Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Graphic Story

I love Graphic Novels but I rarely know where to discover cool new ones to follow. Enter the Hugo Awards and the wonderful WorldCon members who are more knowledgeable in the field than I am and nominate great stuff every year.

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

I have to say I felt pretty caught up this year. With two series ending last year, it was time for something new to show up on the ballot. And as expected, we have two sequels to previous finalists, a sequel to a graphic novel I’ve actually discovered all by myself and loved, volume 1 of something new (but written by a previous Hugo finalist) and an adaptation of a novel that I had previously read.

I was super excited to start reading this category. Not only was I looking forward to the sequels to stories I already liked, but the mixture of different styles, stories, and artists makes this a wonderful and varied ballot.


The Finalists for Best Graphic Story

  • Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans – DIE Volume 2: Split the Party
  • Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda – Monstress vol. 5: Warchild
  • G. Willow Wilson, Christian Ward – Invisible Kingdom vol. 2: Edge of Everything
  • Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora – Once & Future vol. 1: The King is Undead
  • Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy, John Jennings – Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
  • Seanan McGuire, Takeshi Miyazawa – Ghost-Spider vol. 1: Dog Days Are Over

What an exciting ballot with a lot of newer series rather than just the next instalment in the ones that always get nominated. Of course the ones that always get nominated are there for a reason – they happen to be really good – but it does get a bit boring, reading the newest volume in the same series every year. With The Wicked + the Divine and Paper Girls finished, the only longer running series on the ballot is Monstress and I suspect it will keep coming back until it is finished as well.

Kind of a series starter but also not really is Ghost-Spider vol. 1: Dog Days Are Over by Seanan McGuire. Because on the one hand, this is volume 1 of the Ghost-Spider series but it heavily references events that happened in the comics that came before. Those were named Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider... It’s all quite confusing but you don’t need to read those in order to understand and enjoy Ghost-Spider vol. 1. It’s about Gwen Stacey and her inter-dimensional academic pursuits. Her identity as Ghost-Spider is well known in her own universe, but thank the multiverse, there are others where she can live and study in blissful anonymity. There’s even a Peter Parker over there, although quite a bit older than her Peter Parker. Gwen goes to college, makes some friends, there’s an evil scientist dude trying to catch her and so the adventure begins. And that’s really all there is to it. The dialogue is snappy, I loved the artwork, but storywise, this was a generic beginning for a generic comic book adventure. I had a lot of fun reading it, but I don’t think there’s anything special about it.

I liked the first volume of DIE last year except for some pacing and character development issues. Those issues remain for volume 2: Split the Party and the pacing problems actually get worse. I didn’t re-read the first volume and that may have been my mistake (although other comic series manage catching readers up on what happened previously just fine so I shouldn’t have to re-read). I remembered very little of who everyone was, except for Ash, and simply dove into the story. Gillen tried to show more of each character in this volume but that only means that each issue sort of focuses on one of them without ever really letting us get to know or care about them. I appreciated some of their stories, I loved the artwork, but just like last time, I didn’t really feel close to any character and I wasn’t invested in their fates. Add to that the wonky pacing and even Charlotte Bronte can’t save you. It was okay but not great.

The other Kieron Gillen comic on the ballot marks the beginning of a new series and the graphic novel entry for what seems to be a current Arthuriana hype in SFF. Once and Future Volume 1: The King is Undead is clearly written by the same guy who wrote DIE, not because it’s in any way similar in plot or characters but because the pacing is all over the place. A slow intro (which I enjoyed) then leads to events overtaking each other, up to the point where it becomes ridiculous.
The idea itself is a cool one – resurrecting King Arthur but as a zombie and with all sorts of crazy magic – and I really liked the characters. Shy, single protagonist dude, the accidentally-dragged-into-the-story love interest, and most of all, the grandma. 🙂 As you can tell, I don’t actually remember anyone’s names but that grandma kicked serious butt and I would gladly follow her story for longer.

Just as expected, Parable of the Sower was phenomenal. It’s not that hard when you consider the novel it’s adapted from was brilliant. But adapting into a graphic novel takes more than just picking out the most important plot beats and having someone draw pictures. Damian Duffy got things incredibly right in this adaptation with the very rare jarring pacing jump. Mostly, the novel flows well, creates an immersive and terrifying world, and characters you’ll remember for a long time. I was stunned at how absorbed I got reading this, seeing as I had read the novel not that long ago and thus knew all the twists and turns this story would take. The artwork is not beautiful as such, if you want pictures that look pretty, but it works so well in conveying the tone and the raw world of this story. It shouldn’t look pretty!

This fifth volume of Monstress was probably my favorite so far. I’m still not as hyped about this series as many other people seem to be but it is consistently good, the artwork is always stunning, and the story is full of darkness but always with glimpses of hope. In this part, we live through a siege, and watch our protagonsit pretend not to care about individual people but then totally go out of her way to make sure those individual people survive. It’s heartwarming, if you can say that about a story set during a brutal war…

Invisible Kingdom is the book I was happiest to see on the short list. I had read the first part last year and liked it so much that I decided I had to continue the series and now the middle volume of only three (that’s right, folks, this trilogy is concluded) is nominated for a Hugo. As I adored every single page, the way the characters grew and developed, the romance I had been hoping for, the world building that became even better, and the gorgeous art with its rather unique and bright colors, this goes easily to my number one spot. It may not be as important a work as Octavia Butler’s story but damn if it didn’t get me the most invested and excited for the third volume.

My ballot (probably)

  1. Invisible Kingdom Volume 2: Edge of Everything
  2. Parable of the Sower
  3. Monstress Volume 5: Warchild
  4. Once and Future Volume 1: The King is Undead
  5. Ghost-Spider Volume 1: Dog Days Are Over
  6. Die Volume 2: Split the Party

Up next week: The Lodestar

One thought on “Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Graphic Story

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s