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21 Comic Books And Graphic Novels To Add To Your Reading List In 2021

Decorum by Image Comics

As with many folks, my 2020 was spent primarily at home in pandemic quarantine. A blur of endless Microsoft Teams meetings, Zoom calls, and getting to know my family maybe just a bit too much! In typical years, I read a mix of novels, non-fiction and comics. But in 2020, I found it extremely hard to commit to long-form prose, so I really dug into comics and graphic novels.

There are so many excellent folks working in the comics medium these days, including the young artists who took part in MoPOP's Write Out of This World: Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story and Comic Contest this past year. As 2021 begins, I’d like to share a list of 21 comics I loved reading—and that you may have missed—in 2020. Enjoy!

P.S. You’ll find no superhero comics on this list. It’s a fault of mine, I know. I’m working on it!


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

  • Publisher: ShortBox, 2020
  • Synopsis: Two lovers get separated on a night out in a parallel dimension. A ship that runs on memories malfunctions in the dead of space. A giant prophesied to wake from its centuries-long slumber beneath the sea. A stunning triptych collection of stories on love, loss, longing, and connection, from rising comics superstar, Rosemary Valero O-Connell.

Pulp by Ed Brubaker (writer) and Sean Phillips (artist)

  • Publisher: Image Comics, 2020
  • SynopsisA gorgeous original graphic novel from the bestselling creators of KILL OR BE KILLED, MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES, and CRIMINAL. Max Winters, a pulp writer in 1930s New York, finds himself drawn into a story not unlike the tales he churns out at five cents a word—tales of a Wild West outlaw dispensing justice with a six-gun. But will Max be able to do the same when pursued by bank robbers, Nazi spies, and enemies from his past? 

Eight-Lane Runaways by Henry McCausland

  • Publisher: Fantagraphics, 2020
  • Synopsis: Right from the starting block, you’ll realize that Eight-Lane Runaways is not like any graphic novel you’ve read before. As you’re thrown into a fantastical world of endless tracks, you meet a team of young people briskly attempting to complete their calling, whether it be finding their lost cats, earning one last self-made merit badge, or flying a kite to the moon. Henry McCausland combines elaborate landscapes, line work imbued with thrilling kinetic energy, and a laugh-out-loud idiosyncratic sense of humor to this playful adventure — which can be read both as a fever pitch surrealistic take on the Olympic Games and a touching allegory on what it takes to help one another achieve our goals.

Dracula, Motherf*cker! by Alex de Campi (writer) and Erica Henderson (artist)

  • Publisher: Image Comics, 2020
  • SynopsisVienna, 1889: Dracula’s brides nail him to the bottom of his coffin. Los Angeles, 1974: an aging starlet decides to raise the stakes. Crime scene photographer Quincy Harker is the only man who knows it happened, but will anyone believe him before he gets his own chalk outline? And are Dracula’s three brides there to help him...or use him as bait?

When I Arrived at the Castle by Emily Carroll

  • Publisher: Koyama Press, 2019
  • SynopsisLike many before her that have never come back, she’s made it to the Countess’ castle determined to snuff out the horror, but she could never be prepared for what hides within its turrets; what unfurls under its fluttering flags. Emily Carroll has fashioned a rich gothic horror charged with eroticism that doesn’t just make your skin crawl, it crawls into it.

Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire (writer) and Andrea Sorrentino (artist)

  • Publisher: Image Comics, 2018-2020
  • SynopsisA brand-new ongoing series from the acclaimed bestselling creative team of Old Man Logan and Green Arrow! The lives of a reclusive young man obsessed with a conspiracy in the city's trash, and a washed-up Catholic priest arriving in a small town full of dark secrets, become intertwined around the mysterious legend of The Black Barn, an otherworldly building that is alleged to have appeared in both the city and the small town, throughout history, bringing death and madness in its wake. Rural mystery and urban horror collide in this character-driven meditation on obsession, mental illness, and faith.

Grafity’s Wall by Ram V (writer) and Anand R.K. (artist)

  • Publisher: Dark Horse, 2020
  • SynopsisA coming-of-age graphic novel about rebellion, ambition, self-expression, and acceptance, expertly painted against the backdrop of Mumbai's ever-changing and evolving street culture. Giving brief glimpses into the incandescent lives of four teens chasing their dreams impeded and inspired by the impossible city that they live in.

Tartarus by Johnnie Christmas (writer), Jack T. Cole (artist) and Andrew Krahnke (artist)

  • Publisher: Image Comics, 2020-present
  • SynopsisPromising young cadet Tilde is framed for crimes against the empire after discovering her mother was the ruthless warlord of the deadly colony Tartarus, a vital player in the galactic war. Now, Tilde’s only way home may be to reclaim her mother’s dark crown.

BTTM FDRS by Ezra Claytan Daniels (writer) and Ben Passmore (artist)

  • Publisher: Fantagraphics, 2019
  • SynopsisOnce a thriving working class neighborhood on Chicago's south side, the "Bottomyards" is now the definition of urban blight. When an aspiring fashion designer named Darla and her image-obsessed friend, Cynthia, descend upon the neighborhood in search of cheap rent, they soon discover something far more seductive and sinister lurking behind the walls of their new home. Like a cross between Jordan Peele's Get Out and John Carpenter's The Thing, Daniels and Passmore's BTTM FDRS (pronounced "bottomfeeders") offers a vision of horror that is gross and gory in all the right ways. At turns funny, scary, and thought provoking, it unflinchingly confronts the monsters—both metaphoric and real—that are displacing cultures in urban neighborhoods today.

DIE by Kieron Gillen (writer) and Stephanie Hans (artist)

  • Publisher: Image Comics, 2018-present
  • SynopsisTHE WICKED + THE DIVINE writer KIERON GILLEN teams up with artist supernova STEPHANIE HANS (THE WICKED + THE DIVINE 1831, Journey Into Mystery) for her first ongoing comic! DIE is a pitch-black fantasy where a group of forty-something adults have to deal with the returning unearthly horror they barely survived as teenage role-players. If Kieron’s in a rush, he describes it as “Goth Jumanji.” That only captures a sliver of what you’ll find in oversized debut issue—where fantasy gets all too real.

A Gift for a Ghost by Borja González

  • Publisher: Abrams ComicArts, 2020
  • SynopsisIn Borja González’s stunning graphic novel, two parallel stories reflect and intertwine in a tale of youthful dreams and desires. In 1856, Teresa, a young aristocrat, is more interested in writing avantgarde horror poetry than making a suitable marriage. In 2016, three teenage girls, Gloria, Laura, and Cristina, want to start a punk band called the Black Holes. They have everything they need: attitude, looks, instinct . . . and an alarming lack of musical talent. They’ve barely started rehearsing when strange things begin to happen. As their world and Teresa’s intersect, they’re haunted by the echo of something that happened 160 years ago.

Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV (writer) and Werther Dell’Edera (artist)

  • Publisher: BOOM! Studios, 2019-present
  • Synopsis: GLAAD Award-winning writer James Tynion IV (Justice League, Batman: Detective Comics) teams with artist Werther Dell’Edera (Briggs Land) for an all-new limited series about staring into the abyss to find your worst fears staring back. When the children of Archer’s Peak begin to go missing, everything seems hopeless. Most children never return, but the ones that do have terrible stories—impossible stories of terrifying creatures that live in the shadows. Their only hope of finding and eliminating the threat is the arrival of a mysterious stranger, one who believes the children and claims to see what they can see. Her name is Erica Slaughter. She kills monsters. That is all she does, and she bears the cost because it MUST be done.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist by Adrian Tomine

  • Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly, 2020
  • SynopsisWhat happens when a childhood hobby grows into a lifelong career? The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, Adrian Tomine's funniest and most revealing foray into autobiography, offers an array of unexpected answers. When a sudden medical incident lands Tomine in the emergency room, he begins to question if it was really all worthwhile: despite the accolades and opportunities of a seemingly charmed career, it's the gaffes, humiliations, slights, and insults he's experienced (or caused) within the industry that loom largest in his memory.

Decorum by Jonathan Hickman (writer) and Mike Huddleston (artist)

  • Publisher: Image Comics, 2020-present
  • SynopsisThere are many assassins in the known universe. This is the story of the most well-mannered one. “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what knife you use.”

Black Badge by Matt Kindt (writer) and Tyler Jenkins (artist)

  • Publisher: BOOM! Studios, 2019-2020
  • Synopsis: Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins, the Eisner Award-nominated team behind Grass Kings, reunite for a new ongoing series about a top-secret, elite branch of boy scouts tasked by the government to take on covert missions. Among their organization, the Black Badges are the elite; the best of the best. They are feared even by the other badges. The missions they take are dangerous, and they will only get worse as their leader’s attention is split between their mission and tracking down a lost team member. A member who disappeared years ago, presumed dead. A haunting look at foreign policy, culture wars and isolationism through the lens of kids who know they must fix the world that adults have broken.

Black Stars Above

Black Stars Above by Lonnie Nadler (writer) and Jenna Cha (artist)

  • Publisher: Vault Comics, 2019-2020
  • SynopsisA young fur trapper flees her overbearing family only to get lost in a dreamlike winter wilderness that harbours a cosmic threat. The year is 1887 and a storm brews. Eulalie Dubois has spent her entire life tending to her family's trapline, isolated from the world. A chance at freedom comes in the form of a parcel that needs delivering to a nameless town north of the wilderness. Little does Eulalie know, something sinister hides in those woods and it yearns for what she carries. A chilling historical cosmic horror tale of survival from the deranged minds of Lonnie Nadler (The Dregs, Marvelous X-Men) and debut artist Jenna Cha.

New World by David Jesus Vignolli

  • Publisher: Archaia/BOOM! Studios, 2019
  • SynopsisNew World weaves the stories of three characters from unique backgrounds.an indigenous warrior seeking revenge against those who invaded her land, an African musician fighting for freedom against those who enslaved him, and a Portuguese sailor in search of redemption.who come together on a heroic quest to free the world from an encroaching darkness. Written and illustrated by David Jesus Vignolli ( A Girl in the Himalayas ), New World intertwines the cultures of his personal heritage to explore the European discovery of the Americas with a vibrant blend of fantasy and history.

Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

  • Publisher: First Second, 2019
  • SynopsisBea is on the run. And then, she runs into Lou. This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak—and a startling revelation about sexual assault—culminating in an exquisite example of human connection. This magical realistic adventure from the celebrated comics creator of Spinning and On a Sunbeam will stay with readers long after the final gorgeously illustrated page.

Monstress

Monstress by Marjorie Liu (writer) and Sana Takeda (artist)

  • Publisher: Image Comics, 2015-present
  • Synopsis: Steampunk meets Kaiju in this original fantasy epic for mature readers, as young Maika risks everything to control her psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, placing her in the center of a devastating war between human and otherworldly forces.

I Want You by Lisa Hanawalt

  • Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly, 2020
  • SynopsisThe stars here are She-Moose, who we join sex-toy shopping, and He-Horse, who we learn mid-flight suffers from ornithophobia. The true star of I Want You may just be Hanawalt’s hilarious command of the graphic listicle. “Top Causes of Freeway Accidents” is a prescient pre-BoJack display of Hanawalt’s love for all things equine. “Things We Are Sorry We Did Last Night” includes the murder of all Hanawalt's Google doppelgängers. Whether she’s discussing the daily commute or masturbation, she packs each comic in I Want You with punchy cultural observations and sharp-witted reflections on typically taboo subjects. A master humorist and cartoonist, Hanawalt strikes the perfect balance of drawing the gorgeous and the repugnant, the fantastical and the lifelike, the bizarre and the hilarious–creating a deeply human experience that everyone can relate to.

Bitter Root

Bitter Root by David F. Walker (writer), Chuck Brown (writer) and Sanford Greene (artist)

  • Publisher: Image Comics, 2018-present
  • SynopsisIn the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance is in full swing, and only the Sangerye Family can save New York-and the world-from the supernatural forces threatening to destroy humanity. But the once-great family of monster hunters has been torn apart by tragedies and conflicting moral codes. The Sangerye Family must heal the wounds of the past and move beyond their differences… or sit back and watch a force of unimaginable evil ravage the human race. DAVID F. WALKER and SANFORD GREENE, the creative team of Power Man and Iron Fist, along with indie veteran CHUCK BROWN (Trench Coats, Cigarettes and Shotguns) bring you 24 action-packed pages of monsters, mayhem, and family dysfunction in a brand-new ongoing series. BITTER ROOT Cover As by SANFORD GREENE will be connecting through the first story arc.

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About the author

Jacob McMurray is MoPOP's Director of Curatorial, Collections & Exhibits.

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