Staff Picks: Top Comics of 2022

Introduction

 Another year has come and gone, and the Features Team is proud to share our favorite titles from 2022. We hope you have a chance to revisit some favorites and discover new ones! 

Across a Field of Starlight

Blue Delliquanti

Fassen--a soldier in an intergalactic war-- and Lu--a member of a secret commune with a passion for research--become friends after a chance encounter. They use a special channel to communicate and develop their friendship. When they are finally reunited, trouble soon follows, threatening all they care about.

Appeals to

Across a Field of Starlight is a fantastic sci-fi story exploring how systematic factors shape us and how to break away. Delliquanti's rich artwork expertly captures the setting and characters, and I loved the diversity of characters and viewpoints. Fans of queer science fiction and fantasy and readers who enjoy stories that question systems will find much to enjoy here.

Creator Identities:

Nonbinary |

Main Character Identities:
Nonbinary |

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Kate Beaton

Unable to find work in her home province, Kate Beaton worked two years in the Alberta oil sands in order to pay off her student loans. In this engaging memoir, she recounts the highs and lows of her experience—specifically the struggles of working as a woman in a male-dominated industry where isolation and grueling work are a key part of the workplace environment.

Appeals to

Beaton's nuanced portrait of working in a male-dominated field should not be missed; her discussion captures her and her co-workers' humanity while still exploring the bigger social forces at work. Her artwork captures the varied landscape and co-workers equally well and works to emphasize the humanizing message. Pick this up if you are interested in nonfiction about labor issues, gender, and inequality

Content Notes

Sexual assault; mental health (including a brief mention of suicide)

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Forest Hills Bootleg Society

Nicole Geaux

The year is 2005 and the location is a small town in California primarily known for its Christian boarding school; the situation is four friends trying to figure out all the big questions by selling bootleg anime to boys at their schools. Understandably, this goes poorly and things get out of hand. This is a story of how bleak life can be, and that maybe it's okay that things don't turn out well. It's complicated and dark, with gorgeous art in a limited teal color palette.

Appeals to

For readers who grew up encountering anime in the early 00s, this can be a solid pick for the nostalgia of it. Also readers of Squad who like a darker story of friendship, or readers of Slip that appreciated the way the story dealt with processing a changing friendship.

Content Notes

There are a lot of sad or difficult topics in this, either seen frequently or just briefly mentioned: Christian-based discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people, eating disorders, grief, depression, cheating in romantic relationships

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Frizzy

Claribel Ortega

Rose Bousamra

No matter what, it feels like everyone is always telling Marlene something about her isn't right: her skin's darker, she's not feminine enough, and her hair is the wrong texture. She dreads the weekly trips to the salon to have it straightened, and finally, with the help of her best friend Camila and her cool Tia Ruby, she starts to embrace her hair. Through it, she helps her mom let go of the past and embrace change as well.

Appeals to

While this is a great book to pick up for kids dealing with confidence issues around their hair, it's also a great story of a family learning to communicate better. This would be a great pick for readers of The Tryout or Miss Quinces, but also comics like the Berrybrook Middle School series.

Content Notes

Discussions of racism and colorism are kind of central to the book.

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Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Garlic and the Witch

Bree Paulsen

After conquering many of her anxieties and fears when she went to encounter the vampire who is now a friend of the farm, Garlic is faced with a new problem: she might be turning human. But Witch Agnes has been so busy, and Garlic doesn't want to bother her. So she does what Garlic does best: go on a quest. This is a perfect sequel to Garlic and the Vampire, with all the charm and sweetness as the first book.

Appeals to

The gentle nature and focus on the natural world in Garlic and the Witch is a great choice for readers of Nightlights and Pilu of the Woods, and the adventurous side of Garlic's story can appeal to fans of the Hilda series. I could see this appealing to fans of the Tea Dragon Society series, with its gentle lessons on life.

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

M is for Monster

Talia Dutton

In this Frankenstein re-telling, Dr. Frances Ai is determined to bring her sister back to life after an accident leads to her untimely death. When Maura's body rises she thinks she's done it. But is Maura the one who is in this reanimated corpse? And if it's not Maura, then who is it?

Appeals to

Fans of the original story will appreciate this new way to look at the same themes, what is life, and what responsibility the creator has to its creation.

Content Notes

Death, ghosts

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Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Mamo

Sas Milledge

Jo goes looking for a witch to help with a situation in her home and finds instead Orla, granddaughter of the former village witch Mamo, who is adamant she's not the new witch for this village. As they work together to figure out why Mamo's death caused so much chaos, Jo and Orla learn more about their needs and the world around them. It's a beautiful comic full of vibrant landscapes and a realistic view of small village life.

Appeals to

Mamo is fantastic for readers of comics like The Well, Coming Back, or Tidesong that have small quiet magic and long moments of reflection, as well as dealing with the consequences of someone else's actions, and sometimes that turns out to be unprocessed grief.

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Messy Roots

Laura Gao

This graphic memoir, with the color pallet of the beach sunset postcard, is a heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding your place in the world when the country you were born in is vastly different than the country you grew up in. That journey becomes even more complicated for Gao when they start to realize they aren't straight. Then COVID-19 happens and suddenly the place Gao and her family are from becomes the center of the world's attention, most of it negative.

Appeals to

This timely graphic memoir will resonate with anyone who is struggling to find their place in the world, especially if part of that journey involves reconciling two or more cultural identities within oneself.

Content Notes

Discuss of the COVID-19 pandemic

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Other Ever Afters

Melanie Gillman

A princess falls for the goose girl but is stymied when her prestige and wealth do not influence her crush. A young woman enlists the help of a trickster to escape an unloving marriage. An individual's dead name starts to burn them when they are unable to tell everyone in their village their new name. These are just a sampling of the wonderful fairy tales you will find in Melanie Gilman's newest graphic novel.

Appeals to

These beautiful fairy tales filled my heart—they were warm and thoughtful, giving comfort and visibility and provoking thoughts about how things are. Gilman's amazing colored pencils bring the stories to life. Young and adult fairy tale lovers and misfits will find much to enjoy here.

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Our Not-So-Lonely Planet Travel Guide

Mone Sorai

Uptight Asahi and easygoing Mitsuki can seem like an odd couple, always at opposite ends of things, but one thing they agree on is taking a trip around the world as a test of their relationship. If they can make it, then the two will get married! But first, they have to find their hotel. And somewhere to eat. It's part explainer manga, with tidbits of info about each country they visit, part romance as we see Asahi and Mitsuki learn to work together and communicate their needs, and all gorgeous art. Of course, this is a new series with only two volumes so far, so who knows where it will go from here.

Appeals to

While this is billed as boys' love because it is a relationship between two men, readers expecting sex scenes will be disappointed; this series will appeal more to readers of slower stories like Restart After Coming Home or I Hear the Sunspot, especially as this focuses on adults rather than high school students. So pick this up for readers who want more grown-up relationships with less pining and quiet shared moments of happiness.

Content Notes

Some discussion of discrimination against LGTBTQ+ people, but generally this is more to look at how different countries treat the community

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Space Story

Fiona Ostby

In a story that skips between the past and present, Hannah and Leah fall in love and start a family. However, their present is a struggle; Hannah is on a space station while Leah and their child Bird are stuck on a rapidly dying Earth. Leah and Bird are not about to give up though. Will they be reunited?

Appeals to

Space Story was a bittersweet yet comforting story that I wanted to read again immediately after I finished. I love Ostby's storytelling decisions in the artwork, their character designs, and the fact that they include a variety of body types. Readers looking for a warm, ultimately hopeful queer story will find much to enjoy here

Content Notes

Brief nudity but in contexts where it makes sense to be naked

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Supper Club

Jackie Morrow

Senior year can be tough. Classes, prepping for college, and extracurriculars, it can be hard to find time to just...hang out. Nora, Lili, and Iris come up with a solution. A supper club for a select group of their friends, held once a month so that they can make sure that they see each other before they all go away to college. But when life's demands get louder for all three girls, will they put supper club on the back burner?

Appeals to

If "sharing food with friends" is your love language, this book is for you.

Content Notes

Family member with a serious illness.

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Swim Team

Johnnie Christmas

Bree was not excited about moving to Florida, but she was hopeful she'd be able to join the math extracurricular at her new school. Instead, she has to take a swimming class! Thanks to her kind neighbor's help, Bree discovers a new interest and joins her school team. With the team facing the potential loss of their pool, can Bree help them win a championship?

Appeals to

Swim Team is a heartwarming story about never giving up and discovering new passions. Readers who like the coming-of-age and realistic challenges of stories such as New Kid, Roller Girl, and Click will likely enjoy this one.

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

The Moth Keeper

Anya lives in a nocturnal desert village, a close-knit community where all kinds of people work together to survive. Every aspect of life here depends on the magical pollen of the Night-Flower tree, and the tree depends on the pollination of the Moon-Moths. These creatures are fragile, needing the protection and care of a Moth Keeper. The Moth Keeper spends every night—when the village is awake – out in the desert with the Moths. The position is a lonely one, but vital to the community. That’s why Anya, who wishes desperately to be useful and valued, has pledged to become the next Moth Keeper.

The nights are long and cold, and spending so much time alone beneath the endless desert sky has Anya questioning everything, from her own abilities and worth to whether she even wants to live in the night-village. Are things better in the neighboring sun-village, which sleeps at night and wakes during the day?

Anya’s best friend worries about her, and her mentor encourages her to transition into the job more slowly, but Anya is determined to prove herself. Refusing help and insisting she is fine, Anya pushes herself until she makes a dire mistake. The Moths are lost, and the Night-Flower tree is dying. Can Anya get the Moths back in time to save her village? And even if she does, is there a future for her as a Moth Keeper?

Fans of K. O’Neill’s award-winning Tea Dragon Society books will find in this story a new fantasy world with some familiar touches. Like those books, this has a cozy setting full of kind, well-intentioned characters (who also, incidentally, seem to drink a lot of tea). Both include characters with animal-inspired design elements, like Anya’s fox ears and tail, which are taken for granted as part of the world.

O’Neill’s bio says that they “strive to make books with themes of kindness, inclusiveness, and well-being”. These ideas permeate this story, in which we see what can happen when Anya fails to recognize her own limits, but also see her learn to depend on others and find strength in her community. The editor’s note at the beginning of this book describes this story as being about burnout, which is an extremely timely topic. Here, burnout is treated not just as something that Anya must overcome, but also as something her community must remedy by recognizing that the Moth Keeper job might be asking too much of any one person, and that Anya needs their support.

The artwork is softly colorful, its palette full of twilight blues and the earth tones of the desert. Both inside the village and out in the desert, the settings are full of interesting details and curving, organic shapes. The character designs are whimsical and varied: there are humans, centaurs, and people with wings and feathers or animal tails and ears, and they wear thoughtfully designed clothes and accessories. The lineart is loose and relaxed, drawn with fine lines, so that even the detailed settings feel spacious and spare, not dense or crowded.

There are touches of sadness in this story – Anya comes from an unhappy family situation, another character has not seen his parents in the sun-village for a long time, and Anya meets a wandering spirit with a lonely tale. Ultimately, though, this is a hopeful story of kind people helping and supporting each other. Hand it to fans of the Tea Dragon Society books and other gentle, positive fantasy.

The Moth Keeper
By K. O’Neill
Penguin Random House Graphic, 2023
ISBN: 9780593182260

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Nonbinary ,

Lemon Bird Can Help!

Lemon Bird is a cheerful creature with a can-do attitude. She’s also just what she sounds like: a cross between a lemon and a bird. This isn’t so unusual in the colorful, whimsical world of this book, which has many such hybrid creatures. In fact, Lemon Bird has just made friends with one on the farm where she lives: the doglike, yet also pumpkinlike, Pupkin.

When Lemon Bird and Pupkin fall asleep on a farm truck, they don’t expect to wake up at a market far from home. Confused and worried, they start searching for a way back, but it won’t be easy. Luckily, this duo is so friendly and helpful that many people and creatures are happy to help them in return. But will that be enough to get them home to the farm? And why is another citrus bird—a smaller, greener, ruder version of Lemon Bird—following them around?

This is a gentle, straightforward adventure that celebrates helping others and making friends. In Lemon Bird’s first meeting with Pupkin, it finds the pup tangled in vines and hurries to help. The mischievous citrus bird Keylime is initially mean to them, but rethinks her behavior after Lemon Bird and Pupkin rescue her from danger. The duo also assist at least half a dozen strangers with a variety of tasks on their way back to the farm. Their kindness is repaid when the reformed Keylime comes to help them in a moment of need.

The real star here is the fanciful setting. There are lots of fruit-animals, including ones with punny or rhymey names, like the boarnana and pear bear. Some of them, like Lemon Bird, can talk to each other (but not, it seems, to people). Others, like Pupkin, may understand speech but do not seem able to produce it, and behave more like the animals of our world. The people we meet are also unusual: some sport pointed ears, and some have skin and hair in colors like blue, purple, and green. Every page is drenched in vivid, saturated colors that give it an otherworldly look, but also evoke the fruits that play a key role in the setting and its creatures.

In addition to being colorful, the art is active, making use of movement lines and varied panel layouts for a high-energy feel. In several places, we get a full-page illustration with a line showing Pupkin and Lemon Bird’s path through the setting, a little like a Family Circus cartoon. The sequential art often stands alone, as there are many panels and a few entire pages without text. The end pages include fun bonus material showing readers how to draw Lemon Bird and encouraging them to get creative with their own fruit-animal creatures.

While there is occasional peril – Keylime is menaced by what looks like a plum-cat hybrid, and Pupkin falls into a fast-moving river—no one is harmed. The danger serves mostly to give other characters the opportunity to come to the rescue.

With attention-grabbing artwork and a good heart, this fantasy romp will appeal to young readers, especially those who prefer their comics without too much text.

Lemon Bird Can Help!
By Paulina Ganucheau
Penguin Random House Graphic, 2022
ISBN: 9780593122679

Publisher Age Rating: 4-8

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)