Words and pictures. Funny books. Graphic narratives. Regardless of what you call them, they’re comics; one of America’s greatest inventions.
Regardless of what genre interests you, there’s something there for everyone. As Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message.”
I tend to think Jack Kirby said it best, “My stories are very sincere, my stories are people’s stories.”
There’s a reason why he’s “The King.”
Check out some recommended stories after the jump.
Incredibly absorbing graphic novel by cartoonist Derf Backderf, who actually attended high school and was friends with serial killer Jeffery Dahmer. Beckderf’s insightful observations and recollections paint an interesting and chilling story of social misfit and nerd turned cannibal. It’s a dark, tragic and somewhat humorous attempt to make sense of the unexplainable.
The inimitable Anthony Bourdain co-wrote with Joel Rose this highly entertaining graphic novel set in a not too distant future Los Angeles where a culinary war rages on. Here, two major factions, the Internationalists and “Vertical Farm,” rule the city like crime lords as people fight and kill one another for an opportunity to experience a culinary experience. Sushi chef Jiro is sought by both factions, but like Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, neither side is prepared for the outcome. Illustrator Langdon Foss’ work is reminiscent of both the late Seth Fisher and Moebius and is incredibly dense. Get Jiro! is the perfect introduction for any foodie on your list.
It’s no secret that Mark Millar writes his comics with an eye on having it adapted to film, and Supercrooks is no exception. Reteaming with frequent collaborator Lenil Francis Yu, Millar takes a group of American super villians out of the states (which is too heavily populated with heroes and police, not to mention the competition) and sends them to Spain where they can pull off one last heist. Only the target is the greatest super villain of all time, who may or may not be ready for them in this incredibly entertaining read.
One of comics most interesting and entertaining writers, it’s hard to single out a single volume of Morrison’s work to recommend. This season I recommend Absolute Final Crisis, a giant oversized volume collecting his mammoth DC Universe event that might be the greatest love letter to superheroes in the last decade.
Also worth seeking out is Morrison’s The Invisibles Omnibus, a 1500+ page counterculture epic combining conspiracy theories, magic, alien abductions, time travel and more in a haze of ultra violence as a group of rebels fight to liberate humanity from the machinations of extra-terrestrial consciousness. In Action Comics Volume 1: Superman and the Men of Steel, Morrison teams with Rags Morales to reimagine The Man of Steel for the New 52 relaunch at DC Comics. This Clark Kent is brasher, still learning his capabilities and like the character’s original incarnation in the Thirties, is fighting against corruption and economic and social inequality in America. Finally, in Batman Incorporated: Volume One, Morrison and several artists including Yanick Paquette, Chris Burnham, Michel Lacombe, and Cameron Stewart take on the ramifications of Bruce Wayne’s announcement that he finances Batman and intends to franchise Batman internationally. The first volume focuses on the Dark Knight recruiting crimefighters across the globe to join his crusade.
Any regular reader knows how much I love Craig Yoe’s work. The proclaimed “comics archeologist” by Publishers Weekly and his collaborators at Yoe! Books continue to publish book after book that quickly becomes “my new favorite.”
First up and an amazing book that will be out just in time for Christmas is Comics About Cartoonists: Stories About The World’s Oddest Profession, which reprints stories on real and fictional cartoonists told by a literal who’s who of the greatest cartoonists ever to work in the medium including Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, Jack Cole, Dick Briefer, Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Chester Gould, Sheldon Mayer, Milton Caniff, Ernie Bushmiller, Basil Wolverton, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Will Eisner, Elzie Segar, Charles Schulz, and Harvey Kurtzman.
Another Yoe! Book that I think is absolutely amazing this year is The Creativity of Steve Ditko, which combines reprinted comic stories with illuminating and entertaining recollections of the extremely private cartoonist. At the height of his mainstream success as co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, Ditko walked away from Marvel for reasons unknown became an ardent supporter and advocate of the philosophy of Objectivism. A fascinating look at an equally fascinating man.
An evolution of both art and fashion from the forties through the present, The Art of Betty & Veronica edited by Yoe and Archie editor-in-chief Victor Gorelick, features an array of art and stories by some of the company’s most legendary artists including Dan DeCarlo, Harry Lucey, Samm Schwartz, Bill Vigoda, Bob Montana, and Dan Parent. Other notable releases by Yoe! Books this year include Zombies: The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics, featuring some amazing comics from the golden age and Frazetta Funny Stuff which collects the funny anthropomorphic comics by legend Frank Frazetta.
Image Comics is currently publishing the some of the best monthly work in the history of the medium, all of it creator owned, and thankfully, all of it collected.
You’d have to be under a rock not to be familiar with The Walking Dead. From creators Robert Kirkman, Charles Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Tony Moore, The Walking Dead is not only one the most popular comics currently being published, but it’s also the basis of the hit AMC television series. This year, The Walking Dead Compendium Volume 2 is the easy recommendation collecting issues #49-96 in one big chunk. If you like the show and haven’t read the comic, grab this and Compendium Volume 1 for an unforgettable reading experience.
Other Image collections that I heartily recommend include:
- Saga (by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples) When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.
- The Manhattan Projects (by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra) What if the research and development department created to produce the first atomic bomb was a front for a series of other, more unusual, programs?
- Hell Yeah! (by Joe Keatinge and Andre Szymanowicz) Today is the worst day of Benjamin Day’s life. He’s the poster child for the first generation raised in a world where superheroes exist, but he wants nothing to do with super-anything. When versions of himself from throughout the multiverse show up dead, this one-man crisis of infinite selves tears open twenty-year-old secrets. Ben’s now forced into the super-society he’s long denied.
- Mind The Gap (by Jim McCann, Sonia Oback and Rodin Esquejo ) Elle Peterssen is young, wealthy, and beautiful – and there is a reason someone tried to kill her! Only, Elle doesn’t remember any of this. Elle, in a spirit form detached from her comatose body, must not only unravel the mystery of her attacker’s identity and motive, but her entire life as well. Who can she trust, in both this word and in the gap she exists in that lies between life and death? Deceit, secrets, and hidden agendas are everywhere in a story where everyone is a suspect, and no one is innocent.
- Fatale (by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips) Secrets, lies, horror, lust, and monsters from the time before time all collide. In present day, a man meets a woman who he becomes instantly obsessed with, and in the 1950s, this same woman destroys the lives of all those who cross her path, on a quest for… what?
- Thief of Thieves (by Robert Kirkman, Nick Spencer and Shawn Martinbrough) Conrad Paulson lives a secret double-life as master thief Redmond. There is nothing he can’t steal, nothing he can’t have… except for the life he left behind. Now with a grown son he hardly knows, and an ex-wife he never stopped loving, Conrad must try to piece together what’s left of his life, before the FBI finally catch up to him… but it appears they are the least of his worries.
- Prophet (by by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, and Giannis Milogiannis) On distant future Earth, changed by time and alien influence, John Prophet awakens from cryosleep. His mission: to climb the the towers of Thauili Van and restart the Earth empire. But, news of the Empire’s return brings old foes and allies out of the recesses of the vast cosmos.
- Glory (by Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell) After missing for almost a decade, Glory’s whereabouts are uncovered by a lone reporter, but the globe-spanning conspiracy keeping her hidden from humanity could make her return more dangerous than anyone ever anticipated! This first collection of a brand-new saga reintroduces Glory to a new century by revealing secrets from her past, journeying to the far-flung future and beginning a war unlike any we’ve seen before!
- The Strange Talent of Luther Strode (by Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore) Luther Strode is just your average geek – until he sends for an exercise course from the back of an old comic book. What he gets is the instruction manual from a murder cult as old as mankind that does everything that it promised – and more!
- King City (by Brandon Graham) Joe is a catmaster, trained to use his cat as any tool or weapon. His best friend, Pete, falls in love with an alien he’s forced to sell into green slavery, while his ex, Anna, watches her Xombie War veteran boyfriend turn into the drug he’s addicted to. King City, an underbelly of a town run by spy gangs and dark dark magic with mystery down every alleyway.
- Morning Glories (3 volumes available by Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma and Rodin Esquejo) Morning Glory Academy is one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country… but something sinister and deadly lurks behind its walls. When six gifted, but troubled, students arrive, they find themselves trapped and fighting for their lives as the secrets of the academy reveal themselves!
- Chew (6 volumes available by John Layman and Rob Guillory) Tony Chu is a detective with a secret. A weird secret. Tony Chu is cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. It also means he’s a hell of a detective – as long as he doesn’t mind nibbling on the corpse of a murder victim to figure out whodunit and why. He’s been brought on by the Special Crimes Division of the FDA, the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet, to investigate their strangest, sickest and most bizarre cases.
One of the greatest comic book artists, John Buscema (best known for The Avengers, Thor, The Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Conan the Barbarian and as the artist of How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way), is the subject of this amazing hardcover originally created for a foreign exhibition and reprinted in the United States for the first time. Tons of Buscema’s art is reproduced in various stages of execution and this is the must have book for any fan of comic art and/or Marvel Comics.
For music fans, this original graphic novel by Frank M. Young and David Lasky is a must have, chronicling the story of the first superstar group of country music, the Carter Family. The story details the struggles on their road to success and serves as an incredibly detailed snapshot of the South. The Carter family’s influence on country music is unparalleled and their story is both heartbreaking and inspirational. This must read also includes a bonus CD of original Carter Family music.
Batman: The Court of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo might be the best comic to come out of the New 52 at DC, revealing a new mythology for The Dark Knight that has ties to both Bruce Wayne and Gotham City itself.
Also by Snyder is the first volume of the relaunched Swamp Thing with Yanick Paquette, which reestablishes the character in the DC Universe as well as featuring the return of his previously deceased alter-ego Alec Holland. Writer Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman flesh out Swamp Thing‘s sister title, Animal Man, which deals with Buddy Baker and his family as his daughter begins to manifest powers of her own. And, like you’ve never seen her before, Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang reimagines the icon as they reveal the truth behind her origins, tying her deeper into the Greek god pantheon and establishing her as more Amazon badass than super hero.
Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin have already released three volumes of their rebooted Daredevil, the best Marvel title on the stands. After two excellent, albeit darker runs by writers Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker, Waid’s take on the character combines super-heroics with strong characterization and snappy writing. It’s refreshing to read the adventures of a hero who smiles, and Waid and Co. deliver the grins from cover to cover.
One of Marvel’s other fantastic releases this year was their Season One line, which were retold origin stories aimed at a contemporary audience. In particular, I enjoyed the X-Men and Doctor Strange, but Hulk: Season One by Fred Van Lente and Tom Fowler was pure gold. Van Lente’s sharp script combined various Hulk interpretations and created a new, reinvigorated take on the character and Fowler’s energetic art reminded me of a strange mash up of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko with Jack Davis and Mort Drucker. If you are or have ever been a fan of the character, Van Lente and Fowler’s take is among the best incarnations ever produced and worth a look. I also want to mention Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Comics Spider-Man series. For those unfamiliar, the Ultimate Comics line is a variant version of the traditional Marvel Universe, and in this one, Peter Parker died and a new Spider-Man, a young teen named Miles Morales has adopted the identity after gaining similar powers. The series is phenomenal and there are already two collections available. I do think, that a great sampling of the character can be found in Spider-Men, which teams Morales with the traditional Peter Parker versus a shared nemesis. Written by Bendis and illustrated by Sara Pichelli this is a tremendously fun read.
New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman’s transcendent series The Sandman is often hailed as the definitive Vertigo title and one of the finest achievements in graphic storytelling. Gaiman created an unforgettable tale of the forces that exist beyond life and death by weaving ancient mythology, folklore and fairy tales with his own distinct narrative vision. This set includes all ten volumes of the series, recolored in a slipcase. Includes Preludes and Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, Dream Country, Season of Mists, A Game of You, Fables and Reflections, Brief Lives, Worlds’ End, The Kindly Ones and The Wake.
Taxes, The Tea Party, and Those Revolting Rebels: A History in Comics of the American Revolution by Stan Mack is a must read for every student of politics and government, elected official or registered voter. It’s a passionate, entertaining and revealing look at the people that founded our country and shows a number of parallels to our nation today.
Also from NBM Publishing that’s a can’t miss is The Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium, collecting three previous releases by the always amazing Rick Geary. Included are Jack The Ripper, The Beast of Chicago and Fatal Bullet; a wonderfully morbid gift choice for the history buff or true crime lover on your list.
Titan Books has reprinted Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s New York Times best-selling adaptation of the film Alien from 1979 in two editions; one a standard reissue of the original book and the other a beautiful oversized edition shot from the original artwork. Either would be appreciated by the sci-fi movie buff on your list.
Dark Horse Comics
Writer Steve Niles and artist Greg Ruth’s Freaks of The Heartland reminds me a bit of John Steinbeck meets Stephen King. Trevor’s monstrous little brother lives in the barn behind the house. The boy’s only six years old, but he towers over his older brother, and possesses incredible strength. For years, Trevor has looked after his baby brother, keeping him from the light, but now that’s all about to change. His family’s secret is about to be revealed, uncovering the horrible truth of the small midwestern town the boys have grown up in. Lushly painted, the story is a perfect recommendation for any fan of character based horror.
I also recommend another horror title from Dark Horse, the first volume of The Strain by David Lapham and Mike Huddleston adapting the novel by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. When a Boeing 777 lands at JFK International Airport and goes dark on the runway, the Centers for Disease Control, fearing a terrorist attack, calls in Dr. Ephraim Goodweather and his team of expert biological-threat first responders. Only an elderly pawnbroker from Spanish Harlem suspects a darker purpose behind the event – an ancient threat intent on covering mankind in darkness! This fresh take on the genre makes vampirism a pandemics, resulting in a thrilling and and truly scary story.
As seen in the pages of The New Yorker, The New York Times and McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Building Stories collects a decade’s worth of work, with dozens of “never-before published” pages, and is truly a one of a kind reading experience. This box set includes 14 items of varying formats, all stunningly illustrated and designed, but at times crushingly sad and dark as it explores the futility of life and failure of personal success. A true celebration of the mundane. An unparalleled accomplishment in design, Building Stories is a welcome addition to Ware’s distinctive body of work.
For the newest fans of the medium, you can’t go wrong with Comic Book History of Comics by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. The creative team behind the comic series Action Philosophers turn their irreverent-but-accurate eye to the inspiring, infuriating, and utterly insane story of comics, graphic novels, and manga. Jack Kirby, R. Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman, Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Fredric Wertham, Roy Lichtenstein, Art Spiegelman, Herge, Osamu Tezuka are just a few of the personalities covered in this entertaining and must have tome.
Finally, for the comic strip fan, GoComics PRO membership, allowing subscribers to have an unlimited amount of new comic strips and panels e-mailed to them daily. The membership costs $11.88 for an annual subscription, or 99 cents per month. At such an affordable price, this is a fantastic way to give to your friends and family a gift that lasts all year.