What are the most beautiful comics or graphic novels ever published?
June 17, 2013 4:15 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in reading some visually dazzling comics or graphic novels. I would love to find examples that were made with beautifully painted panels, incorporated collages, or are otherwise interesting on a visual level. What do you recommend?
posted by mortaddams to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 139 users marked this as a favorite
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. It won the Caldecott in 2008, but most definitely is not "just for kids". It is simply a beautifully crafted book. The author himself says that this 500+ page book "is not a exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things."
posted by bookmammal at 4:26 PM on June 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

For lyrical exaltation: just about anything by P. Craig Russell, especially his Ring Of The Nibelung. (Which is sadly out of print, but any of his opera adaptations are worth looking at-- as are his comics, especially those in collaboration with Neil Gaiman: Dream Hunters, Coraline, Murder Mysteries and the "Ramadan" issue of Sandman.)

For leaping between styles with the grace of an acrobat: J. H. Williams III and Alan Moore's Promethea.

For superheroes who glow like oil paintings: Alex Ross, Kingdom Come.

For monochromatic chiaroscuro: Shaun Tan, especially The Arrival.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:27 PM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

oh oh and: David Mack, Kabuki: The Alchemy. Visually stunning, and talks eloquently about art and the creative process.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:29 PM on June 17, 2013

David Mack's Kabuki contains beautifully painted collages.

Yaxin - Le faune Gabriel
is gorgeous, but isn't available in English (and doesn't have much of a plot even if you read French).

I'm not crazy about J.H. Williams III's style, but many people like his experiments with panels in Batwoman and other books.

Seconding The Arrival.
posted by martinrebas at 4:30 PM on June 17, 2013

Promethea can be pretty psychedelic, and once in a while has some interesting layouts.

Craig Thompson's two big graphic novels are worth a look: Blankets and Habibi. Great stories too. Both in black and white.

Chris Ware has a unique isometric visual style. I don't know if you'd consider that "dazzling", but his style is interesting nonetheless.
posted by curagea at 4:33 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Josh Tierney's Spera uses a different artist per chapter, and pretty much all of them are great pencillers and stunning colorists. It's not formally experimental at all, but it's gorgeous.
posted by thesmallmachine at 4:33 PM on June 17, 2013

I think the answer to this is anything by Chris Ware
posted by empath at 4:38 PM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Be sure to check out this recent post on the blue on Enki Bilal. Some other quick suggestions:
anything by Moebius
Dave McKean's comics work (Cages and Celluloid especially, and also his three Neil Gaiman collaborations). McKean has his detractors, but his stuff is definitely appealing, and a great gateway to "artier" comics.
Brandon Graham (a more recent Euro-influenced pop-comics approach dense with visual and verbal puns, beautifully applied color and, in his recent Multiple Warheads, insanely baroque fantasy detail)
Paul Pope- definitely an acquired taste, but for my money one of the most important comic artists of the last 30 years
Charles Burns- Black Hole is brilliant and his collected short comics are excellent as well, but his current trilogy (X'ed Out, The Hive, and the upcoming Sugar Skull) is his first work in color and it is gorgeous
Jason- any of his funny animal (well, not "funny" per se) comics. Literally any one of them; just pick one at random and enjoy.
Frank Woodring- woodcut-style, funny, horrifying, psychedelic comics
Al Columbia's Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days, which is itself a book-length collage of incomplete and fragmentary work. Warning: Columbia is a master of the form, but his comics can be extremely disturbing. I mean extremely.
Jesse Moynihan's Forming, which you can read for free online

So much more; comics are a huge field where you can discover a new artist every day and still barely scratch the surface. I'll try and go through my bookshelf later tonight and post a more detailed list.
posted by Merzbau at 4:39 PM on June 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

Beautiful artwork AND story. One of my personal favorites
posted by morning_television at 4:41 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Dave McKean.
posted by grapesaresour at 4:57 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Moby Dick: The Graphic Novel (Campfire Graphic Novels) has some stunningly beautiful panels (mostly the ocean panels) and interesting graphic techniques (there's a page or two at the back describing the illustration process that I found fascinating).
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:28 PM on June 17, 2013

I've seen this Little Nemo in Slumberland book in person and it's quite beautiful. If you plan to buy it, note the large size (17" x 22" I think).

Some background on Little Nemo, from Wikipedia
posted by The Minotaur at 5:40 PM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

these aren't really painted, but all the following are intensely cool and dramatically different visually from your standard superhero house style. Its gonna depend on taste A LOT. I really love McKean's Cages. But it might seem stark to some. Craig thompson's hibibi is lush and really beautiful. I also dig the hell out of Brandon grahams king city, and Jim Rugg's Street Angel. If you like more of a dramatic kinda more childlike feel( which is not to say unsophisticated, cause wow) Paul maybury's aqualeung is phenomenal.

I find the painted stuff to be kinda cool, but sometimes it strains against the best part of what comics can be: simple, cheap, accessable and ultimately disposable. The guys above can reallyreallyreally draw and do some crazy shit with ink and a brush.
posted by Blisterlips at 5:43 PM on June 17, 2013

Moonshadow. Sad, but lovely to look at.
posted by beowulf573 at 5:45 PM on June 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

A Lesson Is Learnef But The Damage Is Irreversible

posted by grobstein at 5:45 PM on June 17, 2013

Matt Fraction's Casanova has some gorgeous layouts

Jack Kirby's Fourth World stuff

Jim Sternako's psychadelic run on Nick Fury
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:53 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mid to late Cerebus is pretty amazing, though all black and white. The strip itself disappears up the creator's ass from about issue 180, but the art only gets better.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:10 PM on June 17, 2013

I'll second the recommendation of Moonshadow, above. I'm also a big fan of Jon J. Muth's version of Dracula.

How about Bill Sienkiewicz's Moby Dick?

I fear I'm dating myself here. I do enthusiastically recommend anything/everything by Chris Ware, Craig Thompson, and Dave McKean but am trying to think of more current material.

Hm. I don't know that they're groundbreaking in any way, but I think the Mouse Guard comics by David Petersen are at least a little bit special.
posted by Mothlight at 6:27 PM on June 17, 2013

George Pratt's Enemy Ace: War Idyll is awesome, the first comic I ever read that was entirely painted. Mostly water color and gauche I think. And Kent Williams's adaptation of The Fountain is even better than the movie.
Also, I've never actually read the comic, but James Jean's covers for Fables were amazing, the book collection is worth checking out.
posted by AndyP at 6:29 PM on June 17, 2013

Sandman #50, Ramadan, is marvelous.
posted by tomboko at 7:28 PM on June 17, 2013

You absolutely need to check out Phillipe Druillet. His space opera adaptation of Sallambo is just mind-blowing visually.
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:05 PM on June 17, 2013

Nthing P Craig Russell's art in general, Dave McKean, Moonshadow, Promethea and The Arrival.

Sandman - Dream Hunters isn't P Craig Russell, though; it's Yoshitaka Amano. The photos available online do not do justice to the art.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Charles Vess (he's worked on the original Books of Magic, a Bone spinoff and Stardust to name a select few) but also does illustration and (I now know) sculpture, painting and more. And has an awesome website.

Rebecca Guay has done some stunning art for comics including Black Orchid, The Dreaming and various others. She also did part of the art for Veils, which also does very cool things with photography. But not. Hard to explain.

Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls is complicated to describe but includes some really beautiful art and breathtaking visual devices. It is also pornographic, you have been warned.

And Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise is frequently beautiful as well - the comic is black and white, but many of the covers are stunning.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:23 PM on June 17, 2013

Clover by CLAMP utilizes black and white beautifully (very different from the covers in feel).
posted by wintersweet at 8:34 PM on June 17, 2013

Seconding Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano - Dream Hunters. It stands alone and it is truly beautiful. It's the only graphic novel I own.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:36 PM on June 17, 2013

Nthing Little Nemo in Slumberland...(there's a complete edition more resonably priced than the Jumbo-sized one)...the author, Windsor McCay, is responsible for the very first animated cartoon, Gertie the Dinosaur. The 'Nemo' strip is simply loaded with drawings so laden with motion, they are best described as 'proto-cartoons'
posted by sexyrobot at 9:41 PM on June 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Angus McKie's "So Beautiful and So Dangerous"
posted by Sophont at 9:55 PM on June 17, 2013

I know a woman who is publishing her graphic novel online and I think it's really beautiful -- The Lay of the Lacrymer (current entry) and the beginning.
posted by amanda at 10:07 PM on June 17, 2013

I'll step over to bandes dessinées and thow out Moebius for your list. Try The Incal, Arzach (or Arzak), his Silver Surfer. His use of space was just perfect. Here's a documentary on him from BBC4; he was so influential.
posted by N-stoff at 10:45 PM on June 17, 2013

Another Sandman, the last of the collected storylines, The Wake is visually amazing. I'm pretty sure the art is by Michael Zulli, who makes beautiful art. If you can find it, he did a three or four issue run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that was startlingly different than the standard stories, with the turtles radically redesigned and the Shredder not really being 'bad.' that was the first I saw of his work, and it took my breath away.

Thirding McKean. If you can find it, Punch and Judy is astounding.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:20 AM on June 18, 2013

A lot of the most dazzling comics are European. Les Cités obscures by
François Schuiten & Benoît Peeters is amazing-- The Tower is my favorite, but the Walls of Samaris is beautiful too.

Lorenzo Mattotti does some amazing expressionist work, such as The Fire.

François Bourgeon has some gorgeous albums; my favorite is the incredibly detailed SF world of Cyann. I don't think it's been translated, but heck, get it anyway.

Milo Manara is a fantastic artist, though he mostly works in erotica. His historical novels with Hugo Pratt are worth checking out, especially Indian Summer.

Joost Swarte has a lovely Art Deco style.

I've linked to English translations where possible, but if you're mostly after the art, you might just get the originals, which are usually printed bigger and better.

Among Japanese comics, one standout is Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa. Black and white, but an amazing and epic work.
posted by zompist at 2:38 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Craig Thompson's Habibi and Blankets.

Matt Kindt's Red Handed and Super Spy.

Michel Fiffe's Copra.

Brandon Graham's King City.
posted by mean cheez at 6:15 AM on June 18, 2013

I can't believe that no one has mentioned Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido yet. I find myself getting lost in the art of just about everything that Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire have done.
posted by togdon at 7:23 AM on June 18, 2013

Not as classic or "high art" as many of the printed and published options listed here, but there are some beautifully done free webcomics around as well.

Next Town Over I found to be quite visually appealing in a sweeping Western/steampunk way;

A Redtail's Dream is visually interesting and beautifully done,

and Kagerou has its moments, although it's gone a little glitchy recently.

Story of the Door/ Toilet Genie has a beautiful and unusual style; was fine yesterday, but today Google Chrome claims Malware? Check it next week :)

Teahouse is NSFW and a little deviant, but with lovely colors and details.

Oh! Also the post above about Badcat reminded of Lackadaisy Cats: also beautifully done!
posted by mschief at 7:35 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing The Arrival. Also, I just read Mariko and Jillian Tamaki's Skim, which is beauuuuuutiful. Charles Burns is terrifying and gorgeous: check out Black Hole for some of that. And I really liked Becky Cloonan's work with Brian Wood on Local.
posted by libraritarian at 10:32 AM on June 18, 2013

The Sunday editions of late-era Calvin and Hobbes were both visually striking and quite innovative for a newspaper comic, as Watterson used his success as leverage to get his syndicate to give him more latitude to experiment with panel layouts, larger spaces, evocative landscapes, etc. They're also pretty much stand-alone, making printed collections of Sunday strips a good buy (especially if you can't spare $100+ for the complete collection).
posted by Rhaomi at 11:49 AM on June 18, 2013

Nthing Sandman. The list of artists alone is astounding.
My favorite stories:
A Midsummer Nights Dream - Charles Vess
Ramadan - P. Craig Russell
The Sound of Her Wings - Mike Dringenberg
Endless Nights - Multiple artists
The Dream Hunters - Yoshitaka Amano

I'd also suggest The Wake (Michael Zulli), but you'd have to read the entire series for that one. The rest of these can be read without the others.
posted by domo at 12:23 PM on June 18, 2013

Taiyo Matsumoto is an amazing artist. It wouldn't be a stretch to say he's one of the best people working in manga today.

I'm personally a fan of Iou Kuroda, but there's not a lot of his stuff available in English.

Kaoru Mori draws some incredibly detailed art.

For uniqueness and visual interest, Usamaru Furuya's Plastic Girl fits the bill, but it isn't officially available in English.
posted by Standard Orange at 12:26 PM on June 18, 2013

Kingdom Come is probably the best of the DC Comics characters; hand painted by Alex Ross, "the Norman Rockwell of comics".
posted by talldean at 4:31 PM on June 18, 2013

Are web comics OK? Dresden Codak is good times.
posted by JDHarper at 6:28 PM on June 18, 2013

From 1995, the Jimi Hendrix biography illustrated by the amazing Bill Sienkiewicz. Over 1000 paintings in his unique style, example #1, example #2, example #3.
posted by jeremias at 5:56 PM on June 19, 2013

I thought for sure this would have gotten a mention, but it seems it hasn't: Return of the Dapper Men. It's sort of a kids' book and sort of not, and the art by Janet Lee is absolutely stunning. I have given it out as a gift many times because the book is such a beautiful work of art.
posted by ORthey at 10:41 PM on June 19, 2013

Bill Sienkiewicz's Elektra: Assassin,and JH Williams III's work on Batwoman are great examples from more mainstream comics; Fiona Staple's painterly style in Saga is lovely as well.
posted by Svejk at 6:13 AM on June 20, 2013

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. Whether you like the story or not, the visuals are interesting.
posted by nushustu at 8:49 AM on June 23, 2013

I thought of another couple of books you might like:

Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy Bastian is incredibly intricate and beautiful. It's monochrome pen-and-ink, (maybe a crow quill?) but looks like 18th- or 19th-century engraving. I spoke to the artist/writer, and he said that he averages a page a week.

Martin Rowson's graphic novel of Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne is also monochromatic pen-and-ink, and it plays with the graphic-novel form much as Sterne did with the prose narrative. If you're a fan of the original, you'll love the comic.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:08 PM on June 24, 2013

Someplace Strange, written by Ann Nocenti with art by John Bolton, is quite a lovely book.

Bolton also did the art for a chapter of Gaiman's Books of Magic, a four-issue miniseries which has fantastic art throughout and is well worth reading. Link is to collected edition.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:55 PM on June 27, 2013

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