Not your typical celebrity memoir, They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (IDW/Top Shelf), an activist and actor best known for his longtime role on Star Trek, claimed the top spot on PW’s annual Graphic Novel Critic’s Poll with five votes from a panel of 13 comics critics. In this graphic memoir, Takei recounts his childhood imprisonment with his family during the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and his parents’ attempt to shield him and his sibling from the traumas of the camps while holding onto their dignity and convictions.

“Takei makes the personal political in a way that threads anger, patriotism, and righteousness into a marvelously poignant whole,” said PW critic Chris Barsanti. Takei’s script was co-authored by Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, but it’s the manga-influenced art of Harmony Becker, a web cartoonist making her trade book debut, that brings a fullness to Takei’s reflections on the past, and captures the confusion of a child being abruptly removed from his home. PW reviewer (and comics creator) Maia Kobabe said: “The art is simple, but very effective, capturing the struggles and bright small joys of a fragmented childhood.”

Takei described how these early experiences in the camps shaped his subsequent coming of age both in the theater and in politics. The memoir closes with scenes that pointedly draw a connection between the now-repudiated WWII internment of Japanese Americans and the current policy of family separation and internment along the Mexican border. The book was also chosen as a PW Best Book of 2019.

“Moving and even occasionally funny, Takei’s story is a dismal reminder of what’s happening on the American southern border today, in a classic American tale of heroic immigrant determination in the face of American bigotry,” writes PW’s senior news editor, Calvin Reid.

In line with those connections, Takei announced that IDW will publish a new Spanish-language edition of They Called Us Enemy in June 2020. IDW also plans to release 50,000 copies of a new expanded hardcover English edition in July 2020 that will feature bonus material.

The PW Graphic Novel Critics Poll is compiled by asking participating critics to list up to 10 trade book releases they consider the best graphic novel and comics works of the year. The book receiving the most votes wins; and we share the remaining top vote-recipients. Titles listed as Honorable Mentions each received a single vote. Taking part in this year’s poll are PW graphic novel reviewers Gilcy Aquino, Chris Barsanti, Rob Clough, Glen Downey, Shaenon Garrity, Rob Kirby, Cheryl Klein, Maia Kobabe, Chloe Maveal, Sarah Mirk. Also participating are PW Graphic Novels Reviews editor Meg Lemke, PW’s More to Come Podcast Co-hosts Heidi MacDonald and PW senior news editor Calvin Reid


The four titles that each received four votes are Good Talk by Mira Jacob (One World), Rusty Brown by Chris Ware (Pantheon), The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor Davis (D&Q), and Clyde Fans by Seth (D&Q).

A debut graphic memoir and her first foray into the comics medium, Good Talk by novelist Mira Jacob opens with candid conversations with her mixed-race son about his obsession with Michael Jackson and ultimately race and identity. From there, “Jacob’s inventive foray into comics moves… to a personal history of her immigrant family in America [and] the initial humorous tone turns troubling, complex and painful in the buildup to and aftermath of Trump’s election and its poisonous impact on her family,” Reid wrote.

PW critic Cheryl Klein said the book “offers a hopeful and playful template for how a divided nation can have the conversations about race and politics that it most definitely needs to have,” and PW graphic novels reviews editor Meg Lemke said, “Jacob’s wit is confrontational in the best way; you want to lend this book to the relative you haven’t been able to talk to about the state of the world.”

Rusty Brown by Chris Ware (a previous winner of the Critics Poll), the first volume of this much-anticipated graphic novel series, is set in a parochial school in 1970s Nebraska and maps in kaleidoscopic detail the lives of Rusty Brown, Chalky White, and their classmates, teachers, and families. The book was also chosen as a PW Book of the Year. PW critic Rob Clough described Rusty Brown as, “the crowning achievement of Ware's distinguished career… It's innovative visually and in terms of narrative, but its greatest virtue is its deeply humane approach to every character, even the ones who make morally repulsive decision.”

Eleanor Davis’s graphic novel The Hard Tomorrow offers a glimpse into the relationship of a working class couple on the fringes of a near-future society in which Mark Zuckerberg is President, and paranoia over the future permeates their daily lives. Kobabe called Davis, “one of the major talents working in comics today,” and described her book as “an emotional distillation of the hopes and fears of our current climate, and [Its] lead characters are dreamers fighting for a better future. Davis' art is alive with details of the natural world and of the expressive body language of the characters.”

Drawn over the course of 16 years, Seth’s Clyde Fans is a “mournful yet beautiful opus,” the story of a family and a business set in mid-20th century Canada, wrote Heidi MacDonald, editor in chief of The Beat and co-host of PW’s More to Come Podcast. “The Matchcard Brothers—Abe and Simon—deal with the slow decline of their fan company in different ways. Aging Abe wanders through his dilapidated office, while Simon deals with the effects of a single past disastrous sales trip for decades. Seth's razor sharp art never flinches from a single painful moment.” PW critic Glen Downey wrote that Seth “provides us with a remarkably poignant treatise on the crumbling illusion of the middle class.” Clyde Fans was also a PW Best Book of 2019.

The annual Critics Poll also highlights trends in the graphic novel category. The growth of new comics-focused imprints and new independent publishing companies is a major 2019 trend. Reid wrote that, “over the last two years or so more than 20 new publishing platforms focused on graphic novels and/or graphic nonfiction have been started and the category is growing at a healthy pace.”

Clough points to a wave of diverse new creators, among them such artists as Archie Bongiovanni, Ebony Flowers, Maia Kobabe, and Mira Jacob. “What is certain is that there are more people reading and making comics than ever before, and the result has been comics' greatest decade. That's especially true in this year for comics by women, people of color, and queer people,” he said.


Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O-Connell (First Second)

“Everyone has—at some point in their life—been a victim of a Laura Dean… this delightfully queer story comes across with a message and perspective on toxic relationships that anyone (of any age and sexuality) can benefit from reading.” – CM

Rat Time by Keiler Roberts (Koyama Press)

“Roberts makes my list every year she puts something out. Her work is always delightfully funny, with deep undercurrents of meaning.” - RK

Grease Bats by Archie Bongiovanni (BOOMBox!)

“Perfectly captures a queer friend group in our own era—I felt like I knew the characters already, and many queer readers will probably feel it was written about their own community. I don't think it's a stretch to call it 2019's version of [Alison Bechdel’s] Dykes to Watch Out for.” – MK

BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels and Ben Passmore (Fantagraphics)

“Daniels' sly critique of gentrification, rendered in stark acid colors by Passmore, is both a creepy horror story and a stinging social commentary.” – HM

Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers (Drawn and Quarterly)

“Flowers illuminates the social spaces and social relations of black girls and black women in stories that celebrate, and revolve around, the delight and symbology of black women’s hair and the rituals and processes used to care for it.” – CR


Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (Lion Forge)

“Kobabe doesn't want to be a girl or a boy, just "myself," something that family and pre-existing notions of gender norms don't always make easy. It's an immensely sympathetic memoir of self-discovery, rendered in clean, elegant art, that should become a queer comics classic.” - HM

Pittsburgh by Frank Santoro (New York Review Comics)

“Created in part as a memorial to Santoro’s parents’ marriage and as a lyrical effort to come to terms with their breakup and divorce, Pittsburgh is also a loving tribute to the city, its neighborhoods and residents, in an ethereal and moving family saga that reimagines the conventional formal nature and syntax of comics illustration and design.” – CR

Qualification: A Graphic Memoir in Twelve Steps by David Heatley (Pantheon Books)

“With humor and introspection, Heatley interrogates the twelve-step groups that took over his life, while never ridiculing the real struggles of those (himself included) who need help.” – CK

Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau (First Second)

“Witty writing, a perfectly observed seaside setting, and lots of delicious-looking baked goods make this gentle YA love story glow.” – SG

The River at Night by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn and Quarterly)

“Abstract, funny, touching, and empathetic to anyone who has dealt with the busy brainwork of insomnia, Huizenga’s structured chaos in these Glen Ganges stories meld reality and fantasy… Finding the reality in daydreams and making the disorder into something delightfully formal and familiar.” – CM

Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, trans. by Janet Hong (D&Q)

“Gendry-Kim bears witness to the harrowing story of Granny Lee Ok-sun, a former ‘comfort woman’ during the Japanese occupation of Korea. It's a difficult but necessary story, and Gendry-Kim's swift black brushstrokes are poetic without pulling punches.” – CK

King of King Court by Travis Dandro (Drawn and Quarterly)

“Readers are dropped intimately into the perspective of a child navigating the confusion of his dysfunctional family in Dandro's poignant, gorgeously executed debut memoir, which speaks volumes about trauma through often wordless cinematic sequences.” – ML

How I Tried to Be a Good Person by Ulli Lust (Fantagraphics)

“Straightforward, detailed, and explicit, Lust’s memoir of two very different relationships makes plain how passions (both artistic and bodily) may inspire horrible decision-making, but they can also drive people to figure out who they truly are.” – CK

Is This How You See Me? by Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)

“For those that have grown up and aged in a subculture, or those who have grown up on the Love and Rockets series, this book feels like a love letter from the creator to his characters, and begs readers to be reminded that you can still love your roots even if you don’t fit the same mold anymore.” – HM

Off Season by James Sturm (Drawn and Quarterly)

“Sturm captures our fraught sociopolitical moment so acutely it can be downright uncomfortable (but in a good way).” – RK


When I Arrived at the Castle by Emily Carroll (Koyama)

A Fire Story by Brian Fies (Abrams ComicArts)

Alienation by Ines Estrada (Fantagraphics)

Americana by Luke Healy (Nobrow)

Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden (First Second)

Bad Weekend by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)

Basquiat by Julian Voloj and Søren Mosdal (Self Made Hero)

Bezimena by Nina Bunjevac (Fantagraphics)

Bezkamp by Samuel Sattin and Jen Hickman (Lion Forge)

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist's Journey by Akiko Higashimura (Seven Seas)

Bradley of Him by Connor Willumsen (Koyama)

Cannonball by Kelsey Wroten (Uncivilized)

Cats of the Louvre by Taiyo Matsumoto (Viz)

Commute: An Illustrated Memoir of Female Shame by Erin Williams (Abrams ComicArts)

Creation by Sylvia Nickerson (Drawn and Quarterly)

Credo by Peter Bagge (Drawn and Quarterly)

Death of the Master by Patrick Kyle (Koyama)

Debian Perl: Digital Detective book 1 by Melanie Hilario, Lauren Davis and Katie Longua (Oni)

Drawing Power, edited by Diane Noomin (Abrams ComicArts)

Frogcatchers by Jeff Lemire (Gallery 13)

Goodbye My Havana by Anna Veltfort (Redwood)

Guts by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic)

Hawking by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick (First Second)

I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi by Gina Siciliano (Fantagraphics)

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib (Clarkson Potter)

Judge Dredd: The Small House by Rob Williams and Henry Flint (2000 AD)

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw (First Second)

Leaving Richard's Valley by Michael DeForge (Drawn & Quarterly)

Life on Earth, Book Two: Gravity's Pull by MariNaomi (Lerner)

Little Miss P by Ken Koyama (Yen Press)

Making Comics by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)

Motel Universe by Joakim Drescher (Secret Acres)

Nancy: A Comic Collection by Olivia Jaimes (Andrews McMeel)

No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant (Oni)

Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani (Seven Seas Entertainment)

Palimpsest by Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom, trans. by Hanna Strömberg, Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom, and Richey Wyver (Drawn and Quarterly)

Penny Nichols by MK Reed, Greg Means, and Matt Wiegle (Top Shelf)

Persephone's Garden by Glynnis Fawkes (Secret Acres)

PTSD by Guillaume Singelin (First Second)

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis (Walker)

Reincarnation Stories by Kim Deitch (Fantagraphics)

Saint Young Men by Hikaru Nakamura (Kodansha)

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran (Dark Horse)

Stargazing by Jen Wang (First Second)

Still Sick by Akashi

The Tenderness of Stones by Marion Fayolle (First Second)

The Way of the House Husband by Kousuke Oono (Viz Media)

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews (First Second)


2018: All the Answers

2017: My Favorite Thing is Monsters

2016: March Book Three

2015: The Sculptor

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