It being just a couple of days after Independence Day and (by strange coincidence) the bulk of my friends birthdays, I’m sharing my gift list of independent comic books (as well as the weird types of people I matched up to those books.) People with a vague interest in comic books often come to me asking for recommendations so maybe this list will be useful to you in your future gift giving.
For the socially aware, horror movie fan:
Girls: The Complete Collection Deluxe Hardcover (by Joshua Luna, Jonathan Luna)
I have a friend who likes pretty girls, making fun of Americans (despite being one) and horror movies. Voila! The perfect gift. This massive tome from the Luna Brothers is a wonderfully creepy story which gradually unfolds over the progress of the book. This is a marvelous mixture of the movies Deliverance, complete with small-minded, small-town stereotypes, and The Stepford Wives, with massively uncomfortable sexual power plays and fears. The Luna Brothers’ characteristically ascetic art is complimented by their almost coldly detached ability to expose and examine the most reprehensible aspects of human behavior.
For the artist with a lyrical bent:
The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb (by Robert Crumb)
I’ve actually gifted this twice, once to a photographer friend with a big heart and once to a big fan of Robert Crumb, each time it was met with much approval. While Crumb might be well known for his disturbing and confrontational work, it is this sketch book of delightful and touching observations that really does capture (as the title says) his sweeter side. Obviously drawings from his life, on trains, in cafes, at home, this is the life that swirls around Crumb and he draws every detail beautifully.
For the spiritualist with a sense of humor:
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (by Elji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki)
Let’s not delve too deeply into this gift choice, but if you have a friend who is completely convinced that they speak to dead people but is not in the least morbid, this is the perfect gift. Personally, with no great affinity to the dead, I still love this book, the story, the look, the feel, the design, it all just works together. I find that the heavier the subject matter, the less gravitas I want to approach it with. Here you have a team of monks-in-training who’re making ends meet by running a service for the recently dead, delivering them to their final resting (or non-resting) place. The characters are endearing and funny, the stories have an edge of horror to them, but you feel safe in the environs of the books.
For the frustrated superhero fan:
Irredeemable (by Mark Waid and Peter Krause)
Got this as a birthday gift for a one-time comic book reader who thought that he might have outgrown the superhero comic books he used to love so much, and renewed his faith in the genre. The restrictions that a massive publisher like DC put on to protecting a massive character like Superman are slightly ridiculous and it is inevitable that those limitations can lead to a kind of stagnation. When Mark Waid stopped writing Superman, he wrote Irredeemable for Boom Publishing, and in the process created the most intense Superman story that isn’t about Superman. An orphaned alien superhero, more powerful than any human, furious with his detractors and driven mad with the guilt of his own failure, goes on an insane rampage. It is up to his former teammates and friends to find out why and try to stop him.
For the politically inclined crime enthusiast:
Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 (by Greg Rucka, Steve Rolston, Brian Hurtt and Leandro Fernandez)
The nice thing about this is that it is absolutely and completely a crime story, but it has a wider political view, while still retaining all of the key aspects of human intimacy that make it so engaging. I have to admit that the array of different artists can be jarring, since there is a different one on each individual storyline. However, the fact that the same artist stays on for one story line at least makes it readable. I’m a big fan of Steve Rolston, so obviously I like volume 1 the best, for me that encapsulates the mundane, grinding, basic nature of the police work these people have to do. It isn’t elegant or sexy, it is human and solid.
For urbane city dwellers in love with the grime:
Fell Vol: 1 Feral City (by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith)
Gritty doesn’t even come close to describing this one, it’s so gritty that it’s basically a bag of stones, sharp pointy ones at that. This was a good gift for a couple of friends who moved to New York for a while and fell madly in love with what is (in my view) a quintessential city. I felt like Fell was a good echo of that mood, with all of the noir horror and dingy menace that makes wandering around Brooklyn so fun in the early hours of the morning. Detective Richard Fell is transferred to the doomed nastiness of Snowtown. His investigations do not reveal merriment.
For someone new to the world of employment:
DMZ Vol 1: On the Ground (by Brian Wood and Richard Burchielli)
It may sound harsh, but a book like this, (about a young guy wanting a job, getting a job, hating that job, then loving that job), is kind of perfect for anyone who hasn’t really worked before. Obviously I’m not saying that all jobs are like reporting from a warzone, but for people new to the world of work, it is initially surprisingly hard to get used to and this is a nice metaphor. This comic book hits the ground running, with the focus on an inexperienced journalist who craves action, then gets it. Like Captain Willard said “Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I’d never want another.” This book follows our hero Matty through getting abandoned in the apocalyptic wasteland that is New York. As the story unfolds, we watch as he decides whether he really wants to be where the action is, or if he can even handle it.
For the conscientious food lover:
Chew Omnivore Edition Vol 1 (by John Layman and Rob Guillory)
If you know anyone who eats, this is a good gift. If they have any kind of social conscience about where their food comes from (as my recipient of this gift does), then this is doubly apt. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like Chew, so that’s a huge selling point. If the story wasn’t funny and the drawing wasn’t marvelous, you’d still have this great concept to work with. Detective Tony Chu gets a psychic impression from everything he eats, making him able to taste where it came from, how it got there and what happened in the interim. This means he has to eat a lot of disgusting things. On top of this, chicken is illegal (you know, because of bird flu. It could happen.) Thus poor Chu must spend a great deal of his time investigating weird chicken-related crimes.
These are just a smattering of independent comic books that I’ve bought as gifts for people, I wish I had time to list them all, they’re so diverse. People can forget that the world of independent comic books is so broad. Last week a man told me that he likes “independent comic books” and could I recommend something, anything… I pulled Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings, Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp’s No Hero, and Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell and said “These are all independently published comics, so I’m going to need a little more to go on. What kind of movies/books/tv do you like?” He was taken aback by the range, and slowly began to tell me more about what he liked.
Whatever your sphere of interest, (not just in comic books), there is an independent comic book which caters to it, you just need to find the right book. For those of us who read independent comic books, it is our responsibility to help each other discover that perfect comic book fit.