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All Comics Coverage

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The unifying theme for the latest batch of comics and graphic novels is the blending of two worlds that are usually thought of as separate: fiction and reality, artists and material, families and their ancestors.

Confronting the truth
Even before you peek inside, it’s clear that The Unwritten is an unusual book. The extremely cool cover, by Yuko Shimizo, shows someone reaching or falling out of a cloud of tangled words in the sky, through a blank distance and into an open book. Simple but wild, it also turns out to be a perfect reflection of the story. Volume 1 collects the first five issues of the ongoing series, a labyrinthine metafictional tale about the art and power of storytelling. The art is beautiful if not earth-shattering, but the plot takes serious risks—and is deeply rewarding. It hinges on Tom Taylor, the son of a man who wrote a Harry Potter/Books of Magic-type series of books, the star of which was named Tommy Taylor. The series ended without its final volume, on a cliffhanger, and fans are still rabid. Tom’s dad is long gone, but the younger Taylor still makes the comic-convention circuit, signing autographs and trying to maintain the boundary between his own personality and that of the fictional hero based on him. Mostly he succeeds. But when a probing question at one convention raises public suspicions about Tom’s real origins, the line between fiction and real life blurs. Add to that a creepy mansion, a mad vampire, a couple of possible femmes fatales, a hit man whose glove dissolves objects into words, a winged cat and Rudyard Kipling, and—well, we can’t wait for Volume 2.

Chabon’s Escapist comes to life
Like The Unwritten, The Escapists is about the joy of storytelling and the often insubstantial membrane that separates the fictional world from the physical one. Inspired by Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, it features a collaboration of artists bringing to life Brian K. Vaughan’s story of three youngsters who buy the rights to a long-dead comic book character, the Escapist, and attempt to revive him. The blend of styles works perfectly to move the story between the real world and the comic-within-the-comic, which naturally move along parallel tracks. The dark, large-paneled, painterly pages of the new Escapist book are simply gorgeous, and the interplay between the two worlds in the book is not only entertaining but also makes some sharp observations about the origins of inspiration, life’s impact on art and vice-versa, and the difficulty of recognizing which “reality” is more important. There’s also a charming introduction by Chabon.

One town, two worlds
Positioned for young readers, but with a richness of ideas and atmosphere that adults will equally enjoy, Mercury, the latest from Hope Larson (Chiggers), spans two worlds: a farm community in Nova Scotia in 1859, and the same setting 150 years later. In the first, Josey Fraser falls for the mysterious stranger Asa Curry, who turns up on her family’s doorstep with a proposition. While stealing Josey’s heart, he persuades her father to help him dig for gold on the family’s land, a project that leads eventually to disaster. A century and a half down the road, in the same spot, teenage Tara Fraser is struggling to work her way back into public school life after her family’s house, where she was home-schooled, burns down. The two stories converge when Tara comes across a necklace with a strange power to pull her toward history and a kind of multigenerational redemption. Larson’s spare line drawings are great at evoking movement and emotion—family tensions around a dinner table, for instance—and they lend themselves nicely to her touches of the supernatural.

A peek at the creative process

Anyone interested in how comics end up looking the way they do will be fascinated by Rough Justice, a behind-the-pages study of the work of Alex Ross, the legendary artist behind the Kingdom Come epic as well as various famous character re-imaginings. Through the pencil and ink sketches that eventually become Ross’ characteristically gorgeous paintings, you can see the artist experimenting with his characters, their expressions, costumes, postures and even the lines on their faces, all in the service of the larger story. How many crinkles should the Kingdom Come Superman have beneath his eyes? How much gray in the temples will look right? There are also proposals for new looks for reinvented characters, such as one story idea in which a disabled Batgirl spends some time in the Lazarus Pit and comes out healed but much darker. For fans, witnessing the artist/writer’s creative process at its very beginning is a treat, and it doesn’t hurt that the art looks incredible even in these embryonic stages.

Becky Ohlsen is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

The unifying theme for the latest batch of comics and graphic novels is the blending of two worlds that are usually thought of as separate: fiction and reality, artists and material, families and their ancestors. Confronting the truthEven before you peek inside, it’s clear that The Unwritten is an unusual book. The extremely cool cover, […]
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What defines a gift book for a guy can be an elusive proposition in this age of increasing gender equality. Yet even factoring in the crossover effect, there are some topics that have historically drawn male interest. These wonderfully pictorial volumes should serve as awesome holiday gifts for favored men and boys.

HORRIBLY ENTERTAINING
Veteran filmmaker John Landis is the driving force behind the fantastic Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares. The focus here is on films that fall into the general categories of horror, sci-fi and fantasy, yet the comprehensive coverage ranges more broadly into related subgenres, such as the occult, fairy tales, dinosaurs and dragons. Landis provides pithy overviews for each subsection, plus captions for the hundreds of captivating classic production photos drawn from the Kobal Collection, a photo archive whose images span the cinematic era, from the earliest days to the latest releases. There are also some cool examples of movie poster art scattered among the visuals. Landis provides worthy interviews with some of the great genre creators (directors, actors, technical wizards), including John Carpenter, Christopher Lee, Rick Baker and the amazing special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, who is now 91 and still rightfully revered for his achievements as a stop-motion model animator. A delicious romp through the film world, this book provides a nostalgic pull for anyone who grew up a fan of the great horror flicks. Needless to say, it’s a terrific gift item and endlessly browseable.

MAKING A LIST
From the team of ­“infomaniacs” responsible for Show Me How (2008) and More Show Me How (2010) comes Listomania: A World of Fascinating Facts in Graphic Detail. Colorfully designed and illustrated with whimsical cartoons, this major-league browser collects list upon list of straight-ahead traditional subjects (e.g., the Seven Wonders of the World) with many more esoteric but engaging ones, from beauty-queen scandals to strange building materials to dangerous tourist spots. The book’s basic sections are arranged somewhat loosely around human history and behavior, trends, measurements, places, art and entertainment, food and animals, yet its organization invites an all-but-random investigation of its wide-ranging contents. Fun and surprising reading, Listomania is sure to evoke exclamations of “Who knew?” among curious readers.

SALUTING THE DARK KNIGHT
For that certain comic-book superhero buff comes The Batman Files, an impressively priced and imposingly bound tome that celebrates the legend and lore of the Caped Crusader. Author and comic book historian Matthew K. Manning is responsible for pulling together this “archive” that is designed to serve as a replica of Batman’s own personal diary, also including top secret blueprints of his Batcave, Batmobile, uniforms and weapons; newspaper clippings from Gotham City, dating back to the murder of alter ego Bruce Wayne’s parents; plus in-depth dossiers on the Dark Knight’s nefarious opponents, among them the Riddler, Penguin, Joker and Mr. Freeze. The origins of Batman’s sidekick, Robin, are also detailed. Besides its “insider” textual approach, this collector’s-item-type package also reprints dozens and dozens of color panels extracted from the comics themselves, which showcase an interesting sense of the development of artistic style in the depiction of the Batman stories, first conceptualized by Bob Kane more than 70 years ago. This is the ultimate gift item for the inveterate Batman fan.

THE HIGHEST PEAKS
Sports books almost always make winning gifts for guys, and Mountaineers: Great Tales of Bravery and Conquest offers a compelling panoramic view of a sport that receives less coverage than it deserves. Produced in collaboration with the Smithsonian, and with an engrossing text written chiefly by Ed Douglas (with an assist from Richard Gilbert, Philip Parker and Alasdair Macleod), this volume uncovers a death-defying world rich with history and populated by determined, often idiosyncratic personalities, both male and female, who dedicate their lives to scaling the world’s highest mountain peaks. The photos alone are worth the book’s price, but the story told of mountain climbing’s development, its cultural and scientific importance, and its growth as an international competitive endeavor is equally valuable. There are fascinating sidebars on sherpas, innovations in equipment, pertinent books and movies, plus the big mountain peaks (Kilimanjaro, Mount Blanc, Matterhorn, etc.). More compelling, however, are the profiles of the climbers themselves—a contentious breed apart, often loners—who risk death with every summit they take on. Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner are perhaps the most recognizable names here, but learning about their somewhat lesser-known equals is both educational and thrilling.

RIDING THE RAILS
Trains formerly held the fascination of men and boys on a wide scale. While times have changed, and trains are lower-profile symbols of commerce and travel, they still attract interest, and Steam: An Enduring Legacy—The Railroad Photographs of Joel Jensen serves as proof. Jensen has been photographing trains and rail stations west of the Mississippi River for some 25 years, and this long-overdue collection of his work features black-and-white shots that capture the bygone majesty and sense of history inspired by these steam-powered machines, preserved and operated in the latter-day era by dedicated rail-fans. Besides the 150 photos, there are essays by John Gruber and Scott Lothes—both of the Center for Railroad Photography and Art—examining the economics and cultural importance of trains in America.

PICTURES FROM THE FRONT
Finally, in a nod to the Greatest Generation, comes A Soldier’s Sketchbook: From the Front Lines of World War II, which gathers the letters and sketches from the World War II experiences of young G.I. Joseph Farris, who served with the U.S. Army’s 100th Division in Europe. Farris, now in his 80s, went on to become a cartoonist for the New Yorker, and throughout his transformation from naive enlisted man to battle-tested vet, he was honing his craft as an artist, as the samples from his youthful wartime work attest. Besides the many letters home to his folks—from his days in basic training through his return to the States—Farris also provides a contextual narrative on the war’s progress. Also included are battle maps, poster art and archival photos portraying Farris and his buddies, the soldier’s life in general and some of the war’s leaders and generals. A Soldier’s Sketchbook offers a visually captivating perspective on WWII, as seen through the eyes of one young infantryman.

What defines a gift book for a guy can be an elusive proposition in this age of increasing gender equality. Yet even factoring in the crossover effect, there are some topics that have historically drawn male interest. These wonderfully pictorial volumes should serve as awesome holiday gifts for favored men and boys. HORRIBLY ENTERTAININGVeteran filmmaker […]
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Fathers usually don’t expect much for Father’s Day—a simple hug is plenty. But you could also acknowledge dad with a gift book, which these days might span topics from engineering to sports to cooking. The following selection of new books has dad and his modern-day versatility covered.

REACHING FOR THE SKY

From the publisher of last fall’s wonderful Mountaineers comes another richly illustrated volume that merges information on the lives of remarkable individuals with useful descriptions of their great achievements. Engineers, edited by Adam Hart-Davis, focuses on familiar names such as Robert Fulton, Eli Whitney, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and other world-renowned innovators whose work dramatically changed human lives. But the coverage here—reaching back to the ancient world and through the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, all the way to the Space Age—also extols many lesser known originators of essential engineering feats. The subject matter is far-ranging—aqueducts, ships, steam engines, electricity, airships, the automobile, architecture—in other words, any discipline that falls under the book’s titular category. Besides its plentiful photos and drawings, the text is loaded with informative sidebars and timelines. The technically inclined dad will love it.

LET’S GET COOKING

It’s hard to imagine cooking as an extreme sport, but that’s what we find in Daniel Duane’s How to Cook Like a Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession. Duane is a Bay Area surfer-dude and writer whose entry into the world of fatherhood inspired him to play adventurous chef to his wife and two daughters. He embraces haute cuisine like an ancient warrior, inspired mainly by cookbook author and restaurateur Alice Waters, who happened to be Duane’s preschool teacher many years before. Duane eventually encounters Waters again when she hires him as a writer, but that episode is tangential to his epic crusade through thousands of recipes over an eight-year period. Specific food preps are recounted in some detail, but what Duane does with, say, duck fat, turnips, wild truffles or a whole cow stashed in his freezer is secondary to his fanatical Zen-like food rap and its effects on those around him. The book’s unexpected highlight: the description of a simple egg dish Waters whips up for Duane on the fly—served with a glass of Domaine de Fontsainte rosé.

THREE OF GOLF’S GREATEST

Veteran golf writer James Dodson’s American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf blends social history with biography, focusing on the game’s somewhat shaky mid-20th-century status, when its growth was hampered by the Depression and World War II. Golf’s saviors emerge with Snead, Nelson and Hogan, each born in 1912 and all achieving superstar status, their lively competitions helping to sustain the game’s popularity and eventually spurring a postwar period of prosperity in which tournaments became more plentiful and the purses much larger. Dodson makes the case that this trio provided the historical bridge to the ever-more-prosperous eras of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. More so, his authoritative prose profiles three distinctly different individuals—the gentlemanly Nelson, the maverick Snead and the somewhat misunderstood Hogan—whose love of the game was complete and whose career paths were unavoidably intertwined.

LONG DISTANCE JOURNEY

Scott Jurek is an ultramarathoner whose exploits were profiled in the 2009 bestseller Born to Run. Now this amazing runner tells his own story in Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramara­thon Greatness. With co-writer Steve Friedman, Jurek charts his difficult early life in rural Minnesota, where his mother was ravaged by multiple sclerosis and family dynamics were always challenging. Yet somehow he soldiered on, finishing college, becoming a physical therapist and, most importantly, finding fulfillment as a runner. Achievement in “shorter” marathons led to success in more grueling races, chiefly the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile trek that Jurek won seven straight times. While his personal story is inspiring, the book also focuses on Jurek’s transition to a completely vegan diet. Recipes are included, as are training tips for amateur runners who want to step up their game.

RIDING HIGH

Humorist Dan Zevin, a 40-something father of two, finds himself totally digging his new wheels in Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad. “Have I told you my minivan has a built-in DVD player?” he gushes, as he embarks on his Brooklyn-based “Mr. Mom” phase. That’s a term Zevin strenuously objects to, but when your wife’s a New York City publishing bigshot and you’re the one hiring nannies. . . . Anyway, Dan’s a modern guy and a very funny writer—so as he narrates the family trip to Disney World, relates his experiences learning tennis and the guitar, relives his court date when he’s cited for not cleaning up after his dog, etc., other dads (and moms) will find plenty of humor in his misadventures. Besides philosophizing on changing priorities and other midlife concerns, Dan also has some endearing moments with his own dad, and those passages are justification enough for this entertaining volume’s Father’s Day relevance.

SUPERHERO TRIVIA

Finally, we have Brian Cronin’s Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent?, which should prove a popular gift for anyone who ever curled up with a comic book. From Batman and Robin to Archie and Jughead, comic book characters have a unique pop history that spans generations. Superfan and blogger Cronin pays homage through dozens of entertaining lists of names (e.g., “Fifteen Alliterative Comic Book Names Created by Stan Lee”), storylines (e.g., “Five Most Iconic Panels in Marvel Comics History”), cultural impact (“Six Bob Dylan References in Comic Books”), TV and movie trivia (“Four Interesting Ways That Actors Lost Out on Superhero Roles”) and more. If it all sounds deliciously geeky, it is.

Fathers usually don’t expect much for Father’s Day—a simple hug is plenty. But you could also acknowledge dad with a gift book, which these days might span topics from engineering to sports to cooking. The following selection of new books has dad and his modern-day versatility covered. REACHING FOR THE SKY From the publisher of last […]
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The 2013 holiday season brings a choice selection of gift books that appear tailor-made for basic male interests. Football? Comic books? Bikini-clad supermodels? Somebody’s dad, brother, husband or uncle is going to be very pleased this year.

The only gift item here devoid of pictures is The Book of Men: Eighty Writers on How to Be a Man. Curated by novelist Colum McCann, the editors of Esquire and Narrative 4—a literary nonprofit launched last spring—this collection features fairly offbeat, often unbelievably terse contributions that aim to shed light on male identity and behavior. Most of the writers are men—some well known, others not so much—but women are represented as well. The latter group includes Amy Bloom, who serves up a charming slice-of-life tale about a white man of modest means in romantic pursuit of a black jazz singer 20 years his junior. James Lee Burke, Salman Rushdie and former NYPD cop Edward Conlon are just a few of the many male contributors, with material touching on sexuality, war, ethics, race and the manly struggle for emotional growth.

FUNNY GUY

Photographer Matt Hoyle’s Comic Genius: Portraits of Funny People is one of the most appealing photo books in recent memory. After drawing up a wish list of his favorite comedians, Hoyle invited each of them to collaborate in a creative photo shoot that produced animated, often hilarious portraits. Ninety comedy icons are represented, including Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Conan O’Brien, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Mindy Kaling, Kristen Wiig and Steve Carell, plus legendary vets like Don Rickles, Joan Rivers and Mel Brooks. There’s also a welcome shot of the late, great Jonathan Winters. Produced in close studio quarters, these portraits capture less about the comedians themselves and more about their individual comedic styles.

MY HERO

Any guy who’s been keeping an eye on the PBS series “Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle” will doubtless be enthralled by its companion volume, Superheroes! Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture. This rich history of the rise and development of the American comic book industry is written by NYU arts professor Laurence Maslon in collaboration with the documentary’s filmmaker, Michael Kantor. The book features interviews with the artists and writers responsible for conceiving and crafting comic books through the decades—especially in the popular superhero genre. Plus, there are hundreds of full-color illustrations that lead the reader through the Depression-era origins of the art form and on to its expanding pop culture importance. There’s also a good deal of material on how comic book art has changed with the times, reflecting war, social upheaval and shifting artistic tastes.

FOURTH AND GOAL

Produced under the auspices of the Library of Congress and with sharp text by writer Susan Reyburn, Football Nation: Four Hundred Years of America’s Game takes its place as an essential popular sports history. A surefire gift idea for that couch-potato football guy, this book deftly melds social history with a super-fan’s sensibility about great modern-day players and auspicious moments on the field. Coverage is comprehensive, from the sport’s nascent development in rural Colonial times, to its growth in colleges in the late 19th century, through its eventual explosion as a billion-dollar professional pursuit. The feast of archival material includes photos, drawings, reproduced magazine and newspaper excerpts, cartoons, advertising and more. This one should be under the Christmas tree just in time for the NFL playoffs.

MADE BY HAND

Even in our highly computerized modern world, there remains a deep respect for hands-on craftsmanship. With that in mind, photographer Tadd Myers set out for mostly rural outposts where dedicated men and women still rely on manual labor to achieve great things. The result is Portraits of the American Craftsman, a rare pictorial journey across America, with Myers visiting 30 small studios and workshops where handmade items such as hats, pipes, surfboards, knives, rifles, gun holsters, banjos, boots and brooms are lovingly produced by old-fashioned artisans. Small-town Texas and Vermont get paid multiple visits, as do Chicago and Nashville, and one surprising journey takes Myers to Colorado, where Billings Artworks metallurgy shop hand-renders each and every Grammy Award. Text by Eric Celeste provides background on these old-school industries and explains how the work is actually done.

COVER GIRLS

Finally, there is Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: 50 Years of Beautiful, a doorstopper of a volume that is loaded with personal testimony and historical narrative about Sports Illustrated’s famous swimsuit issues, as told by the editors, photographers and models who made it happen. It’s no surprise, however, that the engaging text is blown away by the gorgeously printed photos, which capture the moments when cover girls such as Cheryl Tiegs, Elle Macpherson and Heidi Klum moved from mere models to international icons. A subsection focuses on athletes as models (Danica Patrick, Lindsey Vonn), including husband-wife teams, notably golfer Phil Mickelson and his bikini-clad better half, Amy, in a charming 1998 shot that predates Phil’s rise as PGA great and the couple’s heroic, public battle with Amy’s breast cancer. The ladies emerge as timeless stunners, but so does this richly designed book, which celebrates glamour photography and SI’s commitment to doing it with class for half a century.

The 2013 holiday season brings a choice selection of gift books that appear tailor-made for basic male interests. Football? Comic books? Bikini-clad supermodels? Somebody’s dad, brother, husband or uncle is going to be very pleased this year. The only gift item here devoid of pictures is The Book of Men: Eighty Writers on How to […]
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With every passing day, our world seems ever more gender-neutral. Nevertheless, some topics still fit pretty comfortably into the category of the “historical purview of men,” and some fine new publications have arrived to stake their claim as appropriate holiday gifts for special guys.

THE SPORTING LIFE
Bob Ryan recently retired after clocking in close to 50 years as a print sports reporter. But Ryan’s career also encompassed television, and through the miracle of ESPN, this less-than-obviously-telegenic fellow came to be known far and wide for his knowledge of sports and no-nonsense opinions about the controversial personalities who played them. In Scribe: My Life in Sports, Ryan offers an enjoyable memoir that spans his early days as a sports-crazy lad in Trenton, New Jersey, the launching of his career with The Boston Globe and on to the decades spent covering local teams, in particular his beloved Celtics. Ryan also covered baseball, football, the Olympics and golf, but it is no surprise that his most interesting words here concern basketball figures such as Red Auerbach, Bobby Knight and Larry Bird. Ryan’s on-air activities with ESPN continue, so this volume really serves as the capper to his newspaper days as a man on a steady beat.

FIXER-UPPER
Guys are certainly not alone these days when it comes to home repairs and general Mr. (or Ms.) Fix It concerns. Yet the phrase remains “nice to have a man around the house,” and the new fourth edition of The Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual updates a volume that’s been of value to amateur handymen since 1973. The coverage is exhaustive, from descriptions of the basic tools and accessories necessary to tackle any job to wonderfully detailed instructions for completing all manner of interior and exterior repair and remodeling projects. The editors assume the reader’s can-do spirit and dive right in with thorough descriptions of plumbing, electrical, landscaping, masonry and woodworking projects, along with step-by-step instructions supplemented by color photos and drawings. Even for those guys who may not muster the chutzpah to actually replace a toilet or asphalt shingles, this hefty tome will serve as a superior, safety-conscious general guide and reference for home use.

FIRE IT UP
In a health-conscious modern world, meat—especially red meat—has endured its share of revisionist dietary criticism. But that doesn’t stop acclaimed U.K. food writer Nichola Fletcher from providing endlessly supportive and knowledgeable text for The Meat Cookbook, which emerges as a salutary—and heavily illustrated—celebration of all things carnivorous. Fletcher’s lengthy opening section, “Meat Know-How,” is a storehouse of general info on meat, from assessing the various cuts to using cutlery, from modes of cooking to preparing sauces. The individual chapters focus on the specific meat categories—poultry, pork, beef, lamb, game and even offal (organ meats that require special cooking attention). A final section, “Home Butchery,” goes where most of us regular folks fear to tread, but it provides valuable information and useful diagrams for home kitchen prep, including good reminders on hygiene and safety. The hundreds of recipes by Christopher Trotter, Elena Rosemond-Hoerr and Rachel Green look nothing short of spectacular and provide a survey of meat dishes from across the globe.

FULL STEAM AHEAD
“Stunning” is one word that describes Train: The Definitive Visual History. This massive, gorgeously produced volume is nothing short of a feast for the eyes, at once an impressive publishing achievement and probably the definitive popular work on its subject. Produced under the supervision of the Smithsonian and general consultant Tony Streeter, the book’s beauty and authority outweigh even its serious poundage as it chronicles the development of locomotives and railroads, describes more than 400 train engines and railcars, explores worldwide rail journeys and features plenty of side trips over bridges and through tunnels. The detailing of the trains themselves is spectacular, all in vivid color and including the minutiae of technical specifications, which will enthrall any train buff. For those happy enough with the history alone, the text is enjoyable and comprehensive, filled with profiles of early 19th-century pioneer inventors, interesting facts about the industry’s expansion from England to Europe to the U.S., plus sidebars on the train’s roles as a prime mover of people and an engine of war.

WHAT A MARVEL
Finally, there’s Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art, yet another gloriously hefty volume. This one celebrates that perennial obsession of just about every young guy—and even some older ones. Historically, there was always a divide between lovers of DC Comics (Superman, Batman, etc.) and those who favored Marvel Comics, purveyors of Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, X-Men and many other iconic superheroes. Yet comparisons are odious, and at their best, Marvel’s covers were (and are) wonderful. This compelling gallery of enlarged examples pops with dazzling color and dramatic action, backed by Alan Cowsill’s captions and sidebars describing each print, along with capsule profiles of important artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr. The covers are divided into four historical periods—Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age and Modern Age—offering a striking overview of the development of the art form’s style, as well as comics’ reflection of societal changes. One cover even features President Obama!

 

This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

With every passing day, our world seems ever more gender-neutral. Nevertheless, some topics still fit pretty comfortably into the category of the “historical purview of men,” and some fine new publications have arrived to stake their claim as appropriate holiday gifts for special guys.
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For laughs You know them, you love them. You send them to friends. Chances are, you have at least one on your refrigerator at this very moment. We are, of course, talking about New Yorker cartoons. What sheer delight it is to browse through The New Yorker 75th Anniversary Cartoon Collection, edited and with a foreword by New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff. No Andy Capp or Snuffy Smith here, just the biggest, funniest, most insightful bunch of cartoons ever assembled. The collection spans nearly the entire 20th century and includes works by William Steig, Mary Petty, Peter Arno, and others. They are, as you would expect, cartoons that get right to the heart of the matter, and in the process tell us a little more about the world in which we live and laugh.

For laughs You know them, you love them. You send them to friends. Chances are, you have at least one on your refrigerator at this very moment. We are, of course, talking about New Yorker cartoons. What sheer delight it is to browse through The New Yorker 75th Anniversary Cartoon Collection, edited and with a […]
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There’s always room for more books on a literature lover’s bookshelf, no matter how overflowing it seems to be. We’ve gathered five top-of-the-list titles that are sure to please ardent readers and literary trivia enthusiasts.

Cult Writers

Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know celebrates a group of edgy, intrepid, slightly out-there authors—visionaries whose books may challenge and discomfit readers but never fail to thrill. This arresting little title is the latest entry in White Lion’s Cult Figures series, which recognizes maverick artists in various media. Octavia Butler, Angela Carter, Ralph Ellison and Ursula K. Le Guin are among the individualists found in this volume.

In crisply written biographical profiles, critic Ian Haydn Smith looks at the attitudes and aesthetic approaches of these authors and provides helpful context. Readers will discover unabashed courters of controversy (Pauline Réage, Michel Houellebecq), quiet outsiders (Joan Didion, Denis Johnson) and brash iconoclasts (Virginia Woolf, William S. Burroughs). Illustrator Kristelle Rodeia captures the essence of each novelist in exceptional, impressionistic portraits. Vibrantly designed and discerningly assembled, Cult Writers is a standout gift selection.

I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf

Among the literary-minded, books can induce fever, compulsion and fanaticism. Illustrator Grant Snider understands this all too well. He explores the singular world of the book-obsessed through concise cartoons that have appeared in the New York Times and other publications. I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf provides a sensational sampling of his work.

Snider dissects the peculiar habits and preoccupations of the literature addict with amazing economy. He classifies types of readers (“nocturnal,” “reclusive,” “indecisive”), offers ideas on arranging bookshelves (try organizing titles in rhyming couplets!) and reflects on a host of writerly topics, from lost pens to proofreader’s marks. His colorful panels convey just the right amount of information, seasoned with sly allusions and inside jokes aimed at the avid reader. Anyone with the book bug will savor Snider’s brand of humor.

Warriors, Witches, Women

In the rousing anthology Warriors, Witches, Women: Mythology’s Fiercest Females, Kate Hodges provides a fresh appraisal of 50 women from myth and folklore, demonstrating that they’re as vital and inspiring today as they were centuries ago. Hodges presents backstories and biographical information for each fierce female. Drawing on cultures from across the globe, she includes characters that many readers will recognize, as well as a host of less familiar figures.

Morgan le Fay, Baba Yaga, Circe, Artemis and Mami Wata are among the enchantresses highlighted in the book. As Hodges shows, these legendary women often wrestled with enduring concerns such as mortality and motherhood and now serve as symbols of strength for a new generation of readers. In her vibrant illustrations of these characters, Harriet Lee-Merrion contrasts delicate lines with rich colors and standout details. This exhilarating anthology brings a contemporary perspective to stories of iconic heroines.

The Call Me Ishmael Phonebook

The Call Me Ishmael Phonebook: An Interactive Guide to Life-Changing Books began as a lark. Stephanie Kent and Logan Smalley set up a phone number that book lovers could call in order to leave voicemails about their favorite titles. They received a flood of messages and had special rotary phones installed in schools, bookstores and libraries so that readers could record their impressions of significant books.

Those messages are compiled in The Call Me Ishmael Phonebook, which has been cleverly designed to resemble the print Yellow Pages of yesteryear and is packed with neat retro graphics, fun lists of phoned-in favorites, hidden literary references and other book-inspired surprises. From A Little Princess to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the books that callers rave about run the gamut. An unbeatable gift for your favorite bookworm, this whimsical volume is a testament to the power of literature.

Ex Libris

In Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread, Michiko Kakutani, former chief book critic at the New York Times, offers a survey of important works and reveals why she finds them significant in brief, perfectly polished essays. From time-tested tales such as The Odyssey to contemporary masterworks like Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, her selections are drawn from a variety of eras and genres.

Kakutani also gives consideration to children’s books—Madeleine L’Engle and Maurice Sendak both get their due—and offers a witty appreciation of Dr. Seuss. The stunning book-jacket illustrations by Dana Tanamachi that appear throughout Ex Libris will delight die-hard bibliophiles. “In these pages, I’m writing less as a critic than as an enthusiast,” Kakutani explains in the volume’s introduction. Her mood shines through in this stirring tribute to the reading life.

We’ve gathered five top-of-the-list titles that are sure to please ardent readers and literary trivia enthusiasts.
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Animation acclamation This second edition of The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons, by Jeff Lenburg, contains over 40 percent new material among its more than 2,200 entries. Sections include silent and sound theatrical cartoons, full-length animated features, and animated television series and specials. Entries recount animators, studios, characters, and shows. Inclusions range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Nominees for sublimity include The Simpsons, easily the best cartoon ever on network TV; the magnificently noir and beautifully drawn New Adventures of Batman and Robin; and Toy Story, which turned out to offer not mere technical wizardry but both story and humor. On the ridiculous side (hey, I admit these are subjective), I could mention such errors in judgment as Mr. T, in which the tonsorially challenged intellectual giant battles evil and takes fashion risks with a group of adolescent gymnasts. But does that really surpass a masterpiece of goofiness such as Josie and the Pussycats or the hideous All Dogs Go to Heaven? The historical tidbits are wonderful. Browsers will learn that actor Clarence Nash, the legendary voice of Donald Duck, had to learn to quack in Japanese, Portuguese, and French to dub the foreign releases of the cartoons. Words were written out for him phonetically. Why don’t they teach important stuff like this in school? My favorite part of this book is that it proves what I have always maintained and no one has ever believed. When I was ten years old, in 1968, there was indeed a Saturday morning cartoon entitled Super President. So there.

Animation acclamation This second edition of The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons, by Jeff Lenburg, contains over 40 percent new material among its more than 2,200 entries. Sections include silent and sound theatrical cartoons, full-length animated features, and animated television series and specials. Entries recount animators, studios, characters, and shows. Inclusions range from the sublime to […]
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A fly-by-night kind of guy Frequently American heroes take the form of vigilantes outside the legal system. Batman certainly fits the mold. He is a loner, obsessed with vengeance and justice, and as popular culture has grown darker so has the world of the Batman. Few fictional villains of any kind rank near the Joker on a scale of heartless malevolence. Watson-Guptill has produced a striking collection of Batman artwork, Batman Masterpieces: Portraits of the Dark Knight and His World by Ruth Morrison. This is not a greatest hits anthology. The book comprises oversize reproductions of the paintings originally reproduced in a DC Comics/Fleer Master series set of collector cards gorgeous, melodramatic paintings beyond the scope of comic books. They present a fragmented narrative, the pieces of which had to be collected and assembled by card-buyers.

Batman Masterpieces features original sketches and extensive remarks by the artists on how they envisioned the many incarnations of an American cultural icon.

A fly-by-night kind of guy Frequently American heroes take the form of vigilantes outside the legal system. Batman certainly fits the mold. He is a loner, obsessed with vengeance and justice, and as popular culture has grown darker so has the world of the Batman. Few fictional villains of any kind rank near the Joker […]
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Life in a box Journey to Cubeville (Andrews McMeel, $19.95, 0836271750), the misadventures of Dilbert, uber-computer geek, is an ode to workers the world over. Scott Adams’s humor may not be for everyone; if you’ve never had a problem boss or a hopelessly clueless co-worker then you might not get Dilbert. For the rest of us, life according to this cult cartoon is dead on. While Journey to Cubeville deals mostly with the quotidian frustration of dealing with pointy headed higher-ups and antagonistic underlings, work is not everything. Adams also covers such hot topics as dating, mutual funds, and the sports memorabilia business. As usual, our hero is aided by his associates Wally and Alice, as well as the animal sidekicks (who really run the show) the Machiavellian pair of Catbert and Dogbert. A note of caution: Don’t read Cubeville in public if you’re embarrassed about laughing out loud.

Life in a box Journey to Cubeville (Andrews McMeel, $19.95, 0836271750), the misadventures of Dilbert, uber-computer geek, is an ode to workers the world over. Scott Adams’s humor may not be for everyone; if you’ve never had a problem boss or a hopelessly clueless co-worker then you might not get Dilbert. For the rest of […]

I never got it. I wanted to be the type of person who cooed excitedly upon meeting a dog, who demonstrated their humanity to all the world as they kneeled on the ground and accepted the slathers of love. But the truth was that I had absolutely no interest. So, until a fuzzy Bella jumped out of the bushes and into my life, books on dogs were the least of my interests. Not to say that I am accumulating the canine cannon, but Cool Mutts, filled with black-and-white photographs and such diverse writers as Rudyard Kipling to Sigmund Freud, offers a whimsical and touching tribute to these scrappy mavericks for all of us that get it.

I never got it. I wanted to be the type of person who cooed excitedly upon meeting a dog, who demonstrated their humanity to all the world as they kneeled on the ground and accepted the slathers of love. But the truth was that I had absolutely no interest. So, until a fuzzy Bella jumped […]

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