From Comics Buyer’s Guide #1685:
One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in
the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean it up too quickly.
- Andy Rooney
Every year around this time, editor Brent Frankenhoff asks CBG’s
writers to recommend comics stuff that would make terrific holiday
presents and to name gifts we ourselves would like to receive. I’m
delighted to do the former, not so keen on the latter.
I have a great life. I have a loving wife, children, family, and
friends. Although I’m far from an “A-List” writer, I get to write
stuff I enjoy and of which I can be proud. I have way more comics
and other stuff than I need, though just shy of what would land me
a star turn on Hoarders. I’m good.
However, if you really insist on giving me something, I would ask
that you make a donation to The Hero Initiative, the organization
which exists to help comics creators who need a hand in their hours
of need. In an industry known for treating its creators less than
fairly, the Hero Initiative is doing the work of angels. To learn
more about this organization, head over to:
Thanks for your generosity.
My mission goal this time around is to recommend as many different
books and comics as possible, the better to assist you in your
holiday gift purchases. However, if nothing I write about today is
quite what you’re looking for, e-mail me [firstname.lastname@example.org] with as
much specific info about your intended gift recipient as you are
willing to share with me. I’ll respond with more suggestions.
That’s me...Tony Isabella, your personal Gift Consultant.
Every month, Anthony Tollin, my friend of four decades, publishes
the pulp-magazine adventures of Doc Savage and The Shadow [Sanctum
Books; $14,94 each] in trade paperbacks that reprint two novels,
the occasional short story, and original articles on the history of
these characters and the men who wrote or drew them. Several times
a year, Tollin also publishes The Avenger and The Whisperer. All
reprinted stories appear in their original lengths, except on those
occasions when Tollin has the novels’ longer original manuscripts.
These pulp-magazine characters inspired the first comic-book super-
heroes and, indeed, some of the basic attributes that have remained
part of the super-hero genre. Even beyond the comics connection,
these books make for exciting reading and a look, warts and all, at
the 1930s and 1940s.
Until recently, the Marvel comic books of the 1950s - the Atlas Era
- had been overlooked and generally unavailable to readers without
the means to collect the rare back issues. Thankfully, Marvel has
now reprinted almost two dozen hardcover collections of astounding
comic books from that era, including war comics, jungle adventures,
medieval thrillers, horror and suspense, and even some of the rare
super-hero comics of that decade.
Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Venus Vol. 1 [$59.99] is one of the
more recent additions to this list and it turns out to be a series
that defies easy inclusion in any one genre. It’s a romance comic,
it’s a humor comic, it’s a fantasy comic with mythological heroes
and villains, it’s a horror comic, it’s...simply amazing. I would
recommend any and all of the Atlas Era volumes - the Battlefield,
Black Knight/Yellow Claw, and Menace books are especially spiffy -
but Venus is so weird and wondrous I think it’d be my first choice
for a holiday gift.
Does your intended gift recipient have a favorite artist? For many
years now, TwoMorrows, the publisher of Alter Ego, Back Issue, and
The Jack Kirby Collector, has also been publishing Modern Masters,
a series of trade paperbacks spotlighting some of the best artists
of our time. Each book in the series features interviews with its
subject, their career information, and dozens of examples of their
art. The most recent volumes focused on Bone creator Jeff Smith
[$15.95] and British artist Frazier Irving [$15.95]; other subjects
include Alan Davis, George Perez, Bruce Timm, John Byrne, Walter
Simonson, Jerry Ordway, Kyle Baker, and Ron Garney, just to name a
few. And while you’re considering these TwoMorrows books, I’ll add
that subscriptions to the magazines named above would also be fine
gifts for the comics lover in your life.
Novels set in my hometown of Cleveland, especially mystery novels
set in Cleveland, are a passion of mind. It’s why I borrowed Casey
Daniels’ Don of the Dead [Avon; $6.99] via my local library system.
Pepper Martin, the book’s protagonist, is a former socialite whose
father’s shady dealings landed him in prison and her without any of
the family money. She works as a tour guide at Cleveland’s Garden
View Cemetery (not its real name), resting place of the famous and
not-so-famous. Following a painful encounter between her head and
a tombstones, she can see and communicate with those buried there
who, for one reason or another, have been unable to move on to the
hereafter. All these restless spirits have mysteries needing to be
solved and gorgeous Pepper is their plucky detective. There have
been six additional books in the series: The Chick and the Dead,
Tombs of Endearment, Night of the Loving Dead, Dead Man Talking,
Tomb With a View, and A Hard Day’s Fright. I’ve enjoyed them all
and, as long as Daniels keeps writing them, I’ll keep reading them.
Any or all of these books would make a great stocking stuffer for
the mystery buff in your life.
My non-comics reading is generally either detective fiction or non-
fiction. In the former category, among my favorites are the Nathan
Heller novels by Max Allan Collins, who might be best known as the
author of Road to Perdition and, among comics fans, as the creator
(with artist Terry Beatty) of Ms. Tree. Heller’s a Chicago private
detective who crosses paths with famous cases and people in the
1930s through the 1960s. Collins is a stickler for the facts of
these cases, but he also brings his own interpretation to them,
making for an exciting intriguing mix of true crime and could-this-
be-what-really-happened fiction. At the moment, two Heller books
are sitting on my reading pile and taunting me.
Bye Bye, Baby [Forge; $24.99] finds Heller investigating the death
of Marilyn Monroe. Chicago Lightning [Thomas and Mercer; $14.95]
collects all the Heller short stories to date. I think I need to
disappear for a few days so I can read them. I recommend both (and
the previous Heller books) for the hard-boiled reader on your gift
list. He or she will thank you for them.
If you’re looking for something different in detective fiction for
gift-giving, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more uncommon
than John Burdett’s novels of Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai
Jitpleecheep: Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts, and The
Godfather of Kathmandu [Vintage Books; $14.95]. Sonchai is a devout
Buddhist in a country where police corruption is a given. His boss
in the police department is also one of the country’s biggest drug
lords, to name but one of his extracurricular enterprises. His mom
is a former prostitute who now owns one of the city’s top brothels
with his police boss. His partner is a pre-operative transsexual.
And, in the latest novel, having been informed that he is now his
boss’s consigliere, Sonchai must broker a deal with his boss’ arch-
enemy while solving the murder of an American film director. It’s
not your typical detective novel, but it’s intriguing from start to
finish...and I haven’t even mentioned some of the truly weird parts
of the book. It’d make a great gift for the detective fiction fan
willing to venture beyond the norm.
Want a gift with an European flair? I’d recommend any of the four
Little Nothings books by French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim. Each
volume has over 100 single-page comics taken from Trondheim’s life.
The most recent book is Little Nothings: My Shadow in the Distance
[NBM; $14.95]. Your happy recipient can read a few at a time or a
whole bunch of them.
Takashi Murakima’s Stargazing Dog [$11.95] is NBM’s first graphic
novel from Japan, where the book is a major bestseller. Putting it
simply in an attempt not to spoil any of the wonderfulness awaiting
readers of this book, this is the story of a man and his dog. If
it’s not at least nominated in all the major comics awards, there’s
something wrong with those awards. It is a magnificient work that
deserves those awards and more. Buy multiple copies for gifts and
to make sure you get one for yourself.
Archie digests make way cool stocking stuffers. The title I’m most
fond of is World of Archie Double Digest [$3.99}. The latest issue
leads with the all-new “Love Me Baby, Mumba!” by writer Tania Del
Rio with art by Bill Galvan (pencils) and Bob Smith (inks). This
one takes Archie and the Riverdale High gang to Bollywood to help
classmate Raj makes a movie. Most issues also include a reprint of
a book-length She’s Josie story by Frank Doyle, my favorite Archie
writer, and Dan DeCarlo (my favorite Archie artist). Reprints from
Archie’s Madhouse also appear frequently. If you’re not into the
stuffing of stockings, subscriptions to World of Archie Double
Digest come in two quantities: five issues for $16.50, ten for
Magazine subscriptions are good gifts year around. I assume you’ve
already ordered Comics Buyer’s Guide for all your loved ones, but
my other suggestions would be Life With Archie and, surprisingly,
MAD. I subscribe to both.
Life With Archie [$3.99] is one of the best and most suspenseful
comics in the industry. Written by Paul Kupperberg with art by a
variety of top artists, it features two alternate futures for the
Archie characters, one in which Archie has married Veronica and a
second in which he married Betty. You can order a 10-issue sub for
$19.95 or a 20-issue one for $36.
MAD has gone through some rough times, but it’s really getting back
on track these days. Not every joke hits the mark, but it’s much
funnier than it has been in years. The $5.99 cover price is high,
but a six-issue subscription is $19.99 cheap.
Manga offers more variety than do American comics, but the material
and its right-to-left reading doesn’t appeal to everyone. But, if
someone on your gift list is open to manga, I have recommendations
If your IGR (Intended Gift Recipient) watches TV’s House, he or she
might enjoy Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka [Vertical; $16.95]. Black
Jack is a brilliant but unlicenced surgeon with a mysterious past
and a rep for refusing to patients who can’t afford his enormous
fees. But there’s much more to the doctor than that, as if often
seen in each volume’s thirteen done-in-one tales, stories which
often cross into science fiction and horror. Tezuka is known as
the “god of manga” and his numerous creations include Astro Boy,
Princess Knight, Kimba the White Lion, and various adult works.
Vertical has published 16 Black Jack volumes, with a 17th due in
With stories by Tsugumi Ohba and art by Takeshi Obata, Bakuman [Viz
Media; $9.95] is the ongoing story of two young men determined to
become manga superstars. Though I can’t speak to the accuracy of
the manga industry depicted in these books, I am fascinated by this
window into that industry and, like me, your IGR will find it easy
to root for the book’s heroes and for the other manga creators and
editors they meet on their quest. There have been seven volumes to
date with the eighth due in December.
A final gift suggestion, this one for the aspiring comics artist or
seasoned professional on your shopping list. Colossal Collection of
Action Poses by Buddy Scalera [Impact; $29.99] is a massive volume
presenting 1,200 facial and body poses. The male and female models
come from a variety of ages and ethnicities. Also included in the
book are step-by-step demonstrations showing how artists like Thom
Zahler, Terry Moore, Amanda Conner, Billy Tucci, and a dozen others
use these photo references in their work. It may be one of those
dreaded “useful” gifts, but it’s way more fun than a package of
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2011 Tony Isabella