Why is a story about the sea always called a yarn? This season’s best graphic novels not only include two set on the water but a number of great yarns, some outright science fiction, that present the kind of larger than life stories comics are often known for.

First the sea yarns: Jeff Lemire has gained fame recently for his work on DC’s superhero line, but he returns to the kind of family drama that informed his acclaimed Essex trilogy with Underwater Welder, a Twilight Zone–like story about a man, ambivalent about impending fatherhood, who wakes up in a world where he’s the only inhabitant. Mark Siegel’s Sailor Twain goes back 100 years to a roverboat on the Hudson River for a story about a captain who finds a mermaid. The story’s mysteries are as lyrical as the mists along the Hudson.

Turning to more overt SF, there’s Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s Saga, a snappy, imaginative, and emotional epic set in a warring universe where Romeo and Juliet have not only survived but had a baby—who they must protect from ghosts, assassins, and TV-headed despots. Derek Kirk Kim gives an SF spin to the Asian-American coming-of-age he’s best known for in Tune, about a young man who finds out his new job is as a living exhibit in an alien zoo. Kim’s signature witty dialogue makes this as much comedy as fantastic yarn.

Award-winning Flemish cartoonist Brecht Evens spins a different kind of yarn in The Making Of, a comedy of manners set in a small town that is putting on an overly ambitious art biennial. Evens captures the foibles of the townsfolk in gorgeous watercolors; nearly every panel could be framed on the wall.

While fiction is well represented in this year’s books, the nonfiction and memoir categories, which have been most successful in comics recently, have many notable offerings as well. Amateur economist Michael Goodwin presents an accessible history of economics, from the dawn of capitalism to our current mess in Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (And Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures, with clear art by Dann Burr. Keynesian economics never looked so good. Editorial cartoonist Stephanie MacMillan covers the Occupy movement with The Beginning of the American Fall: A Comics Journalist Inside the Occupy Wall Street Movement, a series of pointed illustrated observations that capture the mix of hope and fear that impel the movement.

Two standout memoirs also bracket the season. Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir is a funny yet harrowing account of her battles with bipolar disorder, from her diagnosis to various trials with medication, as she struggles to get her life in order while maintaining the creative flow she fears may be tied up with her illness. Forney’s perceptive, lively art keeps the story fresh.

Long and episodic enough to be a yarn, Ulli Lust’s Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life takes her on a classic road trip across Europe, but this one happens to be accompanied by a dangerously reckless traveling companion. The youthful punks survive in ways that aren’t always noble, but Lust’s mature look back at youthful mistakes provides wise perspective.

Finally, outside any genre, Chris Ware’s epic Building Stories is the graphic novel of the season or perhaps the year, a story that must be experienced rather than read: 14 separate booklets in a single box follow the inhabitants of a single apartment building through the daily battles of mundane survival and frustration—with no set order of reading the components, the story becomes a choose-your-own depression adventure. Ware takes visual storytelling to a new level of both beauty and despair in a work people will be talking about for a long time.

PW’s Top 10: Comics & Graphic Novels

The Underwater Welder
Jeff Lemire. Top Shelf, Sept.

Sailor Twain, or: The Mermaid in the Hudson
Mark Siegel. Roaring Brook/First Second, Oct.

Saga, Vol. 1
Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Image, Oct.

Tune: Vanishing Point
Derek Kirk Kim. Roaring Brook/First Second, Nov.

The Making Of Brecht Evens.
Drawn & Quarterly, Aug.

Economix:  How and Why Our Economy Works (And Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures
Michael Goodwin and Dan E. Burr. Abrams, Sept.

The Beginning of the American Fall: A Comics Journalist Inside the Occupy Wall Street Movement
Stephanie McMillan. Seven Stories, Sept.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir
Ellen Forney. Gotham, Nov.

Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life
Ulli Lust. Fantagraphics, Nov.

Building Stories
Chris Ware. Pantheon, Oct.

Listings: Comics & Graphic Novels 

Abrams Comicarts

The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song by Frank M. Young, illus. by David Lasky (Oct. 1, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-810988-36-1). The graphic novel biography spans the history of America’s pioneering country music family.

Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (And Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures by Michael Goodwin, illus. by Dan E. Burr (Sept. 1, trade paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-0-810988-39-2). With clear, witty writing and quirky, accessible art, this important and timely graphic novel transforms “the dismal science” of economics into a fun yet fact-filled story about human nature.

Allen & Unwin

(dist. by Trafalgar Square/IPG)

Sensitive Creatures by Mandy Ord (Sept. 1, trade paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-742372-16-7). Wonderfully offbeat, the stories of Mandy Ord’s “one-eyed girl” reveal with poetic power the intimate, mundane, and extraordinary moments in everyday urban life.


Cursed Pirate Girl: The Collected Edition, Vol. One by Jeremy Bastian (Aug. 14, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-936393-60-2) brings together the first three issues. A pirate girl encounters mythic creatures, gnarled and crusty pirates, and ghostly apparitions as she tries to find her lost father, one of the dreaded pirate captains of the mythical Omerta Seas.

Last Days of an Immortal by Fabien Vehlmann, illus. by Gwen de Bonneval (Aug. 14, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-936393-44-2). Two species are fighting a war with roots in a crime committed centuries ago, and Elijah must solve the crime and bring peace between their species, while also confronting his own immortality in a world where science provides access to eternal life.


Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale by Dan Parent (Nov. 20, trade paper, $11.99, ISBN 978-1-936975-23-5). The most popular addition to the Riverdale crowd in years, Kevin Keller is Archie’s first gay character. Recently elected class president, Kevin has gone from new kid in town to one of the most well-known and popular students in school.


A Halloween Treat by Edward Gorey (Sept. 4, hardcover, $13, ISBN 978-1-608196-16-6). A new Gorey gem for Halloween—including a spooky story and a collection of his illustrations of ghosts, ghouls, and specters.

The Odyssey by Seymour Chwast (Sept. 4, hardcover, $20, ISBN 978-1-608194-86-5). Design legend Chwast lends his “diabolically witty, devilishly expressive” style, according to NPR, to one of the Western world’s most celebrated classics.

Boom! Studios

Adventure Time, Vol. 1 by Ryan North and Branden Lamb, illus. by Shelli Paroline (Nov. 6, trade paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-608862-80-1). The totally algebraic adventures of Finn and Jake have come to the comic book page. The Lich has returned to the Land of Ooo, and he’s bent on total destruction. Featuring fan-favorite characters Marceline the Vampire Queen, Princess Bubblegum, Lumpy Space Princess, and the Ice King.

Dark Horse

Deva Zan by Yoshitaka Amano (Nov. 13, hardcover, $49.99, ISBN 978-1-616550-30-1). In Japanese Buddhism, the Juni Jinsho stood guard over the cosmos at the points of the zodiac. But now they have vanished, and nothing stands between us and the forces of darkness but Deva Zan, a samurai without a memory.

Finder: Talisman by Carla Speed McNeil (Oct. 16, hardcover, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-616550-27-1). Since 1996, Finder has set the bar for science fiction storytelling, with a lush, intricate world and compelling characters. Finder: Talisman is the story of a book—the book beloved by misfits and castaways, once glimpsed and forever longed for—and of Marcie, the kid who never gives up her search for magic and meaning.

DC Comics

The Invisibles Omnibus by Grant Morrison and various (Aug. 12, hardcover, $150 ISBN 978-1-4012-3459-1) is the collects the controversial and popular series by Eisner Award–winning writer Grant Morrison. Follow the adventures of the Invisibles, a secret organization out to battle against physical and psychic oppression brought upon humanity by the interdimensional alien gods of the Archons of Outer Church.

Saucer Country, Vol. 1: Run by Paul Cornell, illus. by Ryan Kelly (Nov. 27, trade paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-401235-49-9). Arcadia Alvarado, the leading Democratic candidate for president of the United States, says she was “abducted by aliens.” A lonely road and a nightmarish encounter have left her with terrible, half-glimpsed memories. And now she has to become president to expose the truth—and maybe to save the world.

Spaceman Deluxe Edition by Brian Azzarello, illus. by Eduardo Risso (Nov. 13, hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-401235-52-9). The story of Orson—a hulking, lonely loser who spends his days collecting scrap metal and dreaming of the star-trekking life he was genetically engineered for sees a chance to raise himself out of his sad life and become a hero, but a hero’s life may not be the life he thought it would be.

Drawn & Quarterly

The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry (Oct. 30, hardcover, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-770460-90-4) follows a year in the life of Freddie, the youngest member of the dysfunctional Mullen family. These four-panel entries—each representing an episode in Freddie’s existence—bring to life adolescence, pimples and all; he’s set up as an arsonist, mercilessly teased in school, and bossed around by classmates.

The Making Of by Brecht Evens (Aug. 7, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-770460-73-7). Petersen is invited to an art biennial as an honored guest. From the moment he arrives, things start going wrong, and since no one seems ready to step in, he decides to build a giant garden gnome as a symbol of Flemish identity.


Beta Testing the Apocalypse by Tom Kaczynski (Oct. 19, trade paper, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-606995-41-9) takes abstract ideas—capitalism, communism, utopianism—and makes them tangible. Kaczynski depicts and meditates on the immense political and technological structures and spaces we inhabit that subtly affect and define the limits of who we are.

The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln by Noah Van Sciver (Oct. 5, hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-606996-19-5). Young Lincoln is a rising Whig in the state’s legislature as he arrives in Springfield, Ill., to practice law. As time passes and uncertainty creeps in, Lincoln is forced to battle a dark cloud of depression brought on by a chain of defeats and failures culminating in a nervous breakdown that threatens his life and sanity.

Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust (Nov. 7, trade paper, $35, ISBN 978-1-606995-57-0). In 1984, 17-year-old punked-out Ulli Lust set out on a wild hitchhiking trip across Italy. Twenty-five years later, this talented Austrian cartoonist looks back at that tumultuous summer and delivers a dense, sensitive, and minutely observed autobiographical masterpiece.

Gotham Books

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney (Nov. 6, hardcover, $20, ISBN 978-1-592407-32-3). Cartoonist Ellen Forney explores the relationship between “crazy” and “creative” in this graphic memoir of her bipolar disorder, woven with stories of famous bipolar artists and writers.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Best American Comics 2012, edited by Françoise Mouly; series editors, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (Oct. 2, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0-547691-12-1). A collection of the best graphic pieces published in 2012, compiled by the art editor for the New Yorker. 25,000-copy announced first printing.

IDW Image

Parker: The Hunter by Richard Stark, illus. by Darwyn Cooke (Sept. 18, trade paper, $17.99, ISBN 978-1-613773-99-4) is the story of a man who hits New York head-on like a shotgun blast to the chest. Betrayed by the woman he loved and double-crossed by his partner in crime, Parker makes his way cross-country with only one thought burning in his mind—to coldly exact his revenge and reclaim what was taken from him.

Memorial by Chris Roberson, illus. by Rich Ellis (Aug. 28, hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-613773-54-3). Em arrives at a hospital in Portland, Ore., with no memory of her past. A year later, the young woman has rebuilt her life, only to find her existence thrown into turmoil after she inherits a magical shop and is drawn into a supernatural conflict between beings that are fundamental elements of the universe itself.

Starstruck by Elaine Lee, illus. by Michael Wm. Kaluta (Aug. 21, trade paper, $34.99, ISBN 978-1-613774-39-7). The classic, galactic-spanning saga of the renowned stage play, radio drama, and heady science fiction classic continues. All 13 issues of the completely remastered series of Galactic Girl Guides includes adventures, covers, pinups, glossary, postcards, and much more.


The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman, illus. by Nick Pitarra (Aug. 22, trade paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-607066-08-8). What if the research and development department created to produce the first atomic bomb was a front for a series of other, more unusual, programs? What if the union of a generation’s brightest minds was a signal not of optimism but foreboding? What if everything... went wrong?

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, illus. by Fiona Staples (Oct., $9.99 trade paper, ISBN 978-1-60706-601-9 Star Wars–style action collides with Game of Thrones-like drama in this original sci-fi/fantasy epic for mature readers, as new parents Marko and Alana risk everything to raise their child amid a never-ending galactic war.


(dist. by Norton)

Drawn Together: The Collected Work of R. and A. Crumb by R. Crumb and A. Crumb (Oct. 8, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-871404-29-9). A jaw-dropping yet tender account, not only of the joys and challenges of a legendary marriage but also of the obstacles faced by struggling female artists. The Crumbs recall their success at shocking America with Weirdo Magazine, the life-altering birth of their precocious daughter, Sophie, and their move to the haven of France.

Mariner Books

Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir by Nicole Georges (Jan. 22, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-0-547615-59-2). In a charming graphic memoir that Alison Bechdel calls “riveting,” “disarming,” and “haunting,” a psychic reading spurs Portland zinester Nicole Georges to uncover an old secret about her father and the family story she never knew. 25,000-copy announced first printing.


Spider-Men by Brian Michael Bendis, illus. by Sara Pichelli (Nov. 28, hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-785165-33-0). The unprecedented partnership between Spider-Man Peter Parker and Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales as they join forces to defeat Mysterio, who’s created a rift between their universes.


Philosophy: A Discovery in Comics by Margreet de Heer (Sept. 1, hardcover, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-561636-98-3). This illustrated primer on philosophy is a great way to be introduced to a complex topic. In her easily accessible style, de Heer visualizes the history of Western philosophy and makes it approachable for those with little knowledge of the subject.

Dungeon: Early Years Complete Set, Vols. 1–2 by Christophe Blain and Joann Sfar, illus. by Lewis Trondheim (Oct. 1, trade paper, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-561636-99-0). A dark satirical fantasy that brings together the first two volumes of the series, this collection relates the origins of the vast history of Dungeon.

Oni Press

Scott Pilgrim: Precious Little Life, Vol. 1 by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Aug. 8, hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-620100-00-4). Just when you thought you knew all there was to know about Scott Pilgrim comes the first in a series of new hardcover editions, a remastered 6-in.×9-in. hardcover that presents Scott’s first “evil ex” battle as you’ve never seen it before—in full color.


Building Stories by Chris Ware (Oct. 2, hardcover, $50, ISBN 978-0-375424-33-5). After years of sporadic work on other books and projects and following the almost complete loss of his virility, here is a new graphic novel by Chris Ware. 50,000-copy announced first printing.

The Hive by Charles Burns (Oct. 9, hardcover, $21.95, ISBN 978-0-307907-88-2). Much has happened to Doug, the Tintin-like hero, since X’ed Out. Confessing his past to an unidentified woman, Doug struggles to recall the mysterious incident that left his life shattered, which may have involved his disturbed and now-absent girlfriend, Sarah, and her menacing ex-boyfriend.


Sammy Harkham: Everything Together: Collected Stories by Sammy Harkham (Oct. 31, trade paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-0-985159-50-4) collects Harkham’s short story comics, which condense vast amounts of emotion and information into nuanced cartoon narratives.

PM Press

Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection by Jay Kinney (Sept. 1, trade paper, $20, ISBN 978-1-604865-31-8). The legendary underground comic melded anarchist politics with a punk sensibility, producing a riveting mix of satire, revolt, and artistic experimentation. This international anthology led by Spain Rodriguez and Gilbert Shelton collects the comics of all 30 contributors.

Random House UK

Vignettes of Ystov by William Goldsmith (Sept. 1, trade paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-224090-36-0). A poetic and poignant graphic novel, where the washed-out and lonely urban landscape of the fictional city of Ystov provides the setting for a series of remarkable stories.

Roaring Brook/FIRST SECOND

Sailor Twain, or: The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel (Oct. 2, hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1-596436-36-7). One hundred years ago, on the foggy Hudson River, a riverboat captain rescues an injured mermaid from the waters of the busiest port in the United States, and a French nobleman seeks a remedy for a curse. As three lives twine together and race to an unexpected collision, the mystery of the mermaid of the Hudson deepens.

Tune: Vanishing Point by Derek Kirk Kim (Nov. 13, trade paper, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-596435-16-2). Andy left art school with his career all worked out ahead of time, but to say it didn’t work out is the understatement of the century. Then Andy takes a job offer—to work at a zoo—and finds himself in an alternate dimension. The zoo? It’s run by aliens. The exhibit? Him.

Sumo by TienPham (Dec. 11, trade paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-596435-81-0). Scott is a washed-up football player. But things have a way of working out, in this sweet, poetic tale—and a new chapter in Scott’s life begins as the old one ends, and he’s offered a position in a Japanese sumo training “stable.”

Self Made Hero

Hellraisers by Robert Sellers, illus. by Jake (Jan. 1, trade paper, $22.95, ISBN 978-1-906838-36-2). Raise a glass to the story of four of the greatest actors—and boozers—of all time: Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed. This inventive graphic work seamlessly weaves their four biographies into one fast-paced adventure of drunken binges, orgies, parties, and fun.

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon (Sept. 1, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-906838-42-3). Nao Brown, a 28-year-old hafu (half Japanese, half English), is not well. She’s suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder and fighting violent urges to harm other people. But that’s not who she really wants to be. She wants to quiet her unruly mind; she wants to get her design and illustration career off the ground; and she wants to find love, perfect love.

Seven Stories Press

The Beginning of the American Fall: A Comics Journalist Inside the Occupy Wall Street Movement by Stephanie McMillan (Oct. 16, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-609804-52-7). Longtime activist and cartoonist McMillan chronicles the first few months of the Occupy movement through delightful drawings, interviews, dialogue, description, and insightful reflections.

Top Shelf

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire (Sept. 11, trade paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-603090-74-2). As an underwater welder on an oil rig off the coast of Nova Scotia, Jack Joseph is used to the immense pressures of deep-sea work. Nothing, however, could prepare him for the pressures of impending fatherhood.

Wizzywig by Ed Piskor (Aug. 7, hardcover, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-603090-07-1). In the world of phone phreaks, hackers, and scammers, he’s a legend. Is he even a real person? And if he’s ever caught, what would happen to a geek like him in federal prison? Inspired by the incredible stories of real-life hackers, Wizzywig is the tale of a master manipulator.


Message to Adolf, Vol. 1 by Osamu Tezuka (Aug. 7, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-935654-43-8). A Japanese reporter named Sohei Tohge in Berlin to cover the 1936 Olympic Games must search for his brother, who has discovered Nazi secrets.


Neon Genesis Evangelion, Vol. 13 by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Nov. 2, trade paper, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-4215-5291-0). The anime/manga classic is back in a new volume. As mankind tilts on the brink of the Third Impact, human feelings are fault lines; good, for cracking the world open, or bad, to be welded forever shut.

Demon Love Spell, Vol. 1 by Mayu Shinjo (Dec. 4, trade paper, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-4215-4945-3). Miko is a shrine maiden who has never had much success at seeing or banishing spirits. Then she meets Kagura, a sexy demon who feeds off of women’s feelings of passion and love.

Yen Press

Interview with the Vampire: Claudia’s Story by Anne Rice and Ashley Witter (Nov., hardcover, $19.99, ISBN 978-0-316-17636-1). A richly illustrated comics adaptation is told through the eyes of the vampire Claudia, who was just a little girl when she was turned by the vampire Lestat.

Zenith Press
Normandy: A Graphic History of D-Day, the Allied Invasion of Hitler’s Fortress Europe by Wayne Vansant (Sept. 15, trade paper, $19.99, ISBN 978-0-760343-92-0) is a historically accurate and serious graphic narrative of the most anticipated event of WWII: the invasion of Normandy.