As is often remarked upon online, we are in an incredible golden age of comic book publishing in actual "book" form, from high end reprints of classic material, to brand new graphic novels from the U.S. and abroad, to aggressive reprinting of never-seen-in-English Japanese and Chinese comics. It's great, although it can be pricey for those of us who prefer our comics in book form, not to mention presenting challenges as to where to PUT everything. There are worse problems to have.
Another not-so-bad problem is visibility: back around 1998 or 2000, there might be 4 or 5 really GREAT graphic novels published in a year's time, and as such each was fairly momentous. Things like Jimmy Corrigan or Ghost World were on top of a very small pile of releases, and were highly visible. These days there are often 4 or 5 great books coming out in the space of a WEEK, and it's easy to miss them as newer things appear on the racks.
Being helpful ABOVE ALL ELSE, I thought I'd point out a couple of things that you may have missed recently, at least judging by how many copies we still have on the rack. And would these books make excellent Christmas gifts for you or your loved ones? Well, sure they would:
by Rutu Modan :: HC :: $19.95
Rutu Modan is an Israeli cartoonist that is (or was, I'm never sure) a part of the esteemed Actus Tragicus comics collective. Last year's Exit Wounds was widely hailed as the best book of the year on many critics' list. But even if you don't think it was the "best" (I don't), it was still great. She has a singular style and approach to storytelling, and her stories combine societal and political issues gracefully with more quotidian elements like family, romance, and so forth.
Jamilti is her new book, a hardcover collection of short stories, and is still just a few weeks old. I haven't read it yet, so I can't say much about how incredible it is, but it's receiving great reviews so far, and is certainly a pretty little book, and at $19.95 is a cheap one to boot.
DOGS & WATER
by Anders Nilsen :: FC :: $19.95
I love this book, which is a hardcover edition of a previously released (and quickly sold-out--zip!) softcover a couple of years ago. Anders Nilsen's work is hard to sum up, which is maybe my favorite facet of it. His drawings are beautiful, and the stories they tell are airy and open-ended, dreamlike to the point of being hallucinatory, and surreal without being overly esoteric. I'm not sure about that last one; I needed another "this but not that" to make three. At any rate, you may be familiar with the books he did related to the premature death of his then-fiance, including Don't Go Where I Can't Follow and The End. Dogs and Water is fictional and self-contained, although it's hard to say that it's lighter fare, it's somewhat easier to jump into, lacking some of the heartbreaking qualities of the autobiographical works.
Dogs and Water is a great read for pretty much anyone interested in comics-as-art, but I'd especially recommend this one for the "My Artsy Buddy/Girlfriend/Boyfriend/Spouse/College-Student" category for gift-giving.
by Kevin Huizenga :: pamphlet :: $4.95
Oh man, Kevin Huizenga. I could go on all day about the guy. It's easy to say that his comics are smart, or smartly written, or smartly conceived, or smart smarty smarty-pants. But the more I think of it, it's not that his comics are so well thought out (though they are) that makes them good, it's that they PROMOTE thinking, both on the part of the reader AND the author. Reading a Kevin H. comic feels like you're inside his thought process; almost as if you and he were mulling the problem over together.
I won't say anything else. Just buy the darn thing--heck, it's only five bucks.
by Tove Jansson :: HC (3 volumes available) :: $19.95
This has been one of Drawn & Quarterly's fastest selling items (at least according to their website), but it hasn't really taken off around here. Moomin is a 50's era strip that's suitable for all ages, especially that daughter or son (I think young girls would especially like it) with a creative side you're looking to tickle. To call Moomin whimsical is a gross understatement, but it's about as close as I can get to describing it in just one word. Hey whaddaya want, I'm a high school dropout--don't let this be you, kids!
Moomin is an often nearly abstract, highly visually stylized story, with all the hipness of 50's era ANYthing, but never snide, never superior. It's an immersive and strange world, the kind of thing you would have loved when YOU were a kid, but would find difficult to explain to anyone who'd never read it before. As I am finding myself.
POPEYE VOLUME 3
by E.C. Segar :: HC (3 volumes available) :: $29.95
Oh man. This one just came out. Anyone who's ever heard me expound on my love of Popeye in the store can tell you how glassy-eyed and fevered I become. Reading Popeye as an adult has been one of the singular comics-reading experiences of my life. Seriously. If I were to put together an all-time top-five RIGHT NOW, at gunpoint, TO SAVE AN ORPHAN'S LIFE!!!, Popeye might be the first thing that came to mind.
It's not that Popeye is such a compelling story, or represents the zenith of all that is possible with comics, or whatever. Popeye is just good. Period. Segar's art is pretty much the standard for all "big foot" comedy strips that would follow, not to mention highly visible in the work of Chester Brown, Sammy Harkham, and dozens of other modern cartoonists. But it's his writing, his constant, apparently effortless barrage of wit and language and visual gags, that makes the strip so enjoyable. Simply put, Popeye is a great book to sit back with on a Sunday afternoon and just enjoy, turning the giant pages slowly, and taking in the whole rollicking, violent (so violent!), boisterous strip a week at a time. Check out this little promo video Fantagraphics put together:
Oh, and for you shoppers: Popeye is suitable for ANY reader. Only crazy people will not like it.
But let's talk about it--what do YOU think is an overlooked book you haven't heard enough about?