File under the totally expected: Chris Ware’s amazing Building Stories has topped the seventh annual 2012 Critics Poll for best graphic novels of 2012. A visionary boxed collection of 14 separate books, pamphlets and fold-outs, Building Stories collected Ware’s last decade of comics to tell the stories of the occupants of a single apartment building. The central character—never named—is a disabled young woman who dreams of finding love. Ware’s precisely diagrammatic yet eloquent drawings follow her mundane activities and her inner torment. Meanwhile, an enervated married couple on another floor shows that even finding love doesn’t solve any problems, and the building’s owner, an older woman, reminisces over her life. Throwing it all into relief are the absurdly bright adventures of Branford, a bee.

While much of the material in Building Stories (Pantheon) had been printed before—the central narrative, if such a thing could be pinpointed, originally ran as a comics strip in the NY Times Sunday Magazine—when collected together the final product is a stunningly immersive experience with no beginning and end, as quotidian-focused as the lives of its characters.

Ware’s opus was an immediate critical hit, and received the top spot in PW’s overall Best Books for 2012. It was also a popular success—the book sold out its 40,000 print run before Christmas and a new 25,000 print run won’t hit these shores until later next week. A third printing of 25,000 copies is also expected in March.

While Ware’s achievement was a stunning triumph for graphic novels as a literature all its own, it was far from the only one in a year that saw graphic novels cover more topics than ever with more and more authority. The remaining books mentioned on the poll are, as always, a fantastic snapshot of an artform that is still reinventing itself in the multi-media era.

Critics participating in this year’s poll: Alanna Abbott, Lucas Adams, Chris Barsanti, Steve Bunche, Casey Burchby, Johanna Draper Carlson, John DiBello, Glen Downey, Heidi MacDonald, Calvin Reid, John Seven, Noah Sudarsky, Laura Sneddon, Kelly Thompson.

Here are the other top vote getters:


Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel (HMH)

Another resonant, Proustian, minutely examined investigation of the artist's family, where every word and glance seems to have a novel's worth of meaning. – Chris Barsanti

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot (Jonathan Cape/Dark Horse)

It’s not easy to tell parallel stories, especially life stories, but Talbot and Talbot construct a powerful visual narrative about gender, family, and identity that takes a close look at 20th century sexual politics on the home front.—Glen Downey

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

The best comic series of 2012 hands down is the science fiction epic from Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Runaways) and Staples, a truly original and ground-breaking work. Brilliant reading, this critically acclaimed hit is perfect for all comics fans, new and old, and a modern classic in the making. —Laura Sneddon


Jerusalem by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

A strangely epic documentation of a bourgeois family (where’s good shopping? finding a good school? playdates) living in a hair-raising war zone community of Israelis, Palestinians, and foreign residents, Delisle’s great story really captures the struggles to live a normal kind of life in an utterly abnormal situation. —Calvin Reid

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (Abrams Comic Arts)

Like David Carr's 'Night of the Gun', underground artist Derf goes back to his youth to discover what really happened during his teenaged friendship with a young Jeffrey Dahmer. Honest and unforgettable.—Chris Barsanti

Sailor Twain Or the Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel (First Second)

Like no other graphic novel this year, Sailor Twain has an eerie beauty about it that makes the reader feel they are not merely its witnesses but its passengers. – Glen Downey


A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson (Farrar, Straus Giroux)

There’s no such thing as an “unadaptable” work (see Ang Lee’s movie Life of Pi). Larson has the difficult task of capturing the spark of one of the most classic of young adult books and she succeeds admirably in expressive illustration, respectful adaptation, and thrilling pacing. This graphic novel champions smartness, heart, and imagination. – John DiBello

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second)

“Friends With Boys” has stunning storytelling, strong emotional beats, powerful voice, and delightful character design and establishes Hicks at the top of the pack among talented YA indie creators. “Friends With Boys” is easily her best work to date (which is saying a lot) and the unconventional ending is bolder than one would expect in a YA slice of life story, and one I appreciate to no end.—Kelly Thompson

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic)

Raina Telgemeier has moved from adapting the work of others (The Babysitters' Club) to telling stories of her own life (Smile) to pure fiction with this book, and each time, she amazingly gets even better. The story of a young set designer working behind-the-scenes in the drama club while navigating friendship and crushes is touching, funny, and cartooned in accomplished, amusing fashion. High school is full of drama at the best of times; add in stage crew and aspiring performers, and it's even more poignant.

Last Days of an Immortal by Fabien Vehlmann and Gwen de Bonneval (Archaia Entertainment)

Old style, thoughtful, philosophical science fiction with a satirical edge. — John Seven

The Hypo: the Melancholic Young Lincoln by Noah Van Sciver (Fantagraphics)

A refreshingly human telling of Abraham’s early struggling days as a young lawyer, told in a gritty, riveting indie style. A real revelation for van Sciver, marking him as a talent to watch. —Heidi MacDonald

The Nao of Brown by Glynn Dillon (Self Made Hero)

Set in London and genially narrated by the lead character, a young female bi-racial Asian graphic artist, this beautifully illustrated tale navigates a thoughtful representation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder while laying out the meandering details of a quirky urban love affair. – Calvin Reid

The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized Books)

Quirky, self-absorbed and as starkly poetic as a haiku, Bell’s autobiographical comics capture the artist’s anxieties and foibles with a lighthearted air. —Heidi MacDonald

Wizzywig by Ed Piskor (Top Shelf)

Piskor not only gives us a treatise on hacking, phone-phreaking, and high-tech hijinks, but a fascinating look at the brilliant mind and indomitable spirit of a hacker. —Glen Downey

Our critics also identified some trends for the year:

Trend of the Year: Kickstarter. Once the legal loopholes are closed and it’s policed more closely (seriously, no, you can’t publish your own Batman comic), Kickstarter may become the process to produce a comic for a specific already-committed, already-eager, already-paid audience. If you ask where the next generation of creative comics writers and artists are going to come from, look no further. And Diamond rightfully should be quaking in its boots. — John diBello

This was the year of Image Comics, as The Walking Dead continued to dominate sales charts alongside a whole host of new original series from incredibly talented creators. Saga is the critics darling, while Manhattan Projects, Happy and Prophet were also highly acclaimed.

We're perhaps finally moving towards a time when “Bam! Pow! Comics Have Grown Up!” headlines will be a thing of the past. It may be twenty years since Maus won a Pullitzer, but literary graphic novels are now firmly planted in the best of year lists and are regularly earning prize nominations. Graphic novel sales continue to grow despite a difficult market, and more publishers are opening their eyes to the fantastic potential of the medium.

Superheroes may be ruling the silver screen, but everyone is now realizing that comics cover far grander territory. —Laura Sneddon

I was surprised at how many of my choices were stories of women's lives by women, without even setting out to highlight such. We really are in a wonderful time for diverse comics... once you move outside the big two American superhero publishers, who are mired in chasing a declining, jaded audience and coping with corporate ownership expectations.

Memoir/non-fiction was a particularly fruitful genre this year, with a number of outstanding works. As, apparently, were stories about being in school -- such a potent setting for emotional drama, and the perfect time to capture character changes as young adults set out on their own lives. –Johanna Draper Carlson

Honorable Mention:

100 Months by John Hicklenton (Jonathan Cape)

Adamtine by Hannah Berry (Jonathan Cape)

Anna and Froga: Want a Gumball? by by Anouk Ricard (Drawn and Quarterly)

Barrack Hussein Obama by Steven Weissman (Fantagraphics)

Best of Enemies: A History of U.S. and Middle East Relations by Jean-Pierre Filiu and David B (Self Made Hero)

Between Gears by Natalie Nourigat (Image Comics)

Blacksad: A Silent Hell by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse)

Comic Book History of Comics by Fred van Lente and Ryan Dunleavy (IDW)

Conan The Barbarian by Brian Wood and various (Dark Horse)

Creepy Presents Richard Corben by Richard Corben (Dark Horse)

Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian (Archaia)

Daredevil, Vol. 1 by Mark Waid, Paolo Manuel Rivera, and Marcos Martin (Marvel Comics)

Darth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown (Chronicle Books)

Days Of Destruction, Days Of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco (Nation Books)

Dim Sum Warriors: Enter the Dumpling by Colin Goh, Yen Yen Woo and Soo Lee (Yumcha Studios)

Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen, Ryan Dunlavey and Grady Hendrix (Clarkson Potter)

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower, and Skottie Young (Marvel Comics)

Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work) by Michael Goodwin and Dan E. Burr (Abrams Comic Arts)

Ed The Happy Clown by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly)

Empowered by Adam Warren (Dark Horse)

Epic Kill Vol. 1 by Raffaele Ienco (Image Comics)

Essential Warlock Vol. 1 by Jim Starlin and various (Marvel Comics)

Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips (Image Comics)

Flex Mentallo Deluxe Edition by Grant Morrison and Fank Quitley (DC Comics)

Giants Beware! by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre (First Second)

Gloriana by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly)

Glory by Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell (Image Comics)

Goliath by Tom Gauld (Drawn and Quarterly)

Gonzo by Will Bingley and Anthony Hope Smith (Abrams Comic Arts)

I, Vampire by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino (DC Comics)

Infinite Horizon by Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto (Image Comics)

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 05 by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Brian Bolland (2000 AD)

Kiki de Montparnasse by Catel and Bouquet (Self Made Hero)

Kingdom: Call Of The Wild by Dan Abnett (2000AD)

Love and Rockets #5 by Gilbert and Jamie Hernandez (Fantagraphics)

Marbles by Ellen Forney (Gotham)

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe (Harper)

Maya Makes a Mess by Rutu Modan (Candlewick/Toon Books)

Mind The Gap Volume 1: Intimate Strangers by Jim McCann, Rodin Esquejo, Adrian Alphona, Sonia Oback (Image Comics)

NonNonBa by Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn and Quarterly)

Parker: The Score by Richard Stark and Dawyn Cooke (IDW Publishing)

Please God, Find Me a Husband! by Simone Lia (Jonathan Cape)

Polterguys Vol. 1 by Laurianne Uy and Nathan Go (Mumo Press)

Prince of Cats by Ron Wimberly (DC COmics/Vertigo)

Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer's, My Mother, and Me by Sarah Leavitt (Skyhorse)

The Graphic Canon Volume One & Two edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories)

The Hive by Charles Burns (Pantheon)

The House That Groaned by Karrie Fransman (Square Peg)

The Infinite Wait by Julia Wertz (Koyama Books)

The Judas Coin by Walt Simonson (DC Comics)

The New Deadwardians by Dan Abnett and I.N.J.CUlbard (DC/Vertigo)

The Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing (Egmont Books)

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson (Toon Books)

The Song of Roland by Michel Rabagliati (Conundrum Press)

Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf)

Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge: "Only a Poor Old Man," by Carl Barks (Fantagraphics Books)

Wet Moon #6 by Ross Campbell (Oni Press)

What Am I Going To Do Without You? by Patt Kelley (Top Shelf Productions Digital)

Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and Tony Akin (DC Comics)

You'll Never Know Vol 3: Soldier’s Heart by Carol Tyler (Fantagraphics)