The other night on the news, they had a report about the annual citywide toy drive organized by local TV and radio sister stations. These fine people collect Christmas presents for some 300,000 children and their families throughout the Greater Toronto Area. It was reported that so far this year, they're short of their quotas for toys for toddlers and teenagers. They asked for more soft toys, sporting goods, and books.
A day or two after seeing this report, I received an e-mail from my dear friend Christine Norrie ("Cheat," "Hopeless Savages," "Spy Kids") telling me about a charitable organization that she and her husband (Marvel staffer) Andy Lis help out with every year:
"[We've] got more comics than we ever know what to do with! This year, we're culling through our massive collection in order to make a major donation to a great place, Safe Horizon - an organization that runs shelters and programs to protect children from violence and sexual assault… Safe Horizon holds an annual Christmas party [for the kids] with food, music, arts activities, Christmas stories, and Santa arriving at the end to gives away presents. This will be our third year attending (I volunteer as a face-painter) and the first year we'll be contributing to Santa's workshop with our collection of comics… So, it'll be great to have the opportunity to give away comics - art and stories they can take and read for themselves. I think they'll enjoy the form, the characters, and I hope they see they have the power to overcome their own painful struggles and, in a way, be heroes too…"
Reading this e-mail and seeing that news report made me think: When I worked as a teacher, and even before that, when I was in college I used to love helping out with the annual toy drives. These days I haven't done much beyond picking up a couple of extra action figures or plushies for a charity such as Toys for Tots when I do my Christmas shopping for the nephews and nieces and younger cousins. Then I thought about how, a few years ago, taking a cue from my dentist who gives out comic books instead of lollipops to his young patients after each visit, I started handing out comics to trick or treaters at Halloween. That news report asked for more soft toys, sporting goods, and books. Books. So what about comic books? Why I didn't think of donating comics to these Christmas toy drives before now… I don't know.
I made a call: "Would you accept donations of comic books?" The answer I got was a very enthusiastic "Of course!" Of course. Comic books for kids. Comic books for Christmas. I immediately started putting together sets of some of the all-ages comics I've written ("Alison Dare," "Jason & the Argobots"). I then excitedly called up some comic creator friends and e-mailed others asking them to consider doing the same with the books they've published. Then I thought, why stop there? I contacted other friends and suggested that they pick up some comics instead of the usual stuff for their local toy drives this year.
Some of these friends are what you might call "lapsed fanboys" so although behind the idea, they needed some ideas for what titles to pick up, what comics out there these days were appropriate for kids, and what would they actually enjoy reading. "Do kids even read comics any more?" asked one person. To which I replied, "Sure, some kids, but that's the point of all this: to try and get even more of them reading comics."
Oh, and to spread some holiday cheer by helping out with some worthwhile causes. Two worthwhile causes, really. You following me, dear reader?
Although I was able to offer up some suggestions to my friends, I knew that as soon as I hung up the phone or hit "send" I would remember a title that I failed to mention. Actually, I also figured I was forgetting a lot of really cool kid-friendly comics that would make great gifts for kids. So, before turning all of this into a column I made some more calls and sent out some more electronic messages. Hey, even Santa has all those elves helping him out.
Here are some of the replies that I got. Take notes, friends. Lots of great suggestions here for anyone looking for age-appropriate comics for a loved one or if you're feeling generous during this time of giving and would like to help spread Christmas cheer by spreading the love of comics and making some donations…
"Caroling" Katie Moody, assistant editor at Dark Horse, had these great suggestions:
My recommendations depend on the age of the recipient, and what they like... the "Lone Wolf and Cub" books are the perfect size for stuffing stockings - small dimensions, but 320 pages long -and would be good for any manga or kung-fu fan aged 12 and up. It's a famous title, and has been praised by Frank Miller, "Entertainment Weekly," and "The Onion," which makes it a safe bet. Plus, it's collected in multiple volumes, so if the recipient becomes a big fan, there are plenty more books where the first came from.
"Hellboy" is one of our best titles, and hits the big screen on April 2nd... so gift-givers can nab the comics while they're still on the shelves!
"Usagi Yojimbo" and "Castle Waiting" are fantastic for all ages, and a librarian friend of mine says that the "Castle Waiting" series is always checked out and on hold. [JT: How could I forget these two gems?!]
Hot books are "The Goon" and "Fray," and both have been praised in "Entertainment Weekly." The first is bizarre, morbid, and funny as hell. "Fray" is action-packed, has a strong female title character, and was written by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon. (Of course, we have Buffy books, too.)
Finally, if the giver has no idea what the recipient likes, "Star Wars" and "Shrek" are good crowd-pleasers.
Brandon "Holly-Jolly" Hanvey, CBR moderator and creator of "The Little Things" adds:
"Clan Apis" and "Sandwalk Adventures" by Jay Holster are books that combine comics and science. They would be the perfect gift for a parent who wants to give something to their child that is fun and educational. "Clan Apis" is about the life cycle of bees while "Sandwalk Adventures" is about Charles Darwin and the discussions he has with a follicle mite that lives in his eyebrow. [JT: What the--?! That sounds awesome - I need to read this one myself!] The art style in both books is a mix of realistic and cartoony. Each story has been collected in trade paperback format.
"Bone" by Jeff Smith is a mix of fantasy, humor, and cartoons. Any child who enjoys the "Lord of the Rings" books or films would most likely enjoy this epic tale. "Bone" tells the story of the three Bone cousins - Fone, Phoney, Smiley - who are kicked out of their hometown of Boneville and travel to a mysterious valley were a war is erupting between good and evil. The best place to start with this story would be the first trade paper back called "Bone Volume One: Out From Boneville."
"Amelia Rules" by Jimmy Gownley is a good humor comic about young kids and their adventures. This comic is about Amelia and her group of weird friends. The stories are sometimes serious in nature, such Amelia's parents divorce, but are told with humor and insight. Because of this many have compared this book to "Peanuts" There is a trade paperback called "Amelia Rules: The Whole World's Crazy."
Brad "Do Not Open Till Christmas" Curran, CBR's co-moderator of the Spider-Man and Marvel Universe Boards, recommends:
"Ultimate Spider-Man" is something that kids who enjoyed the movies might get in to. It shows Peter as a young teenager trying to balance his super heroics with a social life. The first trade paperback shows Peter's journey to becoming Spider-Man and how he learned that life changing lesson; with great power comes great responsibility. Of course, he also has to encounter bullies, explain how to use a computer to an adult, and experience awkwardness around girls along the way. It takes the best elements of Lee and Ditko's Spider-Man and modernizes them for the audience. The hardcover edition collects the first 13 issues of the regular series, as well the very first Spider-Man story from the 1960's and other material that shows how the comic was made, for $30. It's something that will give anyone a more satisfying read than just a handful of issues. [JT: I gave my 8 year old nephew the softcover edition of this for his birthday and the last time I was at his house I noticed it was quite dog-eared and obviously read more than a few times.]
The premise of "Runaways" takes the idea that every kid has at one time or another thought "my parents are evil" and runs with it. It also portrays authentic interaction between the teenage protagonists, and features pop culture references that even the younger set will be familiar with (like the online multiplayer role playing video game featured in issue 1). The characters vary in age from 11 (Molly) to 17 (Chase), and while they all have powers or gadgets of some kind (one character, Gert, has a pet velociraptor), they act like real kids who've been thrown into the toughest situations of their young lives instead of stoic superheroes. The first six issues tell a complete story that leads into a future where the kids try to right the wrongs of their parents.
"The Marvelous Adventures of Gus Beezer" features a young main character interacting with his favorite superheroes. Most importantly, each issue is a self-contained story, featuring recognizable characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Hulk, while also featuring a kid as the main protagonist. Any (or all) of these three issues would make a great stocking stuffer. There's also a new issue coming in December featuring Spidey again."
Arune "Snow Angel" Singh, CBR news writer and DC forum moderator, says:
What I find appealing about DC over Marvel is that while both company's core books - starring Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman - have become continuity dense and a bit more violent than in the past, DC has committed itself to quality all-ages books and not "children's" books that talk down to the audience. I'm not sure every kid wants to read about Aunt May's therapy but they will love seeing the Justice League kick butt. Or the Teen Titans written all funny by a man from the greatest country on Earth. All of the Cartoon Network books are great for kids - I've seen proof of that while working at a comic store. [JT: Look for the "Powerpuff Girls" and "Scooby Doo" digests from DC in stores now!]
I think my number one recommendation is "Justice League Adventures", since it's had some great talent working on it and any series with Jason Hall ("Pistolwhip," "Beware the Creeper") contributing regularly is worth the money. Track down #20 - the Psycho Pirate issue - and tell me that isn't a great Justice League story. Along with the smaller sized trades shipping soon, the time is perfect to hook your kids on one of the most fun comic books out there today." [JT: There's also a "Justice League Adventures" trade paperback in stores now and two more in digest format on the way, not to mention two "Batman Adventures" trades plus the "Superman Adventures" one…]
Jennifer de Guzman, editor-in-chief of SLG Publishing, would like you to consider:
"Little Gloomy" by Landry Walker and Eric Jones is a fun, spooky comic set in Frightsylvania, home to werewolves, mummies, mad scientists, monsters and a girl name Gloomy. More cute than creepy, "Little Gloomy" is a comic that remembers what the best part of being a kid on Halloween - knowing that it's really cool to be a monster.
"Patty Cake" and Friends by Scott Roberts captures all the fun and frustration of childhood with a light touch and keen observation. Kids will be able to see themselves in the situations Patty Cake and her friends find themselves in. [JT: This is a personal favorite! But another I forgot to mention to people. Three cool collections are available right now.]
"Skeleton Key" by Andi Watson is a sweet, charming and clever manga-inspired series perfect for girls who love shoujo. While the protagonists, Kitsune and Tamsin, go on wild, dimension-hopping adventures, their friendship is always the most important element of the series. [JT: Another favorite here. Five volumes out there. Collect 'em all!]
Mark Paniccia of Tokyopop points out a couple of popular manga titles for your consideration:
"Cardcaptor Sakura" is clever, cute and fun. There's nothing in it that's too harsh for young readers and there's enough plot twists to keep the older readers on their toes. Great art and thanks to teddy bear-like magical beast Cerberus (among other things), a guaranteed entertaining read.
Magical girl books can be fun for everyone and "Tokyo Mew Mew" is proof. A girl whose DNA is merged with a wildcat finds herself teamed up with four other girls with the same fate. Now they gotta protect the world from an alien invasion. Appealing art, fun characters and a glitter logo on the cover makes this a treat for all to enjoy. [JT: Check out Tokyopop's website for even more all-ages books to choose from! There's something for everyone!](Active Synapse Comics
"Jingling" Joe Nozemack, publisher of Oni Press, proposes:
Comics are a unique gift that kids aren't likely to get very often. [JT: But we're here to change that, right?] We've heard from a lot of librarians and teachers that comics are a great way to get reluctant readers to start better reading habits. So you can also have a bit of an ulterior motive with them as well.
Any of our titles with a "Y" ratting are appropriate for all ages. Some of those titles are "Jason and the Argobots," "Alison Dare." "Jetcat Clubhouse," "Courtney Crumrin," "Frumpy the Clown" and "Mutant, Texas."
"Jason and the Argobots" is great for any young boys who are into action, adventure and giant robots.
"Alison Dare" is for readers looking for excitement in exotic locations.(SLG Publishing)
"Jetcat Clubhouse" delivers the zany exploits of the world great little girl superhero.
"Courtney Crumrin" gives more magic and monsters than any other comic around.
In "Frumpy the Clown," you can discover what it would be like to have your very own clown as a roommate.
"Mutant, Texas" tells the story of Sheriff Ida Red and the inhabitants of the most nuclear city in the biggest state."
Lastly, Terry "Noel" Nantier of NBM Publishing presents:
We've got a whole line now of adaptations of classic tales available for all ages:
Will Eisner's "The Last Knight (An Introduction to Don Quixote)," "The Princess & The Frog," "Sundiata, A Legend of Africa" and "Moby Dick."
We also have "The Wind in the Willows" in four volumes by Michel Plessix; "Peter & The Wolf" by M. Prado; P. Craig Russell's "Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde" in three volumes [JT: The best Christmas gifts I ever got!]; for ages 10 and older "Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm," including Snow White by David Wenzel; and two charming silent books by Lewis Trondheim and Thierry Robin called "Li'l Santa" perfect for Christmas!
I don't think they need much more presenting than this: the art on all is superlative making them great gifts.
So there you have it, folks. Feel free to refer to this list for your own gift-giving ideas for your son, daughter, nephew, niece, or other young people in your life, not only at Christmas time but for birthdays and other special occasions. But while you're at the comic shop this week, whether picking up something for yourself or to stuff in someone else's stocking, please consider purchasing an additional book or two to donate to your local toy drive this Christmas season. Again, you'll be contributing to two great causes by doing so.
Next week: OYM: The Year in Review. Okay, eights months in review. Whatever.
Meanwhile, drop by the OYM forum and add to our list of kid-friendly, all-ages comic books that would make good stocking stuffers and Christmas presents for young readers.
In stores now: Teen Titans Go #1 written by yours truly with art by Todd Nauck and Lary Stucker.
In stores 12/24: Teen Titans Go #2
Thank you for your attention.