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Gift Guide: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells

It's gift giving time of the year again, and what better gift to give than the joy of a good comic? Whether buying for your fellow self-confessed comic addicts, or for someone who has never read a comic in their life, 2011 has handily provided a wide range of perfectly packaged storytelling gold.

It goes without saying that the likes of Absolute Sandman or the Complete Calvin and Hobbes are likely to go down a treat with just about anyone, and equally it's generally a bad idea to plump for the latest X-Men trade when giving to a non-comics reader: brains will explode, mess will be made. What we are left with then are those comic collections and graphic novels that tend to get buried behind all the Flashpointing and Schismising. Or they were released back in March and that was years ago man.

Hit the jump to browse everything from Kate Beaton to Skottie Young!

Happy holidays!

Let's start with your casual reader who perhaps enjoys the odd webcomic or newspaper strip, but is wary of men in spandex or those who hang out in theirHark! A Vagrant - Kate Beaton blue birthday suit. Kate Beaton has been ruling the internet comic scene for some time now, with her snarky historical humour and wonderful Sexy Batman. Hark! A Vagrant features some of her classic strips along with new content to keep longtime readers happy. Her style is dynamic and at first appears somewhat crude; don't be fooled, Beaton's writing is biting satire at its best, but always with a warm touch. Perfect bath time reading (full disclosure, I read all my comics in the bath).

Simon's Cat is as huge as ever, with the humorous feline storming to the top of our youtube charts and our Christmas bestsellers. The newest instalment, Simon's Cat in Kitten Chaos, adds a cute kitten to the mix and hilarity ensues. If you have a cat, know someone with a cat, or are a cat yourself, get this book.

Lise Myhre's Nemi is my fella's favourite comic character of all time (mostly
because he lives with someone disturbingly like her...) and volume 4 handily Nemi - Lise Myhrehas a Christmas themed cover. Nemi is a goth chick who lives the single life, loves sex, Star Wars, and alcohol (who doesn't?!), and is generally a charming and sarcastic rebellious independent woman. Swoon.

Then there are those people who are perhaps teetering on the edge; open to the idea of comics as a medium but still struggling with their prejudices against the humble superhero. Of course, we all know that comics stretch far beyond mutants and alien illegal immigrants, but it is true that sometimes they are hard to see behind all the usual suspects in a book store. Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Art Spiegelman's Maus has long been the poster child for when comics were seen to have become serious literature (though that phrase is apparently never out of vogue), and having won a Pulitzer as well as discussing such an untouchable event through a tale of mice and cats, it's a difficult book to refuse to read on the basis of its medium. The new hardcover edition, along with the companion title, MetaMaus for existing fans, are sure to be big hits this season.

Craig Thompson's Habibi continues to storm the charts despite some controversy over the author's embrace of Orientalism as a stereotype; there's no denying it is beautifully illustrated. The Rime of the Modern Mariner byPinocchio - Winshluss Nick Hayes has received a quieter, but warm, reception and is an uncommonly handsome book, complete with cloth bound spine. My own favourite is perhaps Pinocchio by Winshluss, a prolific and expressionist French comic artist. Dark and sinister, this is a fantastic interpretation of the original The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi - this ain't no Disney tale. Beautiful, stunning, and (in my opinion) amazing value for the price.

For women in comics, look no further than the terrific Kiki de Montparnasse by artist Catel Muller and writer Jose-Luis Bocquet. The story of model Alice Prin in the Parisian Roaring Twenties, or Kiki as she came to be known, is enthralling. Immortalised by all the artists of the day (Kisling, Foujita, Calder etc) as well as in countless photographs and short experimental films by her partner Man Ray, Kiki is sometimes described as the first emancipated woman woman of the 20th century. An artist herself, and always at the forefront of the avant-garde, it is fitting that Kiki's real story should now be told in comic form.

Kate Brown's Fish + Chocolate is listed everywhere as a paperback, but came to me as a lovely hardcover. With manga inspired art, the three short stories Fish + Chocolate - Kate Brownbased around mother-child relationships are intensely dark and unsettling. The beauty of the book is luring, the stories stinging. Beautiful, surreal, inspiring, and ultimately one that will stay with you long after you close the pages. Be careful reading this one right before bed time; but like me you may find yourself determined to share this book with everyone!

For those more experienced comics readers, the ones who know what a pull list is and will swear vengeance on any writer who messes with the holy continuity, 2011 has seen some real gems. All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely is finally back in print and anyone who doesn't own this really should. I mean, really. If you want to double your charm offensive, throw in the new deluxe edition of We3 by the same double act for good measure. Sadly the Scottish duo's Flex Mentallo just misses out on the Christmas season but the hardcover of Morrison's Joe the Barbarian just squeezes in the week before Christmas, with dreamy art provided by Sean Murphy.

Speaking of missing out on Christmas, the Madman 20th Anniversary Monster HC comes out just a couple of weeks later but is surely the must haveMadman 20th Anniversary Monster HC title for any fan of any comic ever. Featuring work from Darwyn Cooke to Frank Quitely to Jeff Smith to Craig Thompson, this is 264 pages of epic talent.

One of the runaway sellers this Christmas has been Commando: 50 Years, the oversized anniversary celebration of the unstoppable British comic. Not only is this the perfect gift for dads and grandads, but it also seems to be very popular with the kids. Nice work boys.

Keeping with the theme of ridiculously large books, Alan Moore: Storyteller by Gary Spencer Millidge, is the first book to have been written about the great bearded one with Moore's full approval and cooperation. The resulting 320 pages plus audio recordings and lush cover makes for an essential read for dedicated Moore fans. Or why not pick up the new hardcover League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Omnibus (review here!) by Moore and Kevin O'Neill, which contains the first two volumes (ie the ones DC own) or Century 1969, one of the best selling graphic novels of the year. For those with a strong stomach there is also Neonomicon by Moore and Jacen Burrows (review here!), a horrific look at Lovecraftian terror with all the racism and misogyny packed back in. Written at a time of anger at the comic book industry the deeper meanings are well on point, yet it can't be denied that the story itself is... well, icky.

On the sunnier side of the comics industry lies Grant Morrison's Supergods (review here!), a history of the superhero mixed with Morrison's own rise to fame and taking in Supergods - Grant Morrisonside trips through drugs, chaos magic, the fifth dimension, and a whole lot of enthusiasm for the superheroes themselves. If you come out of the book feeling negative about the industry then have a beer or meet some aliens and try again. Morrison's enthusiasm is infectious, and the book is full of neat coincidences and aligning fates that can't help but draw a smile. Supergods has perhaps forever shifted my own thinking on comics, and for a stubborn person like me, that's no mean feat.

And finally those that may appeal equally well to any of the above falsely divided people, and of course the titles that might find themselves not leaving the jammy paws of those who first buy them. Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon started the year off with a bang, underscoring the beauty and fragility of life, with a sequence of tales in one mans life. To say more would be to risk spoilers, but the wealth of glowing reviews are evidence of the wide appeal of this title.

At the tail end of the year comes the first collection of Who is Jake Ellis? by Nathan Edmondson and Tonci Zonjic, a fast paced and tense thriller featuring aThe Homeland Directive - Robert Venditti, Mike Huddleston
spy on the run and his invisible friend. Sort of. The mini series was lavished with praise, and with this tpb labeled as volume 1, there is clearly more sci-fi espionage to come – huzzah! Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston's The Homeland Directive is another worthy choice; an Orwellian conspiracy that nods more than a little to Moore's V for Vendetta. Given the current political climate, it's more surprising perhaps that fewer comics have taken their lead from V, and I'd like to think Moore would approve of this tight thriller and atmospheric art.

Of course, I can't really not mention the massive New 52 hardcover containing all 52 of the first issues from DC's limelight hogging venture of the year. But I'm perhaps not alone in wishing that the first lot of collected series editions would come out much earlier instead. If lots of comics in one book is your thing though, why not thumb through Paul Gravett's 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die; particularly if you feel that your current wishlist just isn't quite long enough dammit. My one gripe with this title would be that it includes manga as well as comics which would have been better suited to its own book, but there are some great choices to be found here, especially with international comics, and many that have perhaps been consigned to history before their time.

My personal pick for Christmas was the newly reissued Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, but I must 'fess up – I bought Mad Love - Paul Dini, Bruce Timmit already. In which case I'll have to hold out for Oz: Ozma of Oz by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, which I want to simultaneously read and decorate my walls with; Young's soft and cuddly art is completely addictive. Or maybe the deluxe hardcover edition of Evan Dorkin's Milk and Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad!, though I'll have to double check that won't revoke my vegan superpowers.

Whatever you choose to gift, I hope you are successful in spreading the love of comics amongst your friends and family. If you have people that insist on returning the favour, make sure your own wishlist is in an accessible location.

And if you're strapped for cash, homemade comics and art go a long way!


Hark! A VagrantHark A Vagrant! (Paperback)
Artist: Kate Beaton
Publisher: Jonathan Cape/ Drawn and Quarterly
Price: £12.99/$19.95
Simon's Cat in Kitten ChaosSimon's Cat in Kitten Chaos (Hardback)
Artist: Simon Tofield
Publisher: Canongate
Price: £12.99
NemiNemi 4 (Hardback)
Artist: Lise Myhre
Publisher: Titan
Price: £9.99
MausThe Complete Maus (Hardback)
Artist: Art Spiegelman
Publisher: Viking/ Pantheon
Price: £25/$35
MetaMausMetaMaus (Hardback)
Artist: Art Spiegelman
Publisher: Viking/ Pantheon
Price: £25/$35
HabibiHabibi (Hardback)
Artist: Craig Thompson
Publisher: Faber and Faber/ Pantheon
Price: £20/$35
The Rime of the Modern Mariner The Rime of the Modern Mariner (Hardback)
Artist: Nick Hayes
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Price: £18.99
PinocchioPinocchio (Hardback)
Artist: Winshluss
Publisher: Knockabout/ Last Gasp
Price: £19.99/$29.95
Kiki de MontparnasseKiki de Montparnasse (Paperback)
Writer: Jose-Luis Bocquet
Artist: Catel Muller
Publisher: SelfMadeHero
Price: £14.99/$32.50
Fish + ChocolateFish + Chocolate (Hardback)
Artist: Kate Brown
Publisher: SelfMadeHero
Price: £14.99
All Star SupermanAll Star Superman (Paperback)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely
Publisher: Titan/DC
Price: £22.99/$29.99
We3We3 (Hardback)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely
Publisher: Titan/DC
Price: £18.99/$24.99
Joe the BarbarianJoe the Barbarian (Hardback)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Sean Murphy
Publisher: Titan/DC
Price: £22.99/$29.99
MadmanMadman 20th Anniversary Monster HC (Hardback)
Artist: Mile Allred, Various
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: £75/$100
Commando: 50 YearsCommando: 50 Years (Hardback)
Editor: George Low
Publisher: Carlton Books
Price: £19.99
Alan Moore: StorytellerAlan Moore: Storyteller (Hardback)
Author: Gary Spencer Millidge
Publisher: ILEX/ Rizzoli
Price: £25/$45
The League of Extraordinary GentlemenThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Omnibus (Hardback)
Author: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O'Neill
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: £37.99/$49.99
Century 1969Century 1969 (Paperback)
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O'Neill
Publisher: Knockabout
Price: £7.99/$10.75
NeonomiconNeonomicon (Paperback)
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Jacen Burrows
Publisher: Avatar
Price: £14.99/$19.99
SupergodsSupergods (Hardback)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Publisher: Jonathan Cape/ Random House
Price: £17.99/$28
DaytripperDaytripper (Paperback)
Artists: Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon
Publisher: Titan/DC
Price: £14.99/$19.99
Who is Jake Ellis?Who is Jake Ellis? (Paperback)
Writer: Nathan Edmondson
Artist: Tonci Zonjic
Publisher: Image
Price: £12.99/$16.99
The Homeland DirectiveThe Homeland Directive (Paperback)
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Mike Huddleston
Publisher: Top Shelf
Price: £10.99/$14.95
New 52The New 52 (Hardcover)
Writer: Various
Artist: Various
Publisher: Titan/DC
Price: £110/$150
1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die (Paperback)
Editor: Paul Gravett
Publisher: Cassell Illustrated/ Rizzoli
Price: £20/$36.95
Batman: Mad Love and Other StoriesBatman: Mad Love and Other Stories (Paperback)
Writer: Paul Dini, Bruce Timm
Artist: Bruce Timm
Publisher: Titan/DC
Price: £14.99/$17.99
Oz: Ozma of OzOz: Ozma of Oz (Hardcover)
Writer: Eric Shanower
Artist: Skottie Young
Publisher: Marvel
Price: £22.50/$29.99
Milk and Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad!Milk and Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad (Hardcover)
Artist: Evan Dorkin
Publisher: Dark Horse
Price: £14.99/$19.99
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