Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kiel's Last Minute Christmas Comics Shopping Guide

If you're like me, you're starting your Christmas shopping on Monday. If you're even more like me, you spend a lot of your Christmas bucks buying things that interest you in an attempt to give your family members something to talk to you about for the next 12 months that isn't whether or not your making ends meat. If you're super duper like me, you're a giant nerd and you're reading a comics blog over Christmas break. So let's combine all the things into one segment with a targeted list of comics you can pawn off on your loved ones on Thursday morning!

All of these are either new releases or relatively new enough that you should be able to find them with minimal snooping in any big box bookstore near the mall in you area (might I suggest shopping at Borders so they don't go out of business in 2009, screwing over so many good comic companies in the process?) And Ben should have a similar list up in the next day or so...get pumped for that!

Comic for anyone you can't think of anything else for and it's Christmas Eve and you're at the mall and "FUCK! Just check me out right now!!!":

Bone by Jeff Smith

I've yet to find any intelligent person from any walk of life who can't find something to enjoy in Jeff Smith's funny animal fantasy epic, so it's a safe bet that buying this last minute isn't a total waste of money regardless of who you end up giving it to. It's probably best to start with the first volume of the Scholastic edition rather than shelling out for the Bible-sized one volume edition, but really anything will do in a pinch, even a later trade from the series. It's that good.

Comic for anyone in your family that prides themselves on being a know-it-all:

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Honestly, when Zack Snyder's film adaptation hits theaters in March there are going to be about ten million ass hats walking out the theater with really pretentious voices going, "You see, in the original graphic novel..." Even if you've got such observations about the film, don't be one of those people. Hold your nerd nit picks for the car ride home. BUT...if you've got a member of the family who always acts like this anyway, buying them an edition of Watchmen to read in advance of what is going to be the mega film of 2009 is a no brainer move. It'll make them feel good, and it's a bit of insider knowledge you can hold over them the next time they get in your face about some bullshit. If you can't find this comic for sale this week, you are legally blind.

Comic for an adult type person who really dug one of the past year's two good superhero movies:

Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca


Batman: Lovers and Madmen by Michael Green and Denys Cowan

A whole hell of a lot of people saw Robert Downey, Jr. ham up the screen in Marvel's insanely entertaining "Iron Man" this summer, and even my mom saw the blockbuster of the decade that was "The Dark Knight," but even with these characters operating in the public consciousness at an all-time high, there aren't a lot of people flocking to check out their comic origins. Still, if you've got a family member who tells you, "Hey, those comic things seem pretty damn all right" every time a movie like this comes out, here's another two suggestions on what you might buy for them. For Iron Man, Matt Fraction's recent relaunch of the character's flagship title is pretty much a no brainer as the story arc reprinted in the "Five Nightmares" hardcover essentially serves as a sequel to the movie. Like, seriously. I'd have a hard time believing Marvel didn't plan this out if precognition wasn't a superpower that I assume Fraction carries in his arsenal.

For "The Dark Knight" things get a bit tougher as there are about 10,000 times as many Batman comics out there in all forms as Iron Man comics. The obvious go-to books to tie into director Chris Nolan's take on the bat-mythos in general includes anything by Frank Miller and in specific terms of this movie, DC has been pushing Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke as well as the more recent Joker hardcover from Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo. But because the three of you reading this blog are already probably really familiar with superheroes in general as well as the first two Batman examples and because I heard the third one wasn't too hot, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest you pick up Lovers and Madmen -- a Joker origin story written by Michael Green (a "Heroes" writer who left to start his own show after season 2) that I pretty much dug when I read it in single issue form. I'm sure plenty of you will take issue with this pick for some dumb reason, but I don't want to hear it. I've already spent too much time on fanboy stuff on this list. Let's cleanse the pallet with...

Comic for any kid who you think might like to draw, and you want to encourage to draw comics instead of death metal tattoos:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Do-It-Yourself Book by Jeff Kinney

There's a good chance that any 6 to 12-year-old in your family who likes to read in general is already somewhat familiar with Jeff Kinney's New York Times best-selling book series. While the third volume isn't in stores until mid-January and purchase of the first two volumes may end up being book shelf redundancies for your kid in question, this neat comics/sketchbook/diary hybrid is a pretty solid pick. Even if they've already read it or if they don't care for the comics themselves, there are plenty of blank pages within for your young family members to write and draw their observations about how you're a weirdo.

Comic for your middle school aged niece who likes things like Twilight and the Jonas Brothers and who you have a hard time keeping up a conversation with when it doesn't contain the phrase "So how's school?":

Chiggers by Hope Larson

At face value, it's pretty hard to tell if a lot of media for pre-teen and younger teenage girls represents an honest and thoughtful attempt to create something they can relate to or something snarky and hollow that will help them place a greater amount of importance on lip gloss than self-worth. Rather than buy they tweener girl in your family a giant button with Donny or whoever on it (No, I'm kidding...I know Jordan is the cute one), I highly suggest you seeking out a copy of Hope Larson's charming summer camp tale. Aside from respecting the taste and intelligence of her intended audience (not always a given in YA lit), Larson crafts a really subtle and sweet story packed with killer art and plenty of relatable characters and situations. I really haven't checked around bookstores lately to see if this volume is as easy to find as I hope it is, so as an added incentive, here's where you can find it on Amazon.

Comic for the teen in your family who already likes manga and you want to seem cool and knowledgeable to:

BECK by Harold Sakuishi


Nana by Ai Yazawa

I might be the only person out there worried about this, but I can't shake a feeling of dread as to what will happen if the legions of young teens currently sitting Indian style in the manga aisles of Borders and Barnes & Noble decide in the next three years or so that they'd rather play video games or start rock bands or attempt to become sexually active. I'm not sure there's much we can do about this possible turn of events, but just in case you know a kid who's been devouring Naruto or Fruit's Baskets volumes the past two or three years and are rapidly approaching high school age, here are two Japanese comics series that I think serve as a great bridge to a bit more sophisticated material. Sakuishi's BECK relates the standard "young teenage boys start a rockin' band" narrative in high style with rafts of fun plot turns and hip music references. Perfect for any teen just discovering punk. Yazawa's Nana delivers a similar narrative from a female perspective but with more complicated plot twists and a bit more intense romantic content. I'm not super deep into either series, so I can't decide which I like better, but both are good and will make you look cool if you care about that thing (and we all know you do).

Comic for the person in your family who really likes Wes Anderson movies and/or absurdism and/or getting high:

The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best

The funniest comic book I read all year. And while I readily admit that Campbell and Best's tale of a second generation circus performer who fails upwards through history isn't for everyone, its bizarre narrative and frequency of totally absurd jokes will appeal perfectly to the person in your family who quoted Monty Python sketches constantly throughout their teen years (or maybe still today?). Yes, get it for that person, and they'll love you forever.

Comic for the person you respect but who thinks comics are just for kids and who you already bought Maus for some other time:

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

To my mind, this extremely literate comics memoir is well on its way to replacing Art Spiegelman's masterpiece as the go-to "introduce a non-believer to the comics form" comic, and for a few reasons. For one, it's probably much cheaper a buy than snagging up the two Maus hardcovers or scouring your area trying to find the one volume edition (and if you haven't figured it out by the rest of the picks on my list...I'm all about saving cash). Secondly, without making a qualitative comparison, what I like about Fun Home as opposed to Maus is that it doesn't have the easy to point to elements that scream "See...this is a serious comic!" (i.e. It won the Pulitzer! The Jews are mice and the Nazis are cats!). Fun Home presents a direct yet challenging piece of literature in the comics form that is generally a much better picture of what the waves of great graphic novels that appeal to non-comics readers these days are all about. Plus, in terms of this being a Christmas list...buying someone a Holocaust book for the holiday can be kind of fucking depressing, you know? Not that Fun Home screams happy go-lucky yucks on every page, but it's a bit more appropriate even in terms of sobering personal narratives.

Comic for any young reader without any of my goofy qualifiers:

A subscription to one of the many age-appropriate monthly comic books still published in America

When I was in elementary school, my grandma bought me multiple subscriptions to a variety of random Marvel and DC comic books every year, and I can't think of any gift I ended up loving more, regardless of the fact that I probably never thanked her enough. While I was already a fully fledged comics addict by that age and was getting titles like X-Men Classics, Aquaman, Spider-Man 2099 and Batman, which I had from the age of 12 until about two years ago and am seriously considering signing back up for in the new year, there are plenty of great options for younger boys and girls who've never picked up a comic that you can get by following the links below, including:

Archie Comics

Yeah, yeah...I know. Archie Comics are silly and vapid and present a totally unrealistic picture of American youth. But you know what? I still find them charming. I read Archies on and off as a kid, and while they never left a major impression on me the way some of the Disney kids comics did, I associate a lot of positive feelings with them and think plenty of other younger readers will too. Plus, Archie publishes some of the few kids comics specifically geared towards girls that you can actually find and buy. I know that's faint praise, but these things really are pretty cute.

DC Comics

For my money, DC publishes the best kids comics (generally branded "Johnny DC" books) released in the pamphlet format out there. There's a fair amount of variety available between the Cartoon Network specific books, the action-oriented boys books that anchor the whole Johnny DC imprint and editor Jann Jones' recent expansion into action-oriented comics for even younger kids. If you ask me, the best of the bunch right now is Mike Kunkel's Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam, but there are plenty of other options that any kid mildly into superheroes would dig. And if you're buying for someone who's a bit older and could handle one of DC's main line, there are plenty of solid options. Two years ago, I got my 12-year-old brother a subscription to All-Star Superman, and that went off pretty well. Today, I'd say Flash: Rebirth would turn a 6th grader's wheels.

Marvel Comics

Marvel similarly offers a nice mix of kid-friendly comics and their mainline titles at a cheaper rate. That kid-centric "Marvel Adventures" line doesn't quite have the variety or visual flair of DC's offerings (mostly the books look exactly like what you'd expect from the description "Marvel Universe light"), but some books have delivered the fun in a big way, particularly the Jeff Parker or Paul Tobin issues of Marvel Adventures Avengers. As an added bonus, Marvel is great about offering comics starring the characters of their most recent movies, so young Iron Man or Hulk fans are well taken care of. For slightly older readers, take a look at anything with First Class in the title, and for teens, Runaways can't be beat.

Nickelodeon Magazine

I really love the comics section that editors Chris Duffy and Dave Roman put together for this general interest kids publication put out in conjunction with the name brand children's network. If you're ever thinking about getting something worthwhile for a kid you know to read, and you don't think they're going to latch on to a comics-specific gift for some reason, this is a perfect gateway drug. It sounds dirty when I say it like that, doesn't it? Ah, well.

1 comment:

Mike Wilson said...

Three cheers for Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! Hip hip! Hooray! Hip hip! Hooray! Hip hip! Hooray!