Books

The best Canadian comics of 2021

Here are CBC Books's picks for the top Canadian comics of the year.

Here are CBC Books's picks for the top Canadian comics of the year

Here are the picks by CBC Books for the top Canadian comics of 2021.

Fictional Father by Joe Ollmann

Fictional Father is a comic by Joe Ollman. (Drawn & Quarterly)

Fictional Father is the story of a washed-up middle-aged painter named Caleb. Now that he's sober, he must face his untapped potential, his past and his father — who made millions writing a family-oriented cartoon while neglecting his own son. Caleb is determined to face his demons and be a better man than his father. Fictional Father explores family, regret and what it means to make art.

Fictional Father was on the shortlist for the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction.

Joe Ollmann is a comics artist from Hamilton, Ont. His other comics include The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People and Mid-Life.

Library by Michael Dumontier & Neil Farber

Library is a comic by Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber. (Michael Dumontier/Neil Farber, Drawn & Quarterly)

In Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber's Libraryreaders will discover brilliant new works of made-up literature, such as Don't Talk To Me For Too Long, You'll Fall In Love and I Liked Me, But Then I Did What I Did. The Winnipeg artists have been painting imagined books, with inscrutably funny, existential titles, as part of a series that's been on-going since 2009.

Dumontier and Farber are founding members of the art collective The Royal Art Lodge and have been collaborating on art projects for more than 15 years.

Dumontier is a contemporary artist based in Winnipeg. He is best known for his minimal paintings and collages.

Farber is a contemporary artist based in Winnipeg. He is best known for his ink and watercolour drawings.

Heaven No Hell by Michael DeForge

Heaven No Hell is a comic by Michael DeForge. (Drawn & Quarterly)

Heaven No Hell is a collection of comics from Michael DeForge that explore the nature of relationships, life and society in general. The included stories range from an angel giving a tour of heaven (hell doesn't exist, by the way) to a couple following their pregnancy with an app and an undercover substitute teacher investigating murder in the classroom.

DeForge is a Toronto-based creator who has won awards for comics like Leaving Richard's Valley, Dressing and Lose #1. Other acclaimed books include StuntBig Kids, Ant Colony, Sticks Angelica Folk Hero and more.

Toronto comic creator Michael DeForge talks about his latest graphic novel, Familiar Face.

Pizza Punks by Cole Pauls

Pizza Punks is a comic by Cole Pauls. (Conundrum Press)

Pizza Punks is a comic that celebrates pizza, and asks the question how far would a pizza-loving punk rocker go for a slice? All kinds of pizza are celebrated in this quirky comic, from deep dish to backpack pizza to mosh-pit pizza and more.

Cole Pauls is a Tahltan comic artist. He created his first comic, Dakwäkãda Warriorsas a language-revival initiative. In 2017, it won Broken Pencil magazine's Best Comic and Best Zine of the Year Award.

Stone Fruit by Lee Lai

Stone Fruit is a comic by Lee Lai. (Fantagraphics, Leah Jing)

Stone Fruit is a comic about a queer couple, Bron and Ray, and the ups and downs a relationship goes through as it begins to fall apart. As their intimacy fades, Bron and Ray each turn to their sisters, with whom they have tense relationships, and try to mend those fractured bonds. Stone Fruit explores family, identity and relationships through Bron and Ray's journey.

Lee Lai is an Australian cartoonist who now lives in Montreal. Stone Fruit is her first book.

Librarian Kristen Caschera returns to London Morning with her monthly book picks. This month she books about LGBTQ2+ experiences ahead of Pride in London. Kristen's picks are: Stone Fruit by Lee Lai, Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth, and Zeyn Joukhadar's The Thirty Names of Night.

Afterlift by Jason Loo & Chip Zdarsky

Afterlift is a comic by Chip Zdarsky, bottom right, and Jason Loo, top right. (Dark Horse Comics)

Afterlift is a series from Canadian creators Jason Loo and Chip Zdarsky. It's about a ride-share driver named Janice Chen, who gets caught up in a supernatural world when she picks up a pair of mysterious passengers. 

Afterlift debuted online last year as part of the comiXology Originals line. This paperback includes issues #1-#5.

Jason Loo is a cartoonist from Toronto. He is best known for the series The Pitiful Human-Lizard. He also worked on the Captain Canuck reboot.

Chip Zdarsky is a comic book writer and illustrator born in Edmonton and based in Toronto. The creator with a quirky sense of humour has worked on books such as the award-winning Sex Criminals, Kaptara, Jughead, Howard the Duck, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man and Daredevil.

Marvel's Chip Zdarsky on how to be a successful comic book creator

3 years ago
Duration 4:32
The writer and illustrator of comic book characters such as Daredevil, Spider-Man on how to make it in the comic book industry.

Snow Angels by Jeff Lemire & Jock

Snow Angels is a comic by Jeff Lemire & Jock. (4Twenty Limited, Francois Hercourt)

In Snow AngelsMilliken and Mae are two young girls who live in the Trench. It's a community that exists inside a massive sheet of ice, and people never enter and never leave. But when the girls go on an adventure to commemorate Milliken's 12th birthday and to learn how to survive in this unforgiving land, they realize there's an entire world beyond the Trench — and accidentally awaken the Trench's defender, the Snowman. 

Snow Angels is a new series. It's part of the comiXology Originals line and will be available digitally.

Jeff Lemire is an author and illustrator whose work includes RoughneckEssex County, The Underwater Welder, Royal City and Gord Downie's Secret Path. The Toronto comic creator has also worked on Justice League and Green Arrow for DC Comics and Hawkeye for Marvel.

Jock is the pen name for the British cartoonist Mark Simpson. He has worked for 2000AD and on The Losers, Batman and Wolverine comics.

Cyclopedia Exotica by Aminder Dhaliwal

Cyclopedia Exotica is a comic by Aminder Dhaliwal. (Submitted by Drawn & Quarterly)

Cyclopedia Exotica is a comic set in a parallel universe where cyclops are part of our society. They are artists and doctors and parents and students. But they regularly face discrimination and xenophobia and micro-aggressions. Through this alternate world, Aminder Dhaliwal explores race, discrimination, marginalization, beauty and belonging with humour and heart.

Dhaliwal is a comic writer and television animator originally from Brampton, Ont. Now based in Los Angeles, Dhaliwal is a director at Disney TV Animation. Her comic series Woman World, originally published on Instagram to hundreds of thousands of followers, was released as a graphic novel by Drawn & Quarterly in 2018. CBC Books named Dhaliwal a writer to watch in 2019.

Canadian cartoonist Aminder Dhaliwal turns funny illustrations into sharp social commentary. She joined Tom Power to talk about how she uses the mythic cyclops as a surprising metaphor for racism in her latest graphic novel, Cyclopedia Exotica.

Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbor by Pascal Girard

Rebecca and Lucie is a comic by Pascal Girard. (Drawn & Quarterly)

In Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbornew mother Rebecca and her 8-month-old daughter Lucie are on a quest to solve a local mystery. When her neighbour, and health care provider, Eduardo, goes missing, Rebecca juggles motherhood with detective work. Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbor is a light-hearted look at postpartum life.

Pascal Girard is a comics creator from Montreal. He is also the author of the comics Nicolas, Bigfoot, Reunion and Petty Theft.

Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto, illustrated by Ann Xu

Shadow Life is a comic by Hiromi Goto. (First Second Press)

In the graphic novel Shadow Life76-year-old Kumiko is placed in a long-term care home by her daughters. It's not what Kumiko wants so she breaks out and takes refuge in an apartment she keeps secret from her children. She finds pleasure in simple, daily life, but Death's shadow haunts her. Kumiko is ready to fight for the life she's built herself, but how long can she fight back?

Hiromi Goto is a writer and editor from British Columbia. Her novels include Chorus of Mushrooms, Half World and Darkest Light. Shadow Life is her first graphic novel.

Ann Xu is an American illustrator.

Hiromi Goto and Troy Sebastian are part of a panel of "New Works" at the Victoria Festival of Authors. They joined North by Northwest guest host Kathryn Marlow for a conversation about their upcoming works, what CanLit needs to do better to represent diverse voices, and about the responsibility both writers and readers bear.

Road Allowance Era by Katherena Vermette, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson

Road Allowance Era is a comic by Katherena Vermette. (HighWater Press)

Road Allowance Era concludes Katherena Vermette's graphic novel series A Girl Called Echo. In Road Allowance Era, the promise of land for the Métis has gone unfulfilled and Métis leader Louis Riel has been executed. Echo's family is reeling from the fallout of these events, and she must channel the hope and resilience of her people in order to build a brighter future.

Vermette is a Governor General's Literary Award-winning poet and bestselling novelist based in Winnipeg. Her books include The Strangers, North End Love SongsThe Break and river woman.

Artists Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk are contributors to the graphic novel series.

Katherena Vermette talks to Shelagh Rogers about her latest novel, The Strangers.

The Pleasure of the Text by Sami Alwani

The Pleasure of the Text is a comic by Sami Alwani. (Conundrum Press)

The Pleasure of the Text is a collection of 20 comics that question individual identity and collective society, bringing together tragedy and humour to explore art, trauma, capitalism and everyday life. The comics include a talking baby, a ghost who survives quarantine thanks to CBD cookies and a cartoonist who is half-man and half-dog.

Sami Alwani is a cartoonist and illustrator from Toronto. He is also the author of the comics Man Bites Dog, Happy Days and The Dead Father.

Factory Summers by Guy Delisle

Factory Summers is a comic by Guy Delisle. (Submitted by Drawn & Quarterly)

In Factory SummersGuy Delisle recalls the three summers he spent working at a pulp and paper factory in Quebec City, starting at the age of 16. Delisle remembers the gruelling 12-hour shifts, a building filled with the noise of ancient machinery and an unchecked misogyny in the all-male environment. But the book also looks at the camaraderie found within the factory, and how the pulp and paper industry changed over the years, impacting the communities and the workers who relied on it, including Delisle's own father.

Delisle is an author and illustrator known for graphic travelogues like Burma ChroniclesJerusalem and PyongyangHe is also the author of the comic Hostagethe true story of a Médecins Sans Frontières administrator named Christophe André who was held captive for three months while on a mission in the Caucasus region.

In recent decades, there has been an explosion of comics and graphic novels dealing with subjects like grief, war, foreign politics and even the Holocaust. Kevin Sylvester speaks with cartoonists Guy Delisle and Sarah Glidden about their new books.

The Gift by Zoe Maeve

The Gift is a comic by Zoe Maeve. (Conundrum Press)

The Gift is a comic that reimagines the life of Russian princess Anastasia. When Anastasia is 15 years old, she receives a camera as a gift. She begins to photograph her life behind palace walls, while a revolution unfolds outside them. But the arrival of the camera means Anastasia is starting to see things beyond our world, and someone or something is stalking her.

Zoe Maeve is a comics and visual artist who currently lives in Montreal. She is also the author of the comic July Underwater.

Youth by Curt Pires, illustrated by Alex Diotto

Youth is a comic by Curt Pires (centre) and Alex Diotto. (Dark Horse Comics)

Youth is a comic about two teenagers who run away from their small town and attempt to make it in California. Before they get there, their car breaks down and they join a band of misfits on the road. But that's just where the adventure begins in this new series from Curt Pires and Alex Diotto. 

Youth debuted online in 2020 as part of the comiXology Originals line. This paperback, released in 2021, includes issues #1-#4. A second series is also in the works.

Youth is currently in development to be adapted into a TV series by Pires for Amazon Studios. 

Pires is a writer and producer from Calgary. He has worked on the Olympia and WYRD comic series. He co-created the Olympia series with his father, Tony Pires.

Diotto is an illustrator who has worked on the Olympia series.

Championess by Kelly Zekas and Tarun Shanker, illustrated by Amanda Perez Puentes

Championess is a comic written by Tarun Shanker (top left) and Kelly Zekas (bottom left), illustrated by Amanda Perez Puentes (right). (tarunshanker.com, Simon & Schuster, Tim Goodwin Photography, submitted by Amanda Perez Puentes)

Inspired by a true story, Championess follows bare-knuckle boxer Elizabeth Wilkinson through 18th century London. Wilkinson fights in-between odd jobs in order to make a living for her and her sister Tess, who is in severe debt. The character is based on a real pioneering figure in women's boxing.

Kelly Zekas lives in New York City and her writing partner Tarun Shanker is from Boston. Their previous collaboration is the trilogy These Vicious Masks.

Amanda Perez Puentes is a Venezuelan illustrator who now lives in Toronto.

Sweet Tooth: The Return by Jeff Lemire with colorist José Villarrubia

Sweet Tooth: The Return is a comic by Jeff Lemire and José Villarrubia. (Jamie Hogge, DC Comics)

Sweet Tooth: The Return re-imagines Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth mythology, taking elements of the original series and remixing them into something familiar, but totally new. At the centre of a divided world and a planet long ago past the point of devastation, a child who didn't ask to be born into any of this has no choice but to try and forge some life for himself.

Lemire is a comics artist whose work includes RoughneckEssex CountyThe Underwater Welder and Gord Downie's Secret PathEssex County was defended by Sara Quin on Canada Reads in 2011. Lemire lives in Toronto.

José Villarrubia is a Harvey Award-winning artist who frequently works with Alan Moore. Their collaborations include The Mirror of Love, Promethea and Voice of the Fire. Villarrubia was born in Madrid and now lives in Baltimore.

Jeff Lemire is the Canadian artist behind the acclaimed comic book series Sweet Tooth, which was recently adapted into a hit Netflix series. He spoke with guest host Ali Hassan about seeing his drawings come to life in a live-action show, and how it inspired him to continue the Sweet Tooth story.

Borders by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan

Borders is a graphic novel by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. (CBC, HarperCollins)

Borders is based on a short story written by Thomas King in 1993, and was adapted as a graphic novel by illustrator Natasha Donovan. It's about a boy and his mother who try to take a road trip from Alberta to Salt Lake City. When they identify as Blackfoot at the American Canadian border, the pair are pressured to change their answer. The story that follows is a powerful and thought-provoking look at justice, resilience and identity.

King is an influential Canadian American writer of Cherokee and Greek ancestry. His bestselling books include Truth & Bright WaterThe Inconvenient Indian and many more. His latest, the novel Indians on Vacation, won the 2021 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. 

Donovan is a Métis illustrator originally from Vancouver. She has illustrated several graphic novels, including the Surviving the City series by Tasha Spillet and Brett Huson's animal series, which includes The Sockeye MotherThe Grizzly Mother and The Eagle Mother. She also illustrated the cover for The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills and her work appears in the anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold.

Since its release nearly three decades ago, writer Thomas King's acclaimed short story Borders has gone through several permutations. The latest adaptation is a graphic novel, illustrated by Métis artist Natasha Donovan. King and Donovan discuss the new adaptation and why it continues to resonate today.

Helem by Stanley Wany

Helem is a comic by Stanley Wany. (Conundrum Press)

Helem was created while Stanley Wany was in a hallucinatory, sleep-deprived state of mind. It tells the propulsive personal stories of two characters — a woman grieving her sister's death by suicide and a man thinking about how a temporary job at a call centre turned into a decade-long career. The nearly wordless stories explore the deep inner-lives of these two characters, who are both facing a major crossroads.

Wany is an Afro Canadian artist from Montreal who is now based in Ottawa. His practice includes graphic novels, pen and ink drawings and paintings. Wany's first graphic novel, Agalma, was nominated for a Doug Wright Award.

Weeding by Geneviève Lebleu 

Weeding is a comic by Geneviève Lebleu. (Conundrum Press)

Martha hosts a tea party for her group of catty friends, fellow middle-aged suburban ladies, at her home. But Martha is disturbed by the arrival of unwanted guests — including her estranged friend Elisabeth and sister Maureen. When Martha excuses herself to gather herbs from her backyard, strange things await in the pristine garden. Weeding makes light of stereotypes of the 1960s housewife, and draws inspiration from soap operas.

Geneviève Lebleu is a multidisciplinary artist from Québec City and is currently based in Montreal. Her work was featured in various events, exhibitions and festivals in Montreal and abroad. She also self-publishes her comics. Weeding is her first graphic novel.

Dying for Attention by Susan MacLeod

Dying for Attention is a comic by Susan MacLeod. (Conundrum Press)

Dying for Attention is a graphic memoir by Susan MacLeod about nursing home care. When MacLeod accompanied her 90-year-old mother through a long-term care system, it was a nine-year journey navigating a government without a heart in a system without compassion. The book also includes tips for communicating with nursing homes as well as background research.

MacLeod is an artist and writer. Her illustrations have been published by Kaiser Permanente, Halifax Magazine and the Globe and Mail. 

Author Susan MacLeod talks about the personal and professional experiences that inspired 'Dying for Attention', her new graphic novel about long-term care homes. Plus, hear why she's signed up for stand-up comedy lessons in the new year!

Leonard Cohen: On a Wire by Philippe Girard, translated by Helge Dascher & Karen Houle

Leonard Cohen: On a Wire is a comic by Philippe Girard, translated by Helge Dascher and Karen Houle. (Philippe Girard, Drawn & Quarterly)

Leonard Cohen: On a Wire is a graphic biography of the legendary musician and writer. The comic illustrates Cohen's journey as an artist, writing poetry in lieu of working in the family business, becoming famous, going broke, writing Hallelujah and meeting fellow icons like Lou Reed, Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell.

Girard is a comics artist from Quebec. He published his first comic in a children's magazine when he was eight and has since published more than 20 books. His comics have received awards such as the Joe Shuster and the Bedeis Causa Awards.

 

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