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Comic Books

Page history last edited by diana.hayes@iwc.edu 13 years ago


"Comics-juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer". -Scott McCloud

    “It’s not a genre, it’s a media.”  This has become a mantra in the world of comics.  Comic books, graphic novels, “floppies”, mangas, pulp magazines,whatever you like to call them.  The comic book industry started gaining popularity in America during the 1930s, lost some of their appeal because of backlash from society, almost destroyed itself from within, and have slowly made the climb back up to their previous popularity.   Comics are slowly making a come back in popularity.  In 2001 bookstores went from $32 million in sales to $250 million in graphic novel sales in 2007(Thompson).  Comics are no longer a cheap magazine filled with “BOOM!”, “ZIP!”, and “SPLAT!".  Well some comics are still done in that style but as Theodore Sturgeon once said “90% of it was crap, but then 90% of everything was crap”(Hairston).

Comic Books or Graphic Novels?

    “You mean like pornographic?” queried the startled librarian when I asked for help researching articles about graphic novels.” - Andrew D. Arnold
     Comic books and graphic novels are really the same thing. The term graphic novel in “publishing shorthand” bluntly means “big fat comic with a spine” according to Scott McCloud.  “Graphic novel is a goofy term,” Scott McCloud tells a crowd at the ‘SPLAT!’ A Graphic Novel Symposium.  “The first graphic novel that got a lot of play was Will Eisner’s “Contract with God.’ The thing’s an anthology.  The next graphic novel that got a lot of play was “Maus,” and it’s a memoir.  There are few graphic novels that are actually graphic novels”(Thompson).
    The term graphic novel was first coined by Will Eisner for his “A Contract with God” published in 1978.  Although the concept was introduced in the 1960’s Eisner claims he came up with the idea by himself in the 1970’s.  Eisner’s publisher used graphic novel on the cover of his book with the idea in mind of making a more ‘serious’ comic book form.  Eisner wanted a book that “would physically look like a ‘legitimate’ book and at the same time write about a subject matter that would never have been addressed in comic book form”(Arnold).  


The history of comics are deeper than one would imagine.  The Bayeux Tapestry of France created in 1066, detailing the Norman Conquest of England, is a comic according to the definition presented by Scott McCloud.  The first comic strip is usually Richard Felton Outcault’s The Yellow Kid. The strip was originally published in 1895 in The New York World and served as a marketing tool to boost newspapers sales(Archetypes).  Comic books however started gaining popularity in America in the 1930’s(McCloud).  For convenience, the history of comics have been broken down into distinct ages; Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Modern Age. Below are the sections for the Golden Age and the Silver Age.  

Golden Age

     The Golden Age of comics ranged from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.  The comic book industry became its own industry thanks to Jerome Siegal and Joseph Shuster the creators of Superman(Archetypes). Superman was first published in Action Comics #1 and was “the initiator of the superhero genre”(Santos).  In 1939, Detective Comics introduced Bob Kane's Batman(Santos), and thus began the superhero genre which became one of the cornerstones of the comic book industry.  More characters created during this time were; Wonder Woman, Captain America, The Flash, and the Green Lantern, and the Human Torch.  Another popular hero was Will Eisner’s The Spirit.  The series used many film techniques and has inspired the comics of the modern age(Archetypes).  During World War II the industry boomed.  
     With superheroes stressing common interest in public welfare and patriotism, they were perfect for America's mindset at the time.  It helped, however, to have Captain America punching Hitler in the face on the cover of his first comic book.

Silver Age

     After World War II, the Golden Age ended, bring us to the Silver Age, approximately 1956-1971.  The demand for comics died down after the war, they had to compete against television, and the Senate’s investigation on what influence comics had on society, especially the ‘horror’ genre(Archetypes).  Dr. Fredric Wertham almost single-handedly destroyed the industry in the spring of 1954 when his book Seduction of the Innocent was published.  “Dr. Wertham was the psychiatric consultant to the Chief Censor of the United States Treasury Department, a lecturer at Yale Law School, a consultant to the Juvenile Aid Bureau and had been the senior psychiatrist for the New York Department of Hospitals”(Santos).
    Dr. Wertham’s book was very critical of comics, using comics as a scapegoat calling them the “major cause of delinquency of the nation’s youth.”  He compared comics to cheap drugs, said that comics lead to reading disorders and homosexuality, and that “Hitler was "a beginner compared to the comic book industry. They get the children much younger”(Santos).
To quote a few sections of the book;
     “The difference between the surreptitious pornographic literature for adults and children’s comic books is this: in one it is a question of attracting perverts, in the other of making them“(Wertham 183).
     “(Wonder Woman) is always a horror type.  She is physically very powerful, tortures men, has her own female following, is the cruel, “phallic” woman.  While she is a frightening figure for boys, she is an undesirable ideal for girls, being the exact opposite of what girls are supposed to want to be”( Wertham 34).
     “In these stories(Batman Comics) there are practically no decent, attractive, successful women.  A typical female character is the Catwoman, who is vicious and uses a whip.  The atmosphere is homosexual and anti-feminine.  If the girl is good-looking she is undoubtedly the villianess.  If she is after Bruce Wayne, she will have no chance against Dick“(Wertham191).
     The book is filled with “half-truths and statistic manipulation” however the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency in the United States and the public agreed with his view point and demanded a standard code for all comics “eliminating everything in a comic potentially damaging or demoralizing to a youth.  The comic book publishers created The Comic Code to win back readers.  Readers knew if the comic meet the standards if a logo appeared on the cover.
    The Standards of the Comics Code Authority was incredibly restrictive.  “Horror and crime comics became nearly extinct. Westerns had to have fewer gunfights. Romance comics couldn't have much romance. Even funny animal comic violence was limited”(Santos).  With sales declining, many comic publishers went out of business.  One of the publishers hit hard was Marvel.  Marvel almost went out of business if not for a deal made with rival company, DC Comics, to sell their comics through DC’s newsstands(Santos).  Once again, superheroes supported the industry with the introduction of DC’s Justice League of America and Marvel’s Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Hulk, Iron Man and X-Men. Then sales once again began to drop, leading us into the Bronze Age.


Japanese Mangas

    Comic books have remained popular due to a rise in popularity of the Japanese comics called manga, pronounced “maw-nnn-gah“.  Manga when translated to English means “humorous pictures”.  The art in these books have their own style called and often have the characters over exaggerating their emotions, making them cartoonish in appearance(Albert).  The first version of manga was created by Osamu Tezuka, the “father” of modern anime(Izawa) or even the “god of manga“(Hairston).  Tezuka was inspired by the styles of Walt Disney and Max Fleisher in the 1930’s.  During that time Disney’s and Fleisher’s cartoons had larger eyes.  The large eyes made it easier for the character to express more emotion(Hairston).  Most artist follow Tezuka’s style in the modern mangas with the stereotype of characters who have large eyes, a small mouth, and brightly colored hair arranged in a distinct, nonmoving hair style.  

    Mangas main difference in comparison to American comics is how it is read. Below is a guide to reading manga and a page from a popular manga “Fruits Basket”.  how to read manga.bmp




     In comparison to the American comics, mangas are smaller and first appear in a weekly magazine.  Then if they become popular, they are made into a series of volumes that usually contain several chapters arranged per book. Several types of manga are as follows:
          Shônen – Boy’s Manga – (Pronounced Show-Nen)
          Shôjo – Girl’s Manga – (Pronounced Show-Joe)
          Seinen – Men’s Manga – (Pronounced Say-Nen)
          Josei (or redikomi) – Women’s Manga – (Pronounced Joe-Say)
          Kodomo – Children’s Manga – (Pronounced Kow-Dow-Mow)
     These are often arranged into separate categories such as romance, action, comedy, et cetera(Albert).  Mangas are created for people in all ages and gender.  There are cookbooks, romance stories, crime fighting, and even sexual explicit material are all done in the manga style(Albert).  They are also printed in black and white, are smaller in format, and are written by one manga-ka, a manga artist.  The characters are realistic often attending school or work, realizing and failing to reach their dreams, messing up along the way and learning from their mistakes.  Most mangas even end the stories with either of the three scenarios happening; hero wins, hero dies, hero sort of wins(Izawa).





[1] Arnold, Andrew D. “The Graphic Novel Silver Anniversary”. Graphic Novels and Comic Books. Ed. Kat Kan. New York: H.W. Wilson Company. 2010.
[2] Albert, Aaron. “Manga 101: Basic Walk-through of the Manga World”. About.com. <http://comicbooks.about.com/od/manga/ss/manga101_6.htm>.
[3] “Archetypes, Commercialism, and Hollywood; A History of the Comic Book”. March 18, 2008. RandomHistory.com.      

     <http://www.randomhistory.com /1-50/033comic.html>.
[4] Hairston, Marc. “Manga, Anime, and Miyazaki”. Material and information about Miyazaki, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, and anime… 1999.          <http://www.utdallas.edu/research/spacesciences/hairston/nausicaa_lecture_1_p2.html>.
[5] Izawa, Eri. “What are Manga and Anime?”. 2005. <http://www.mit.edu/~rei/Expl.html>.
[6] McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Perennial. 1993.
[7] Santos, Derek. The Comic Page. 1998. <http://www.dereksantos.com/comicpage/comicpage.html>.
[8] Thompson, Bob. “Drawing Power”. Graphic Novels and Comic Books. Ed. Kat Kan. New     York:     H.W. Wilson Company. 2010.
[9] Wertham, Fredric. Seduction of the Innocent. New York: Rinehart and Company, INC. 1954.

Comments (3)

Jeff Martinek said

at 10:42 am on Apr 25, 2011


Looks good. Of course for a topic like this, which is so graphics-intensive, a good article would bring some graphics into the mix. Can you find some exemplary panels or pages, etc. to spice this up and break up the text? -- JM

Jeff Martinek said

at 10:52 am on Apr 27, 2011

Love it! Very creative, Diana. The graphics really make it "pop" as an article on comix should. -- JM

Jeff Martinek said

at 11:38 am on Apr 29, 2011

Diana: see my email about comics and the "words vs. images" debate within Media ecology ---and all of western civilization, actually. Also, when you discuss the history of comics I was hoping you might bring to it a bit more of the long-range perspective that McCloud brings to his book. He says that its actually an old form with a very long tradition (of course they weren't called "comics" before a certain point, but work that fit his formal definition existed for many centuries in many cultures, right? Now I realize you can't get into that in detail here, but perhaps a brief paragraph acknowledging that would be a good addition. -- JM

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