From a shirtless bear fighter to satanic cults, this year has been one of the most incredible in comic books in terms of atmosphere, use of space, and some of the best damn action that has ever been put on the page. This is truly a golden age of comics, as we have artists from a variety of publishers, including Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, Dark Horse, and Valiant in such a variety of styles.
These, though, are the best of the best, the ones that drop jaws, bulge eyes, and make all comic book fans' hearts swoon. I'm always in awe of what comic book artists do so effortlessly, and these artists in particular create a story that, at the end of the year, has led me back to multiple excited readings. We've limited the list to serial publications because it is an artform that we both know and love. As always, if you agree or disagree, please tell us in the comments below!
There’s a psychotic gleefulness throughout all of Skottie Young’s work that pairs quiet lovingly with Gert in I Hate Fairyland, and this season, as Gert goes down to hell, the kooky nature of Fairyland has gone wild. I Hate Fairyland continues to push boundaries that only sometimes should not be pushed yet the cartoony nature of this comic makes each adventure both lovely and ridiculous and, with any other artist, this comic book simply would not work.
This year the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has had to battle both the animals of New York City and Ultron as a robot dinosaur in the Shadow Lands and Erica Henderson has made some of the most unbeatable artwork in the process. Whether it’s a robot dinosaur or a chicken and bear love story, no artist pairs as well with the content in making such charmingly funny comics as Henderson.
There’s a wonderful animated style associated with Head Lopper that is both attractive and inviting. A hulking individual that is able to slice off limbs with a swipe of the sword as well as characters that include heartfelt little creatures to fantastically monsters, fill each voluminous issue of Head Lopper, a comic that continues to be one of the most creative and original comics on the shelves. This is one of the most original comic books being published today.
There’s awesomecounter-culture craziness in Tess Fowler and Peter Mulligan’s Kid Lobotomy that skirts between reality and dreams. This is the type of comic that William S Burroughs would be making as each panel has little intricacies that push the boundaries of what you may understand that is going on. There’s a wonderfully strangeness to this series that is weird, distinctive and one of the most fun of the year.
A futuristic racing culture is intermixed with a cartoony appeal in Babs Tarr’s adrenaline filled Motor Crush. Motor Crush rides a thin line of playness with heartfelt moments alongside some of the most kickass races that, well, aren’t always the most safe. The story fits incredibly well with Tarr’s style making one of the most flat out enjoyable comics this year.
More than any other story this year, Seven to Eternity creates a world full of armies and heroes that are jaw-dropping in their presentation and grandeur. It’s not surprising that a Rick Remender comic would be heavy on the action and character development but Jerome Opena continually throughout the series outdid himself with spreads that show how incredible fantasy could be in comics. One of the most awe-inspiring beautiful comics in Image’s line.
Lunella Lafayette is a genius with somewhat questionable social skills but an incredible amount of charm. This year, she has joined forces with the X-Men, blasted off into outer space, faced a Lunella from a different dimension, and encounters Doctor Doom. This continues to be one of the most beautiful and alluring stories on the shelves and Natacha Bustos’s work at bringing the story to life is wonderful.
Sean Phillips’s 6th pairing with Ed Brubaker has been nothing but incredible for Image Comics. Kill or Be Killed is a psychologically brilliant story that is part fantastical and part psychological as the series explores the Dylan’s impulse to kill. Is the main character crazy and suffering from mental illness or is there really a demon that compels him to kill. It’s one of the best comics of the year and a disturbingly beautiful story of violence and desperation.
There’s so much to love about Raúl Allen and Eric Heisserer’s wonderful story of misfit psiots that were discarded by Toyo Harada after they exhibited abilities that were deemed worthless. Their powers are....interesting in nature. Nicole talks to birds, Martin makes inanimate objects glow and Owen who can summon a random object at any given time. It’s a brilliant concept but Raul Allen’s wonderful urban landscapes and compliments the story incredibly well. The only disappointing aspect of Secret Weapons was its length (4 issues) as this comic series a complete delight and one of many pinnacles in an excellent year for Valiant.
There’s a quiet beauty that surrounds the witches of Black Magick. These witches are very different from those in the Redlands, their power is secret and inviting as, when the spells are cast, there’s a dark anticipation that occurs. Yet, as seen in the past few issues, freak accidents can be made by frightening sources. The focus this arc has been on the detective story more while horror hides out of peripheral view but the artistry continues to be stunning. Scott uses a charcoal style with small bursts of color coming out from candles or through magic. The art is wonderfully detailed, using a realistic style, to tell a story that is a mystery at heart with magic breaking through. There’s nothing like this on the shelves and it is astounding.
The beautiful watercolor work on display in Dustin Nguyen and Jeff Lemire’s gorgeously astounding tale of robots and space makes Descender one of those comics which fans run to their friends and scream you must read this. It’s a comic that simply could not be told in any other fashion, with Nguyen using his artwork to develop a celestial, often dream-like atmosphere that can easily become jarring as danger approaches.
Grant McKay has had one hell of a year. As invaders of other dimensions attack and your wife has been brainwashed by Kadir, McKay and his family engage in some of the most incredible battle sequences of the year. While some comic book artists create a world all their own, Matteo Scalera has brought dimensions after dimensions to this eye-popping book with characters, mostly dangerous, that plain astound.
There’s a man deep in the woods that has had a very difficult relationship with bears in 2017. Shirtless Bear Fighter is a charming and often hilarious tale of a super-weapon who works for flapjacks and is the person to call when bears attack. It’s a clever concept that really comes to life with the cartoony artwork by Nil Vendrell .
Jack T. Cole
2017 has been an excellent year for horror in comics and there’s been no better psychological horror comic than Cullen Bunn and Jack T. Cole’s nightmare inducing The Unsound. Taking place in a mental institution, The Unsound takes the jolting unease that one remembers from such old films like Shock Corridor and adds in a growing atmosphere of insanity as the characters soon realize the inmates are running the asylum.
Vanesa R. Del Rey
Three witches have descended upon the small town of Redlands. Vanesa R. Del Rey’s eerie work on Redlands is a masterclass in how to tell a scary story. Panels are closely intimate with characters, finding them in bed while reading Salem’s Lot to children or whispering in the readers each with a close-up of the lips. Horror has had an especially good year in all mediums but this comic is something special and has the potential of not only finding its way into your dreams but changing the genre in a very exciting way.
Did you hear the excitement come out of the comic book community when DC announced that Greg Capullo and Scott Snyder would team up again for Dark Knights Metal? Sure, the brief stint in the afterworld with Mark Millar on Reborn was excellent, but pair Snyder with Capullo for a metal version of the Justice League (also Sandman!) and get ready for some majorly happy comic book fans.
Cat Staggs’s photographic style brings a more realistic and, often times, unapologetically dark and bloody look at Crosswind. On the surface, Crosswind is a Freaky Friday story of a housewife and hitman who changed bodies but with Staggs’s dark and photorealism style, the story takes an especially horrifying turn, especially in regard to the actions of the hitman’s storyline.
Shade the Changing Girl is such a difficult comic to approach from an artist’s perspective. You have an alien who takes over the body of a young bully but you have to find a way to incorporate both worlds that is easy to read. Marley Zarcone’s inventive and psychedelic style at bringing out Shade and Loma, with a lot of focus to old style Hollywood motifs, builds an atmosphere that is entrancing, pairing well with the otherworldly nature of the story.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited by a comic that I didn’t fully understand like I did with the psychologically brilliant Moon Knight. Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood’s legendary run on this incredible character. A psychological story is an incredibly tough comic to do art for, you must bring the reader outside of their environment and into the unstable one presented by the artist.
There’s no more beautiful, fashion-forward artwork than Leslie Hung incredible work on Snotgirl. Snotgirl is the story of a fashion blogger who gets mixed up in a murder mystery amidst around a list of frienemies that may or may not be on her side. Hung gives each blogger their own personality but the allure of this artwork is how beauty conscious each character is portrayed. A perfect artist to accompany a world that is somewhat supercilious but always in vogue, Snotgirl reins supreme as one of the best, and most glamorous, comics of 2017.
From giant tardigrades to fighting mega-robots Paper girls taken a story of a bunch of girls on bikes and created one of the most surprising stories of the year. No comic book has the cliff hangers that Paper Girls has, bringing monumental changes at the end of episodes that send readers reeling. There are moments of awe-inspiring attacks that rage across the page as pterodactyls scream through the sky that are paired with intense, heartfelt instances of sadness and contemplation.
Supergirl: Being Super does an excellent job of pairing a high school story in which Kara Danvers not only has to come to understand her role with the powers she has but also her social dynamic in how she must fit in. Joelle Jones does this with a fluidity and grace that we’ve come to see on all her titles but there’s lovely coming of age moments here of quiet contemplation that speak well to the Danvers character of self-discovery and, for this story, grief. This is one of the best DC series in banner year for the publication.
Daniel Warren Johnson
Daniel Warren Johnson’s apocalyptic tale of ultra-violence has some of the more emotionally-gripping and extreme action sequences of the year (and more than a fair bit of blood as well). Whether it’s screeching creatures that full the sky or the Black Canyon raising the bar for the characters, each animal, clan, or setting provides a wonderful backdrop to one of the best action comics of the decade..
Whenever one reads a comic drawn by Chip Zdarsky, I recommend you go back and reread it a second or third time. There’s no other artist today that leaves as many entertaining easter eggs as this Sex Criminals artist and, throughout some very meta- storylines, we’ve seen Zdarsky’s artwork expand to new heights. He’s always been a funny guy, but this yeah, especially with the incredible wide wiener issue, he’s been in epic form.
The best horror comic of the year is Image’s incredible Winnebago Graveyard. Taking its cue from the best 80’s horror movies, Alison Sampson frames everything slighting outside of what the audience would like to see as the view follows a family whose winnebago breaks and then disappears. Then, of course, the satanic cult shows up. This is one of the scariest comics of the year and Sampson’s artwork weaves an eerie atmosphere as evil descend upon the innocent family.
With panels that highlight the heartbreaking as well as the quirky appear in Mister Miracle, Mitch Gerads wonderful artwork perfectly accompanies Tom King’s philosophically profound storyline. Much of this artwork is incredibly subtle, recognizing that the panels take up moments of time where pacing is important to the story and Gerads does this wonderfully, fleshing out the Mister Miracle character and making the most buzzed about comic of the year. I know I’m just one of many saying this, but Mister Miracle lives up to the hype.
Sara Pichelli's time on Spider-Man will someday go down as a hallmark in the series. From the mystery of the other Miles Morales in Spider-Men II to the Miles and Gwen adventures in Spider-Man, this year has given Pichelli the ability to show how great of a Spider-Man artist she really is and how lucky we are to have her on this series. Pichelli is quickly becoming not only one of the best Spider-Man artists of all time, but one of the best comic book artists in history.
1950’s Hollywood permeates into science fiction as Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer peer into the lives of superheroes that are stuck together in a small town. In many ways, this story is very much like Sartre’s No Exit with hell being other people, as they struggle with their containment. The artwork is reminiscent of an older age in comics, with echos of Jack Kirby, but there are hard philosophical questions that happen in more modern books, making this comic one of the best series of the year.
While Marvel didn’t fully commit to the new Inhumans show, Black Bolt was an excellent example of how to do the Inhumans right. Starting from a prison, Black Bolt is in chains and muzzled as this comic book goes from dark moments to instances of quirkiness as Black Bolt sits with Carl Creel, the Absorbing Man. This is a stunning showcase by Christian Ward to go inside the prison, and Black Bolt’s mind, for dark instances of contemplation. This was one of Marvel’s surprise hits of the season and a comic that you should definitely not let go by.
While there’s been multiple comic book space operas in the last few years, no other comic has had the beautiful vision of Saga. Now in its 48th issue, Saga characters have such incredible ingenuity to them, including a ghost babysitter, television headed aristocracy, a spider-like bounty hunter, a harp seal with a golden axe, and a humanoid plant creature who enjoys getting high. Each issue of Saga is a brilliant cavalcade of images and worlds that have amazed audiences for years and continue to extend the boundaries to what both fantasy and comic books can accomplish. Saga continues to be one of the greatest comic books of all time and there’s no better artist in comics than Fiona Staples.