James' Favorite Comics of 2022 (Romance, Mystery, Action, and Speculative Fiction)

Here's Part 2 of my favorite comics of 2022. This year it made sense for me to divide my picks into a few different categories, and 2 different posts. So, make sure to check out Part 1). As always, these aren't the BEST comics (I have no idea what *best* means when evaluating something as subjective as art), just my personal favorites (listed in a number of categories). I hope you find something you enjoy!

Books of the Year (Non-Superhero)

Mazebook HC by Jeff Lemire with Steve Wands, published by Dark Horse
Jeff Lemire is an incredibly talented writer and creates wonderful comics with other artists (like Primordial and Gideon Falls with Andrea Sorrentino, and the many talented artists involved in the Black Hammer universe), but my favorite works of his remain the ones where he is both writer and artist. I think that's because feel like the most intimate, personal, soul-baring comics of his. Mazebook is a perfect example of those soul-baring comics, and one of my very favorite comics in years written and drawn by Lemire. Mazebook tells the story of Will, a Toronto city planner who's a broken shell of a man. His daughter Wendy died years ago (which led to the breakup of his marriage), and since then he has been living a Spartan existence, going to and from work and barely doing anything else (including eating, or talking to other people). But then Will gets pulled into a mystery where he begins to suspect that Wendy may actually still be alive. Along the way, he finds all sorts of weird clues, but also befriends his neighbor. Is Will delusional? Is anything of what he is experiencing real? I'm not sure, and I'm not sure that it matters. It's meaningful to him, and ultimately a very powerful story about overcoming grief and loss and trying o find rom in your heart for love, after something as soul-shattering as the loss of a child happens. Lemire's artwork is better than ever in Mazebook. It feels like he's really trying to evolve his style here, and trying new things visually that he hasn't done before. There are a lot of really creative motifs and designs in this story relating to mazes, and I really feel Lemire's emotion and thoughtfulness on every page. For someone lookin for thoughtful, sometimes heartbreaking but ultimately life-affirming stories, Mazebook is a must-read.

Paris by Andi Watson and Simon Gane, published by Image Comics
Sometimes you find a comic that makes you feel like you've been transported to another place and time. That's a special and rare feeling, and it's the feeling I get when I read Paris, the graphic novel from writer Andi Watson and artist Simon Gane. It's a book I think about fondly and it's one of my books of the year. The story is beautiful, romantic, smart, and compelling, and the art is really just sublime. I wish I could literally step into the world depicted in the pages of ParisParis is set in the early-to-mid 1950's, and centers around two main characters. There's Juliet, an American who's here in Paris to study art in the traditional way, so that she can "learn the rules before she breaks them". The other main character in the story is Deborah. She's an young English woman spending time in Paris under the watchful eye of her controlling, crusty old chaperone. Deborah feels frustrated because she's in the most beautiful city in the world, but she feels lonely and also not free to explore. But then Juliet and Deborah meet each other, and everything changes. Even if this story didn't have any dialogue, you could still understand the story very well. I'd still love it and want to luxuriate in the art. Gane's work in this story is just staggering to me. Part of what makes Gane's work in Paris so effective is the hyper-specific level of detail on every single page of the story. From the first page of the comic (even before the actual story begins), it's easy to see the amount of time that Gane has put into every single panel and page of the story. Every brick, every column, every street sign, every leaf on every tree - they're all rendered with a loving level of detail. This is not a precise rendering. In some ways the city feels more real than real; it’s the Paris of dreams and memory and eternal love and romance.

Favorite Action/Mystery/Crime Books

Blacksad: They All Fall Down HC Part One, by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido, published by Dark Horse
I’m thrilled that there’s a new Blacksad comic for the first time in a number of years. Blacksad is a French-published series that’s released a number of volumes over the years, and it is truly one of the most beautiful comics you will ever read. It’s a noir detective story taking place in the 1940’s and 1950’s of a world that’s a lot like ours, except that this is world full of anthropomorphic animals. The lead character is John Blacksad, a private detective who is a large cat. You might initially be thinking that you’re not really interested in something fantastical like that. You want more realistic, grounded stories. Well, the good news for you is that the stories here are incredibly real and grounded and compelling. Apart from the fact that the characters are animals, this is classic noir detective storytelling. There’s been murder, and politics, and racism. This story certers around the arts, and around the politics and money involved in the building of a big superhighway and bridge (very Robert Moses of a story). And like I said, you’ll be left absolutely slack-jawed by the lush, detailed cartooning, and the incredible personality that artist Juanjo Guarnido puts into every character. Don’t miss out on this one.

Kali HC by Daniel Freedman and Robert Sammelin, published by Dark Horse
Kali is a revenge story set in a desert battlefield, involving a biker gang leader who is betrayed, and now she's out for revenge. I love a good revenge story, and this one absolutely delivered in spades. I didn't know writer Daniel Freedman, but I really enjoyed the overall story here. The dialogue was fun and crisp. And thankfully the story was brought to life by super-talented artist Robert Sammelin. Sammelin drew an issue of the comic Zero and did wonderfully intense, dramatic work there. And I am happy to say that Sammelin is as skilled at action as he is at drama, and Kali is a fantastic read from start to finish. It feels very cinematic in the best possible way, and you could very easily imagine this story, as drawn by Sammelin, on the big screen. It's a great, action-packed read. 

The Reckless Series: Reckless, Friend of the Devil, Destroy All Monsters, and The Ghost In You, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Speaking of Brubaker and Phillips, 2020 saw the release of Reckless, a self-contained story about a man named Ethan Reckless who's kind of like a private investigator, but not exactly. When people need help with something, they call a number and leave a message. Sometimes, he decides to try to help them solve their problem. The great news is there have been four(!) additional stories set in the world of Ethan Reckless released in 2021 and 2022. These are fun action/crime stories that really convey a sense of place and time - that being 1980's Los Angeles. These are sometimes dark stories, but they have a feeling of lightness to them that's a little different than some of Brubaker/Phillips' other work (like Criminal, where you always know everyone is doomed). Sean Phillips (with excellent colors from his son Jacob, a talented artist in his own right) continues to get better and better as an artist. He conveys so much emotion, and like I said, does an amazing job setting a story in a real place and time. The Ghost In You and Follow Me Down actually take place at the same time and complementary stories. Both see Phillips and Brubaker doing their best work yet on these characters. The Ghost In You is an Anna-centric story, and she's a character I've absolutely come to love and you will too, along with the whole series. 

That Texas Blood by Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips, published by Image Comics
That Texas Blood is one of the very best books out now. It's a series of crime stories about a small town in rural Texas, and the Sheriff of that town, and some of the cases he's had to deal with over the years. The first arc took place in present day. The second one took place 40 years earlier (circa 1982), and the third arc (recently concluded) takes place in the 90's. The most recent arc involved a grisly series of murders that have come to town, and our Sheriff must take on the most gruesome case yet, set during a rare snowstorm in Texas. These are rich, wonderfully written stories that really tell a specific story about a specific place. Condon has a great handle on dialogue and narration. Thankfully he's got an incredible partner in artist Jacob Phillips, who has started off strong and just keeps getting better. Terrific art that never fails to capture the emotion and humanity of all of the characters, and in particular captured the fear and terror involved in the most recent arc, set in the weirdness of a snowstorm in Texas.

Favorite Non-Fiction Books

I'm Still Alive HC by Roberto Saviano and Asaf Hanuka, published by Boom! Studios
Roberto Saviano is a serious Journalist (with a capital J) who wrote an incredibly powerful and explosive expose about the Italian Mafia called Gomorrah (made into a film). Since then (a number of years ago) he has lived under constant police protection. I didn't know any of this previously, but it is a fascinating story and Saviano is a fascinating, thoughtful, and courageous guy. In I'm Still Alive, Saviano has collaborated with acclaimed cartoonist Asaf Hanuka (I read The Divine by Asaf and his brother Tomer, I recall it was excellent) to tell the story of his life and experiences. I highly recommend I'm Still Alive. Saviano and Hanuka are gifted storytellers, and while there's a lot of sadness and loneliness in Saviano's life, they find a way to show the meaning and purpose in his life and his crusade against organized crime. It's a highly compelling read.

Ducks by Kate Beaton, published by Drawn & Quarterly
Kate Beaton is generally known for her humor cartoons, but in Ducks she tells the story of the few years right after college when, burdened with student loans and out of good, high-paying options, she decided to go out to the then-wild west of the Alberta oil sands, and make some money. Ducks is the story of that time in her life, and it was an incredibly compelling, sometimes harrowing read. And while Ducks has some of the moments of humor for which Beaton is justifiably well-known, it's a read that is sometimes frustrating (not because of Beaton, but because of the subject matter) and sometimes quite upsetting. Beaton deal with some awful people and situations in her time in Alberta (the book addresses sexual assault that Beaton experienced). We understand that things are different now, but it wasn't so long ago. Thankfully, we also see plenty of examples of camaraderie, kindness, friendship and warmth. But we also understand that for all of these many workers, almost all of whom are from somewhere else in Canada and are separated from their families for long periods of time, their time in the oil sands is a strange and sometimes dark one. People, away from the people who love them, make some tough decisions. Beaton is unflinching in this discussion, but don't don't let any of that dissuade you. Beaton is an incredibly skilled cartoonist, and her warm, appealing style makes tough subject matter more easy to handle. I highly recommend Ducks, an excellent, educational, and sometimes tough read. 

It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth by Zoe Thorogood, published by Image Comics
Zoe Thorogood's debut was The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott, and it was a tremendously strong, extremely self-assured debut work. Billie Scott was a compelling character on a really moving, poignant journey. And having read It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth, I can tell you that Thorogood is as skilled, honest, and unflinching in telling her own story as she is in telling the story of her fictional protagonist. First, Billie Scott was a gorgeous, skillfully illustrated book, but It's Lonely at the Centre of the Earth is a whole leap forward from that. Thorogood varies up her style from page to page, and tells stories within stories, and sometimes on a single page she will draw characters in a number of different styles. Ad the story she is telling is a harrowing one. Thorogood is brutally honest about her own life and condition. She has dealt with depression and anxiety for years, and she gets really honest and raw with those feelings, including discussion of her own suicidal thoughts. For people who have experienced similar feelings or who have experienced this with a loved one, it's not necessarily an easy read. But in Thorogood's case, she brings a lot of compassion to herself and anyone dealing with these issues, and I found the book ultimately uplifting and an incredibly powerful read.

Favorite Romance Books

Always Never HC by Jordi Lafebre, published by Dark Horse
Going into Always Never I knew almost nothing but the premise of the story. The book is told in reverse, with each chapter of the story taking place prior to the earlier one. So we follow two star-crossed lovers, starting in their later years, and going all the way back to their very first meeting. And all of the twists and turns their life took in the middle. It's a story about "the one who got away" and about the possibility that maybe eventually you'll end up with that person. And it's an incredibly well-told story. Lafebre is a stunningly good cartoonist. His work is detailed and full of life and energy and emotion. He will make it easy for you to fall in love with the characters. And the storytelling is more than just clever, it really works as a cohesive story even though it's basically told in reverse. It's sort of weird to see stories this way, but we see the result/consequence long before we see whatever prompted it. It's such an interesting way to think of not just stories, but life and reality. I really enjoyed Always Never and I think you will too.

Love Everlasting by Tom King, Elsa Charretier, Matt Hollingsworth, and Clayton Cowles, published on Substack and by Image Comics
Love Everlasting is an absolutely gorgeous comic book that feels simultaneously of the past and the present. It's a smart, self-aware story that's also dramatically over-the-top, and raises lots of interesting questions. I love when people swing for the fences creatively, and Love Everlasting feels like the creators are swinging for the fences. This comic is big and bombastic and full of hyperbolic emotion, consistent with the sorts of scenes and tropes you are likely familiar with from romance comics across the decades. My impression in reading this comic is that it's full of all sorts of nods and homages if you're really well-versed in romance comics. But even if you're not, this is an incredibly accessible read. Elsa Charretier does incredible work in this book. Charretier is one of my favorite artists working today. More specifically, she's one of my favorite artists with regard to a story that's fundamentally rooted in human relationships. I particularly feel this way after the conclusion of the November series. November is a series of 4 hardcover graphic novellas, and it tells the story of 3 different women and the ways in which their lives intersect on one terrible, dramatic night, and Charretier does stunning work there, in a style that she evolves for Love Everlasting. Charretier has an incredibly appealing style that's exaggerated in a "cartoonish" way, but never for the purpose of mocking the characters or just to be funny. No, everything that Charretier does in regard to character design feels rooted in the needs of the story. In Love Everlasting, the romance setting is a perfect fit for Charretier's strengths. Romance stories are full of heightened emotions, and Charretier's knack for showing so much in facial expressions really works perfectly. Even if this were a wordless comic, we could still get the gist because her storytelling is so strong.

Favorite Speculative Fiction Books

Do A Powerbomb! by Daniel Warren Johnson with Mike Spicer, published by Image Comics
Comics superstar Daniel Warren Johnson is one of those people whose work I will read no matter what's doing. I'm sure he would demur on the "superstar" label (having hung out with him once, he's a thoughtful, humble guy), but I mean, I'm not sure there's anyone whose work on sequential comics is hotter right now. Not to mention that every time he posts a commission, the whole internet rightly freaks out about how amazing it is. Johnson has an amazing art style that is very "metal" even though it feels reductive to just describe him that way. Though he actually is a huge metal fan. His art conveys movement and excitement and intensity better than just about anyone right now. He's also a passionate wrestling fan. So, he's the perfect person to do a comic about wrestling that has wild supernatural elements, and that feels like something out of a metal concept album. Do A Powerbomb! is Johnson at his best, doing what he does best (with colors from the amazing Mike Spicer, who does wonderful work in this series bringing to life the larger-than-life emotions and the weird locations through color). There's amazing action (including terrific wrestling scenes), terrific detail, and at the core of the story, a real emotional heartbeat, and heartbreaking story about family. Johnson doesn't do anything halfway, and this comic is no exception. The emotions are huge, as is the drama and the stakes, and as is the amazingly depicted wrestling scenes. Do a Powerbomb! is an amazing read.

Echolands by J.H. Williams, Haden Blackman, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein, published by Image Comics
Echolands is a fun, literary series in the tradition of Sandman and The Unwritten. It’s also one of the most astounding looking comics that I have read in several years. Every one of the pages in the comic will leave you mouth agape. To start, the book is presented in a landscape format and often the action takes place across both pages, giving this comic an incredible sense of scope and distance between points. J.H. Williams is an absolute master illustrator, coming up with endlessly inventive panel layout and design. He’s also just a fantastic sequential storyteller, so all of those artistic flourishes are not at the expense of storytelling. Dave Stewart colors this book, and it's some of the most incredible color work I’ve seen. I can’t even imagine how much time it takes to color this book. The story involves many different characters that come from many different fictional universes, whether those are comic books, fairytales, or something else. Each of the characters isn’t just colored distinctively, but they look like they are from different universes, and Stewart, does this across the entire book. Echolands is an absolute delight to read and an artistic tour-de-force, and I highly recommend it.

Enter the Blue by Dave Chisholm, published by Z2 Comics
Enter the Blue is a lovely, compelling read that tells a moving story and is full of drama and humor. It's also an absolute love-letter to Jazz, and more specifically, to the legendary Blue Note Records label, who has released some of the greatest Jazz music (and therefore, some of the greatest music) ever recorded. Writer-artist Dave Chisholm (Chasin' the Bird, Canopus) does wonderful work in bringing together his comic storytelling skill with his intricate knowledge of Jazz (he is a music professor and a musician). You don't have to be a Jazz fan to enjoy this story, but if you are, you'll honestly enjoy Enter the Blue at a whole other level. I think Chisholm does excellent work in all aspects of storytelling. He crafts characters I care about and root for, and visually it's a really fun journey of a story. One thing I think Chisholm does particularly well is writing and drawing a comic about something auditory. It's difficult, I think, to create a comic about music and musicians. Chisholm has a very appealing and accessible art style generally. This is a comic you'd be happy to give to a non-comic reader in your life and I think they'd appreciate and understand it. The art is very creative, with strong linework and character depictions, and sequences that are fun to follow, but it all feels like it's in service of the story and the ideas the story is trying to convey. This is definitely a terrific read, and I'm happy to recommend it. 

Primordial by Jeff Lemire, Dave Stewart, and Andrea Sorrentino, published by Image Comics
Primordial is a highly compelling miniseries from the creative team that brought you Gideon Falls (Jeff Lemire, Dave Stewart, and Andrea Sorrentino)Primordial was an amazing, weird, sci-fi-horror meta-story, with tons of twists and turns. Primordial is a period piece, but it sets up a different 1960's than we remember. There's no space race. Something has scared America and Russia away from going out into space. We don't know what yet exactly, but whenever it is, it prompted both nations to switch to using animals in test flights rather than human beings, and to eventually stop running test flights altogether. As the story moves along, we do see some of what has happened to these animals, and I don’t wanna say too much, but this comic is fun and weird and absolutely worth a read. Sorrentino is doing some of his best work yet, with weird, innovative, mind blowing layouts and splash pages. The work definitely has a strong Frank Quitely vibe to it, which goes along with the weird nature of the story that feels a little bit like a Grant Morrison story (particularly, Morrison and Quitely's We3). These are among the highest compliments I can give about a comic. Dave Stewart does wonderful work in coloring the drama scenes that take place on earth, and the vivid and weird scenes that take place… Elsewhere. This is a must read for sci-fi fans.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, and Fonografiks, published by Image Comics
It's hard to say too much about Saga that hasn't already been written. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are peerless in their ability to craft stories full of exciting and weird science fiction concepts, moving, complex and real characters, engaging, dramatic, intense and heartbreaking plot, all presented visually by one of the best in the business. Saga is raunchy, intelligent, and fearless. The introductory pitch on this book is that it's like an R-rated Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet. That doesn't do it justice, but you should also know that while the scope of this book is big, the focus is always squarely on the characters. Vaughan is as good as anyone at creating characters you'll come to care about. Vaughan has an incredible partner on this book in artist Fiona Staples. I've been engaged more by certain story arcs and less by others, but my enthusiasm for Staples' art has never waned. She continues to produce, on a regular basis, some of the finest art in any comic. Her absolute mastery of emotion and expression is something to behold, and she makes every character seem interesting and important and alive. So, with all of that said, I was incredibly happy to see the return of Saga in 2022, after a 3+ year absence. If you've been reading Saga then you know the book ended on a pretty dramatic and sad cliffhanger. Well, the story doesn't ignore that cliffhanger, but characters just keep on living, and getting into new adventures and problems. The art from Staples is more gorgeous than ever, and the story is just as compelling. I felt right back at home with this team, and I'm so glad this book is back.