For the lefty on your list consider Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” Hedges is a former New York Times reporter, and Sacco is an on-the-scene cartoonist/reporter. Together they chronicle what they term the “sacrifice zones” of contemporary American capitalism. From the ravaged neighborhoods of Camden, N.J., to a Native American reservation in Pine Ridge, S.D., to the coal town of Welch, W.Va., they document the political and personal destruction of the free market’s dark corners. Hedges writes; Sacco draws; and the combined picture is bleak and disturbing. They find some hope in the self-organizing efforts of farmworkers in Immokalee, Fla., and in the final chapter, Hedges points to the Occupy movement as a nascent force for a more just society. Sacco’s powerful drawings from conflict zones overseas were also collected and published this year in a volume titled, “Journalism.”
Looking for something more personal? Alison Bechdel documents her interior travels in her complex and rewarding graphic memoir, “Are You My Mother?” In a sequel to her remembrance of her closeted father, his suicide, and her own coming out as a lesbian in “Fun Home,” the new work seeks to understand and revive the bond between herself and her emotionally distant mother. The memoir is both the record of her quest and a tool in her search, and it opens the reader to Bechdel’s therapy, self-deprecating sense of humor, and sense of herself as an artist. She compulsively transcribes her interactions with her mother, exposes them to the bright light of psychoanalytic theory, and ultimately finds a path to accepting herself and her family. The drawings are appropriately personal, quirky, and engaging.
If you want to play against type and give a completely nonholiday gift for the holidays, wrap up a copy of Charles Burns’s “The Hive.” It’s a creepy tour de force, weaving together layers of paranoid nightmares, and a sequel to Burns’s “X’ed Out.’’ It’s as though the tenants of Ware’s townhouse all dropped bad acid at the same time, and Burns’s drawing delivers the horror in full-color, palm-sweating detail, complete with armies of maggots, sadistic lovers, and desolate underground factories patrolled by foul-mouthed alien overlords. Not a stocking stuffer for the little ones.
Can’t decide on one book? Give a delicious Whitman sampler of American graphic offerings. “The Best American Comics 2012’’ showcases the work of 29 artists, with a half dozen offerings especially for children. This year’s editor is Françoise Mouly, art director of The New Yorker and the cofounder of RAW magazine with her cartoonist husband, Art Spiegelman. It’s the seventh year of the series and the strongest to date. The series editors are cartoonists Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, who have a 2012 book of their own — “Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued.’’ Give it to the aspiring comic artist on your list. It’s a sequel to their 2008 “Drawing Words & Writing Pictures,’’ which is a terrific, in-depth course on brainstorming and producing graphic, sequential art. The new volume contains a chapter worthy of one of Burns’ tales of terror: “The Horror of the Blank Page.”
Whether fiction or nonfiction, bound by covers or unbound in a box, all of these works create meaning through the dance of visual image and word. The rich intellectual and imaginative pleasures they offer can’t be divorced from the physical experience of the book. This year, give someone a comic book. No batteries required, and you’ll set a good example for the kids.
By Chris Ware
Pantheon, 260 pp., $50
THE CARTER FAMILY: Don’t Forget This Song
By Frank M. Young and David Lasky
Abrams ComicArts, 192 pp., $24.95
DAYS OF DESTRUCTION, DAYS OF REVOLT
By Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco
Nation, 320 pp., $28
By Joe Sacco
Metropolitan, 208 pp., $29
ARE YOU MY MOTHER?: A Comic Drama
By Alison Bechdel
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 304 pp., $22
By Charles Burns
Pantheon, 56 pp., $21.95
THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2012
Edited by Françoise Mouly
Series edited by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 352 pp., $25
MASTERING COMICS: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued
By Jessica Abel and Matt Madden
First Second, 336 pp., $34.99
Dan Wasserman is the Globe’s editorial cartoonist. He can be reached at wasserman@ globe.com.