Adding yet another honor to its already crowded awards cabinet, Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints topped the eighth annual PW Comics World Critics poll with five votes. The two-volume graphic novel was nominated for this year's National Book Award for Young People's Literature (Yang's second NBA nomination), garnering acclaim from every corner, so topping the poll comes as no surprise.

Boxers and Saints was also named one of the PW's Best Books of 2013.

Yang’s historical tale won for its even-handed portrayal of China’s Boxer Rebellion as seen through the eyes of two young people drawn in on opposite sides of the war. In Boxers, Little Bao becomes caught up in the war against foreign devils and experiences bloody battles in the name of liberating his homeland. His opposite, Four-Girl of Saints, is a Christian convert who strives to protect her people against murderous, inhuman rebels. Through both stories—which intermingle in various tragic, ironic twists knowable only to readers—Yang captures the confused idealism that war often foists upon the most vulnerable young combatants. Like his previous modern classic, American Born Chinese—also nominated for an NBA—Yang uses cleanly efficient art and multi-leveled storytelling that employs fantasy sequences to reveal his character’s views on the world.

Watch a video interview of Yang talking about Boxers and Saints and the inspiration behind them.

Coming in second with four votes it was Rutu Modan’s The Property. (Modan tied for the top of the poll in 2008 for Exit Wounds.) It’s an unpredictable, slyly humorous tale of Mica, a young Jewish woman who returns to Poland with her grandmother to discover the fate of some property the grandmother was given at the close of World War II. Grandmother Regina rediscovers a romance from her youth while Mica falls for a rugged cartoonist; neither romance is what it seems, and neither are any of their expectations as a cast of sharply drawn characters explores the second World War, the Holocaust and the founding of Israel from a completely fresh angle.

Participating critics were also given a chance to mentions some of the year’s trends.

• Trend of the Year: Digital Comics Take Their Toddler Steps. “The wave of the future” continues apace as digital comics became even more ubiquitous. Most major comics publishers now offer date-of-release digital versions of their comic books, and backlist titles and runs are aggressively being filled in to provide an always-ready, everlasting digital library of the history of comics. DC has aggressively published a line of digital-first fan-favorite comics (including Injustice: Gods Among Us, Batman ’66, Smallville Season 11) that fall outside their pamphlet printed “New 52” line. By the end of the year indie comics publishers like Fantagraphics were announcing new digital-first books. Comixology has emerged as the industry leader in digital distribution, announcing a program for creators to submit comics directly to the company, and mega-sales that offered popular series like The Walking Dead for a buck an issue. Several 2013 controversies, however, highlighted the growing pains of the new format and industry. A March promotion for 700 free Marvel digital comics overwhelmed Comixology’s server. Accusations of censorship over issues of Saga and Sex Criminals flew against Apple and Comixology…or was it just Apple? Or was it just Comixology? It’s clearly still frontier days and the digital comics field is the Wild West. It’ll be fascinating to see how this West is won over the next few years.—John DiBello

• Two years ago, it was all about humor. Kate Beaton’s Hark a Vagrant ruled and so did a range of hilarious visual narratives, like Joe Ollman’s Mid-Life and Pascal Girard’s Reunion. Last year, it was Chris Ware’s Building Stories that came out on top, and we celebrated the power of the creative imagination in works like Olivier Schrauwen’s The Man Who Grew His Beard. This year’s crop, however, gave us genuine insight into the nature of the sublime, from the aesthetically gorgeous to the remarkably poignant to the beautiful and terrifying.—Glen Downey

• I have no idea. In the corporate world, the Hollywoodization of superhero comics is complete with DC being moved to the West Coast. Most of this year for me, though, was more of the same, and not in a bad way. Talented creators putting out good books. It’s a time of plenty, with more worthwhile graphic novels than any one person has time to read. —Johanna Draper Carlson

• The rise and rise of children’s comics as Adventure Time and My Little Pony take the world by storm. Children know what they like, and what they like is adventure and fun. And strangely enough, adults happen to like that too! Adventure Time is well on its way to being a cult success, while bronies no doubt keep the Pony sales high.

The rise and rise of literary graphic novels, shows the direction that the market is truly moving in. Superheroes may dominate the box office, but gems like Blue is the Warmest Color are what book readers are picking up. Image has obviously seen the way the winds are blowing as they continue to publish a range of intelligent, creative, and stylish books. But can DC and Marvel continue to compete in this new market?—Laura Sneddon

• It must be said that First Second had a great year; in addition to the winner Boxers and Saints, Relish and Battling Boy got support, and a wide range of their other books were mentioned. After six years, this imprint has really hit a sweet spot for letting talented cartoonists tell stories and getting them noticed. Of course, Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics also continued their stellar work, and Top Shelf had a hit with March.

A special mention for Gilbert Hernandez who hit a grand slam with Marble Season, Julio’s Day, Love and Rockets Vol. 5 and the late breaking Maria M.. He is a national treasure. —HM

Participating in this year’s poll: Lucas Adams, Chris Barsanti, Glen Downey, John Seven, John DiBello, Laura Sneddon, Matt White, Heidi MacDonald, Calvin Reid, Kate Fitzsimons, Steve Bunche and Johanna Draper Carlson.

Here’s the full list of books selected:


Boxers & Saints, Gene Luen Yang (First Second)


The Property, Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly)

One of the most accessible of graphic novelists, with a cinematic presentation and the ability to capture the complexity of larger human experience within smaller family dramas, all with good humor. —JS

The effects of the Holocaust still extend to survivors and their descendants in this tale of a woman traveling with her grandmother to reclaim Polish property lost during the War. However, it's Rutu Modan's use of humor and careful observation of human traits that provides a sense of hope for the characters and reader.—JDC


Bad Houses, Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeill (Dark Horse)

Lewis is helping his mother with her estate sale business in this gorgeously illustrated tale of sorting through what's left of other people's homes. Anne is a girl looking to find feelings of belonging via other people's artifacts although she knows the danger of hoarding due to a loved one's challenges. The impermanence of housing is a particularly timely theme, especially once Anne enters Lewis’s life. Ultimately, broken homes and broken families can only be repaired by the choice to try again.—JDC

Hip Hop Family Tree, by Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)

Ed Piskor's exhaustive ongoing chronicle of the history of the most important musical movement of the past thirty-plus years is nothing less than stunning in its detail and thoroughness of research. This is pop culture history made accessible and thoroughly entertaining. —SB

Marble Season, by Gilbert Hernandez (Drawn & Quarterly)

Hernandez perfectly captures the memory of childhood days in this beautifully rendered novel, bringing to life the days of carefree play and irrational but undeniable ritual. Hernandez’s artwork infuses seemingly simple and open panels with intense memory and meaning. A sublime and soulful portrait of childhood and a story that is so effectively told in comics form it’s hard to imagine it in any other medium. —JDB

Relish by Lucy Knisley (First Second)

Rendered in a delightful high-key palette of pure pop-influenced color and an assured and happily cartoonish line, Knisley’s rich and engaging memoir offers a vivid look back at a life intimately entwined with food and cooking.—CR

Saga Volume 2, Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)

A modern classic. In simple terms, Saga is a star-crossed romance on an epic sci-fi scale, with warring factions and political intrigue. But it really is so much more, with wonderful characters on all sides, touches of pure fantasy, and its dastardly trick of quickly getting you far too emotionally invested in proceedings. Brian K Vaughan specializes in writing incredibly addictive series, but this is his masterpiece. Staples' unsurpassable art makes this book sing.—LS


Battling Boy, Paul Pope (First Second)

The hero’s classic tale is reimagined as a feverish, technicolor adventure that references myths of both antiquity and rock and roll in equal measure.—HM

Blue is the Warmest Color, Julie Maroh (Arsenal Pulp)

With a publication date brought forward in the aftermath of the film adaptation winning the coveted Palme d'Or at Cannes, this book could hardly have arrived with less hype. And yet it more than lives up to the high praises and accolades, a genuinely touching and emotional drama about the difficulties of growing up, navigating relationships, and realizing that there is more to life and love than you could ever have imagined. Beautiful and poignant, the story of Clementine and Emma will stay with you long after the final page. —LS

Crater XV, Kevin Cannon (Top Shelf)

Even more heartbreaking than its predecessor Far Arden, an action and adventure comic that deals with loss and grief far better than any self-help guides.—LA

Good Dog, Graham Chaffee (Fantagraphics)

It’s a simple story, and a familiar one, as a homeless dog is taken in by a pack of strays with a charismatic leader whose ultimate fate can’t be good. Chaffee’s always sweet, yet often exciting story follows in the tradition of great animal viewpoint novels to show that sometimes man’s best friend is the clearest window to the human heart. —HM

Hawkeye v.1: My Life As a Weapon Matt Fraction and David Aja, et al. (Marvel Comics)

Proof that there’s life yet in the superhero comic: Fraction reinvents the bow-slinging hero from The Avengers as a ground level hero, trying to clean up crime from a Brooklyn neighborhood for its inhabitants, mentoring a young teenage archer, rescuing a stray dog and evacuating stubborn Long Island residents during Hurricane Sandy. Aja’s art is reminiscent of the urban realism of Frank Miller’s early work, and his clean, sharp progression of panels is a much-needed fresh breath of air from so much of contemporary and overdramatic superhero comic art. A chapter from the point of view of Hawkeye’s dog is ingenious and innovative, mixing maps of movement, indistinct dialogue and visual icons representing Pizza Dog’s train of thought. The finest comic featuring a guy from a multi-million dollar grossing motion picture, this is proof that superhero comics can transcend clichés and simplicity. —JDB

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh (Touchstone)

This semi-graphic collection of essays based on Brosh’s blog shows that we can find humor, insight, inspiration and, indeed, beauty on the most rudimentary canvas… which perhaps suggests it’s not so very rudimentary after all. —GD

Journal, Julie Delporte (Koyama Press)

A thoughtful take on the day to day life of the artist, rendered in simple and beautiful colored pencils.—LA

March Book One, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (Top Shelf)

Clunky framing device aside, Lewis’s highly personal account of the battles for civil rights deserves to be in every school library in the country.—CB

Nemo: Heart of Ice, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

This graphic novel has two remarkable features: a brilliant, non-linear narrative technique by Moore that makes the readers think they are caught in the same temporal loop as the protagonists, and a staggeringly evocative visual landscape that reaches its zenith in a two page spread depicting Megapatagonia, where animal creatures talk backwards French. The latter is arguably the single most stunning illustration of the year.—GD

RASL, Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)

Old fashioned bare knuckled adventure mixed with doomed romance, time travel, and crazy science fiction notions beyond our understanding in Smith’s thoroughly irresistible first graphic novel for adults. Dimension spanning art thief Rasl must figure out what went wrong in his past to save his life and decipher the lost theories of Nicola Tesla. An outlandish story is propelled into a page-turner by Smith’s always brilliant storytelling. —HM

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, Vivek Tiwary and Andrew Robinson (Dark Horse)

The poignant story of the man behind the Beatles' early success, at a time when being gay was illegal, gorgeously rendered for a truly unique graphic experience.—MW

The Initiates: A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs, Etienne Davodeau (NBM)

Davodeau spent a year teaching a winemaker about graphic novels while the winemaker showed the artist his craft in return. The exploration of what it means to make art, told through different fields with more similarities than suspected, is enlightening and inspiring.—JDC

TEOTFW by Charles Forsman (Fantagraphics)

A perceptive, neo-realist slice of deadpan alienation and gloom about a teenage Bonnie and Clyde.—JS

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of your Life by Ulli Lust’s (Fantagraphics)

A beautifully illustrated, proto-feminist “On the Road” recollection of Lust’s 1980s grungy, devil-may-care punk years, vividly detailing the hair-raising story of a combination hitchhike and overland trek from Austria to Italy with a lunatic friend that turns out to be both terrifying and life changing.—CR

Woman Rebel: the Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge (D&Q)

Margaret Sanger's life story, told by Peter Bagge, is startling. Not only did she fight to make birth control and medical knowledge legal for all, she lived in outspoken and determined fashion to give women control of their lives through management of their own fertility.—JDC


Adventures of Superhero Girl, Faith Erin Hicks (Dark Horse)

All-New X-Men Vol. 3, Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen (Marvel Comics)

Asterix and the Picts, Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad (Orion)

Attack on Titan (Vol 4-10), Hajime Isayama (Kodansha)

Bandette, Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover (Dark Horse)

Barnaby, Crockett Johnson (Fantagraphics)

Beautiful Darkness, Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (Drawn and Quarterly)

Beirut 1990: Snapshots of a Civil War, by Bruno and Sylvain Ricard (Humanoids)

Bloodhound: Brass Knuckle Psychology, Dan Jolley, Leonard Kirk and Robin Riggs (Dark Horse)

Django Unchained, Reginald Hudlin, R.M. Guera and Jason Latour, based on the film by Quentin Tarantino (DC/Vertigo)

Ghosts and Ruins by Ben Catmull (Fantagraphics)

Incidents in the Night, David B (Uncivilized Books)

Jerusalem, Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi (First Second Books)

Julio's Day by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)

Kitaro, Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly)

Little Tommy Lost by Cole Closser (Koyama Press)

Love and Rockets: New Stories v.6, Los Bros. Hernandez (Fantagraphics)

Mara, Brian Wood, Ming Doyle, and Jordie Bellaire (Image)

Marshall Law: The Deluxe Edition, Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill (DC)

Midnight Secretary, Tomu Ohmi (Viz)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin Vols. 1-3, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (Vertical)

New School, Dash Shaw (Fantagraphics)

Nowhere Men v.1: Fates Worse Than Death, Eric Stephenson, Nate Bellegarde, Jordie Bellaire and Fonografiks (Image)

Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon (First Second)

Paul Joins The Scouts by Michel Rabagliati (Conundrum Press)

Prophet Vol. 2, Brandon Graham and various (Image)

Punk Rock Jesus, Sean Murphy (DC/Vertigo)

Rage of Poseidon, Anders Nielsen (Drawn & Quarterly)

Sandcastle, Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters. (Abrams/SelfMadeHero)

Strontium Dog: Portrait Of A Mutant, Alan Grant, Carlos Ezquerra and John Wagner (Rebellion)

Sunday Comics, Gahan Wilson (Fantagraphics)

Supergraphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe, Tim Leong (Chronicle)

Superman: Action Comics (Vol 1-3, Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Andy Kubert (DC)

Susceptible, Genevieve Castree (Drawn and Quarterly)

Sword of Sorcery , Christy Marx and Aaron Lopresti (DC)

Templar, Jordan Mechner, LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland (First Second)

The Black Beetle, Volume 1: No Way Out, Francesco Francavilla (Dark Horse)

The Complete Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes and Rob Davis (Abrams/SelfMadeHero)

The Cute Girl Network, MK Reed, Greg Means and Joe Flood (First Second)

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, Isabel Greenberg (Little Brown)

The Lengths, Howard Hardiman (Soaring Penguin Press)

Thor: God of Thunder, Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic (Marvel)

Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist, Asumiko Nakamura (Vertical)

Valerian And Laureline Vol. 5: Birds of the Master, Pierre ChristinJean-Claude Mezieres (Cinebook)

Very Casual, Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)

Wake Up Percy Gloom, Cathy Malkasian (Fantagraphics)

When David Lost His Voice Judith Vanistendael, translated by Nora Mahoney (Abrams/SelfMadeHero)

You're All Just Jealous of My Jet Pack, Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)

Zippy: The Dingburg Diaries, Bill Griffiths (Fantagraphics)

Zombo: You Smell Of Crime And I'm The Deodorant, Al Ewing and Henry Flint (2000 AD)