Graphic/Novels Roundtable: Holiday Gift Guide 2013
By CM Team | CultureMass Staff Published: 12/16/2013 1:00 pm EST
Christmas is upon us, and while it is a time for giving, we here at CultureMass remember (as you do too, if you’re being honest) that it’s just as much fun to receive. With this in mind, this edition of the Graphic/Novels Roundtable will be full of potential gift ideas for lovers of comics and books (especially if those special somebodies are us!). These are our perfect gifts for this year, as well as what we’re hoping to find under the tree on the 25th.
For My Wife, the Feminist—The Essential Wonder Woman Encyclopedia: I am super lucky to have found a mate who’s into a lot of the same stuff that I am. One passion we share is for DC Comics’ leading lady, Wonder Woman. My wife has Wonder Woman socks, Wonder Woman DVDs, Wonder Woman coffee mugs—you name it, she’s got it. The other day, she asked me to make a list for her of some of my favorite Wonder Woman comic stories, and I realized that she had never really read any of the amazing Amazon’s comics! To get my inamorata up to speed, I figure the quickest and best way will be this massive alphabetical volume with entries on everything my wife will need to know to get the most out of the comics I direct her to.
All I Want for Christmas is—The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Hardcover: Would it be too much to ask for the New 52 to just go away? If I can’t have that, I reckon the next item on my list would be the deluxe hardcover edition of The Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga. I’ve read and re-read my original comic book editions of this classic so many times that they’ve been downgraded well below mint, and it’s time to get the story in a new format that’ll stand a bit more wear, plus look darn good on the bookshelf. The fact that this edition looks to contain some enticing extras like pages from Keith Giffen’s sketchbook and Paul Levitz’s original script is purely icing on the cake for me.
For the Casual Comic Reader—Chew Vol. 1: I have a ton of friends that don’t read a lot of comics, but if I give them a trade, they will give that book a shot. Chew, to me, has one of the best chances of keeping a reader hooked in its brilliance and sheer humorous audacity. This Image Comics title by writer John Layman is about FDA agent Tony Chu, who gets psychic impressions off of eating things—weird things. And that’s just the tip of the weird iceberg for this book. Rob Guillory’s art fits the series perfectly and each of the characters is great and pops off of the page. The best part is there’s not a lot to collect once my friends realize they need more of this awesome comic.
All I Want for Christmas is—Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Hoping against all hope that someone will give me Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane as a present this year. Gaiman is one of my favorite authors of all time, with his novel American Gods still listed as one of my favorite works of fiction. I have waited for Gaiman to release another adult book, and have had to be patient to sink my teeth into it. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a tale of memory and survival that is full of mystery, with the tagline “makes the impossible all too real,” and I cannot wait to explore this new tale. Gaiman rarely disappoints, and so far the reviews agree with me.
For Tolkien Fans—The Hobbit Graphic Novel: For the fans of The Hobbit or comic book junkies in general, the graphic novel version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a great holiday gift idea. This version brings the fantastic tale of a hobbit’s quest through Middle Earth to visual life. The artwork by David Wenzel is well crafted, balancing this serious adventure with a playful brushstroke. Some highlights include the great and powerful Smaug, Bilbo’s tangling with the Giant Spiders, and, of course, Gollum, riddles, and the Ring. This graphic novel is a great gift for children from middle school all the way to any nerdy adult.
All I Want for Christmas is—The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1: One gift I would like to receive, but with its expense I know only jolly old Saint Nicholas could provide it, is The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1. Embarrassingly enough, I have never read any of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. When I was reading comics as a teenager, my interest was solely and religiously confined to traditional superheroes. As the years have passed, not only have my comic interests widened, so too has my appreciation of Neil himself. A huge fan of Stardust, Coraline and The Graveyard Book, I can’t help but believe The Sandman will live up to the hype, should I find it under my tree Christmas morning.
For the Kid Who Needs to Have His Interest Sparked—Marvel Avengers: The Ultimate Character Guide & DC Comics: The Ultimate Character Guide: I know this may technically be considered cheating since these are two different books, but bear with me. Each of these books features an info guide to a wide array of characters from each respective universe in A-Z fashion, so they make the perfect gift for either the kid who wants to know more about superheroes or the adult who just can’t get enough of his favorite characters. What’s great is that each book can be found for less than $15 online, so it’s best to go ahead and package them up together. I recently bought these for an incredibly smart 4th grader I know who wants to share my love for comics. Who am I not to encourage a little comic book exploration?
All I Want for Christmas is—Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe: While looking for the right book for said 4th grader above, I happened to stumble upon this intriguing paperback in the graphic novels section of Barnes & Noble. Tim Leong, an art director at Wired magazine, takes an interestingly colorful look into the comic book world using a collection of creative pie charts, bar graphs, timelines, scatter plots, etc. I could have looked at this book all day if not for my wife nagging me to hurry up and pick something. Super Graphic covers nearly every aspect of comic books, including demographics, the Avengers’ jet vs. the X-Men’s jet, character color palettes, as well as extensive Venn diagrams highlighting typical superhero comic tropes. Leong masters the art of visualization and provides an intriguingly witty examination of the world of comics by making graphs fun for a change.
For the Teacher Who is Thinking about Using Comics (but has Already Read Maus)—The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country and Vol. 5: A Game of You: Being a comic guy in higher ed, I occasionally get questions like “I am teaching an adolescent lit class. What graphic novel should I ask them to read?” My gift recommendation, then, is for the “teacher who is thinking about using comics but has already read Maus” market. It’s pretty niche, I know. I recommend Sandman, particularly Dream Country (vol. 3) or A Game of You (vol. 5). Dream Country showcases the textual richness and literary depth of Gaiman’s opus, as it contains “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” among other stories. That story alone gets my lit teacher friends all excited. Justifiably so, as it’s masterful. A Game of You deals with issues of identity within a standard fairy-tale quest narrative and makes a wonderful jumping off point for discussions about gender, nature/nurture, friendship, and childhood. I warn my teacher friends that there are adult themes in both books, including violence and rape, but all of those issues are within a context and the books are easily suitable for high schoolers (but know your principal’s take on these things). Great, great stuff. My only regret is that the best Sandman story, “Ramadan,” isn’t in either one of these volumes.
All I Want for Christmas is—The Annotated Sandman Vol. 1: I’m just going to stick with the Sandman theme and ask Santa for The Annotated Sandman volumes. Any one of them will do, but we might as well start with the first (out of five). I am an educated guy, but the Sandman stories are so rich with references to mythological, literary, and historical figures that I need some help unpacking it all. The books are great stories on their own, but the care with which Gaiman crafted them, deliberately weaving all those other elements, makes it seem as if we are part of Dream’s world rather than the books being part of our own. The annotations and explanations only add to that depth and richness. Plus I’d appreciate the recolored volumes, as I still have the generally poor colored versions (caused by printing, not by the colorist) in the early graphic novel collections.
For the Comic Fan Who is Also a History Buff—Larry Gonick’s five-volume Cartoon History of the Universe: This enormous work took 30 years to complete! It began as single issue “underground” comics sold in head shops and independent bookstores in the mid-seventies. As word-of-mouth about the series grew and it became clear that Mr. Gonick was both a serious historian and an immensely talented cartoonist, it was time to collect the chapters into one collection and shop around for an above-ground publisher. And who became Gonick’s number one fan, editor and champion? Doubleday editor Jackie Kennedy Onassis. True story! The books are inexpensive softcovers and can be read as a series or separately. Gonick is able to offer funny and intuitive comics that deal with the most challenging of concepts—everything from the evolution of sex and death in the single-cell world (volume 1) to the life and death struggles in the Middle East (volumes 4 and 5). Back in 2000, when the book was less than half complete, it earned a spot on The Comic Journal’s Top 100 Comics of the Century. Now that the work is completed, it is such an important, and above all entertaining, book that I feel the need to give a copy to every comic and history fan I know!
And All I Want for Christmas is—Any volume of the great IDW Artist’s Edition series: They are only 125 to 150 dollars a pop. Why should someone pay so much to show their affection to me in this time of goodwill? Well first of all, it’s the right thing to do; but secondly, these editions are genuine treasures—complete stories presented in their original art and reproduced at their original size. There are times that I looked through the EC and the Daredevil: Born Again editions where I had to pause to catch my breath. It is a stunning reminder of how great comic art can be. If I was given the choice—and I’ve been really, really good this year—I’d pick either The Spirit collection by Will Eisner or the Groo the Wanderer collection by Sergio Aragonés. These are two of my favorite cartoonists of all time and these over-stuffed editions do their work proud. So be generous, you’ll thank yourself once you paid off your minimum balance in January. And God bless me, everyone!
For the Psychology Student/Sci-Fi Fan—Ender’s Game: While I fell in love with the incredible storytelling and twists, sci-fi realism, and areas in which I felt akin to Ender, I think new readers would really enjoy seeing Ender’s inner struggle as well as his interaction with family and subordinates. I never would’ve thought a single book could encapsulate so many different yet important aspects of a story, but Ender’s Game somehow blends sci-fi and psychology in ways that are equally exciting to fans of both fields. If you know someone in either camp, Ender’s Game would be a great pick this Christmas.
All I Want for Christmas is—Xenocide or Children of the Mind: Personally, I’d love to receive Xenocide or Children of the Mind (parts 4 and 5 of the Ender Quintet, chronologically). I’ve read through Ender’s Game three times, Ender in Exile, and Speaker for the Dead, as well as the prequels Earth Unaware and Earth Afire (another prequel will be coming out next year). Something about the series draws me in, almost like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. Maybe I’m a sucker for sci-fi novels or good books, or both. Either way, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every single one, and look forward to reading more about Ender’s world in the future.
For the Adolescent Who Loved Climbing/Jumping on Furniture as a Child—Paul Pope’s Battling Boy: I acquired a copy of this book at a flea market held by a church in Vienna, Austria, and as weird as that story is, the material in this volume is even crazier. I mean that in the absolute best of ways—Pope’s illustrations crackle with kinetic force, perfect detail, and real emotion. This story, about gods, terrorists, monsters, and the boy tasked with contending with all of them, might be just a little too much for young readers, but toss it in the hands of a 13 year old and watch as he sits motionless, rapt, and (mostly) quiet for the duration of the book. A Christmas miracle!
All I Want for Christmas Is—A Subscription to Marvel Unlimited: I’ve been primarily subsisting on digital comics for the last 16 months, and there is perhaps no better way to have consistent reading material than with this service offered by Marvel Comics. One of the greatest aspects of the Internet is the availability of services like Netflix and Spotify, which allow us to have instantaneous access to decades of television and music. Marvel Unlimited takes this model and applies it to their back-catalogue of comics. There are about two decades of Marvel stories that I’m only tangentially familiar with, and this is a great way to soak up some of the early tales that shaped these characters (without spending copious amounts of money on back issues or Masterworks volumes). Monthly plans start at $9.99 (which is generally less than I spend on comics per week), but anyone who knows me will understand why the annual subscription (starting at $69) is the only real option.
What are some of the books and comics on your Christmas list? Let us know in the comments!