If you're looking for an unusual handcrafted gift, minicomics and original prints are a good way to go. Many of them are beautifully produced, with unusual printing effects such as risography and die cuts, and they contain stories you can't find anywhere else. As a bonus, the minicomics creator you support today may turn out to be the art-comix superstar of tomorrow, and you'll be able to say you were one of the first to recognize their genius.
Here are six up-and-coming creators who are offering some very attractive mini-comics, prints, and other goods. You can get a lot of these things on Amazon and other mass-merchant sites, but the links here are to the creators' own stores so you can support them directly with your Cyber Monday dollars.
Sarah Becan: You might know Becan from her foodie webcomic I Think You're Sauceome, which recorded not just the amazing meals Becan ate but her mixed feelings about food and her body image. It's a thoughtful read as well as an entertaining one. Her food posters, on themes like Sausages of the World and How to Poach an Egg, would make a colorful addition to anyone's kitchen decor. Becan is also the creator of Shuteye, a comic about dreams nested inside of dreams, and The Complete Ouija Interviews, a minicomic (supported by a Xeric grant) based on "interviews" done via a Ouija board. "Printed in rich brown inks, assembled in a beautiful little perfect-bound volume, with a debossed feltweave cover," this 192-page volume is an amazing deal for $10.
C. Spike Trotman: The creator of Templar, Arizona, Trotman has also been busy organizing other artists to create the Kickstarter-funded Smut Peddler, a "lady-friendly" anthology of adult comics. Of course there's a Templar, Arizona, book if you want the webcomic in print form. My favorite item, though, is Poorcraft, a handy manual on how to live well on the cheap. Affordably priced at $10 and charmingly illustrated by Diana Nock, this graphic novel is really an introduction to the practicalities of everyday life, from how to rent an apartment to how to cook a chicken. I got a copy for my own college-age daughter when she moved off campus, and it would be a great gift for anyone in that age group.
Beth Hetland: I picked up Hetland's three-part "fictional memoir" Fugue in September at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE), and I was very impressed. The comics tell the story of a family of musically inclined women who experience interior and inter-generational conflicts between their love of the art, their own and others' standards, and the pressures of performance. Like a musical fugue, the comics make use of repeated motifs in clever ways, and Hetland slips in a few clever visual puns, as when a child plays her first notes on a keyboard and her eyes become musical notes.
Tana Ford: Ford is a talented artist who has already completed two self-published graphic novels and several minicomics. Her draftsmanship is superb, her characters feel real (in part because they are drawn from real life), and she really shines when it comes to laying out the story on the page. Her graphic novel Duck is a road-trip story about two women driving cross-country to rescue the brother of one of them; it's funny and serious at the same time, with plenty of side drama. Her shorter comic 26.2 is a history of the Boston Marathon, interwoven with her own experience of watching two friends run the 2011 race; the book came out before the Boston Marathon bombings but it really captures the spirit of the event. Ford doesn't have a separate web store, but the books are available via PayPal links on the right-hand side of her blog.
Jason Viola: Jason Viola does quirky little minicomics with a skewed perspective that is truly original. Who Is Amy Amoeba? is about an amoeba who splits up, as amoebas do, into more and more pieces, all of whom claim to be the real Amy Amoeba. Jay's Brain is a gag comic about the creator's own quirks. Viola's latest comic, Fear of Flowers, is a mysterious and beautiful little comic about the life cycles of three flowers, and it made Rob Kirby's list of the best minicomics of the year. You can read many of Viola's comics online, but his minicomics are carefully crafted and beautiful to look at, and at $3 to $4 apiece, they are affordable to boot.
Marek Bennett: Bennett's latest book is more of a maxi-comic than a minicomic: It's a 600-page, full-size travelogue of his trip to Slovakia, the land where his grandmother was born and many of his relatives still live. Bennett has a loose, simple style that is very readable, and he does some interesting thing with panels and page design, but most importantly, he is simply an engaging storyteller. He starts out with a month of living on campus at a university, taking Slovak language classes, then moves out to stay with a relative in the countryside. Along the way he has fascinating conversations with sophisticated urbanites and the cleaning crew in a rural church, he meditates on the status of gypsies and challenges his own complacency by teaching in a program for gypsy children, and he listens to numerous discussions of the Greek monetary crisis, which was going on at the time of his visit. As long as it is, this book is as hard to put down as it is to pick up, and at $20 it packs in a lot of story for the money.