Whether they were new stand-alone stories, biographical novels, retro reissue collections, original children's series, or new adventures with familiar faces, there was no shortage of comic-related reading material in 2019, let alone in the past decade. Even the New York Times saw the error of their ways and brought back graphic novels to their bestseller lists this past year.
While not necessarily a "Top 10" (especially since I selected nineteen!), and definitely not in any order of greater or lesser importance, the following are just 19 really cool, fun, entertaining, and sometimes thought-provoking graphic novels and comics I read and enjoyed in 2019—all available to check out from the Free Library's collections, in either physical or digital formats.
BTTM FDRS by Ezra Claytan Daniels and Ben Passmore
Gentrification meets meta-monstrosities in this hipster horror story set in a run-down Chicago neighborhood that houses a building with something sinister behind and within its walls. This scary satire bursts off the page with vibrant hues of goo and grime, alternating between unsettling and thought-provoking. Highly recommended and one of this year's best!
Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men and Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch by Evan Dorkin, Jill Thompson, Ben Dewey, Sarah Dyer, Mike Mignola, Jason Arthur, and Nate Piekos
2019 brought not one but two new collections of Beasts of Burden stories! Since each collection is great, I couldn't just pick one, so they are both going on my list this year. This eight-time Eisner Award-winning comic book series blends fantasy, horror, and humor, as the adventures of a pack of paranormal pets investigating the strange goings-on in their home of Burden Hill unfolds page after beautifully illustrated and watercolored page. Sometimes they get help from the likes of a fellow paranormal investigator like Hellboy, while other times they have to work with foes who turn into friends. In Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men, the death-defying canines and felines investigate a series of occult disturbances in Pennsylvania of all places! In Neighborhood Watch, we see a connective story arch between a number of smaller stories and adventures that include a vengeful demon, an invisible killer, a ghostly flock of lost sheep, and an overall general sense of evil throughout the air. This series just continues to get better and better and I love the universe that these creatures, critters, and characters all live in!
Head Lopper Vol. 3: Head Lopper & The Knights of Venora by Andrew MacLean
The indie-comic Conan on sci-fi psychedelic steroids is back! In this 3rd installment of the Head Lopper saga, Norgal and Agatha have come to the city of Venoriah, finding it in utter chaos. A great egg at the center of the walled city has begun to crack... and we can guess nothing good can come forth from that. Goblins and The Sworn Swords of Venoriah's clash are imminent. Can Head Lopper save the day or even himself?
Nobody's Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead by Bill Griffith
Zippy the Pinhead creator Bill Griffith pays tribute to one of his main inspirations for his long-running newspaper comic strip character in one of this year's most interesting and heartbreaking bio-graphical novels. Schlitzie was the infamous circus sideshow performer who worked at Coney Island and the Ringling Bros. Circus, and is most well-known for his appearance in the cult classic film Freaks (1932, directed by Tod Browning, of Dracula infamy). Griffith conducted in-depth interviews with those who worked and lived with Schlitzie during his truly storied life and gives us the sad upbringing and family woes of his early years through his sideshow stardom and beyond. A unique look into the worldview of a very special individual who has lived on through pop culture.
Hey Kids! Comics! by Howard Chaykin
Take a rough ride behind the scenes of the comics biz and see the underbelly of the once kiddie book funny pages that have now taken over pop culture and all forms of multimedia. Some created these characters while others merely capitalized and profited on them—all names and faces have been changed to protect the innocent... and guilty. A fun and incredibly sobering look at the past, present, and possible future of the comic book industry.
Reincarnation Stories by Kim Deitch
The extra(non)ordinary underground cartoonist Kim Deitch's latest is a blurring blast of truth, history, fiction, and all the bits in between, with healthy dollops of 60s psychedelia and surreal storytelling. There's even a nonsensical appearance from Frank Sinatra. Flip through the pages and get reincarnated all over again!
Fearless Females: The Fight for Freedom, Equality, and Sisterhood written by Marta Breen and illustrated by Jenny Jordahl
Strong and trailblazing feminist icons who advocated for equality, education, and bodily integrity all throughout history have their stories told in this vividly illustrated graphic novel, including Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafzai, Sojourner Truth, Olympe de Gouges, Mary Wollstonecraft, Millicent Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurst, Clara Zetkin, and Margaret Sanger, to name just a few.
Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America by Box Brown
Anytime there is a new Box Brown title in these yearly fav lists of mine, you know it was indeed a good year for new graphic novels! The Philly artist and writer has published biographical books in the past on wrestler Andre the Giant, the video game Tetris, and even comedian Andy Kaufman. In his latest book, he turns his attention towards the long and complicated history of Cannabis: from hemp farming and immigration to racism and government propaganda, every page in this book displays simple yet bold lines that compliment the well-researched facts and strive to give the reader the straight dope.
The Umbrella Academy Vol. 3: Hotel Oblivion written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá
After a years-long hiatus on comic book racks and now with a surprise hit Netflix series adaptation, one of my favorite dysfunctional families of mutant superhero time-traveling teenagers returned this year with new and even more bizarre adventures. Can the Umbrella Academy survive the past so they have a present to live for? What secrets does the Hotel Oblivion hold behind its doors? What does it all even mean?!
They Called Us Enemy written by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott; illustrated by Harmony Becker
A stunning graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei's childhood, imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Truly a tale of courage, loyalty, and love.
Batman: The 1989 Movie Adaptation Deluxe Edition written by Dennis O'Neil and illustrated by Jerry Ordway
In time for the 30th anniversary of the blockbuster movie that ushered in modern superhero franchises and universes—Batman—this reprint of the official comics adaptation in a deluxe hardcover format, as well as on digital platforms, is well worth a re-read or for those only familiar with the newer films and incarnations of the Caped Crusader, a chance to see and experience this iconic iteration for the first time.
Making Comics by Lynda Barry
In the follow-up to her bestselling Syllabus, Lynda Barry shares all of her comics-making exercises for anyone and everyone. Detailing her creative curriculum, Barry has students draw themselves as monsters and superheroes, convince students who think they can't draw that they can, and most important, encourage them to understand that a daily journal can be anything so long as it is hand-drawn. Take this book out, get inspired, be creative, and doodle til your heart's content!
Rusty Brown by Chris Ware
Chris Ware has done it again in his extremely detailed and acutely articulate way of storytelling, making not only everyday human interaction the star but also how it intersects with the entire universe as we know it and beyond. Like much of Ware's work, it's heady, but very rewarding if you set the time aside to really delve into every detail he illustrates and the interlocking stories he weaves.
Free S**t by Charles Burns
The third Philly creator in this year's roundup is none other than Charles Burns, who released this cool little flip-book sized collection of his secret sketchbook, a self-published, punk rock-style, photocopied zine made in small quantities for almost 20 years now! All twenty-five issues are compiled here featuring cut and paste collages, rough sketches, and finished inked line art, all in weird and wonderful black and white and grayscale.
Book Love by Debbie Tung
The book that finally shows what's really on the mind of book lovers, in laugh-out-loud, short comic strip bursts! If there is a scenario where a book can fit into, there is a funny little illustration here to accompany it. My only complaint here is that this would make an even better day calendar so I could see and read a different comic strip each day.
The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television by Koren Shadmi
Read on, if you will... an illustrated tale that follows a Hollywood revolutionary's rise to fame in the Golden Age of Television... and his descent into his own personal... Twilight Zone. Of course, I'm talking about visionary writer Rod Serling! This graphic novel not only details Serling's fights over censorship and racism within the television industry but also takes a very candid look at the horrors of war and the PTSD he suffered after serving in WWII. Another great bio-graphical novel in a year with a lot of other great contenders!
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1956 written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson; illustrated by Mike Norton, Yishan Li, Michael Avon Oeming, Paul Grist
Another time period was examined in the Hellboy and The B.P.R.D. ongoing series this year: 1956. While Hellboy has a drunken, lost year in Mexico, Professor Bruttenhom leaves the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense to run a spy ring. Those agents left at the B.P.R.D. must work to uncover the Soviets' secret plans for recovered Nazi occult weapons. We're also introduced to demonic Soviet occult leader Varvara in this volume, and also get a wild and weird bonus story of Lobster Johnson starring in a luchadore film!
Jughead: The Hunger Vol. 3 written by Frank Tieri; illustrated by Michael Walsh, Pat Kennedy, and Tim Kennedy
In the continuing reimagining of the Archie-verse from light-hearted to horror-filled, this third collection sees Jughead continuing to deal with his new wolfen persona, and it turns out he isn't the only one in his family to have this particular affliction. Betty also has to come to grips with her monster-slaying ancestry and her loyalty to her friends. Also: "FrankenMoose Meets the Wolf Jug!" Describing this wouldn't even do it justice—just read this book!
MAD Magazine by v/a
And last but certainly not least is a special shoutout to the reimagined MAD Magazine. I bought a subscription as soon as they rebooted the title last summer and thoroughly enjoyed every satirical and sarcastic issue. The art was great and diverse, as were the writers and gags, but still had a foot in the past and never forgot their humorous roots. As with all things printed media nowadays—if it doesn't sell, it's getting shelved—and so 2019 is the year that MAD Magazine died. But who's to say I may not be writing about another issue in this column next year? There's been crazier comebacks, so... What Me, Worry? In the meantime, you can read the entire 2018-2019 run on Hoopla.
Search our catalog for these titles and to find more great graphic novels from superheroes and comic strips to autobiographical and manga titles as well. You can also find thousands of digital comic books and graphic novel collections from all the major and indie publishers over at Hoopla—all for free with no waits or hold lists, just click and read! (note: limit of 4 borrows per month.)
What were some of your favorite comic books and graphic novels that you read in 2019? Tell us in the comments!
Know of a great graphic novel or comics collection we need to acquire? Let us know!