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November 27, 2009


Black Friday Holiday Shopping Guide ‘09

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Today is Black Friday 2009. Black Friday is the traditional first day of the hectic holiday shopping season.

Following are several suggestions for comics-related gift shopping. They are intended to help spur you along if you've decided that sequential narrative presents and things related to sequential narratives are to be on Santa's list this year.

As I have little chance of actually selecting something for your friend or loved one, please use this as a starting point only. There's a small chance I'll have discovered just the thing. More likely what follows will give you an idea as to what's out there, or spark some brainstorming that leads to an idea for something specifically suited to your loved one.

I'm also quite certain I'm forgetting a list of items and ideas equally as long as the one that follows. That list is almost certainly filled with quality works and books. I apologize profusely for their absence here.

Have fun today and the weeks ahead, and please remember a few simple rules about comics gift-giving:
1. When it comes to gifts, comics are best for people that already like them as opposed to people that may like them someday.

2. The bigger the comics fan, the more likely that person is to be very specific about what it is they want. Be careful!

3. Comics don't have the retail saturation of, say, DVDs, and some of the best things are carried by specific vendors or involve an element of handcraft, so make sure you have enough time to receive the thing it is you want to buy.
All that said: gifts are gifts. It's difficult to do anything wrong when giving someone a gift. Happy shopping, and here's to a fulfilling and safe holiday season.

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THE COMICS REPORTER BLACK FRIDAY HOLIDAY SHOPPING GUIDE 2009
or
100-PLUS REASONS TO SPEND YOUR SHOPPING MONEY ON COMICS THIS YEAR

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TWELVE GIFT COMICS FOR THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
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1. HarperCollins' X-Mas Short-Story Adaptations
I had heard of two of these books as individual efforts but was surprised when a package from the publisher revealed all three -- The Gift Of The Magi, The Fir-Tree, A Kidnapped Santa Claus -- with similar design. It doesn't get much more Christmas-appropriate than gift items tied into the holiday. I think there will be people that like all of these. I liked the Alex Robinson one best -- something about his straight-forward adaptation flattered Baum's weird, stripped-down Santa legend.

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2. The Book Of Genesis Illustrated By R. Crumb, Robert Crumb (WW Norton)
A drawing showcase for the underground comix master and certainly a vital lion-in-winter offering for one of the greatest cartoonists ever.

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3. Alec: The Years Have Pants, Eddie Campbell
I'm not sure this collection will get to you before Christmas, but Eddie Campbell's long run of autobiographically informed comics are about as dear and necessary as any comics made over the last 30 years. I so look forward to lugging this book around everywhere I go for the four weeks after I get it.

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4. Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years Of Playboy Cartoons, Gahan Wilson (Fantagraphics)
This career retrospective is massive and beautiful and I think a lot of people are going to be so happy to have all this work in one place.

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5. Footnotes In Gaza: Joe Sacco (Metropolitan)
My likely choice for book of the year, it's cartoonist/journalist Joe Sacco at the absolute height of comics-making powers walking us through an elaborate investigation into a pair of past atrocities and then, in a heartbreaking coda, gently questioning the entire enterprise in a way that pulls a second, just-as-compelling narrative out of the book like a spine and rib bones being lifted from whitefish.

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6. A Drifting Life, Yoshihiro Tatsumi (D&Q)
Very few if any reviews of this massive autobiographical work from the great Yoshihiro Tatsumi note how completely mad it is on a certain level to follow a young man around as he reads and draws comics over the space of several decades. This book more than has the courage of that particular conviction, and I've never seen any artist invoke the relationship-warping monomania of creativity as well as Tatsumi does here.

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7. Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli (Pantheon)
It's said when the great David Mazzucchelli moved from Marvel comics to his Rubber Blanket, a lot of his fans stared at those books not sure exactly where he was taking them. I imagine many who understood Rubber Blanket without a hitch may have stared at Asterios Polyp in much that same way. I can't imagine too many more enjoyable journeys in comics than to follow a fine cartoonist to the places he wants to take you.

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8. Stitches: A Memoir, David Small (WW Norton)
The mainstream publishing buzz comic of the year, and an effective use of art within the memoir genre, making it a nice book to have to close down the decade.

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9. The Photographer, Didier Lefevre and Emmanuel Guibert (First Second)
I had mixed feelings about this award-winning book. Fortunately, 1) this isn't my Christmas list, and 2) Angelina Jolie and practically every adult art comics reader in Europe strongly disagree with me. With many more servicemen being sent into Afghanistan, it's also timely in a brand new way.

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10. The Complete Jack Survives, Jerry Moriarty (Buenaventura Press)
A very good, somewhat profound, and in some ways even sad book. It speaks through a visual iconography familiar to a lot of non-comics readers.

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11. Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai, Stan Sakai (Dark Horse)
This is a stand-alone color volume from Stan Sakai done in conjunction with his anniversary year. It may have slipped some fans' notice or work as a gift to a newcomer or someone who used to read the series who doesn't anymore.

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12. The Hunter, Darwyn Cooke (IDW)
Darwyn Cooke's career-changing adaptation of the first Richard Stark Parker book just looks like something I'd give my dad, were he still with us. It would look great under the tree between a bar of soap-on-a-rope and a tie with little Santa heads.

General Commentary: Some years there are other gift items that crash this initial burst of gift ideas, like the Jimbo doll two years ago. I noticed after compiling a quick list this year that it was going to be all-book, an appropriate strategy for a year stuffed with great books. I don't mean to place any of these here above the suggestions below as just open the guide in a representative fashion. In a few cases, they're not even my favorite recent books of their type, but they feel more "gifty" than the ones I like more. I'll leave you to puzzle out which ones.

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FIVE BARGAIN GIFT IDEAS FOR A YEAR OF RECESSION
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1. Something via AbeBooks
This is the interface that I use to access used bookstores. One thing that such stores tend to have that comic shops usually don't is classic "cartoon books" from artists like Peter Arno, Charles Addams, Pat Oliphant, B. Kliban and so on. But you can frequently find all sorts of comics and comics-related books for cheaper than the standard, going price. It's worth checking.

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2. Crafts
Like most men around the age of 40, I like to make coasters out of old comic book pages. You can use just about any old coaster project description that comes up when you search on Google. I prefer the take old coasters and fasten laminated comics imagery onto the top of them technique, but I've also used old CDs and cork to assemble some pancake-style. The important thing is to get good lamination and to be careful as you attach the art. Comics art offers a lot of opportunities for such handmade gifts if you're inclined to go that way. Be creative.

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3. Various Calvin and Hobbes Books -- or Something Similar -- at Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble carries a lot of the classic Calvin & Hobbes collections at a reduced rate. That's a tricky buy for someone right now as many older fans will certainly have this material while a lot of younger fans may not know Calvin from Hobbes. But if you have someone for whom it's appropriate, those are good deals. I have to imagine a lot of work from recent years gets processed into the discount sections of such stores, so it might pay to look around in the discount sections.

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4. Amazon.com's Used Books Options
Most comics in trade collections or in original graphic novel form come with an ISBN. In most of those cases, that means used copies can be sold on Amazon. I don't believe in selling review copies, but from the number of used books that pop up in the listings every single time there's a new comics release, I'm guessing most folks disagree with me. Not only can you find slightly older books on Amazon.com at a highly reduced rate, you should be able to find all-but-new ones at a discount as well.

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5. Non-Mint, Not Super-Popular, Older Comic Books From A Shop Or On-Line Store
Most comic book stores sell discounted comics in some fashion. Ebay has given price-point noogies to many a store owner who once upon a time held onto comic books no one wanted for 15 years or more because they were certain that a dollar's worth of desire out there would someday and somehow compound itself up to $7.50. With a little effort, you can snag readable runs of unpretentious adventure comics ranging from Master of Kung Fu to Power Man and Iron Fist to Thriller to Camelot 3000 to The Intimates for less than $1.50 an issue. Try reliable on-line retailers like Mile High and MyComicShop.com (especially during their sales); try eBay for things like Chicago Comics' manga sales; try Google Maps or the Comic Shop Locator service to find a store near you.

General Commentary: I'm not kidding about the crafts. I made wrapping paper for a friend of mine a couple of years ago, and I may try some fold-over stationery this year. It's probably technically a violation of some law out there with some of these things, so don't sell them. Also, I think I may have noticed that they have certain Peanuts books at Barnes & Noble for the same generally cheap prices at which they're selling Calvin and Hobbes volumes. One last note about wrapping paper: comic book spreads are perfectly sized to wrap most DVDs.

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SIX WAYS TO FACILITATE THEIR DOING THE SHOPPING FOR YOU
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1. Gift Certificate From Amazon.com
Here's one way to let people buy comics for themselves, a gift certificate/gift card to the bookstore Amazon.com, which of course by virtue of comics' journey into the world of book sales is a prominent comics retailer just about any way you measure it. I think it's all gift cards now, but I love the look of that certificate. It looks like it lurched out of a computer circa 1991.

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2. Gift Card From Barnes and Noble
There's an added advantage with an Barnes and Noble gift offering in that you can use it in the brick and mortar locations of the chain.

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3. Gift Certificate From Mile High Comics
I've purchased these before and had no complaints.

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4. Gift Certificate From Your Local Comic Book Shop
Your shop may not do this, but it never hurts to ask. I imagine there are several that would take money from you and apply it to store credit even if there's not an official certificate in the offing.

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5. Something From Someone's Amazon.com Wish List
I have an Amazon.com Wish List devoted to Marvel's Essentials and DC's Showcase reprint series, but I'm a nerd. Most comics fans just have a few comics on their regular Wish Lists waiting for you to purchase them.

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6. Something From A Want List Someone Made At Their Local Shop
Many comic shops will let their customers leave a list of comics they want their friends and family members to buy them. If your store doesn't have a program like this, they might be convinced to do it for someone that asks nicely. This has the advantage of keeping your comics fan's local store in the purchasing loop. Many comics readers are devoted to their local shop in a way that's admirable and slightly scary.

General Commentary: I have a few friends that swear by the holiday gift registry/want list at the local shop idea. The low-tech version, of course, is asking the person you know and love for a list of books and hoping there's no overlap.

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EIGHT SUBSCRIPTIONS, THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
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1. Subscription to an Archie Publication
It's like having a little piece of supermarket checkout right there in your home.

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2. Subscription to a DC Comic Book
This could make a nice nostalgia gift for a one-time weekly comic shop visitor. I'm not as familiar with these titles as I used to be, but I always like whatever Grant Morrison is working on, I hear people speak well of various Superman titles, and Geoff Johns is fairly burrowed in at the publisher.

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3. Subscription to a Marvel Comic Book
Where once this was maybe the best way to guarantee getting a comic book, it's now an equally nice way to have a recurring gift that the reader might not otherwise pick up. I'd suggest whatever books Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction are working on. With the movie, it might be a good year to think about a sub to Invincible Iron Man. I liked the first few issues of the Hickman/Eaglesham Fantastic Four, and I bet they make that a parking spot for talented teams for the next few years.

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4. Subscription to a TwoMorrows Magazines
There are certainly enough of the TwoMorrows magazines that one of them at least should be worthy of your attention. You can't go on buying them at conventions forever, you know.

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5. Subscription to Shonen Jump
I had a gift subscription this past year and it was great to see that fat little sucker peeking out at me from the mailbox once a month.

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6. Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited Subscription
Marvel's first serious step into the world of digital comics may not last forever, but some form of Marvel Comics on-line is certainly going to be the norm from now on. The thought of having a bunch of Marvel as close as a click or two of the mouse without having to store them actually seems sort of cool to me at this point in my life; I may give one of these subs a whirl.

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7. DailyInk.com Subscription
It may eventually go the way of the Dodo as more and more syndicates choose the strategy of "free," but for the conceivable future there's DailyInk.com from King Features, a site that features old and new material at a size that actually rewards your reading it on a computer screen. A solid gift for your friend that knows which strips run on the Houston Chronicle web site as opposed to which run on the Seattle P-I's.

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8. Subscription To John Porcellino's King-Cat Comics And Other Stories
The greatest of all mini-comics and a national treasure, King-Cat can be purchased in subscription form which the cartoonist will faithfully service over the next few years. In a perfect comic book America, these would be available next to check-out in every store the moment they were published, but that America does not exist yet.

General Commentary: I was sad to see two items on this list from last year, Nick Magazine and Shojo Beat, go the way of the Saturday Evening Post. Another great subscription value, The Comics Journal, is going on-line full-time. I'm tempted to buy a few classic comic book subscriptions myself -- some are priced at half the cost of buying them on the stands. Also, I'm not sure they always did this, but it looks like Twomorrows also has digital subscriptions.

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TWENTY-ONE SUGGESTIONS FOCUSED ON YOUNG PERSON-FRIENDLY GNS, COMICS AND/OR KIDS BOOKS WITH CARTOONIST HOOKS
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1. A Kids Book From Toon Books
The new line spearheaded by Francoise Mouly employs a staggering number of talents familiar to older comics readers, from Frank Cammuso to Eleanor Davis to Art Spiegelman to Dean Haspiel to CR pal Jeff Smith.

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2. One of the Kids-Focused Books From First Second
A number of the graphic novels in the First Second line are aimed at kids at a range of ages, including the Tiny Tyrant successful Sardine series (up to six volumes for the latter, I think) for very young kids and the award-winning Laika for slightly older ones.

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3. Bow-Wow Books
Formalist comics master Mark Newgarden co-authors this line of children's books that count on subtle visual effects and bright, funny plotlines. I've given these to a couple of families with really little kids and they've liked them enough to keep them in the heavy rotation for the several months since then.

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4. Something From Shaun Tan
The success of The Arrival may open up all of the Shaun Tan-illustrated books for reading by comics fans interested in how he employs imagery. Most of them are all-ages friendly.

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5. One of Richard McGuire's Children's Books
Richard McGuire's children's books -- What Goes Around Comes Around, Night Becomes Day, What's Wrong With This Book? and Orange Book -- are full of the sharp visuals and formal play that distinguishes his comics like "Here."

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6. One of Lorenzo Mattotti's Children's Books
Mattotti provided book illustration as idiosyncratically colorful as any of his more famous comics albums on works like Eugenio. If they're not still on the shelves where you are -- they aren't where I am -- they're pretty easy to find on-line.

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7. The Usagi Yojimbo Series, Stan Sakai
Oh, to be ten years old all over again and have these solidly-crafted, cartoony violent and engrossing comics ahead of me to read.

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8. All-Ages Superhero Comics Efforts
Both Marvel and DC Comics have comics they publish aimed at younger readers, and many of them are quite a bit more fun to read by readers of all ages than a lot of today's continuity-obsessive, clenched-sphincter, standard comic books and collections.

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9. Various Kids Comics, James Kochalka
James does a lot of comics for kids, all of which have an undeniable power similar to his work intended for adults.

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10. The John Stanley Library, John Stanley et al (D&Q)
D&Q has begun a super nice-looking series of Seth-designed reprints of comics from the great John Stanley. They'll probably be among those books of your kids you'd rather they not color in, but I know parents whose kids have taken to these in a big way.

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11. Various Books, Edward Gorey
Although I've focused mostly on current books for kids, I can't let the comics-related books I loved most as a child go without mention. There are stand-alone Edward Gorey books that are perfect for slipping into a stocking, and there are four fine anthologies -- Amphigorey, Amphigorey Again, Amphigorey Too and Amphigorey Also -- that are easy to track down.

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12. The Diary Of A Wimpy Kid Series, Jeff Kinney
This list wouldn't be complete without this publishing phenomenon on the list.

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13. Tintin, Herge
Any comics list for kids also need this classic series, just waiting out there for kids to discover. There may be a smaller window for kids to enjoy these comics the way kids have for a few generation now, but it's still there. Also not hard to find at all through a variety of standard methods. According to Amazon.com, they seem to be selling these in really cheap omnibus-style hardcovers.

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14. Various Manga Series Out There For Kids
A ton of manga out there is certainly suitable for kids, just as a ton of it may not be depending on the household rules that apply. There's material that's hilarious and I think totally harmless in some translated kids manga I read that would have ended with my parents grounding me had I sneaked it over to Chris Cotton's sleepover. There's also manga that's aimed at adults that I would have no problem giving to a child of someone that employed me. Of series out there that I would have liked as a kid, Naruto, Yotsuba&!, Dr. Slump, Slam Dunk and Hikaru No Go all spring to mind as stuff I might have obsessed over in one way or another. For older kids and teenagers, this list becomes like 200 titles long. One thing to keep in mind is that manga is an area where people are really, really into what they're into and not into what they're not, so you need to be careful and might opt for a gift certificate or shopping spree or something like that.

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15. Kids-Oriented Comics From Boom! (Boom!)
It seems to me that kids does a lot of book that may be good for kids -- some obviously so, some with maybe a flip-through by the responsible adult in the equation. There's a point in my life I would have given up burning ants with a magnifying class for two years if I could have had a Muppet Show comic book series.

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16. Little Lulu Digest Series, John Stanley (Dark Horse)
I don't have tactile familiarity with this series, but these are some of the best comics in the world and color is usually a very nice thing.

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17. Chiggers, Hope Larson
I picked up a copy of this sweetly-told summer camp story for the 12-year-old daughter of a friend a summer or so ago and she was thrilled by it.

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18. The Amulet Series, Kazu Kibuishi (Graphix)

While this series has taken up space either outside or under the radar of traditional comic book talking poins, it has sold scads of copies in the book market.

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19. The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My, Tove Jansson (D&Q Enfant)
The last but certainly not the least on this short list. This book is lovely-looking, from the incredible pedigree of all things Moomin, and marks D&Q's first, tentative steps into potential full-time book publishing of this type.

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20. Andy Runton's Owly Books, Andy Runton (Top Shelf)
One of the few outright indy-comics debut hits of this decade. A nice thing about it is that Runton has stuck around to do several books rather than just one and done.

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21. The TOON Treasury of Classic Children's Comics, Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly and Jon Scieszka (Abrams)
The nasty thing people always say about children's anthologies is that they feel like a bunch of kids' comics that adults would like to read. That doesn't seem to be the case with this amazing compendium, if multiple reviews from my friends with kids are any indication -- adults surely loving this material is the dessert here, not the main course.

General Commentary: This is a strong sampling rather than a comprehensive listing. I wanted more than any one single thing promote the idea that there are a lot of comics and comics-related items of interest to kids, if you dig a bit. All warnings about the highly particular nature of comics reading when it comes to gift giving applies ten-fold to kids, who invest greater significance in Christmas presents than hopefully you or I do.

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ELEVEN BOOKS MY 67-YEAR-OLD MOTHER LIKES
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1. Bone (One-Volume), Jeff Smith
My mom's a longtime prose fantasy fiction fiend, and she took great pleasure in this lengthy blending of the Carl Barks and JRR Tolkien traditions. The ongoing color volumes from Scholastic have been a hit, too, to the point that she read a color book recently and wondered if she had a whole new book.

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2. Persepolis: One Volume Edition, Marjane Satrapi
My mom enjoyed this peek into another culture through the eyes of Marjane Satrapi, first as a child and then a teen, in the cartoonist's award-winning and reputation-making work. For Mom, the relative simplicity of Satrapi's drawing was a bonus rather than a hindrance: it made the book much easier for her to read, and she could impress upon it a vision of revolution-era Iran that might have been impossible for any artist to do justice.

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3. Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits, Art Spiegelman and Chip Kidd
Mom is old enough to have fond memories of buying Police Comics on the stands. You'd be surprised how many older people, if you have some on your list, can speak to some sort of memory of Cole in the comics pages or in Playboy. (Or if not Cole, someone like that.) This is an at-times melancholy book cut heavily with the energy of Cole's work in a way that comments on the text in a fashion missing from the prose when it appeared as an essay in the New Yorker. My mom was unfamiliar with the lives of of some of the poorly treated cartoonists out there, so this helped her see the field in a new light, as well.

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4-5. Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe, Posy Simmonds
My mother really, really, really enjoyed both of these books, Posy Simmonds' breezy adaptations that offer readers an attractive prose-comics combination as opposed to a straight-up American comic book approach to the form. Mom appreciated how the comics provided a range of effects not available to prose, like the background events that crop up from time to time while something happens in the foreground simultaneously or how the atmosphere of a room can change as a number of people fill it. The link above is to the UK listing, but they're both available from American publishers now.

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6. Little Orphan Annie Vol. 1, Harold Gray
My mom is extremely fond of Little Orphan Annie, and has fond memories of following her adventures as a young girl in the late 1940s. While this book of early material doesn't feature the absolute best of what Gray would go on to do a bit later, it was surprising how quickly and in how many ways the cartoonist was up to speed from day one. I love the strip, too. No one carved space from a strip better than Gray.

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7-9. Aya, Aya of Yop City and Aya: The Secrets Come Out, Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie
The big attraction here for Mom was the sweetness of the stories and their insight into a little-discussed area of the world (the Ivory Coast) during an even less-discussed period of time for that area of the world (the late 1970s). I think Mom probably also had a positive reaction to the visual sumptuousness of these books. They can be lovely.

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10. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 and Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, David Petersen (Archaia Studios Press)
These are nice-looking books in a kind of classic all-ages vein. My mom took to them very quickly. They have a very stately pace.

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11. Grimwood's Daughter, Jan Strnad and Kevin Nowlan (IDW)
Again, like Mouse Guard, it's the fantasy thing that appeals here with this early Fantagraphics story reprint. You'd be surprised how you can put together a little gift bundle for someone matching comics to a genre or favorite kind of story.

General Commentary: This is an updated version of Mom's list from last year, to reflect her comics-related reading since then. Mom's a reader with specific genre interests and not a lot of patience for comics that don't provide a positive visual experience in terms of clear storytelling and strong craft elements on display. I think her taste reflects that of a lot of readers out there.

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SIX WAYS TO GIVE BY GIVING BACK
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1. A Donation in Someone'
 
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