From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"I have paid tribute in Art and Illusion to the most thorough and sophisticated of these experimenters, Rodolphe Toepffer, who established what I have proposed to call Toepffer's law, the proposition that any configuration which we can interpret as a face, however badly drawn, will ipso facto have such an expression and individuality." --Art, Perception, and Reality, page 24, E. H. Gombrich, 1972
Comics (from the Greek κωμικός, kōmikos "of or pertaining to comedy" from κῶμος - kōmos "revel, komos", via the Latin cōmicus) is a graphic medium in which images convey a sequential narrative. The term derives from the mostly humorous early work in the medium, and came to apply to that form of the medium including those far from comic. The sequential nature of the pictures, and the predominance of pictures over words, distinguishes comics from picture books, though there is some overlap between the two. Most comics combine words with images, often indicating speech in the form of word balloons, but pantomime strips, such as The Little King, are not uncommon. Words other than dialogue, captions for example, usually expand upon the pictures, but sometimes act in counterpoint.
Early precursors of comics as they are known today include Trajan's Column and the work of William Hogarth. By the 19th century, the medium as we know it today began to take form among European and American artists. Comics as a real mass medium started to emerge in the United States in the early 20th century with the newspaper comic strip, where its form began to be standardized (image-driven, speech balloons etc.). The combination of words and pictures proved popular and quickly spread throughout the world.
Comic strips were soon gathered into cheap booklets and reprint comic books. Original comic books soon followed. Today, comics are found in newspapers, magazines, comic books, graphic novels and on the web. Historically, the form dealt with humorous subject matter, but its scope has expanded to encompass the full range of literary genres. Also see: Comic strip and cartoon. In some circles, comics are still seen as low art. However, such an elitist "low art/high art" distinction doesn't exist in the French-speaking world (and, to some extent, continental Europe), where the bandes dessinées medium as a whole is commonly accepted as "the Ninth Art".
In the last quarter of the twentieth century, greater acceptance of the comics form among the general reading public coincided with a greater usage of the term graphic novel, often meant to differentiate a book of comics with a spine from its saddle-stitched form, but the difference between the terms is ambiguous, as comics have become increasingly available in libraries and mainstream book stores.
An example of an early precursor to print comics is Trajan's Column. Rome's Trajan's Column, dedicated in 113 AD, is an early surviving example of a narrative told through sequential pictures, while Egyptian hieroglyphs, Greek friezes, medieval tapestries such as the Bayeux Tapestry and illustrated manuscripts also combine sequential images and words to tell a story. Versions of the Bible relying primarily on images rather than text were widely distributed in Europe in order to bring the teachings of Christianity to the illiterate. In medieval paintings, many sequential scenes of the same story (usually a Biblical one) appear simultaneously in the same painting.
The invention of the printing press, allowing movable type, established a separation between images and words, the two requiring different methods in order to be reproduced. Early printed material concentrated on religious subjects, but through the 17th and 18th centuries, they began to tackle aspects of political and social life, and also started to satirize and caricature. It was also during this period that the speech bubble was developed as a means of attributing dialogue.
The speech balloon also evolved during this period, from the medieval origins of the phylacter, a label, usually in the form of a scroll, which identified a character either through naming them or using a short text to explain their purpose. Artists such as George Cruikshank helped codify such phylacters as balloons rather than scrolls, though at this time they were still called labels. They now represented narrative, but for identification purposes rather than dialogue within the work, and artists soon discarded them in favour of running dialogue underneath the panels. Speech balloons weren't reintroduced to the form until Richard F. Outcault used them for dialogue.
Rodolphe Töpffer, a Francophone Swiss artist, was a key figure in the early part of the 19th century. Though speech balloons fell from favour during the middle 19th century, Töpffer's sequentially illustrated stories, with text compartmentalized below images, were reprinted throughout Europe and the United States. The lack of copyright laws at the time meant that pirated editions proliferated, and translated versions created a market on both continents for similar works.
In the United States, R.F. Outcault's work in combining speech balloons and images on Hogan's Alley and The Yellow Kid has been credited as establishing the form and conventions of the comic strip, though academics have uncovered earlier works that combine speech bubbles and a multi image narrative. However, the popularity of Outcalt's work and the position of the strip in a newspaper retains credit as a driving force of the form.
The 1920s and 1930s saw further booms within the industry. The market for comic anthologies in Britain turned to targeting children through juvenile humor, with The Dandy and The Beano. In Belgium, Hergé created the The Adventures of Tintin newspaper strip for a comic supplement; this was successfully collected in a bound album and created a market for further such works. The same period in the United States had seen newspaper strips expand their subject matter beyond humour, with action, adventure and mystery strips launched. The collection of such material also began, with The Funnies, a reprint collection of newspaper strips, published in tabloid size in 1929.
During the latter half of the 20th century comics have become a very popular item for collectors and from the 1970s American comics publishers have actively encouraged collecting and shifted a large portion of comics publishing and production to appeal directly to the collector's community.
Since the invention of the comic book format in the 1930s, the United States has been the leading producer with only the British comic books (during the inter-war period and up until the 1970s) and the Japanese manga as close competitors in terms of quantity.
Comic book sales declined with the spread of television and mass market paperback books after World War II, but regained popularity in the late 1950s and the 1960s as comic books' audience expanded to include college students who favored the naturalistic, "superheroes in the real world" trend initiated by Stan Lee at Marvel Comics. The 1960s also saw the advent of the underground comics. Later, the influence of Japanese manga and the recognition of the comic medium among academics, literary critics and art museums helped solidify comics as a serious artform with established traditions, stylistic conventions, and artistic evolution. American comic books have become closely associated with the superhero tradition.
France and Belgium have a long tradition in comics and comic books, where they are called BDs (an abbreviation of Bande Dessinée) in French and strips in Dutch. Belgian comic books originally written in Dutch are influenced by the Francophone "Franco-Belgian" comics, but have their own distinct style.
The name la bande dessinée derives from the original description of the art form as drawn strips (the phrase is literally translated as the drawn strip), analogous to the sequence of images in a film strip. As in its English equivalent, the word "bande" can be applied to both film and comics. It is not insignificant that the French term contains no indication of subject matter, unlike the American terms "comics" and "funnies", which imply an art form not to be taken seriously. The distinction of comics as le neuvième art (literally, "the ninth art") is prevalent in French scholarship on the form, as is the concept of comics criticism and scholarship itself. Relative to the respective size of their populations, the innumerable authors in France and Belgium publish a high volume of comic books. In North America, the more serious Franco-Belgian comics are often seen as equivalent to graphic novels, but whether they are long or short, bound or in magazine format, in Europe there is no need for a more sophisticated term, as the art's name does not itself imply something frivolous.
In France, authors control the publication of most comics. The author works within a self-appointed time-frame, and it is common for readers to wait six months or as long as two years between installments. Most books are first published as a hard cover book, typically with 48, 56 or 64 pages.
A British comic is a periodical published in the United Kingdom that contains comic strips. It is generally referred to as a comic or a comic magazine, and historically as a comic paper.
British comics are usually comics anthologies which are typically aimed at children, and are published weekly, although some are also published on a fortnightly or monthly schedule. The top three longest-running comics in the world, The Dandy, The Beano and Comic Cuts are all British, although in modern times British comics have been largely superseded by American comic books and Japanese manga.
In Italy, comics (known in Italian as fumetti) made their debut as humorous strips at the end of the nineteenth century, and later evolved into adventure stories inspired by those coming from the US. After World War II, however, artists like Hugo Pratt and Guido Crepax exposed Italian comics to an international audience. "Author" comics contain often strong erotic contents. Best sellers remain popular comic books Diabolik or the Bonelli line, namely Tex Willer or Dylan Dog.
Mainstream comics are usually published on a monthly basis, in a black-and-white digest size format, with approximately 100 to 132 pages. Collections of classic material for the most famous characters, usually with more than 200 pages, are also common. Author comics are published in the French BD format, with an example being Pratt's Corto Maltese.
Italian cartoonists show the influence of comics from other countries, including France, Belgium, Spain, and Argentina. Italy is also famous for being one of the foremost producers of Walt Disney comic stories outside the US. Donald Duck's superhero alter ego, Paperinik, known in English as Superduck, was created in Italy.
Other European comics
Although Switzerland has made relatively few contributions to European comics, many scholars point to a Francophone Swiss, Rodolphe Töpffer, as the true father of comics. However, this assertion is still controversial, with critics noting that Töpffer's work is not necessarily connected to the creation of the artform as it is now known in the region.
The first comic books in Japan appeared during the 18th century in the form of woodblock- printed booklets containing short stories drawn from folk tales, legends, and historical accounts, told in a simple visual-verbal idiom. Known as "red books", "black books", and "blue books", these were written primarily for less literate readers. However, with the publication in 1775 of Koikawa Harumachi's comic book Master Flashgold's Splendiferous Dream, an adult form of comic book originated, which required greater literacy and cultural sophistication. This was known as the yellow cover. Published in thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of copies, the kibyōshi may have been the earliest fully realized comic book for adults in world literary history. Approximately 2000 titles remain extant.
Modern comic books in Japan developed from a mixture of these earlier comic books and woodblock prints ukiyo-e with Western styles of drawing. They took their form shortly after World War II. They are usually published in black and white, except for the covers, which are usually printed in four colors, although occasionally, the first few pages may also be printed in full color. The term manga means "random (or whimsical) pictures", and first came into common usage in the late eighteenth century with the publication of such works as Santō Kyōden's picturebook 'Shiji no yukikai (1798) and Aikawa Minwa's Comic Sketches of a Hundred Women (1798).
- Adult comics
- Alternative comics
- Comics vocabulary
- Comics and pop art
- Graphic nonfiction
- Underground comics
- Horror comics in the United States, 1947–1954
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