A lot of comics are weird. Some are really out there. One of the upsides of being an offbeat art form is the creative freedom its practitioners enjoy. Writers and artists can let their imaginations run wild, crafting esoteric narratives to take readers on eye-opening psychedelic trips. The comics below are unabashedly strange, their visuals outlandish, and they often explore existential concepts, inviting readers to tune in, freak out, and enhance their consciousness. No substances required.
Strange Tales & Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
For his work on Nick Fury and Strange Tales (particularly Dr. Strange), Steranko employed the psychedelic sensibilities of the 1960s in his stylish art, making it visually unique among the other offerings at the time. His innovative breakdowns—including the first four-page spread—expanded what could be done on a comic page.
The cosmological journey of ne’er-do-well John Difool, a quest through the structure of the universe, is recognized as one of the most influential comics of all time thanks to Jodorowsky's expansive narrative and Moebius’s wildly imaginative art. The original series, The Black Incal, was followed by a prequel, Before the Incal, and sequel, After the Incal.
During the 90s "British Invasion," Shade (a 70s-era superhero created by Steve Ditko) received the Vertigo treatment, giving the onetime Suicide Squad member a provocative and socially-conscious demeanor. The reimagined Shade now possessed a hallucinogenic cape that could bend reality, and could be killed and reborn in myriad forms.
A teenaged British troublemaker joins a troupe of rebellious psychological agents who fight against inter-dimensional overlords. The series allowed Morrison to explore a cornucopia of postmodern and new age theories and concepts such as hypersigils (Morrison's term for a work of art that is magically imbued with its creator's will).
An immortal deity chooses a young girl to be her latest host, leading her on a journey through time, literature and spirituality. On her explorations through the afterlife, Sophie faces literal and figurative demons from her (and her predecessors') past. Moore used much of the comic as a vehicle for this thoughts on mysticism, science, and religion.
A pair of quirky lovebirds traverse a dreamlike landscape while a blue-haired bounty hunter chases down a payout in Graham’s sci-fi serial. His blend of American, European, and Japanese styles creates a pastel-colored world filled with aliens, far-out gizmos, and punny argots.
Casanova Quinn is a reluctant field agent working for E.M.P.I.R.E., an international and inter-dimensional spy agency run by his father. As a member of E.M.P.I.R.E., Casanova jumps between alternate realities to foil plots orchestrated by the nefarious W.A.S.T.E. organization and its enigmatic leader, Newman Xeno.
Canadian artist DeForge’s anthology series is a showcase for his warped imaginings and offbeat, genre-bending cartoons. While the art is simplified and often uncolored, the shorts are subversive explorations of psychological themes. DeForge’s other works, including Very Casual and Ant Colony, also display his penchant for weirdness.
The Understanding Monster
In Ellsworth’s intricately crafted trilogy, a group of toys in a shapeshifting house save and revive Izadore, a being destined to transcend “Toy Mountain” and regain his corporeality. Along the way, a bevy of bizarre incidents and obstacles attempt to block Izadore. The story reflects Ellsworth’s own mentality and ideas on creativity and personality.
A drug-addled botanist ventures into a remote, experimental community in search of a plant with powerful hallucinogenic properties, but what he finds exceeds even his wildest dreams. Shaw’s vertically-oriented comic is a kaleidoscopic trip into the recesses of the mind, utilizing color and texture for an avant-garde comics experience. Read it in its entirety here.
Gods, aliens, spirits, and a litany of mythic figures enter into conflict and congress as they compete to assert their authority over Earth and its inhabitants. The origins and intermingling of the deities makes for entertaining interactions and fantastic sequences, all flush with Moynihan’s vibrant color palette. A sequel, Forming II, was released in 2014, and a third entry is planned.
Green Lantern: Will World
A young and amnestic Hal Jordan tumbles down the rabbit hole and finds himself in a surreal world where his thoughts manifest themselves physically. Presented in Fisher’s clean and candy-colored art, Jordan comes upon all matter of unusual characters and happenings, ultimately as a test for mastering his power ring.
The Frank Book is a collection of over a decade of Woodring’s stories and illustrations starring Frank, an anthropomorphic animal character that innocently and haphazardly tramps through life in a trippy cartoon world. Frank’s blank countenance and naïveté make him an ideal vessel for the various morality fables and non-sequiturs he finds himself in. The character has also appeared in Woodring’s Weathercraft (2010) and Congress of the Animals (2011).
Regé's musings on magic and philosophy are shared through a race of cherubic beings that impart their wisdom in the form of cryptic proclamations and reveries. Every page is crammed with a lattice of lines, geometry, and text resulting in an phantasmagoric wall of art.
Ted Mishkin is a troubled animator and creator of the popular character Waldo, a cartoon cat with an off-color affect that Ted dreamt up in childhood. But Waldo is also of a tormentor to Ted, who's gradual divorce from reality causes his life to fall apart. Deitch blurs the line between the real and the imaginary to great effect, while also giving a darkly comic look at the nascent animation industry.
The Bulletproof Coffin
Hine and Kane celebrate pulp in all its absurdity with the story of a man who comes upon a set of golden age comic books that seem to come to life. The minimal narrative serves as an excuse for the duo to indulge in whatever fantasy they can concoct, with Kane’s simple and bold artwork depicting the boffo insanity on every page.
The Zaucer of Zilk
The Zaucer of Zilk follows its eponymous hero as he escapes his drab reality and assumes the role of a psychedelic hero in a day-glo dreamworld. Plotwise, Ewing and McCarthy are at their most unrestrained and abstract, but beneath the zaniness is a sincere meditation on comics and the self.
Scioli flexes his Jack Kirby muscles with the bombastic tale of Meric, a young warrior prince in a post-apocalyptic kingdom who must avenge the death of his family. The tri-color-coiffed hero looks like He-Man on acid and does battle with enemies like a colossal pharaoh with tanks for feet. It was originally serialized online and can be read in its entirety here.
For years, Animal Man was a largely unused DC superhero with the power to embody animalistic traits. But in the late '80s, writer Morrison took the title to heady new heights which lead its hero to question his reality and even break the fourth wall. As part of DC’s New 52 initiative in 2011, the series was given a Cronenberg-inspired reboot that continued its reputation for subversion.
Clowes's science fiction love story stars Jack, a down-on-his-luck man who tries to undo the death of his wife by going back in time. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go as planned, and Jack seems to be causing irreparable harm to himself and those around him. As he takes more jumps through time, Jack increasingly experiences dissociative episodes that are visually arresting and unnerving.
Jack Kirby’s Fourth World
Upon joining DC Comics in the early 70s, Jack Kirby launched what would become his opus, the Fourth World. Comprised of multiple titles including The New Gods and The Forever People, the melodramatic saga centered on the battle between the New Genesis and Apokolips, cosmic forces of good and evil, with characters including Darkseid, Metron, Orion, and Mister Miracle.