BTSB Graphic Novel Gift Guide

Don't know what to ask Santa for Christmas or just looking for comics that pleasantly tingle the insides of your sophisticated cranium? Fret no more, BTSB is here to help, offering a selection of great titles we've come across in the past few years. And don't forget to see if these fine works are stocked by Helsinki comic book stores! Asterios Polyp250px-Asterios-polyp-bookcover David Mazzucchelli, 2009

For those expecting something along the lines of Mazzucchelli's early work, like Batman: Year One, Asterios Polyp will prove to be something else entirely. It tells the story of the eponymous protagonist Asterios, an architect by trade who loses his life as he's known it after a lightning strikes his apartment building and burns it to the ground. A journey of revelation, muted hurt and partial reconciliation ensues, as we learn the events behind his failed marriage, his genius and hubris.

Mazzucchelli uses a palette of cyan, magenta and yellow and gives all his characters a distinct visual identity, playing around with the pictorial language of the comic book form and experimenting with the relation of parts to overall structure – a recurring theme in the story too. This is a meaningful, surprising and compelling story from one of the masters of the whole genre.

Whatever you do, don't open the last page first before getting there.

Civil WarCivil_War_Vol_1_1_Variant Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, 2006-2007

Our Marvel title for the holidays, Civil War is an easily accessible way into the amorphous Marvel Universe. It includes a lot of the famous characters, but manages to balance them so that they remain interesting. The story rises from the aftermath of a government act, supported by Iron Man among others, requiring superhumans to register and become accountable and traceable. In a dramatic twist of events, Iron Man and Captain America end up in different camps and writer Millar actually pulls the stunt off entertainingly and believeably, ripping something new out of the two superheroes.

Civil War is distinctly a post-9/11 book, even if it does not offer the most comprehensive or original allegory of USA at the time. It is drawn nicely and the vast cast of characters has received the attention they deserve, for example, female superheroes are not mere body doubles of each other, but personal and distinct.

Tamara Drewe Posy Simmonds, 2005-2007


Tamara Drewe originally appeared in The Guardian from 2005 to 2007 and has later been collected in both hard and soft covers as well as interpreted in the 2010 film by Stephen Frears. It balances on the thin line between graphic novel and illustrated book, being first of all a closely written piece of art. Following a year in the life of a quiet English country town and a writers' retire there, it combines nicely voiced characters with intrigue, thrill and sexy romance.

Simmonds's visual style is pleasant to look at and she has managed to bring her characters to life both in drawing and writing. Especially her female characters vary in age, build and outlook, giving the whole work a realistic feel. The plot keeps in its grips and the intricacies of the lives of both writers and nobodies are keenly presented. This might even be the perfect comic for someone not that into the quirks of the comics genre, managing nicely to stand on its own feet.

Death Ray Daniel Clowes, 2011 (2004)

What if a regular guy got his hands on superpowers in the very real world of mid-20th century? This is exaclty the question Daniel Clowes (rhymes with Klaus, not Clothes) sets to answer in his aporia-riddled graphic novel. Originally appearing as Eightball #23, Death Ray follows Andy, a pubescent kid of the 1950s who notices that smoking cigarettes gives him extraordinary strenght. Soon after, a fully functional Death Ray that responds only to his touch comes into his possession and he begins his quest to right wrongs and evils in his neighborhood.


Despite the setup, this is not your grand-dads superhero story, no sir. Rather, Clowes shows his readers how erring human beings will not be able to handle absolute power like fictional heroes do. To be frank, Andy is a total dickwad from the start.

Also, be on the lookout for subtext – it is no coincidence that one chapter is titled ‟United States of Andy.”

Blankets Craig Thompson, 2003


One of the Most Beautiful Books You'll Ever Read is written all over Craig Thompson's debut. Blankets, an autobiographical bildungsroman, is superbly penciled, colored and, in a word, controlled. Thompson tells the story of Craig and Raina, two high-school kids growing up under pressure from their religious backgrounds as well as the trials and tribulations high-school-life and growing up.

Blankets is a story of a first love, religious guilt and finding one's own voice. It is touching and genuine and understandably launched the author directly into stardom. Sure, it might not be the most meaningful and deepest, even as a graphic novel, but its directness, urgency and beauty are sure to take you away.

GoldenBird Ainur Elmgren, 2005-

Our Nordic pick of the season, GoldenBird is a fast-paced historical comic set in the roaring European twenties, written by (at least) trilingual Ainur Elmgren, multi-classed historian and cartoonist. Still in progress, the story promises to be both epic and funny, without disregarding historical accuracy and a clear love for setting and atmosphere.


In the boiling cauldron of the free city of Ginestra, we meet a cavalcade of tricky priests, jazz dancers, Finnish socialists, cross-dressing flappers and many more interesting personalities. GoldenBird is amazingly researched and grasps the feel of inter-war era Europe nicely. Political realities, racial tensions and the proverbial last days of adventure are brought to light in a captivating fashion and Elmgren's somewhat traditional style supports her subject matter well.

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That's all for this time guys and guyettes, be sure to post your own recommendations in the comments section!

Kaisa Leino & Esko Suoranta for BTSB

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