Giving comics to your non-comics-reading loved ones is a tricky proposition...and you doled out copies of All-Star Superman last year. Fortunately, there are plenty of other splendid comics out there for folks who can't distinguish Daisy Duck from Dormammu.
1.) Hewligan's Haircut (or another one-shot 2000 AD title)
The 2000 AD stable goes way beyond Judge Dredd, and there are fantastic, affordable, one-and-done graphic novels. In this instance, there are plenty of solid 2000 AD books buoyed by big names. Hewligan's Haircut ($12) is penned by Peter Milligan and illustrated by Tank Girl co-creator/future Gorillaz impresario Jamie Hewlett — it's a trippy little tale featuring a haircut that can end the world, transdimensional Easter Island statues, and crackerjack artwork. Also recommended is Alan Moore's The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones ($13) and The Complete D.R. and Quinch ($18). The former is an epic tale of a woman growing up in the slums of a hyper-futuristic Earth, whereas the latter is about two asshole alien young'uns who screw around with earthlings for laughs (art's by Alan Davis).
2.) The Scott Pilgrim Box Set
For approximately $45, you can find all six Scott Pilgrim books cloistered away in a bookshelf-friendly sleeve. Perfect for anyone who was entranced by the movie and still hasn't gotten the gusto to pick up the books.
3.) Beasts of Burden
Evan Dorkin and illustrator Jill Thompson's 2009 tale of canine (and one feline) paranormal investigators is lushly painted, totally adorable, and delves into some fairly jarring supernatural horror. It's like Homeward Bound with dash of Millennium thrown in. You can find the collected edition for approximately $20. Also, the Hellboy/Beast of Burden one-shot (which came out a couple weeks back) makes a good companion piece (see: Amish vampires).
4.) Strange Tales
This anarchic collection ($20) puts classic Marvel characters in the hands of 20+ indie and alt-comics creators — the book contains such luminaries as Max Cannon of Red Meat, Peter Bagge, and Nicholas Gurewitch of The Perry Bible Fellowship. The book jumps creators every other page, giving this edition a case of superheroic ADHD. If you want to see Aunt May buy porno or Marvex the Super Robot afflicted with ennui, this is your fix.
5.) Wednesday Comics
This 18 x 11.5 inch, 200-page coffee table makes a fine primer to both the characters of the DC Universe and many of the most esteemed comic creators today (Brian Azzarello, Paul Pope, Mike Allred, just to name a few). It's big, sexy, features a ton of superheroes, and will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $30.
6.) AX Volume 1: A Collection of Alternative Manga
This 400-page compendium of experimental manga from the Japanese comics magazine Ax ranges from gutter gags to philosophical ruminations to anything goes. It really eschews the stereotyped Western view of manga (everything giant-eyed and bushy-tailed). It costs maybe $20-$30, and you can read a preview here.
Lucifer scribe Mike Carey is doing some bang-up work in this book. Its high-concept premise is "What if
Tommy Taylor was a real person who forgot that his adventures were real?" But Carey delves into a way more fertile fictional territory. Indeed, the book focuses more on how myriad fictional works can become corporeal (in the Unwritten universe, run-ins with Frankenstein's monster aren't uncommon). You can pick up the first two trade paperbacks for $10 a pop.
8.) I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!
The elusive Golden Age cartoonist Fletcher Hanks achieved a level of surrealism that few comic book creators today can match. The man made simply the medium extremely strange on his own terms (see: Fantomah, his skull-faced jungle heroine). Words don't do his work justice, so check out some preview strips here. ($15 or so, there's also a second volume, the awesomely titled You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!. It's pictured above.)
9.) The Walking Dead: Compendium One
If that special someone in your life loves the TV series, this is a no-brainer. The first 48 issues, one volume, approximately $35 bucks. Boom.
10.) X'ed Out
Charles Burns latest graphic novel is short, but it packs a potent visual punch. The book takes place in a reptilioid bazaar that evokes both Tintin and Naked Lunch. It features maggot-eating lepers, pop tarts, cyclopses who serve omelets, and a confused fellow named Doug (who may or may not be hallucinating). It's definitely not a long read, but it's current, it makes for skin-crawling eye candy, and it's only $15.