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The Top 20 Comics of 2016: Part One, #20-11

Chase Magnett

12/30/2016

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: 2016 was a great year for comics. It seemed that no matter where you looked, at any variety of publishers, genres, or creators, everyone was seeking to top themselves and one another. Looking at what was released throughout the world of comics in 2016, it’s nothing short of an embarrassment of riches.

Now comes the difficult take of narrowing it down and selecting the absolute best of the best to recommend to readers looking to catch up. Just like in 2014 and 2015, comics critic Chase Magnett has selected the 20 best comics of 2016. This list pulls from mainstream fare, manga, indie publishing, and everything in between. It’s a diverse compilation of all that the comics medium has to offer. We hope you enjoy it and find a few more great reads to end this year with.

So without any further ado, here is part one, collecting our #20-11 selections for 2016:

20. Mooncop

Created by Tom Gauld

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Mooncop’s simple aesthetic belies its complex themes. This quiet comic turns the charming narrative of the last cop on the moon, patrolling an almost deserted colony, into a study on the nature of work and solitude. Long vistas shaded with cool blues and grays make the cartooning a delight to behold, but the greatest moments come in the small human interactions. Uncomfortable goodbyes, conversations with machines, and a well-earned moment of shared silence provide plenty to reflect on during the cold, dark winter.

19. Black Widow

Created by Chris Samnee (writer/artist), Mark Waid (writer), and Matthew Wilson (colorist)

Published by Marvel Comics

Samnee and Waid became a revered collaborative quantity in comics for their run on Daredevil, but have somehow still managed to up the ante in Black Widow. Each issue shows the pair pushing the nature of their superhero-spy mashup in new directions with a debut that declared a focus on the most difficult aspects of superhero comics. Non-verbal communication, chases, and quick observations are all central to this thrilling adventure filled with intrigue and history. Although it’s often just as thrilling to see what Samnee accomplishes on each page as it is to observe Natasha’s own story.

18. Southern Bastards

Created by Jason Aaron (writer) and Jason Latour (artist)

Published by Image Comics

In spite of some bumps in the schedule, Southern Bastards remains one of the most impressive serialized comics coming out today. This year saw the story continue to grow both the setting and characters of Craw County. It became a truly ensemble narrative, one defined by a central aesthetic. Jason Latour’s art is as brash and brutal as ever, with a color scheme that defines the animalistic nature of this world. Southern Bastards is as potent of a commentary on small town America and the flaws that twist it into something to be feared.

17. A.D.: After Death

Created by Scott Snyder (writer) and Jeff Lemire (artist)

Published by Image Comics

While both Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire are well-respected creators in comics, their collaboration on A.D. showed how much further they could still push themselves and one another. Experimenting with form and style, both artists are revealing unseen qualities of their work and ambitions only hinted at in previous stories. At two-thirds complete this comic is truly something beautiful to behold with watercolors and design that support the reveries inside. In spite of its globe-spanning high concept, A.D. is a deeply human narrative and its quest into a single man’s soul makes it something more than just interesting.

16. Ghosts

Created by Raina Telgemeier

Published by Scholastic Inc.

Raina Telgemeier’s popularity is not based purely on her seemingly effortless cartooning and keen eye for layouts, but in how she manages to present complex subject matter to an all-ages audience. Ghosts contains fantastica elements, but where it really soars is in address chronic illness and the inevitability of death from an adolescent perspective. The comic portrays conflicts between perceived and real issues in a manner that is striking even as an adult reader, and will likely leave most with tears in their eyes. We’ve spent too long declaring comics aren’t for kids; Ghosts most certainly is and what it accomplishes is not diminished by that at all.

15. Rumble

Created by John Arcudi (writer), James Harren (artist), and Dave Stewart (colorist)

Published by Image Comics

Rumble has remained one of the most consistent Image comics on the stands since it debuted at the end of 2014. Its aesthetic is a perfectly potent blend of kineticism, peculiarity, and unexpected pathos that forms an absolute roller coaster of a comic. In the course of only a few pages it delivers tremendous monster designs, some of the best action in American comics, and a romance with real human warmth. There’s no doubt that Rumble is one of the most overlooked comics on the scene today, and that’s a real tragedy.

14. Assassination Classroom

Created by Yūsei Matsui

Published by VIZ Media

As Assassination Classroom rolled past its midway point in English translations this year, it became clear this series would be considered a modern classic. Matsui’s comic has always been an incredible thrill ride packed with plots, plans, and pitfalls that come as quickly as the turns on a roller coaster. What has really set it apart is the often not-so-subtle commentary on classist divides and pre-judgement of students. It’s a set of themes and ideas that have bridged the cultural divide to strike home both in Japan and America.

13. Prophet: Earth War

Created by Brandon Graham (writer), Simon Roy (writer/artist), Giannis Milonogiannis (artist), Grim Wilkins (artist), Joseph Bergin (colorist), and Lin Visel (colorist)

Published by Image Comics

From its very first issue the revitalization of Rob Liefeld’s Prophet character was defined by its ambition. It took place in a universe as detailed and well-realized as Frank Herbert’s Dune. This year saw the story come to a close with a six-issue mini-series that was every bit as good as the build to it. Each character received a proper, if often quick, apotheosis and the grandiose nature of the narrative itself led to places so bizarre they could only be contained on a comics page. Behold this work and one of the greatest collaborative efforts in comics of this decade.

12. Tetris: The Games People Play

Created by Box Brown

Published by First Second

Box Brown’s second history, following 2014’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, examines a less linear and much broader subject, and is rewarded for that ambition. Starting with a brief definition and history of gaming, Brown weaves a web of real life characters whose messy combined story provides a fascinating window into the 20th Century. It’s a tale of Cold War politics, love of art, and capitalism that reveals nothing is ever simply just a game.

11. Big Kids

Created by Michael DeForge

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

DeForge outdoes himself in one of his longest comics narratives to date. The combination of his unique visual aesthetic and an extended visual metaphor regarding maturity and growth provides the perfect entry point to his comics oeuvre. Big Kids is the sort of story that sticks with you, growing and branching the more it is considered. As both a statement of artistic intent and memoir-like narrative it succeeds in ways that will continue to surprise long after the cover is closed.

Be sure to come back soon to see the rest of our top 20 comics of 2016.

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A Brief Note on Accreditation: Many of the comics on this list are a collaborative effort featuring the work of writers, pencillers, inkers, colorists, letterers, designers, and many others. Rather than feature a comprehensive list of all creators involved in the creation of each comic, I have opted to include only the names of the artists, writers, and colorists most associated with the work. Roles are denoted in parentheses as specified in the work. This is not meant to demean the work of the others involved. It is a decision made due to concern for space.

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