By Jeffrey O. Gustafson
At this point in the morning of Black Friday, so many of you have already done your shopping. But if you are like me, you don’t celebrate any of this stuff and don’t get gifts for people. (I’m not a role model.) When Heidi asked me to put together a holiday gift guide of some sort, I tried to put myself in the headspace of the Holiday Shopper and all I could think of were comics. (That’s a problem I have in everyday life, too. Comics are imprinted into the folds of my brain.) Now, I could just list a bunch of the year’s best books, but that’s what year-end lists are for. In my previous life working in comic retail, I would tailor my recommendations for specific customers. A targeted gift always works better than a random, hopeful stab at gifting. But as I don’t know you, dear reader, I just looked at my bookshelves and tried to pick some completely random stuff that I’d like to get if I didn’t already own it. Put your own ideas in the comments, especially as a sly way to get people to buy you stuff. (Leave your laptop or tablet opened to this page around friends and family and clear your throat frequently.) The list of comics below is very, very far from exhaustive, but honestly, any gift of comics is the best gift you can possibly give. Happy Holidays, and if you don’t buy something for someone else, at least buy something for yourself – you deserve it.
A Gift Certificate to Your Local Comic Shop
Digital comics are fine and dandy, and Comixology has started selling gift certificates. It’s a great way for new readers to discover books on whatever Mother Box or Hitchhiker’s Guide they’ve got in their pocketses. But I’ll always be partial to graphic novels on a book shelf and single issues in a glorious pile of folded and stapled four color fun. And the best place to get comics will always be your local comic shop, or LCS as the kids say. A good LCS can point new readers at perfect book and entice regulars to try new stuff. The best LCS can get you the best graphic novels from a broad range of genres and publishers both mainstream and indie, and can turn you into a Wednesday shopper when you never expected it. An LCS can give you the attention and detail of recommendation that an Amazon algorithm just can’t give you. And most LCSs are small businesses, built with an unmatched passion for the medium and associated genres and the colorful cultures that intersect. Support comics, support your local economy and support small business all at once with a simple gift certificate. It’s the only time the slightly impersonal gift of a gift card or certificate can be turned into the highly personal, highly rewarding returning retail experience.
There are so many great deluxe editions and box sets out there of classic books, and you can’t really go wrong with any of them. (The Calvin and Hobbs box is a great gift that can be used for weight training and as the foundation of a new building.) But with Sandman on the stands once more (replete with teevee commercials!), it’s a great time to dive in. Most people reading this article have already read this comic, but there is someone in your life who hasn’t and should. (Perhaps even you are in this camp?) But how? Sandman is in a ton of different formats, and all appeal to different design aesthetics. You can go all-out with the Absolute Editions, get the giant hardcover omnibi that have just come out, or get the individual volumes in hardcover and softcover, original coloring or remastered. But for my money, the best value and the best possible gift is the really great box set. You get all ten main volumes in a stunning slip-cased package. Less daunting than the more deluxe collections, the individual volumes are easily accessible, and the finished product looks stunning on a shelf. If you are getting a gift for that Sandman fan in your life, then the deluxe editions may be the way to go – but for the uninitiated or re-initiated, this box set is an impressive gift of some really great comics.
The Finder Libraries
Finder is one of those hidden gems with an apparently narrow focus but a surprising amount of crossover appeal. Carla Speed McNeil’s crowning achievement, Finder is an entrancing work of expansive sci-fi fantasy. Featuring interconnected short stories and graphic novels, Finder is set in a far-flung future with deeply personal character stories within intricately constructed societies and cultures. Imagine Warren Ellis futureshock with a J.R.R. Tolkien level of detailed fantasy constructions with a Jaime Hernandez flair. This is for anyone who loves fantasy and world building, and really, really lovely art. Most of Finder is available in two large, affordable densely packed Library editions from Dark Horse.
The Walking Dead Compendiums
The new perennial, and the new gateway drug of comics is The Walking Dead. The fluffy desert to the headier meal of other books, it is relentlessly entertaining and in constant production. Despite the comic’s stratospheric sales, most folks who watch the show haven’t touched the comics, and what better way to dive in than the Compendium editions? They are massive, and cheap, too, at sixty bucks a pop for eight volumes of material in each book.
Naoki Urasawa is one of the planet’s best visual storytellers, and his 8-volume Pluto is his best concise work. (Monster is currently out of print and 20th Century Boys is 20-something volumes.) Pluto – Urasawa’s modern adaptation of Tezuka’s Astro Boy – is also one of the finest comics of any kind ever produced. Yes, hyperbole, but all true. It’s accessible and fresh, engaging and addicting, infinitely re-readable, a flawless comic packed with big ideas and breathtaking character work. This is a book to turn someone on to not just manga, but comics, and is an excellent entry into the work of a modern master. The entire series is collected in 8 gorgeously designed graphic novels from Viz.
High modern-fantasy and mature sci-fi not your thing? More into The Wire and Breaking Bad than Dr. Who or Game of Thrones? Then Scalped is your book. Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera’s stunning masterwork in ten quick volumes, Scalped is about an undercover FBI agent investigating the corrupt leadership of the Reservation he grew up on. A mix of espionage and gritty crime-noir that explores the weight of history and the depths of the heart and soul, the series is really one of comics’ finest character dramas and rewarding long-form reads.
Last month the newest Johnny Hiro graphic novel came out from Fred Chao. This is a great gift for anyone who loves New York, monster movies, celebrity cameos, or just accessible and entertaining literature. Johnny Hiro is a markedly reserved celebration of love and of the difficulties of big city life, and one of those entrancing hidden little gems that come out now and then to remind you why you love comics.
Love and Rockets. ‘Nuff said. (Click here for the handy guide I wrote on how to get into Love and Rockets.)
I love, love, love Adventure Time. Pendleton Ward’s unique fantasy/adventure cartoon is hugely popular, and there are some pretty great Adventure Time comics that share the show’s attention to detail, imagination, subtle continuity and deep character work. The ongoing series from Boom is available in softcover and hardcover formats, and as really accessible single issues. But I’d especially recommend two of the collected mini-series. Marceline and the Scream Queens by Meredith Gran was one of 2012’s best comics, a subtle exploration of creative self-doubt and celebration of the live performance mixed into a clever and funny Ooo-centric mini. And this year’s Fiona and Cake, written & illustrated by F&C’s creator Natasha Allegri is a beautiful self-contained work focusing on the popular gender-flopped but hardly shallow inversions of the established Adventure Time dynamic. Anyone can get any of the seven billion rather cool licensed toys or t-shirts flooding the market right now, but these comics are as good as the show and a great way to expand the Adventure Time experience (and it is quite the experience).
I had to limit this list to ten things, so your mileage absolutely will vary. (I keep thinking of things to add, but I could have tripled the length of this and not scratched the surface. Indeed, I just typed out about 40 titles and thought better of it subjecting you, dear reader, to a massive list.) But honestly, the gift of comics is a pretty special gift, and there are so many great new comics from this year that you can get graphic novels for covering all possible genres. Or dive in with individual issues! The floppy ain’t dead yet and the right shop can put the right one in your hands.
Holidays are about giving (or so I have been told repeatedly while I stick my fingers in my ears and humming loudly). Sure, giving to charity isn’t actually a holiday gift in the strictest sense, and this is allegedly a gift guide. But charitable donations play a big role this time of year and The Hero Initiative and The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund are two great organizations that need your help. Both need funding year-round, but when allotting your holiday donations think of them. (If you don’t already know the important work they do and who they help, stop reading right now and visit their websites.)
Jeffrey O. Gustafson is a Brooklyn-based comics blogger and the creator and writer of The Comic Pusher blog at ComicPusher.com
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.