This article is part of our 2021 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we assemble the best comic books of 2021.
Stories were salvation in 2021. They are every year, surely. But this year, more than any other I’ve experienced, stories were there for me when I was at my lowest and most confused. And no single medium carried enough to satiate. I sought narrative in films, podcasts, novels, poetry, music, art, and comics. Wherever they were, so was I, gobbling them up.
Each delivery system provided bangers, but comics seemed particularly on fire in 2021, which is incredible considering the absurd obstacles they faced. Distribution shakeups and financial worries were not enough because we were in desperate need, and our hunger fueled the creators. And we spent our money when money was at its tightest for many of us.
Ignore the online noise; we’re in a new comic book golden age. Reducing the best books into a singular ranking was especially stressful. Deeply adored titles were left off, and I feel genuine guilt excluding them. But that’s the joy and the frustration of these things.
The 15 comics found below fall into numerous genres and attract just as many audiences. You’ll find superhero fare, hardboiled pulp, humanist propelled science fiction, twisty horror tales, a true-crime profile, and a shocking amount of young adult adventure. Some operate in traditional style, while others push the form to its limits and expose new ways to deliver sequential storytelling.
You should also know that while this list contains a few titles you’ll find in other best-of articles, it also holds several you probably missed during the year. Curating an end-of-the-year list is a personal endeavor, and above all things, this Best Comics of 2021 ranking represents my weirdo sensibilities. I hope it will also operate as a discovery mechanism, sending you dear reader to your local comic book shop or bookstore, hunting for new worlds and characters to inhabit.
If I egregiously missed some, I want to hear about it. Hit me up, @MouthDork on Twitter. I love comics, and I want to read all of them.
Cartoonist Jesse Lonergan refuses to settle on any one thing. For the past several years, his comics have pushed the format in terms of paneling and pacing, resulting in reading experiences that are exhilarating on the first pass but revelatory on the second and third. Faster achieves a level of excitement in 48 pages that most can’t accomplish across a multi-year series, let alone one floppy comic.
The catastrophic race it depicts becomes a battlefield for over-the-top personalities who are ultimately exposed as the most fragile of human beings. Lonergan allows you to read Faster in minutes, if not seconds. However, if you hit the brakes on your eyes, you’ll discover infinitely deep details designed to boost your emotional connection. Your heart could break across the finish line.
14. Full Tilt Boogie
This wildly imaginative space opera from writer Alex de Campi and illustrator Eduardo Ocaña originally saw serialized publication in the all-ages 2000 AD Regened magazine, but earlier this year, Full Tilt Boogie was beautifully assembled in both softcover and hardcover formats.
Conceived from de Campi’s desire to have her own Gatchaman and Space Battle Cruiser Yamato (a.k.a. Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers), Full Tilt Boogie is a glorious adventure about found family, galactic unrest, and a cat hiding another dimension in its stomach. De Campi injects relatable humor into extreme circumstances, and Ocaña renders the saga with a master’s touch. Anime may serve as the narrative inspiration, but Ocaña’s art recalls Mœbius on his best days (which was every day).
13. Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?
You probably know about Ed Gein’s crimes thanks to Psycho or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The Midwest murderer and graverobber started as a small-town nightmare and became a global one, inspiring countless slasher films. Eric Powell and Harold Schechter‘s Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? begins as an examination of that dark cultural curiosity and eventually attempts to understand the creep that our horror fiction can’t shake.
The comic is an astonishing empathetic achievement, pulling you behind the wheel of a car you don’t want to be driving. And as the narrative ramps toward its conclusion, Powell’s art proves why this particular investigation could not be a movie or a work of prose. Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? uses comics, the art form its subject often lost himself within, to communicate a grotesque madness. Some may not want to venture within, but others will find the considerate interrogation a rewarding challenge.
12. Made in Korea
What makes us human? The question will only become more intense the closer artificial intelligence gets to replicating our internal experience. How we embrace or reject our robot children will ultimately define our sentience. Fear or curiosity, make your choice. But that’s not really what Made in Korea is about or why you should add this title to your shelf.
Writer Jeremy Holt is an identical triplet and a Korean adoptee. They’re searching inward as they scribble Made in Korea‘s nine-year-old artificial protagonist into being. Along with artist George Schall, Holt crafts a painfully awkward journey through this creaky social experiment called America. The comic is warm and inviting as much as it is scary, sad, and nerve-wracking. Within its pages is not our future but our present.
11. It’s Jeff
It‘s Jeff is pure joy. This year, we needed joy. The comic series written by Kelly Thompson and illustrated by Gurihiru depicts the utterly adorable but equally mundane adventures of Marvel’s most huggable land shark. Whatever the scenario, the little cutie causes nothing but ruckus, and we cherish him for it.
So far, It‘s Jeff has disrupted a superhero pool party, Kate Bishop‘s laundry, Thanksgiving, and other around-the-house activities. As a Marvel Unlimited Infinity Comic, It‘s Jeff is read via vertical scrolling, a format mastered by Webtoon aficionados but feared by the Wednesday warriors who survive on stapled comics. Give it a try; It‘s Jeff will free you from your trepidation.
Gurihiru excels with the scroll, offering giggling gasps as your finger draws you deeper into land shark hijinks. Told wordlessly, It‘s Jeff is the silent comedy aching to cure your inevitable blues after a long workday. It’s Jeff; he’s a gift.
Continue reading our list of the best comic books of 2021…
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