or “The Ghosts of Hoppers,” but it’s another wonderful notch on the belt and what he does next has us all waiting with bated breath.
Brian K. Vaughan & Fion Staples
A game-changing comic that not only became an instant bestseller but also an amazing example of the transformative nature of comics in the last ten years, Saga, exemplifies the diversity of families that make up society. Check out CBLDF’s recent article looking at censorship attempts of this important modern classic, as well as a call to keep utilizing it classrooms.
Zack Quaintance writes,
Over the past decade, few comics have represented the medium so well as Saga. This comic, which can be reductively described as Romeo and Juliet meets Star Wars, is a fixture of indie bookstore endcaps from Austin, to San Francisco, to New York City. Why? Well, Saga is the type of accessible graphic sequential story you can hand to friends and family, or really to anyone, regardless of whether or not they’ve dabbled in the medium.
Accessibility aside, it’s also a career-defining achievement for talented creators writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples, with letters by Fonografiks. At its core, Saga is an exploration of complex and honest domesticity with a backdrop of a galaxy-spanning forever war. This intersection has allowed the book to explore in equal parts everything from keeping the spark of attraction alive to whether societal conflict trickles down to deeply ingrained rage within the individual. And not to spoil anything, but Saga is also a fearless book, unafraid to make difficult plot choices with its characters. Sniff sniff. Anyway, for the 2010s, Saga is without question a must-read comic.
Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Brooklyn A. Allen, Carolyn Nowak, Carey Pietsch, Ayme Sotuyo, Maarta Laiho, Aubrey Aiese, with Brittney Williams, Faith Erin Hicks, Aimee Fleck, Rebecca Tobin, Felicia Choo, and T. Zysk
Lumberjanes is a comic that many never realized had been missing from our shelves until we picked it up from the first time. Now it’s a staple for hardcore lady types at every stage in their life. Deanna Destito at The Beat writes,
There are a few reasons why BOOM! Studios’ Lumberjanes should be on your reading list. It’s a ton of fun and filled with humor and adventure. The all-female series features distinct, relatable personalities in its main cast (the chaotic Ripley is my favorite), but at its core the book is about friendship. It deftly demonstrates how girls can — and will — support and help each other even when faced with freaky, otherworldly situations in what should be a mundane summer camp setting. The theme extends to the “adults” too. When the Roanoke cabin goes against the rules of Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types (which is pretty much daily), their counselor Jen protects them, despite being scared that they are missing or that her job might be in jeopardy if camp leader Rosie finds out. (Rosie, by the way, is a purposeful nod to Rosie the Riveter, an icon of American feminism.)
The all-ages book also positively depicts a spectrum of female relationships. There are platonic friendships, girl crushes, trans characters, sisterly connections, and more. Most importantly though, each installment makes you feel a little better than you did before.
This past year saw the first in a series of original graphic novels in the series penned by award-winning creator Lilah Sturges with art by polterink. Sturges also experienced censorship, not directly towards her work, but rather towards herself as a trans creator when an event she had been invited to was abruptly canceled. Get signed copies of the OGN Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass to support the fight for free expression today!
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Inspired in part by Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story that he read as a child, Congressman John Lewis’ graphic memoir March Trilogy was the first to win the National Book Award, a critical achievement that will pave the way for graphic novels of literature for generations to come. Ricardo Serrano writes,
The history of the Civil Rights movement is a complicated one, with many competing narratives vying for that “definitive version” spot. John Lewis’, Andrew Aydin’s, and Nate Powell’s March trilogy approaches that history differently, focusing on Lewis’ role in the movement (as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, among other roles) and how his experience fits into the larger narrative. This freed the creative team up to take the story into more personal places while exploring just exactly what nonviolent resistance was and what it meant. We get our history, and a healthy does at that, but also get an intimate look at what it took to put one’s body in the frontlines knowing it was going to get struck and bruised.
March is an important book that has made it into American schools and rightfully so. It demands attention. It demands to be read.
Boxers & Saints
Gene Luen Yang
Gene Luen Yang is not only an amazing educator and creator, he also finds time to be a CBLDF board member. Check out the free webinar CBLDF hosted Teaching Tolerance with Gene Luen Yang. Ricardo Serrano writes,
What makes Boxers & Saints special, though, is just how much attention is paid to presenting an evenhanded narrative that does not take sides but knows when to condemn clear acts of terrorism (which were authored from the Boxers’ side) and intolerance (which we get to see a lot of in the Saints book). The point is to understand both sides first and then pass judgment. It’s a difficult task, to achieve understanding before making a decision on who’s right and who’s wrong. But it was a worthy challenge and one of the decades most richly complex books.
Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles
Nick Kazden writes,
Ladies and gentlemen, do you have what it takes to handle the terrifying, vaudevillian wonder that is Mister Miracle? Step right up and find out! A continuation of the Fourth World characters and concepts created by Jack Kirby, Mister Miracle follows Scott Free, the world’s best escape artist, as he struggles to balance a normal life with a cosmic war between good and evil deities. Nothing is as it seems in this series though, with each new nine panel grid making the reader and Scott question his reality.
Despite the creeping sense of dread and confusion that grows with every issue, Tom King is able to retain a sense of brevity and humor thanks to the inclusion of mundane (yet amazing) moments like Darkseid eating carrots from a veggie tray. It turns out the God of Evil may be a double dipper, not that that should surprise anyone. Mister Miracle himself may receive top-billing, but his wife Big Barda is an equally important player in the limited series and steals much of the show whenever she’s on the page. King has created a lane for himself writing really touching romantic stories, showing how partners interact and feed off each other in private moments or while in battle, and teamed with Mitch Gerads’ expressive art it’s hard not to fall in love with this couple.
Philippe Leblanc writes,
This book requires particular attention. It is a sumptuous work of art, a cross-hatching masterpiece with a poignant story about family, a murder-mystery and historical account. Emil Ferris recreates for her protagonist Karen Reyes in a mid-60s Chicago on the cusp of change. Karen is a 10 year-old who is (or at least thinks she is) a werewolf — it’s easier than being a woman. On Valentine’s Day, her neighbour Anka Silverberg commits suicide, but Karen doesn’t believe she could have done that. She begins investigating her life to discover who might have killed her. This journey leads her to gain a better understanding of history, society, and the layers of lies we wear when we present ourselves to the world.
It’s an exploration of what it means to be a “monster,” revealing that good or bad, monsters are just like everyone else: tortured, ambiguous, fascinating. It’s one of the few masterpieces that emerged this decade. I have no doubt that the second volume, due in September 2020, will be on a similar list of the best books of the 2020s.
Jason Aaron & Jason Latour
Ricardo Serrano writes,
Jason Aaron’s and Jason Latour’s tale of Southern crime and football is as mythical and unpredictable as the history surrounding the area. The American South can be as colorful and sanitized as it can be dark and gritty. Aaron and Latour go for the latter. The series focuses on several stories that, taken as a whole, paint a bleak picture of a small town called Craw County, a town that showcases an obsessive, religious-like devotion to football. The town’s team is coached by Euless Boss, Craw County’s crime lord, beloved so long as football games are won and trophies keep rolling in.
Southern Bastards shares a lot with Aaron’s previous series, namely Scalped. As in that series, Aaron approaches the story and its characters as all part of a complex and storied culture. The South is no mere setting. It is an entity unto itself and it influences everything. Latour’s art complements this idea by illustrating each character as an extension of the South itself, but their actions change the environment to better reflect the darkness surrounding it. Every crime, every death, further deteriorates the setting and makes it grimier. It’s a monumental work of fiction that has unfortunately been marred by an unreliable publishing schedule. What’s available, though, is some of the best comics can offer.
This One Summer
Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
Not only one of the best coming of age graphic novels, but This One Summer is also one of the most challenged and banned- repeatedly being featured on the annual ALA list.
In a decade where YA comics reignited the industry, This One Summer was a matchbook. Mariko Tamaki’s coming-of-age graphic novel discusses mature themes from a teen’s perspective in a way that’s understanding and emotional. To tag along with main character Rose for a few hours is to pull yourself back into your own pre-teen days; ones of ignorance that was sometimes blissful, sometimes terrible and, most often, frustrating as hell. Mariko Tamaki levels with that perspective.
For young readers, This One Summer is a recognition of what they’re going through and for adults, it’s a reminder. Rose’s story is a bridge between these two audiences and says firmly that they can both coexist in the comics medium. Jillian Tamaki’s adherence to a totally blue color palette makes for a beautifully melancholic tone. One that deftly communicates figuring out adolescence in a picturesque beach town. This One Summer is a landmark not only for YA books, but for the whole medium.
Tom King, Gabriel Walta, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles
Josh Hilgenberg writes,
This probably reveals a lot about my age — but The Vision is what got me into comics. Its reliance on continuity, without ever becoming inaccessible, makes for a uniquely comic book story brimming with decisive prose and introspective panels. King, Gabriel Walta and Jordie Bellaire showed this young reader how powerful words, lines and colors can be when they’re working in concert. Yes, it reignited conversations about the nine panel grid and can probably be pointed to as the impetus for the last four years of Batman; but instead let’s talk about themes.
This story of robots, existence and drama is, to me, a cautionary tale about pursuing normalcy (and one that I should remind myself of more often). As the Visions show, trying to be something you’re not, especially when that something is as contradictory as human, is dangerous at worst and folly at best. And it managed to say it all with nearly 45 years worth of continuity.
Philippe Leblanc writes,
Brazen is a remarkable achievement. Penelope Bagieu, after the success of California Dreaming (Mama Cass‘ biography), followed it with Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World. It is a graphic novel containing the biographies of 29 (or 30 if you read the French version) historical women who changed the world. Some are well-known like Josephine Baker, while some are more obscure like Giorgina Reid, who saved the Montauk Lighthouse.
Bagieu began that book as a series of weekly biographies for the French newspaper Le Monde and managed to distill the tumultuous, rebellious and extraordinary lives of her subjects extremely well allowing readers to discover new, important historical figures or see new facets of those you thought you knew. You also understand a lot more of the socio-economic and cultural context in which these women lived. Bagieu’s expressive figures are perfect to get readers to relate and understand her characters. This is a must read for everyone interested in history and for your kids to discover new real life heroes. —
Check out Penelope Bagieu’s full-length graphic novel biography about Mama Cass, California Dreamin’, available as a reward for support free expression!
Free expression advocate and CBLDF supporter, Jeff Lemire, continues to offer an amazing number of groundbreaking comics that regularly can be spotted on the Best-Of lists. For The Beat, they chose Black Hammer. Joe Grunenwald writes,
At a time when mainstream superhero stories were growing overly dreary and stale, Jeff Lemire’s and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer arrived on the scene with a shot in the arm. Featuring a compelling mystery driven by characters rooted in—but not bound by—familiar archetypes, the Black Hammer universe has grown into one of the most entertaining corners of comics. Lemire has created a world that functions both as a deconstruction of superhero comics of old, and as a loving tribute to what makes them great.
Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Kyle Pinion writes,
A series that basically bookended the decade and saw Ed Brubaker leave superhero comics behind altogether, Criminal hit new heights in 2010 when he and Sean Phillips‘ series kicked off its “Last of the Innocent” miniseries. A fine play on the Archie mythos that arguably paved the way for Riverdale, and the revamped take on that property in the comics. It was one of their most awarded creator-owned collaborations and led off a decade of fine work at their soon-to-be new exclusive home at Image.
After a run of series that provided their own signature twists on horror, noir, and vigilante thrillers respectively, Brubaker and Phillips returned to the world of Criminal — first in a pair of one-shots, then a “comics novella,” and then finally a full-blown ongoing that brought readers back to a number of familiar faces, perhaps most notably the Lawless family and particularly the tale of how Teeg Lawless met his end. It’s never failed to be one of the best crime comics the industry has seen, right there with the immortal Stray Bullets, and it’s certainly the richest world they’ve ever created. I hope they do it for another decade!
Get double-signed copies of their other bestselling, award-winning collaborations when you support CBDLF! Check out Fatale, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, Sleeper, and more in our 2019 Gift Guide.