Posted October 20, 2014 by in Book Lists

The Best Comics of the 21st Century, Part 2

Last week, we unveiled The Best Comics of the 21st Century, Part 1.  Hopefully, you came across something new that you’ve since picked up to explore. If not, maybe you at least remembered an old favorite. Now, it’s time to continue the countdown to the top spot. Let’s jump right in:

5.  Stitches (2009) by David Small

David Small’s National Book Award nominee Stitches is heartbreaking.  Stitches is a memoir that follows the journey of the teenage Small as he struggles to survive in the home of his deeply grotesque and delusional family. Likely because of his father’s dangerous experiments, the young David develops cancer. His mother is harsh and doesn’t know how to deal with her scared and anxious son. The memoir successful employs a sense of nightmarish surroundings, with Small illuminating and (hopefully) exaggerating his parents’ and home’s physical features. Obviously, Small survives his troubled and painful childhood, and his majestic graphic memoir Stitches is a reminder that survival is possible even in the darkest of times.

4.  Fun Home (2006) by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel’s recent coronation as a “genius” by the MacArthur Foundation is certainly justifiable. She’s had two great graphic memoirs this century, but Fun Home is slightly better than Are You My Mother?  Fun Home is about Bechdel’s complicated relationship with her closeted father. Of all of the recent books regarding the topic of sexuality, Fun Home is probably the best. Bechdel also manages to explore the themes of family secrets, selfishness, and familial bonds  I can’t wait to see what Bechdel does next.

3.  Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? (2014) by Roz Chast

Let me say that this book could (and likely would) be higher on my list if it didn’t come out a bit earlier this year. See, I need time with a book. I need it to age with me. The newness of her graphic memoir is the only disadvantage Chast has on the list because Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? is a flat-out masterpiece. Chast does not shy away from the complexities of taking care of aging parents. She portrays herself accurately, as a daughter who isn’t always kind. There is never really a doubt whether Chast loves her parents; instead, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? examines how we choose to show our love to those who occasionally burden us. There is a focus on the agitation and stress those parents cause, but there are also scenes that highlight the humor, comfort, and joy they bring. Her parents are purely realistic. I can see my own mother and father inside Chast’s characters. I can see myself in them, too. Please, if you haven’t read Chast’s eye-popping memoir, go find it.

2.  The Arrival (2007) by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival is one of the greatest adventure novels ever composed. The Arrival contains no words, but you never notice because the images tell a story that is so engaging and thrilling. In Tan’s sepia-toned graphic novel, a nameless man leaves his family to seek out a better home—a home where he hopes his family will later join him. When he gets to the new land, what he encounters is stunning. He sees a world that is strange and terrifying. Even the pets and foods are shocking to the man. Slowly, the man grows more accustomed to the unusual scenery that surrounds him, and he slowly falls into the ways of the new world. The man’s dreams become his reality. The Arrival is a graphic novel that perfectly details an immigrant’s journey. An enchanting work of art.

1.  Building Stories (2012) by Chris Ware

Here it is. The best standalone comic of the 21st century is Building Stories by Chris Ware. Building Stories is something that you have to hold and dissect. It takes time to put the story together—literally. And what makes it so fun to put together is that there really isn’t a definite way to compose it. The entire, beautiful comic comes in 14 distinct parts. There are pamphlets, and there are books. There is even a game-like board. Building Stories is full of surprises, and you uncover them as you read. So, what’s the story about? Well, that’s part of the fun. Building Stories isn’t really about anything in particular. I mean, there is a Chicago apartment complex full of people to latch on to. The people who live there are nothing special; they are just people with normal people problems. They are ordinary folks living their lives. They struggle. They are unhappy. They just kind of are. Building Stories is a testament to what it means to live and be alive—what it means to be a person. I can’t recommend it enough.

There you have it, Bookkaholics. Do you agree that Building Stories is the best graphic novel of the new millennium? What was missing from the list? Sound off in the comments section.

Bradley Sides

Bradley Sides is a graduate of the M. A. in English program from the University of North Alabama. His fiction appears in Belle Rêve Literary Journal, Birmingham Arts Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, Freedom Fiction Journal, Inwood Indiana, Literary Orphans, and Used Gravitrons. He is a staff writer for Bookkaholic. He resides in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is actively seeking representation for his debut middle-grade novel.