I am the most unoriginal gift buyer ever. Why, do you ask? I just buy people books. Go too far beyond that, and I am at a loss. For the people in my life who don’t read, I just wrap up a gas gift card and hope they don’t realize that I gave them the same thing last year. This might be a result of my day job. As a librarian, I’m constantly trying to think about what books fit people’s tastes. Once the holidays come around, it can be a little hard to turn that part of my brain off.
Which got me thinking, what would I give to comic book readers?
The result is the following list, which covers many great graphic novels for a wide variety of readers. I’ve chosen to emphasize more recent releases in hope of selecting a titles that people don’t already own, as well as a few alternatives for people who want to double down in certain categories.
So without further ado, I present you a comic book lovers gift buying guide!
To Fans of Alternate History
DC Bombshells, vol 1: Enlisted
Written by Marguerite Bennett
Artwork by Various
Based off a highly popular line of collectibles, DC Bombshells re-imagines the stories of various female DC superheroes in the context of World War II. And boy, does this one cast a wide net when it comes to its cast selection, including heavy hitters like Wonder Woman to lesser known (but no less wonderful) characters like Big Barda. I really enjoyed the new twists DC Bombshells puts on established characters. Batwoman, for example, isn’t inspired to become a superhero thanks to Batman. She’s A League of Their Own-type baseball player (get it? With a bat?). On top of that, the costume designs here are pretty stunning. Pin-up style outfits aren’t usually my piece of cake, but even I can see their appeal here. It’s worth mentioning that this comic features artwork by several different artists, and some are clearly more talented the others. Still, I cannot deny that the results are so much fun to read. A perfect selection for fans of alternate history, or pin-up style artwork.
To Your Enemies, To Whom You’d Like to Give Beautiful Nightmares
Monstress, vol 1: Awakening
Written by Marjorie Liu
Artwork by Sana Takeda
I recently talked about Monstress in my October column that spotlighted great female artists, so you know that the pictures in this one are going to be worth talking about. Featuring complex detailed backgrounds, beautifully designed characters and costuming, and cute chibi-style sidekicks, Monstress is visual smorgasbord. And the writing is really good too! Taking place in an Asian-inspired, matriarchal grimdark fantasy world, Monstress flirts with the line between gorgeous and brutal in a tale of war, oppression and conflict. It’s a comic that never pulls its punches, and features a rich and complex cast. I’ve only read the first volume of this, but already I can tell it’s something special.
Also Recommended: Veil by Greg Rucka. Art by Toni Fejzula
To Those Looking for a Good Romance (with Robots)
Alex + Ada: The Complete Collection
Written by Jonathan Luna + Sarah Vaughn
Artwork by Jonathan Luna
Ah, romance. If there was ever a genre that modern American comics struggled to get down, it would be you. This is a big part of why Alex + Ada, with its tender and bittersweet love story, is so enjoyable. After a bad breakup, Alex’s grandmother basically buys him a robot girlfriend, something that doesn’t sit right with him. After all, he wants a woman who wants to be with him because she chooses it, not because she’s programmed to do whatever he wants. Then Alex discovers that there is a way to unlock Ada’s consciousness, but will Alex and Ada be able to handle the the consequences in a world that fears sentient technology?
Recently collected in a handsome hardback called Alex + Ada: The Complete Collection, I’d highly recommend picking up this dramatically under appreciated title from Image Comics. It’s not a flashy book, but it’s crazy compelling nevertheless.
To the Superhero Fan looking for A Thought Provoking Comic
Black Panther vol 1, A Nation Under Our Feet
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artwork by Brian Stelfreeze
Black Panther has been getting a lot of really positive buzz lately, and now that I’ve picked up the first volume, I can see why. This story of leadership and uprising features wonderfully crafted dialogue, striking artwork, and more strong female characters then you can shake a stick at (quite a nice surprise for a male-led superhero comic). Wakanda is falling into civil war, and it’s up to Black Panther, its king and protector, to pull his country back together. Unfortunately, this is easier said then done. Ta-Nehisi Coates is better known for his nonfiction work, but if the first volume of Black Panther is any indication, he has found a second home in superhero comics.
Also Recommended: Spider-man: Miles Morales, vol 1 by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Sara Pichelli
To the Awkward Teenager in your life
Ms. Marvel Omnibus
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Artwork by Adrian Alphona
Kamala Khan rightfully gets a lot of praise for being a prominent Muslim American superhero during a time where real-life Muslims are too often ostracized by society. On top of that, she’s just as effective as a teenage superhero. Ms. Marvel wonderfully captures the modern American high schooler. It’s almost impossible for me to look that this nerdy, fandom obsessed teen who just wants to help out and not see shades of my younger self. I know her contemporaries feel the same. Pick up this giant sized omnibus for a beloved younger sister to read after finishing all that Stucky fanfic. You won’t regret it.
Also Recommended: The Runaways, vol 1: Pride and Joy by Brian K Vaughan. Art By Adrian Alphona
To the Brian K Vaughan fan that’s already read Saga and Paper Girls
The Private Eye
Written by Brian K Vaughan
Artwork by Marcos Martin
The Private Eye has one of the most brilliant premises I’ve encountered in comics in a long time. In the future, The Cloud bursts, sending everyone’s private information public. In order to protect themselves, people adopt secret identities — complete with masks and costumes — when out in pubic. The Private Eye takes a very real fear (the security of The Cloud), common comic book elements (secret identities) and adds a page turning sci-fi noir plot. Originally a self-published webcomic, The Private Eye has been since collected, in its entirety, in a hardcover edition and features some of the biggest panels I’ve ever seen in a graphic novel. If you like your comics edgy, twisty-turny and unabashedly adult, then try The Private Eye.
Also Recommended: Y: The Last Man Book One by Brian K Vaughan. Art by Pia Guerra
To the Marvel Netflix fan
Jessica Jones: Alias, vol 1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Artwork by Michael Gaydos
Do you know someone who is just itching for the next season of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, or Luke Cage on Netflix? Then why not just give them the source material that inspired Jessica Jones? Much like the Netflix show it inspired, Alias features the hard-drinking, foul-mouthed Jessica Jones in all of her flawed glory, as she solves cases for Alias Investigations while trying to overcome her own demons. Marvel has recently reprinted the entire run of Alias in four separate graphic novels (renaming the series Jessica Jones: Alias), which contains Brian Michael Bendis’s original story and Michael Gaydos’s amazing artwork. I just might pick up this version myself!
To Your Eight-Year-Old Niece That You Want to get Hooked on Comics
Wonder Woman at Super Hero High
Written by Lisa Yee
Okay, this is a bit of a cheat because it’s a prose novel, and not a comic book, but I find the DC Superhero Girls series to be so charming that I had to include them. Similar to how DC Bombshells re-imagines female superheroes in a World War II setting, DC Superheroes Girls re-imagines them all as teenagers attending a modern high school for superheroes. The first book focuses on Wonder Woman, the second on Supergirl, and the third will be about Batgirl. A lesser writer might take this tie-in project (also like DC Bombshells, this is mainly about selling collectibles) and produce something cheap and disposable, but it’s clear that author Yee cares deeply about these characters. Not only does she tell large superhero-esque stories, but she also weaves in concepts that as easy for real girls to relate to. Wonder Woman may be a story about a girl who can fly and fight, but it’s also about a Type-A teen, and the drawbacks of internet fame. There are also graphic novels that tie into this series, and they’re tons of fun. Still, the novels are my preferred choice thanks to the depth of character presented inside.
Also Recommended: Smile by Raina Telgemier
To the American Comic Book fan Looking to Break into Japanese Manga
Attack on Titan, Colossal Edition 1
Written and Illustrated by Hajime Isyama
This is probably the most cliché item on my list, as Attack on Titan is incredibly popular, but it’s popular for a good reason. In the future, the remains of humanity has been forced inside the walls of one city. The rest of the world is covered by titans, giant, man-eating monsters who run around naked with creepy facial expressions (in case you weren’t terrified enough). Attack on Titan focuses on a group of young heroes who join the military as a way to protect their city, but soon discover that there is more to the titans then the first suspected.
While the artwork on Attack on Titan is admittedly inconsistent, the story is addictive, filled with tons of surprises, and character drama that really gets you in the feels. Attack on Titan is also incredibly approachable to an American audience, as doesn’t depend on any previous knowledge of Japanese customs. If you’re looking for a great gift, I’d recommend going with the appropriately named Colossal Edition, which collects the first five volumes of the series.
So when you’re doing your shopping this year, if you find yourself looking for a few items to get for the comic book fan (or future comic book fan fan) in your life, please consider the items above. Every title has something really special about it, and I hope you, or your loved one, will end up enjoying them as much as I did.
Oh, and if you can manage it, buy them from your local comic book shop! I know they’ll appreciate it.