We asked our contributors to share the best comic book, graphic novel, or webcomic they read from July through September, and can we just say: your comics TBR won’t know what hit it! We have sci-fi dystopia and superhero origin stories; shoujo manga and memoir; and a middle grade graphic novel with a heroine named Garlic who confronts the village vampire! There’s something here for comics readers of all stripes, so dive right in and enjoy!
The Crystal Kingdom (The Adventure Zone #4) by Carey Pietsch, Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Travis McElroy, and Justin McElroy
The Adventure Zone graphic novels are reliable sources of joy for me. Despite only playing D&D a handful of times, I love comics based on it, and these just improve on the source material. There’s a ton of ridiculous humour, but also a meaty plot with an arc for each volume. The best part, though, is the stunning artwork. There’s always so much to stop and look at on every page. Bonus: this volume is the gayest yet. Carey/Killian are the power sapphic dragonborn/orc couple of my dreams, and we get to meet Kravitz this volume, Taako’s love interest — who is also Death. Amazing.
Eat the Rich #1 by Sarah Gailey, Pius Bak, Roman Titov, and Cardinal Rae
I usually wait for the first full volume of a comic to be released before reading it. Single issues — particularly first issues — are so short there’s only so much you can glean from them. But when I saw one of my favorite writers, Sarah Gailey, was writing a comic, I knew I wouldn’t have the patience to wait. And the first issue of Eat the Rich packs a surprising punch in 26 short pages. The college girlfriend of an uber-rich east coaster returns to his family home for the summer, struggling to learn all the unspoken rules of their lavish lifestyle. But there’s one aspect of life among the elite she never could’ve anticipated. Let’s just say, the title is there for a reason.
Final Fantasy: Lost Stranger, Vol. 1 by Hazuki Minase and Itsuki Kameya
This one intrigued me right away because I have so much nostalgia for Final Fantasy, especially Final Fantasy IX (my all-time favorite). I think I’ll forever have a fictional crush on Zidane. Growing up I used to watch my brothers play Final Fantasy VII–X on our PlayStation, and I fell in love with everything about the games, from the endearing and charismatic characters to the epic storylines, steampunk worlds, visuals, and game music. The plot of this manga by Hazuki Minase is quite fun, though be forewarned, there’s some heartbreak in it too. Shogo Sasaki and his sister Yuko both work for Square Enix (dream jobs, am I right?) and aspire to one day create their own Final Fantasy game together. Everything changes in an instant though, when the two get involved in an accident and wake up in none other than the world of Final Fantasy itself.
Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen
I don’t read a lot of middle grade, but the premise for this one just looked so cozy and fun. And it was! Garlic is something of a homebody and prefers to tend to her garden where she feels safe. But when a vampire moves into a castle uncomfortably close to her village, she summons the courage to confront him.
Hellblazer: Original Sins, Vol 1 by Jamie Delano and John Ridgway
After listening to some of the amazing The Sandman radio play, I had a hankering to read some John Constantine. I started at the beginning. There are parts that DO NOT hold up well and are definitely products of their time and (now old) white men at the helm, but there are parts that are brilliant. The antihero is so painfully flawed, the writing is lyrical at times and borrows liberally from pulp detective novels. Even through occasional cringes, I’m having a grand time reading it.
—Chris M. Arnone
In the Clear Moonlit Dusk Vol. 1 by Mika Yamamori and Viet Phuong Vu, translated by Jessica Latherow
A tale of two princes in high school! Well, figurative princes anyway. One is a girl who looks and acts like a prince out of a shoujo manga. The other is a guy who looks like he stepped out of a magazine and comes from an ultra-rich background. What happens when they meet and sparks fly? The characters are charming and their interactions are great. After years of being overlooked, our princely heroine finds herself the object of a boy’s affections. The basic premise is familiar, but the details make it fresh and new.
In. by Will McPhail
My spatially challenged brain was able to follow this graphic novel, which does not happen often. McPhail offers intriguing characters in quiet spaces. He somehow makes city life quiet and subtle. Then, towards the end, I punched this book while muttering “stupid book” through tears because it made me cry.
—Christina M. Rau
Lumberjanes Vol 18: Horticultural Horizons by Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Kanesha C. Bryant, Julia Madrigal, Maarta Laiho, and Aubrey Aiese
When it comes to the Lumberjanes series, it was love at first sight. Now that I’m approaching 20 TPBs (trade paperbacks), a handful of OGNs (original graphic novels), and even a crossover graphic novel, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t love every installment. Yet there are some that really shine. The 18th TPB in the series is one of those superstars. In this arc, our fearless Lumberjanes are spending the day with the enigmatic Rosie, the director of the camp, when they come up against a troublesome creeping vine. Then Rosie’s bestie from long ago shows up and, as they tackle their problem, we’re also given a gratifying glimpse into the camp’s past. I especially loved the contrast between the artwork used for the present-day story and the narrative about the camp’s history. Mad props to Bryant and Madrigal.
The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp & Manuel Preitano
Even though I’m not typically a fan of superhero comics, I was riveted by this YA graphic mystery about Barbara Gordon’s origins as Oracle. When Barbara is shot, she becomes paralyzed and now uses a wheelchair. To help her become accustomed to the wheelchair and her new life as a disabled person, Barbara enters the Arkham Center for Independence. Almost immediately, she senses something wrong, and when a patient goes missing — a patient with horrific fairytales she told Barbara at night — Barbara begins to investigate. I loved the disabled representation in this, as well as the searing glimpse into ableism from a disabled perspective. This is such a clever and engrossing read.
Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq (Amulet Books, November 2021)
This graphic novel is truly one of the best books I’ve read this year. It follows 13-year-old Nisrin who is the victim of a horrible hate crime. As she recovers from her trauma, Nisrin also learns more about Islam, her family’s complicated past with religion, and the history of the country her family comes from: Bangladesh. Piece by Piece is at once a moving story of a young girl navigating the world around her, and a powerful exploration of multigenerational trauma.
Poison Ivy: Thorns by Kody Keplinger
Featuring the story of Poison Ivy as a teen, this graphic novel is a great one for teens. In the comic, Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy) is secretive, withdrawn and doesn’t let anyone into her life. Plus, she deeply cares for her plants. She mostly doesn’t trust men, so she hides. Until one day she meets a girl by the name of Alice Oh, who she just might consider letting into her life. Only, dark family secrets might stop her from doing so. This was an enjoyable read with themes of love, family, friendship and secrets that I truly love.
—Aurora Lydia Dominguez
Batman: Urban Legends #4-6: “Sum of Our Parts” by Meghan Fitzmartin and Belen Ortega
If you follow superhero comics, you probably already know this is the story that ends with Tim Drake, AKA the third Robin, AKA Red Robin/Drake/current superhero identity TBD, coming out as queer. The Batfamily has become so sprawling that an anthology book like Urban Legends is a great idea, giving DC a chance to highlight as many characters as possible, and though some segments of the book haven’t been quite to my taste, I’ve found something to love in every issue so far. But the highlight has been this long-awaited story, told with thoughtfulness and care by Fitzmartin and Ortega — and my goodness, has Tim ever looked this stinkin’ cute? I can’t wait for more of both Tim’s story (returning to Urban Legends in December!), and whatever Fitzmartin and Ortega do next.
The Sacrifice of Darkness by Roxane Gay, Tracy Lynne Oliver, Rebecca Kirby, and James Fenner
The Sacrifice of Darkness follows two generations of families. One who caused the darkness, and the ones who live in it. This is a beautifully written sci-fi dystopia about what happens when something that seems world ending doesn’t actually end the world. I knew nothing about it when I picked it up, but I’m so glad I did. I finished it in one sitting. The pacing, the worldbuilding, the narrative structure, all of it felt both familiar, but new and engaging. I think this is a great story for those who love speculative fiction but want something that doesn’t rely on physical violence to communicate the dystopian nature of the world. I now count this in my top ten favorite graphic novels!
Two-Week Wait: An IVF Story by Luke C. Jackson, Kelly Jackson, and Mara Wild
In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is a notoriously difficult process. In this novel inspired by the Jacksons’ own experiences, Joanne and her husband Conrad embark on an IVF journey after she receives an endometriosis diagnosis that makes it unlikely she’ll get pregnant without assistance. The book reveals the brutal, painful process, from its rushes of hopes followed by deep disappointments, to its financial pressures, to the unequal emotional and physical weight that lands on the person who will be carrying a child. Their marriage almost breaks under the strain. Two-Week Wait, illustrated in muted blues and peaches, is a fantastic and honest depiction of what it’s like to try and have a child.
—Leah Rachel von Essen
This Is How I Disappear by Mirion Malle, Translated by Aleshia Jensen and Bronwyn Haslam (Drawn & Quarterly, October 2021).
Clara is really trying her best, even if her friends think she could be trying harder. That’s the trap of depression: you can do everything to maintain your life, keep working, going through the motions, but the bottom still falls out. I related so deeply to Clara’s difficulties talking to her friends about what she was going through, but ultimately pulling away from them because she felt like she was bumming them out. Their advice to find a therapist and take time off isn’t necessarily wrong, but Clara just has too much going on to stop everything. Clara is also a writer with no time to write because her part-time job keeps creeping into her off-hours, which is such a relatable experience for young, flexibly employed people who have to make ends meet. The pages of Clara sitting in bed, researching how to deal, are particularly evocative.
The Way Of The Househusband, Vol 2 by Kousuke Oono
Pre-pandemic I couldn’t really tell you what manga exactly was. Now I love it, thanks to starting this series. It’s hilarious in this ridiculous and smart way where a former yakuza has turned his back on gang life and instead is now a househusband. But can you really turn your back on your previous way of life? In Tatsu’s case he brings all the intensity he used and puts it into grocery shopping, house cleaning, and helping his wife.
Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero by E. Lockhart, Manuel Preitano, Gabby Metzler, and Troy Peteri
I love this new superhero coming out of DC. I’ve been looking for a superhero to adore after Squirrel Girl ended and this fits the bill. Willow Zimmerman, AKA Whistle, is a young Jewish woman who wants to change the world. She works at an animal shelter and she’s befriended a stray Great Dane named Lebowitz. But her mother is sick with cancer and their health insurance (or lack thereof) isn’t cutting it. Willow gets a lucrative job helping to arrange underground poker games but soon realizes that there’s more to the gatherings and the people she works for than meets the eye. After an unexpected encounter, she discovers she has superpowers along with her sidekick The Hound, and tries to use her newfound powers to save her neighborhood. I can’t wait for y’all to read this and more adventures in Whistle’s world.
Zebedee and the Valentines by Abs Bailey
This slim comic is a riot of color and whimsy, about a small-time punk band on the move in ‘80s England. The aesthetic is sort of like Edgar Wright meets Tim Burton meets Jim Henson meets Lisa Frank…in a good way. After reading the digital version, I saved one page as my phone wallpaper, and printed another page to pin to the wall. These panels are instant mood-brighteners.