She Has No Head! - Third Annual Awesome Women In Comics Holiday Gift List, 2011

Welcome back to my annual female positive comics holiday gift list!

So the holidays are (suddenly) upon us and you’ve decided that in these tough economic times you want to support the comic industry by giving everyone on your list sweet comics.  And not only that, but you want to take it one step further and only give female positive comics…well, in that super specific case you’ve found the right list.

Like last year, in addition to picking excellent female positive titles, I also limited myself to books released in 2011 only.  If you’re looking for more books that just those released in 2011, I urge you to check out my first list, which was not limited by a time period, and my second list, which covered books released in 2010.

Let’s get started, yes?

01.  For the discerning indie comics fan in your life. You can't go wrong with Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s exceptional Stumptown series from Oni.

What it is: Stumptown, a gorgeous oversized hardcover edition with fantastic matte paper and slipcover, collects the first five-issue arc of Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s Oni comic Stumptown. It’s the story of Dex Parios a private detective living in Portland Oregon with a very complicated life. Dex is one part screw up, one part badass and there's not a wrong note in the entire book.

Why it’s female positive: Greg Rucka writes some of the best female characters in comics and his Dex Parios is no exception.  Add to that Matthew Southworth’s gorgeously smart art and you have one of the best comics in recent years collected as a beautiful edition.

Stumptown. Greg Rucka (writer). Matthew Southworth (artist). Oni Press. $29.99. Full color. Hardcover. 144 pages. Release date: April 5, 2011

02.  For the intellectual with the wicked sense of humor. Kate Beaton’s hilariously wonderful collection of Hark! A Vagrant from Drawn & Quarterly.

What it is: The first print collection of Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant web comic, with plenty of Beaton’s commentary about the strips added in (and equally as entertaining as the strips themselves).

Why it’s female positive: Kate Beaton tackles every subject imaginable in her strip, from superhero parody send ups, to Jane Austen, The Great Gatsby, and hilarious bits of Canadian history, and she does it all with a good natured sense of humor that is rare these days.

Hark! A Vagrant.  Kate Beaton (writer/artist).  Drawn & Quarterly.  $19.95.  Black & White.  Hardcover.  160 pages.  Release date: September 27, 2011

03.  For the Terry Moore fan. Moore's recent Echo series has been collected into one massive (600 page!) tome, that should keep any comics fan busy (and happy) for quite some time.

What it is: Echo: The Complete Edition collects all 30 issues of Moore's Echo series.  Firmly rooted in Science Fiction and with stellar character work and stunning visuals, Echo is quite different from Moore's infamous Strangers in Paradise series, and shows what range he is capable of in comics. Echo brings the best of what Moore brought to Strangers in Paradise and does something entirely new with it.  The result it a total delight and a must have for any Moore fan.

Why it's female positive: Terry Moore is well known for his excellent work with strong and complicated female characters as well as excellent visual representations and Echo is no exception.  Though I am only partway through this collection, I have no qualms recommending it the same way I would recommend any of Moore's work for people looking for good representations of women in comics.

Echo The Complete Edition.  Terry Moore (writer/artist). Abstract Studios. $39.99. Black & White. Softcover. 600 pages. Release Date: August 23, 2011

04.  For the teen girl in your life. You got her Ross Campbell’s Shadoweyes last year, right?  Well, follow it up this year with the sequel – Shadoweyes In Love.

What it is: The second volume to Campell’s Shadoweyes series, Shadoweyes In Love chronicles the adventures of the heroine Shadoweyes, formerly teenager Scout Montana as she struggles with her new life as a vigilante, making new friends and keeping her old ones, and falling in love with her best friend’s boyfriend.  Shadoweyes In Love, like it’s predecessor is stunningly illustrated and Campbell has captured an authentic and compelling teenage voice in the book.

Why it’s female positive: Like all of Campbell’s work Shadoweyes In Love is filled to bursting with a variety of great female characters. And SIL, like Shadoweyes before it, gets bonus points for featuring strong female characters of color, which is frustratingly rare in comics.

Shadoweyes Volume 2: Shadoweyes In Love.  Ross Campbell (writer/artist).  SLG.  $12.95.  Black & White. Softcover. 160 pages. Release date: April 25, 2011

05.  For the indie fan that you’re trying to get into superheroes. I suggest two brilliant Brian Wood collections:  Demo Volume 2 and DV8: Gods & Monsters.

What it is: Demo Volume 2 is Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s excellent follow up to their 12-issue 2003/2004 series, DemoDemo Volume 2 is a collection of six self-contained and technically unrelated stories of people in uncommon situations.  Though Wood has said that he doesn't "write superhero stories", Demo is a great example of non-traditional superhero stories, dressed up in indie clothing and the results are brilliant. Phenomenal art by Cloonan and smart, insightful, spare writing by Wood create an exceptional reading experience.  You can read some more in-depth thoughts about Demo Volume 2 here if you're still on the fence.

Next, you can treat your friend to a step slightly closer to traditional superheroes and anti-heroes with DV8: Gods & Monsters. Here, Brian Wood DOES tackle superheroes, but still manages to do it in a wonderfully character driven and more independent way with gorgeous assistance from artist Rebekah Isaacs.  DV8: Gods & Monsters collects the Wildstorm eight-issue mini-series following the DV8 team as they land on a foreign planet and come into contact with the local inhabitants with explosive results.  You can read more detailed thoughts about DV8 from yours truly here, here, and here.

Why it’s female positive: For starters, both DV8 and Demo have two of the best artists working in comics today - who also just so happen to be female – Becky Cloonan and Rebekah Isaacs.  Additionally, both books are filled to the brim with interesting and complex female characters, both “traditional” superhero/supervillain and otherwise.  As a side note - don't be thrown by collected trade cover to DV8, the interiors are far better and tonally quite different than the unfortunate cover Wildstorm/DC opted to use.

Demo Volume 2. Brian Wood (writer). Becky Cloonan (artist). Vertigo. $17.99.  Black & White. Softcover.  160 pages. Release date:  March 29, 2011

DV8: Gods & Monsters. Brian Wood (writer). Rebekah Isaacs (artist). Wildstorm. $19.99. Full Color. Softcover. 192 pages. Release date: May 31, 2011

06.  For the eclectic short story fan. Marvel’s excellent Strange Tales II anthology with stories from some of the best indie artists working in comics today.

What it is: The collected Marvel Anthology of Strange Tales II, a three-issue series filled with stories from some of the best indie creators in the business from Harvey Pekar, Terry Moore, Rafael Grampa, and Jeff Lemire, to Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez.  These creators tackle Marvel characters from Wolverine to Spider-Man in a decidedly un-Marvel way and the results are hilarious, touching, and occasionally disturbing.  As with any anthology, your mileage will vary, not every story can be a homerun, but the return is VERY high on this collection, and even the non-homeruns feel like nice solid doubles.

Why it’s female positive: Independent comics artists in general tend to not have the issues with female characters and female based stories that mainstream comics do.  And even when stories don’t involve female characters, they generally don’t have that feeling of “no girls allowed” that readers often encounter in mainstream comics, and so it’s not a surprise that the stories in Strange Tales II feel wholly removed from that idea.  Add to the mix that the illustrious Kate Beaton contributes several wonderful stories and a totally fun cover, and you’re in good hands.

Strange Tales II. Various (writers). Various (artists). Marvel Comics. $19.99. Full Color. Hardcover. 152 pages.  Release date: October 12, 2011

07.  For the Batman fan.  Scott Snyder, Francesco Francavilla, and Jock’s exceptional run on Detective comics from 2011, Batman: The Black Mirror.

What it is: The Black Mirror collects Snyder's Detective Comics run of issues #871 - #881 which are quite simply, some of the best Batman stories I've ever read.  Snyder's writing is layered and smart, setting things up and knocking them down with expert precision.  Snyder's work trends solidly toward horror and it's a perfect fit for Batman.  This run is quite simply some of the best comics of the past year,  making this collection one that will be collected among Batman fans for a very long time, and the pinnacle of Dick Grayson's time in the Bat-suit.  It hurts not at all that Snyder is assisted by phenomenal artists Francesco Francavilla and Jock.  

Why it’s female positive: Sometimes, the best way to be female positive is simply to be female neutral.  Not everything has to be about awesome chicks, there are a million great stories out there that have nothing to do with chicks being awesome.  Batman: The Black Mirror doesn’t spend a lot of time with female characters (though when Oracle does show up in Snyder’s tale she is every bit the insightful and brilliant Barbara Gordon we have all come to know and love) but there is no feeling of "women not being allowed" in Snyder’s stories.  This simply isn’t their story.  And there’s not a thing wrong with that. At the same time there's nothing here to make a female reader feel excluded, or like she’s not welcome, and that’s frequently all it takes to make something a female positive book.

Batman: The Black Mirror. Scott Snyder (writer). Jock (artist). Francesco Francavilla (artist). DC Comics. $29.99. Full Color. Hardcover. 304 pages. Release date: November 29, 2011

08. For the adamant non-superhero fan. Give them comics anyway with Paul Hornschemeier's wonderful Life With Mr. Dangerous.

What it is: The potent and bittersweet story of Amy, a 26-year old woman struggling with her life in all the ways that us incredibly normal flawed non-comics people do.  In addition to the usual struggles Amy has a possibly unhealthy obsession with a show called Mr. Dangerous, and through this show Horschemeier shows us slivers of Amy's life.  The result is realistic and poignant, and depending on your point of view, potentially depressing, but it's wonderful nonetheless.  Life With Mr. Dangerous was published originally in several pieces in the excellent (now defunct) MOME anthology, and this collection of the entire story is a beautiful edition.  For some more in-depth thoughts on the book, head over here.

Why it's female positive: Hornschemeier's detailed and well-considered character Amy is about as good as it gets in comics when it comes to complex realistic characters.  Amy is full of flaws but is still incredibly sympathetic.  It's easy to see yourself in Amy and that relatability is the true strength of the book.

Life With Mr. Dangerous. Paul Hornschemeier (writer/artist).  Villard Press.  Full Color. Hardcover. 160 pages. $22.00. Release date: May 24, 2011.

09.  For the cartoon porn lover. I have been reading for the last year or so, the absolutely hilarious and aggressively titillating (or frequently more than titillating) Oglaf (link absolutely NSFW).  And now there's a printed edition - Oglaf: Book One!

What it is: A softcover collection of the first 199 comics from the hilarious, naughty, and beautifully illustrated Oglaf webcomic, a fantasy world of the highest order...quite literally. The site really describes the book audience best with: "Having trouble shopping for relatives who are both wizards and perverts?".  Depending on your family and friends taste level, sense of humor, and general attitudes, I'd probably recommend giving this gift in private...or as the site also says "Ruin Christmas with this thoughtless gift!"

Why it's female positive: Like the best comedy (and perhaps the best porn?) Oglaf is an equal opportunity offender.  Nobody is safe and thus it all feels very equal in the end.  So much porn is pretty offensive when it comes to how it views and handles women (which is not necessarily a judgment - that's a whole other column) but I find Oglaf to be incredibly refreshing in how it approaches its subject matter.  Everyone has sex with just about everyone else in Oglaf and women certainly give as good as they get, but most importantly it's almost always damn funny.  It somehow came as the ultimate surprise and no surprise at all when I realized recently that Oglaf is created, written, and illustrated by a woman

Oglaf: Book One.  Trudy Cooper (writer/artist).  TopatacCo. $18.00. Full Color. Softcover. 208 pages. Release date: November 2011.

10. For the lapsed superhero comics reader that you're trying to draw back into addiction. Go with a subscription to any one of a variety of relatively new (and great) ongoing comics.  Thanks in part to DC's massive re-launch, there are a surprising number of very good NEW books coming out right now.  With minimal work you could pick up the first few issues of any of these great books and then buy a yearly subscription to solidify the comics addiction.

What it is:  My top 10 picks for a new ongoing series that is new-reader friendly enough to jump on board with and is worthy of a year-long subscription are:

J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman's Batwoman (though I would also recommend including the Elegy TPB, as it's excellent and will only enhance the reading experience).

Terry Moore's Rachel Rising

Duane Sweirczysnki and Jesus Saiz's Birds of Prey

Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo's Wolverine & The X-Men

Andrew Chambliss and Georges Jeanty's Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 9

Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's Wonder Woman

Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs' Angel & Faith

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman

Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman's Animal Man

Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli's Ultimate Spider-Man

Everyone of these 10 titles currently has no more than 4 issues released, and would make an excellent gift, especially if you added an ongoing subscription.  It's the gift that keeps giving! In all my "comics project" research, a big stumbling block for a lot of readers that liked what they read was the inconvenience of going to the shop, and the concern that they would even forget to go.  Take away that risk by having their comics delivered directly to them.  There are a variety of shops that can do subscriptions - the best, biggest, and most reliable one I know of is Midtown Comics - but feel free to search for others, your local shop may even have a way to do this.

Why these titles are female positive: Obviously there are different levels of female positivity in each of these - but none of them feel female negative.  Even Batman, which arguably has the fewest female characters of the bunch (currently) does not feel negative toward women in any way.  Bonus points for some of the best creators in the business (who also happen to be female) working on a few of these books - Sara Pichelli on Ultimate Spider-Man, Rebekah Isaacs on Angel & Faith, and in the next Batwoman arc, the magnificent Amy Reeder

And what would I like dear readers?  Well, thanks for asking…though they will not be released until 2012, I am IN LOVE with these Venture Bros. statues – the first two are of Brock Samson and Moltov Cocktease and they are just to die for (also, exceptionally expensive and thus, likely not something I will be buying):

As always, if you’re already going to support comics in your holiday gift giving this year, why not take it one step further and give your local comic book shop your support as well and try shopping locally when possible.  Don’t know your local shops?  Check out The Comic Shop Locator.

Happy Holidays everyone!

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