Holiday Gift Bag: Books without Pictures


Believe it or not, if you need to buy a comics fan a present, you can get them books other than comic books.

Astounding, yes, but absolutely true. Comics fans read lots of different kinds of books — science fiction, fantasy, horror, history, science, politics, computers, you name it. But if you’re looking for some comics-themed books they might enjoy, check these out.

(Preliminary note: This list includes several books that I haven’t read yet, but they’ve at least been highly recommended to me in the past. In addition, some of these books aren’t in print anymore, but all can be obtained through used book sellers. I’m linking to Amazon’s descriptions for these books because I buy from them regularly — if you prefer another online bookseller, search for these books on their site.)

Fiction: I’m not a big fan of licensed comic book novels — you know, prose novels about Iron Man and Batman, etc. But superhero fiction about original characters is a sub-genre that I’ve seen a lot more of in recent years. Here are a few that you might find entertaining.

* The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. This Pulitzer-winning novel follows the lives and careers of a couple of young comic book creators in the 1930s and ’40s.

* Those Who Walk in Darkness by John Ridley. In a world where all super-people have been outlawed, Soledad O’Roark is an MTac — a cop who hunts down and executes metahumans for the crime of being alive.

* Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. Dr. Impossible is an evil genius. Fatale is a crimefighting cyborg. Can Fatale and Earth’s other heroes stop Impossible from destroying the world? Or will this be the time he finally gets away with it?

Non-fiction: Histories of comics, cultural studies, biographies. There are tons and tons of these kinds of books.

Here’s a sampling of what’s available.

* The Great Women Cartoonists and The Great Women Superheroes by Trina Robbins. Just what they sound like. Lots of illustrations, lots of references, lots of good reading.

* The Comic Book Heroes, Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book and Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence by Gerard Jones and collaborators. The first two are histories of the comic book industry; the third is a argument in favor of letting kids indulge their natural love of comics, fantasy, and let’s-pretend.

* Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis. A new biography of Charles M. Schulz, creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip.

* Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America by Bradford W. Wright. Another history of comics, told with an emphasis on how comics and superheroes have impacted American culture.

* Up, Up, and Oy Vey!: How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero by Simcha Weinstein. Yet another comics history, focusing on the multitude of Jewish writers and artists who created comics and superheroes.

* Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way edited by Tom Morris and Matt Morris. A collection of essays by philosophers and comics writers, including Mark Waid, Jeph Loeb, and Denny O’Neil, examine morality, ethics, and philosophy through a comic book lens.

Go check ’em out.

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