O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
So the holidays are upon us and you’ve decided that in these tough economic times you want to support the industry by giving everyone on your list comics*. And not only that, but you want to take it one step further and only give female positive comics…well, in that super specific case you’ve found the right list…
1. For your dad who always thought you’d grow out of this ‘silly comics thing’: The new highly acclaimed and masterful Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli might help Dad see comics as more than just ‘books for kids’.
What it’s about: With elegantly pared down writing and the images doing most of the heavy (beautiful) lifting Asterios Polyp follows the life and mid-life crisis of sorts of brilliant architectural professor and intellectual Asterios Polyp as he decides to completely uproot his life in order to try something utterly different. His resulting travels are peppered with enthralling characters and epiphanies about life. It’s a book for anyone that has ever contemplated their life and wondered if they missed something else that was perhaps waiting for them.
Why it’s female positive: Asterios’ primary character may be a man going through a crisis but Asterios’ female characters – especially Hana and Ursula – are well done and fascinating in their own right – not to mention visually stunning.
Asterios Polyp. David Mazzucchelli (writer/artist). Pantheon $29.99 (hardcover).
2. For your mom who always thought your love of comics was “cute”: You’ll show mom cute, and you’ll show her with zombies! Just kidding – instead try Andi Watson’s Breakfast After Noon.
What it’s about: Watson’s novel is a gentle but honest little tale in which two struggling young adults try to come to terms with losing their jobs months before their wedding.
Why it’s female positive: While the narrative is told primarily from Rob’s perspective, he’s also the screw up of the story, while Louise shows tremendous strength in trying to move forward with her life in a positive way despite their set backs – a thing I guarantee every woman can at least occasionally relate to. The book is realistic and yet hopeful.
This edition collects issues #1-6 of the original comic Breakfast After Noon. Includes a few pages of early character designs, sketches, rough page layouts, and a handy glossary for some of the British-isms.
Breakfast After Noon. Andi Watson (writer/artist). Oni Press $19.95 (softcover).
3. For your bratty little brother that likes nothing but zombies, and still thinks girls are lame: There’s no better way to change his mind than to send Michonne from The Walking Dead to straighten him out. If you’re feeling extra extra generous, go for the omnibuses, which are extraordinarily beautiful, oversized, and full of extras, though pricey.
What it’s about: The Walking Dead is the story of a band of survivors after a zombie apocalypse takes over the earth, however the story is more brilliantly conceived human drama than OMG ZOMBIES! But you still get the zombie horror fun and consistent stunning artwork in that emotionally charged package.
Why it’s female positive: You could say it in one word: Michonne. But the reality is that The Walking Dead is rife with great female characters. From vulnerable Carol and sharpshooter Andrea to mother of steel Lori and newly in love Maggie, all different kinds of women are well represented in Kirkman’s apocalypse.
The Walking Dead Omnibus 1 (collects issues 1 – 24). Robert Kirkman (writer). Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard (artists). Image Comics $Prices Vary (hardcover special edition).
The Walking Dead Omnibus 2 (collects issues 25 – 48). Robert Kirkman (writer). Charlie Adlard (artist). Image Comics $100.00 (hardcover special edition).
Alternatively, for the more budget minded: The Walking Dead Book One (collects issues #1-12). Robert Kirkman (writer). Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard (artists). Image $29.99 (hardcover)
4. For your little sister that thinks comics have nothing to offer her: Ross Campbell’s Water Baby from the now defunct DC line, Minx. Minx had a handful of good books (more on that later) but for my money Campbell’s Water Baby is by far the coolest.
What it’s about: A tale of a rough and tumble surfer girl named Brody that loses her leg early on in a shark attack, and then embarks on a bizarre road trip with best friend Louisa and lay about ex-boyfriend Jake, Campbell’s youthful tale is full of energy and angst.
Why it’s female positive: Campbell’s leading ladies are smart and tough and human and flawed and come in a refreshing variety of shapes and sizes for comics that I think teen girls probably appreciate (I know I do).
This book also includes short excerpts from Burnout, The New York Four, and Janes In Love, all from Minx, as well as a few pages in the back I guess to draw your own comic. Which, is kinda fun.
Water Baby. Ross Campbell (writer/artist). Minx/DC $9.99 (softcover).
But if you’re going to get your brother an omnibus though, you’re going to need another book for your sister in which case I suggest Daniel Clowes always exceptional Ghost World. This tale of smart alternative teens just never gets old, and though Clowes take is equally as youthful as Campbell’s they hit completely different notes.
What it’s about: Ghost World follows Enid and Becky, best friends trying to hold onto their friendship as they graduate high school and contemplate their futures. Despite their best efforts they slowly grow up and away from each other creating a bittersweet story that remains timeless and infinitely relatable.
Why it’s female positive: Enid and Becky are both incredibly savvy teens that I think women can both relate and aspire to.
This edition collects the entire Ghost World story, originally published in excerpts in issues of Eightball.
Ghost World. Daniel Clowes (writer/artist). Fantagraphics Books $9.95 (softcover).
5. For that annoying uncle of yours that is sure he has the perfect new joke to tell you this year – a joke that will crack you up – but it’s always the same joke – and it wasn’t funny the first time: Let him relive his youth in a whole new way with Fables: Legends In Exiles.
What it’s about: Fables is a masterful series that explores all our favorite old fairy tale characters in revolutionary new ways. The first arc follows Snow White as deputy mayor of Fabletown joining forces with Sherriff Bigby Wolf as they attempt to unravel the possible murder of Snow’s sister Rose Red.
Why it’s female positive: This modern update on old classics will delight most anyone with its inventive take on now clichéd characters. And since they’re fairy tales, there are plenty of great female characters that get explored well beyond ‘happily ever after’.
This edition collects issues #1 – 5 of the original series.
Fables: Legends In Exile. Bill Willingham (writer). Lan Medina (artist). Vertigo $9.95 (softcover).
6. For your aunt that is all too serious and only has an interest in “relevant” things, preferably those that are non-fiction or historically accurate: She might enjoy Marjane Satrapi’s important and entertaining autobiographical story of her life as a child during the Islamic revolution, Persepolis.
What it’s about: Persepolis follows Satrapi’s experiences and that of her family’s during the Islamic revolution, and her own personal rebellion like any girl growing up. In many ways a brutal and heartbreaking story, Persepolis never loses sight of its sense of humor and the honesty that comes with the rebellion of youth, perhaps all the more important for the surrounding circumstances. The art is bold and graphic, and highly stylized, which works to its advantage, helping to keep the story from falling into cliché melodrama.
Why it’s female positive: Told entirely from Satrapi’s perspective, the book is female focused and inclusionary in a way few comics are these days. Double bonus points since it’s both written and drawn by a woman.
Persepolis: The Story Of A Childhood. Marjane Satrapi (writer/artist). Pantheon $18.95 (hardcover).
7. For your sister-in-law that loves only short story collections: Give her the chance to explore short fiction of a whole other variety in graphic short stories like Derek Kirk Kim’s Same Difference And Other Stories.
What it’s about: The title tale in Kim’s book follows Simon and Nancy, two young adults on a not so adult journey of practical jokes and inadvertent self-discovery. It’s the best kind of short story (although clocking in at about 80 pages it’s actually not that short), fiction or otherwise, in which the characters are supremely human and flawed but evolve ever so wonderfully as you read. Kim’s cartooning is expressive and incredibly easy on the eyes and his ear for dialogue is spot on. The other stories included are less important, but still highly enjoyable.
Why it’s female positive: While Nancy is not technically the title character of the piece she’s still a great character that I like to think is a little bit like everyone’s best friend – part savior and part trouble maker. Same Difference also has a fairly unusual and interesting semi-romantic lead in the character of Irene.
Same Difference And Other Stories. Derek Kirk Kim (writer/artist). Top Shelf $12.95 (softcover).
8. For your brother-in-law that loves the hell out of detective story and nothing else: Show him how wonderfully detective stories and superheroes can mix in Brian Michael Bendis’ Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl. Powers was one of those revolutionary books that kind of redefined comics and most impressively to me, it not only stands up to re-reads all these years later, but Bendis and Oeming are still working in this world and creating new stories. It also marks the beginning of Oeming working in the ‘Powers’ style – a highly stylized look to his characters and world that fits perfectly with Bendis’ detective noir shtick.
What it’s about: Detective Christian Walker and new partner Deena Pilgrim are out to solve the dramatic murder of Retro Girl, one of the city’s preeminent superheroes. Walker has a mysterious past and Pilgrim is a bit of a spitfire, and together they make a great team as they try to uncover what force could possibly kill a superhero. The ending is surprisingly satisfying, and like any good detective yarn leaves you with at least as many new questions as answers.
Why it’s female positive: Two words. Deena Pilgrim. She’s a great character and a hell of a detective.
In addition to collecting issues #1 – 6 of Powers this edition is full of extras including characters designs, a sketchbook gallery, a cover gallery, notes, original news strips, and the full original script to issue number one.
Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl. Brian Michael Bendis (writer). Michael Avon Oeming (artist). Image $21.95 (softcover).
9. For your ex-girlfriend that hurt you real bad, but you still kinda have a thing for: Adrian Tomine’s story of love and loss and screwing up relationships in Shortcomings is a home run for me, even before you get to the “every panel is absolutely perfect” aspect of Tomine’s art.
What it’s about: In Shortcomings Ben and Miko’s relationship begins to fall apart for all kinds of reasons, including Ben’s seeming fascination with white women, while Ben’s best friend Alice deals with her difficulty at school and her parents’ inability to accept her lifestyle. Ben and Miko’s disintegrating relationship is infinitely fascinating because a well told relationship break up story feels like being a fly on the wall of something intimate and important, but Alice remains my favorite character of the book. She brings a very necessary comedic relief to an otherwise gloomy tale about the final dregs of a relationship long past its expiration date.
Why I consider it female positive: Alice is a character both honest and unapologetic, she’s happy and truthful in her life and her choices, except when it comes to her family, a way I think far too many people feel. To me this makes her human and oh so relatable.
This story was originally serialized in issues #9 -11 of Optic Nerve.
Shortcomings. Adrian Tomine (writer/artist). Drawn & Quarterly $19.95 (hardcover edition)
10. For your current girlfriend who seems curious but a bit trepidatious about comics: Hook her on Brian K. Vaughan’s epic Y The Last Man and you’re golden. After she devours all 60 issues though, she may come looking for more – be prepared with something else awesome (I’d recommend Greg Rucka’s brilliant Whiteout).
What it’s about: Vaughan’s Y is the wonderfully explored tale of an apocalyptic world in which all the male species on earth have been wiped out save one man (Yorick) and his pet Monkey (Ampersand). Y follows Yorick and a handful of other characters, most notably special agent 355, as they try to discover the cause and find a way to save the world.
Why it’s female positive: Y is wonderful when it comes to well written, fleshed out female characters, particularly since the book is obviously chock full of women given the storyline, but Vaughan never takes the easy way out and manages to create some of the most lasting female characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. 355 is a lifelong personal favorite. Pia Guerra’s wonderful art never hurts either. It’s an amazing work, and a book that I believe really transcends “mere comics”…making it a great gateway drug for anyone you’re trying to hook on comics. Bonus points since Y is illustrated by a woman.
This edition collects issues #1 – 10 of the series and includes sketches and character designs by Pia Guerra.
Y The Last Man Book One. Brian K. Vaughan (writer) Pia Guerra (artist). Vertigo. $29.99 (Deluxe Hardcover Edition).
11. For your boyfriend that doesn’t get why you would bother with this ‘silly comics thing’ because he outgrew it YEARS ago: Show him a whole other side to comics with Brian Wood’s Local. Essentially a black and white collection of short stories that all tie together nicely through main character Megan.
What it’s about: Local is a series of twelve short stories linked by one girl on a search for self. As Megan travels the country she encounters all kinds of people and all kinds of things within herself that feel more powerful and interconnected than just a handful of short stories. With a great Run Lola Run-ish opening issue, Local will draw you right in – it’s an interesting and unique work, that proves surprisingly effective.
Why it’s female positive: With a strong female lead and a handful of interesting female supporting characters it’s a solid entry into the cast of books with good female characters in comics.
This hardcover edition includes issues #1 – 12 of Local plus a sketch gallery, a covers and pin up gallery, and detailed issue by issue essays by both Wood and Kelly.
Local. Brian Wood (writer). Ryan Kelly (artist). Oni Press $29.99 (hardcover).
12. For your friend that insists on reading only superhero comics: It’s still a superhero book, but Top 10 really takes superheroes and their world to the next level. In the hands of Alan Moore the characters in Top 10 are wildly original and really push past your average superhero stuff.
What it’s about: Top 10 follows a handful of characters all working law enforcement in Precinct 10, made up entirely of citizens with powers of some kind or another. As you can imagine, chaos ensues, and every panel is a smorgasbord of visual delights.
Why it’s female positive: Top 10 is filled with awesome female characters in all shapes and sizes from rookie Robyn Slinger to veterans like Irma and Girl One.
Book 1 collects issues #1 – 7 and includes a great sketch gallery and Book 2 collects the final issues #8 – 12.
Top 10 Book 1. Alan Moore (writer). Gene Ha and Zander Cannon (artists). America’s Best Comics $14.95 (softcover).
Top 10 Book 2. Alan Moore (writer). Gene Ha and Zander Cannon (artists). America’s Best Comics $14.95 (softcover).
13. For you friend that reads superheroes but seems ready to branch out: Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias is a great gateway comic between superheroes and ‘all the rest’. It’s still got all the great superhero stuff under the surface, but it’s much more a detective story, and a wonderful character piece.
What it’s about: Alias follows Jessica Jones, ex-superhero Jewel and current private investigator, as she solves cases and crashes into superheroes (both figuratively and literally) throughout New York. Jessica’s arc is real and engaging, and full of surprises, both delightful and horrifying.
Why it’s female positive: Jessica Jones is a great character. She’s honest and layered and endlessly flawed, which makes her evolution as a character a sight to behold.
This edition collects Alias #1 – 15 and includes a Gaydos sketch gallery and some David Mack work done for “Rebecca’s Sketchbook”.
Alias: Ultimate Collection Book 1. Brian Michael Bendis (writer). Michael Gaydos (artist). MAX/Marvel $34.99 (softcover).
14. For your pretentious (but in all the right ways) friend that needs convincing that comics are a valid medium for people beyond twelve-year-old boys: Try Gabrielle Bell’s Lucky, a beautiful hardback edition collecting Bell’s Lucky series.
What it’s about: Lucky is in essence a simple journal comic that is alternately hilarious and insightful about Bell’s struggles as a lowly cartoonist. The art is fairly basic – simple line drawings, but it’s surprisingly effective. There are a lot of journal comics out there and sometimes they feel narcissistic and unimportant, but I think Lucky is one of the best and transcends the usual journal comic missteps. It’s unflinchingly honest for an autobiographical work, and yet Bell still manages to keep things light, like in detailing her comical never ending search for a New York apartment that isn’t a nightmare in one way or another.
Why it’s female positive: Lucky is female positive in that way that a lot of the books are on this list, in that it just realistically portrays the world. The women characters are as integral to the story as the men, the women characters are equally as featured as the men…and it all happens organically, because in general that’s how the world is. It’s men and women…living together, working together, laughing, fighting, loving…all of it. So it’s female positive just by reflecting the reality of our world. Double bonus points since Lucky is written and drawn by a woman.
The hardback edition recommended here also includes a few extra stories, including the quite frankly awesome “The Hole”.
Lucky. Gabrielle Bell (writer/artist). Drawn & Quarterly $19.95 (hardback).
15. For the politically motivated know-it-all in your life that thinks that they, well, know it all: Surprise them with the massive, complicated, and endlessly fascinating The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel.
What it’s about: The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For collects the…well, essential strips from Bechdel’s long running comic strip in this one fantastic volume so that you can read about these characters from the beginning as their real time lives unfold before you. One of the best things about reading Bechdel’s strip in this way is watching the evolution of her talent as an artist, combined with the evolution of politics and the world. It’s really a one of a kind look at the world told through fascinating images and with Bechdel’s ever changing but also somehow constant voice.
Why it’s female positive: Dykes To Watch Out For is a strip primarily about lesbians and shows these women in all the many incantations that real world women embody. Bechdel’s characters are real and fleshed out and so beyond the clichés that we often see that it’s almost staggering to read in its frankness. Double bonus points since Dykes To Watch Out For is both written and drawn by a woman.
This edition includes a wonderful fully illustrated introduction by Bechdel, which was almost worth the cover price alone.
The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For. Alison Bechdel (writer/artist). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt $25.00 (hardback).
And what would I like dear readers? Well, thanks for asking…I’ve had my eye on the Astonishing X-Men Omnibus by Joss Whedon and John Cassady.
Overpriced? Perhaps, but it was Whedon’s X-Men story that got me back into superhero comics after a long hiatus, so I feel I owe him…and also? It’s pretty awesome.
If you’re already going to support comics in your holiday gift giving this year, why not take it one step further and give your local comic book shop your support as well and try shopping locally when possible. Don’t know your local shops? Check out The Comic Shop Locator.
Happy shopping everyone!
*ps – for any of my family that may be reading – don’t worry you’re not ALL getting comics and “No, my people descriptions are not based on you”.
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