Yes, Free Comic Book Day was last Saturday, but I’m just getting around to reading the offerings — and most of these are still available, so here we are.
Let’s figure that everybody already got the Spider-Man book, and look at some of the free books from other publishers. Starting with those for the youngest readers, maybe 7 or 8 or younger, we have:
Owly: Helping Hands — Created by Andy Runton
Gumby: Free Comic Book Day Special — writer: Shannon Wheeler; Art: Wheeler, Rick Geary, Mike Hersh and Mark Bode
I don’t know if they’re meant to be, but these are the coolest coloring books in the universe — they have big open figures and solid outlines, and they just cry out to be filled with bright reds and blues and yellows. Younger kids should love them, and for older ones they’re a master class in cartooning, and a challenge to color well — look at the Art Adams dinosaur pinup in the Gumby book, for example. The Owly book looks at first like it might be some horrible Barney clone, but it’s actually clever and well drawn and, again, a great book to color. (There’s also a six-page backup story, “Korgi,” about a, um, corgi — you know, a little dog — who’s, frankly, kind of creepy. The obsessive, feathery inking makes it seem much more serious, and there’s a kind of unconscious dream logic to it that you have to respect. On the other hand, the ending is too ambiguous — what? The dog has heat vision? He’s, like, Krypto? Some fundamentalist mother in Steubenville’s going to decide that dog is possessed by Satan, and there’ll be retailer hell to pay….)
For ages 8 – 12:
Little Archie: Legend of the Lost Lagoon — Script and Pencils: Bob Bolling
I first found out about Bolling from Fred Hembeck cartoons back in the ’80s, and he really is a great storyteller — those Little Archies from the late ’50s into the ’60s are adventurous, funny and charming; they’re great kids’ comics literature. Here he’s working on a much smaller scale, but it’s still great to see work from him, and parents will enjoy reading this out loud to younger readers.
Amelia Rules!: Hangin’ Out! — Written and Illustrated by: Jimmy Gownley.
Amelia’s rule is, get all the AR stories you can. Lots of readers will like this well-crafted series about almost-realistic fourth graders, but preteen girls should like it the most. If they do, there are a number of graphic novels and collections available, and they’re all good.
For ages 12 – 16:
Bongo Comics Free-For All 2007 — (Lead Story): Writer: Evan Dorkin; Pencils: James Lloyd; Inks: Andrew Pepoy
Anything by Dorkin’s worth a look, and there are four or five other short features inside, too — two starring the Futurama cast — mostly with pencils by Lloyd. Dense with pop cultural references, most of them funny, it’ll make kids feel sophisticated when they get the jokes, like being allowed downstairs at a grown-ups’ party.
Mickey Mouse: “The Robin Hood Adventure” and “Mickey’s Rival” — Story: Floyd Gottfredson and Ted Osborne; Art: Gottfredson and Ted Thwaites.
Newspaper strip reprints from the 1930s. The cheerful spunkiness (spunky cheer?) holds your attention, and then the masterful storytelling reels you in; read three or four of these, and it’s very hard to stop. The rule in Disney is: anything by Barks or Gottfredson first (and then Rosa, and then… well, then you get into discussions, so let’s stop there).
The Astounding Wolfman — Writer: Robert Kirkman; Art: Jason Howard
If I were 12, I’d think this was a great comic, especially if I hadn’t read many werewolf or vampire stories before. It zips right along, has a clear narrative and well-drawn characters, boasts some killer splash pages, and seems set up to tell interesting stories. The backup story has a guy who says “Christ” and “ass,” and there’s a page of Witchblade cheesecake in the back, so it’s mildly naughty and might offend some mothers (although, if you’re a teenager and anywhere near independently-minded, you’ve already figured out where to hide books like that). If you get it for someone and they like it, show them Invincible.
For older teens and adults (and, you know, parents):
The Black Diamond Detective Agency — by Eddie Campbell
Tough-guy Victorian crimesolving, very very very well done. If you want to get away from the cartoons into serious graphic narrative, here’s your guy.
Comics Festival — (Side One): Darwyn Cooke and others; (Flip Side): Bryan Lee O’Malley and others.
Fans have been especially looking for this because of Lee’s Scott Pilgrim, but it was the other side, and the Darwyn Cooke story, that got to me: I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t until the second and third panels of page two that I realized who it was about. Insightful, unsparing, and ultimately inspiring, it’s a tribute to one of comics’ greatest draftsmen.
Unseen Peanuts — by Charles M. Schulz; Commentary by Kim Thompson
A fascinating look at some of the Peanuts cartoons that never made it into the bookstore collections. Thompson’s speculations are confidently written and fun to read, and the cartoons themselves are weird, charming little time-capsule artifacts. This turned out to be my favorite book.