Art Brut, Vol 1: The Winking Woman by W. Maxwell Prince & Martín Morazzo

with colors by Mat Lopes, backup colors by Chris O’Halloran, and letters & design by Good Old Neon.

This is easily one of the most intelligently artistic graphic novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. You don’t have to be an art history major to enjoy this book but a passing familiarity with the most famous artworks of our time does help, especially if you want to spot all the art references and in-jokes our creators make along the way. And oof, some of the design choices on the interstitials are just luscious. I love how this goes from fine art to modern comic to pop art parody and back, all in a matter of (absolutely gorgeous) pages.

And that’s just the visuals! Once you get into this surreal but intensely thought-provoking, if not outright moving, story, it’s impossible to put down. The title Art Brut isn’t just a reference to the notion of outsider art, as opposed to the high-minded academic institution of fine art. It’s also the name of the Dreampainter, a consultant used by the Bureau of Artistic Integrity to help solve their most bizarre cases.

BAI’s new Director Margot Breslin certainly knows it’s time to call in the big guns when the Mona Lisa suddenly appears to have one eye closed. No one has come in to the Louvre to paint over Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece: one moment she was as usual, the next she was winking. If that was the only issue, Breslin would probably leave Art to keep painting in his padded cell. But a rash of gruesome deaths has broken out worldwide that all seem to be linked to the changed Mona Lisa. The strange and possibly demented Art may very well be the only person capable of preventing more carnage. With the help of his artist’s mannequin, imaginatively named Manny, Art agrees to leave the safety of his sanatorium to help Breslin figure out what’s going on.

A trip to the Louvre to see the Winking Woman in person is soon disrupted by a gang of paint-splattered, pistol-wielding goons, led by an Andy Warhol lookalike with a flamethrower. Art helps Breslin escape, plunging her headfirst into his madness as the duo races against time to stop art criminals intent on mass murder and other crimes against humanity.

Gosh, I’m not smart enough to explain all the deeply philosophical underpinnings of this perfect meld of art theory with crime thriller, but if you have even the slightest interest in either of those topics, I can’t recommend this amazing graphic novel enough. It is smart and painful and grotesque and, like any good work of art, makes you think and question and feel. It’s an utterly brilliant critique of famous art told via the lens of a murder mystery, in possibly the only medium that could encompass all this. I loved it and am absolutely panting for the next volume!

Art Brut, Vol 1: The Winking Woman by W. Maxwell Prince & Martín Morazzo was published August 29 2023 by Image Comics and is available from all good booksellers, including

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