Holiday Guide 2008: Graphic gifts

Epic comics to warm the cockles of your loved ones' twisted hearts
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culture@sfbg.com

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're aware that the last few years have seen an impressive flowering of graphic novels and comic book art. These days, every self-respecting, well-read person should have a graphic novel or two on the shelf — and that makes this the perfect moment to give your fave loved one a comic as a holiday gift. If a picture is worth a thousand words, how about a present with both?

FOR THE SMARTY-PANTS IN UNDEROOS

Watchmen changed the world of comic books when it debuted in 1986, ushering in an era of more serious and ambitious storytelling. Written by the revered Alan Moore, Watchmen uses the trope of superheroes to examine American culture. It won the Hugo Award that year (the first time a comic book had ever won a major literary award in America), was later named one of Time Magazine's "Best 100 Books of All Time" (the only comic book on the list), and is now being made into an movie. Watchmen dissects the superhero, revealing the elements of fascism, nihilism, and sexual obsession inherent in the genre, while always maintaining a sense of empathy for its characters' humanity. It is beautiful, incredibly dense and intricate, and profoundly moving.

Watchmen: The Absolute Edition (DC Comics, 2008, 436 pages, $39.99) is a magnificent large-format reissue that beautifully shows off illustrator Dave Gibbon's meticulous art, is completely re-colored, and has plenty of additional material. This is something that any geek would be proud to own.

FOR THE TWEEN WHO STILL BELIEVES IN MAGIC

Forget Harry Potter, Bone (Cartoon Books, 2004, 1300 pages, $39.95) is the bomb! Jeff Smith's magnum opus is something truly rare in comics — a fully realized, all-ages fantasy story that balances thrilling adventure, humor, and lovable characters that develop and grow.

Three cousins stumble into a new land complete with dragons, a super-strong grandma, a princess with a destiny, a terrifying lord of locusts, and stupid rat creatures. As in the Harry Potter series, Bone becomes darker and more serious as the story progresses, but it never loses a delightful playfulness, both in the moments of comic relief and in Smith's light, masterful brushwork. Bone can be found either as a single volume in its original black-and-white form, or as a set of color books from Scholastic Press.

FOR SCI-FI FANS WITH POST-APOCALYPTIC DAYDREAMS

Perhaps the best science fiction comic book ever produced starts off the way the best sci-fi stories do, with a simple premise that creates a ripple-effect of expanding consequences. In Y: The Last Man, all the males on the planet except for two die off from a sudden, horrifying plague, leaving poor Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand the last creatures alive with Y chromosomes.

Writer Brian K. Vaughn, one of the best of a new generation of comics writers and one of the principle writers for TV's Lost, cut his teeth creating the Y saga, which has been seeping out in one-volume installments since 2003. He imagines a world without men in fascinating ways, but never lets the setting get in the way of a gripping, fast-paced story. Pia Guerra's art is competent and engaging, and propels the story along at the same clip as the writing. The entire breathtaking story comes in 10 soft-cover volumes from publisher Vertigo for around $13–<\d>$15 each. A just-published comprehensive deluxe edition (Vertigo, 2008, 256 pages, $29.99) comprises the first five volumes, with the second installation scheduled to come out in May 2009.

FOR TORTURED, BEAUTIFUL SOULS

There is a long, venerable history to comics biographies and autobiographies, from Art Spiegleman's Maus to Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (fabulous gifts all).

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