What’s old is new again.
There’s perhaps never been a better time to mine the rich history of comics in all shapes and sizes. As such, there’s never been a worse time to be a sentient coffee table. Because here comes to riches in heaps and teetering stacks. Publishers like IDW, Fantagraphics and even DC are offering weighty volumes of archival classics in lush new formats. So whether you’re shopping for tiny tots or nostalgic grandfolk, 2011 has a lot to offer in terms of bundled comic strips satirizing Joe McCarthy to new translations of European albums no comic-loving yank should miss. These are the lost treasures, and all the dust’s been swept away just in time for the holidays.
For Petes peg-legged and otherwise:
Mickey’s grown soft in his old age, but back in the day he was my kind of bastard. Dude’s a straight up rascal, and launches headlong into danger, starting with the seminal “Race to Death Valley.” Floyd Gottfredson’s wily take on the character is revered by the best cartoonists, and Fantagraphics has packaged these earliest serial strips from the 30s in some truly handsome volumes. Take advantage of the two volume slipcover edition for a great value and the publisher’s now signature excellence in presentation. ($30 on Amazon)
For the radical renaissance man:
Fans of the original indie rags of the 80s may well be shellshocked by the premiere hardcover omnibus volume from IDW. The publisher’s doing a bang-up job on the all-new TMNT ongoing, but this over-sized collection of Eastman and Laird’s original sets a new standard. Reproduced on heavy stock in bodacious black and white, it’s a big, beautiful blast from the past sturdy enough to share with younger generations. Older fans will also appreciate the annotations and endnotes along with early sketches and concept art. ($31.49 on Amazon)
For the consummate blockhead:
Every year, the top item on my own Christmas list is the annual box-set collecting Fantagraphics’ latest volumes of Charles Schulz’s Complete Peanuts. It’s as important to my holiday as placing the Big Gold Ugly Fish ornament on the top of the tree and hitting downtown Philly’s
Wanamaker’s Hecht’s Strawbridges‘ Lord & Taylor’s Macy’s for the Light Show. Watching Chuck and Snoopy evolve from their original designs of the early 50s to the more familiar iterations I grew up with in the Funnies is an incredible experience. It’s a 12 and a half year project, and something I’m very glad to have followed from the start. By 2011, we’ve reached the 80s. This year’s box set covers 1979-1982 with introductions from weatherman and crime writer Al Roker and For Better or For Worst creator Lynn Johnston. ($31.49 on Amazon)
For the iceman when he cometh:
Each Jacques Tardi comic offered in the states brings new pleasures and new thrills. From crime yarns to war stories to absurd Victoriana. This years brings the second collection of Adele Blanc Sec mysteries, but my favorite Tardi tale to date is Arctic Marauder, a moody arctic misadventure originally published in 1974. Turns out it wasn’t that easy navigating the Arctic Ocean from Russian to France at the turn of the 20th century. If you dig on Poe and Verne and antique diving helmets, this woodcut melodrama is just for you. ($11.55 on Amazon)
For the perennial punk with the plethora of buttons on their satchel:
Years in the making, this new collection of Walt Kelly’s Pogo dailies and weekend strips does due justice to a comic that ought to be as much a household name as Peanuts or Doonesbury. Similar in tone and simmering with the same political subversiveness as Bloom County, Pogo is next level stuff warranting the included annotations. Kelly blasted blowhards like Sen. Joe McCarthy when that was a truly dangerous prospect. When papers threatened to axe his strip from their lineup should he show the offending wildcat “Simple J. Malarky’s” face again, the character turned up with a bag over his head. Mix in Kelly’s whimsical, lyrical “Swamp speak” and you’ve got some real poetry on your hands. ($26.39 on Amazon)
For the world’s forgotten boy, the one who searches and destroys:
The real book has a black cover treatment, but you may see it advertised with this iconic image from the series’ first issue. While the scripting is heavy-handed, especially when it comes to spelling-out story elements already evident in the visuals, the ideas here present a wildly inventive Kirby sandbox. The Fourth World might be the King’s most enduring legacy, but Kamandi will make you giggle, not out of inherent humor, but for the pure joy of the world-building. ($31.28 on Amazon)
For any duck lucky enough:
Just as Gottfredson redefined the Mouse for the printed page, Carl Barks ran amok with the Duck. “Lost in the Andes” represents the first in Fantagraphics’ new library of the master cartoonists’ jubilant adventures with Disney’s Donald and Uncle Scrooge (look for “Only a Poor Old Man” in 2012). This is as beautiful a books as I’ve purchased this year, and the stories within have much to offer both children and adult fans of visual storytelling and even comedy. Barks knew how to contract a joke, and this is a masterclass. ($13.78 on Amazon)
For the gingers, the seadogs and me.
The movie’s receiving tremendous buzz, and there’s more where that came from, both on the screen and in print. I first discovered Tintin at the now defunct Rizzoli’s book store in Colonial Williamsburg, up in a spinner rack next to Asterix on the second floor. Each summer I’d pick up a new volume and pour over it while my parents signed us in at the hotel. It’s like Jimmy Olsen comics set loose in faux European countries. And the Destination Moon/Explorers of the Moon double feature predating the actual Moon landing stands as some far-out SF. though there are several hardcover bundles available, I recommend going for the over-sized softcover volumes. Those collections really cramp down the grids. (each around $9 on Amazon)