Good graphic novels tend to appear in bookstores seemingly out of nowhere after years of rumors, scattershot serialization, “process” zines and snippets posted to social media. As literature, long-form comics are uniquely resistant to editing. As visual art, the cartoonist is in the weird position of having no access to the final product until it’s presented to the public. So it’s frankly miraculous when we get as many good comics as we do. This year there were remarkable new books from established masters and freshman graphic novels from brilliant young artists. Better still, a gratifyingly thick stratum of our 2023 stack was devoted to making us laugh. It’s a rich conversation, and one that promises to continue into next year and long beyond.
From the moment you open it, Daniel Clowes’s MONICA (Fantagraphics, 108 pp., $30) announces its ambition. Against the weird hellscape of its front endpapers, the title spread depicts the world at its lifeless, churning, brightly colored beginning. Then all of time (so far) goes by in a whoosh on the next two pages — the dinosaurs, Jesus, Hitler, Little Richard, Sputnik — alongside the copyright boilerplate and the names of the editors and publicist. In Clowes’s smooth lines and precise hues, the rest of the book borrows styles from war, horror and romance comics to tell the story of an ordinary woman trying to give her life some meaning. Is such a thing even possible? Could the attempt destroy everything?
“Monica,” by Daniel Clowes, borrows styles from war, horror and romance comics to tell the story of an ordinary woman trying to give her life some meaning.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
The four bickering roommates in the cartoonist and stand-up comedian Benji Nate’s GIRL JUICE (Drawn & Quarterly, 176 pp., $24.95) annoy one another, but that doesn’t stop them from proclaiming undying sisterhood. The adventures of Nana, Bunny, Tula and Sadie make for both a joyous gag comic and a hilarious slow-burn graphic novel with plenty to reward repeat visits. The book ends with a very fun novella about a demon who helps give Tula’s YouTube career a lift, but my favorite joke is the way Nana begins dating a clown and slowly starts wearing ever-clownier outfits.
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