HEAT VISION

The Best Comics of 2020

Best Comics of 2020
Courtesy of Sloane Leong/John Paul Leon/Adrian Tomine
From heartbroken Canadian cartoonists to Superman punching racists, this year's top releases had a lot to say about the world we've been living in over the last twelve months.

It’s been a rough year for the comics industry, with the COVID pandemic forcing many stores to go into temporary shutdown (and, sadly, some stores to close permanently). Publishers, too, were affected, with some halting production and others pulling back on plans — including previously scheduled projects — as the industry tried to come to terms with the new reality of 2020’s pandemic year.

Despite that, the past 12 months have seen the release of some amazing comics, with a significant number of career-best material being released by creators and publishers across the board. The Hollywood Reporter's top comics of the year are below, but there are all manner of titles that could have made the cut in any other year that deserve your attention just as much. (DC’s Suicide Squad and Strange Adventures, for example, or Marvel’s recent Iron Man relaunch; elsewhere, Image Comics’ Blue in Green graphic novel, or Z2’s Chasin’ The Bird Charlie Parker biography share some musical DNA and a high level of quality, while the release of new Love & Rockets is always a reason to be happy.)

As to the books that did make the list… Well, read on for everything from magical realism for young adults to warnings about the horrors of a police state, with psychedelic space adventures, heartbreak, and some always-welcome Nazi punching along the way. In other words, everything that made 2020 the year that it’s been.

Don’t Go Without Me by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Kickstarted in 2019 and officially published this year, this anthology of shorts written and drawn by the artist of the critically acclaimed Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me sealed her reputation as one of the most fascinating visual stylists in the industry today, but also revealed that she’s an impressive writer as well, able to create worlds (and break your heart) in the space of just a few pages. Given that this was her first collection of material, it’s clear that she’s a superstar in the making. (ShortBox)

Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

At first glance, a young reader series inspired by a radio show in the 1940s doesn’t necessarily sound like the recipe for one of the most impressive Superman stories in recent years, but Gene Yang and Gurihiru manage to turn what could have been an exercise in nostalgia into something that feels particularly contemporary as the Man of Steel stands up against bigotry in a story that emphasizes his status as a literal alien immigrant to the U.S. (DC)

Al Ewing’s Multiple Marvel Titles

Ewing is easily Marvel’s MVP in terms of writing talent, with his many projects this year demonstrating why. His Immortal Hulk series with artist Joe Bennett continues to remake the iconic character into a tragic figure at the heart of a horror story — there’s a reason it’s been on this list for the past two years running — while he’s also been remaking the universe outside of Earth in a variety of series for the publisher: the underrated Guardians of the Galaxy, the fun event book Empyre, and the newly launched X-Men spin-off, SWORD. Mixing kindness, queerness, and good old fashioned thrills into multiple series at the same time isn’t easy, but Ewing makes it look otherwise on a regular basis. (Marvel Entertainment)

John Constantine: Hellblazer by Si Spurrier, Aaron Campbell, and Matias Bergara

Returning Constantine to his “mature readers only” roots also meant a return to the days when the character was unmistakably in conversation with the contemporary world his readers live in; Spurrier, Campbell et al used the 12-issue run to write about patriotism, pride, and the everyday horrors of the real world, seen through a lens that was only slightly more supernatural that normal. Some of the best Constantine stories ever published — with the sixth issue of the run perhaps the best single issue of the year, all told. (DC)

Dreadnoughts by Michael Carroll and John Higgins

A prequel to the long-running Judge Dredd strip, Dreadnoughts — currently running in the Judge Dredd Magazine anthology — turns out to be particularly timely in 2020, concerning the creation of the all-powerful Justice Department and raising issues surrounding overreach of police powers, corrupt law enforcement and what it means to actually live in a police state. All this in what genuinely is a successful, exciting action series, which is no mean feat. (Rebellion)

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Cartoonist by Adrian Tomine

A lifetime of awkwardness — and a career that doesn’t necessarily help with that — is bright to the fore in Tomine’s bright, quick memoir of embarrassing incidents spanning his life as a cartoonist. It alternates between laugh out loud funny and cringemaking, but throughout, you’ll feel both empathy for Tomine’s experiences and intense relief that these stories didn’t happen to you. (Drawn & Quarterly)

A Map to The Sun by Sloane Leong

A complicated coming of age narrative about sports, adolescence, and the complicated nature of friendship, Map isn’t just impressive for the subtlety of Leong’s writing — her artwork is stunning throughout the book, with color work in particular that feels as evocative of the emotional story being told as the line work or dialogue. It’s a masterclass of visual storytelling from start to finish. (First Second Books)

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Nguyen’s debut graphic novel is a fairytale made paper, despite the book’s own pushback against such thinking; everything from the touching story about Tién, a gay Vietnamese teen, struggling to find connection to his family through the tales they share, to Nguyen’s intricate, beautiful artwork feels particularly magical and otherworldly, and filled with wisdom to be passed down from one generation to another for years to come. (Random House Graphic)

Lost Soldiers by Aleš Kot and Luca Casalanguida

Kot has long been one of the most interesting writers in the mainstream U.S. industry, and his latest series demonstrates why — a war story very clearly about the trauma of violence and the way in which that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s a compelling, difficult read in the very best ways, assisted by artwork by Casalanguida and eye-popping colors from Heather Moore that make it one of the best-looking books around. (Image Comics)

Paul at Home by Michel Rabagliati

The latest in Rabagliati’s long-running series of books about the now-middle-aged cartoonist, Paul at Home is quietly devastating as it navigates the realities of loneliness, with Paul dealing with an aging, sick parent, and the absence of his ex-wife and daughter in the aftermath of his divorce. Despite these weighty themes, it’s a surprisingly light book filled with love and good humor even as it breaks your heart. (Drawn & Quarterly)

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