As it becomes harder to differentiate between comic books and graphic novels, that blurring makes for some affordable gift giving this time of year. Street Angel (Volume One: The Princess of Poverty) (Slave Labor Graphics, $14.95) collects issues Nos. 1–5 of Street Angel, co-written by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca and drawn by Rugg. The title character is Jesse Sanchez, 12-year-old badass and the sole guardian of her Angel City ghetto, Wilkesborough. When not ditching school to drink 40s and Dumpster dive for dinner, the orphan fights "evil, nepotism, ninjas, and hunger." Her weapons are her fists, a katana (a samurai sword), and skateboarding skills that would make Great Wall jumper Danny Way quiver. She's brash, she smokes (in a panel complete with a Surgeon General's warning), and she knows how to handle various villains. (These include time-traveling pirates, an Incan god seemingly modeled after Jay-Z, the maniacal Dr. Pangaea, and, naturally, Satan.) Particularly hilarious among the wacky narratives are Wilkesborough's working-class ninja, who get berated for losing their office passkeys and play video games on off days.
Another book for unconventional females (and their fans) is Nightmares & Fairy Tales Volume 2: Beautiful Beasts (Slave Labor Graphics, $14.95) by Serena Valentino and FSc. Narrated by a rag doll named Annabelle, it tells the stories of her various owners throughout time—many as familiar, though slightly skewed, fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast— rendered with spare, romantic prose and fairly gothic illustrations. Annabelle watches as her keepers often meet tragic ends. Similarly dark is Richard Sala's novel Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires (Fantagraphics, $9.95), the second one he's focused on his clever heroine. Brief but delicately detailed, it's a warning to baby-sitters to not serve clients who live in spooky hillside houses. Some of his panels—like a raven frozen in flight—are worthy of frames.
Fantagraphics is just now publishing the second installment of its MOME anthology ($14.95), but you'll want to nab the summer edition and make it a set. The affordable collections include Jeffrey Brown, Sophie Crumb, Gabrielle Bell, and 10 others. They'll handsomely complement McSweeney's on your coffee table. In the summer anthology, each comic is dramatically different from the next in style and tone, and the volume is split by an interview with Paul Hornschemeier.
Another anthology, Roadstrips: A Graphic Journey Across America (Chronicle, $22.95), is a must-read for anyone who loves to travel or merely dreams of it. Each entry serves as a destination on a map. Peter Bagge contributes "East Coast, West Coast, Blah, Blah, Blah . . . ," a familiar laundry list of our city's pros and cons. Megan Kelso muses on the Green River Killer, while Jeremy Eaton fictionalizes an immigrant's journey west. In all the geographic sections, each "strip" is the next best thing to being wherever you aren't for the holidays.