Comix Experience’s 50 Favorite Books, Ranked
Four years of the Graphic Novel of the Month Club, condensed into one list no algorithm could make
It can be downright intimidating when you walk into your friendly local comic book store for the first time. Each shelf is stuffed with books and finding a place to start, let alone which book to take home, can feel impossible.
Comix Experience to the rescue! San Francisco’s oldest comic book shop, a must-see for any artist traveling through the state, created the Graphic Novel Club to help pay their employees a living wage without raising prices in the store. For as little as $20, every member gets the best book of that month, voted on by Comix Experience’s founder Brian Hibbs and his talented staff of artists and comics fanatics, plus a one-of-a-kind signed bookplate and access to a member’s-only book club meeting with the artists themselves.
Each book is hand-picked by the crew at Comix Experience, producing a list no algorithm could ever come up with so you can read books you might never have known existed. Some are big hitters in the industry offering a chance to get up close and personal in a way they rarely have time for, while others might be too small, weird, or niche to break past the internet’s algorithmic gatekeepers and into your news feed.
After four years, the Club is still going strong, and in August they released their 50th book in a collection that shows everything the medium is capable of, with candid memoirs, gory horror, and thrilling superheroes served to a community of fans as diverse as the books themselves.
To commemorate the occasion, we’ve taken on the daunting task of ranking all Comix Experience’s releases, judging them against four criteria: their art, writing, innovation, and impact on us as readers. Each book represents the “Best of the Month,” so our #50 pick is almost certainly someone else’s favorite. That’s why this final list isn’t just an excellent list of books for comics veterans and newbies alike to discover, but also a celebration of Comix Experience and every artist who’s passed through it’s doors.
50. By Night: Volume One
by John Allison & Christine Larson
A well-done take on the classic “I found a portal into another dimension with my best friend and grumpy coworker” genre of fantasy, with plenty of humor and personality to keep its goblin world fresh.
by Clay McLeod Chapman & Jey Levang
The first day of college is bad enough, but in Lazaretto an outbreak of “dog flu” turns one liberal arts university into a hellish zombie apocalypse where seniors are more than happy to exploit the vulnerable freshman. Lazaretto has fun with its premise until things get deadly serious, effectively playing both sides of this collegiate “what would you do” fantasy.
48. Check, Please!
by Ngozi Ukazu
A sticky sweet story about a gay hockey player’s love of baking, Check, Please! will warm your heart and leave you craving pie.
47. Mage: The Hero Denied — Volume Five
by Matt Wagner
The platonic ideal of comic book stories is a buff guy fighting monsters, and Mage has that in spades. Matt Wagner’s “allegorical autobiography” translates the author’s life into a mystical story of good versus evil, providing a unique twist on familiar fantasy tropes. The Hero Denied is a remarkably easy dive into the deep end of this expansive series, although you’ll probably be better off starting with Volume One.
46. I’m Not Ok With This
by Charles Forman
Forman’s simple line art is a surprisingly powerful tool, which he uses to make one of the bleakest stories of teenage loneliness you’ll find this side of The End of the Fucking World.
45. My Pretty Vampire
by Katie Skelly
My Pretty Vampire brings pop sexuality back to vampires. Retro in all the best ways, the oversize art brings the most out of Katie’s big-eyed vampire, imbuing her with a sensuality that counterbalances the horror of her feeding frenzy.
44. Bug! The Adventures of Forager
by Lee Allred & Mike Allred
A fun homage to Jack Kirby, the man who created countless superheroes, Bug! is a romp through Kirby’s world of gods and bugs, with plenty of mind-bending surrealism to keep any superhero fan entertained.
43. Spy Seal: The Corten-Steel Phoenix
by Rich Tommaso
Spy Seal is a modern homage to Herge’s The Adventures of Tintin that captures the original’s adventurous spirit while bringing its own silly sense of humor that keeps its titular seal from feeling like a retread of familiar ground.
42. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Volume One
by Ryan North & Erica Henderson
Doreen Green, aka Squirrel Girl, is plucky, awkward, and always comes out on top, even when going up against the biggest baddies the Marvel universe can throw at her. That’s why she’s the plucky meta-comic antidote to Deadpool the world needs.
41. Coyote Doggirl
by Lisa Hanawalt
Tuca & Bertie’s creator spins a modern, feminist western yarn in her signature style that infuses Lisa Hanawalt’s absurdist humor into the classic western story of a cowboy on the run.
40. Room for Love
Comix Experience’s first release, Room for Love is a grounded exploration of two lives brought together by chance. The maybe-a-romance between a middle-aged writer and the teenage runaway she invites into her home is ripe with drama and thoughtful emotional threads.
39. Dark Nights: Metal
by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, & FCO Plascencia
Every metalhead Batman fan’s wildest dreams gets brought to life in Dark Nights: Metal, a grim and gruesome reflection of the DC universe that indulges it’s chaotic premise, clearly relishing every moment.
38. Moon Knight
by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood
“Am I really a superhero or is this all a delusion” may not be the most revolutionary question in the world of comics, but Moon Knight makes it all feel fresh with it’s Egyptian influences and a Shutter Island-esque pleasure in twists and turns. If you want to understand why every Marvel fan is hyped for the new Disney Plus Moon Knight series, this is the placce to start.
37. 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank
by Matthew Rosenberg & Tyler Boss
Stranger Things meets Heist in 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, a tight little thriller about a gang of preteens who stumble their way through a crime they’re not tall enough to handle. Author Matthew Rosenberg pulls no punches towards his pint sized bank robbers and artist Tyler Boss lends a pulpy art style that mixes classic noir with modern comic colors.
36. Doom Patrol
by Gerard Way & Nick Derington
The oddest of odd bunches must come together to save a sentient street from a villainous fast food chain in Gerard Way’s loopy story that isn’t afraid to be as bold and strange as Nick Derington’s art.
35. Mister Miracle
by Tom King & Mitch Gerads
Don’t let the bright colors fool you: Mister Miracle is the saddest superhero comic in this list, telling the story of a magical escape artist who attempts to pull off the ultimate trick by escaping life itself. Mister Miracle won two Eisner awards for its deft handling of mature themes and character-based comedy, effortlessly shifting back and forth between humor and pathos. Now that’s a great magic trick.
34. Black Bolt: Hard Time
by Saladin Ahmed & Christian Ward
A cosmic prison break features some of the most bold and striking artwork Marvel comics has ever seen. Author Saladin Ahmed and artist Christian Ward craft the heroic Black Bolt into a story about keeping hold of hope in the darkest places.
33. 5000 km per second
by Manuele Fior
This impressionistic story of love and heartbreak follows two Italian teens who fall for each other before their lives head in separate directions. Spread over the course of their entire lives, this episodic tale feels like the kind of art house romance you’d stumble upon when going to the movies to escape the heat, condensed into one collection of evocative watercolors.
32. Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride
by Lucy Kinsley
Your wedding is supposed to be the greatest day of your life. The only catch: Every day preceding it will be filled with anxiety, bills, and more anxiety. Lucky for you, you have Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley, which perfectly captures the highs and lows of planning your wedding. Come for the hilarious anecdotes, stay for the down-to-earth advice that you’ll want to put to use for your own big day.
by Steve Skroce
“With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s what the bastard son of the Maestro, the Wizard King and literal God of the universe, has been running away from for his entire life. Maestros has a lot of fun with its heavy metal grotesqueness and comedy hijinks, taking itself just seriously enough to keep you invested in its compellingly flawed new god.
by Jaime Hernandez
Wading into the world of Love & Rockets with Tonta is like looking up at the stars through a pinhole. The decades long series boasts a sprawling cast of characters, of which the titular Tonta is but one player. As both a satire of underground wannabe rockers and a crime story hiding a dark family secret, Tonta is just one example of the depths contained within the full Love & Rockets universe, and an invitation to extend your visit and stay for a while.
29. Dark Night: A True Batman Story
by Paul Dini
The boundary between reality and fiction is blurred in Paul Dini’s autobiographical Dark Night: A True Batman Story, which recounts a mugging that left Dini on the edge of death. As a long-time Batman writer, Dini held all the caped crusader’s characters in his head, and in the aftermath of his trauma, they pour out to offer their perspective on how this broken man can put himself back together. It’s a potent metaphor that offers Batman fans a chance to get an insight into how their favorite character’s live inside their creators.
28. House of Penance
by Peter J. Tomasi, Ian Bertram, & Dave Stewart
The Winchester Mystery House holds a special place in American horror mythology which House of Penance expertly wields for its haunting retelling of its creation and the prison of wealth its creator built around herself.
27. Motor Crush
by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, & Babs Tarr
Ladies and motorcycles are a potent combination, and Motor Crush has them both in a dazzling neon package.
26. Longest Day of the Future
by Lucas Verela
Two corporations battle for dominance in the Longest Day of the Future, a wordless foray into dystopian comedy. There’s little to distinguish the two rivals except their choice of primary colors, and everyone stuck in the middle is worth only as much as the wallet in their pocket. Despite its lack of dialogue, Lucas Varela crafts a helluva sci-fi Rube Goldberg machine that ping pongs on both sides of the aisle with energy to spare.
by Kelsey Wroten
One of the best in the ever-growing field of “graphic novels about sad graphic novelists,” Cannonball tells harsh truths about the artistic process, like how it fluctuates between bitterness and depression and egomania, with enough charm and insight to make it down smoothly.
24. Dalston Mosterzz
by Dilraj Mann
Street art and capitalism clash in this ultra-cool crime story that explores a near-future London that’s as ravaged by gentrification as it is by monsters.
by Zander Cannon
A must read for Godzilla fans all over the world. Zander Cannon details his kaiju with more love and care than you’ll find in most humans, resulting in a comic that straddles the line between straight homage and parody with ease.
22. The New World
by Ales Kot & Heather Moore
A second Civil War has turned America into a dystopia that feels all too likely. With The Wall separating us, two opposing warriors, one a vegan hacker and the other a celebrity cop, fall in love and fight to find a new way of life in this old man’s world. A Mad Max-esque love story with bright utopian colors, The New World is a glimmer of hope that’s come at the right place at the right time.
by Lorena Alvarez
Nightlights is an otherworldly dream of a book. Not quite a children’s tale, it nonetheless works as one thanks to its charming story and fantastical creature designs.
by Tillie Walden
Tillie Walden started writing Spinning as a tell-all memoir about the dark side of competitive figure skating, only for it to transform into a much more personal coming of age story, and we’re all the better off for it. She recounts the early mornings, emotional distress, and personal conflict that define our early years, and uses a limited pallet of whites and blues to capture the cold air surrounding the ice rink.
19. Come Again
by Nate Powell
Set in a commune nestled in the Ozark mountains, Come Again functions like a folk tale about the power of secrets to tear families apart, and the corrosive effect they can have on our communities. Nate Powell’s art has already been well-recognized as the first cartoonist to ever win a National Book Award, and his talents are put on full display here, with a particularly stunning use of color (or lack thereof) that perfectly compliments his character’s internal struggles.
18. Two Brothers
by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
As one of the only novel adaptations in Comix Experience’s catalog, Two Brothers has a dramatic weight that set a high watermark for the collection. Milton Hatoum’s The Brothers is a famous piece of literature in Brazil, which twin artists Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá expertly bring to life in Two Brothers, translating it’s complex family dynamics and political subtext with the visual flare necessary for a graphic novel.
17. Nod Away
by Joshua Cotter
Nod Away feels like the kind of book you’d find on a dusty shelf, hidden away from the rest of the world, waiting for someone to pick it up and fall for it’s unique mix of dense science fiction and Lovecraftian horror. The first in what’s sure to be an increasingly mind-altering series, Nod Away will drive you mad in all the best ways.
by Tom Gauld
One is the loneliest number, and Mooncop proves that’s especially true when you’re stuck in space. Following a human cop and his dwindling supply of companionship on the moon, Tom Gauld’s monochromatic blues and greys strike the perfect balance between the moon’s desolate emptiness and it’s extraterrestrial beauty, providing the emotional gravity the moon lacks.
15. Sandman: Overture
by Neil Gaiman & JH Williams III
Enter Sandman: Overture and you’ll find that Neil Gaiman’s prequel works surprisingly well as an entry point to one of comic’s most famous series. Gaiman’s return to Sandman after 17 years is strikingly realized by artist JH Williams III, who illustrates the series as if he’s lucid dreaming inside an art nouveau painting, resulting in one of the most beautiful books on this list.
by Daniel Clowes
Patience is Daniel Clowes at his most colorful and confident. It’s a winding time travel story that matches vivid pastel colors with Clowes’ unique spin on classic science fiction ideas of love, revenge, and continuity to tremendous effect.
13. Gender Queer
by Maia Kobabe
Maia Kobabe recounts eir gender identification journey, putting words and pictures to conversations that aren’t always easy to have. Eir story captures the highs and lows in self-discovery, like the moments where you genuinely believe you’ll never find the answer to life’s essential questions and the cathartic release when it all finally clicks into place.
12. Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero
by Michael DeForge
Sometimes it feels like the real answer to all of life’s problems is to run away into the woods and live like a shaman among the animals. Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero lives out that fantasy in a series of monochromatic reds and blacks dedicated to everything the uber-talented 49-year old Sticks Angelica sets her mind to. Its an ode to self-confidence, for better and for worse.
11. Everything is Flammable
by Gabrielle Bell
After her mother’s home is destroyed in a California wildfire, cartoonist Gabrielle Bell has to help her rebuild from the ashes. Their reunion is the springboard for Everything is Flammable to reflect on a lifetime of anxieties, and the push and pull of her relationship with her mother draws you in with its simple art style, leaving you vulnerable to getting burned.
10. Young Frances
by Hartley Lin
Hartley Lin accurately captures the millennial anxiety around work-life balance in Young Frances. Excerpted from his Pope Hats series, Young Frances is a story told in fits and starts, as a young paralegal is pushed up the corporate ladder while her best friend leaves her behind in the pursuit of Hollywood fame. Their twin journeys are precarious and the future unknowable, which is why Young Frances is at its best when it finds humor in their short-lived successes and pathos in their humbling defeats.
9. Die: Volume One
by Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans
Die is more than just “Goth Jumanji.” It’s one of the most inventive fantasy cyberpunk worlds ever created. To some, its a Hell they must escape from while to others its a chance at escapism they can’t live without. Nostalgically traditional and tragically modern at the same time, it’s the only story on this list you can actually visit thanks to its companion role playing game.
8. Monstress: Volume One
by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Humanity and magic are at war. At the center of it all is Maika, an enslaved magical being, who’s searching for justice while battling a demon inside of her who’s hungry for flesh and destruction. She’s terrified of its power but she must use it to find the answers she’s looking for. Monstress renders its high fantasy setting with detailed brutality, at times epicly beautiful and at others painfully gruesome. The first issue is a whopping triple stuffed 70 pages of world-building, which can make Volume One quite intimidating, but it’s a bold vision unlike much else in comics.
by Hamish Steele
The Egyptian gods have never felt more relatable than they do in Hamish Steele’s Pantheon, a comic retelling of the misadventures of Horus, Set, and their wacky family. These myths represent some of the foundational elements in all stories, which is why Pantheon’s modern literally-laugh-out-loud funny twists feel right at home, with familiar archetypes playing off each other as if they came out of the world’s oldest sitcom. The art is evocative of Egyptian hieroglyphs while transforming them into bubbly cartoons perfect for dynamic poses and gross out gags. The cover features the mischievous Set getting kicked in the balls by the buff bird-god Horus, a fitting introduction to a timeless tale.
6. The Prince and the Dressmaker
by Jen Wang
The Prince and the Dressmaker is a fairy tale set in Paris’ royal court, where the fashionable ladies of the time fall over themselves to copy the fabulous dresses of Lady Crystallia, who unbeknownst to them is actually the young Prince Sebastian, heir to the throne. Forced to search for a bride so that he might one day take the throne after his manly father, the prince and his talented dressmaker sneak away to live a double life of high fashion. The struggle between keeping their secret and expressing your ture feelings creates an effective emotional story that’ll sweep you off your feet.
5. Harrow County
by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook
Water colors are put to terrifying use in Harrow County. The melting blacks and blotted reds dredge up feelings of creeping horror in this supernatural coming of age story that effectively wields your worst fears about family against you. The mythology grows organically, spreading out like Lovecraftian tendrils, inviting monsters both friendly and not to visit. Maybe you’ll be able to control them. Or maybe you won’t. But you will end up owning the entire series.
by Jillian Tamaki
Boundless is a series of short stories that reflect our isolated modern existence, with each one reflecting on how we connect to each other, particularly through the internet, something that has proven notably difficult for most artist to pull off. But then again, most artists are not Jillian Tamaki. One of these stories relates the character’s relationships with the deaths of various actors in a popular science fiction movie, playing off the way these cultural signifiers mark the passage of time and how we find meaning in our own lives by building narratives around theirs, while another flips the equation by following the creator of a kitschy pornographic sitcom who now finds his work the subject of ironic amusement by a younger generation, forcing him into a relationship that eschews the sincerity that the work was meant to express. Most affecting is the story of Sexcoven, a mysterious MP3 which sends young people into a dissociative trance. Some call it demonic while the majority of people regard it as little more than a passing meme, but for a dedicated few, it forms the basis for a tech cult dedicated to discovering its secrets. These brief stories, few taking more than a couple minutes to read, nonetheless impart a wealth of insight into the psychology of the 21st century writ large, turning an action as small as putting out a cigarette into a profound reflection of our role in society.
3. One Hundred Nights of Hero
by Isabel Greenberg
Escapism has been a central function of storytelling since the dawn of mankind. Stories allow people to connect to one another through a mutual enchantment in the make-believe. This tradition is beautifully brought to life in Isabel Greenberg’s 100 Nights of Hero, where art reminiscent of prehistoric cave paintings is paired with feminist fables that riff on One Thousand and One Arabian Nights in order to play with a myth’s ability to be both silly and moralistic. The oversized pages lend literal weight to the stories and make the book look more like an ancient tome than a graphic novel, producing an enchanting collection that you’ll be happy to clear out room for on your shelf.
2. Rolling Blackouts
by Sarah Glidden
In the age of fake news, understanding what journalism really looks like as never been more important, and in the nonfiction Rolling Blackouts, you get the chance to follow a small group of journalists as they make their way through Turkey, Syria, and Iraq searching for stories to illustrate the trauma of the War on Terror. The political complexity of the region is difficult for even the most well-informed to articulate, which in turn forms the crux of Rolling Blackouts’ story. The journalists making their way from warzone to warzone don’t know what they’re looking for when they depart from Seattle. Their only goal is to ask questions so audiences back home might hear what they have to say, and Rolling Blackouts carefully brings to life the many internal and external questions they grapple with. Joining their trip is a former Marine who wishes to learn more about the country he served in. His presence throws a wrench into their liberal bubble and forces them to reckon with the their own identity as Americans. Glidden’s watercolors bring each interview subject to life in a way prose on its own can’t always accomplish by both evoking the hope in their eyes as well as the destruction left in the war’s wake.
1. Sacred Heart
by Liz Suburbia
Sacred Heart might just be the great American graphic novel. A sprawling tale of teenage rebellion, punk rock, and companionship, Liz Suburbia builds a tight knit group of teens and tweens who have rebuilt a society after all their parents disappear. Together they must decide what they want their community to represent, if it represents anything at all. Sacred Heart began on Liz’s website where the story grew to the epic 300 plus pages published by Fantagraphics, during which time the world evolves organically until it touches on virtually every person in their makeshift society. But with murder and heartbreak at every corner, life is teetering on the edge of ruin for even the most confident kids in Sacred Heart. Music plays a central role in the series, not only because it proves to be an effective time waster when you don’t have any homework to worry about, but also its profound ability to bring us together at an almost primordial level. When the music’s playing it feels like anything might be possible and you get the hope that maybe this modern Lord of the Flies might not have to end in tragedy. It’s only when the amps are turned off that the messiness of life is let loose like a flood over the town.
A new month means a new book, and September 2019’s pick, New World by David Jesus Vignolli, looks to be a striking addition to the line up by telling a supernatural quest against evil during the European colonization of the Americas.
If you’d like to help figure out where this 51st book (and beyond) will rank on this list, join the Graphic Novel Club today.