NOTE: THIS MAN IS NOT A HOBBIT. It's just a big, big book.
Siddown, I'm going to lay some Truth on you.
You got a comics fan on your list? Save yourself the agita and get 'em a gift card. To their local comics shop, to an online or brick-and-mortar bookstore, wherever. Trust me on this, it's easier.
Oh, we know you mean well, and we love you for it, but we comics nerds are a persnickety lot; we know what we like and what we very much do not. Our tastes are ... specific. I mean there is Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner and there is Aquaman the Swift and Powerful Monarch of the Ocean and for the hundredth time they are NOT THE SAME THING AT ALL, MOTHER.
But a gift card's too cold, too impersonal, you say. You want to roll the dice and take your chances, you say. Fine. When your beloved comics nerd looks up from the shredded wrapping paper and you catch that flicker of ill-disguised resignation in his or her eyes, and the rictus grin worn by tube-sock-recipients since time immemorial, remember: You were warned.
So here's a few ideas. Don't kid yourself: The odds are still against you. But you may get credit for a solid effort, and at least you'll ensure no repeat of last year's Batman Pajama Bottoms Incident. That reflected poorly on everyone.
75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking
I guarantee you: No noses will turn up at a gift so monumental in scope (75 years of history), in length (720 pages), in size (11.5 X 15.6 inches), and in weight (15 pounds). And given its price point (a cool $200), and These Trying Economic Times, you can be reasonably certain the comics fan on your list doesn't already own it.
And let's put that price tag in context: at just over $13 per pound, it's only about as much as sushi-grade yellowtail. Of course, once you throw in incidentals — the podium, track lighting, and sound system wired to blast Also Sprach Zarathustra whenever you approach — it's a sizable investment. But hey: We're worth it. (Taschen, $200)
The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You To Read
2008's The Ten-Cent Plague, by David Hajdu, chronicled Congress's postwar crackdown on comics and the rise of the "Comics Code Authority," the industry's self-censoring body.
The Horror! The Horror! makes for a nice companion to that work, presenting excerpts of the violent comics that sparked the paranoia — in lurid, full-color, gloriously gory detail. The enclosed DVD, a 1955 television special about the scourge of comics that was turning the Youth of America into juvenile delinquents, is a frickin' hoot. (Abrams, $29.99)
Liquid City: Volume 2
This anthology of Southeast Asian comics (Volume 1 was released in 2008, and is still available) offers a wide, varied and vibrant glimpse of some exciting work that will come as a pleasant surprise to even the most jaded comics fan.
No matter what their tastes, they'll find something in this well-curated mix of genres, styles and subjects that will remind them of the form's tremendous potential. (Image, $29.99)
Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts
The Library of America's two-volume edition of Lynd Ward's expressive pictorial narratives are by turns beautiful and terrifying. They're a fascinating example of the power of images alone to create, and sustain, narrative momentum. (I yammered about them at length here.) (LoA, $70.00)
Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition
As I mentioned last month, this handsome, huge, hardcover edition of the adventures of of Stan Sakai's laconic and deadly samurai bunny (hee) is a lot of fun, and the oversized reproduction gives readers a chance to appreciate the draftsmanship of the artist's backgrounds. (Fantagraphics, $100.00)
Shazam! The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal
Chip Kidd's fascination with superheroes — and the piles of vintage merch that bear their likenesses — continues. This time around, the Big Red Cheese gets the coffee table book treatment. The result: page after page of lovingly photographed Marveliana, laced with historical tidbits about Captain Marvel (who spent several years outselling Superman on comics stands), the Marvel Family, and the copyright lawsuit that brought them all crashing to earth.
Quibble: Me, I would have liked to have seen the Three Lieutenant Marvels better represented here, but evidently the kids of the 40s weren't exactly clamoring for paraphernalia endorsed by Tall Marvel, Fat Marvel and/or Hillbilly Marvel.
Their loss. Stupid kids. (Abrams, $35.00)
Will Eisner: A Dreamer's Life in Comics
For the student of comics history, this new biography of the great Will Eisner, whose storytelling gifts — and business savvy — helped the medium of comics gain much of whatever respect and renown it enjoys today, is an enlightening read.
Does that comics lover on your list endeavor to create his or her own comics? The Eisner that emerges from these pages — visionary but hardworking, a generous advocate of the medium as a whole but fiercely protective of his own contributions to it — makes for an inspiring, clear-eyed role model. (Bloomsbury, $28.00)
I Kill Giants: Titan Edition
One of my favorite mini-series of the past few years has been released in a giant, gorgeous hardcover edition filled with supplemental material. Dark, heartfelt and hugely imaginative, this tale of fifth-grade iconoclast Barbara Thorson, and the epic challenges she faces in school, at home, and in battle against shadowy threats only she perceives, deftly navigates the emotional landscape of kid-hood. (Image, $39.99)
The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death
Hernandez's art — he's part of the brother-team behind the massive, seminal alt-comics phenomenon Love and Rockets — is something special: clean, bright and cartoony yet slyly expressive, capable of conveying the subtlest emotional shifts. And his Hopper's 13 tales have certainly seen their fair share of such shifts over the years — characters fall in and out of love, strike out on adventures that change them forever, and grow gradually older and stronger before our eyes.
This monograph focuses on the Hernandez' craftsmanship as a comics artist — featuring childhood sketches, biographical details and, especially, copious notes explaining the choices that go into every comics panel. An engrossing, illuminating peek behind the scenes of one of comics' greatest achievements. (Abrams, $40.00)
The Sword Complete Collected Deluxe Hardcover Edition
"Nothing says Happy Holidays like a blood-drenched tale of dark magic and vengeance slayings. With lots of decapitations. Woo! Decapitations!"— Clement C. Moore
The Luna Brothers' unapologetically nasty story of a young woman who stumbles across a mystical sword only to find herself hunted by a sinister cabal of magic-users is, to but it mildly, a craaazily violent one. But it's also an epic, grimly satisfying ride; with all 24 issues in one collection, you can't help but get swept up by the breakneck pace at which ... necks break. And limbs fly. And torsos cleave. (Hey, it's called The Sword, not The Wiffle Bat.)
Not, as should be clear, for everyone. But for the some at whom it's aimed, a helluva yarn. (Image, $99.99)