While the future of the monthly comic book remains uncertain — especially with so many of us willing to wait for the trade paperbacks collecting our favorite series — the original graphic novel is still alive and well, as the creme of this year’s crop illustrates. 2014 gave us terrific new work from Bryan Lee O’Malley, Richard Sala, Charles Burns, Richard Sala, and the ever-reliable Jules Feiffer.
In a Glass Grotesquely — Richard Sala
Richard Sala remains today’s premiere master of mirthful macabre, the true heir of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey, with the line work of Chester Gould. His latest, from Fantagraphics, is a 115-page opus about a master criminal named Super-Enigmatix (did I mention no one this side of Ian Fleming can name characters as well as Sala?). It’s chock full of the stuff longtime fans adore — luscious watercolors, gun-toting warrior women, and enough plot to fuel a dozen film noir thrillers. In a Glass Grotesquely also contains three bonus short stories from the master. Read it, and then tell your friends about Sala. He deserves a much wider audience.
Sugar Skull — Charles Burns
And speaking of the macabre. Black Hole creator Charles Burns completes his latest epic (the first two volumes of which are X’ed Out and The Hive) in Sugar Skull, from Pantheon. Thick swaths of midnight ink adorn Burns’ most surreal visions to date, proving the soft spoken Philadelphia-based artist hasn’t lost his touch.
Pictures That Tick Volume 2 — Dave McKean
The follow-up volume to Dave McKean’s acclaimed Pictures That Tick is, like its predecessor, a collection of short works, and so technically not a graphic novel. But its sheer excellence makes any technicality easy to dismiss. With words and silence, color and black-and-white, penned illustrations and digital collage, linear narrative and stream of conscious, stories and dreams, McKean continues to make use of every conceivable tool. If your only exposure to his work thus far is through his collaborations with Neil Gaiman, you need to read McKean’s solo books. Start with the first volume of Pictures of Tick and his trippy opus Cages, but be sure to pick up this latest work from Dark Horse, the winner of the Victoria and Albert Museum Illustrated Book of the Year award.
Kill My Mother — Jules Feiffer
Comics are like jazz in that the medium’s best practitioners don’t get older, they just get better. Case in point — Jules Feiffer. It’s hard to believe that at eighty-five years of age, the Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist, playwright and screenwriter has only now published his second graphic novel. Yet Kill My Mother (published by W. W. Norton) is a worthy successor to 1979’s Tantrum, albeit a very different beast. Returning to his crime-story roots (as an assistant to Will Eisner on The Spirit), Feiffer has concocted his own noir saga, complete with femme fatales, petty crooks, communist sympathizers, and one burnt-out private dick.
Seconds — Bryan Lee O’Malley
Bryan Lee O’Malley may be fifty years younger than Feiffer, but his point of view is no less distinct. In this fitting follow-up to the multi-volume Scott Pilgrim saga, the Canadian cartoonist again follows a young artist — a chef named Katie — who ingests a magical mushroom when her life gets out of hand and finds she’s able to restart her career from scratch. In bold color, Seconds (published by Random House) overflows with O’Malley’s trademark humor and heart.
What were your favorite original graphic novels from 2014? Let us know below!