You read comics. You buy comics, or borrow them, or maybe download them illegally to your fancy-shmancy tablet (for shame!). I know this because you’re here. You’re reading a column about comics on a comics website, written by a comics artist who works in a comic book store. You’re in the world, maybe in debt to it, but at the very least a semi-casual fan. You love comics, graphic novels, illustrations and art. Right? Of course you do.
So let’s talk about sharing the love.
The holidays are approaching. I know this because I’ve eaten my first candy cane and coughed up $6 for a peppermint mocha, and because of an irrepressible urge to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol. Window displays are upping their glitter quota every week, Starbucks is dusting off their Michael Bublé collections and we’re preparing to spend all of our hard-earned money on… what, exactly? What do you buy for your surly niece with the My Little Pony tattoo? What do you get Aunt June, who never married but collects miniature ducks? How do you outdo last year’s extravaganza?
I’ll tell you how: Give the gift of comics!
“But Kate!” You say, “Nobody I know reads them!”
“Poppycock!” I reply, “They just haven’t found the right one.”
Here follows a list of gift ideas for your friends, family, mistress, babysitter, hockey coach, principal or personal masseuse. I’ve focused this article on comics for kids, teens and women, but I may do another! All of them are meant as introductions to sequential art, or to reignite the interest of a casual fan. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but my friends over at Tumblr and at work have helped provide a jumping-on point for as many tastes as possible. Who knows, maybe next year you won’t have to make the trip to your LCS all alone.
Now, the best way to make a comic fan is to start ’em young. You’ve probably already saturated your offspring with Spider-Man, but what about your coworker’s kids? Forget that awkward Miley Cyrus keychain. Throw away that Jonas Brothers sticker book, they haven’t been cool in forEVER. Give them a comic to fall in love with.
For The Youth
Bone, by Jeff Smith is by far the most popular series at our shop and throughout the world. This 9-volume (or single-volume, as it’s often available) epic begins as a funny, quirky story about three Bones exiled from their hometown seeking adventure. It becomes something else entirely; a sprawling, epic journey filled with dragons, puzzles, battles and romance. A 9-year-old boy once described it to me as “the best book ever, it’s so awesome and everyone should read it forever.” So, there’s that.
Amelia Rules! by Jimmy Gownley is a great series, especially for a kid who’s experienced divorce or family trouble. It’s a simple, day-to-day series about Amelia and her friends, devoid of superheroics but infinitely relatable. There are several volumes out, and it’s popular, so you shouldn’t have much trouble tracking it down. Think of The Weekenders or Recess for a new generation, but in print!
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol is a great graphic novel for girls 10-15, but then again, I loved it and I’m 23. It’s a fantastic, spooky story about a girl who finds a ghost in a well and decides to befriend her. Not all is what it seems, but it’s all beautiful, and the writer/artist created the whole thing while working on the stop-motion animated Coraline. Neil Gaiman called the book “a masterpiece.” Does your daughter own one or more articles of skull-patterned clothing? She’s gonna eat this up like Strawberry Pocky.
Chi’s Sweet Home by Kanata Konami is my boss’s 14-year-old daughter’s favourite manga series. All you really need to know is that it’s a book about the misadventures of an adorable cat and that tween girls love it like woah, even those who aren’t immersed in the anime culture. Seven volumes exist, to my knowledge, and it’s guaranteed to keep them off Facebook for a good half hour, at least. I don’t know what Tosh.0 is and I don’t understand NYANcat, but the kids who do love Chi.
Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee is an eight-issue series that’s awesome for young swashbucklers. The art is fun, colourful and accessible, and you don’t need decades of backstory to get into it. Pick up a few issues (or a couple trade paperbacks) and see for yourself! It’s a great entry point for a kid that thinks comics are lame but really loved Thor or Captain America on screen.
Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors by Mark Andrew Smith and Armand Villavert reads like a cartoon in the best way possible. This hyper-saturated series about a learning academy for villains has some of the coolest character design I’ve seen, and the first six issues just got released as a trade paperback! I fell in love with it when, at one point, a character harasses his friend about having a crush on a girl and he responds by saying, “So? I don’t care who knows. I like her. She’s cool.” It’s smart, weird and engaging. You might just end up borrowing it.
The Wizard of Oz Adaptations by Skottie Young are so good, oh my god they’re so good. Skottie’s art is worlds away from most of what’s in comics today, and I can’t get enough. There have been a few stories in the series so far; Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Marvelous Land of Oz and the newest ongoing, Ozma of Oz. The first two have been collected in various formats, and they’re worth having in hardcover. You’ll want to share them.
Teenagers these days hate reading. I don’t know what their problem is, books are the shit! Unfortunately, I’m in the minority. If your sullen be-swooped teen hasn’t gotten in to comics or doesn’t take them seriously, try these titles; they’re all smarter than they look, which may hook those who dismiss comics as child’s play.
For The Teens
Blankets by Craig Thompson is the most universally renowned “gateway” comic in the biz. This coming-of-age story is an autobiographical look at Thompson’s religious upbringing and subsequent struggles with love and self. This book changes lives. It’s hard for anyone in the midst of post-adolescence not to find something to identify with in this massive, meticulously-illustrated tome. If they like it, try them on his other books Carnet de Voyage, Goodbye Chunky Rice and Habibi.
Black Hole by Charles Burns was in my high school library, which still baffles me. The premise is this: It’s the mid ’70s and a group of teenagers begin to contract and spread a sexually transmitted disease that results in mutation. There’s nudity, swears, drinking, drugs and bad choices, and it is awesome because that’s what high school is like. Any kid who feels like an outsider (that’s all kids, by the way) will enjoy Black Hole. Plus, it may have the added bonus of scaring the living hell out of them when it comes to STDs. Stay safe, teens!
Runaways by Brian K Vaughan and Adrian Alphona centers around a group of kids who discover that their parents are supervillains just before finding out that they have inherited powers of their own. It’s easier to get into than X-Men (which can feel dated to an impatient generation) and the writing is phenomenal. I love a story that gives younger people credit for being clever and resourceful. This is also an amazing book to give to a queer or questioning teen, as it deals with those issues directly. Plus: Dinosaurs and flying and magic! Right?! Pick up the first series, the second one has a little less punch.
Scott Pilgrim by Brian Lee O’Malley is an obvious choice, but come on. It’s Scott Pilgrim! You gotta do it!
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a comic and a film, and both are excellent. It’s the autobiographical story of Satrapi’s youth in Iran, her escape and life after the fact. Satrapi’s art is engaging and playful, often poignant when juxtaposed with the harsh truths of a difficult upbringing. There are two volumes, and they have recently been collected into The Complete Persepolis. Makes a great gift!
Here’s a situation I see too often: guy comes into the shop to pick up his weeklies, sifting through piles of new comics while his girlfriend or wife waits impatiently on the sofa. Teenage daughters who stare at their phones while dad asks if we finally got in the last Death of Spider-Man issue. For what? There are so many amazing titles out there free of bulging chests! Hence, I bring you to a section I call
For The Ladies
Y: The Last Man by Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra/Fables by Bill WIllingham and various artists are both ideal gateway books for women 16+. Y deals with a post-apocalyptic world in which every creature with a Y chromosome has died save for one man and a monkey. Fables is about fairy tale creatures who have been exiled from their homeland by a chaotic evil and forced to live incognito in New York. Both stick out for me as having exceptionally well-written female characters, both were written by men. Y is a complete series and can be collected in ten softcover volumes or five hardcovers; Fables is ongoing but has been collected into 15 softcovers. Try giving the first volume of each to a reluctant lady and watch the magic happen!
Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday is a brilliant comic for girls who might not otherwise be interested in superheroes. Talking point: Did she like Buffy or Firefly? It’s written by the same guy. I know YOU know that, but maybe she doesn’t! This four-volume series is a wonderful story about Kitty Pryde. I didn’t expect to like it and really, really did.
The Hunter and The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke. I’ve recommended these both more times than I can count, and it’s not sucking up to Dar, who’s a local artist and all-around loveable crank. These books are fantastic. Based on Richard Stark’s Parker books, these two graphic novels are full of pulp, crime, femme fatales and deals gone sour. They’re a great gift for dads and husbands, too! Heck, it’s great for everybody. Maybe I am sucking up. Either way, look for the Parker: The Martini Edition (out soon) which collects the two volumes as well as additional material. It’s hot.
Death: The High Cost Of Living and Death: The Time Of Your Life by Neil Gaiman and Chris Bachalo are both great gifts for the lady who has heard of Sandman, or read American Gods, or just generally likes spooky things. I prefer The High Cost Of Living, in which Death becomes human for a single day. Both are a great way to gauge if you might be interested in Gaiman’s storytelling style. If so, ten wonderful volumes of Sandman await you.
Hopeless Savages by Jen Van Meter is great for the music lover or girl with a punk bent. It’s also fun in that many different artists have worked on it, each doing a four-issue miniseries! A cool way to check out some neat art styles and vibrant characters.
Hark, A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton is the best gift to give to someone who has only read comics in a newspaper. It doesn’t have the “nerd stigma” of a graphic novel, so it tricks even the most skeptical of readers. The lovely hardcover from Drawn and Quarterly is a collection of Beaton’s online strips as well as commentary and additional material. Her humorous takes on subjects as varied as The Great Gatsby i> and Lois Lane, all with quirky charm. Your mom wants this book.
There are more. There are dozens and hundreds more, but these are a good place to start. If you’re interested, hop on over to my Tumblr and peruse the hundred-odd replies and recommendations! You’re likely to find one that strikes your fancy, or more likely, a couple dozen. Good luck on your gift hunting, and remember: Shop local! Amazon may have super-saver shipping, but the comic shop down the street has real people who can help you with better, personalized assistance.
Happy non-denominational midwinter festivities!