Arts Desk

International Ink: A Summer Comics Gift List

Fine, so it's way too early to think about the holidays, but summer usually requires some gift-giving. Take the opportunity to convert people to Team Comics by giving them a cartoon book.

For the high school or college graduate, Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg's To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story (Roaring Press, $20) isn't a graphic novel, but would be familiar to Victorians. It's an illustrated travelogue with Weinberg contributing one drawing per page to complement Scieszka's text. This pleasant autobiographical tale starts in Morocco, when the two meet during a college semester abroad, and follows them back to opposite coasts of the U.S., and then to China and, well, eventually to Timbuktu. To Timbuktu is an enjoyable travel account, part-cautionary tale and part-eye opening story. To make it a truly special gift, you can get the book signed by the authors at Politics and Prose today 7 p.m.

Perhaps you've been invited to a wedding: Close to Home cartoonist John McPherson's Women Are From Venus, Men Are Idiots (Andrews McMeel, $10) is a slim collection of single-panel cartoons in which you can slip a gift card or a century note. McPherson's cartoons are among the tiny scrunched ones that appear on the first page of the Post's comics section—you can actually see the drawings here. This will let you decide whether the newlyweds would appreciate a cartoon of a groom carrying his bride into the honeymoon sweet while noticing a sign that says "Did something just go pop?! Call Hillcrest Chiropractic Associates! They'll Set You Straight!"

Fuzz & Fur: Japan's Costumed Characters by Edward & John Harrison (Mark Batty Publisher, $17) is not about cosplay or dressing up like Sailor Moon. Instead the book features full-color illustrations of cartoon mascots that act as an "amazing marketing tool that promotes a region or institution by honoring landmarks, regional poins of interest, local produce, historical figures and traditional folklore." The mascots are often designed in local competitions, and "the loose and often awkward [characters] have a unique charm" according to the authors. America has its own versions of these—in Washington, the Nationals have Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt race at every game—but the Japanese versions look strange and alien. With this extremely well-illustrated guidebook that is arranged by area of Japan, you can see a side of the country not usually available to outsiders.

Jason Shiga's Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not) (Abrams Comicarts, $18) is a graphic novel about a library geek who tries to follow his hipster friend when she moves from California to New York. Shiga's cartoony artwork is very stylized and recognizable, and my guess is that you'll either like it immediately or not at all. The story is told in two parts: a flashback section colored pink where we see the two platonic friends hanging around together, and a current-day section colored blue that shows Jimmy bussing across the country to see Sara, who isn't expecting him. This could be a good gift for someone you want to get to know better...or then again, maybe won't be. You could read it yourself though, if it doesn't quite work out.

Father's Day is past, but if you need something for an older relative, Tom Wilson's Ziggy 40 Years (Andrews McMeel, $25) reprints strips from the four decades that Ziggy's been part of the American zeitgeist. My father-in-law's a fan, and as the dust jacket says, "New readers and longtime fans will find optimistic reassurances, good intentions, and great get-through-life philosophies on every page." YMMV.

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