Science

Our Year’s Illustrated Journeys Through Mysterious Tattoos, Hell Banquets, and More

People have always used images to tell their stories. In Lascaux, France, prehistoric people painted a menagerie of wildlife on their cave walls. Ancient Egyptian tombs, illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, Industrial Revolution newspapers, and today’s emojis have used illustration to document scenes from our lives and create worlds from our imaginations.

Atlas Obscura often draws upon the magic of skilled illustrators to conjure up history, memory, the unknown—and sometimes, just plain cool stuff. While taking readers on a journey through our stories, we add a dash of creativity to make an interesting tale a distinctive treat for the eyes as well. Here are some of our favorite illustrated stories of the year, from the mystery of one man’s tattooed skin, to the significance of a Slovenian cookbook, to the mind games of hell banquets.

by Nathaniel Scharping

Illustrator Delphine Lee adds a face and some captivating linework, worthy of being permanently inked, to the story of the enigma behind a 19th-century Frenchman’s tattooed, preserved remains.

Dissecting the human nervous system is a taxing task—and in some cases, very little is known about the people whose bodies wound up on anatomists' tables.
Dissecting the human nervous system is a taxing task—and in some cases, very little is known about the people whose bodies wound up on anatomists’ tables. Carmen Deñó for Atlas Obscura

by Jessica Leigh Hester

The thin, delicate lines drawn by illustrator Carmen Deñó perfectly suit this thoughtful deep dive into the questionable origins of a dissected and preserved human nervous system on display in Philadelphia.

For Valentin Vodnik, a writer, scholar, and priest, the quest to save the Slovene language was a true calling.
For Valentin Vodnik, a writer, scholar, and priest, the quest to save the Slovene language was a true calling. Thumy Phan for Gastro Obscura

by Kaja Seruga

Illustrator Thumy Phan’s bright and luminous palette glows like a stained-glass window in this tale of a determined priest’s fight for the written expression of a Slovene national identity.

Also known as the “house of horrors,” the facility tested close combat skills and “the moral fiber of the student.”
Also known as the “house of horrors,” the facility tested close combat skills and “the moral fiber of the student.” Delphine Lee for Atlas Obscura

by April White, Senior Writer/Editor

Bold graphic shadows by illustrator Delphine Lee let us imagine the dark depths of this story’s “haunted house,” used to test agents joining the ranks of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to spy on Axis forces in World War II.

Aldi shoppers are not birds, but sometimes sound like they are.
Aldi shoppers are not birds, but sometimes sound like they are. Stella Murphy for Gastro Obscura

by Sara Murphy

For this story on the enthusiastic fan club of Aldi grocery store’s curious and quirky middle aisle, illustrator Stella Murphy charmingly and brightly rendered animated shoppers literally flocking together, delighting in their finds.

An early inspiration for macabre banquets was a story about a hellish feast hosted by a Roman emperor.
An early inspiration for macabre banquets was a story about a hellish feast hosted by a Roman emperor. Rodolofo Reyes for Gastro Obscura

by Sam O’Brien, Senior Editor, Gastro Obscura

Illustrator Rodolofo Reyes plays with elegant kaleidoscopes of skeletons for this history of devious hosts of macabre banquets, who were more interested in terrifying and tormenting their guests than entertaining them.




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