Comics As Gifts: The Ultimate Conundrum

I feel like the only time we as a community talk about giving comics as gifts is around the Winter Solstice Season, and I think that’s silly. From what I understand thanks to Facebook, people are having birthdays literally every day. And while I don’t buy everyone a gift for each of their solar returns, there are a number of people in my life for whom I do enjoy sending a birthday package, which occasionally includes comics.


The box is empty, the gift is the paper. I’ll wait right here while you read it.

We often talk here on the site about getting folks into comics from the perspective of the outsider being interested in our funny little world, just not sure how to enter its atmosphere. Enter too steep, like reading Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns as your first comics, and you’ll burn up on reentry. Enter too shallow, like by reading Garfield or Family Circus, and you skip off the surface and are flung into the far reaches of non-comics media and literature. Our advice usually involves finding out what the person is already interested in, and recommending based upon that. This is the same technique I used when actually selling comics in a retail shop. We’d see a patron browsing the aisles and I or another employee would pounce engage the person to find out what type of book might suit their fancy. (The answer was pretty much always Astro City except for this one time I sold some teenagers Runaways.)

However, giving a gift is different than suggesting books to a friend or customer. When giving a gift, you’re just expected to know the person well enough to intuit the type of comic they might enjoy. I’m not too proud to admit that I’ve botched this guessing game as often as I’d nailed it. A close friend of mine really enjoyed The New York Four, Magneto: Testament, and Y: The Last Man. For some reason, I also thought Chew might be a book that she’d enjoy. The most recent time we were hanging out I asked how she’d liked the most recent crop of books I’d given her and she admitted that Chew hadn’t been for her, it’d just been a bit too gross. Whoops. I felt bad, as any well-intentioned gift-giver would, and will likely think twice before giving her a comic at all upon the next gift giving opportunity. At a certain point giving no comic at all does less damage than giving the wrong one, at least in my estimation.


You’ve turned us into cartoons? Oh you shouldn’t have! No seriously, fix this right now.

But there’s another aspects of giving comics that few other gifts can equal, and that’s the awesome community. Just recently, I was giving a pair of books to someone from the same author. I figured I’d go out on a limb and ask the author if he’d be willing to write a short note to accompany the gift. He not only agreed immediately, but followed through in a timely manner. This took a set of books from Amazon and turned them into a really nice package with a personal touch. Barring some serious connections, you can’t really get that in most of forms of entertainment. For example, I couldn’t get Paul a copy of E.T. with a not from Spielberg, because Spielberg hasn’t returned any of my calls yet.

My personal gift giving philosophy is that one should try to give a gift that the other person would be unlikely to buy for themselves but will really enjoy once they have it. For the majority of non-comics reader out there, this makes comics a logical choice. Most people read, watch TV and movies, etc. and therefore have some sense of genre enjoyment, so presuming you can figure out their interests you can likely find a quality book in that vein that they would have never known to get themselves. Yet there’re a few caveats to consider with all this. You may give someone a comic that they enjoy immensely, but they might not magically become a “comics’ person.” We’ve, for better or worse (its worse), created some significant barriers to entry when it comes to actually getting into our funny little subculture. I don’t think there’s any easy solution for this one. I think the best bets are to give them something they can come here to this very website to discuss with a group of nice folks (like the Book of the Month, mayhaps?), or if they live in an area with an exceptional comic shop perhaps are gift certificate instead of a physical book, or just accept that they may enjoy the gift without becoming a diehard fan.

So how about you? Do you regularly give comics as gifts? If so to what kinds of people: friends, family, people on the street? Do you do anything to encourage continued comic reading? How are your efforts faring? Gift giving is tricky enough, giving something from your sub-culture to an outsider even more so, so I figure we could all use all the help we can get!


Ryan Haupt’s birthday isn’t for a while yet, so this wasn’t a ploy to get free books. Hear him give the gift of knowledge each week on the podcast Science… sort of.


  1. It’s tough. My dad read comics when he was a kid, mostly DC stuff. So I can get him a Superman book and he’ll consume mass quantities. But if I try to branch him out and get, I dunno, Hellboy, it’ll sit on a shelf unread.

    I’ve loaned out like three copies of Astro City, to people who don’t normally read comics, and never got them back, so I guess that counts.

  2. I just gave my friend the first Adventure Time trade from BOOM! for her birthday. She is a huge fan of that show and unsurprisingly loved the comic.

  3. I tried getting my best friend into comics; he loves the Simpsons so for his birthday every year for a while I got him Simpsons comic floppies. Then I asked him to read “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” (Swing and a miss) and “Civil War” (says he liked it, I think he read all the issues). I sort of gave up on him, but I did invite to come with me to a comic con this weekend, fingers crossed. I had better luck with a classmate in biology recently; she told me she really liked the “Walking Dead” and I lent her “Hellboy” (nope), “The Sandman” (also nope), and Jeff Lemire’s “Animal Man” (winner winner). I’ve lent her most of that run and she keeps asking for more, so after I give her the Rotworld saga (nervous on that one) I’ll try to lend her some other stuff like Atomic Robo, and maybe Ghost Rider.

  4. Avatar photo webhead921 (@Grapes4Lunch) says:

    I’ve found that Red Son is a hit. Pretty much everyone who doesn’t read comics that I’ve lent that to has loved it. I’ve gotten mixed results with the Dark Knight Returns. That’s the book that really sucked me into superhero comics. Some of my friends have loved it. Others are really put off by it. One good friend of mine could not get into the book, but loved the movie. Hmmf.

  5. I’d say most folk reticent of trying out comics aren’t too keen on the superhero genre, so I’ve had success throwing almost anything Top Shelf or Fantagrafix at them. Also Y:TLM or the Parker GNs or any Chris Ware. Don’t force them into super heroics just because you want to prove that genre can be great, start with other genres to get them warm to the medium at first. And then after initial gift giving, let them come to you for suggestions and don’t just unload a bunch of unfrequented books at them.

  6. Sadly, I gave up on this a long time ago. Other than the year before the “Watchmen” movie, where my copy exchanged hands a whopping 6 times I’ve just had too many trades go out, never make their way back to me, and when I’d follow-up to ask if the person liked / was liking the book they’d just apologize for having it so long and tell me they’ll get it back next time they see me. I’m still waiting on those copies of “Black Hole”, “Goodbye, Chunky Rice”, and Milligan’s “Human Target” to find their way back to me along with myriad others…

    But there is hope, I was Skyping with my Dad the other night and mentioned I had read “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story” and he was surprised not only that it was larger than a 1/2 inch paperback pamphlet (when I waved it in front of the cam) but that it was a book more about the the publishing history, company, and creators than the characters. After discussing some of the finer points and sensing his genuine interest I gifted him the ebook and he’s loving it. Not quite a comic, but I’ll take this as a win…

  7. One book that I find works with no matter who I give it to is I Kill Giants. It’s self contained, funny and emotional. Gets ’em every time.

  8. I’ve had a lot of luck with Y: The Last Man and Locke and Key.

  9. Saga, the gift that even your girlfriend/boyfriend, Mother/Father and *almost* everyone you know will love. I’ve gotten several people hooked on it simply by describing it as Romeo and Juliet meets Star Wars. That was enough. 🙂

    I’m currently working on getting a few people hooked on the new “Hawkguy” trade that came out last week as well.

    I’m in my 30’s so most people I know that have dabbled in comics haven’t done so in over a decade and still think of them as being a kids medium. For better or worse they’ve changed and become much more adult oriented as I’ve grown up and most adult oriented readers of mainstream fiction aren’t aware of this it seems.

  10. “My personal gift giving philosophy is that one should try to give a gift that the other person would be unlikely to buy for themselves but will really enjoy once they have it.”

    Agree 100%.


    I have had great success gifting comics. Not everyone likes Superheroes and not every comic is about Superheroes so gift accordingly.

  11. If someone is a friend of mine, they’ve probably gotten comics as a gift at least once. While I do give superhero books on occasion, I’ve had the best luck with stuff that’s in the person’s wheelhouse.

    A friend of mine who’s really into mid century modern design, for example, got the first couple of Darwyn Cooke’s Parker books. He liked them so much, he bought ME the third one. A few DJs have ended up with Phonogram which was another easy win. That said? I gave someone the Confessor trade from Astro City and they seemed like they really enjoyed it, so I’ll count that as a win as well.

    The only time it didn’t quite work was when I gave the Missus the Firefly trades. Eh! Can’t win ’em all!

  12. My kids are bummed if I don’t give them comics for the holidays & birthdays. It brings me great joy to know that I’m giving them a gift that’ll be with them forever. So far, I’ve nailed everyone I’ve given them, no duds yet!

  13. I’m still trying to get friends and family to buy me comics as gifts. Once I’ve cracked that nut we will see how it goes

    • Seriously me too. They always tell me “I dont know what to get you” and I scratch my head because i literally want a million things in my collection. I’ve even created amazon wishlists and handy spreadsheets of what issues i’m missing and looking for….it doesnt help. lol

  14. Saga is my gift of choice at the moment. I buy a bunch of singles every month and dish them out accordingly. Also have had great luck with Parker for my brother in law, and SANDMAN for my non-comic reading wife. Oddly enough I had to buy her the rest of the SANDMAN trades over the course of time. Still the only comic she has ever read….

  15. Walking Dead trades have worked for me. Especially if they follow the show

  16. I give comics as much as possible! The key: You have to know the friend or family member that you are giving to. I regularly gift comics to both my Mom and Dad — but I still can’t figure out what comics my brother would like. So, i will wait to give him comics until I can figure it out. I don’t want to inadvertently ruin comics for him.

    Often when I have a friend who wants to get into comics, but does not know where to start, usually I give them books that

    a.) Have good art
    b.) Don’t need 100 issues as context
    c.) Make you better as a person/artist/writer/teacher after reading it.

    That said, comics I’ve gifted the most are pretty motley, but commonly never involve super heroes: Chris Ware, Mouse Guard, Gunnerkrigg Court, Saga, Maus, Mega Man, MLP, anything by Joe Sacco, Walking Dead.

  17. I’ve had a lot of success with “Fables”, especially with women-friends who had never picked up a comic in their lives. Also, “Pride of Baghdad” and “WE3” have been successful.

  18. Had a friend in class who talked me into lending him Blackest Night.I told him that you don’t just jump into Blackest Night but he didn’t listen.He gave it back to me about an hour later.

    A more positive story, there was a cute girl in class who wore those Superman t-shirts you can buy at Hot Topic or whatever.I loaned her Superman:Earth One and she enjoyed it immensely.

    • I lent the main books of “Blackest Night” to one of my friends and he really liked it. Never read Geoff Johns or GL before that.

  19. I have a couple good friends I regularly give gift certificates to my LCS to as gifts. They usually enjoy it as they are already comic book people.