December 1, 2014

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Panel Patter's 2014 Gift Guide

The thing about comics is that people have very specific interests. What might push my buttons and become a must-purchase won't necessarily thrill you. Even among the Panel Patter team, there are books some of us like that others don't, and we have pretty similar taste and an inclination to under-the-radar-books.

So every year, I sit down to work on a guide to books that are targeted at different groups of people. I've been doing this since 2009 (the first few were manga only, because I was reading a TON of manga then), and it's always fun, because one of the challenges is to never repeat a suggestion.

Here's my gift guide for 2014. If you want some additional suggestions, many of the things on my older lists are still out there. Remember: Don't just get someone a Batman book because they like comics. Think about what they'll actually read, and buy accordingly! 

For the Shojo-Reading, OEL Manga, Female-Positive Comics Fan: Sparkler Monthly (Indie)
It's always great to see when people get together and try to do something positive about marketing and representation in comics instead of just complaining about what others aren't doing. Sparkler Monthly is an online subscription service that offers OEL Manga content that's designed and marketed for people who are interested in comics, light novels, and audio dramas with their heart in Japanese comics. All of the stories are designed to be something that appeals to those looking for comics for women. "Our four founders and most of our staff identify as female and are committed to promoting inclusive, fem-positive, and ridiculously fun content." The content is really strong, too--it's not like Minx, where someone who didn't know what they were doing thought they were making comics for girls. I really enjoyed what I read of Sparkler Monthly for my review, and I highly recommend them as a gift for the comic-reading person in your life, regardless of gender, if they like Viz's Shojo offerings.

For the Teen Working Through Their Identity: Liz Prince's Tomboy (Zest Books)
We at Panel Patter are big fans of Liz Prince, and she's one of the creators I've followed across various anthologies and collections pretty much since getting into the mini-comic genre in 2008. This year saw her take on a long-form graphic memoir, Tomboy, about growing up knowing you're definitely heterosexual, but don't fit into the gender norms assigned to you. Containing a mix of Liz's patented sharp wit, really thoughtful reflection on her life experience, and some moments that almost certainly will register with readers (especially if you're close to Liz in age), it's one of the best books I read this year. Here's Whit's review.

For the Person Who Likes Shared Universes: Valiant Comics (Valiant Comics)
I've been reading comics since I was four, and while I happily read one-shot graphic novels, mini-comics, and other things that are self-contained, I admit that I will always have a soft-spot for shared universes. The idea that Spider-Man and the Human Torch are friends who have hero adventures always appealed to me. Nowadays it can be very hard to keep up with entire universes, especially in this age of perpetual cross-overs. So if you know someone who liked the idea of a multi-comic world but have given up on trying to keep track of Marvel or DC, I'd easily recommend picking them up some trades from Valiant Comics. Valiant, originally a 90s publisher who was resurrected a few years ago to critical acclaim (including from me), has carefully crafted their world, taking advantage of the large bench of characters but not over-doing it. While it has grown from a single-digit total of comics to a little over ten titles these days, it's still very possible to read everything that's going on in Valiant's world without breaking the bank. With high-quality characters like Archer and Armstrong, Doctor Mirage, Rai, and more, along with some of the best writers in comics working today (Fred Van Lente, Jen Van Meter, and Matt Kindt, just to name a few), they're well worth picking up a few trades for that older comics fan in your life. A link to our Valiant coverage.

For the Person Who Misses Drive-In Horror: Alex de Campi's Grindhouse (Dark Horse)
When most folks are asked about the Grindhouse style films of the 70s, I expect they think of three things: Blood! Gore! Boobs! Sounds like something you'd normally have no interest in, right? Yeah, me, too. But never discount writer Alex de Campi's ability to not only find her own take on the genre, but to point out that those films were arguably more diverse than we give them credit for. Here's Alex from our interview last year: "Exploitation/Grindhouse were actually a hugely diverse "genre" of films, that actually went far beyond the sort of soft porn-mixed-with-horror they tend to get tagged with. I love the genre because there are so many awesome female heroes...in some ways the Grindhouse films had more heroines and  more diverse heroines than Hollywood has today. I mean, we've had a great and unusual year for female action heroes in films... we have BOTH Gravity and Hunger Games: Catching Fire! Two solo female action hero films in one year! That's mega! Get about a dozen more and we might reach the dizzying heights hit... in the early Seventies." An innovative, one-writer, 2-issue at a time series, de Campi covers everything from alien invasions to prison ships, along with amazing artists. The first two trades are collected, and a new series just started. Highly recommended for horror fans!

For the Wrestling Fan: Box Brown's Andre the Giant (First Second)
I've been a fan of Box for years now, but he really exploded into national attention with his bio-comic of wrestler and actor Andre the Giant, a man who is incredibly iconic but had a life that was certainly less than ideal. Box isn't afraid to go down those roads, and combined with his distinctive style that takes advantage of geometric shapes and framing, really nailed this one. James Kaplan did the review for Panel Patter.

For the Pulp Fan Looking for a Modern Take: Leia Weathington's Bold Riley (Northwest Press)
Like me, Leia loves the old pulp stories, and decided she wanted to create a sword and sorcery series of her own. But instead of following the tropes blindly as so many do--even when they do it well--Leia updated the concept and created a heroine of color who's also a lesbian, doing all the things we come to know and love about the genre. Bold Riley, who leaves her royal home to strike out on her own, fights monsters and ghosts, encounters the supernatural, and basically moves across the land, being either loved or hated, depending on her most recent deeds. It's great, not just because of the modern heroine, but because Leia understands that the way to address problematic texts isn't to meta-comment all over the place. Just write a damned good story, get some of the best artists you can find, and hook people with an ongoing tale that's collected in Volume 1 and has a second volume ongoing now. My review of Volume one.

For the Philosophical Sci-Fi Fan: Jeff Parker's Meteor Men (Oni Press)
The easy Jeff Parker pick here would be Batman 66 and you know, that would be just fine. But instead, I'm going to point you to Jeff's latest creator-owned book, which was put out by Oni Press this fall. Along with line artist Sandy Jarrell and color artist Kevin Volo, this one follows the story of a young man who becomes involved in an alien invasion, as a series of meteors hit Earth and reveal creatures from another world lurking inside. Are the aliens evil or misunderstood? What's the boy's role in finding out their purpose for coming here? We've seen that before, but as the book comes to a close, Jeff hits us with a curve that makes this arguably the deepest work he's written yet. There's some great visual work from Jarrell and Volo, too, as they show Parker's aliens and their ability in a way that enhances the story, like great artistic collaborators do. James Kaplan did this review for Panel Patter.


For the Anthology Fan: Maple Key Comics (Self-Published)
Two of my favorite things to do in comics are a) read anthologies and b) find new creators to follow. Maple Key Comics does both, as editor/publisher Joyana McDiarmid mines the vast talents of the Center for Cartoon Studies and others to create an ongoing anthology that began as a Kickstarter. Filled with over 200 pages of comics, it's got something for everyone, especially those who love the mini-comic genre or who were fans of things like the Mome anthologies. Creators include McDiarmid, Rachel Dukes, Sophie Goldstein, Neil Brideau, April Malig, and many, many more. Here's my review of issue one.

For the History and Literature Fan: Above the Dreamless Dead WWI Anthology (First Second)
Let's face it, World War I is a forgotten war. It sadly solved nothing, other than how good we could be at killing people, and it set the stage for the war people know more about--because The United States took a major part in the fighting (which predated the US's entry, I might add), World War II. Some amazing literature came out of what was then called The Great War or The World War, and it's on display here, aided with visuals from everyone from Eddie Campbell to Kevin Huizenga. This is such a great collection, with varied styles in both the words and pictures. I reviewed it here.

For the Crazy Cat Person: Alisa Harris' Counter Attack! (Self-Published)
Last but certainly not least is the hardcover collection of Alisa Harris's cat comics, where she shows just how silly these furry things we keep in our house actually are. Revised (and in some cases, re-touched), Alisa carefully collated these one-panel images from her minis, putting them together in a quality packaging that makes a great gift (I bought one for my mom.) I reviewed the minis here.

Those are just some of the great books I could recommend. Need more help? Just read Panel Patter and go through our archives for more amazing comics that will light up the life of the reader on your list!