It’s gift-guide season, and all through the house, we’ve got presents wrapping while we scream “what else??”

The listicles listing the things we could buy make us ponder and wonder and start to ask why—

Is it worth it to buy things all branded and fine? Are Pop Vinyls worth much when they lose Christmas shine?

As for Funkos, my reader, your heart is best searched. But I’ve gathered some reasons for the gifting of … merch.

Claire Jordan: Compared to many, I started late in comics.

Visiting my first comic store at 29, it’s been a bit bumpy for me figuring out what I like and where I fit in. But when I started reading Squirrel Girl, I felt like I was home. I had never seen someone whose body resembled mine in a real comic book, much less having their own title! Smart, kind, communicates with animals and is comfortable in her own skin, she is the hero I hoped for as a kid, but can still aspire to as an adult.

I have been looking for Squirrel Girl merchandise since I read the first issue but had no luck. Last summer at GenCon amid the rows of dice and foam swords … I spotted it. Hanging on the wall at the Tee Turtle booth was a shirt with my favorite butt kicking duo, Squirrel Girl AND Tippy Toe, looking like the embodiment of cuteness! Full stop in an ocean of people, the phrase “Hold the phone, Mabel” escaped my mouth as I pointed up in wonder. While already sold out in my size, they agreed to ship it and shortly after the convention it arrived in the mail. The exuberant joy that SG and TT are obviously feeling in the design is contagious, and I can’t help but smile whenever I wear it. I relish any opportunity to talk to people about her/the importance of the comic and this shirt provides a wonderful segue to do just that.

Emily Lauer: Once upon a time, I thought I was all burned out on near future dystopia. Then I read Bitch Planet, created by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Val De Landro and realized that in fact, I had only felt burned out on the genre because I hadn’t been reading Bitch Planet. Bitch Planet is the near future dystopian reading I’d been longing for all along. I started following the author on Twitter (now I follow the artist, too) and I started eagerly scoping out the many inventive versions of the Non Compliant logo tattoo that proliferate all over my city and all over the Internet. I was therefore thrilled this summer when DeConnick tweeted that Bitch Planet gear would be available via Indiegogo from The Tinker’s Packs, and proceeds would go to Worldbuilders, “a geek-centered nonprofit supporting humanitarian efforts worldwide.” Reader, I clicked that link so fast my hand was a blur. I bought myself a Non Compliant tee shirt and wore it on my birthday. And many other days. This November’s Election Day, heading to the polls with the national disappointment of 2016’s Election Day weighing heavily on me, I put on my NC shirt like armor, dressed my kid like Wonder Woman, and took us both to our polling place, where, after voting, I was given a sticker that commemorates this year as the century anniversary of women getting the vote. If anything could improve this shirt, it is this sticker. Anyway, now this is my voting shirt and I’m going to wear it every primaries and every general election until such time as Bitch Planet seems implausible. Note: I will keep wearing it if that happens. And we’ll all live happily ever after.

Emily lauer non-compliant

Nola Pfau: I remember the specific day and time of my mother’s passing. Some people forget that, I’m told; they block it out, but for me it’s etched in stone. I remember the day of the week it was, I remember how I found out and what I did. I also remember that following Christmas, three months after her death, when my father, never a kind man, put a signed and framed Superman lithograph under the tree for me. It was by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding, and contained the four titular characters from Reign of the Supermen surrounding the one true blue himself. He bought it for me because while we didn’t connect much, he knew that The Return of Superman was my favorite story. He also bought it because that lithograph was released on my mother’s birthday, and bore a certificate confirming that. I still have that lithograph on my wall, I still think of my dad’s rare act of kindness, and I still miss my mother whenever I look at it.

Kate Tanski: I’ve owned a lot of comics-related merchandise in my day, but there’s a dress that changed my life. When I got the Captain America party dress from Her Universe’s first Marvel Avengers collection, it completely changed my relationship with fannish clothing. When growing up, the only thing that I could find were t-shirts, and as someone wearing plus sizes, I could only wear unisex men’s t-shirts because very few companies carried anything larger than an XL. With Her Universe, Ashley Eckstein made a deliberate effort to release their Avengers collection on both Hot Topic and Torrid (Hot Topic’s plus size line). And it wasn’t t-shirts. They were feminine tailored jackets and party dresses–things that I had difficulty finding in general. For the first time I was included in the excitement of a new fashion line with everyone else. I wasn’t made to feel like I was an afterthought or not as important as people who wear straight sizes. Being just another customer is strangely transformative. And that sense of community and inclusion extended beyond just purchasing the clothing. When I attended the 2016 Her Universe fashion show at San Diego Comic Con I walked the runway with other fans of all ages and sizes in the audience showcase. All because of a dress.

Kate Tanski wearing the Her Universe Captain America dress from Torrid, and a hand-knit Captain America shield.

***

So I’ve showed you what meaning imbues branded swag; don’t be mean, don’t get hoity, pretending to gag

There is more to a shirt or a dress or a frame than is easily seen by those outside this game.

Yeah, it’s hard to get cheery ’bout capitalist blight,

but happy shopping to all, and

Hey man.

Don’t be tight.