A history of comics
What are comics?
Comics are picture stories. Images are ordered into a sequential narrative. Words don’t have to be used, but most comics combine words with images. Usually these words are in the form of word ballons or under the images. These balloons can be filled with all kinds of words, thoughts or just basic sounds like a door being closed loudly. Although they have a lot in common with picture books, they are an own media.
As with art, comics have been found on the walls of caves. The oldest are thought to be over 15000 years old and were found in France. Egyptian hieroglyphs used sequential pictures, while the Greeks painted their “comics” on vases. As with a lot of things, the Romans excelled in the art of comics, with the Trajan’s Column being a masterpiece. In the mediaeval times, people used tapestries (Bayeaux Tapestry) and illustrated manuscripts to convey a narrative. Pictures were important in these times, as a lot of people could not read or write.
Of course, these masterpieces could only be viewed by a small audience. Comics started to become mainstream through the industrial revolution and the invention of printing techniques. Rodolphe Toepffer, a Swiss artist in the 19th century, made comics popular again and started adding hero’s and stories built on each other. He also used sounds in the word balloons to give the comic “movement”.
Also important for the comics, were satirical drawings, which started appearing in newspapers. A forerunner in Britain was the Punch magazine, which referred to it’s humorous penciling, soon to be called cartoons.
Toeppffer style caught on and people like the German Willhelm Busch or Richard Felton started taking their drawings and making stories out of them. Busch’s “Max and Moritz” are still popular in Germany today. Another big step towards modern comics happened with George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat”. He used an animal with human touches as the leading character, a normal trait of today( Micky Mouse or Donald Duck).
Comics began to differ quite a bit in Europe, Japan and the USA. In Japan, the Manga Comics became popular, in the States Micky and Donald were created by Walt Disney and are still well known. In Europe, comics like Tarzan or Tim and Struppi started to appear. But the breakthrough came in 1938 and who but “Superman” was the reason. The figure was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. It created a huge boom and many superhero’s followed.
Since the late 1930’s, the technical style has hardly changed, people stared to work on the context of the comics. In the Second World War, American comic superhero’s also fought the Nazi’s and were even used politicaly. After the war, the comics finally came into their “Golden Age”. This had much to do with the author Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, who not only created many new superhero’s but also stood for a new understanding between authors and artists. They worked very closly together and created a whole world full of comics heros and villians.Charackters created by them include “Batman” and “Wonderwomen”. Adult comics hit the streets in 1960’s, they were spellt comix instead of comics and contained sex, violence and drugs. This caused for scandels all over the USA.
The Manga’s are totally different to their US or European cousins, The figures are well known for their big eyes and basic drawings with less detail. The biggest difference are the displayed emontions. The Manga’s have become popular over here since the 1980’s.
The Graphic Novel was the fisrt comic to make first place in the bestselling list of the Times Magazine in 2002.
Are Comics Art?
For a long time comics were seen as a lower form of art, if even that. They were not considered worth studing. And when they were studied, the comix and not comic was chosen first. One of the creators of the comix’s Robert Crumb even had his work displayed in the museum of Cologne in 2002. The title of the display was called “Yeah, but is it art?” shows the world is still not to sure. It is clear that it has been with us since we were painting on walls in caves and right now a whole wave of comic hero’s are in the cinemas all over the planet. Sure, not all comics can be considered to be great art, but it does reflect the “ Zeitgeist” of the times and is a different way of expressing than painting or writing alone.