Top Ten Comics of 2019

My favorite comics of 2019 includes a mixture of manga, lit comics, superhero works, and fantasy titles.  As always, I'm sure that I didn't get to read everything I would have liked, but this is a damn good list of comics from the year.

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10. Gunnerkrigg Court (Volume 7): Synthesis
Thomas Siddell

Thomas Siddell continues to impress with Antimony Carver and her friends at Gunnerkrigg Court.  The politics of the court, the intriguing mythology of the forest, the complicated relationships and shadowy histories of the people who revolve around Antimony - it's all just masterfully handled.  A lot has happened over the course of seven volumes, and I still get surprised by the turns that occur, including several shocking moments in Synthesis.  I really enjoy the pacing of these stories - whether it's a quiet moment among friends or a tense exchange, or an all-out mystical battle, Siddell balances it all nicely with a deft hand.

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9. Blood of the Virgin
(from Kramer's Ergot (Volume 10), edited by Sammy Harkham)
Sammy Harkham

Kramer's Ergot has always been an impressive showcase of art comics, a place for talented artists to experiment and publish a variety of projects, and have featured the likes of Gary Panter, Marc Bell, Kevin Huizenga, C.F., Jordan Crane, Ron Rege Jr., and Chris Ware, over the years.  This year was no exception, boasting a slew of talent, although the standout is a piece from the editor of the anthology himself, Sammy Harkham.  Following a dreamer who's not appreciated in Texas, and so takes a chance and moves to Hollywood, where he is successful despite being taken advantage of.  Harkham's art is beautiful and confident, and boasts some really amazing coloring.

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8. Cats at The Louvre
Taiyo Matsumoto

If you've seen the movie Cats, you may have flashbacks while reading this work by master manga artist Taiyo Matsumoto (GoGo Monster), as the cats that this book follows sometimes appear as cute fluffy animals, but are also rendered as anthropomorphic.  The paintings at The Louvre speak to some people (and cats), allowing them to walk into the paintings and live there.  A nightwatchman's sister vanished when she was a young girl, and he's been waiting to see her again ever since, even in old age.  It's kind of a creepy premise, and seeing this lovely art museum by night has an air of mystery and foreboding.  Matsumoto's cinematic, stunning artwork boasts some of the best pages of comics I've ever seen - really, you'll want to stop and just admire some of these pages.  And while some of the characters come across as kind of flat, the interesting dynamics and dream-like quality of this story overcome any shortcomings.

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7. Stonebreaker
Peter Wartman

I picked this all-ages fantasy comic up on a whim, and did not expect the incredible world-building and intriguing mysteries within.  Apparently, this is a sequel to the comic Over the Wall, but take it from me, that it isn't necessary to read that comic to enjoy this story, which sees a girl sneaking into a forbidden city, where giants walk the empty streets.  Wartman is a great cartoonist with a  fluid storytelling style that's perfect for an action-packed title such as this one.

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6. Blackbird
Sam Humphries and Jen Bartel

There's something very The Wicked + The Divine about this comic that sees a young woman caught between the human world and the unseen magical world that she's always known existed, but can not see.  The mystery is utterly compelling as we learn what's going on alongside the main character, and find her facing off against demonic creatures and magic-wielding cabals.  The characters have complicated motivations, and the art is lovely, especially when it's showcasing something magicky.  I had a lot of fun with this urban fantasy - in fact, I binged the first volume in one sitting.

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5. Mister Miracle
Tom King and Mitch Gerads

Mister Miracle is a trippy, dreamlike superhero comic that has the down-to-earth feel of Fraction and Aja's Hawkeye, paired with a sweeping epic story that spans a war with Darkseid, and a very messed-up family of gods.  It's gritty and messy with great pencils from Gerads that are at times unflinchingly brutal, super sexy (who knew Mister Miracle was such a babe?) and quiet and contemplative.

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4. House of X/Powers of X
Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia

New life is breathed into the X-Men at the skilled hands of Jonathan Hickman, who has a habit of making tired properties cool again (Fantastic Four, anyone?).  Declaring themselves a nation upon Krakoa and armed with plenty of surprises, the mutants have become formidable in a world that still hates them.  A story that gives glimpses into several different dark futures, the X-Men strive to build a strong foundation through a network of gates that all lead to an island sanctuary.  The standout issue is clearly House of X #2, with an inventive sci-fi idea that focuses around long-time X-Men ally Moira MacTaggert.  But after having my mind blown by that comic, I was still constantly amazed and surprised by this series.  It really is refreshing and innovative, and as the X-Men were my gateway into comics, I'm happy to see a new era begin for the powerhouses of the Marvel Universe.


3. The Poe Clan (Volume 1)
Moto Hagio

Originally published in Japan in the 70's, this classic shojo manga from master cartoonist Moto Hagio made its way stateside this year, courtesy of Fantagraphics Books.  The story follows a family of vampires, focusing on a pair of siblings who were turned at a young age, Edgar and Marybelle, and the trouble they have fitting in among humans.  As always, Hagio's pencils are elegant and soft, works of art in themselves.  Melodramatic, ethereal and full of aching mystery swirling just beneath the surface, this is a vampire tale for the ages.

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2. The River at Night
Kevin Huizenga

In The River at Night, Kevin Huizenga showcases how to use the comics medium to great effect, exploring themes of time and space and thought while his protagonist, Glenn Ganges, has trouble falling asleep.  Huizenga flexes his skills masterfully, one moment poignant and reflective, affectionate toward a loved one, while the next delving into the subconscious mind or flashing back in time to explore another theme in greater detail.  The whole book has this feeling of discovery and exploration that's exciting, even while it still retains that fuzzy, unfocused quality that Glenn feels as he struggles with his restlessness, willing sleep to claim him.

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1. Rusty Brown (Part One)
Chris Ware

Rusty Brown (Part One) is hands-down my favorite comic of the year.  Chris Ware is the real deal, and while this is only the first part of an epic story, detailing the life and trials of comic nerd Rusty Brown, it feels like an opus in the making.  At a glance, I always think of Ware's drawing style as a bit cold and detached, a little too calculating and controlled.  But once you actually start reading his stories, you get sucked in, and the warmth of those lines springs to life as your eyes devour the pages.  Rusty Brown is a pathetic little shit, but you can't help but feel sorry for him as you come to understand him more.  The layers of depth to Ware's characters, layers that the characters themselves don't even see, is mind-boggling.  That, along with Ware's impressive instincts for pacing, tell this story in the way only a master storyteller can.

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