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2012 Gift Guide for Pop Culture Geeks and Media Mavens

All year long we’ve been taking a look at the wild and interesting places where pop culture from various media intersect. Well, in the gift suggestions that follow those popular media products not only intersect, but romp together in inspired ways–consider them examples of transliteracy in full play mode. Oh, and maybe this should go without saying, but please don’t think of these gifts as items you have to match to your friends or family… think of them as things you deserve and should get by request, gift card redemption, or outright purchase. In short, do whatever it takes.

Let’s start with 2012’s most stunning animated feature, The Secret World of Arrietty… which, as you’re probably aware, was based loosely on Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. From there the folks at VIZ have managed to produce multiple charming and beautiful print companions to the film. The large, eye-popping volume shown above features gorgeous pre-production designs and production artwork from the masters at Studio Ghibli. What’s more, the two-volume manga adaptation (pictured at left) is incredibly satisfying, like having all the film’s subtlety and lush imagery in the palm of your hand (I particularly like the evocative silent passages). So sure, while movie tie-ins might be a dime a dozen, these are more like “once every few years” in quality.

Speaking of comics and movie adaptations, I’d like to focus on a title that’s going in the opposite direction: Doug TenNapel’s memorable and moving Cardboard.  As you may already know, this graphic novel is currently being developed by Fox Animation with Tobey Maguire participating. That seems appropriate as this graphic novel itself already feels like a classic film, recalling everything from Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to Joe Dante’s Gremlins. Oh, and trust me–kids love this book (mine admit to having read it half a dozen times each).

Certainly one of the most anticipated movie adaptations of comics properties this year was The Amazing Spider-Man. And while the film itself seems to have divided fans, here’s something they can all agree on:  the greatness of  Alan Cowsill and Matthew K. Manning’s Spider-Man Chronicles. Can reading a reference work about comics possibly be as fun as actually reading comics? In this case, yes! With its wonderful design–nothing is cramped  or too-busy–DK’s embarrassment-of-riches approach has never spoiled readers quite as much. Every single issue of Spider-Man is vividly recounted here, making me wish this kind of volume existed for every major comics character.

For a completely different type of reference book, but one that’s no less captivating, be sure to check out Variety: An Illustrated History of the World from the Most Important Magazine in Hollywood. That’s quite a title, I realize, both in length and self-aggrandizement, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that this is my favorite history book and my favorite book about media that was published in 2012. And by “media” I mean everything:  it’s about radio, TV, movies, print journalism, home video, you name it. The mix of terrific vintage photos and ads with expertly curated primary source texts (letters, obituaries) is highly addictive–and in fact if you actually teach media or pop culture you’ll find lesson ideas on nearly every page. Here’s the book trailer to give you a sense of what I mean…

Are t-shirts and board games forms of media? You bet.

Okay, so here’s a change of pace from all these lavish books: the special 50th Anniversary Doctor Who version of Monopoly. You’ll get a kick out of how aspects of the game have been translated into terms relating to the series’ rich history, such as the railroads being replaced by different versions of the TARDIS. On a more basic level, it’s neat to see how the designers have made use of distinctive visual trademarks, such as having the game tokens resemble items like the Fifth Doctor’s stalk of celery, the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, and the current Doctor’s bow tie. But, hey. what if you or your gift recipient is a Whovian but not big on Monopoly? No problem. Just consider the Weeping Angels shirt to the left as a suitable (and pretty clever) alternative.


2012 also brought an end to Christopher Nolan’s cinematic run on Batman. But does that mean we’re done with his groundbreaking films? Hardly. Just hand any fan–and they all have the disc versions of the films already, trust me–a copy of Dark Knight Trilogy: The Complete Screenplays and be prepared to see someone’s face light up. If you’re familiar with the series, then you know that these scripts, by Nolan, his brother Jonathan, and David S. Goyer, are something special, full of moments and specific lines to read and relish. Yet even beyond that, the publisher has done a terrific job here. The book is substantial, but not unwieldy; it’s a paperback you can carry about without getting tired. Moreover, the added storyboards are well selected with an eye to the films’ memorable set pieces (e.g., the truck chase in TDK, Bane’s opening plane sequence in TDKR). The result is that you’ll be impressed with the writing but also impressed all over again that Nolan and his team were able to pull off the promise of these initial concepts.

Finally, there’s no better proof of my contention that media literacy is perhaps best approached through fandom than The Princess Bride: A Celebration. If that sounds a bit stuffy, be assured that the book in question is anything but; instead, it’s a super-smart, super-comprehensive collection of creative artifacts related to a beloved film that just happened to celebrate its first quarter-century this year. So, yes, the vellum inserts, photo contact sheets, and all of the rest it is sure to keep a smile on any fan’s smile… but what’s most astounding here is how the book has been compiled to tell the proverbial behind-the-scenes story of making the film without any unifying main text: there’s just the shooting script as a kind of backbone and all the stills and remembrances hanging off of it. To turn the pages of this book, then, is to both relive the film and to learn, effortlessly, about how it was crafted. Highly recommended… like everything else mentioned in this post.

About Peter Gutierrez