Daniel Clowes/Cliff Chiang/Faith Erin Hicks/Mitch Gerads
Daniel Clowes/Cliff Chiang/Faith Erin Hicks/Mitch Gerads

The 12 Best Comics of 2016 (So Far)

Daniel Clowes/Cliff Chiang/Faith Erin Hicks/Mitch Gerads
Daniel Clowes/Cliff Chiang/Faith Erin Hicks/Mitch Gerads

Why wait until December to start giving out accolades to some of the best comics and graphic novels of the year? If you’re looking for some good summer reads, here are 12 outstanding titles published in the first half of 2016. 

1. THE SHERIFF OF BABYLON

By Tom King and Mitch Gerads
DC Vertigo 


DC Vertigo

Vertigo, DC Comics’ mature-readers line, started off 2016 by launching a number of new series, and without a doubt the standout of the bunch has been Sheriff of Babylon. Set in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein, it begins with the murder of an Iraqi police cadet who was being trained by an American cop-turned-contractor named Chris Henry. His investigation into what happened has him partnering with Nassir, the last Iraqi policeman from the old regime, and Sofia, a former exile turned local crime lord.

Writer Tom King was a real-life CIA officer stationed in Iraq, and he draws upon a lot of his own experiences to add rich detail and a sense of gravitas to this story, while Mitch Gerads’ photo-realistic artwork adds to the authenticity. They have completed seven issues of this ongoing series so far, and the first trade paperback collection hits stores in July.

2. 5,000 KM PER SECOND

By Manuele Fior
Fantagraphics

Piero and Lucia meet as teenagers in Italy and fall in love. Fast forward a number of years and Lucia has left Piero to live in Norway, where she falls for another young man. Fast forward again and both Piero and Lucia are married to other people, but their hearts seem to be elsewhere. By the end of the book, the two reunite in middle age and try to recapture what they had as teenagers.

5,000 km Per Second won the prestigious Grand Prize at the 2010 Angouleme Comics Festival and it finally made its English language debut this year, thanks to American publisher Fantagraphics. Not only is it a gorgeous book full of beautifully expressive watercolors, but it's also a masterful piece of storytelling by Italian cartoonist Manuele Fior that describes a relationship between two people by showing us only the time that passes when they are apart.

3. RULES FOR DATING MY DAUGHTER

By Mike Dawson
Uncivilized Books 

Mike Dawson’s switch from making longform narrative graphic novels to short, non-fiction essays proved to be a successful career pivot for the cartoonist. Many of the comics collected in this Kickstarter-funded collection were originally posted online and shared repeatedly via social media because they touched a nerve with a certain type of young parent—progressive, politically-minded, and anxious about their children’s future.

Dawson pours his own parental love and insecurity into smart, funny and creative comic essays about subjects like feminist dads, talking to your kids about how we get our meat, school shootings, and the class values of the Disney Jr. show Sofia the First.

4. PAPER GIRLS

By Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson
Image Comics

Writer Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man) has another hit on his hands with his new series Paper Girls, a collaboration with popular artist Cliff Chiang, who recently completed a long run drawing DC’s Wonder Woman. The true nature of the plot that drives Paper Girls is still unfolding, with only six issues released so far, but it begins following a group of 12-year-old girls delivering newspapers in the wee hours of the morning in 1988. It quickly veers into a science fiction epic involving time travel, aliens and the end of the world.

Partly due to the setting, but mostly due to Vaughan and Chiang’s Hollywood-style sense of drama and suspense, this reads like one of those classic Spielbergian kids' adventure films of the ‘80s.

5. THE ART OF CHARLIE CHAN HOCK CHYE

By Sonny Liew
Pantheon 

When The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye was first released, some book reviewers were fooled into thinking this was an actual career retrospective of a famous Singaporean cartoonist. In fact, what makes this book so astounding is that it is 320 pages of comics, sketches, life drawings and paintings convincingly created by Sonny Liew to invent a lifetime’s worth of work. Liew (Dr. Fate, The Shadow Hero) uses the fictional life of Charlie Chan Hock Chye to tell the history and evolution of mid-to-late century comics, while mixing in the social and political history of Singapore.

The book has sold out multiple print runs in Liew’s home country, and its commentary on political activism led the government to revoke a national grant given to him to make the book. It is an impressively designed book that mixes documentary-style “interviews,” dramatizations and faux-historical artifacts.

6. PANTHER

By Brecht Evens
Drawn & Quarterly

While mourning the loss of her cat, a 5-year-old girl named Christine is visited by a talking spotted panther who arrives from another land through the dresser drawer in her bedroom. The panther is charming at first, but his charm seems to be hiding ulterior motives. At least it seems that way to the reader but not to the innocent and trusting young girl who is enchanted by everything he says and does. When her favorite stuffed toy dog tries to escape the madness, the Panther does something horrible to him. 

Belgian cartoonist Brecht Evens presents this book like a colorful children’s tale, but underneath the whimsical and expressive paintings lurks an analogy to something unspeakable that will slowly get under your skin as the story goes along. It’s like The Cat in the Hat taken to almost horrific extremes.

7. THE VISION

By Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles
Marvel Comics 

Tom King is having a career year, having launched two new books in 2016 that are both on this list: the previously mentioned Sheriff of Babylon and his first book for Marvel, The Vision. This 12-issue series shows the well known synthezoid Avenger relocating to the suburbs to live the American Dream with a wife and children—Virginia, Viv and Vin—that he created himself.

What sounds like the premise for a wacky sitcom is actually a dark and tragic tale of assimilation and the lengths one will go for their family. Each character is a commentary on a classic family member archetype—Vision is the frequently absent dad; Virginia, the fiercely protective mom—and King uses their Spock-like emotional detachment to create a quiet, contemplative rumination on family that is often jolted by shocking and violent plot twists.

The real stars of this book, though, may be the art team of Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire, whose work lends this title the somber weight that makes it so riveting.

8. PATIENCE

By Daniel Clowes
Fantagraphics 

Daniel Clowes's first book in five years was one of the most anticipated graphic novel releases of 2016. Being a time travel story, Patience seems like it would be a departure from the usually grounded character pieces you expect from Clowes, but it's really not too removed from his various genre-dabbling like The Death-Ray and David Boring. It is about a young man named Jack whose life is ripped apart when his pregnant wife Patience is murdered.

Thirty years later he finds a way to go back in time to try to prevent this tragic event from unfolding, but is Jack’s undying love for Patience actually the root of all their problems? Using retro sci-fi influences from mid-century EC Comics, Clowes tells a very Clowes-ian story about disaffected outsiders and nostalgia.

9. THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL

By Ryan North, Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi
Marvel Comics 

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is Marvel’s most unique comic. It is geared towards a different kind of audience—young girls—than most of the publisher’s books and does not take itself as seriously as 90 percent of today’s superhero comics. It also features a female protagonist who looks nothing like any other super heroine out there. Most of all, though, it has a sense of humor that is more similar to what you’d find in webcomics than superhero comics. That’s because the creative team of Ryan North and Erica Henderson is also unlike most creative teams you’d find working for Marvel. North is the creator of the popular webcomic Dinosaur Comics and Henderson is a relative newcomer whom this book has now made into a star.

Now in its second series (all the Marvel titles relaunched this year), North and Henderson have been upping their game on Squirrel Girl with a multi-part time travel story featuring Doctor Doom and a hilariously clever choose-your-own-adventure issue. The popularity of Squirrel Girl has paved the way for Marvel to try out more colorful, light hearted, comedic books, as well as more titles aimed at female readers.

10. BEVERLY

By Nick Drnaso
Drawn & Quarterly 

In Nick Drnaso’s first graphic novel, Beverly, he collects a series of vignettes set in and around a mostly white suburban town with a somewhat interconnected cast of disenchanted youth. Each story is heavy with impending tragedy, but also funny when you don’t expect it.

The diverse vignettes include one about a teenager whose story about being raped by an unknown Muslim assailant isn’t what it seems, one about two girlfriends in their early 20s who reconnect at a party, and the central piece about an incident during a family trip that sets a young boy’s life on an awful trajectory. 

Drnaso is a promising new talent who has a knack for interesting characters and unusual storytelling choices (in one unusually extended scene he depicts an entire episode of a fictional sitcom, including commercials). His dark sense of humor and minimalist drawing style is like an Adult Swim program created by Chris Ware.

11. THE NAMELESS CITY

By Faith Erin Hicks and Jordie Bellaire
First Second 

Faith Erin Hicks has proven herself to be one of today’s great YA graphic novelists, writing and illustrating books across genres such as science fiction, supernatural and even superheroes. Her latest is the first in a three-book fantasy series set in a fictional city modeled aesthetically, and somewhat historically, on the city of Tibet.

The titular “Nameless City” is a strategically well-situated city that gets conquered and renamed every few decades by surrounding kingdoms. The citizens live in resentment of each new invading army, especially Rat, a young girl who lives on the streets and gets around by jumping from roof to roof, parkour-style. She becomes an unlikely companion to Kaidu, a newcomer and member of the latest invading army that is responsible for the death of Rat’s parents.

Hicks is joined by prolific and brilliant colorist Jordie Bellaire, and the two have created a visually stunning world that makes this one of the best looking books of the year so far.

12. CRIMINAL 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

By Ed Brubaker, Sean Philips and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image Comics

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips returned to their career-making creator-owned series Criminal with a new one-shot story published in an oversized magazine-style format that calls back to the popular publishing trend of the 1970s. The format comes into play when we, along with young Tracy Lawless (a character we’ve previously seen all grown up in other Criminal stories), start reading a raunchy kung-fu werewolf comic within this story of Tracy and his dad on the run.

The format and the extra in-story send-up of ‘70s horror comics are nice selling points, but it's Brubaker and Philips, along with colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser, who are all at the top of their game right now, producing a great piece of crime noir that doubles as a heartbreaking story about the relationship between a father and son.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Walt Disney Pictures
10 Facts About Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Bette Midler said she'd be interested in doing a Hocus Pocus sequel. "You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company," she said. "The ball's in their court." While you get those cards ready, here are some facts about the original, which arrived in theaters 25 years ago today.

1. THE STORY ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY.

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

2. THE WRITERS USED PROPS TO PITCH IT TO STUDIO EXECUTIVES.

Bette Midler in 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
Walt Disney Pictures

To pitch the story to Disney, the writers had execs enter a dark room with broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling. They also scattered 15 pounds of candy corn throughout the room in an effort to invoke Halloween nostalgia. It obviously worked!

3. IT WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT.

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters.

Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.”

4. BETTE MIDLER LOVES IT.

Bette Midler, by the way, has said that Hocus Pocus is her favorite film out of all of the films she’s ever done. (At least as of 2008.) Thora Birch agreed, recently saying, “The most fun I ever had on a film was Hocus Pocus.”

5. KATHY NAJIMY LOVES IT, TOO.

Midler isn't the only star of the film who isn't immune to its allure: Kathy Najimy has said she watches the movie with her family every year on August 15.

6. IT COULD HAVE STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO.

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

7. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH.

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, Parker discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

8. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY.

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty.

9. THE KIDS WEREN'T HUGE FANS OF THE CATS.

The kids all hated working with the cats. Many different cats were used to represent Binx, and each one served a different purpose—one was good at cuddling with the kids, one would jump on command, etc. Every time a new cat was used, the children would have to coerce the kitty to trust them by using treats and a clicker. They got sick of it.

10. MUCH OF THE ORIGINAL CAST REUNITED FOR A 20TH REUNION.

Most of the cast participated in a 20th anniversary event for D23 (the Disney fan club) members. Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler were not in attendance, but pretty much everyone else was, including Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), Thora Birch (Dani), and Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson). You can watch some of that reunion above.

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