Comics are the perfect gift for just about any occasion, but that is especially true for the holiday season. While DC and Marvel control most of the market, many smaller indie presses are doing great work.
These books cover the full spectrum. Some are classic superhero comics. Others are more literary or even journalistic stories. Some are comics that are perfect for your friends and family who don’t read comics. The companies listed below are amazing in their own way and well-worth checking out when buying gifts this holiday season. The creators have also produced amazing stories and will appreciate your support. Happy holidays!
One of the rising stars of recent years has been Vault Comics, a company specializing in smart works of speculative fiction (which is to say horror, fantasy, and sci-fi). Heathen by Natasha Alterici is a fantasy adventure set in the Viking Age that deals with the romance between a shieldmaiden and a valkyrie (and is a great gift for readers of any age). Vagrant Queen is a space adventure with a strong female lead that balances humor, tension, and action.
Many of their comics are more mature, such as the haunting literary horror Fearscape, the historical dark fantasy These Savage Shores, and Money Shot (a galax-hopping comedy about underfunded scientists breaking into porn). Fans of Vampire: The Masquerade should also check out the licensed comic produced by Vault.
Image Comics is by far the biggest independent publisher. It also offers full creative freedom to many of its creators. There are too many Image Comics to name, so here are a few broken down by genre, each of which is worth looking into.
Fantasy: Die; Black Magic; Excellence; Rat Queens. Horror: Man-Eaters; Bitter Root; Monstress. Crime Noir: Criminal; Southern Bastards. Sci-Fi: Lazarus; Skyward; East of West; Little Bird. Comedy: I Hate Fairyland; God Hates Astronauts; Snotgirl. Romance: Alex + Ada; Sunstone; Swing; Bingo Love. Superheroes: Invincible; Witchblade. All ages: Switch; Bully Wars; Flavor. Please also note that there is a lot of overlap in these genres and that the Image website lists more than 40 genres.
Fantagraphics tends to publish more literary works, and often, these are the comics that people who “don’t read comics” will have on their shelves. Some of their previous classics, like Black Hole, have since been reprinted by Pantheon Books.
Some noteworthy books by Fantagraphics include the three-time Eisner Award-winning graphic novel My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Walt Kelly’s classic comic Pogo, and the recently-translated historical graphic novel The Winter of the Cartoonist. They also publish many kids’ comics, such as The Peanuts and Prince Valiant, while some of their adult material includes prestige erotica.
Valiant has the third biggest superhero universe after Marvel and DC, and they have been doing incredible work since they relaunched back in 2012. For people interested in superhero comics who feel overwhelmed by the long history of the Big Two, Valiant is a great place to dive in. They are also just all-around great.
Is the person you’re shopping for a fan of traditional superhero comics? Faith, Livewire, and Unity have you covered. Do they like comedy? Check out either Archer & Armstrong or Quantum & Woody–both side-splittingly hilarious books. What about a slightly darker story that mixes thrills, real-world issues, and supernatural elements? Then buy Ninjak and Bloodshot. For horror or fantasy, there’s Doctor Mirage, Shadowman, The Forgotten Queen, and Brittannia. For sci-fi fans, be sure to check out X-O Manowar, Rai, and Ivar, Timewalker.
6 Drawn & Quarterly
Like Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly tends to specialize in more sophisticated comics for people who are not traditionally fans of the medium (or for people who just like their comics a little different from the usual superhero fights). Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina deals with online conspiracies, military service, depression, and social media in an emotionally resonant and timely way. Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang document the two months he spent living in North Korea, while his works Hostage and Jerusalem are equally impactful pieces of nonfiction.
The League of Super Feminists is a fun educational book marketed to tweens and younger teens. Japan’s legendary manga artist, the late great Shigeru Mizuki, licensed the English translations of many of his works through Drawn & Quarterly. At the same time, the classic character Moomin is also licensed through them. Craig Thompson’s Blankets explores his struggles with identity growing up in a repressive Midwestern household of Christian fundamentalists and is considered a modern classic
5 Red Planet Books & Comics/Native Realities Press
Red Planet Books & Comics is a bookstore and comics shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that publishes some of their own comics and works with Native American comics creators. (Please note, this is different from Red Planet Books in the UK.)
Some of their comics include the anthologies Moonshot: An Indigenous Comics Collection (of which there are three volumes), Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection about trickster gods from Native American spiritual traditions, and Deer Woman: An Anthology which concerns violence against Native women. The young adult graphic novel Dakwakada Warriors by Cole Pauls is about battling off sasquatch cyborgs and nefarious pioneers as a metaphor for colonialism. Jim Terry’s graphic memoir about coming of age, entitled Come Home, Indio, details how loneliness, anxiety, and alcohol impacted his early life.
4 Dark Horse
Comics from their various licensed properties include American Gods, Alien, Overwatch, The Witcher, Stranger Things, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and The Legend of Korra. Dark Horse also publishes such popular manga as Hellsing, Blade of the Immortal, Gantz, and Kentaro Miura’s legendary classic Berserk.
3 Black Mask Studios
Black imagines a world in which only Black people can develop superpowers (and how the world reacts). CalExit explores the messy chaos and political fallout of Californians deciding to self-govern. Four Kids Walk Into A Bank is a tragicomedy that feels like a cross between Reservoir Dogs and The Gooneys (and it works!). Some other noteworthy titles include Kim & Kim (a high-energy anti-authoritarian queer-AF adventure that’s pure fun), We Can Never Go Home (a bleak-but-brilliant superhero deconstruction), and Eternal (a short, self-contained saga about a Viking shieldmaiden).
2 Boom! Studios
Boom! Studios are one of those comics companies that seem to do a little bit of everything. They have mature harrowing horror tales like Memetic, Abbott, and Something Is Killing The Children. Then there’s Giant Days, a hilarious all-ages comic about three friends who meet at school and go on crazy adventures. And of course, there is Big Black Stand at Attica–a true recounting of the Attica Prison Riot by one of its survivors, Frank “Big Black” Smith.
Some of their licensed properties target younger readers, such as Adventure Time, Ben 10, and Fragglerock. However, they also have the rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly.
1 Oni Press
The last entry on this list is Oni Press, another company with a wide variety of stories to choose from. Letter 44 is a smart, emotional piece of contemporary sci-fi about a new President who learns on his first day in office that he needs to prepare for an alien invasion. The Sixth Gun is a weird western with a protagonist wielding a magic revolver. Stumptown deals with a gambling-addicted PI just starting her career.
Fans of Rick & Morty will delight in their comics as a way to get through the long wait between seasons, while those who grew up with Invader Zim will thrill in the amazing comics continuing his story. Finally, Oni Press publishes Scott Pilgrim, so you know they’re doing things right.
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