I've previously written about Chris Ware in Mint Lounge. His books are as grey as many graphic novels are, but that is only in terms of their content. In form, Ware's books evoke an earlier era (think early 1900s) of comics and advertising. He uses a lot of colours, but his work isn't evocative of pulp comics at all. His styling is detailed and has a sense of geometric symmetry to it that's hard to describe in words. I'd particularly recommend his Acme Novelty Series and Jimmy Corrigan.
After I read several Chris Ware comics, I read up on the man himself, which is how I discovered Winsor McCay and his Little Nemo in Slumberland. McCay was a late 19th century and early 20th century comics book illustrator who wasn't particularly successful in his time, but he has enough of a following now for Google to remember the 107 anniversary of Little Nemo in Slumberland through its latest Google Doodle (it's interactive, and that would have appealed to McCay, who was also an animator).
The comic is set in the dreams of its main character, a seven-year old boy called Nemo. McCay's illustrations were ahead of their time, in terms of their use of a full if somewhat muted palette of psychedelic colours, and their fantastic illustrations. The plot itself, I believe, is secondary to the style. And although the strip (it first appeared in a broadsheet newspaper) started in 1905, it does have some of the violence and darkness that would become comic strip and comic book staples much later.
If you are the kind of comic book fan who can appreciate a comic book for its illustration style, I'd recommend you buy the Nemo books (available online on the ComiXology store) or read them here. It's a good thing to start a slow week with.
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