John’s Gift Ideas for the Holiday Season (I hope you like comics!)

I recently put together a list of exceptionally great non-superhero comic books for a friend of mine, and thought I would share it with all of you.  Consider it a holiday shopping guide, if you like.  The list is divided by genre, and includes what I believe to be some of the best works of sequential art available in the marketplace today.  Enjoy!

NON-FICTION:

Action Philosophers! by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey. A great way to learn about (and make fun of) all the major philosophers.  PLATO SMASH!!!

After 9/11: America‘s War on Terror by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.  A look at how much progress America has (or hasn’t) made in the Global War on Terror. (reviewed here)

Berlin: City of Smoke (Book 2) by Jason Lutes (see Berlin: City of Stones for description.)

Berlin: City of Stones (Book 1) by Jason Lutes.  A powerful tale of life in Berlin before and during the Nazis’ rise to power.

Palestine by Joe Sacco.  Journalist Joe Sacco travels to the Middle East and details his encounters and the stories he was told by the people he met.

Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco.  After the success of Palestine, Sacco travels to Bosnia and provides a perspective rarely seen on the American evening news.

The 9/11 Commission Report by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.  A sequential art adaptation of the actual 9/11 Commission Report, great for the casual non-fiction reader. (reviewed here)

The Cartoon History of the Universe / of the Modern World by Larry Gonick.  Gonick covers the history of the universe, from the Big Bang through the American Revolutionary War.  Every history book should be this much fun!

HISTORICAL FICTION:

300 by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley.  The comic that spawned the blockbuster movie.  THIS IS SPARTA!!

Age of Bronze by Eric Shanower.  A substantially more historically-accurate (yet still compelling) retelling of the Trojan War than anything Hollywood has put out in recent years.

Crecy by Warren Ellis and Raulo Caceres.  A bloody, yet witty look at the Battle of Crecy, a battle that changed the face of warfare.

From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell.  The gripping and thought-provoking tale of Jack the Ripper that inspired the somewhat disappointing movie.

BIOGRAPHY:

American Splendor by Harvey Pekar. a collection of Pekar’s specatularly interesting diary comics.  Read the volumes that inspired the movie, then read the volume where they talk about making the movie!

Art School Confidential by Dan Clowes.  The screenplay book contains the original comic, presented for the first time in color!

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel.  The most critically-acclaimed graphic biography since Maus, written and illustrated by the creator of Dykes to Watch out for and the “Bechdel Rule.” (reviewed here)

In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman.  The author of Maus and creator of RAW Magazine reflects on his 9/11 experiences, as well as how things have changed since that fateful day. (reviewed here)

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman.  The most cirtically and commercially successful graphic biography, bar none.  Spiegelman uses anthropomorphic animals to tell the true story of his father’s life during World War II, from the days before the war through his stay in Auschwitz.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.  An autobiography by Satrapi, Persepolis begins with her days as a child in Post-Revolution Iran, followed by her teen years in Austria, her return to Iran, and her eventual relocation to France.  An animated film adaptation was released in 2007.

STANDARD DRAMA:

A Contract with God by Will Eisner.  While Eisner may be better known for his creation of costumed crimefighter The Spirit, A Contract with God is considered the first true graphic novel.  Once you read it, you’ll know why comics’ most prestigious awards are named the Eisners.

Blankets by Craig Thompson.  A graphic novel of full novel length loosely based on Thompson’s life, Blankets supposedly grew out of a simple premise:  To describe what it feels like to sleep next to someone for the first time.

David Boring by Dan Clowes.  I haven’t read this one yet, so I’ll let Wikipedia sum it up for me.  “David Boring is a story told in the first person by its eponymous protagonist, concerning his sometimes fantastic and sometimes mundane exploits and misadventures in and out of big city life.” From the creator of Ghost World and Art School Confidential.

Ghost World by Dan Clowes. A must-have for all graphic novel-reading hipsters, Ghost World is a black comedy about two teenage girls who have recently graduated from high school and are making the transition to adulthood.  A feature film adaptation was released in 2001 to critical acclaim, becoming somewhat of a cult classic.

Kill Your Boyfriend by Grant Morrison and Phillip Bond.  Fight Club meets Thelma and Louise meets Bonnie and Clyde (with a rock ‘n roll soundtrack that would make Trainspotting jealous) as a prim & proper british girl falls in love with the local bad boy, who pulls her into a hedo/nihilistic lifestyle by convincing her do as the title instructs.

Love and Rockets by Los Bros. Hernandez.  Another hipster must-have, this long-running indie comic series features an ensemble cast and multiple concurrent stories that follow a slightly-magical village in Latin America and a group of friends growing up in California.

Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and various artists.  What if your parents turned out to be super-villains?  Would you fight them for the sake of truth and justice?  No, you’d probably do what these kids do: run away.  Vaughan does a fantastic job setting a cast of rebellious teenage characters in a world full of superheroes without resorting to cliches.  His progressive portrayal of female characters rivals that of Joss Whedon, which is why they traded titles for a few months (BKV wrote Buffy while Joss wrote Runaways.)

Sloth by Gilbert Hernandez.  One half of Los Bros Hernandez, this original graphic novel tells the story of a teen who wills himself into a year-long coma and wakes to find himself out of synch with the rest of the world.  Things only get stranger from there.

Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore.  A shining example of LGBT comics (alongside Fun Home), Moore’s landmark series  tells of a group of friends’ love quadrangle (including an unrequited lesbian crush), as well as a much darker political conspiracy happening behind the scenes.  Highly recommended for female and/or LGBT readers.

Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson.  Who is Spider Jerusalem?  Imagine Hunter S. Thompson on drugs too fantastic to even be conceived of by Big Pharma, writing Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail for the Post-Web2.0 world while raining live hand grenades down on his adoring yet thick-headed sheeplike fans.  It’s Gonzo Journalism in a Brave New World, and Spider the self-admitted horrible bastard is only one committed to getting the truth to the people.  Like the man says, “being a bastard works.”  (Personal note: this is my all-time favorite comic series. I cannot recommend it enough.)

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra.  Being the last man on earth might sound like every guy’s fantasy, but Yorick Brown just wants to find his girlfriend and get everything back to something resembling normal.  It’s too bad an entire planet full of pissed-off women won’t let that happen.  More remarkable character drama that far transcends its quasi-sci-fi setting, expect a feature film adaptation sometime in the 20teens.

CRIME/POLICE/SPY DRAMA:

100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso.  What would you do if you were given a gun with 100 bullets and proof that someone was ruining your life? That’s the question that launches this fantastic ensemble crime-drama series, currently closing in on its final issue.

2 Guns by Steven Grant and Matt Santolouco. In the tradition of the best “heist” movies Hollywood has to offer, Grant tells the story of an undercover cop and a hardened criminal who knock over a crooked bank.  Too bad nothing is as simple as it seems, and nothing goes according to plan…(reviewed here)

Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  An ensemble crime story with a shared location, similar in that respect to Miller’s Sin City, though without the noir or the ultra-violence.  Some of the best crime fiction the industry has to offer.

DMZ by Brian Wood and Ricardo Burchielli.  Another ensemble story (though sharing a common character in journalist Matthew Roth,) this time focusing on the lives of people trapped in a demilitarized New York City as the United States is faced with another Civil War.

Fell by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith.  The story of a homicide detective trying to stem the tide of lawlessness and chaos in a “feral city,” where life resembless a horrific combination of the worst elements of Detroit and Darfur.

Goldfish by Brian Michael Bendis.  A noir tale of a con-man who returns to Cleveland after 10 years to claim his son from his ex-girlfriend.  This book (along with Powers) helped put Bendis on the map, before Marvel made him a household name.

Powers by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming.  Bendis’s concept of a police department trying to protect and serve in a world populated by superheroes is nothing new (see: Alan Moore’s Top Ten) Bendis and Oeming brought a feel to the book that has been often imitated, but never duplicated.  Bendis’s move toward “decompression” in comic storytelling is evident in Powers, which does not follow the traditional comic book plot structure.  It feels more like an episode of Law & Order.

Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins.  A gangster-noir of the first order, made into a critically and commercially successful film starring Tom Hanks.

Sin City by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley.  If you’ve seen the movie, the books will seem awfully familiar.  Miller’s involvement with the film helped to ensure a nearly perfect panel-to-frame transition of his grim ‘n gritty noir action crime drama, though each story is more fully fleshed-out in the books.

The Losers by Andy Diggle and Jock.  When a group of former CIA anti-terrorism operatives are betrayed and left for dead, they decide to exact their revenge on the organization that spurned them.  Part Bourne Identity, part Ocean’s Eleven.  A feature film adaptation is currently in the works.

Whiteout by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber.  When Antarctica suffers its first murder, U.S. Marshal Carrie Setko to get to the bottom of things at the bottom of the world.  A feature film adaptation has been produced and is scheduled for release in 2009.

FANTASY:

Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman and John Bolton.  Before there was Harry Potter, there was Timothy Hunter.  Books of Magic tells the story of Timothy’s introduction to the world of magic, and the Trenchcoat Brigade’s efforts to teach him right from wrong (and hope that he chooses right.)

Cairo by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker.  A story set in contemporary Cairo that revolves around six strangers, a stolen hookah, a box containing East and the Under-Nile of legend.  Written by American journalist and Muslim convert Gwendolyn Willow Wilson.

Fables by Bill Willingham and various artists. What if the fairy tales were true, and the denizens of your favorite fables were alive and well in present-day New York City?  That’s the initial premise for Willingham’s twelve-time Eisner Award-winning series Fables, which boasts one of the richest and most developed casts of characters in comics today.  Thank goodness all those characters are in the public domain!

Hellboy by Mike Mignola. Satan’s bastard child was pulled from Hell by a magically-adept Rasputin at the end of World War II, but was raised by the American armed forces and grew up to become a government-sponsored paranormal investigator.  Mignola’s most successful comic has “spawned” two feature films, directed by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth.)

Mouse Guard by David Petersen.  A period drama about Medieval wars, with mice instead of humans.  Don’t let the premise fool you, it’s really quite dramatic and impressive.

Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists.  Before Neil Gaiman was writing bestselling novels like American Gods and Anansi Boys, he was creating some of the most fantastic fantasy comics ever put to paper.  Sandman is an epic tale spanning 75 issues (or ten paperback volumes, or four slipcased hardcovers) that follows the King of Dreams, one of the Endless beings of the universe.  After being kidnapped and imprisoned for 70 years, he sets out to exact his revenge and rebuild his kingdom.  Critics often place Sandman with Watchmen and Maus as one of the greatest comics of the modern era.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess.  A new, timeless fairy tale for contemporary audiences that launched a successful feature film adaptation in 2007.

HORROR:

30 Days of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith.  This intriguing twist on vampire stories set in Alaska (where prolonged periods of night occur annually) finally made it to movie screens in 2007.  I’ve never read the book or seen the film, but I’m told the latter does not do the former justice.

Hack/Slash by Tim Seeley.  What if the heroine from a horror flick decided to be proactive and take the fight to the monsters?  Seeley’s Hack/Slash is a more graphic, gory take on the Buffy premise, with an attitude that’s a bit more Freddy.

Tag by Keith Giffen and Andy Kuhn. “An average joe strolls down the street after a fight with his girlfriend when a random stranger TAGS him, handing off an ancient curse! He literally begins to die – and rot – seeing his body begin to decompose every day before his very eyes. Cursed, he must either surrender, or find the next victim to TAG!” I think SNL used this plot in the Belushi days, though without the rotting.  If I can find a link to the original sketch, I’ll post it.

The Exterminators by Simon Oliver and Tony Moore.  The employees of the Bug-Bee-Gone extermination company may have bitten off more than they can chew when they uncover a conspiracy involving toxic chemicals and a crazed cult who seek to wipe out humanity in favor of insects!  Rumors are that The Exterminators may soon get its own series on Showtime.

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard.  In the tradition of George A. Romero, The Walking Dead is a horror drama about a group of survivors struggling to make it through each day after zombies have risen from the grave and begun attacking the living.  Easily the most compelling entry in the zombie sub-genre, Kirkman’s work shows that you can tell a compelling zombie story without resorting to tired cliches.

and a final category, just for fun…

CHRISTMAS:

Jingle Belle by Paul Dini

The Last Christmas by Brian Posehn

Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham


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One Response

  1. Very cool. I had no idea that all these genres exist in this medium, and that many movies were based off of these comics! I’m going to print this out for future reading reference. It’s actually very surprising that I never read Ghost World, since I’ve seen the movie several times and Aimee Mann wrote a song based off the comic.

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