Comic book illustrators don’t need words to communicate their ideas; often, all it takes is a pop of color, a carefully placed panel, or a flurry of zigzags to convey an emotion, an action, or an unexpected plot twist. These books, as we’ve come to realize, speak a language of their own, regardless of their country of origin.
Here, 10 colorful comic books from around the globe that have spanned generations, borderlines, and boundaries of communcation.
All Photos by Dani Vernon
If the United States gets Captain America, then Canada gets Captain Canuck, a maple-leaf adorned superhero with an eidetic memory (he can learn new fighting styles just by watching). Captain Canuck made his debut in 1975 and has since made appearances in various spin-offs and comic collections.
Super Commander Dhruva, one of India’s most popular superheroes, is not actually a superhero at all. However, what he lacks in supernatural powers, he makes up for with unrelenting morality and extraordinary sleuthing skills, all in order to protect the fictional city of Rajnagar.
There are no words in The Tunnel. Instead, this graphic novel silently follows its female protagonist from panel to panel, relying only on color and illustration to guide the reader (or rather, viewer?) through her emotional journey. Published in 2010, this novel was commissioned to raise awareness about human trafficking in Cyprus.
91:an, a timeless Swedish collection of comic strips and books, has been popular with locals for over 70 years. Its stories follow Mandel Karlsson (often called 91:an for his military number), an accordion player who serves in the Swedish Army and has a penchant for getting into sticky situations.
Pelefant follows its namesake, a headstrong toy elephant, as he gets himself in and out of tricky situations. Often accompanied by his best friends, Pip (a mouse) and Filur (a once-evil little wizard), Pelefant made his final comic book appearances in the 1990s.
Italy’s interpretation of the American West takes shape in the form of Tex Willer, a handsome ranger turned Navajo chief, who first appeared on comic book pages in the late 1940s.
Shōnen Jump is a weekly manga magazine that has been published in Japan since 1968, making it one of the longest running anthologies in the country. Each issue features action, comedy, and a bevy of stories that have become international sensations, such as Dragonball Z and Naruto.
Another wordless comic, Gutsman has gained a cult following. Dutch illustrator Erik Kriek came up with the Gutsman character in the 1990s as a parody of the superhero trope he found in the pages of most classic comic books. Gutsman’s foil is his cat-ear clad girlfriend, Tigre, with whom he’s always embroiled in drama.
No list of classic comics would be complete without reference to DC Comics’ Infinity Inc., a crime-fighting team of first-generation superheroes (many characters later went on to join other famous crews like the Justice League and Suicide Squad). The first volume of this popular series was published from 1984 to 1988, and a surprise second volume was released in 2007.
The heroes featured in Mexico’s Vidas Ilustres are different from typical comic book heroes. Instead of fighting crime with superpowers, this series, which began publishing in 1956, highlights the historical achievements of peacemakers and problem-solvers like Louis Pasteur and Martin Luther King, Jr.