The Best Kids Comics of 2016

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The Best Kids Comics of 2016

After tackling the Best Comics of 2016 and the Best Reprints of 2016, Paste now turns it eyes to sequential art aimed at younger readers. If the past 12 months proved anything, it’s that kids comics have confirmed royalty: chart dominator Raina Telgemeier produced one of her most charming books to date with Ghosts, the prolific Ben Hatke offered thoughtful fantasy in Mighty Jack and Luke Pearson’s watercooler favorite, Hilda, expanded it scope with The Stone Forest, not to mention the Adventures in Cartooning jokers churning out more goofy goodness. Many of these creators write and illustrate exclusively for youngsters and middle-graders, and that continued devotion has culminated in a wider library; not only can our kids venture into a comic or book store and find engaging reads, but they can return a month later to find more. All of these entries are excellent and many of them expand kids comics literature in new directions, including Eric Orchard’s nuanced framing of mental illness in Bera the One-Headed Troll. Let us know your favorite kids comics of the year on Twitter.

Bera The One-Headed Troll

Writer/Artist: Eric Orchard
Publisher: First Second

Peel a few layers of the whimsical back from Eric Orchard's Victorian fantasy opus, and a bittersweet, tear-jerking heart beats furiously under these pages. Bera is a pumpkin-farming troll minding her own business when a human infant inexplicably falls into her care. Though overwhelmed and semi-frantic, she starts a journey in hopes of finding a hero or new home for her precious cargo. Orchard, illustrating in the hyper-detailed, inky tradition of Arthur Rackham, found inspiration for Bera in his mother, who raised him while managing schizophrenia. It's a gorgeous, sweet, imminently captivating narrative whose imagination matches its emotion, and a rare work whose complexity works magically for adults and children alike. Sean Edgar

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo

Writer/Artist: Drew Weing
Publisher: First Second

Drew Weing's Creepy Casefiles, with its quirky kids, sympathetic beasties and hand-rendered coloring, reads like a classic children's title from decades past…if not for the astute, subtle observations on cultural dynamics within cities and the ripple effects of gentrification. Charles has just moved to Echo City (an original locale that blends details of major cities into a brochure-ready whole) and soon discovers that the apartment building his father is renovating contains residents of the non-human variety (specifically a troll who pilfers Charles' stuffed collectibles). On the recommendation of his record-setting-obsessed neighbor, Charles seeks out the services of "monster mediator" Margo Maloo, a young girl with a knack for navigating the cultural middle ground between the human and inhuman worlds. Weing never forgets: monsters are people, too. Steve Foxe

Goldie Vance

Writer: Hope Larson
Artist: Brittney Williams
Publisher: BOOM! Box

The teen detective archetype has existed almost as long as literature aimed at young people has been around, situating Hope Larson and Brittney Williams' Marigold "Goldie" Vance as the latest in a long tradition of teen girl sleuths. Set in and around a Florida hotel and featuring a more diverse cast than one is likely to find in a vintage Nancy Drew paperback, Goldie Vance marks the first BOOM! work from both of its creators: Larson, bridging the gap between her acclaimed graphic novel Who Is AC? and her stint on Batgirl; and Williams, finding time in her busy Hellcat and Korra schedules to lend her impeccable style to Larson's keen-eyed cast. The series—which transitioned from a mini to an ongoing—has evolved into another all-ages favorite from one of the only monthly publishers consistently targeting new and younger readers. Steve Foxe

Hilda and The Stone Forest

Writer/Artist: Luke Pearson
Publisher: Flying Eye Books

One of the best things about the world Luke Pearson has created in his Hilda series of all-ages comics is how it bridges fantasy and reality. Hilda may encounter strange mythological creatures, but time passes at a normal rate while she's doing so, causing her mom to wonder what, exactly, her daughter is up to. You can call this the Buffy problem, per Joss Whedon's seminal TV show, in which the question of what to do with Joyce Summers (Buffy's mom) became a central and ultimately affecting issue. Pearson solves it neatly, making the mother-daughter relationship the focus of this entry, allowing Hilda's mom a part in the adventure. His pages burst with life and color, allowing even early readers to get something out of the book, and his heroine is a fantastic character, with flaws as well as admirable qualities. Hillary Brown

The Birth of Kitaro

Writer/Artist: Shigeru Mizuki
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Drawn & Quarterly has been reissuing small compilations of Shigeru Mizuki's comics about Kitaro, a yokai (monster) boy who helps humans deal with the supernatural world. Provided your kids can handle something a little gross, tempered with plenty of humor, Kitaro is kind of the original Margo Maloo, a mediator between the human and spooky worlds. These small comics are not only a fun way to give your kids some gentle chills, but they're a fine introduction to manga. Hillary Brown

Mighty Jack

Writer/Artist: Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second

You could describe Ben Hatke's first entry in a planned two-volume series as a new take on "Jack and the Beanstalk"—and it is that—but doing so would exclude much of what makes this middle-grade graphic novel great. Hatke takes only the most basic elements (a kid named Jack from a household that could use more cash and some big plants) of the folk tale and embroiders considerably from there to create an engrossing, action-packed read that still makes space for quieter, contemplative moments. As you might expect from the author of Zita the Spacegirl, it also features female characters who are people, not props. And it has things to say about the value of neuro-atypical people and the importance of rough outdoor play in building self-reliance. Hillary Brown

The Wolves of Currumpaw

Writer/Artist: William Grill
Publisher: Flying Eye Books

This nonfiction story about a courageous, intelligent wolf in late-19th-century New Mexico and future naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton's attempts to hunt him probably won't make many year's best lists in the comics category. Its lack of panels could lead one to categorize it as simply a picture book, although a lovely one. That's wrong. Grill offers two-page spreads that feature a single image, but he also scatters grids of smaller, sequential images throughout his large pages. He works in colored pencils and a carefully chosen limited color palette inspired by the area where the story takes place (both the landscape and the colorways of the Native Americans who lived there). The way in which he simplifies the visual elements of his narrative causes them to read almost as pictographs, and there's a gentleness to the way he lays out the story that softens, but doesn't minimize, its emotional impact. Hillary Brown