I know that you (yes, you) don’t need me to write a holiday gift guide about the best trade paperbacks of the year. You’ve bought the floppies, you’ve paid your “$2.99 times x,” and you’ve listened to the Pick of the Week podcasts. Ladies and gentlemen, I know you’re here for things a bit below the surface of the comic shop – the original graphic novels and collected editions that you didn’t sneak onto your pull list this year. Here’s some of the best standalone, single-volume stories of 2011.
For the friend who is always on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Blogspot:
When it comes to comics, sketch diaries are a unique beast. You have to make the mundane (getting locked into your apartment building, for example) interesting, and delve into the personal in an engaging way. Luckily, Emi Lenox’s Emitown (Image Comics, 24.99) nails the balance. It is nothing less, and nothing more, than a chronicle of Emi Lenox’s life from May 2009 to April 2010. Lenox is candid and charming, and the reader ends up rooting for Emi – cheering her successes and emphasizing with her failures – after just a dozen pages.
Also, adorable drawings of cats. That counts for something, right?
For a little more insight into Emitown, check out Ron’s conversation with Emi on Don’t Miss #49.
For the bookish fan of The Unwritten:
When the local library tries to ban Neil’s favorite series, The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde (think Harry Potter or Tom Taylor), he’s got to fight back. That’s the gist of Americus (First Second, 14.99), a book with more heart than any other I read in 2011. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories, and MK Reed does a fabulous job making Neil’s transition from frightened nerd to self-confident book defender feel real. Neil gains confidence through discovering great books and music, something I think a lot of us can relate to. Jonathan Hill’s art is also a treat – he cartoons with a confidence and fluidity that reminds me of Chris Schweizer and, at moments, Amanda Conner. It’s a story about standing up for what you believe in, and the creators knock it out of the park. When you get to the final page, it’s practically impossible not to cheer.
For the outdoor enthusiast who loved Into Thin Air:
In 1939, a 12-year-old boy named Donn Fendler was separated from his family atop Mt. Katahdin, beginning a harrowing 9-day trial alone in the Maine wilderness. Fendler’s story, Lost on a Mountain in Maine, has been in print for over 70 years, but only a few months ago was adapted into Lost Trail (Down East Books, 14.95). Scripted by Lynn Plourde and illustrated by Ben Bishop, the book is a loving adaption that retains all the excitement of the decades-old original. With adaptations so often shuffled along to make a quick buck, it was refreshing to see the care put into the script. Bishop is an artist who has been working in Maine for a few years, and his dynamic panels show a talent that may soon be headed for the big leagues.
For the friend with a double-major in History and English:
Have a friend that would rather read about the crew of the Nautilus battling a squid than Batman* fighting the Joker? Give them Kate Beaton’s new collection, Hark! A Vagrant (Drawn and Quarterly, 19.95). The book collects the best of Beaton’s web comic, along with previously unpublished content and additional commentary. Beaton draws heavily on historical figures and classic literature, marrying them with filthy language, absurdity and non-sequiturs. Some of the strips may fall a bit flat if you aren’t well-versed in the historical bits, but there’s something here for everyone to love.
* If your friend does need at least a little Batman, the book contains the awesome Sexy Batman strips.
For the NPR listener:
The elevator pitch for The Influencing Machine (WW Norton, 23.95) : it’s a graphic novel primer on the issues that Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield cover weekly on their show On The Media. With a blend of short essays and graphic storytelling, Gladstone covers the history of mass media from the scribes of ancient Guatemala to current day reporting like, well, On The Media. For those who study the media, there’s not a lot here you don’t already know – incestuous amplification, the credibility gap, objectivity, et cetera – but it’s still a fantastic resource that’s essentially Contemporary Media 101. Neufeld is a confident cartoonist, and he does an excellent job evoking (without overly photo-referencing) the real people and places that make up the bulk of the art.
For the friend who doesn’t mind incredibly challenging content:
Want a book that will make someone question their moral code? Give them Paying for It (Drawn and Quarterly, 24.95) by Chester Brown. Brown’s memoir is an unflinching and honest look at the years he spent frequently employing prostitutes in his home city in Canada. Or, at least, the first 200 pages are. Brown, a former Libertarian political candidate, devotes the back half of the book to a polemic on why prostitution should be decriminalized. It’s a tough read, especially if you don’t share Brown’s views, but it’s an important book that takes an unblinking look at both the subject of prostitution and the memoirist himself.
For the friend tying the knot in 2012:
For those of you planning on popping the question, keep in mind that choosing to get married is the easy part. The planning of the wedding? That’s where coupledom really gets tested. In his slim hardcover Scenes from an Impending Marriage (Drawn and Quarterly, 9.95), Adrian Tomine looks at his nuptials in a series of short vignettes. This isn’t as draining as Optic Nerve, or as dark as most of Tomine’s other work. Instead, it’s a book that just oozes charm and sweetness. The topics of the comics don’t sound engaging (registering, designing invitations, choosing a DJ), but they provide a window into the personalities of Sarah and Adrian, and you pick up enough bit about their personalities that they feel like old friends by the time you hit the wedding day. At under $10, a great stocking for the recently engaged or for the married comic fan, who will surely find echoes of their own wedding in the pages.
For the person who thinks Grant Morrison’s writing is a bit too easy to understand:
With One Soul (Oni Press, 24.99), Ray Fawkes very nearly broke my brain. The book is made up of about 80 two-page, 18-panel spreads. Each of the book’s 18 (18!) stories proceeds in the same panel, spread to spread. So, for example, you can read just the upper left-hand panel of each set of pages and follow the story of an ancient hunter. Or the bottom right panels for the story of an anarchist. Or, if you’ve got the mental fortitude, you can read from left to right just like a traditional comic, sorting things in your head as you go. The end result is a choice between 18 distinct stories, one epic story, or any mix in between.
One Soul runs through the entire lives of the characters, with some surprising symmetry that’s both visual and literal. It’s a poignant, moving book that you will want to discuss with others. The book’s advocates include iFanboy favorites Jeff Lemire, Kieron Gillen, and JH Williams III, which should give you an idea of the strength of both the art and the writing.