While Spurgeon, as usual, provides just about the most comprehensive guide to shopping for comic book fans, I thought I’d throw a few coins into that bucket and offer up an even ten items that came out this year, are relatively easy to find and should be (hopefully) be just outside of the norm for most comics buyers. While I think things like the Garth Ennis Punisher omnibus are fantastic, it’s unlikely that someone who really, really wouldn’t want it would just get it themselves or just outright say “Yes, please get me this massive book about a dude that kills dudes” to you over breakfast.
The new hardcover edition of the venerable king of metafictional looks at “real world” superheroes is basically a tiny homunculus of the core of the Absolute Edition of the book, with John Higgin’s touched-up color and art that looks sharper than ever. It’d be a nice thing to give to someone who’s already a fan but has either lost or worn out their original copy. Amazon also has the paperback edition at a very nice price, if you didn’t feel like splashing the $30 or so that I’ve seen the $40 retail hardcover go for.
I was initially skeptical towards what I saw as Dave Gibbons’s blatant cash-grab in the wake of the film, but the final Watching The Watchmen tome is a very nicely-produced look at the process behind the series. Chip Kidd does his usual nice job with the presentation, working with Mike Essl and Dan Scudamore’s photographs show off the texture of the art beautifully. It’s not essential, but one of the things I like about holidays is that they give you the chance to give people gifts they wouldn’t necessarily buy. There’s a direct market edition from Diamond Comics Distributors that you’ll likely have to special order through your shop that features a different dust jacket, some additional pages, and some portfolio-style cards based on the original art.
Morse may be better known nowadays as one of Pixar’s team of designers and artists, but his comics have been drifting just under most readers’ radar for the last few years. These are his two newest books, both of whom were distributed by Adhouse, my favorite record-label-disguised-as-a-comics-publisher. Notes Over Yonder is a small squarebound book with pretty straightforward pair of tales that work with music and a sense of isolation, reflecting each other as they build their own allegories. It’s a nice piece of work, really, but seems a bit empty compared to the other pick.
Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!, on the other hand is a more personal work, exploring the life of the artist as creator, citizen of the world, and father. It’s a pretty stunning work that I’ve read twice since receiving last week and plan on diving into again. The oversized format allows Morse to expand and contract his more-lush-than-usual art in tune with the themes and even those unfamiliar with his work will soon understand why he uses a tiger to represent himself on-page.
At first glance, nothing could be more dissimilar than Brian Wood’s look at a dozen years in a restless young woman’s life and Jonathan Lethem’s retelling of a Marvel Universe oddity, but both books touch on the theme of isolation, intentional and not and would be perfect for the more thoughtful readers you know. The Oni hardcover edition of Local is a Very Nice Object, with a size akin to one of those oversized hardcover collections that Marvel puts together and lots of extras, reproduced on high-quality paper with a handsome paper over board cover and silver ink on the spine. It’s a well thought-out, beautifully illustrated comics series that gets a reproduction that’s up to the material.
Omega The Unknown is a funny, literate look at a neglected character created by the late, great Steve Gerber. It manages to update the original story’s strange blend of superheroics and psychotropic monologues without seeming and with the help of Farel Darymple’s scratchy, organic art, the entire effort comes off as a distinctly human endeavor, something I’ve not seen a lot in the Marvel Universe of late.
With sleeves designed by Sean Phillips and Darwyn Cooke, this pair of Criterion DVD releases is a slam-dunk for the fan who likes either artist and has exhausted their comics repertoire for the time being. Blast of Silence is a lean piece of film noir that makes up for its low budget with careful craftsmanship. A fantastically downbeat narration underscores the story of Frank Bono, a hit man who’s going through some trying times. Fans of Criminal can see why Phillips was picked for the box art: movies like Blast of Silence inform his work on the title.
The four movies in the Monsters and Madmen box set are drive-in fodder, low budget science fiction and horror pieces that have more style than their peers. It’s easy to see why Cooke agreed to do the art for this: four period design experiments that revolve around each film’s title and content. I leaned more towards the junk science-fiction of First Man Into Space and The Atomic Submarine, but the horror Boris Karloff double feature of Corridors of Blood and The Haunted Strangler is nothing to sneeze at. The journeyman director Robert Day helmed three of the pictures and it’s a nice snapshot of the genre B-picture era.
It’s hard to imagine two pieces of samurai fiction that are as different than Inoue’s meticulously-drawn, deliberately paced reimagining of the Mushashi Miyamoto story and Tezuka’s cartoonish, mile-a-minute Dororo, but both got lovely rereleases this year. Vagabond (which I believe is still being printed in its traditional format) began to be republished in the VIZBIG format that combines three of the previously-released volumes into one oversized book with extra color art and sketches, a better value for shelf space and for the wallet. The larger format works greatly in the book’s favor, as Inoue’s detail and background could be pored over for hours and the opening salvo of the projected 10-volume series feels that much more epic. For $20, I can’t imagine a more substantial gift to a manga or samurai fan.
It honestly took me the first forty or fifty pages of the first volume of Tezuka’s Dororo to get it, but I just finished the second last night and am fully invested. There’s a reason Tezuka’s so revered, and his varied oeuvre can give almost any comics reader an entry point into his unique combination of melodrama, goofy exaggeration, and perfectly-timed moments of quiet amongst the Carl Barks-like (Barksian?) hullabaloo of each story. As there’s only three books, it’s an easy set for anybody to complete, and Vertical’s design is, as always, sublime.
There’s lots more out there that I think is worth looking out for, but I wanted this list to be manageable for readers and myself. If you’re still not quite sold anything, you might want to check out my Reviews (where I’m reminded that the Joker graphic novel would be a nice adjunct to that Dark Knight DVD) and What I’ve Been Reading categories. Good luck with your holiday shopping!