The Best Presents Your Dad Will Ever Get


My dad got me into comic books. From the time I can remember, when the paper was delivered so were "my" comic book. I used to get Beano, Dandy, and Whizzer & Chips (the last one the only one that I must have asked for. I know this because I distinctly remember my dad calling it modern rubbish, or something similar.) I honestly don't remember asking for them, but I do remember telling my dad that he had to give them back so that I could read them first. By the time I was old enough to stop reading these amazingly silly comic books, my brother had been born, and he has confirmed that, as far back as he can remember, those same old comics were delivered. We're beginning to think that maybe dad only had kids so that he could keep reading Beano and Dandy…

Of course, later, it was finding his old comic books that got me completely hooked, so with all of this going on, you'd think that this is a man who'd love getting new comic books as gifts. Apparently, not at all, and I should know, I've tried. I recommend all sorts of things, comics about engineers and architects, comics about art and science, life and death… none of them impressed, in fact, he was downright disparaging about them. It was pretty disappointing, I've wanted to share my enjoyment with the person who got me into them in the first place, but I never could find the right one.

Then some books fell into my lap that I knew he'd love, finally, exactly the kind of manly, nostalgic, quirky stories my dad gets excited about. Books about daring, adventure, and the type of British adventurer that doesn't exist anymore. I'm talking about the James Bond Omnibus, the Best of Battle, and Dan Dare.

The James Bond Omnibus is an impressive tome, collecting eleven of Ian Flemming's 007 novels, reprinted from the daily comic strips where they were drawn by John McLusky. It's hard to imagine how these would have been taken in the 1950's, when they were originally published, and I'm sure that some of their curt, abrupt style is down to the cursory nature of the newspaper strips that they originally appeared as. But I can't help but think that some of that is also down to the times. Would it have been outrageous for the wooden Bond to express an emotion, or anticipate an event, or in some way show his humanity? I think that maybe, 60 years ago, it might have been something that simply wasn't done. The legendary stiff upper lip of the British is pretty much a stiff upper everything as far as Bond is concerned, and what a refreshing change of pace it represents. Unlike the emotional renaissance of the 1970's, Bond is unrelentingly business-like. He doesn't care to hesitate or worry, he's far too busy saving the world from evil domination, and somehow picking up (and ignoring) attractive women. It's a strange comic, and deeply unlike anything we read nowadays, a time capsule of a male ideal that never really existed.

The Best of Battle is a book that has elicited so much enthusiasm from every male I know over 35, that I knew I must be on to something. Like the James Bond Omnibus, it's another look back in time, though this time not quite so far back. It's a compendium of stories by various writers and artists, originally published in Battle Picture Weekly, (a British comic book from the mid 70's which is about men at war.) While the stories all examine the battles of the second world war, the take is distinctly mid-70's. From the gritty art to the unrelenting first person narratives, the stories run the gamut. There are anti-heroes, series taken from the point of view of the enemy, callous acts of daring, and tragic deaths used to great ends. This is probably the closest western comic book (that I've read) to Lone Wolf and Cub. This is a book that (under the guise of crazy violence and terrible acts of war) examines our innate potential heroism, and exudes deep messages of personal responsibility from every pore. Sure, some of the stories are exactly the kind of "tally-ho" boys adventure that I feared when I picked it up, but even those most simple stories have some element which makes them much more than the sum of their parts would indicate.

Unlike the other two volumes I sought out for this "books my dad will like" reading list, Dan Dare is a new book. Having said that, there's not a ton about it that's truly contemporary – thank goodness! Yes, there's a futuristic version of the world, and it's accompanying horrendous politics (this is, after all, a British book, and shitty, lying polticians are de regeur at this point), but at it's heart is Dan Dare, lovingly written by Garth Ennis. The story told here exemplifies everything that the original Dan Dare stood for. Just like the original comics, there are space battles with vile, unfeeling, evil green aliens (I don't think I'm ruining any surprises here), but ultimately it's a book about decency, wisdom, and honor. Most of all, it's about a man who inspires the people surrounding him to behave with similar strength of purpose and a singular sense of intelligent compassion. While the comics of Dan Dare went through all sorts of changes over the years, Ennis brings him resolutely back to his roots, celebrating the man and all he stood for at his inception. It's exactly the sort of thing that was great about Dan Dare, the character, and I was very glad to read this straightforward, no nonsense tale.

It's important to note that, while these are probably near perfect books for dad's, this is not my sort of thing at all. In fact, that's a massive understatement, and I liked a lot of different sorts of comic books when I was growing up. There's something about these gung-ho, made-for-boys breed of British comic books that I find somewhat depressing. It reminds me of a time when I was a little girl, and I felt entirely shut out of an entire area of media. It seemed mysterious and strange, alien to me, to seek out this kind of violence and bravado. Thing is, I'm older and wiser, and I can look past the 2 dimensional aspects of these characters, and see a purity and intensity to them.  Getting an opportunity to take a look at these unfamiliar stories that I've heard so much about has been a fantastic journey, and surprisingly enjoyable. I have to admit though – at the end of the day, my dad is probably going to like them about 20 times as much as I did.


Sonia Harris reads, writes and designs in San Francisco. She's hoping that her dad in London won't read this article, so that whichever of these books she sends him will be a surprise. What are you getting your dad? Send email to her at sonia@ifanboy.com.

Comments

  1. I have a few Dandy and Beano annuals. My Grandma would ship them over here to the states for me. Good stuff! I’ve also got a few Action, Hurricane, and Hotspur annuals from the early to mid 70’s. Ron would probably love these, since they’re all anthologies.

  2. My Dad will be getting a Susan Boyle CD (his request) and a couples massage with him and my Mum. I don’t even want to imagine the eye roll he’d pull out if I gave him a comic.

  3. My dad is getting a card.

     

    I tried to read Ian Fleming’s Bond stories, but…that shit is *terrible*. Thank the gods for the movies.

     

  4. I’m so getting my Dad the Dan Dare book for Christmas. He used to read The Phantom back in the day but gave up when his comicbook room got attacked by termites (Take note: Bags and Boards did not help). He was so despondent he gave up on the hobby outright. When he came around to my unit last he got to reading Asterios Polyp and Parker: The HUnter and loved both of them.

    I’ll be getting the James Bond for myself. I have on my wall a signed print of a comic by Yaraslov "Larry" Horak who was the artist for much of the James Bond run. He relocated to Australia and is a member of the Black and White artists club (And one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet). 

  5. Just to clarify. Yaraslav took over from McLusky. It was a weekly comic strip so multiple artists sometimes worked on storied to keep it on track. And sometimes this can lead to a fairly stilted storytelling structure, one I this Diabhol was talking about.

  6. That Best Of Battle looks good.  I’m a dad, who had a pile of Sgt. Rock in the 70’s, and would love to get that.  But, alas, I won’t… because my kids only shop at Hot Topic.  (I know, it’s the thought that counts)

  7. @sonia You’ve asked the wrong question, I want to know what my son is gettting me. And being a male over 35 I’m hoping for a Best of Battle. Or even better some Scott Pilgrim.

    The thought of getting my Dad some comics is somewhere I’m not going, however he did usd to read my Beano too. 

  8. I remember reading Battle every week when i was younger with Charlie’s War and all that. Great stories. They even had a version of GI Joe in it for a while called Action Battle Force, I think

    I am trying to get my Dad to read some comics like Daytripper and  I kill Giants 

     

  9. Ah Whizzer and Chips. Takes me back to reading my friend Gareth Morgan’s copies when we went round to his house for tea after school. I’d be… oh about 7 years old I guess. Happy Days!

  10. Good suggestions.   I just picked up Garth Ennis’ Complete Battlefields hardcover. 

  11. The only book my dad reads is the Bible. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Although I considered getting him that Robert Crumb illustrated Book of Genisis but decided not to.

  12. Why in God’s name did they make you review these Sonia? This is teen-male escapism at it’s best(or is that worst?). Not to sound sexist but these are just like Yorkie bars: "NOT for girls!"

  13. @davidtobin100: Um…. we didn’t make Sonia do anything. She chose these books on her own.

  14. @TimmyWood: are you sure he wouldn’t like Preacher?

  15. @Conor: That’s even crazier! Some people are gluttons for punishment I suppose. 😉 On a side-note thanks for your recommendation on Captain America: Operation Rebirth on the podcast. I usually avoid 90’s reprints as they almost always disappoint but I’m absolutely loving this.

  16. @davidtobin100 Did you read the article at all? Making a sexist statement and prefacing it with "Not to sound sexist", doesn’t make it any less sexist. In the last paragraph I address the issue of these being "boys" comics. If you aren’t going to read the article, feel free to keep your sexist ideas to yourself.

  17. If I may add a suggested title for Dad. The Sherlock Holmes mini from Dynamite is now out in hardback. It’s an excellent Holmes story comic or not. Plus it reprints a Doyle story in the back with all new illustrations.

  18. @soniaharris: Absolutely holding my hands up here Sonia. After re-reading the post and can see how it could be read as sexist. Hand-on-heart that was completely not intended. I think it’s just a poor attempt at humor on my part that doesn’t read as well on the net as it did in my head as I was writing it. No offense or sexism meant at all. A thousand apologies. I did read the article btw and throughly enjoyed it.