Mother’s Day is both a celebration and a challenge. It’s not always easy — logistically and emotionally — for multiple generations of moms to stay happy and relaxed during such a symbolically loaded day. Nor is it easy for those who find themselves mourning on what is supposed to be a joyous occasion. How can you honor the loss of moms and mom figures while the whole world burns brunches? Never mind the age-old conundrum: what the heck should you get the mom/s in your life after putting the thing off until the week before Mother’s Day? In an effort to prepare you for all the feelings that this mom-centered holiday can bring, I present to you, dear reader, a list of comics that will hopefully have a little something for many kinds of moms, mom-havers, and moms-to-be, no matter how you plan on spending the second Sunday of May.
This list of potential Mother’s Day gifts has comics for the moms who want to read about moms, and the ones who don’t, as well as the non-moms — from work moms to friend moms, and even to the folks who had to be their own mom — who express their nourishing, motherish energy outside the home. Thank you for being a mom!
Want to save yourself some time and money by supporting your local comic book shop? Find out where it is here and call them for information on purchasing any of these titles.
For the Mom Who Misses (or Still Enjoys) the Funny Pages
Nancy, Ernie Bushmiller
Hands-down, Nancy is one of the best gag strips ever made. Bushmiller’s comedic timing and his funny-looking characters are a never-ending source of laugh-out-loud guffaws. (How could it possibly be never-ending, you ask? In addition to the original stuff rewarding endless re-reading, today’s Nancy strips by the pseudonymous Olivia Jaimes are cleverly inspired by the Bushmiller classics, with a delicious contemporary twist.) Nancy makes a perfect One Size Fits All Moms gift for the mom who wants and deserves nothing less than unbridled fun.
Peanuts, Charles Schulz
It’s a classic for a reason. Schultz’s cartooning is unmistakable and unmatched, and his dry humor is almost universally appealing. Whether your mom grew up on the strips or the animated cartoon, a Peanuts hardcover is nearly guaranteed to bring a wistful smile to her face. Check out Peanuts Every Sunday for large, newspaper-sized reprints of the full-color Peanuts Sunday strips, or The Complete Peanuts for, y’know, completionists.
The Complete Calvin & Hobbes, Bill Watterson
The consummate comic for the consummate moms who love kids, their imaginations, and maybe even their tantrums, just a little bit.
For the Mom Who Loves to Cry-Laugh
The Greatest of Marlys, Lynda Barry
For my money, no one captures the spirit and freedom of comics like Lynda Barry, and this collection is an excellent introduction to her work. Not every mom loves kids as a general category of person before having their own — Barry’s own childhood is a testament to that — but I think that most moms admire the ingenuity, resilience, and empathy that even the weirdest little kids show under stress. Barry portrays the matter-of-fact observation, earnest desires, and frightening realities of being a child like no other; her endearing, intuitive art style and excellent sense of humor expertly expose the youthful vulnerability that still lies deep in all of our hearts. Always honest and never saccharine, The Greatest of Marlys will take you to Butt Island and beyond, chuckling (and occasionally crying) all the way.
Hark! A Vagrant, Kate Beaton
Moms who seriously love history and literature (but who aren’t afraid to get a little goofy about it) will be charmed by Kate Beaton’s first printed collection of comics. I started reading these strips on her eponymous website in college, before I even knew that webcomics counted as comics. They delighted my nerd brain then, and still hold up now, years later. Beaton’s caricatures are simultaneously spot-on and silly, and the short storylines and one-shots are totally approachable: perfect for the Teacher Mom or Librarian Mom in your life! If you gift this book, be prepared for the inevitable volley of delighted screenshots in the family group text.
Moomin, Tove Jannson
Heart-wrenching, strange, and yet utterly joyous, the Moomin stories made Tove Jannson one of Scandinavia’s most beloved authors. Sensitive Yet Pragmatic Moms will appreciate this book for its humble, yet searing insight into how to live with the cards one is dealt in life. Perhaps best of all, Moomin is also a comic that moms can enjoy sharing with children, who tend to love the simple and silly cartoon characters that populate the idyllic (though not exactly idealistic) Moominvalley. People who love nature and Winnie the Pooh will especially get a kick out of Moomin. I can’t resist adding that Moomin merch is consistently top-notch: they have an entire custom line of Moomin Swiss Army knives which I definitely just added to my Amazon wishlist despite being nobody’s mother unless you count my dog!!
For the Mom Who Loves Food
Relish, Lucy Knisley
The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, Lucy Knisley’s obsession with food runs in the family — just like mine, coincidentally. As a kid whose grandparents immigrated from Cuba, food, for me, has always been a transmitter of not just love, but culture and identity. While Knisley’s background differs from mine, I find comfort in the fact that the soul-food connection is universal, and can be expressed in infinite ways. This memoir contains not only stories of Knisley’s life in the kitchen, but also recipes!!! A very entertaining and instructive read that’s all about lovingly connecting to food on a near-spiritual level.
What Did You Eat Yesterday, Fumi Yoshinaga
This sweet and light-hearted slice-of-life manga is nothing short of a romp, detailing the daily lives and meals of Shiro, high-powered lawyer who loves to cook, and his hairdresser boyfriend Kenji, who loves to eat his cooking. Shiro’s frequent struggles to take care of his own aging mom, who he feels has rejected his sexuality, make this a particularly apt recommendation. Also peppered with detailed recipes for all kinds of amazing-looking Japanese foods you may or may not have ever heard of, What Did You Eat Yesterday will absolutely leave your mouth watering, or I’ll eat my sushi-themed hat! Anyone who expresses their love through the preparation of elaborate meals (and let’s be real, there are a lot of moms out there who fit this bill) are sure to enjoy, and maybe even be inspired by, this charming book.
For the Mom With Art Chops
Why Art, Eleanor Davis
Many of us love art, but why? What does it really do, and how can it work to effect change? Eleanor Davis, a cartoonist that I love for the depth of her interest in the workings of the human heart and body, works through big questions like this in her latest work. Though the concept is lofty, the execution is loving and lovable. Davis’s art is in top form, using the magic of cartooning to reduce complex objects — including masterpieces from all sorts of media — to their simplest essence. This is a fantastic conversation about art, through art, that the Thinking Man’s Mom will be poring over for a long time to come.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Emil Ferris
This book blew about half the world away when it came out last year, and for very good reason. The story follows a young werewolf girl around the streets of late-60s Chicago, as she writes and draws in her spiral notebook diary while trying to figure out who killed her neighbor. The illustration is virtuosic and downright astonishing, painstakingly rendered in layers and layers of ballpoint pen. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is a stunning graphic novel debut from Ferris (herself both the daughter of artists and the mom of an adult artist child), reminding us all that it’s never too late to go for your craziest dreams, no matter how many challenges you’ve faced before. This book absolutely explodes with the pure vitality of an artist who is at the top of her craft, but the beginning of a hopefully long-lived career in comics, and will charm moms with a taste for something wonderful, scary, and strange.
Love and Rockets, Los Bros Hernandez
No praise is too high for the long-running cult-classic comic book series by brothers Gilbert (aka Beto) and Jaime Hernandez, which is a must-read for anyone who has any interest in comics at all. The stories of the residents of Hoppers and Palomar, two fictional towns somewhere on either side of the U.S. border with Mexico, are magical, funny, surreal, tragic, troubling, inspiring, and a wonder to behold. With a massive, multi-generational cast of characters who have slowly aged with their audience, Love and Rockets is chock full of complex mother-child relationships both literal and supernatural, hitting a cathartic sweet spot simply unmatched by any comics series to date. This series is an infinitely rewarding, breathtaking work of staggering scope that only gets better as you spend more and more time with it. Because there are decades’ worth of stories available to read, it can be intimidating to know where to start. Fortunately, the Hernandez’s publisher, Fantagraphics, has a handy how-to guide on how to get into the iconic and still-running series.
For the Mom With a Sharp Wit and a Tongue to Match
Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel
Bechdel’s graphic memoirs Fun Home and Are You My Mother? are well-beloved classics that take a deep dive into the author’s failure to connect with her parents, but for a less psychologically intense recommendation that still showcases Bechdel’s insightful humor, I wanted to give some love to Bechdel’s equally beloved signature comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. Much like Love and Rockets, DTWOF has a big, beautifully diverse ensemble cast of characters that have aged almost in real-time. It remains a rare and special treat to follow them get together, break up, have and raise kids, and crack high-brow jokes about the never-ending political hellscape that continues to threaten queer lives. This is a great gift for the moms who like their mom-tent a little spicy to go with the sweet.
Bitch Planet; Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro
Both an all-too-timely feminist satire and a thoughtful spin on pulp and exploitation cinema, Bitch Planet is just as well-known for its incredible backmatter essays and letters column as it is for its searing criticism of the patriarchy and the prison industrial complex. It would be easy for the moms to get crowded out in a book about literal patriarchs and the outsiders who resist them. But some of the fiercest and kindest characters in this book are moms under a lot of pressure, who react to their situations with as much grace as they can muster. Your favorite Die-Hard Feminist Mom will love you forever for bringing Bitch Planet into her life.
If you can, I highly recommend getting as many back issues of the “floppies,” aka individual comics issues, as you can from your local comic book shop, as the backmatter is not to be missed, but not (yet) reprinted in collected volumes.
For the Mom Who’s Seen Some Shit
Best We Could Do, Thi Bui
This memoir about one family’s journey from Vietnam to the United States and the life that they build in their new country is sure to hit you where it hurts. As with so many families, immigrant or not, pain and joy often go hand-in-hand. Bui doesn’t pull her punches, but she is never cruel or unfair. This is one to enjoy on a quiet day with a comforting cup of tea and a box of tissues nearby.
Taking Turns, MK Czerwiec
Not too long ago, at one of my many exhausting day jobs, I made a beloved friend. She was a larger-than-life, old-school, working-class butch lesbian who told colorful stories and raunchy jokes that made the drudgery of our repetitive tasks a great deal more tolerable. One time, she told me the story of becoming a de-facto caretaker for her best friend and roommate, a gay man who eventually died of AIDS. As it turns out, many lesbians were the unsung heroes of the AIDS crisis, nursing their frighteningly and often fatally ill friends and loved ones when no one else would. The day she told me this story was the day I realized just how precious and rare are the voices of our surviving LGBTQ elders.
Taking Turns is not only an autobiography of Czerwiec, whose first nursing job was in the HIV/AIDS ward at Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago at the height of the AIDS epidemic, but also tells the stories of patients, their family members, and other caregivers in this groundbreaking, community-centered care unit. This is an invaluable book that is bound to touch any open heart, or maybe even one that has become a little bit closed.
The Story of My Tits, Jennifer Hayden
It just so happens that cancer survivors are some of the funniest people I know, and while I don’t know Hayden personally, she doesn’t fail to uphold the niche little stereotype I’ve just deployed. After being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 43, and subsequently undergoing a double mastectomy, Hayden tells the story of her life through her tits and her ever-changing relationship to them, through adolescence, adulthood, motherhood, and beyond. Both sarcastic and honest, this book is a breath of fresh air for anyone who has had to grapple with cancer in their own or their loved ones’ lives.
For the Moms and Non-Moms Who Have Complicated Relationships With Their Mom/s
Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, Moto Hagio
The main inspiration for this recommendation is that this gorgeous collection contains the legendary comic “Iguana Girl,” a short story about a girl who sees herself, and is seen by her mother, as an iguana, though she appears human to everyone else. “Iguana Girl” is a little bit inspiring, a decent bit sad, and a large bit cathartic, examining motifs of self-image, motherhood, and intergenerational baggage. The rest of the book is just as good, and often darker: the interview included in the collection will help readers who are unfamiliar with Hagio’s work understand both the personal experiences and literary interests that shape her deeply psychological and stunningly beautiful manga. It’s currently out-of-print but not too pricey secondhand, so you’ll get bonus points for the niche find!
Saga; Fiona Staples, Brian K. Vaughan
I like to call Saga a “gateway comic,” because I’m very hip and also because it’s very popular among both long-time comics readers and newbies alike. The creative team of Staples and Vaughan turn out this comic like clockwork, and keep readers hooked with the expletive-laden exploits of a family of space-traveling war criminals just trying to keep their family together while on the run from just about every dangerous motherfucker in the universe. The opening pages of the comic feature a full-page splash of a woman screaming about poop while giving birth, which gives you just the tiniest taste of the absolute cheekiness of this book. But don’t let the life-giving dragon jizz fool you: this ongoing book has a whole lot of heart and truths to tell about the realities of raising a child in a violent, senseless universe.
Sailor Moon, Naoko Takeuchi
Somehow, this iconic 90s Japanese comic book about supernatural-crime-fighting teens has a mom for everybody: space moms, gay moms, cat moms, dead moms, future moms, dad moms, bad moms, queen moms, teen moms (not like that, but somehow both more and less weird), alien moms… you name it, there’s a mom for it! The beauty and grace of Takeuchi’s artwork is not to be underestimated, nor is her affinity for immolated corpses and food-related puns. Whether you have an interest in perhaps one of the most popular shojo manga of all time for its own sake, or maybe just to understand your kid a little better, Sailor Moon will not let you down.
Bonus: For the Patient Mom-to-Be
Kid Gloves, Lucy Knisley
You’d be surprised how few and far between are comics about making babies, which is what makes the prospect of this book so exciting. Over the past few years, Knisley has been diligently making comics about adjusting to motherhood with her sweet infant Pal and sharing them on Instagram. In addition to collecting some of those ideas, the book will also illuminate some of the trials of, well, trying to conceive. It’s not coming out for a while, but hey: if you can wait nine months for a baby, surely ten months for a book is no sweat!
Amazon (Pre-order, out February 2019)
This list is by no means exhaustive: despite its reputation for being something of a boys’ club, the comics community is blessed these days with a kaleidoscope of beautiful and fascinating stories that hold appeal for plenty of moms and moms-at-heart. Here’s hoping that at least one of these book recommendations will speak something profound to the best mom in your life.