Happy HoliTAYs, true believers!
Now let me say a few things right off the bat: I don't consider this anything close to a definitive list of good comics that are available in December 2013. These are simply books that have my attention, and (in my humble opinion) deserve your attention too. Additionally, I won't be making any superhero or mainstream recommendations here; I figure if you want to know what Spider-Man comics to buy, there are better people to ask.
With that in mind, here are some fantastic recently-released books to consider for the Holiday season!
For The Lapsed Mainstream Comic Reader
For years I was a lover of superhero comics with no real home to call my own. That is to say, I was so stumped by years of retcons, crossover events, deaths/resurrections, identity changes and so forth that I basically threw up my hands and said "I'm done." Lucky for me, I eventually put my hands back down, and onto some terrific comic books.
This comic is for people who want a little pulp in their orange juice. It's a classic vigilante tale, and a tour-de-force for Italian writer/artist Francesco Francavilla, who's put in his years in the Marvel/DC trenches. It's pure, back-to-basics storytelling; gorgeously drawn, tightly written, and just plain fun. I've been reading these in single-issues, and loving every bit.
Some of you may recognize Pope's name from his seminal manga-infused sci-fi works such as 100% and Heavy Liquid (both are great; buy them too). In Battling Boy he's created a classic young adult vigilante-slash-kaiju story, featuring heartfelt writing, top-notch action, and his inimitably stylish artwork. As a huge fan of his previous work, this was pretty much everything I was hoping for, which is to say: awesome.
Manga For Comic Fans Who Claim They Don't Like Manga
Comic fans are just as guilty as petty-factionalism as video game fans, or really any other fans, for that matter. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard my fellow comic fans claim they "just don't like" or "get" Japanese comics. Many fail to take into account the fact that Japanese comics have a very broad appeal across much of Japanese culture, unlike American comics which are generally for 18-45 males. Much like any culture, there is a fascinating diversity of voices in the field of manga. Just because someone was turned off by Naruto doesn't mean there's nothing out there for them! Try to broaden their horizons with some of these.
Taiyo Matsumoto has long been a favorite artist and writer of mine. He's best known for Tekkon Kinkreet, a fantastic comic that was made into a fantastic movie. Here we see him exploring very similar themes (isolation, childhood imagination and archetypes) through a far more down-to-earth story. It's worth mentioning that publishers Viz Signature make some damn fine looking books, and I'm not even talking about the contents. Sunny is flat out beautifully designed and put together. The juicy character work and gorgeous art inside put this over the top.
Tatsumi has quite belatedly established his reputation in the West as the father of Gekiga manga through this series of collections from Drawn and Quarterly. Gekiga is, to put it simply, "adult" or "literary" manga, and no one exemplifies this better than Tatsumi himself. Written mostly in the 1960's and recently republished, these short stories are often heartbreaking, and always fascinating. His artwork has a simplified quality that really lets the emotional stakes of the narratives shine. While his most popular work is A Drifting Life, I wouldn't recommend it until you've read other works by him, as it deals very specifically with his life experiences in the manga industry. These collected stories, however, require little context, and still shine brightly many decades after having been written. They will certainly appeal to the Criterion-collection-owning friend in your life.
For The Rugrats
Want to get your kid started on some good stuff? Shape and mold their puny little minds with these excellent comics!
Here's a fantastic Young Adult book for boys or girls. Taylor and Roy have created a wonderful steampunk-esque world, and stuffed it with fun, relatable characters and reliably thrilling storytelling. The writing is fun and breezy, and Roy's artwork flat-out soars. Pretty much everything you could ask for in a YA adventure, right here in this book.
While this comic is certainly appropriate for children, it has also been known to make grown men weep (this grown man, specifically). Joseph Lambert has been quietly putting out gorgeous comic after gorgeous comic for the last several years, and with Annie Sullivan he's brought all of his skills to bear. The ways in which he depicts Helen's interior life are nothing short of brilliant, and the book does a fantastic job of contextualizing her struggle without ever devolving into cliche. Just because I'm putting this in the YA gifts section doesn't mean you should dismiss it for adult reading. It's brilliant for all ages.
Comics For People With Tastes Exactly Like Mine
Holy shit, Ed. You hit the venn-diagram of my interests dead-center with this book. Hip Hop Family Tree is what it sounds like, a history of hip hop music presented in the style of a 1970's-Marvel, Roy-Thomas-homage. If you like hip hop and classic comics, this is a total no-brainer. Piskor is one of my favorite cartoonists working today, and his previous book Wizzywig, about a hacker, is also wonderful and highly recommended.
Here we are, at my #1 recommendation for this holiday season. Is this comic for everyone? You can probably tell by the title, that answer is "no." However, to anyone who finds the title intriguing, things only get more intriguing from the moment you turn the first page, and they don't let up until long after you've put it down. TEOTFW takes a simultaneously cynical and sympathetic view of its teenage protagonists, brilliantly capturing the various misunderstandings and transgressions of our adolescences, and the often self-destructive desire to break free of social bonds. Forsman's work here is just amazing, and if I sound like I'm gushing a bit it's because I am. I've been following this since it was a minicomic-by-mail subscription, and have been consistently blown away by every single issue. This collected edition is, in my humblest of humble opinions, a must-own, and my favorite comic from 2013 hands-down.
Well, there you have it. I hope I gave you some ideas. If you've got any questions or suggestions of your own, just hit me up in the comments!