The 13 Most Interesting Comics of July

Rich Barrett

Each month, we’ll round up the most interesting comics, graphic novels, manga, webcomics, digital comics and comic-related Kickstarters that we think you should check out.

1. Spidey Zine

By Hannah Blumenreich

The best Spider-man comic you’ll read this year isn’t even published by Marvel. Hannah Blumenreich has made a PDF you can download for free (or any price you’d like to pay, but she smartly avoids Disney lawyers by not trying to turn a profit). The comic consists of a series of vignettes portraying Peter Parker as a lovably geeky teen who watches Gilmore Girls with his Aunt May and is horrible at basketball when challenged by a couple of teenage girls. This is a Spidey who helps people because that’s what he does, but he’ll also chew your ear off about Cowboy Bebop for hours if you’ll let him.

The comics in this short collection are loosely drawn and initially call to mind Kate Beaton’s snarky modern jabs at superheroes but Blumenreich’s focus soon points to the relationship between Peter and Aunt May and it brings the finest, most touching context to it that we’ve seen in a long time.

2. Sick

By Gabby Schulz
Secret Acres

Gabby Schulz has a penchant for exploring stomach-churning health issues that no one else wants to talk about. He did this with his award-winning graphic novel about oral herpes, Monsters, and now his latest book, Sick, starts with the author suffering a more severe but unknowable malady that has him doubled over in pain and disoriented by disturbing fever dreams. His problem is magnified by his lack of income and health insurance, and the helplessness of being sick is eating away at his entire sense of self. Schulz uses the book to explore topics as broad as class inequity in the United States and as specific and personal as his own psyche.

You may have seen Sick online when it was first serialized a couple of years ago, but in this new edition, Schulz seems to have repainted the artwork to give it a more rich and visceral feel. He is probably the most inventive cartoonist working in comics that many readers still have never heard of, and this is his most masterful piece of cartooning to date.

3. Faith Vol. 1: Hollywood and Vine // Faith (ongoing) #1

By Jody Houser, Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage
Valiant Comics

Faith Herbert is unique to comics in many ways. Not only is her plus-size body-type unlike the statuesque swimsuit models you normally see in superheroes but her upbeat personality is a breath of fresh air amidst the grim seriousness of even other comics in Valiant’s lineup. As the superhero Zephyr (an irrelevant codename as even her own comic uses her proper first name), Faith makes up for what she lacks in interesting powers with an enthusiasm to do the right thing. She derives her sense of purpose from geek culture like comic books and Joss Whedon films and even invents a secret identity for herself, getting a job made for a modern-day Clark Kent – writing listicles for a pop culture blog.

The original four-issue mini-series in which Faith starts a new life in Los Angeles is now collected in a trade paperback edition leading up to the first issue in her new ongoing series, also out this month. Jody Houser writes both series, with Francis Portela drawing the mini and Pere Perez the ongoing. A selling feature of both the mini and the ongoing are that each contain frequent fantasy sequences drawn by the excellent Marguerite Sauvage (DC Bombshells).

4. Kim & Kim #1

By Magdalene Visaggio, Eva Cabrera and Claudia Aguirre
Black Mask Studios 

New publisher Black Mask Studios has been on a roll, launching edgy and unusual new books like Young Terrorists and 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank to much acclaim. Their latest is going to be another hit. Kim & Kim is a stylish, sci-fi action/comedy about two best friends who get into the bounty hunting game (partly to piss off their dads/partly to have fun). The newcomer creative team brings a colorful and witty approach that blends cute, animation-friendly artwork with a Quentin Tarantino-like knack for using compelling, off-the-cuff dialogue to break up the action. The series features queer and trans characters in a matter-of-fact way, showing exactly how to write and portray positive LGBTQ characters without making a big deal about it.

5. Jughead Vol. 1

By Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson
Archie Comics 

Archie Comics has managed to get some of the hottest creators in mainstream comics to help “reimagine” their popular characters in order to appeal to more modern audiences. Snagging Chip Zdarsky—one half of Image Comics' Sex Criminals team—to write a Jughead solo series couldn’t be more perfect as Zdarsky’s hilariously unabashed online persona embodies many of Jughead's absurd, individualist proclivities. To add to that, they also managed to get artist Erica Henderson, whose star is on the rise thanks to her work on Marvel’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. The first trade paperback for Jughead hits stores this month, and it contains some laugh-out-loud funny comics which jump between Jughead’s struggles with the new principal and his ridiculous dreams (in one he's a time traveler, in another he's a secret agent).

This month also sees the beginning of a new Betty & Veronica series written and drawn by popular “good girl” pinup artist Adam Hughes.

6. Summer Vacation

By Lauren Weinstein
The Guardian 

As a parent who is literally writing this column while away on summer vacation, I can certainly relate to Lauren Weinstein’s obsession over what her daughter will remember and what she won't of their own vacation as time goes on. In this short webcomic for The Guardian, she explores the transient nature of memory which tends to drop all but a few early childhood memories, which can be disheartening to parents when they think about it. Even in the moment, Weinstein finds that children latch onto different things than their parents, like the wonder of swimming in a lake with horses vs. a different kind of wonder of seeing one of those horses poop.

7. Monstress Vol. 1: Awakening

By Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Image Comics 

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda have designed an epic fantasy world in their new series Monstress—a steampunk 19th century Asia full of cute animal/children hybrids, talking cats and Lovecraftian monstrosities in which women have all the power and men barely even factor into the story. A young slave named Maika, whose life was torn apart by a past great war, is harboring a monster within herself that has awesome and destructive power making her a useful, strategic object to be sought after, but she is struggling to keep it from taking over her entire being.

Sana Takeda is a Japanese artist with some Marvel books under her belt, but her gothic, art deco stylization in this book is stunning to behold and takes her to an exciting new level in her career. The first trade paperback collecting the series’s first 6 issues hits stores this month, but this complex epic with its harsh violence and political machinations that put it on a Game of Thrones level is only getting started.

8. Einstein

By Corinne Maier and Anne Simon
Nobrow Press 

One of my favorite graphic novels of 2013 was Freud, Corinne Maier and Anne Simon’s biography of Sigmund Freud. The third book in their biographical series (which includes one about Karl Marx) tells about the life and works of the most famous scientist ever, Albert Einstein. Their approach to these books is lighthearted and humorous with the subject often breaking the fourth wall to tell their own life story, but the book is dense with facts and a great introduction to these historical figures and their achievements. Maier, a psychoanalyst turned author, brings a deep level of research while Simon, a French cartoonist with a whimsical band dessinée style, brings clever visualizations of Einstein’s scientific equations and an appropriately radioactive color palette.

9. The Experts

By Sophie Franz
Retrofit Comics 

The Experts is a creepy mystery set at sea in which three scientists investigate the existence of human-like sea creatures and begin to lose touch with reality. This short little comic is the first release by newcomer Sophie Franz who I guarantee is going to be a major indie comics star very soon. The rich and detailed sketchbook pages and tiny little oil paintings on her Tumblr are proof enough that she is a major artistic talent, but in this comic her crisp inking, smart use of color, and wonderful gestural drawings show a surprisingly accomplished start to an exciting career.

10. Snotgirl #1

By Bryan Lee O’Malley, Leslie Hung and Mickey Quinn
Image Comics 

Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley is launching his first ever monthly comic, Snotgirl, a dark comedy about the fashion industry set in Los Angeles (O’Malley’s new hometown). It is the first book he is publishing through mainstream creator-friendly publisher Image Comics and it is also the first that he is not drawing himself. The art is by newcomer Leslie Hung, who, like O’Malley, is heavily influenced by manga. Her style, though, leans more towards drawings of pretty girls which fits this story about a green-haired fashion blogger named Lottie who is challenged by allergies and low self-esteem. When Lottie makes a new BFF who decides to give her the unfortunate nickname “Snotgirl,” things take a dark and weird turn.

11. Time Clock

By Leslie Stein

The third volume of Leslie Stein’s series of semi-autobiographical comics, Eye of the Majestic Creature, sees Larrybear—her saucer-eyed stand-in—working at a restaurant in Brooklyn while struggling with making art and an escalating alcohol problem. As in past volumes, she’s accompanied by her friend Marshmallow, a talking guitar who’s recently gotten into baking pies. Time Clock is part stoner comedy, part artist’s self-examination, containing as many laughs as it does thoughtful musings. While the comics contained here are done in a crisp black and white style reminiscent of Jim Woodring, not the minimalist watercolor style Stein has been honing in recent works, they show off a technical prowess that stands out from a lot of the rough, lo-fi work that is popular in indie comics now.  

12. DC Superhero Girls: Final Crisis

By Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat
DC Comics 

DC Comics has gotten a lot of flak over the years for their grim superheroes that tend to not be too female-reader friendly. While they’re making efforts to correct this, one thing they don’t get enough credit for is the quality of their offerings for young readers. With DC Superhero Girls, they have a new all-ages series that capitalizes on their deep bench of colorful female characters. Set in “Superhero High,” it’s a familiar attempt to bottle that Harry Potter academia magic with students learning how to be proper superheroes, and it not only features super heroine regulars like Wonder Woman and Supergirl but also Harley Quinn, Katana, Batgirl, Poison Ivy and more—all as teenagers struggling with both finals and a mysterious villain. It’s a light read with cute, kid-friendly artwork that will introduce many young readers—particularly girls—to the many female characters populating the DC Universe (there are boy characters too like Flash and Green Lantern, but they very much take a back seat). As a bonus, fans of the Teen Titans Go cartoon will appreciate that Starfire and Beast Boy appear here and “sound” just like they do in that show.

This book arrives in an affordable trade paperback format and ties in perfectly with a new line of Barbie-sized dolls and a series of five minute shorts produced for YouTube.

13. Wandering Island Vol. 1

By Kenji Tsuruta
Dark Horse Comics 

Wandering Island, originally serialized in Japanese in 2010, is the first new English translation release from Kenji Tsuruta (Spirit of Wonder) in 20 years. It’s a breezy, adventure that is light on plot (the mysteriously drifting titular island only makes a brief appearance before disappearing again in this volume) but every page is a work of art. Tsuruta’s work is intricate and full of well-observed details as you can see in this extensive preview. He takes his time setting the mood throughout the book with beautiful, wordless images, many of which tend to linger on its pretty, often scantily-clad heroine, Mikura, a young pilot looking to complete her grandfather’s work of finding this mysterious North Pacific island.