November 29, 2013

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Panel Patter's 2013 Gift Guide

Well, Macy's has had their parade, folks have had their turkey (or their awesome veggie/vegan alternative), and it's about time to start sneaking onto your smart phones and tablets if you're still with the family that you love dearly but wouldn't mind getting a bit of time away from.

It's okay, we've all been there.

When thoughts turn to "What the hell do I get Person X?" I'm always happy to help, with the 2013 edition of my comics gift guide. I've been writing these on various subjects since 2009, and lots of the things I've said in past years are just as valid for gifts now (except, sadly, JManga, which we lost earlier this year), so please check them out for additional ideas. You can find them all here. I don't repeat myself in these, a rule I almost broke for Comixology, because they're such a great service.

Without further ado, here's my 2013 list. Hope you find something that's perfect for the comics fan on your list...

For the person who will love a smart all-ages comic:  Cartozia Tales
I talk a lot about Cartozia, but that's only because of how I am impressed with the world that coordinator Isaac Cates and his team have built for their readers. A ten issue limited series, Cartozia is a freshly created world where the artists and writers involved (including amazing guests like James Kochalka and Kelly Sue DeConnick) take turns writing about characters who live in different parts of the fictional map. Seeing someone play with a toy created by Adam Koford while he puts his spin on theirs is great fun. What I love best is that despite being appropriate for anyone able to read, the stories are smart, charming, and well-drawn, making them all-ages in the truest sense of the word. Available as single issues or in subscription form from their website.

For the Person Who Loves Old EC Comics: Fantagraphics Reprints
Fantagraphics is one of the best at doing quality reprints, whether it's Peanuts or Prince Valiant. Lately, they've been putting together some amazing EC Comics reprint work, which is sure to delight the classic horror fan in your life that loves to read stories of scheming women, desperate men, and creatures of all kinds oozing their way across every page with some of the best artists to put pen to page. Al Williamson, Johnny Craig, Al Feldstein, and more await, along with terrible puns from your ghastly story hosts. There's some hidden gems in here, including a few Ray Bradbury adaptations.  Available either in single volumes or in combination at Fantagraphics.

For the Person Who Likes Variety in Their Horror Comics (and old 45s): Nix Comics
Ken Eppstein decided he wanted to publish comics, and set out to do just that, starting with Nix Comics Quarterly, a horror-themed anthology with strong links to Eppstein's love of music. The line has expanded to  Western Tales and even an All-Ages Comic as Eppstein continues to toil and tinker with the best way to bring his vision to a larger audience. The stories feature clever recurring characters, like the Vicar, who seeks out the evil of the musical kind, or Bus Stop Ned, exactly the kind of cantankerous soul you're stuck with whenever the bus is inevitably late. Eppstein writes most of the material, with a wide variety of artists who range from okay to awesome, depending on your taste. Any person with a hankering for horror who also likes anthologies should love a subscription for 2014, which you can pick up here.

For the Person Who Can Talk for Hours About Their Love of Superman: Edison Rex
Edison Rex is an extended look at what happens when Lex Luthor wins the eternal battle against Superman and has to put his money where his mouth is and become the world's protector. Written by a man who clearly loves his Superman history, Chris Roberson, and illustrated by a person able to switch styles to fit whatever part of that history Roberson is playing with, Dennis Culver, this title, part of the Monkeybrain debut, may be my favorite. Created by two men who are so in sync that Culver once told me sometimes they aren't sure who had which idea first, it hits all the right notes. Heroes and villains alike want to know what Rex's long game is, and anyone who reads this one will, too. Available as a trade from IDW or digitally from Comixology.

For the Person Who Loves Historical Fiction: Boxers and Saints
Two-time National Book Award nominee Gene Luen Yang looks at the Boxer Rebellion from the perspective of the Chinese Nationalists and a young girl who converts to Christianity at the time of the fighting in this pair of graphic novels that put Yang's passion and dedication to his craft on full display. Meticulously researched, Yang's able to pull off the dual perspective (with links in key places) without making you feel like one side or the other was completely in the right. It's up to the reader to decide which faction, if any, deserves our support. Yang's artwork has never been sharper, easily blending reality with fantasy as both protagonists draw inspiration from spirits. There's a reason this was given such high praise by the non-comics press, and is on my personal short lists for best graphic novels in 2013.

For the Pacific Rim Fan in Your Life: Kill All Monsters
Michael May and Jason Copland combine for a webcomic that's now in print thanks to Kickstarter that I can only describe as "What if Pacific Rim Wasn't a Love Letter to Colonialism?" Starting off by trashing a Western city for a change and featuring a diverse cast who all contribute to the efforts to rid the world of kaiju, this is the story I'd hoped I was getting when I went to see the movie. May's script keeps things moving and features some of the best world-building I've seen lately while Copland provides monsters for the reader who actually look, feel, and act differently from each other. This shares a lot thematically with the movie, so folks who did like it (i.e. everyone in the entire world except me, apparently) will love this one, if you can find a copy for them.

For the Doctor Who Fan in Your Life: Doctor Who Prisoner of Time
Without having to worry about whether or not the actors and actresses were still alive or anti-Who, co-writers Scott and David Tipton put together an amazing 12-part max-series that ties all incarnations of the Doctor together, working their way from an adventure with Ian and Barbara to Clara, with some fan-favorites appearing in-between. Each Doctor is given a spotlight issue as they fight against threats both known and unknown, with a force from their past (or is it future?) working to undermine everything they hold dear. A total love letter to the series, with unbelievable Francavilla and Sim covers and artists that include Roger Langridge and Matthew Dow Smith, this one is almost note-perfect, with its weakest issues ironically featuring Doctors 4 and 10. Two trades (of 3) are available now, so you can even hold out to give the third one for their birthday!

For the Person Who Loves Comics as Art Form: Periscope Studios Kickstarter
Periscope Studio is home to some of the best creators working in comics right now, and they're out to show the world with a Kickstarter campaign featuring six of their artists: Erika (DAR, Bucko) Moen, Ron (Trekkers) Randall, Benjamin (Tragedy Series) Dewey, Paul (Boilerplate) Guinan, David (Erfworld) Hahn, and Natalie (Home Is Where the Internet Is) Nourigat. Each will contribute a 32 page, full color art book, showing off their diverse talents, which you can pick up for as little as $5 digitally or $50 for a set of all six, plus other, higher tier rewards. These are high-quality artists showing off their best and would make a perfect gift. Plus, don't worry about making a Christmas deadline--they'll happily provide you with a Gift Sloth as a placeholder for a present that will be worth the wait.

For the Person Who Misses Giffen and DeMatteis on Justice League: Archer and Armstrong
Apparently, the purpose of Archer and Armstrong is to see just how far writer Fred Van Lente and his rotating cast of artists can go before Valiant says, "No, that's too ridiculous, even for you, Fred," and luckily, they haven't done that so far. Starting off with thumbing his nose at the religious right and showing the 1% what he thinks of them, Van Lente has sent readers on a romp all across the world and even into time itself, doing his best (with the help of some great comedic art by Clayton Henry, Pere Perez, and others) to keep the jokes flowing as freely as the beer Armstrong consumes. Doing great send-ups, broad comedy, and evne a few tender moments, this is one of my favorite books and would make a great gift for anyone who likes their comics with a heaping dose of fun and action.

For the Person Who Cares About Social Justice: March Volume 1
Wrapping up my guide this year is a book that's hitting just about every "Best of 2013" list, and with good reason, March Volume 1. The first ever graphic novel collaborated on by a sitting US Congressman, it's the start of the story of the  Civil Rights movement as seen through the eyes of one of its leaders, Rep. John Lewis. Lewis recounts his early years, facing racism in his home and how difficult it was to struggle against it, with the old guard urging caution while Dr. King and others said it was time for more than patience to win the day. Nate Powell does the art duties brilliantly, blending the panels to give it the effect of memories. This is a book that will rekindle your desire to stand up for what's right, or perhaps inspire in--the best gift of all.