Friday, November 23, 2012

Panel Patter's 2012 Comics Gift Guide

I hope you have enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving with you and yours (or just had a good day if you aren't in the USA).  It's the official start of the holiday buying season, and normally at this time, I would be writing up my Manga Gift Guide.

However, this year, I'm just not reading a lot of manga.  I really don't know why, either.  It's not like I have turned against that genre of comics or anything.  However, with my Newsarama duties, reading time for anything that isn't new Western comics has shrunk, and I think manga felt the squeeze.  Maybe that will change in 2013.  We shall see.

So instead of a Manga-only gift guide, this year I present a general comics gift guide to help you with making selections.  I've also tried to stick with items you should be able to find relatively easily, instead of digging into back issue titles like I've done in the past.  Hope it helps find just the right four-color funny book (that often aren't very funny) for your loved one this December!

For the person with too many longboxes and a digital device:  Comixology

Once upon a time, I had 27 longboxes of comics and an attic where most of them languished.  Today, I have three.  But I still read a ton of single issue comics, thanks to the magic of Comixology, by far the best digital comics provider (though iVerse is also quite good).  If you have a tablet device, Comixology is everything you loved about getting comics from your local shop on Wednesdays, but without having to drive there or storing tons of comics afterwards.  No bags to deal with, no boxes to lug around or create ugly shelving issues, and increasingly, your favorites from yesteryear are making their way to the service as well as new comics.  You can gift individual comics to another user or get a gift card for the device they use to read on.  

For the person who reads John Hodgman:  Michael Kupperman

Kupperman is one of my favorite creators working today, able to be equally as sharp of wit in formal comics as he is off-the-cuff on Twitter.  He's the author of my favorite book of 2011, Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010, as well as the Tales Designed to Thrizzle anthology series.  His work features outrageous satire, such as Snake and Bacon or sending Twain off on wacky hijinks with Albert Einstein.  Nothing is sacred and everything is skewered by Kupperman, who is a perfect fit for the lovers of Daily Show-like comedy.


For the person who loves batshit-insane sci-fi:  Saga

Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples work every month to try and top themselves in terms of what kind of weirdness they can come up with for their ongoing series, Saga.  A few examples include robots humanoids with televisions for heads having sex doggie-style, a giant cat that's a lie detector, a tree for a spaceship, and a planet that features just about every kind of deviant act imaginable.  And that's just the easily-described stuff!  All of these visuals are knocked out of the park by Staples, who is easily one of the ten best artists working on a (sort of) monthly book right now.  Vaughn is also at the top of his game, crafting a story that revolves around two lovers trapped in a war between their people.  Filled with amazing visuals, some of Vaughn's best dialogue, and a solid plot that doesn't need surprises (but has them in abundance) to keep the reader interested, this is a lead-pipe cinch for many, many best of 2012 lists.  You can get the first trade now.

For the person who loves to experiment:  A Retrofit Comics subscription

Last year, mini-comics creator Box Brown came up with the idea of a subscription service for alternative mini-comics.  Enlisting those he knows around the field of mini-comics, Brown kick-started Retrofit comics, which is still going strong today.  Creators such as James Kochalka, Colleen Frakes, Noah Van Sciver, and Brown himself have all been among the participants.  Affordable ($5 each comic, including the shipping) and eclectic, you get everything from almost abstract work to more contained artwork.  This isn't going to be for everyone, but if you have a person who likes to widen their field of interest, Retrofit is a perfect choice for them.

For the young woman who wants to read comics about a girl like them:  Princeless

As a person who teaches middle-school students, I'm always a bid saddened by the fact that there are so few Western-style comics that feature strong young women as characters (or hell, strong female characters at all).  Along comes Princeless, about a young woman who is trapped by her controlling royal parents and decides to take fate into her own hands.  But she's not a superwoman, with writer Jeremy Whitley carefully making her human, not a genderless dynamo.  There are consequences to her actions, which further issues will be sure to address.  In the meantime, we have a heroine that kids of all ages can relate to doing the thing we all hope to be able to do--take control of our lives.


For the person who wants to read obscure manga legally:  JManga

JManga is an online-only provider of content, so those who are paper snobs won't be served.  However, if you know someone who loves manga and wants to move from the One Pieces of the world to things that might be lucky to hit 5,000 copies in the US if they went to print, like the story of an anesthesiologist or stories involving cats that stretch credulity, JManga is the place for them.  Working hard to get a step ahead of the scantilators and make rare or out of print manga available to those who don't want to go to the darknet, JManga is a great place to set up an account for that Otaku in your life.   

For the person who's given up on superhero comics:  Daredevil by Mark Waid and Others

Of all the characters to pick to bring an old-school superhero reader back into the cape and tight set, Daredevil, whose history has been dragged into an ever-larger spiral of darkness and moping.  Enter Mark Waid, arguable the best comics writer of his generation, to revitalize the character and make him work again.  This Daredevil still has deep dark issues, but he's also aware of his unique position.  Add that to a stable of artists that picture DD's abilities in ways we've never seen before and Waid's application of those powers and you have a series that for the beginning of its run, is incredibly self-contained and a perfect gift.

For the child of the 80s who still read comics:  IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I had a lot of potential ones here from IDW, but settled on the Turtles because it's the one that drew me in to the rest of IDW's adaptations, like Star Trek and GI Joe.  Working with Kevin Eastman, a new crop of writers and artists are re-imagining the path of the heroes in a half shell, and while they echo those of the original, it's fresh enough to not feel like a retread.  Characters like April and Casey benefit especially from a modern interpretation, but Tom Waltz, the primary new writer, really has looked for new angles and refusing to be locked into fanboy-required moments.  Anyone who loved both the original comics or the original cartoon show are going to love this series.

For the pulp fan in your life:  Fatale

Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips have been creating amazing noir comics for over a decade now, mixing in various other genre elements into their stories and giving everything an air of helplessness and desperation that marks the best noir stories.  Their latest is Fatale, the story of a woman who's quite literally deadly to the men who fall within her orbit.  Corrupt cops, unfaithful men, and occult rituals mix together into an ongoing story that has nearly perfect pacing and artwork that knows how to create more suspense by what it withholds than what it reveals.  Phillips is almost as good with shadow as Frank Miller was in his prime, creating an atmosphere for Brubaker's hardened humans to inhabit.  This is another comic destined for best-of lists this year and should be on your gift list.

For the joy of reading comics:  Atomic Robo

Atomic Robo is now in its 7th volume of mini-series, and every one of them is amazing.  Featuring a sarcastic robot created by Tesla who carries on the experimental legacy of his "father", Atomic Robo is pure joy for a comics reader  Any trade in the series is accessible, meaning that while you'll want to read them all, you can start anywhere.  Run into everything from a Lovecraftian bring to a talking mad-scientist Dinosaur to a plot to kill Robo himself.  This character, drawn in a blocky but fluid style with tons of period-accurate backgrounds ranging across the entire 20th Century, will win your heart and make you wonder why companies with larger budgets can't write comics like this.

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