It’s not uncommon to hear people say that something looks “comic booky.” But what does that mean? Images of Adam West Batman’s “pows” and “whams” spring to some minds, while others will see Roy Lichtenstein’s flattened, pop version of comic book art.
But the truth is, there is no one style that defines comic books. From simplistic to hyper-real, from bold to somber, and influenced by the art of countless cultures beyond their American origins, comic books can look like anything. And what better way to enjoy that art than in a big, beautiful art book?
We previously showed you the best wordier books about comics, and now, in the spirit of Blastr’s Book Month, we’ve compiled 16 of the best coffee table books that showcase some the masters of the medium in manga, horror, superheroes, cartooning and more! They include books that showcase one artist, a period in comic book history, or certain characters or franchises.
This barely scratches the surface of the amazing artists and styles that have graced the pages of comic books, so be sure to let us know your favorite artist’s books in the comments!
THE SILVER AGE OF COMIC BOOK ART, REVISED EDITION HC
(By Arlen Schumer. Archway Publishing, 2014)
Comic books have undergone cyclical surges of creativity, but none quite like the one experienced during what’s now known as the Silver Age of comics. The Silver Age of Comic Book Art takes the most dazzling characters and legendary artists of the mid-1950s through the 1960s, and presents them in a way that’s unique among art books by replacing the original dialogue in speech bubbles with quotes about the art from the artists themselves. A meticulously designed snapshot of a fascinating time in the medium’s history.
KIRBY: KING OF COMICS HC
(By Mark Evanier. Abrams, 2008)
Co-creator of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the New Gods, and countless other iconic characters, Jack Kirby is inarguably the most influential comic book artist of all time, and also one of the most prolific. This book compiles a breathtaking gallery of his half-century-spanning body of work, and shows his wildly imaginative and ground-breakingly dynamic take on superheroes, giant monsters, romance, sci-fi and so much more, alongside an exhaustive biography of the artist.
GRAPHIC INK: THE DC COMICS ART OF DARWYN COOKE HC
(By Darwyn Cooke. DC Comics, 2015)
With his recent untimely passing, there’s no better time to sit down and appreciate the art of one of the defining artists of a generation: Darwyn Cooke. The artist that redefined Catwoman and presented a fiercely optimistic and powerful vision of the DC Universe in DC: The New Frontier, Cooke embraced the timeless visual conventions of the past and pushed them boldly into the future. This volume of DC’s Graphic Ink series provides looks at his numerous projects for the publisher over the last 30 years, and reaches nearly every corner of the DCU. Any comic book fan unfamiliar with Cooke’s work should rectify that immediately with this book.
ART OF USAGI YOJIMBO TPB
(By Stan Sakai. Dark Horse, 2006)
Writer-artist Stan Sakai has been chronicling the adventures of the ronin Miyamoto Usagi for more than 30 years, and his seminal samurai rabbit continues to capture the hearts of fans young and old. Sakai’s elegant, minimalist and joyful cartooning style is put on proud display here, and readers will lose themselves in the beautiful depictions of cartoon animal warriors against the environments of feudal Japan. A must-have for those with an interest in traditional samurai lore, or just in masterful cartooning.
ART OF SPIDER-MAN CLASSIC HC
(By John Rhett Thomas. Marvel, 2011)
With his dynamic movement and unmistakable costume, Spider-Man has a long history of attracting some of the comic book industry’s most creative and beloved artists, from Steve Ditko to John Romita — both junior and senior — to Todd MacFarlane and countless others. This volume shines the spider-signal on the artists who’ve defined the wall-crawler over the years, and provides a web of sketches, designs, interior pages and covers alongside commentary from the artists themselves, making it an essential addition to the bookshelf of anyone with even a passing interest in Peter Parker.
HELLBOY: THE FIRST 20 YEARS HC
(By Mike Mignola. Dark Horse, 2014)
Recently named a Grand Master by the annual Spectrum fantasy art anthology, Mike Mignola is one of comic books’ definitive horror artists, and one of the most influential creators of the last 25 years. A master of gothic atmosphere, creature design, and visual pacing, Mignola has always been at his peak when bringing his talents to bear on the pages of his most famous creation, Hellboy. Hellboy: The First 20 Years collects Mignola’s best and most visionary work from the character’s first two decades of publication, with sketches, covers, behind-the-scenes art, and many more dark treasures awaiting readers within.
MYTHOLOGY: THE DC COMICS ART OF ALEX ROSS TPB
(By Alex Ross. Pantheon, 2005)
Alex Ross redefined what comic books could be when his photorealistic painting style burst on to the scene in the mid-'90s, and Mythology collects some of his best work on the DC Universe’s most iconic characters. During his tenure at the publisher, Ross created some of the most inspirational and recognizable images of the DC pantheon, but produced so much work that there’s sure to be something for any fan of Ross’, no matter how serious or casual. A definitive look at one of modern comics’ artistic legends.
STRANGE AND STRANGER: THE WORLD OF STEVE DITKO HC
(By Blake Bell. Fantagraphics, 2008)
With Spider-Man returning to the screen and Doctor Strange debuting later this year, there’s never been a better time to dig into the dimension-crossing work of the artist who co-created them both. Strange and Stranger lays out the enigmatic career of Steve Ditko, an artist known for his odd angles, extreme perspectives, and harsh shadows that he utilized to tell superhero, sci fi and horror stories for a number of different publishers before suddenly withdrawing from the public eye. An in-depth look at the mysterious artist and his mind-bending artwork.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD—INSPIRED ARTISTS DELUXE EDITION HC
(By various. Vertigo, 2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2015 and, to celebrate, DC brought together 65 different comic book artists — both veterans and newcomers — to provide pieces inspired by the groundbreaking film. Contributors include Dave McKean, Declan Shalvey, Paul Pope, Cliff Chiang, Bill Sienkiewicz, and many more. A great cross-section of the best artists in comics, working with one of the richest aesthetics in film.
MARVEL COMICS: 75 YEARS OF COVER ART HC
(By various. DK, 2014)
Over the last 75 years, Marvel’s bullpen has boasted some of the most bombastic artists in the business, and hundreds of them are on display in the pages of Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art. Over 300 pages of full-color covers are reprinted here from across the history of the publisher, ranging from the sublime, to the surreal, to the strange, and the sensational. Classic coffee table book goodness in the mighty Marvel manner.
STAR WARS: PANEL TO PANEL VOL. 1 TPB
(By various. Dark Horse, 2004)
Dark Horse may not be publishing Star Wars comics any more, but when they were, they generated a lot of fantastic imagery from a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars: Panel to Panel is nearly 200 pages worth of covers, panels and pages from the publisher’s catalog of Star Wars comics, divided into sections for the heroes, villains, ships and worlds of Star Wars. From lush paintings to precise line work, a wide range of styles interpret the familiar characters and settings of the franchise in ways you have to see to believe.
ICONS: THE DC COMICS & WILDSTORM ART OF JIM LEE HC
(By Jim Lee. Titan Books, 2010)
Jim Lee is one of the best-selling comic book artists of all time, one of the defining artists of the '90s and 2000s, and has redefined every character his pen has touched. Featuring rough, penciled, inked, and even occasional painted and inkwashed pieces by the artist from his landmark runs on Batman and Superman, and his work for his own imprint, Wildstorm, this is a stunning compilation of work from one of the industry’s most influential artistic voices.
ONLY WHAT’S NECESSARY: CHARLES M. SCHULZ AND THE ART OF PEANUTS HC
(By Chip Kidd. Abrams ComicArts, 2015)
Running for half-a-century, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts is one of the defining artistic achievements of the comics medium, and one stroll through the pages of Only What's Necessary will remiind you why. Award-winning designer Chip Kidd was granted access to the extensive Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center collection, and shares his finds and favorites with readers, all with images reproduced from the original art. Don’t worry, this 304-page tome is too big for Lucy to yank away.
THE MARVEL ART OF MARKO DJURDJEVIC HC
(By Marko Djurdjevic. Marvel, 2009)
Marko Djurdjevic was one Marvel’s most prolific cover artists for several years starting in 2006, with covers on dozens of different titles. His distinctive digital painting style and his eye-catching sense of color and composition was a huge hit with fans and his memorable covers were a hallmark of a particularly exciting time in the Marvel Universe. Sketches and unused covers are also included in this essential volume for any fan of Marvel or digital art.
THE ART OF OSAMU TEZUKA: GOD OF MANGA HC
(By Helen McCarthy. Abrams ComicArts, 2009)
Both an art book and also the first official biography on the renowned mangaka, God of Manga highlights the work of Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy. Tezuka was a visionary artist who produced over 700 different manga titles, and was also a prolific animator, and in Japan he came to be regarded as one of the most influential figures in both mediums. This book includes over 300 images of the artist and his work, as well as a 45-minute DVD documentary, making it well worth a purchase for all manga and anime fans.
SUPERMAN: COVER TO COVER HC
(By various. DC Comics, 2006)
Superman: Cover to Cover is the ultimate coffee table book for fans of the Man of Steel, bringing together over 270 comic book covers from across the character’s long history. Covers are presented more thematically than chronologically, and an all-star lineup of Superman writers, artists, actors and more pick and discuss their favorites. With a smorgasbord of the greatest artists from across the history of the medium drawing its most iconic character, what’s not to like?