From 'Only What's Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts,' by Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear, published by Abrams Comicarts. All photos by Nick Gazin
2015 was a garbage year and we all know it, but at least there were some good comics. Being able to tell which comics were good and which were bad isn't something just anyone can do. Only I, Nicholas Gazin, have the sophistication and comic book knowledge to truly judge the good from the bad, the right from the wrong, the important from the distracting. It is my sacred gift in the war against mediocrity that I be honest and tell you the comic book truth.
Here are the best ten comics of 2015, in order from least best to most best. Although I provide links for where to purchase the books online I encourage anyone interested in these books to go see if a local comic store has them first.
#10: 'Punks Git Cut'
By Jay Howell, published by Last Gasp
This book collects all of Jay Howell's zines and booklings. It's all in here. There's his Punks Git Cut zines, which are little visual gags like David Shrigley might make. There's his comic Dark Wave, about a black metal singer who has a panic attack and ends up surfing on a coffin. Best of all there are his pretty little drawings done on the title pages of old paperbacks.
Jay Howell is known by many as the designer of the TV shows Bob's Burgers and Sanjay and Craig. An animated TV show takes a long time to make and many collaborators, underlings, and overlords. It's cool to see what Jay makes on his own and it's great to see his style evolve and mature over the course of the book. It starts out just OK, but by the end he's mastered his craft. If you need inspiration to get your next zine together, take a look.
Buy it from Last Gasp.
#9: 'Bright-Eyed at Midnight'
By Leslie Stein, published by Fantagraphics Books
Leslie Stein has been doing comics for VICE for a couple years now so it should be no surprise that her latest book of watercolor diary comics is on this list. Some of the comics in this book originally appeared on this site. If you haven't already seen them, her stuff deals with loneliness and walking around and trying to find some sense of peace and satisfaction. Leslie primarily draws Leslie. She'll be walking, drawing, working at a bar, lying in bed full of dread, or remembering her childhood but all the while the comic is primarily about Leslie trying to understand herself. It's a good book.
Buy it from Fantagraphics Books.
#8: 'The Sandman: Overture'
By Neil Gaiman, J. H. Williams III, and Dave Stewart, published by Vertigo
Neil Gaiman made a new Sandman book! This was published originally as single issues, but Sandman is a comic that's best read in collected volumes. If anyone reading this comic is unaware of Sandman that would surprise me a lot, but I don't want to be exclusive.
Sandman is a comic that was published monthly starting in 1989 by DC Comics and ran for 75 issues. It tells the story of Dream, who is the god of dreams, and his siblings who are the gods of death, despair, desire, destiny, and other things that start with D. The comic tells stories set at different points in history that involved Dream as well as stories set in the present day, which is the early 90s in the comic. It's very gothy, literate, and was very progressive when it came out in its having gay and trans characters decades before any other mainstream comic did.
In the original series Dream was captured, and it was mentioned without explanation that he'd been off on another planet fighting aliens or something. This book shows what that was like. We also see Dream's parents, which is surprising and fun. Dream goes off with a giant cat meandering through the cosmos and different layers of reality. The art by J. H. Williams is beautiful and inventive. Almost every page is laid out differently, and Williams does more experimental comics-making than has ever taken place in Sandman before. It's the dreamiest Sandman book yet.
After leaving Sandman 20 years ago, Neil Gaiman wrote a bunch of entertaining fantasy novels that are a little like Stephen King's stuff and a couple children's books. He did a movie too. It's neat to see him back writing Sandman, even if it's just for one book. Maybe in 20 years, he'll do another.
Buy it from Vertigo.
#7: 'Real Deal #7'
By Lawrence Hubbard, published by Real Deal Production
Lawrence Hubbard is a true artist whose work is crude while also being sophisticated. The first issue of Real Deal came out almost 30 years ago and it took him this long to get to issue seven, but it was worth it. If you want graphic, over-the-top, unfiltered violence, violent sex, and zero justice in your comics, Real Deal is the comic to read.
Buy it from Real Deal Productions.
#6: 'Dream Fossil: The Complete Stories of Satoshi Kon'
By Satoshi Kon, published by Vertical Comics
Before Satoshi Kon made some of the greatest anime works ever, including Perfect Blue and Paranoia Agent, he drew manga stories and that's what this book is. The stories range in subject and genre. The first story is about people with telekinetic abilities being treated like second-class citizens. The second is about two friends having a summertime vacation adventure. The next is about young fuck-ups who make it to the Japanese high-school baseball championship. There's a ghost story, there's a samurai story. They're all good comics, and it's always interesting to see the early work of a creative dynamo like Satoshi Kon.
Buy it from Penguin Random House.
#5: '750 Years in Paris'
By Vincent Mahe, published by Nobrow
This is a beautiful book by Vincent Mahe. On the left page of each spread is a year and on the right page is a drawing of the same corner in Paris at different stages from 1265 to 2015. There's no real text except for graffiti, signs and advertisements, and a timeline at the back of the book. Not every drawing documents a historical moment; some just show the evolution of the structure or people repairing damage. The book shows this one spot during the Crusades, the Black Death, the French Revolution, the German occupation, and finally the Charlie Hebdo demonstrations in 2015. It seems to be about the tenacity of people or maybe Paris specifically... It's the best thing Nobrow has published.
Buy it from No Brow.
#4: 'Wally Wood EC Comics Artisan Edition'
By Wally Wood, published by IDW Publishing
To a lot of people who like American comics, Wally Wood was the greatest. Dan Clowes was inspired to become a cartoonist from a comic that Wood drew that ended with a self-portrait of the cartoonist sitting at his drafting table.
Wally Wood was one of the great artists that drew stories for EC Comics. EC published Tales from the Crypt, Mad, and other subversive material that was drawn by the best artists in American comic books at the time. This book presents scans of the original, uncleaned-up, and uncolored art for a lot of his best-known stories.
Instead of looking rougher, presented in its original form, Wally Wood's work looks even more slick and refined. Wally loved making things shiny, and he loved texture and detail. EC was banned from making comics because a child psychologist claimed that they were turning the nation's youth into homosexuals and juvenile delinquents. This doctor was an asshole just out to make a name for himself, but when I look at this book, I can see why people wanted to keep this material out of the hands of children. This is some sick, lurid greatness. I started crying when the dog dies of radiation poisoning in Wally Wood's adaptation of Ray Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains.
Buy it from IDW Publishing.
#3: 'Worst Behavior'
By Simon Hanselmann, published by Pigeon Press
Simon is the best funny person in comics right now I'd say. He used to do a weekly comic for VICE, but he got too successful for us and now just makes books and is a New York Times bestselling author. Simon makes comics about a witch named Megg, her boyfriend who is a cat named Mogg, and their nebbish roommate Owl. Their nosy neighbor is a terrifying but strangely innocent psychopathic wolfman named Werewolf Jones. Together they all get drunk and high and get into trouble. It's a little like Beavis and Butthead; it's a little like The Simpsons. It's not like most comics. There will be multiple hilarious moments on a single page, some large, punchline-style hilarious and some more quietly funny. Sometimes the comics will just deal with depression. It's funny that Simon makes these comics about wastoid slackers because he's a turbo-powered workaholic who pours all of his time into making comics.
Buy it from Pigeon Press.
#2: 'Last Man Volumes 1–4'
By Balak, Michael Sanlaville, and Bastien Vives, published by First Second
I was mailed the first four volumes of Last Man as they were released over the course of 2015 and they sat in one of several piles of books, unlooked at for most of it. When I finally opened the first book, I was unable to stop reading until I'd finished all of them. Then I tore through the piles in my house hoping to discover a fifth.
Last Man is a series of French graphic novels that were originally published by Casterman, the venerated French publisher. When the story of the comic is described, it doesn't necessarily sound like much. But the sophistication in the comic book storytelling at work here is as masterful as it gets.
Last Man starts in a medieval fantasy realm where an 11-year-old named Adrian Velba is eager to take part in a yearly Dragonball-style fighting tournament where the combat incorporates magic. On the day of the tournament, Adrian's partner falls ill and he teams up with a mysterious adult named Richard Aldana. Together they win round after round while Richard becomes something of a father to Adrian and develops a relationship with Marianne, Adrian's mother. The morning after the tournament is over, Richard takes off so Marianne takes Adrian to go looking for him. After that, the comic starts expanding and changing. It starts off feeling a little like Dragonball set in Narnia and then becomes more like Stephen King's Dark Tower series. It's hard to say who the main character of the series is, but this is a strength and not a weakness. When the books start, it seems like Adrian is who we're supposed to focus on. When Richard enters the comic, it seems like he's the main character. When Richard leaves it seems like the first two books were just a first act and Marianne was actually the main character the whole time. Creating three characters the reader can identify with, even when they're occasionally at odds with each other, is no small feat.
The art is loose and gestural for the most part but becomes more detailed and complete when it needs to. The art is highly sophisticated in how inconsistent it is. It gives you exactly what you need and is beautifully efficient. There are traces of James Harvey, Hugo Pratt, C. F., and Tadao Tsuge. The poses and compositions are perfect. The panel transitions are great. The action sequences and fight scenes are incredible, and I normally don't care about those. In Last Man, there's a lot of emotional set-up in between the fights and the fights are given room to happen in a beautiful way that you usually only see in European or Japanese comics. I eagerly await the next volume of Last Man.
Buy them from First Second.
#1: 'The Collected Hairy Who Publications 1966–1969'
By Dan Nadel, published by Matthew Marks Gallery
I first heard about the Hairy Who from Dan Nadel while taking his class at SVA. Dan once kicked me out of his class for eating a burger. He didn't return to teach at the end of the year because he hated me that much. Twelve years later, he has published both his and my dream book, a collection of the Hairy Who's art catalogues.
The Hairy Who were an art collective of six Chicagoans: Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum. For each Hairy Who art show, they would make and publish an art catalogue that was supposed to look like a comic book, but full of psychedelic and pretty drawings. This book presents all of the show catalogues in one great hardcover. Dan Nadel is great at putting together pretty books and kicking me out of his class. I wish I could have a hamburger I could start eating whenever I'm near him.
All of the work in this book is beautiful, but the most mind-bending work is by Karl Wirsum, whose stuff seems to be on another planet entirely. Instead of focusing on linework, he's all about mutating shapes and colors and creating different textures. His stuff varies wildly from image to image, but his work is writhing with life and emotion and new ways to draw. You can see his inlluence in Gary Panter's work.
Buy it from Matthew Marks Gallery.
'Only What's Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts'
By Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear, published by Abrams Comicarts
When Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear get together and make a book, there's nothing else like it. Chip Kidd is probably the most famous book designer and Geoff Spear is a photographer. Together they made a book about Chip's Batman collection, another about his Shazam collection, and Bat Manga. Now they've made a book about Charles Schulz and Peanuts. The books that Chip Kidd makes like this are about his personal relationship to the subject, but he maintains a respectful distance. This book seems to often be about understanding Schulz as a designer and the graphic beauty of what he did. I feel personally honored that Chip Kidd cares about comics and blesses us by crafting perfect objects about comics.
Buy it from Abrams.
By Marc Bell, published by Drawn and Quarterly
Marc Bell used to do comics in the print magazine version of VICE about a million years ago. He did Shrimpy and Paul as well as drawn interpretations of song lyrics. He stopped doing comics for a while to focus on paintings, but eventually came back. The word "fever dream" appears in a drawing on the back cover and that's what Marc's comics are like, very cute fever dreams with strange logic and a lot of things all happening at once. Marc Bell is a "world builder," and I want to exist in his worlds very much.
Buy it from Drawn and Quarterly.
By Arnaud Loumeau, published by United Dead Artists
There's almost zero text anywhere on or in this book. It's page after page of beautiful, candy-colored symmetrical, psychedelic drawings done on graph paper by Arnaud Loumeau. It's a special book. Get it if you can find it.
Buy it from United Dead Artists.
Thank you for reading my objectively correct list of the best comics. Please don't leave comments asking me why Saga or some superhero thing isn't on the list. I told you already, I am right and I wouldn't be able to print it if it weren't true.
If you need more recommendations, here are my favorite comics of 2014 and 2013. If you want to pay attention to me some more, go look at my Instagram.