The 14 Most Interesting Comics of September
Each month, we round up the most interesting comics, graphic novels, webcomics, digital comics, and comic-related Kickstarters that we think you should check out.
By Raina Telgemeier
One of the most anxiously awaited graphic novels of 2016 is from this decade’s biggest comics phenomenon, Raina Telgemeier. With two of her previous books, Drama and Smile, still on The New York Times Best Seller list for literally hundreds of weeks now, her newest book reads like a work from an artist who is not only at the top of her game but who has enough sales clout to try something a little different.
Ghosts is about two sisters, one of whom suffers from cystic fibrosis, whose family moves them to an oceanside town in Northern California where they hope the sea air will help young Maya’s troubled breathing. The older sister, Cat, is not happy about leaving her friends behind, but also worries a lot about Maya, especially when she learns that this new town is populated by ghosts who seem particularly drawn to her sister.
While Ghosts displays Telegemeier’s skill at writing family relationships and the types of knotty emotional strings that young girls try to unwind for themselves, it also leaves behind the autobiography of Smile and 2014’s Sisters, for a fictional story that deals with indigenous heritage and Día de Muertos celebrations. It’s a book that takes risks not only in depicting another culture but in daring to explore the subject of mortality in a thoughtful and uplifting way that will give younger readers something to ponder.
By Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas, and Tamra Bonvillain
Dark Horse Comics
Best-selling novelist Margaret Atwood’s first original graphic novel is the beginning of a three-volume all-ages series that is a throwback to the breezy, even bizarre, storytelling of early superhero comics. Its hero, Strig Feleedus, is a genetic engineer who, in the type of lab accident that is common in comics, becomes mutated into a cat/owl/human hybrid. The transformation introduces him to an underground world of cat/human hybrids who have names like Count Catula and sexy, potential love interest Cate Leone.
You might expect a high profile graphic novel by an internationally acclaimed novelist to sport highbrow aspirations akin to Maus or Persepolis, but Angel Catbird reads more like Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original Amazing Spider-Man run. It’s light, fast-paced, and abundantly weird with wonderfully fluid and expressive artwork by Johnnie Christmas and colorist Tamra Bonvillain. That said, it is also a comic with a message about the dangers that roaming, domestic cats pose to birds (there are even footnotes throughout the comic with factoids courtesy of catsandbirds.ca).
By Gerard Way, Nick Herrington, and Tamra Bonvillain
DC Comics/Young Animal
Back in the ‘90s, DC’s Vertigo imprint revolutionized comics through a weird and unique blend of superheroes, science fiction, and the supernatural with books like Sandman, Swamp Thing, and Doom Patrol. Spearheaded by editors such as Karen Berger and Shelly Bond, Vertigo introduced American readers to an influx of young British writers like Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, and Grant Morrison. These days, however, the line has divorced itself completely from its superhero roots, so when Gerard Way approached Bond with the idea of returning to those early days, it necessitated the start of a new imprint to be called Young Animal.
Way, the lead singer of the band My Chemical Romance and writer of the excellent Umbrella Academy comic for Dark Horse Comics, is very much influenced in style by Grant Morrison and is the perfect choice to kick things off with a relaunch of Doom Patrol. His cryptic, Morrisonian storytelling in this first issue – in which a burrito discarded by an EMT driver leads to the return of some familiar DP characters like Robotman – works particularly because of Herrington and Bonvillain’s pleasantly clear artwork, a departure from the loose and gritty art style you might remember from the ‘90s comics it gets its inspiration from.
By Luke Pearson
Luke Pearson’s series of Hilda books is celebrated in kid-lit art appreciation circles, but probably hasn’t yet achieved the mainstream bookstore recognition it deserves. That may change in 2018 when Netflix launches the animated Hilda show it is currently developing. In the meantime, the fifth book in the “Hildafolk” series brings a new adventure starring precocious, blue-haired Hilda who lives in Trolberg, a little town with a lot of fantastic things to explore: dimensional portals, giant trolls, sea monsters, and more. When Hilda’s mom grounds her in an effort to keep her from going off on all these crazy adventures, something goes terribly wrong and both Hilda and her mom end up lost in the dark and mysterious Stone Forest.
Hilda is such a smart, delightful and relatable character for adventurous young girls to read about. One of the most interesting aspect of all of Pearson's books, however, is Hilda’s relationship with her single mom and a big part of Hilda and the Stone Forest is the way moms and daughters navigate that balance between friendship and maternal authority.
Comics have historically treasured the milestone issue (“Giant-Sized 100th Issue Spectacular!”) but today, with the trend in comics being to constantly reset numbering to create more frequent and accessible #1 issues, we don’t hit a lot of milestones anymore. Long-running British weekly sci-fi anthology 2000 AD hits a big one this month, though, with their 2000th “prog,” a celebratory issue with a little something for readers new and old.
This 48-page comic reintroduces some of the most popular strips of the past 30 years like Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper, and also re-explains the overarching idea of 2000 AD – it’s actually an alien dispatch edited by Tharg the Mighty, and created by “script and art droids.” The droids for this issue happen to be some of the biggest names from 2000 AD history, including Brian Bolland (making a rare return to drawing sequential pages rather than covers) and Dave Gibbons (each draw one page interludes rather than full stories). A number of new stories are kicked off in this “prog” including Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill reuniting for a new Nemesis the Warlock story.
By Tom Gauld
Drawn & Quarterly
"Living on the moon . . . Whatever were we thinking? . . . It seems so silly now.” That quote, spoken by a couple heading back to Earth, sums up Tom Gauld’s droll new science fiction graphic novel set in the waning days of a now out-of-fashion lunar colony. The “mooncop" of the story patrols his district pointlessly—as no crimes have ever been committed—and watches as the colonists he’s meant to protect abandon the quiet colony one by one.
Gauld is a popular illustrator whose work is most often seen in The Guardian and The New Yorker but is also known for his previous comics work like 2012’s Goliath. His minimalist, cross-hatched drawings and dry, almost melancholic wit bring to mind the work of both Edward Gorey and Chris Ware.
By Drew Weing
Tough but diminutive Margo Maloo is a mediator who has an in with the monsters that live in Echo City. She’s there to ease grievances when disgruntled monsters lose their cool, steal toys or even eat someone. When Charles and his parents move to the city to restore a rundown tenement apartment, one of those monsters ends up in his closet, leading Charles to require Margo’s services. We soon learn these scary-looking monsters are really just scared themselves and hoping not to get displaced from their home by all these new people moving in.
Weing originally serialized Margo as a webcomic that has been well-regarded in the indie comics community, but this attractive hardcover printing will likely be a hit with the young reader audience it was made for.
By Nick Spencer, Steve Lieber, Ryan Hill, and Nic J. Shaw
While Nick Spencer has recently become somewhat infamous for his controversial run on Captain America, the comics he deserves the most notoriety for are his collaborations with artist Steve Lieber. The pair first worked together on Marvel’s Superior Foes of Spider-man, a hilarious romp featuring some low-rent costumed bad guys. Now they've teamed up for their own creation, one with a similar tone and sense of irreverence.
The Fix is a raunchy crime comedy that reads like an Elmore Leonard, Shane Black, and Chip Zdarsky collaboration. Its “heroes” are two crooked cops, Mac and Roy, who are willing to sink pretty low (robbing retirement homes, framing honest cops) in order to make some cash (and maybe sell a screenplay about their exploits along the way). The only thing keeping them from success is their psychotic, gluten-free, baby-bjorn-wearing boss Josh. And Pretzels, the police beagle, who knows something’s up. Oh, and their own sheer ineptitude. This is the funniest book of the year and its first five issues have just been collected in a trade paperback for less than $10.
9. Our Mother
By Luke Howard
Both Luke Howard and his mother began suffering from anxiety disorders at the same exact age, and he uses his new comic to process—sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly—his childhood memories of his mother’s struggles as well as his own. But Our Mother is not a sober rumination; instead, it is a funny, fast-paced romp through a variety of genres—noir, science fiction, sword and sorcery—that is not afraid to be nonsensical, ridiculous, or deeply personal. The book ends with a conversation between the author and his mom, depicted with cutout photos, and it is a wonderful and affecting coda that illuminates their relationship, adding a touching context to all the bits of story that come before it.
10. Kill Them All
By Kyle Starks
Kyle Starks came out of nowhere in 2014 with a Kickstarter for a book called Sexcastle, a hilarious send-up of ‘80s action movies, which has since been optioned by Fox and the Russo Brothers (Captain America: Civil War). Now, Starks is back with another Kickstarter and a new action movie satire. This time it’s Die Hard meets Kill Bill, as a hardened ex-cop and a ruthless female assassin must shoot and slice their way up a skyscraper filled with lethal killers. Starks has a knack for the so-dumb-they’re-smart one-liners ("You’re going to knock them dead, girl"/"That’s the plan") that both satirize and lovingly embrace the cliches of brainless shoot-em-ups.
The Kill Them All Kickstarter has already reached its goal and is now adding some nice stretch goals for those who still want in.
11. Hadrian’s Wall
By Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis
The mysterious death of an astronaut sends pill-popping private investigator Simon Moore to a space station where the alleged “accident” occurred so that he can give the corporation a rubber stamp on the official cause of death. Moore is not so quick to fall in line, though, and the fact that the deceased was married to his ex-wife makes his presence there complicated.
In addition to being an outer space murder mystery, Hadrian’s Wall is also a socio-political thriller, set 100 years in the future after the U.S. and USSR nuked each other in 1985, only to then join forces, rebuild society and colonize space. Higgins, Siegel, and Reis previously dabbled in alternate history on C.O.W.L., their ‘60s-era comic about unionized superheroes. This time out, Reis slightly shifts the style of his artwork—reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz, Phil Noto, and movie poster pioneer Bob Peak—from the ‘60s influence he used in C.O.W.L. to an ‘80s-tinged futuristic look.
12. On a Sunbeam
By Tillie Walden
At this month’s Small Press Expo, Tillie Walden was a double winner at the prestigious Ignatz Awards. She took home awards for Outstanding Artist and Most Promising New Talent for her first two comics, The End of Summer and I Love This Part. Not one to rest while she’s ahead, Walden is serializing her newest comic online beginning September 28 and, being as prolific as she is, she’ll add 20-40 page chapters every Wednesday.
On a Sunbeam takes place in outer space but is full of the beautiful architecture and touching scenes of young love that might be considered the DNA of Walden’s style at this point in her career. The comic will jump between two stories, both about a girl named Mia, but showing her at two different stages in her life: one as she begins a job restoring old buildings in space and the other as a teenager in boarding school (which is also in space). As the Ignatz Awards have recognized, Walden is an exciting new voice in comics who has a long career (likely full of a LOT of comics) ahead of her.
By Ben Katchor
Drawn & Quarterly
Comics and nostalgia have a long history together, but Ben Katchor’s comics dabble in a form of nostalgia that is part imagined, part a grand testament to how our world is constantly changing around us. Katchor’s Julius Knipl is a “real estate photographer” who roams a slightly fictionalized New York City and documents the hidden and forgotten histories of the architecture and small businesses that reside within the buildings. Knipl waxes poetically about freshly delivered telephone books, piano movers, and rubber band salesmen.
New York City has always been the nexus of urban progress and historic preservation, and therefore it makes the perfect setting for Katchor’s nostalgia for an imagined history whose remnants can still be seen if you know where to look. Cheap Novelties is the latest collection of “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer” strips which have run in Raw Magazine, The Jewish Daily Forward, and other publications since the 1990s.
14. Cat Rackham
By Steve Wolfhard
On the surface, Wolfhard’s cute comic looks like it would be an all-ages funny animal strip, but in actuality it is a quiet (yet still often funny) rumination on anxiety and depression. Cat Rackham is a wide-eyed, big-headed, scruffy looking cat who suffers from bouts of existential ennui. In one comic, he can’t get to sleep because of the sound of his own beating heart. In another, he can’t seem to get out of bed (the forest ground) as we watch the seasons pass around him. Cute and wonderfully illustrated, Wolfhard manages to portray aspects of depression that will hit home with some readers more than a realistic depiction may have done.
Wolfhard, one of the artists behind the scenes on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, has published Cat Rackham as a webcomic for a number of years. This book from Koyama Press collects all of his strips in one edition.