Much like pet reindeer, giving comic books as a gift can be surprisingly difficult. For Marvel & DC comics you’re dealing with long ongoing series mired in decades of continuity, and with other graphic novels it can be challenging to determine quality or fit for your intended gift recipient. It really isn’t enough to just know that your nephew Jonah likes comics; that’d be like purchasing a CD based on the information that he likes sounds.
Fortunately, I’ve put together a guide of top picks for comic book gifts based on your possible audience.
The English Major
This is your friend or family member that loves to read, loves fantasy or sci-fi, yet has never really been a “comic book” fan. They’ve read James Joyce’s Ulysses (twice!) and they can’t stop telling you to read the Game of Thrones books instead of just watching the TV show.
They need a comic book that proves the medium is capable of brilliant literature and fantastic story-telling.
Turns out this is the easiest category of them all:
The only graphic novel on Time’s list of 100 greatest novels. Put that in your “comics are for kids” craw for a minute.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen is astoundingly great, deconstructing the superhero genre with morally complex, deeply human characters, and a plot that attempts to answer the ultimate utilitarian hypothetical mind game.
Simply put: this is the best graphic novel of all time. There are arguments for plenty of others, but not picking Watchmen is like downgrading the Beatles because it’s too obvious. If reading Watchmen doesn’t get the English Major into comics, well, it probably wasn’t meant to be.
If Watchmen is the greatest graphic novel of all time, Sandman is quite possibly the single most impressive ongoing series. Neil Gaiman (who writes real books like American Gods even!) and a rotating cast of some of the 90’s most talented artists reimagined an old DC Comics character in one of the most elaborate mythologies ever put to paper.
The sheer sustained brilliance of Sandman over 75 issues is absolutely stunning. For the English Major in your life, expect plenty of Shakespeare references, cultural mythology, and a completely haunting 24 hours in a diner.
Stephen King has called Y: The Last Man his favorite graphic novel, and it’s not too hard to see why. Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra reduce the male population of Earth to 1 (and a monkey!) and then explore the post-plague world through Yorrick, the joking last man, and the women in his life.
The characterization in Y: The Last Man is tremendous, leading to a truly touching love story, and a highly enjoyable read.
The graphic novel so darn good high schools occasionally assign it as World War Two reading. Maus is not only a brilliant retelling of World War Two horrors, and first-hand accounts of Nazi concentration camps, but its second-half also branches into a fourth-wall breaking analysis of storytelling and what it means to share autobiography.
Don’t let the adorable animal art throw you; this is an incredibly serious book, both haunting and touching. You may feel like you have your fill of World War Two stories, but it’s not truly complete until you’ve experienced Maus.
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is filled to the brim with literary references, sexual awakening, and complex family relationships. This is a deeply personal memoir taking the challenge of looking at a life with completely open eyes, even when you don’t want to see.
This is the more experienced individual in your life who grew up on comics and still harbors a love for the medium, if not necessarily the time devoted to discovering new material. They speak wistfully of the Legion of Superheroes and Nick Fury and His Howling Commandos. They are also totally my Dad. Rekindle the nostalgia:
My Dad reminisces fondly of three comics more than anything: Rawhide Kid, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, and The Legion of Superheroes. In addition to reminding you that this means he is REALLY old, this should also give you a sense of the The Essentials to buy.
Marvel offers two types of classic collections: Essentials & Masterworks. Essentials are softcover, black-and-white collections of over 20 issues. You can see a full list of all Marvel Essentials here. Masterworks on the other hand are hardcover, color collections with around half the number of issues.
DC Comics offers archive editions, such as this Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 1.
Not a specific book, but a great gift option for a parent, or fan of older comics. The Essentials are more tangible and easier to wrap, but with Marvel Unlimited you basically get ALL of the Essentials for a lower price than any single one. Just make sure your intended gift recipient is going to be comfortable reading comics on a tablet or computer.
I’m taking a chance on love here, but Darwin Cooke’s excellent work on DC: The New Frontier rekindles 1950’s America, Cold War paranoia, and the pure essence of what made the DC Universe so All-American for such a long time. This is for the DC lifer who thinks Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was wayyyyy too dark (hi Dad!).
Marvel Color Series (Spider-Man: Blue)
In the same way that DC: The New Frontier rekindles DC glory days, the Marvel Color Series rekindles some of the best Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Hulk storylines with heart wrenching love stories. Spider-Man: Blue is likely the surest bet in terms of gift recognition, but Daredevil: Yellow is equally great.
Mark Waid’s Flash: Born to Run (year one type story)
Since the Flash is so topical, I’d recommend taking a chance on Mark Waid’s 1990’s beginnings on the character. “Born to Run” handles a beautiful respect for Silver Age Barry Allen while moving the Flash forward into the capable hands of Wally West. Few comics make you believe in heroes like this one.
The Young Gun
Finding comics for kids can actually be the hardest category of them all. True all ages comics are deceptively rare, and most of the ongoing market is geared towards a more adult (see also: collector) crowd.
Nevertheless, there is hope for the young and innocent. Given name and form, that hope is my best all ages comics for kids guide. For the sake of saving you a click, here’s another option.
Potentially controversial pick because of the Bronie element (bros who love My Little Pony… these things happen). Nonetheless, when Comixology ran its summer of comics promotion this year, the one book that stood out the most was the free 6 story collection of My Little Pony. This comic book is genuinely funny, heartwarming, and full of sincerely positive message for kids. You could do a LOT worse for your younger reader, like say, every Batman story told in the last 30 years. Plus, the series included one of my favorite comic book panels of all-time:
The Marvel Movie Lover
It’s no secret that the world of comics has a whole new audience from the immense success of the Marvel cinematic universe. There’s been an underground theory that comic book movies don’t necessarily lead to new comic book readers, but I’ve seen here on Comic Book Herald a huge increase in comic book demand around the release of new movies. Guardians of the Galaxy hits the box office and suddenly my Marvel Cosmic reading order is the best performing internet sensation since water fueled jet pack guy.
I’ve written earlier this year about the best comics for new Marvel fans in 2014.
The Dark Knight Trilogy Lover
You got them the official Dark Knight Trilogy blu-ray last year, but now you need something new for the Batman fan in your life. With no Batfleck on screen until 2016, where do you turn?
How about the greatest Batman comics of all-time?
Many a comic fan’s favorite graphic novel of all time, and part one in all-time classic Frank Miller Batman stories. The foundation for Batman Begins. A must read.
Many comic book fans’ other favorite graphic novel of all-time, and part two in all-time classic Frank Miller Batman stories. The less direct foundation for Dark Knight Rises. A must, must read.
Batman: The Long Halloween / Dark Victory
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale teamed up for 26 chapters of some of the absolute greatest Batman stories ever told. If I have to (have to) re-read any Batman story, it might be Long Halloween / Dark Victory.
Grant Morrison and Dave McKean produce the Batman graphic novel so awesomely insane I didn’t sleep for a whole night. On a school night! If your gift recipient loves the Arkham video games, this is a total no-brainer.
Recent as it is (part of the New 52), it’s just that good.
The Comic Book Guy
As you’d expect, the most difficult category is the true comic book nerd. This is your discerning fan, completely and utterly consumed by the medium. You could send him or her a list of 100 comic titles and be completely unsure there are ANY they haven’t already read. You feel about as confident picking a comic for them as they would feel picking an activity in sunlight for a group. Essentially, you’ve entered the dark point in the guide where we are shopping for me.
Now, one of the safest approaches you can take here is the comic book equivalent of a check: Amazon or Comixology gift cards. Comixology gift cards have the advantage of appearing targeted to your recipient while basically offering a wad of cash in an envelope. Just make sure if you take this route that your recipient has a tablet or reads comics digitally. Not everyone likes digital comics, and that’s ALL Comixology offers.
Alternatively, you can impress even the most Simpson-y of comic book peeps with these selections:
The single best comic book reading experience I had in 2014 was reading Bullet Proof Coffin and Bullet Proof Coffin: Disinterred trade collections on my birthday. This is high art storytelling, as David Hine and Shakey Kane manipulate the comic book medium into doing whatever twisted thing they damn well please.
If the reader is under the age of 30, there’s actually a pretty good chance they haven’t yet read one of the greatest comic book series of all-time.
Micracleman issues were long out of print, but Marvel has recently re-published the title as an ongoing series, meaning it’s now easier than ever to enjoy one of Alan Moore’s most strangely overlooked masterpieces.
Fantagraphics – Jason or Love and Rockets
Fantagraphics are just cool comics, plain and simple. It’s the equivalent of buying the music fan in your life Pavement’s Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Redux.
Copra is a self-published reimagining of DC’s Suicide Squad, written and drawn by Michele F. It is also one of my top 5 favorite comic book reads of 2014, and probably the decade. HUGE indie cred for buying a self-published book (you can’t even find this thing on Amazon!) plus it’s just a fantastic collection of comics.
As you’d expect, this is far from a comprehensive list of all the great comics you could purchase as a gift. Nonetheless, hopefully it gives you an idea of where to get started. Have a great idea of your own? Do what feels right to you in the comments below.