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Comic Book Gifts for Non-Comic Book Readers

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Keith Dallas

Have you considered giving a comic book as a Christmas or holiday gift to someone who isn’t a comic book reader? What is your motivation for such a gift? To convince someone that the comic book medium can be a serious and mature form of entertainment? To turn someone into a devoted comic book reader?

I asked our reviewers to recommend a comic book gift to non-comic book readers and of course, they had to explain their selections. (The absence of a traditional superhero comic book in these recommendations is both appropriate and telling, I think.)

For your perusal then, our reviewers’ recommendations:





From Dave Wallace:

V for Vendetta
What Is It?
V for Vendetta is writer Alan Moore’s seminal take on an alternative 90s Britain, where a post-holocaust totalitarian Labour government wreaks havoc on people’s civil liberties. One caped crusader (no, not that one) stands up for chaos and anarchy against the system, and as he befriends young prostitute Evey Hammond his values and methods, and maybe even the secrets of his dark past, are revealed. As much concerned with politics and ideals as it is about action sequences and adrenaline, the book is a fascinating look at the balance which exists in society, pitting two extremes against the other and inviting the reader to draw his own conclusions on the various rights and wrongs. If it seems as though I’m skirting around plot details, it’s because it really is one of those books which is best to discover for yourself as the plot unfolds. It is one of the comics in which Moore first carved out his reputation, and that alone should make it worth even the most casual reader’s attention.

Why Read It?
One of the defining pieces of work in the medium, V for Vendetta is one of those 80s comics which is mentioned in the same breath as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil, as well as Watchmen (also penned by Moore) as truly revolutionary works. Comics really had their horizons broadened with the arrival of these titles, and although V remains the lowest-profile of the lot, it marks perhaps the most radical departure from the capes-and-criminals formula which still dominates the industry. Dealing with sophisticated themes and ideas in an open-ended and adult way (with far less concessions to fantasy than most of Marvel or DC’s output) may make this an interesting read for the non-comics fan, feeling as it does more like a gritty 1970s drama in the Dennis Potter vein than an episode of a Saturday morning cartoon. The grounded writing mixes with effective visuals in the form of David Lloyd’s realistic, cinematic but often disturbing artwork to create a fully-formed dystopian world which is a universe away from Metropolis or Spidey’s New York. Horrific concentration-camp sequences and flashbacks mix with the frequent excursions in and around London, with Lloyd’s renderings feeling authentically and refreshingly British instead of another Hollywood version of what England might look like. The writing of characters, both major and supporting, shows off a layered and complex sophistication which is rare in comics, feeling at times comparable to a 70s Kitchen Sink drama. All of these elements contribute to a book which is very different to many mainstream comics, yet may make V For Vendetta a little more accessible to the non-comics reader.

Ideal For?
Any reader who might consider themselves too sophisticated to try comics; anyone who’s a fan of Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World or Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle; or anyone with a broad minded outlook on society or an interest in politics. Plus, I can testify that it’s also an ideal present for regular comics fans whose tastes may run just a little too mainstream; I received it last year from a friend and devoured it over the Christmas period, providing a nice change from my usual Marvel & DC superhero diet and making me think about the medium in a far more mature way…

How To Buy It?
It is available in trade paperback format on DC’s Vertigo imprint and is one of the more freely available graphic novels available in high street bookshops and online retailers alike. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding this, and it’s really worth seeking out. You may struggle to read a better book this year, comics reader or not.




From Bob Agamemnon:

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?
What Is It?
Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl? is the story of Deena Pilgrim and Christian Walker, two police detectives assigned to investigate crimes involving superheroes and supervillians, or “powers.” Pilgrim and Walker’s first case together concerns the murder of beloved heroine Retro Girl. In the course of solving the crime, the detectives lead the reader through a world filled with tension between those with powers and those without.

Why Read It?
Powers revolutionized the approach to telling superhero stories by stepping away from the superhero point of view. Writer Brian Michael Bendis and Artist Michael Avon Oeming are certainly not the first to cock a skeptical eye at the escapist fantasies indulged in by many comics creators (and readers). As the “class of ’86,” Alan Moore and Frank Miller famously, and brilliantly, cast the cold light of human frailty on the superhero concept by using avatars for established heroes (The Watchmen), or by using those heroes themselves (The Dark Knight Returns). What Bendis and Oeming have accomplished, however, re-imagines the dynamics of the superhero book by putting the reader on the ground, as it were, rather than in the sky.

The superheroes in Powers are glimpsed for an instant as a flicker vanishing behind a building, or as a blur, half out of frame, in an amateur video. The amount of “screen time” they get in Who Killed Retro Girl? is tiny in comparison to the all-too-human characters whose lives are lived in the shadows of these titans. With this perspective, Bendis is able to work with any number of metaphors: power as politics; power as celebrity; power as wealth or social status. That the murdered Retro Girl is mourned with a public fervor recalling the death of Princess Diana communicates exactly the distant, but intense, participation of the average person in the lives and deaths of our pantheon.

None of the “powerless” characters we come across in Powers lack a strong emotional investment in the superheroes. Whether through examinations of adoration, resentment, or ideological disgust, Bendis and Oeming use the way the world sees these heroes—rather than the way the heroes see the world, a la Miller and Moore—to examine the human condition. Perhaps that is why so many current titles, from Gotham Central to Noble Causes, have been prompted to “look awry” at these powerful denizens of the rooftops and clouds.

Ideal For?
When many non-readers think of comic books, they picture Power Girl’s breasts, somehow larger than any other part of her body, bursting from her skin-tight top. When Frank Cho’s idea of “glamming [Spider-Man’s Mary Jane] up a bit so that people will know why [she] works as a model” involves simply knocking her cup size up a few notches, it is easy to understand why some might believe that this male-dominated medium is filled with adolescent fantasies, none of which do anything to alter the absurd demands placed on women by our culture.

Enter Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl? The character of Deena Pilgrim should be a model for comic creators who wish to avoid the “barbie doll” view of women that plagues superhero comics. Not only has Oeming managed to create a physically beautiful female without appealing directly to a fourteen-year-old’s unsubtle libido, but Bendis has also managed to craft a character who is a woman, but never just a woman. In our first encounter with Deena Pilgrim, she leans against the precinct wall telling a story imbued with her trademark gallows humor. As we become engrossed in the tale and its teller, we realize that she is far more than the “chick detective” written in to balance her male partner.

Those with friends who stay away from comic books either because they see them as pop trash or because they are put off by offensive representations of women will want to send out a copy of Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl? this holiday season. The complexity of ideas involved, coupled with its page-turning energy set a perfect stage for the development of its two protagonists, particularly the incomparable Deena Pilgrim. Powers is perfect recruitment material for the comic book cause.

How To Buy It?
Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl? is available online at Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com.




From Craig Johnson
:

Sandman: Endless Nights
What Is It?
An 150 page original work by Neil Gaiman, one of the foremost modern comics writers (his comics work has won multiple non-comics literature awards, including the prestigious Science Fiction Hugo Award for a Sandman short story). Seven stories are collected in this one book, meaning it doesn’t need to be read in one sitting. It’s perfect dippable material.

Why Read It?
As an introduction to Gaiman’s Sandman series, it’s a wonderful collection of esoteric short stories, showcasing each of the main characters from this fantasy-cum-real-life series. Each story is drawn by a different artist, showing--in one book--the wide range and diversity of art that one can find in “just” a comic.

Ideal For?
Science Fiction and Fantasy fans.

How To Buy It?
In the US: A DC Comics/Vertigo publication available to order from book shops or via Amazon.com.
In Europe: A Titan Books publication, available likewise.


Writers on Comics Scriptwriting v1, Writers on Comics Scriptwriting v2, Writers on Spider-Man
What Is It?
Three lengthy factual books: the first two books focus on the creation of comics in general, and the final book deal solely with Spider-Man. Each book is a collection of original interviews with some of the leading comics creators, drawn from the history of modern comics (from the 1960s onwards), and provides script samples and finished pages to show (a) just how much work goes into each comic and (b) that there’s an individual style for each individual.

Why Read It?
For those comic books fans interested in the medium, these are essential reads, a sneak peek behind the scenes that you just can't find anywhere else. For people looking to check out some comics for the first time, these interviews provide introductions to a wide variety of creators and characters to help one make an informed purchase decision.

Ideal For?
Those already interested in comics, or those looking to find out more before committing themselves.

How To Buy It?
A Titan Books Publication that can be ordered through a book shop or online.




From Michael Deeley:

Abe: Wrong for all the Right Reasons
What Is It?
A collection of strips and short stories by Glenn Dakin featuring Abe, Dakin’s cartoon alter ego. Abe wanders through the world enjoying life as it is. Sometimes he adopts the identity of Captain Oblivion, a superhero who’s outgrown the desire for violence.

Why Read It?
Abe is, quite simply, the most beautiful comic book I’ve ever read. Dakin feels a true joy in life that he puts into every page.

Ideal For?
Perfect for anyone, but poetry lovers will be particularly impressed by the rhythm and arrangement of words and picures.


Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned
What Is It?
One day, every man and male creature on Earth dropped dead. Only Yorick, an amateur escape artist, and his pet monkey, Ampersand, survived. Yorick travels the country looking for his family before heading to Australia to find his girlfriend. His journey will reveal just how much men controlled the world, and how women react to such a massive change in the natural order.

Why Read It?
Writer Brian K. Vaughn and artists Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan have, without a doubt, created one of the finest comics ever made. I showed an issue to a co-worker who said, “I didn’t know they made comics like this.” ‘Nuff said.

Ideal For?
Good for everyone, but particularly women, gender studies majors, and anyone who thinks the world would automatically become a better place without any men. This trade book would also lead people to follow the ongoing series, which leads them to more Vertigo comics.


Hicksville
What Is It?
A comics journalist travels to the small town of Hicksville, New Zealand to research the biography of its most famous citizen: a successful comic book creator. The journalist is surprised to learn everyone in town hates this creator. His search for the truth weaves through a tale of old love, a mysterious comic about the creation of New Zealand, and the secret reason every great comic book creator visits Hicksville.

Why Read It?
The core of this story written and drawn by Dylan Horrocks is the inherent conflict between art and commerce in the comic book industry. This complex, multi-layered narrative utilizes a comic-within-a-comic, flashbacks and dreams, but never loses the reader. Its high-minded concepts, such as the similarities between map making and graphic storytelling, are thought provoking and mind-expanding.

Ideal For?
Good for anyone who can read and think at the same time.

How To Buy It?
Available at: www.topshelfcomix.com




From Jason Sacks:

The Best of Ray Bradbury: The Graphic Novel
What Is It?
A collection of a dozen or so classic stories by the great Ray Bradbury, adapted by some of the finest cartoonists in the world.

Why Read It?
The unique combination of Bradbury’s great prose and art by masters such as Harvey Kurtzman, Milo Minara, Mike Mignola, Matt Wagner and more, produces a comic that’s even better than the sum of its amazing parts.

Ideal For?
Any fan of classic science fiction will love this book, especially fans of the great Bradbury. And any fan of great comics will also love it.


Hard Time: 50 To Life
What Is It?
After a Columbine-like shooting, a teenager is sent to the state penitentiary. What happens there will surprise and astonish readers. This book is a bizarre combination of teen angst, supernatural possession and raw prison drama. It’s also one of the most unique books on the market today.

Why Read It?
Under the pen of comic legend Steve Gerber, this is a comic that asks lots of important questions but provides few easy answers. It’s a comic to debate, to think about, to make a reader stand at attention.

Ideal For?
Anyone who might enjoy a comic that is completely full of surprises and intriguing plot twists.


Box Office Poison
What Is It?
An enormous (500+ pages) story of several characters’ lives as they slowly grow older and hopefully wiser in New York City. Box Office Poison is full of surprises and plot twists and a wonderfully surprising ending. This is a wonderful story of human beings on a grand scale. When you're done reading the book, you’ll want to spend more time with the characters.

Why Read It?
Alex Robinson delivers a charming and unique story of normal people that we can all relate to. And it’s funny, too.

Ideal For?
Anyone who likes to read about people who seem like real people who live interesting lives.


Alec: The King Canute Crowd
What Is It?
Eddie Campbell’s “Alec” stories are the autobiographical stories of a born storyteller. This collection tells about Campbell’s alter ego Alec’s life as an under-employed, over-educated factory worker, and the adventures he has with his friends. It’s an amazingly charming collection, one that will make a reader smile the more he reads and rereads the stories contained here.

Why Read It?
Alec is one of those books that seems simple on the surface, but its brilliance lies in Campbell’s charming insights and presentation. This is simply some of the warmest, most interesting comics you might ever read.

Ideal For?
Anyone. This is as good as comics get.

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