Comics, Art and
Science: Telling stories with pictures (that don't move)
Text of a talk given at the Nobel Museum, Stockholm
22 November 2001
©2001, Jim Ottaviani.
Swedish:<Good evening, and many thanks for coming.>
So again, thank you all for coming.
For a comics writer from North America, sponsorship by the Nobel Museum is most
unlikely, for in the United States comics have been a disreputable art form
for many years. Bullied by the U.S. Congress into becoming innocuous children's
reading in the 1950s, comics in the United States have only recently reached
a level of maturity that you have enjoyed in Europe for many years. It's in
this relatively new environment that books like those that I do-historical fiction
about scientists-have been able to emerge.
slide: Maus + Corrigan
But perhaps it's been worth the wait. I don't mind having 10 years pass between
art spiegelman's completion of Maus and Chris Ware's completion
of Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth, since they both
are truly brilliant.
slide: Our Cancer Year + Safe Area
And a gap of six years between Harvey Pekar and Frank Stack's naturalistic,
journalistic coverage of Pekar's personal fight with cancer during the months
of the Persian Gulf War and Joe Sacco's intimate reportage of the war in Bosnia
in Safe Area Gorazde, well, those 6 years pass quickly in retrospect
when work of their quality and depth is the result.
Professor Bárány has asked me to talk about my own work tonight, so though modest
by comparison, I will. However, before I begin I do indeed urge you to seek
out the books I've mentioned in the short bibliography I've prepared. My own
work can only aspire to the artistry they've achieved.
In honor of the scientific roots of the Nobel Foundation, I have tried to organize
my talk in the form of a typical scientific presentation…
slide: talking points: background & theory,
procedure, results & conclusions
…without the equations, though!
So I will begin with background and theory, speaking about comics as a medium
and what comics do differently from other forms of the storytelling arts such
as film and prose. I will then discuss how the experiments are performed-in
other words, the procedure for generating data points that are comics, if you
will. We'll finish by talking about the results I have achieved, and what I
hope to accomplish now and in the future with the comics I do.
Lets begin by considering comics in the abstract, then. At their most elemental,
they are words combined with pictures. As academician R.C. Harvey describes
them, at their best comics are a blend of the visual and the verbal. In other
words, in most good comics the picture by itself doesn't tell the whole story,
nor do the words. They work together to make up a whole that is, when done well,
greater than the sum of the individual parts.
Now of course, you can argue that comics work just fine without words:
slide: example: Lucy and Charlie Brown
[reveal in parts
to emphasize the sequence]
I let you see only one part at a time to emphasize a useful definition of
comics, one offered by the pioneering creator Will Eisner in Comics &
Sequential Art and more recently refined by Scott McCloud in Understanding
Comics, both of whose ideas I am going to present in more detail in
the next few minutes:
slide: pictures in deliberate sequence, intended
to convey information or produce an aesthetic
That's rather abstract, isn't it! Lets look at some examples to illustrate the
theory, starting with pictures.
The example I used a moment ago is from a comic strip. These are typically meant
to be read quickly-while taking a sip of the morning's first cup of Gevalia,
perhaps. But in comic books, which I'm going to focus on from now on, we have
more flexibility in the size and arrangement of the images on the page. We can
use them to slow the reader down if we provide lots of meaningful detail or
speed the reader along if the focus is on simpler images and direct actions.
In other words, in comic books we can make someone read the images.
slide: example: Szilard, p. 20
In text, the action on this page could be stated very efficiently: "Leo Szilard
walked from his hotel to the London School of Economics". With the photo-realistic
images, though, we enforce a leisurely pace and an authentic setting for our
character. The images impart information about the atmosphere of the city (strikes,
bread lines, gray skies) without leaving too much to the imagination (esp. for
those readers who might paint a different mental picture of London), and set
things up for a discussion about the world situation (which is bad) on the following
We can also speed things up using more rapid-fire imagery, such as what you
saw in the Peanuts strip we looked at a moment ago.
slide: example: McClintock, p. 88-89 (McClintock
When we introduce captions, and some subtle repetition, such as in this example,
we get a different effect. Here we more forcefully see a rapid passage of time,
and the gaps.4 of time here are longer (years longer) than in the earlier examples.
slide: example: Colleen Doran story/page
Another example of the power of comics for playing with space and time is shown
here, where we simulate physical reality in an unreal setting by showing physics
(in this case gravity) in action.
OK. Now lets talk a little about the words, since each of our examples has used
more and more words, and you've been less able to understand what's going by
just looking at the pictures.
We can't read text when we're born, but once we learn how to decode these funny
marks (that don't look like much of anything, even in Chinese) new worlds open
up to us. Written language provides a wonderfully abstract way to represent
thoughts and ideas-much more efficiently and flexibly than with pictures. As
we talked about before, viewing a picture or sequence of pictures can (and often
should) take more time than reading and it's accessible to far more people as
a means of expression.
Comics creators can use text to replace images, but do their best to blend words
and pictures to enhance them both. And in fact, in comics text can do a number
of things that it can't do in prose simply because the reader is already prepared
to respond visually as well as verbally to what's on the page:
slide: Roberts' Galileo page 1
As a simple example, comics creators can make readers view the text as images
(font). Here we see the Arabian astronomers speaking with a different style
from the Chinese. Perhaps it provides an accent in your mind as you look at
the page? I hope so-that was my intent!
We looked at images by themselves a moment ago, but lets look again at a different
example, where I've mixed words and pictures to speed things up, and also to
slow things down.
slide: Franklin (DS p. 74) by Stephanie Gladden
In the first panel, because there are words there (and an image the reader has
seen before on previous pages) readers will focus on them and zoom past the
image. The next panel stops the action, as Rosalind Franklin realizes that Watson
and Crick have finally got their DNA model right. The next panel offers very
little new information-the words are the same as the previous panel, and we
have the same people showing up. The next panel is only an image, and the reader
will slow down here because the image is surprising: Rosalind Franklin congratulates
Jim Watson! We notice in the next panel that she also congratulates Crick but
ignores Maurice Wilkins, her lab partner. And then we stop the reader cold with
a change of scene and a change of mood in the last panel-no words, but the artist
says everything that needs saying with her art, and the reader is alone with
In my latest book, I've experimented with even more drastic examples of the
use of text, using long stretches of it both as a design element and to impart
very abstract.5 information. Here's an example:
slide: Oppie story (Fallout, p. 162)
Now, don't worry! I don't expect anyone to read this now! In fact, if you read
the book, I hope you'll find that the comics sequences in this section of the
story-where we cover the 1954 security hearings of J. Robert Oppenheimer-work
just fine by themselves, and the same is true (again, I hope!) for the text.
But by juxtaposing bodies of text with comics, we try to lend gravity, formality,
and a somber mood to the scene.
So when I think of the power of comics, I think of it in terms of the creator's
ability to evoke a response in the reader by manipulating time through the use
of space: Because reading is never a passive activity like watching film, comics
can engage a reader more completely than either prose or film.
slide: In comics,
abstract (in the
form of words) + concrete (pictures) = complete engagement
And that's what's special about comics: It replaces time with space-the gap
between the pictures can be a moment, or years. Filling in this gap makes the
reader a participant in the storytelling: comics force reader cooperation in
terms of defining the distance between the panels-and that distance is measured
in time, in their heads, even though it's space on the page.
Comics also offer the abstract power of words and iconic images, which readers
interpret and identify with for themselves. The words are presented as part
of the picture, so writers and artists can create a rhythm for the reader both
in the "balloons" that contain them, and when they have design elements in and
I hope that's enough theory, because that's all I'm going to present.
So far, I've offered you examples of comics pages, often from my own books,
to illustrate how comics work.
But how does one do the work of making one of those comics pages? I thought
I would spend a few minutes talking about this, since for many the progress
from idea to printed page is mysterious, especially when it involves both writing
slide: ideas >> words >> pictures >> words+ pictures
The creation of any story starts with an idea in someone's head and ends
at a printing press or on a computer screen. Since I'll talk about the idea
part later, and because printing (or making web pages) is a matter of well-documented
technique, I'll skip the end of the process too, and focus on the middle: moving
from words to words and pictures.
In my studies, I've come across three main ways that comics are produced, and
how they get made depends on two factors:
slide The type of creator(s) involved (many
or few) The type of story they want to tell (simple/commercially driven or "art-first")
The methods I'm talking about all assume collaboration at some level. The
process creators like Chris Ware or Joe Sacco go through are highly individual:
works produced by one creator are bound to be that way, and there are as many
methods as there are creators. Tonight I will only talk about the methods used
when collaboration between writers and artists is at work, and most of the time
in the U.S. used to produce simple tales suitable only for simple tastes.
Please, make no mistake: I enjoy many of these "simple stories" (which are hard
to do well!) and some examples I'll give are from just such comics. But these
sorts of comics are limited in the range of stories they can tell, largely because
these stories rapidly became driven by a need to provide exciting visuals of
the kind that couldn't be done in any other medium (at least in the aforementioned
1950s)-on a punishing monthly schedule.
slide: plot >> art >> script
This led to a division of labor that makes sense on a commercial, if not always
artistic, level, where a story would begin with a plot-perhaps produced by an
editor or artist rather than a writer.
slide: Waid plot
The plot might look like this, where basically the action on each page would
be defined in brief. It could be even simpler, as instructions to the artist
that "In this issue the Fantastic Four travel to a sub-atomic world and
meet the Silver Surfer."
Simpler still, when the artist was even more in control of the storytelling
craft, such as Jack Kirby, the plot might be sketched out right on the art itself:
slide: Kirby pencil page
You can see from this that everything is there: Pieces of dialogue and places
for it, the image sequence, plot notes.
So…the person who conceived the story was often different from the person who
drew it, who was in turn different from the person who finished the pencil drawings
in ink, who was different from the person who scripted the dialogue, who was
different from the person who lettered in the words, who was different from
the person who colored the art after all those other people had worked on it!
slide: finished Kirby page
Now, some fine adventure stories were produced this way, some that many, including
me, enjoy reading to this day. When the artist is a master with a clear, strong
vision like Jack Kirby, entrusting the entire story to the artist is fine:
slide: plot >> art >> script
list editor? writer? pencil artist?
under art list pencil
artist, inker letterer, colorist
under script list writer?
However, I think you can see why stories produced under a system like this might
either turn out to be lousy, or at least have to be very simple in their scope,
which is why this method is still in use for the superhero genre in America.
For anything more complicated, as the saying goes in Swedish <"too many cooks
spoil the broth".>
Many comic books are created under the sort of assembly-line commercial conditions
I just described, but some creators working for purely commercial concerns,
were basically left alone. The most obvious and important example of a creator
who worked alone like this is Carl Barks, and I will use him as an example of
another common way of producing comics:
slide: dialogue >> layout >> finish
This method is most appropriate for smaller operations, where the writer and
artist are either the same person, or work together in close collaboration without
a great deal of editorial interference.
slide: Barks dialogue
As an example, we see here Carl Barks' dialogue for an episode of the Junior
Woodchucks. These issues, done after he had retired as a comic book artist,
were ultimately drawn by someone else. But all the storytelling and problem-solving
in the layout work is pure Barks. To exercise more complete control, Barks took
things a step further, and provided layouts:
slide: Barks layouts
Only when the plot, dialogue, pacing, and layout were set did Barks hand off
the story to another person. And at this point, again because of commercial
considerations, we see that compromises occur. Notice the red line drawn across
the middle of the page: Though Barks had a specific page design and pacing in
mind to best serve his story, an editor later came in and changed things-probably
to insert an advertisement for X-Ray Glasses and Sea Monkeys in it.
slide: finished page from Junior Woodchucks
So, even with the best intentions and close control, commercial considerations
can still intrude.
We have reached a point in the U.S. comic market, though, where comics creators
like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman can avoid this sort of interference completely.
Moore and Gaiman are two of the most important figures in recent years, and
few people ever see anything they do…
…at least directly. They are writers, and writers with such clear visions and
beauty of expression, that they can direct what appears on the finished comics
page to a degree unprecedented in the history of the medium. In the past 15
years or so, writer-driven comics have emerged as an important trend. This trend
is exemplified by the third method for moving from idea to page that I will
talk about tonight.
slide: full script >> layouts >> art
Now, even though it would be as foolish to compare my work to Moore's and Gaiman's
as it would be to compare it to art spiegelman's and Joe Sacco's, I do use similar
techniques. And since you were kind enough to invite me to speak about it, I
will use my own work to illustrate what I mean.
The process starts with a subject and some vague and indistinct visions. Perhaps
they're snippets of dialogue, perhaps a few key incidents, perhaps a particular
effect I would like to achieve through page layout. From there, I do a lot of
research, building on what I know already, and adding and subtracting ideas.
[And discarding pieces that I don't think will work. That sometimes means discarding
complete stories, unfortunately. An example of this occurred in Dignifying
Science, where I had originally intended to do a story about Lady Ada
Lovelace, often considered to be the first computer programmer. As I got further
along in my research,
I realized that I didn't believe the publicity, and that while she was a remarkable
woman in many respects, I thought she received too much credit for things she
didn't really do.]
But assuming I have a story I like, then I begin the process of writing. There's
nothing glamorous about that, as my wife can tell you. It consists of bad moods,
late nights, and unreasonable demands for total silence.
slide: script page for Lamarr
The result is a first draft of a script. Here's an example from the Hedy Lamarr
story from Dignifying Science.
What I'm showing you here is the finished script, of course, but if you'll pretend
that it's a first draft, with it I have two things that are really useful:
First, I have a framework from which to rewrite the story. This draft is, with
about 80% certainty, not very good and, with 100% certainty, too long. As you
already know from tonight, I tend to go on! (The first draft of the script for
this talk would have taken about 2 hours to sit through!)
Second, I have an idea of what style the story should be drawn in, and that
gives me ideas as to which artists I should approach.
After that draft has been set aside long enough for me to forget most of the
details, I go back to edit it. In this respect, I may be somewhat unusual, since
for me an integral part of the editing process is drawing the script myself.
slide: jimO pencil layouts
And obviously, I draw for only myself-no one would pay money for a comic book
that looked like that! The reason I do this is simple: I need to know whether
something that works just fine inside my head will work as still images, in
sequence on paper. And I also need to know whether what I've asked for can actually
be drawn! It's simple to write "Einstein nods his head." or "From above, we
see a sailor sitting at a player piano on the deck of a battleship." but neither
are easy to draw!
So as I draw my own script, I put myself in both the artist's shoes and the
reader's, and see what works and what doesn't.
When I've finished, I go back and re-write the story, then hand it to some comics-literate
friends for their feedback. One more editing round later, and it's off to the
artist, along with as much visual reference material I can get. As an example.
in my most recent book we needed to depict London taxis accurately, even though
they only appeared in one panel. So off to the library I went. Which isn't as
bad as it might sound-I'm a librarian, so usually the artists receive a thick
package of photocopies!
I also send my stick figure layouts along for the artists to look at-or to laugh
at-if they want.
Since I always work with people whose art I admire, from that point on the story
is in their hands. If they have a better idea for how a story works, I encourage
them to let me know.
And many of the artists do have better ideas. We talk about them and if I can
explain what I had in mind (but maybe didn't describe well in the script) and
why, it may end up looking like what I envisioned in the first place. If I can't
explain why I want something a certain way then I defer to them.
slide: Walton example
And sometimes the changes come right out of the blue with no discussion. So
far that's worked out great. Rob Walton's story in Two-Fisted Science
is a good example. He took my pacing and dialogue and threw out everything else.
He paid no attention to my sketches or panel descriptions. And the result was
ten times better than how I wrote it.
Returning to the script we started with, an artist like Carla Speed McNeil will
now take the script and break it into panels for herself, sometimes doing detailed
slide: Carla Speed McNeil sketches
From there, and many months later, we get a completed comics page.
slide: Speed final page
Whatever happens, when the artists finish the stories I get the pleasure of
seeing them through somebody else's eyes. It's a lot of fun and it's one of
the best things about writing comics.
And now that we've looked at my process in more detail, it's a good time to
talk more about the comics I do and what I hope to achieve with them.
Comics about scientists
A few minutes ago I promised to tell you about both ideas and about the science
comics I do.
I don't mean to cheat on that promise, but I can't really talk about where the
ideas come from, since this is a talk about comics and not psychology. The truth
is, I don't know. I do know how I got involved in comics, though: In the process
of getting a bachelor's and master's degree in nuclear engineering and then
working as a researcher and consultant to the electric power industry I learned
plenty of science in class and on the job. Outside of class and work I enjoyed
reading biographies of scientists whose discoveries I had learned about and
used. I was also an avid comics reader beginning in college.
I'm pretty good at math, but slow, so it took me 10 years to put one and one
together and merge my two interests!
slide:"Heavy Water" page
[Wait. I can tell you about ideas after all. There's an even shorter version
of how I began writing: I do comics about scientists because of my friend Steve
Lieber, who currently draws the flagship Batman monthly. We lived
close to each other (shouting distance, in fact) for a number of years. I had
loaned him a copy of The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard
Rhodes, and while we were discussing it he pointed out that a wartime meeting
between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg Rhodes described briefly had great
dramatic potential. When I asked him if he'd draw the story if I wrote it up
as a comics script, he said yes. A few years and a lot of research later we
had "Heavy Water", one of my favorites tales from Two-Fisted
So what is my aim with these comics? This summer I had occasion to read some
ancient Greek histories and biographies, and in the preface to one of the volumes
I learned that we now know that at the time they wrote, the ancient Greek historians
consider their histories as a branch of rhetoric. That is, the art of persuasion.
And that's where my work sits, I believe, since I'm willing to forego strict
historical accuracy-I omit people, I sometimes change "trivial" sequences of
events, and I always put words in peoples' mouths. So the books I do aren't
histories the way scholars practice it today. I certainly never call my work
history when I talk to real historians! What I write is done to introduce people
to science and scientists, and persuade them that science is interesting and
the life of a scientist is one worthy of respect, admiration…
…and something to aspire to.
slide: cover of Two-Fisted Science
My first book Two-Fisted Science is multi-layered… The Galileo
story we saw earlier ("Full Circle") and "Heavy Water",
which we just saw, are the inner-most layer, since they both deal with freedom
of thought versus the demands of those in power. The prologue and epilogue are
layers since they deal with the conflict between science and beauty (which isn't
really a conflict, as some of the quotes I scattered throughout the.12 book
indicate). Finally, there's the cover and last interior illustration, in which
two main players in the creation of the atomic bomb, Einstein and Oppenheimer,
muse on the beauty of science. On the front cover Einstein, via his jab at the
ugly (at least in his eyes) quantum theory, insists that science ought to be
beautiful and at the end of the book Oppenheimer simply states that science,
all of it, is beautiful.
slide: cover of Fallout
My newest book, just out last week, Fallout is a new case entirely,
since unlike the other books it isn't a string of related, but nonetheless separate
and self-contained anecdotes. As a result, I've done much more research for
this book than any others, and I've worked more from primary sources than ever
before. But it's too soon for me to talk about it, so I'll skip over it for
the moment and focus the rest my talk on my book about women scientists.
slide: cover of Dignifying Science
In Dignifying Science, I realized what the stories were telling
me early on, and worked on a specific linear structure from the very beginning.
It starts with Hedy Lamarr, who though she created the technology behind modern
day cellular phones was trapped by her status as a movie star and sex symbol.
Because of that status she was actively discouraged from pursuing her interest
It ends with Biruté Galdikas, who chose how she would live her life fairly early
on, and does her life's work almost completely on her own terms. In the middle
we have Rosalind Franklin, who was thwarted by her gender, but made conscious
choices about her life that both helped and hurt her scientific career.
slide: Curie (Severin)
Surrounding all the longer stories are short pieces about Marie Sklodovska Curie:
an optimistic prologue adapted from a letter she wrote before she achieved her
fame as a scientist, and a somewhat darker epilogue where she reflects on and
deals with the price of that fame.
slide: Meitner (Sorensen)
In between, the book progresses from Lise Meitner, the famous but under-appreciated
(in her time) discover of nuclear fission, to Rosalind Franklin, also under-appreciated
for her role in the discovery of DNA's structure.
slide: Franklin (Gladden)
Because of the complexity of the story, and because Franklin was by all
accounts a difficult character, I chose an unusual structure for her story,
changing artists depending on whose perspective of Franklin we were seeing.
For the objective view, Stephanie Gladden provided a cartoony approach, which
allows for the greatest identification with the characters. (At least theoretically.)
slide: Franklin (Gregory)
For James Watson's point of view, Roberta Gregory's frantic style seemed a good
match for his informal personal manner, especially as described in his book
The Double Helix.
slide: Franklin (Barr)
For Francis Crick's perspective, a more elegant and ornate style seemed appropriate.
And for Maurice Wilkins, who was both Franklin's closest collaborator and perhaps
her greatest antagonist, controlled linework seemed like the right choice.
slide: Franklin (Medley)
The Franklin story is followed by Barbara McClintock's, who eventually won renown
and the Nobel Prize for her work. And finally, as mentioned before, it closes
with Biruté Galdikas, one of Louis Leakey's famed primate ladies, though less
well known than Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall.
Again, by opening with Hedy Lamarr, who might have achieved more in science
had she not been trapped in her role as a screen actress and closing with Galdikas,
who lives her life completely devoted to her personal desires as they relate
to science, I hoped to show…well…progress, and provide an entry point into science
So, did it work?
Well, theoretically, yes, and I even have anecdotal evidence that people who
have read my comics have pursued the information I present in the notes and
references. I know of a number of classes in middle school, high school, and
college where my books have made their way onto the required-or at least recommended-reading
And that's not surprising. We live in what is accurately called a visual age,
though not necessarily a literate one. But women as a group have been ignored,
or actively excluded from comics in N. America for a long time. In the 1940s
and 1950s, readership was split about equally between boys and girls. By the
1980s, the numbers were more like 95% male and 5% female. The downward trend
stabilized and started to reverse in the 1990s thanks to the growth in comics
for college-age readers. But the dominant subject matter, that of the so-called
superhero such as Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man,
is completely uninteresting to most girls.
And yet women and girls are a strong demographic in terms of readership. Worldwide,
women are much more likely to be avid readers than men, by almost 30%. And young
girls are much more avid readers than boys.
According to book trade sources I've talked with, the single fastest growing
genre in N. American comics is manga-Japanese or Japanese-influenced books that
have a very distinctive "look" to them. This style of comics is very visual,
taking much more time and using many more images to unfold the story. The sequence
you see now, if done in a more traditional western style, would take up only
about half the space.
What's exciting is that most new readers of manga are quite young, and a significant
number of these new readers are girls. Since for young readers of either gender,
according to author Joan Aiken, "the action must be swift, continuous, and immediately
gripping" it's no surprise that comics appeal to them, and manga are particularly
For even if, as in this example, there's little action, because of the images
and because comics works to engage readers in ways that novels and movies cannot,
we still get a swift and continuous sense of movement even though nothing much
Returning to Dignifying Science, and again borrowing from Ms.
Aiken's thoughts on themes that work well for both young and older readers,
I'll note that two main themes that always work for reader are injustice and
reconciliation. The injustice of Hedy Lamarr's, Lise Meitner's, Rosalind Franklin's,
and (for a while, at least) Barbara McClintock's stories are obvious. The reconciliations,
for Franklin who has started to receive the credit she deserves, to McClintock
who eventually won the Nobel Prize, to Biruté Galdikas who needs no reconciliation
whatsoever, are also well suited to excite and engage readers.
So, the question remains whether Dignifying Science, and books
like it, can be used to interest women and girls in science. Addressing it on
a theoretical level, we've seen that reader engagement is high in comics, in
ways that other storytelling media can only approach. Comics are also accessible
on a visual level even when a reader's verbal skills are limited. Add to that
the fact that the themes I touched on-unconsciously!-have such high reader identification,
I think the answer is yes, these comics do work. At least on a theoretical basis.
It is, after all, only one book. The first and only comic book I know of about
women scientists, in fact. I certainly hope it's not the last, though, since
the potential for comics is so great, and the stories to tell are so numerous.
slide: comics about scientists? what a dangerous experiment.
We are living in the best times ever for good comics, all over the world. The
form is mature enough to support transcendent works, and I hope you'll take
the opportunity to seek out at least one of the books I mention in the bibliography.
So while we have to wait 50 years or more to find out what inspired the men
and women who win the Nobel Prizes in 2051, we won't be bored.
I look forward to all the great comics people will create between now and then.
Thanks to John Jackson Miller and Robert Boyd for their help with information
about comic readers.
Books mentioned or referred to in this evening's talk
The Art of the Comic Book, by R.C. Harvey
Comics and Sequential Art, by Will Eisner
Graphic Storytelling, by Will Eisner
Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware
Maus, by art spiegelman
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, by Hayao Miyazaki
Our Cancer Year, by Harvey Pekar, Frank Stack, and Joyce Brabner
any Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz
Safe Area Gorazde, by Joe Sacco
Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud
Other recent books from North America you might enjoy
Age of Bronze, by Eric Shanower
Berlin, by Jason Lutes
Cages, by Dave McKean
any Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson
Clan Apis, by Jay Hosler (There's science in this one!)
The Death of Speedy, by Jaime Hernandez
It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken, by Seth
Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, by Ben Katchor
Manga! Manga! and Dreamland Japan, by Frederik Schodt
Mr. Punch, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
And should you like to sample from my own books, they include
Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and
the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb
22 November 2001