It’s been a strong year for comics so far in 2023, albeit not always from the usual players. If the Big Two of Marvel and DC sometimes seem to be stuck in a holding pattern for their next Big Event Series, the graphic novel baton has been more than capably picked up by any number of players from across the medium: from graphic novelists like Deena Mohamed to bonkers “dudes rock” cartoonists like Daniel Warren Johnson and beyond.
That the comics field has plenty of gas left in its tank became all the more obvious once a twin labor strike of Hollywood writers and actors meant comics could unexpectedly take center stage at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. And if that event left observers with one big takeaway, it’s that some of the year’s best, brightest, and most innovative comic works are still ahead. These are some of the highlights you won’t want to miss.
By Jonathan Hickman and Valerio Schiti
Jonathan Hickman belongs to that rare group in mainstream comics: writers who can sell a book through the presence of their name alone. Hickman revitalized the Fantastic Four a decade ago and put the Avengers through a universe-rebooting catastrophe that remains a high point for the franchise, but he’s been keeping a lower profile since departing his gangbuster reinvention of the X-Men franchise in 2019. Now, he’s taking another big Marvel swing by introducing a whole new clique of characters, mysteriously called the GODS.
Details have so far been sparse, save for the fact that these appear to be Kirby-esque semi-divine superbeings, with a cryptic and ubiquitous presence that’s been seeded in a host of Marvel titles this summer. Readers can look forward to learning more (including, we can hope, just what that acronym stands for) when the GODS formally make their entrance this fall, designed and drawn by Hickman’s erstwhile Inferno co-conspirator Valerio Schiti.
By Tom King and Daniel Sampere
Tom King is the licorice of superhero writers. Since making his mainstream debut with Marvel Comics’ The Vision in 2015, he’s raised hackles among readers just as often as he’s won their hearts. That’s because he’s always willing to take big swings with high-profile characters, whether it’s attempting to arrange the marriage of Batman and Catwoman during his run on Batman, exploring the psychological trauma of superhumans in Heroes in Crisis, or going to town with forgotten ’70s heroes in Danger Street. This September, he returns to the main-continuity DC Universe when he takes the reins of a relaunched Wonder Woman alongside artist Daniel Sampere. The prospect of an all-male creative team on DC’s premiere superheroine is likely to raise eyebrows, but King proved more than capable in last year’s excellent Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, and there’s no question Sampere is one of the sharpest artists in the DC stable. Love it or hate it, this one will be worth reading.
A pair of Black Label Batmans
DC’s Black Label hasn’t exactly been the Vertigo replacement some observers might have hoped for when it premiered at the publisher in 2018, but there’s little doubt that it’s lived up to its mission to give top-line (and sometimes unexpected) creators a chance to play in the DC superhero sandbox without the restrictions of continuity or canon.
There has been no shortage of excellent writers given a chance to strut their stuff in the line, but make no mistake: This fall belongs to Batman artists alone. First up in September is Brazilian cartoonist Rafael Grampá (Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child) returning to the Bat-fold with a psychological murder mystery in Batman: Gargoyle of Gotham. Then, the following month, there’s fan-favorite artist Christian Ward with his writer/artist debut on Batman: City of Madness. Both books are sure to benefit enormously from Black Label’s gloriously oversized, square-bound format, which might as well exist purely for the benefit of series like these. With Batman drawn this big and beautiful, you might as well forget words altogether.
By Ram V and Filipe Andrade
Two years ago, the writer-artist team of Ram V and Filipe Andrade wowed readers (and earned themselves an Eisner nomination) with The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, a lyrical fable drawing from Hindu mythology to explore notions of life, death, and the divine. This fall, the same team reunites for Rare Flavours, a series that plumbs the same mythical background in the service of fine cuisine. An unsettling, liminal horror series, the book will chronicle the adventures of an ersatz Anthony Bourdain who falls deep into the world of magic, mysticism, and exotic dining. Andrade’s art is delicate and gorgeous, and Ram V is among the very best new writers that mainstream comics has produced in recent years, which makes this indie title necessary reading.
By Ai Yazawa
New work from one of the most highly regarded mangaka of recent decades makes its proper American debut when Viz begins publishing Neighborhood Story this fall. The Ai Yazawa-penned story, which ran for four years in its initial run and was adapted in a fan-favorite anime, tells the story of two students at a Tokyo art academy whose childhood friendship is threatened by the specters of budding sexuality, community gossip, and personal jealousies. Romantic entanglements, personal tragedies, and self-discovery are sure to ensue.
By Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
It’s been almost a decade since we’ve seen a team-up between the writer-artist cousin team of Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. The award-winning cartoonists made their reputation with a series of heartfelt and emotionally resonant graphic novels, ostensibly aimed at the YA set, but in truth as vibrant and well-crafted as any books on the stands. With this fall’s Roaming, however, they make their first full-blown attempt at adult graphic fiction, telling the story of three friends experiencing tension, love, and self-discovery during a summer trip to New York City. A queer romance with appealing art and striking color design, it promises the bittersweet, slice-of-life storytelling that this team always delivers.
By Daniel Clowes
The career of Daniel Clowes has been a fascinating journey through the past three decades of comics. The indie darling behind the anthology series Eightball and stories like Ghost World and Art School Confidential entered the scene as one of the foremost exemplars of jaded, Gen X cartooning. But as the years have passed, his outlook has mellowed, his style has been refined, and he’s become more driven to experiment in each of his graphic novels. Monica is perhaps his most complex project to date: a threaded web of narratives drawn from different fictional modes that collectively paint a biographical portrait of one title character. Clowes’ work is compelling even when it doesn’t fully succeed, and a new book by this artist is always worth the price of discovery.
By Bill Watterson and John Kascht
There are few sentences more capable of stirring the soul of comic readers than this: “Bill Watterson is back.” It’s putting it lightly to say the cartoonist behind the brilliant and beloved Calvin and Hobbes has been reclusive: Since ending his syndicated strip three decades ago, Watterson’s aversion to interviews and publicity, his dearth of new publications, and his vaunted unwillingness to see his creations licensed or adapted in any form have reached Salinger-esque proportions. But this year, in concert with artist John Kascht, he makes his return to the form with The Mysteries, a self-styled “fable for grown-ups.”
The book will be composed of Kascht’s lushly illustrated full-page art with Watterson’s prose, for an effect that turns a children’s picture book into an unsettling social allegory. Watterson is as towering a figure as comics has ever produced, so a new work from him is a true event.
By M.S. Harkness
M.S. Harkness is a young cartoonist with a big reputation. Since hitting the underground scene not too long ago, the Columbus-based artist has put out a series of rough-edged, expertly crafted, visually bombastic comics that capture some of the same punk-rock vitality that early Love and Rockets captured 40 years ago. And if Harkness lacks some of Los Bros Hernandez’s gleeful genre-hopping, she adds an autobiographical honesty and subtly refined sense of story structure that suggest a fully formed talent. Time Under Tension looks to be a major leap forward for this cartoonist that’s likely to establish her as a known quantity in the comics scene.