The North American comics market, once considered something of a one-genre market, has grown beyond the superhero category to become much more diverse in recent years, with graphic works for nearly every taste. A quick look at the rich bounty of book-format comics released in 2013 backs up this claim.
You say you’re only interested in the classics? Try the boxed three-volume set, The Graphic Canon: 1,600 pages of comics adaptations of world classics by more than a hundred comics artists. Or perhaps you’re a no-nonsense businessperson looking for market information? No problem—there’s Mission in a Bottle, by the cofounders of the Honest Tea company; it’s the story of how two novice entrepreneurs created a 100-million-bottles-a-year tea business from scratch. Are you a history buff? Try acclaimed comics war correspondent Joe Sacco’s The Great War, an extraordinary 24-foot-long accordion-foldout panoramic drawing depicting the first day of the Battle of Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of World War I. If science fiction is your thing, Jeff Smith has just released RASL, a 472-page noir-driven sci-fi graphic novel aimed at adults that tells the story of a dimension-jumping military engineer determined to prevent the disastrous misuse of the scientific legacy of Nicolas Tesla.
- RASL by Jeff Smith, Cartoon Books, $39.95
- The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of Somme by Joe Sacco, Norton, $35
- The Graphic Canon by various artists, Seven Stories, $125.
- Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently and Succeeding by Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, Crown Business, $23
My So-Called Life: Memoir and Biography
Easily one of the biggest graphic memoirs of the year, Rep. John Lewis’s March Book One tells the story of his role in the Civil Rights movement. And that’s just one of several stellar autobiographical works available. Berlin-based Ulli Lust’s Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life describes the author’s hair-raising trip from Austria to Italy in the ’80s with a loony sidekick. In biography, Peter Bagge has produced Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, about the women’s health pioneer. And in We Won’t See Auschwitz, author Jeremie Dres tells the story of his trip to Poland with his older brother after the death of their grandmother—a return to their Jewish-Polish roots.
- We Won’t See Auschwitz by Jeremie Dres, Self Made Hero, $22.95
- Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge, Drawn and Quarterly, $21.95
- Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust, Fantagraphics, $35
- March Book One by Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, Top Shelf, $14.95
Comic Book Classics
How about a selection of titles that look back over the lives and work of great cartoonists? The Art of Rube Goldberg is a gorgeous, clever, and comprehensive overview of the life and work of the cartoonist compiled by his granddaughter; it includes essays and much more. Marking 30 years of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s acclaimed indie comics series Love & Rockets, Fantagraphics has compiled Love and Rockets: The Covers, an oversized collection of all the periodical series’ iconic covers, as well as the original covers of the trade paperbacks. Working with the Hergé Museum in Belgium, journalist Michel Daubert has produced Tintin: The Art of Hergé, a rich collection of photographs, early works, character profiles, and more that trace the life and artistic development of Tintin creator Georges Remi, aka Hergé. Presented as a biographical tribute to the Man of Steel, written in the 31st century by Brainiac 5 of the Legion of Superheroes, Matthew Manning’s The Superman Files is a work of faux nonfiction that cleverly details the life, career, and comic book mythology of Superman. And who doesn’t love Archie, America’s favorite red-headed teenager? Longtime Archie editor-in-chief Victor Gorelick and designer Craig Yoe have compiled The Art of Archie: The Covers, a collection of more than 70 years of comic book covers featuring Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the rest of their Riverdale pals.
- The Art of Rube Goldberg (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius edited by Jennifer George, Abrams/ComicArts, $60
- Love and Rockets: The Covers by Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez, Fantagraphics, $35
- Tintin: The Art of Hergé by Michel Daubert, Abrams/ComicArts, $45
- The Superman Files—Compiled by Brainiac 5 by Matthew Manning, Andrews McMeel, $75
- The Art of Archie: The Covers edited by Victor Gorelick and Craig Yoe, Archie Books, $29.99
Master Storytellers: Fiction
If fiction rich in nuance and ambiguity attracts you, there’s So Long, Silver Screen, a series of interlocking short stories by acclaimed French cartoonist Blutch (aka Christian Hincker), offers sly commentary on how movies inhabit and transform us. Dash Shaw’s New School is an enigmatic work that uses the lives of two brothers to investigate (and lampoon) notions of foreignness and difference. Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan’s The Property describes a young Israeli woman and her grandmother’s trip to Poland, ostensibly to reclaim property lost to the Nazis, which uncovers a host of deep family secrets. Winner of the audience prize at Angouleme, the annual French comics festival, Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh is the delicately told story of a teenage girl who stumbles into a love affair with another young woman—to the consternation of her family and classmates. The book has also spawned a prize-winning live-action film. Tohby Riddle’s debut graphic novel, Unforgotten, is a dreamily rendered story about angels on Earth. And we haven’t forgotten about superhero fiction: novelist Warren Ellis and artist Mike McKone have teamed up to produce Avengers: Endless Wartime, an original graphic novel that looks at Captain America, a WWII hero, reborn as an Avenger in New York City.
- So Long Silver Screen by Blutch, PictureBox, $22.95
- New School by Dash Shaw, Fantagraphics, $39.99.
- The Property by Rutu Modan, Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95
- Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh, Arsenal Pulp, $19.95
- Avengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis and Mike McKone, Marvel Comics, $24.99
- Unforgotten by Tohby Riddle, Penguin/InkLit, $19.95
Although DC’s 2012 decision to commission prequels to Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s superhero epic, was controversial (Moore is vehemently opposed to any derivative works based on Watchmen and has denounced the series), the books were produced by an all-star cast of DC creators and the covers are by designer Chip Kidd. Here’s a bundle of bestselling hardcovers collecting the entire series.
- Before Watchmen: Comedian/Rorschach by Brian Azzrello, J.G. Jones, and Lee Bermejo, DC Comics, $29.99
- Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner DC Comics, $29.99
- Before Watchmen: Nite Owl/Dr. Manhattan by J. Michael Straczynskiand various artists, DC Comics, $29.99
- Before Watchmen: Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair by Len Wein and various artists, DC Comics, $29.99
Looking for comics for kids? Try these. Eisner award–winning cartoonist Gene Yang’s two-book boxed set, Boxers and Saints, is a fictional look at the Chinese Boxer Rebellion as seen through the eyes of the rebels (the Boxers) and the Christian converts (the Saints) against whom they were fighting (the books have also been longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature). Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, the Eisner Award–winner’s much-anticipated story of a reluctant kid superhero in a city plagued by monsters, is his first title for a trade book house. Mouse Guard: The Black Axe is the third volume of David Petersen’s Eisner Award–winning fantasy series about the adventures of an elite squad of mice who protect the realm. If you’re a fan of the Smurfs, you’ll love The Smurfs Anthology, a hardcover collection of the early strips of Smurfs creator Peyo. A Bag of Marbles, an autobiographical graphic novel based on the life story of Joseph Joffo and produced in collaboration with writer Kris and artist Vincent Bailly, is the story of two Jewish brothers in occupied Paris scrambling to stay one step ahead of the Nazis.
- Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang, Roaring Brook/First Second, $39.99 (boxed set)
- Battling Boy by Paul Pope, Roaring Brook/First Second , $15.99
- Mouse Guard: The Black Axe by David Petersen, Archaia Entertainment, $24.95
- The Smurfs Anthology by Peyo, Papercutz, $19.99
- A Bag of Marbles by Joseph Joffo, Kris, and Vincent Bailly, Lerner Graphic Universe, $9.95
Nonfiction: Info Comics
Yes, comics can inform, as well as entertain, and the titles below are great examples of comics that will make you smarter. Etienne Davodeau, a comics artist, and Richard Leroy, a winemaker, decide to switch lives for a year, each learning the other’s trade. The result is Davodeau’s The Initiates, an engaging examination of both professions. Using real research into all aspects of comics and the behavior of their fans, designer Tim Leong’s Super Graphic serves up a series of delightfully clever infographics about the comic book universe. Produced as a tie-in to a forthcoming three-part PBS documentary on the superhero genre, Superheroes! Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture, by writer Laurence Maslon and the film’s director Michael Kantor, looks at the development of the genre and its impact on American culture. Written by multitalented author and producer Vivek Tiwary, The Fifth Beatle is the little known, engaging story of the life of Brian Epstein, the legendary manager of the Beatles, who was also a gay man in Britain at a time when homosexuality was a felony there. And Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree offers a cartoony, entertaining, and thoroughly researched look back at the early days hip-hop and the personalities and events that created that cultural and musical phenomenon.
- Superheroes: Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor, Crown Archetype, $40
- The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Vivek Tiwary, Dark Horse, $19.99
- Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor, Fantagraphics, $24.99
- The Initiates by Etienne Davodeau, NBM, $29.99
- Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong, Chronicle, $18.95
Classic and Contemporary Manga
Manga is comprised of diverse genres and sensibilities—from naturalistic fiction like Taiyo Matsumoto’s Sunny, an endearing story of orphaned children with powerful imaginations, to Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, a contemporary reimagining of the classic Japanese mecha by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, one of its original creators. There are also quality reissues of classic work like acclaimed mangaka Osamu Tezuka’s Triton of the Sea, the story of Triton, a young Atlantean adopted by humans who returns to the sea to avenge the destruction of Atlantis. And for lovers of the art of Soul Eater creator Atsushi Ohkubo, Yen Press has produced Soul Eater Soul Art, a hardcover collection of artwork from the popular supernatural manga series.
- Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto, Viz, $22.99
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Vertical, $29.95
- Triton of the Sea by Osamu Tezuka, DMP, $19.95
- Soul Eater Soul Art by Atsushi Ohkubo. Hachette/Yen Press, $24.99
Let’s not forget the popularity (and convenience) of digital comics. Here’s a group of digital subscriptions that will perk up the comic book fan in your life. Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha is an online weekly anthology of some of the most popular Viz Media manga, all published simultaneously in Japan and North America. Yen Plus is the online magazine for Yen Press manga, featuring installments of popular series like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Maximum Ride, and others. A GENManga subscription offers monthly access to a wide variety of Japanese underground manga—comics akin to American indie comics—which are also released simultaneously in Japan and the U.S. And for superhero fans, there’s Marvel Unlimited Plus, an upgraded version of Marvel’s digital subscription plan; like the original plan, Marvel Unlimited Plus provides access to thousands of classic backlist Marvel comics, but it also includes physical stuff like action figures, collectible swag, and even special invites to convention events.
- Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha Viz Media, $25.99/year
- Yen Plus Hachette/Yen Press, $2.99/month
- Marvel Unlimited Plus Marvel Comics, $99/year
- GENManga GEN, $1.99/month