Comicon’s 8 Best Original Graphic Novels Of 2017

by Hannah Means Shannon

Welcome to’s inaugural Best of the Year Awards, gathering the best comics and comics talent of 2017. This year we will be awarding in the following categories: Best Original Graphic Novels, Best Comic Series, Best Single Comic Issues, Best Writers, Best Artists, Best Cover Artists, Best Colorists, Best Letterers, Best Webcomics, Most Progressive Comics, and lastly, Comicon’s People of The Year: 2017.
Contributors to Comicon’s Best of the Year Awards 2017 include: Alan Stewart, Alex Schumacher, Brendan Allen, Gary Catig, James Ferguson, Kieran Fisher, Oliver MacNamee, Noah Sharma, Rachel Bellwoar, Tito James, Angel Carreras, and Hannah Means-Shannon.
The following are Comicon’s 8 Best Original Graphic Novels* of 2017. [*Those books receiving this award consist of comics first published in print in the USA in single graphic novel format rather than as single issue comics followed by a print collection.]

8. Empowered Volume 10, published by Dark Horse Comics, written, drawn, and lettered by Adam Warren
I cannot get enough of Adam Warren’s Empowered. On the surface, it’s a manga-esque superhero story with a bit of light BDSM thrown in for extra flavor. And there’s a lot of that surface. The titular hero spends most of her time gagged and bound and objectified, and Warren draws these scenes in a way that’s exceedingly titillating. But underneath all that is a story that deconstructs superhero tropes left and right, as well as society’s patriarchal assumptions and rules, while giving us a realistic and vulnerable superhero. Volume 10 continues that tradition, as Empowered is finally given her due and promoted to full-time membership in the Superhomeys, despite the toxic masculinity so prevalent within the superhero and supervillain communities alike. While this volume is a bit low on superpowered conflict, it’s heavy on relationships, and the energy and work that goes into maintaining them. It goes to great lengths to show how Empowered’s acceptance and support of friends, allies, and even enemies is her real superpower. At its heart, Empowered is unflinchingly human, in spite of the supersuits, alien warlords, hot ninja girls, light bondage and crazy superpowered antics that fill each page.

7. Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats, published by First Second, written by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Mike Holmes
The Secret Coders series follows a young girl named Hopper, and her friends Eni and Josh as they try to unravel the mysteries of their school, Stately Academy. While investigating, they encounter numerous puzzles that can only be solved through coding. In this fourth volume, the crew hope to find clues about the disappearance of Hopper’s father while dealing with the complications that familial obligations and expectations have on their friendship. Yang seamlessly interweaves a compelling story with opportunities to learn computer programming and concepts. This turns the graphic novel into an interactive experience as the reader can solve the same brain teasers that the characters face by downloading software that uses the same programming language. Holmes does an excellent job on art as he captures the main characters’ youthful excitement in diving head first into uncovering their school’s secrets.  People read comics as an escape into a world of great storytelling, but Secret Coders has the added bonus of training and inspiring future computer scientists.

6. The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir, published by Abrams, written, drawn, colored and lettered by Thi Bui
The cover of this powerful autobiography, which follows a family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam to America, contains a quote from the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner and former refugee Viet Thanh Nguyen which reads, “A book to break your heart and heal it.” To know that Bui’s story had such a profound impact on him speaks volumes of its power, but for the rest of us, it’s a beautiful eye-opening tale that raises awareness and will make anybody with a heart want to do more to help their fellow human beings. Bui’s recollections make for some heartfelt storytelling, and the illustrations only heighten the emotional impact of her journey. Deeply moving, beautifully realized, this is a tome that will stick with you.

5. Kill Them All, published by Oni Press, written and wrawn by Kyle Starks, colored by Luigi Anderson, lettered by Kyle Starks
It’s tough to make someone laugh with a comic since there are so many elements beyond the creators’ control. Kill Them All shows that it can be done, and done extremely well. This is a laugh-out-loud funny comic that also serves as a love letter to every cheesy ’90s action movie. A beautiful assassin meets a hard-drinking ex-cop as they both work to take down a crime boss holed up in his skyscraper headquarters. They battle through each floor filled with everything from drug lords and thugs to accountants. The entire journey is filled with gags as they encounter a bevy of ridiculous situations that only get crazier the higher up they move in the building. Few comics were as fun as Kill Them All this year.

4. Mis(H)adra, published by Gallery 13, written, drawn, colored, and lettered by Iasmin Omar Ata

Mis(H)adra is an incredible story with a brilliantly descriptive title. Misadra is an Arabic word for a seizure. It defines, it informs, but it does not necessarily communicate. Mish adra is also Arabic. It’s slang and it translates roughly to “I can’t”. Especially on its own, it’s quite the opposite, it doesn’t tell you what the problem is but the feeling weighs on you. Isaac is an Arab-American college student whose life feels strangled and controlled by his epilepsy. His parents don’t understand and his doctors won’t sympathize. The work keeps piling up and the prospect of a normal life. Just. Seems. So. Far away.

This debut graphic novel from Iasmin Omar Ata is incredibly powerful, combining rich storytelling with slivers of autobiographical confession. Ata’s relatable, manga-inspired imagery and gorgeous colors convey the weight and exhaustion of a chronic illness and the delicate balance of resignation and hope that have defined an incredible amount of personal storytelling in 2017. The book never becomes a PSA about epilepsy, but it uses its intimate knowledge of the subject matter to tell a beautiful tale and open up a well of experience that has likely been invisible to most readers. It’s honesty and ability to communicate through art make it a gem of 2017.

3. Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case, published by Dark Horse, written and illustrated by Victor Santos, lettered by Rayne Hill & John J. Hill, translations by Katie Labarbera
Rashomon deserves its spot as one of the best graphic novels of 2017 because of its ability to blend its darker themes into a vibrantly colored world. Santos’ art has echoes of Frank Miller and Mike Mignola, while remaining its own. The dynamism and hard edges of Santos’ art are carefully balanced by innovative choices in page layouts to tell his story. By combining the hard blacks and grey morality of the American noir mystery with a feudal Japanese setting, Santos has developed a new sub-genre that I’m calling “Ninja Noir.” This graphic novel stands out on the shelf because there aren’t many mystery comics, and fewer still that are done so well. The creators of True Detective should consider a season within the world of Rashomon.

2.Bolivar, published by Archaia/ Boom! Studios, written and drawn by Sean Rubin
Usually when a book takes a hard look at how people are easily distracted, it’s with a touch of sadness or cynicism. A city where no one notices a dinosaur buying a corned beef sandwich can’t be the direction we want to be heading, yet there’s no looking at Sean Rubin’s cityscapes in Bolivar and seeing anything but love for New York City. When Sybil discovers her next-door neighbor is a dinosaur, she can’t get anyone at home or school to believe her. On goes the safari hat, like a detective’s fedora, as Sybil searches for proof that Bolivar exists. Rubin is the writer and illustrator of this graphic novel and children’s book hybrid and, while the book is about people not taking the time to look up, Rubin hasn’t forgotten. From the level of detail required to draw out a mosaic wall, to people taking food selfies in a cafe window, Rubin notices beauty everywhere in his urban environment and in his sweet-natured, title character.

1. Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea, published by Dark Horse, written by Mike Mignola and Gary Gianni, illustrated by Gary Gianni, colored by Dave Stewart, lettered by Clem Robins

Another winning addition to the Hellboy universe, but one that embraces its influences–Coleridge’s The Rime of The Ancient Mariner through the lens of Gustave Doré–and pays homage too, through the majestic and moody art of Gary Gianni. His art, along with a classic feel to the story, elevates this book beyond other graphic novels of 2017 and, thanks to Hellboy’s usual no-nonsense stoic attitude to the dangers of any given situation, it never takes itself too seriously. Evocative and engaging, it has emerged with the loving craftsmanship necessary to become a modern classic.

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