The long-brewing story of an artist’s tortured relationship with creativity and fame topped the 2015 PW Graphic Novel Critics poll. Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor (First Second) tells the story of David Smith, a struggling sculptor who makes a deal with the devil to get incredible creative powers–but only 200 days to live to use these powers. The book marked McCloud’s first fictional graphic novel in 20 years, and proved that he’s a masterful storyteller as well as the famed theorist behind Understanding Comics.

The PW Graphic Novel Critics Poll is compiled by asking participating critics to list up to ten books, and then adding up multiple votes for any title. Taking part in this year’s poll are PW graphic novel reviewers Chris Barsanti, Lydia Conklin, John DiBello, Glen Downey, Brian Heater, Rob McMonigal, Matt O’Keefe, Sam Riedel, John Seven, and Whitney Taylor. Also participating are PW Graphic Novels Reviews editor Heidi MacDonald and PW senior news editor Calvin Reid.

Our panel found the book’s themes resonated. “McCloud makes the Faustian cliche his own with brilliantly layered storytelling and perfect pacing,” wrote Brian Heater. “It’s rare that we get to use the word “magical” when describing a graphic novel,” said Chris Barsanti, “but McCloud’s intoxicating opus...easily qualifies.” And the book’s “exploration of life, death, love, and the role of the artist make this an exemplary work,” wrote Glen Downey.

As usual, it was a close race for the top, and two books came in with five votes each, both published by Drawn & Quarterly: Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine and SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki, whose This One Summer (written by her cousin Mariko and drawn by Jillian) came in first place in last year’s poll.

Killing and Dying collects six stories that follow characters struggling with flaws and obsessions, from a young girl with a stutter whose dream of being a stand-up comic hides the real tragedy in her life, to a man who is convinced topiary sculpture is a great art form. Calvin Reid called them “Compelling, variegated narrative strands from across American life, superbly depicted in a series of stylish vignettes ranging in tone from the charmingly comic to stark and desperate.” Barsanti compared Tomine to Alice Munro, “likely because of his profound understanding of how real, living, breathing human beings relate to one another. His collection of short stories here is a remarkable achievement.”

Tamaki’s book began as a Webcomic playing on the tropes of magical high school students, but became a much more painful saga of unrequited love and youthful ennui. “Funny and original, bite-sized anecdotes. [Tamaki] creates a fascinating world,” wrote Lydia Conklin while Sam Riedel praised the juxtaposition of humor and pain: “These cartoons are so absurd, yet touch the heart of our anxieties and emotions in a way I haven’t experienced since Calvin & Hobbes.”

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (Harper Teen), which was shortlisted for a National Book Award, came just behind with four votes. Wrote John DiBello “Between Nimona and Lumberjanes, Stevenson should be given a special award for comics that utterly appeal to the often-ignored young female market and yet charm both sexes and all ages... It’s both a straightforward adventure and a subtle challenge to the tropes of 'good vs. evil' or 'female sidekick.' Nimona made me laugh, it made me think, and best of all, it made me happy that comics like this exist.”

Several other books were recognized with multiple votes. Here’s the rest of the list.


The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf (Metropolitan Books)
"Sattouf’s unique vantage point - part alien, part insider - offers a singular insight to not only the Middle East, but the worlds crafted by dictators." – JS

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro (Image)
"Simply the best piece of science fiction and social commentary I read all year. DeConnick’s defies the reader to say 'on the nose' like it’s a bad thing." – SR

Not Funny Ha-Ha by Leah Hayes (Fantagraphics)
"Hayes takes on the subject of what to expect when you get an abortion with a clearheaded non-judgmental style that follow two women through two different processes." – HM

Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton (Drawn and Quarterly)
"As good, or better, than Hark! A Vagrant, this book reaches into all of the strange corners of history only to skewer them with the wit we’ve comic to expect from one of the world’s most talented cartoonists." – GD


Fante Bukowksi by Noah van Sciver (Fantagraphics)
"Rising star Van Sciver once again skewers the self-important male figure, in this case a terrible writer who fancies himself a great novelist and pushes himself onto everyone." – RM

March Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (Top Shelf)
"A worthy successor to March, Book 1, Lewis, Aydin, and Powell are able to show the continued determination of the nonviolence movement to overcome hatred and oppression, even as these forces grow ever more menacing." – GD

Our Expanding Universe by Alex Robinson (Top Shelf)
"A character driven portrait of friends in New York. Deals with all the big issues of relationships, cheating, parenting. One of the most absorbing graphic novels I've read." – LC

Southern Bastards, Vol. 2: Gridiron by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour (Image)
"Southern Gothic meets Friday Night Lights in this grim but black-humored portrayal of Craw County, Alabama, a town where rough ‘n’ ready high school football is the most passionate religion. The focus on brutal, driven football coach Euless Boss and his bone-breaking ride to power is a chilling horror story, but without supernatural elements — simply the driving prejudices and anger of men." – JD

The Oven by Sophie Goldstein (Adhouse)
"A novel spin on dystopian sci-fi with a focus on fertility and the often confusing roles that men and women are made to play in society. Goldstein is particularly skilled at dealing with these themes in her work and elevates them with her crisp, refined line and thoughtful use of color." – WT

The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vincente (Panel Syndicate/Image Comics)
"Timely and thrilling both artistically and textually, with a mystery set in a world where privacy has replaced the ubiquity of social media. A brutal but enchanting look at the future." – SR

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, Sydney Padua (Pantheon)
"A hilarious and relentlessly researched biographical webcomic now turned into a printed tome, that transforms the 19th century polymaths and ur-computer scientists into brainy steampunk super heroes." – CR

Trashed by Derf Backderf (Abrams)
"An exploration of the grimy world of trash —how we make it and how it gets carted away. The story is just as gross as you’d expect but what surprises is Backderf’s portrait of the mindset of those who chose this job." – HM


101 Artists to Listen to Before You Die by Ricardo Cavolo (SelfMadeHero)

750 Years In Paris by Vincent Mahe (Nobrow)

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times by Andrew MacLean (Dark Horse)

Bacchus Omnibus Edition, Vol. 1 by Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf)

Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside by Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr (DC)

Becoming Unbecoming by Hannah Eaton (Myriad Editions)

Black River by Josh Simmons (Fantagraphics)

Borb by Jason Little (Uncivilized Books)

Class Photo by Robert Triptow (Fantagraphics)

Concrete Park Vol. 2 by Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander (Dark Horse)

Curveball by Jeremy Sorese (Nobrow)

Descender Volume 1: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

Displacement by Lucy Knisley (Fantagraphics)

Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu (First Second)

Fantasy Sports 1 by Sam Bosma (Nobrow)

Fatherland: A Family History by Nina Bunjevac (Liveright)

Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher and Karl Kerschl (DC)

Grayson, Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral by Tim Seeley, Tom King and Mikal Janin (DC)

Here by Richard McGuire (Pantheon)

Hitler by Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly)

How to Pass as Human by Nic Kelman (Dark Horse)

Hysteria: Graphic Freud by Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate (SelfMadeHero)

Intelligent/Sentient? by Luke Ramsey (Drawn & Quarterly)

Invisible Ink by Bill Griffith (Fantagraphics)

Just So Happen by Fumio Obata (Abrams)

Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream edited by Joshua O'Neill. (Locust Moon Press)

Love and Rockets New Stories #7 by the Hernandez Brothers (Fantagraphics)

Lulu Anew by Etienne Davideau (NBM)

Memetic by James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan (Boom!)

Mighty Star and the Castle of the Cancatervater by A. Degan (Koyama Press)

Miseryland by Keiler Roberts (Self-published)

Mowgli's Mirror by Olivier Schrauwen (Retrofit Comics / Big Planet Comics)

Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why, G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jacob Wyatt (Marvel)

Nanjing: The Burning City by Ethan Young (Dark Horse)

No Mercy, Vol 1 by Alex de Campi and Carla Speed McNeill (Image)

Oh Human Star Vol 1 by Blue Delliquanti (Self published)

Out on the Wire by Jessica Abel (Broadway Books)

Oympians: Ares by George O'Conner (First Second)

Oyster War by Ben Towle (Oni)

Pablo by Julie Birmant and Clement Ouberie (SelfMadeHero)

Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen by Dylan Horrocks (Fantagraphics)

Sea Urchin by Laura Knetzger (Retrofit/Big Planet)

TerraQuill by Shawn Daley (Self published)

Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T by Benjamin Marra (Fantagraphics)

The Age of Selfishness by Daryl Cunningham (Abrams)

The Autumnlands Volume 1: Tooth and Claw by Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey (Image)

The Disappearance of Charley Butters by Zach Worton (Conundrum)

The Multiversity Deluxe Edition, Grant Morrison et al. (DC)

The Realist by Asaf Hanuka (Boom!/Archaia)

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and KH Williams III (DC/Vertigo)

The Spectators by Victor Hussenot (Nobrow)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1: Squirrel Power, Ryan North and Erica Henderson (Marvel)

The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found by Jarod Rosello (Publishing Genius )

The Wicked + The Divine Volume 2: Fandemonium by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (Image)

Two Brothers by Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon (Dark Horse)

Unflattening by Nik Sousanis (Harvard University Press)

Violenzia and Other Stories by Richard Sala (Fantagraphics)

What's Your Sign, Girl? Edited by Rob Kirby, (Birdcage Bottom Books)

Wytches Volume 1 by Scott Snyder and Jock (Image)

Previous polls and winners:

2014: This One Summer

2013: Boxers and Saints

2012: Building Stories

2011: Hark a Vagrant

2010: Acme Novelty Library #20: Lint

2009: Asterios Polyp

2008: Bottomless Belly Button

2007: Exit Wounds and Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Tie)

2006: Fun Home