At some point in everyones lives, we have chuckled over a comic strip in the newspaper, read an annual of our favourite cartoon character or even created and drawn our own story. On Sunday 25th September 2016, celebrate this unique style of storytelling that has been entertaining and informing us since we learnt to draw on cave walls, with National Comic Book Day! You can reminisce with a classic superhero, watch one of your favourite comic films or head to your local comic book shop to pick up a new genre that you will love for years to come.
Some of you may be thinking…

“Aren’t comic books just for kids?”

 

Or to mistaken the bright colours and sometimes whimsical storylines as being juvenile. But I’m going to show you how this creative form of storytelling, through a series of images, can and should be enjoyed by all ages.


 

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

Although comics became hugely popular around the 1930s, this storytelling art form can be traced thousands of centuries before and found across the world through:

  • Cave paintings
  • Egyptian hieroglyphics
  • Pre-Columbian American picture manuscripts.
  • Trajan Column
  • Japanese scrolls

However, the modern day comic style that many would recognise, began with Rodolphe Töpffer in the mid 1800s. He was the first to combine both a sequence of images with the written word.

The first comic to use the icon balloon shaped speech bubbles was Richard Felton Outcault’s “The Yellow Kid”. This debuted in 1895 in Joseph Pulitzer’s The New York World. It was then that publishers in newspapers realised that adding these comic strips broadened their appeal for viewers. They begun to be standardised in the majority of newspaper publications and began the trend for humorous “Comics”.
According to Scott McCloud in this book “Understanding Comics, The Invisible Art”, he describes the definition of Comics as being so much more than just a comedic genre of literature. It is a “vessel which can hold any number of ideas and images” and can therefore be absolutely anything! Which is why, if you wander down to your local comic book shop, you won’t just find the usual suspects of superheroes and slapstick bright cartoons, but an array of genres covering every fictional and non-fiction scenario in a diversity of dynamic and evolving art styles.

COMIC BOOK Scott McCloud - Understanding Comics, The Invisible Art
“COMICS – Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response to the viewer.”

 

 

THE AGES OF COMIC BOOKS 

 

1930S – 1950S: GOLDEN AGE OF COMIC BOOKS

With the severe worldwide Great Depression and the start of World War II, comic books were seen as a welcomed outlet and distraction for many people world wide, and thus began the golden age of comics. The big household names of comic books DC and Marvel both created their first character in the late 1930s. DC (then known as Detective Comics) created one of their iconic personality, Superman in Action Comics, and Timely Comics (the predecessor of Marvel Comics) had their main-figure Captain America.

COMIC BOOK DC - Action Comics, Marvel - Captain America
These heroes cloaked in patriotic colours of red, white and blue showed super strength and willpower to defeat evil and protect the innocent. In a time of despair, they brought hope and reassurance that we could get through this period.

DETECTIVE COMICS (DC)

Detective Comics concentrated on the heroes fighting conflicts at home. They stressed the use of a strong federal government that looked out for peoples everyday wellbeing. At a time of war and chaos, they needed people to think that even though their armies were away fighting the enemy, they still had heroic law-enforcements fighting for them in their own backyard.

 

TIMELY COMICS (MARVEL)

Timely Comics showcased stories of their hero in stars and strips fighting the enemy on the front line. These comics were read by the people left behind needing reassurance that they could beat the evil that was the Nazis, and by the brave men who were on the front lines. To share the story of how a regular boy from Brooklyn, who was good and pure at heart but lacked the desired physical attributes, could be transformed into a hero and beat Adolf Hitler with a punch to the face! This showed that anyone and everyone can be the hero if they just believe in themselves. It is no surprise then that Captain America Comics #1 of the hero punching Adolf Hitler sold nearly 1 million copies.

When the allies had won the war in 1945, this marked the end of the superhero figures, the defence of the normal and the crime stopping heroes in general. People had survived a devastating war and didn’t want the constant reminders of that time. So, although they were not lost forever, it was time for a new era in comic books to begin. That made way for “Funny Animal” comics and the launch of comics for the female readers, who, beyond this time, were a target audience no one was bothered about attracting. They still needed a genre that would help ease young readers fear of a nuclear war, but in a more relaxed and entertaining tone.

 

 

1956 – 1971: SILVER AGE OF COMIC BOOKS

With the change in social events came a further evolution of comic books. This era concentrated more on artistic advancement, the establishment of the big comic book companies and names (such as writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby), and re inventing the already established superhero comic characters as well as introducing new names that are still loved today.

REBIRTH OF NEW SUPERHEROES

COMIC BOOK DC - Justice League of America, Marvel - Fantastic Four

DC COMICS                                                                       MARVEL COMICS
FLASH, GREEN LANTERN, MARTIAN MANHUNTER, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA                   SPIDER-MAN, HULK, X-MEN, THE FANTASTIC FOUR

These new characters were no longer created using magic or whimsy, but had scientific explanations to their super powers. Instead of being the unbeatable and all powerful superheroes during war time, they were now flawed and had self-doubt. They were just like ordinary people which made them more relatable.

 
COMICS CODE AUTHORITY – CCA

After World War II the baby boom began. An increase of population meant that the audience for comic books, having kept its now ageing audience when originally introduced to comics during the Golden Age, now went beyond children and up to early adulthood, which was great news for the publications of these popular stories. However, with an increase in population led to an increase in juvenile offenders and as the majority of children growing up read comic books, the medium with its crime, violence and horror genres were blamed for this new wave of lawbreakers, as stated most noticeable in Fredric Wrexham’s book “Seduction of the Innocent”. To combat the sudden decline in comic book sales, the “Comics Code Authority”(CCA) was formed to regulate the content of comics for all ages.

 

 

1970-1985: BRONZE AGE OF COMIC BOOKS

As comics were read by the majority of age groups, it was a great way to incorporate current events and relevant storylines for their viewers without dictating the solutions to these issues. The Bronze Age of comic books was able to tackle issues such as racism, substance abuse and environmental issues with the help of their popular characters. This era also began the shift from cheap mass production of comic books sold on newsstands to a more expensive and polished product sold in speciality comic shops. This shift allowed the production of smaller companies to enter the field and grow alongside the big names of DC Comics and Marvel Comics.

 

 

1985-PRESENT DAY: MODERN AGE OF COMIC BOOKS

With the new story-arcs of the Bronze Age, the CCA had been revised and adapted numerous times to allow for new content. Despite this, some companies ignored the formalities of the code and published stories regardless, ending with the eventual abolishment of CCA’s in the early 2000s.

DARK AGE OF COMIC BOOKS

The Modern Age is also referred to as the Dark Age of Comic Books as it made way for dystopian worlds and storylines with more psychologically complex darker characters. It took the flawed and self doubt heroes to a new level with anti-heroes, blurring the lines between the good doing good deeds to protect the innocent, to these anti-heroes executing questionable tactics and methods to get the job done. The world wasn’t as clear cut and brightly coloured and the “good guys” didn’t always do the right thing.

COMIC BOOK Modern Age of Comic Books


 

Due to the massive success of the comic book film adaptions, the view that

 

“I’d rather read an actual book rather than a comic strip made for less intelligent people”

is slowly fading. I’m not saying that comic books and graphic novels need to be compared and appreciated to great novels, but they are slowly getting the respect they deserve as another storytelling medium.

From the history of the ages of comics, it shows the massive progression of storytelling, genres and artistic styles. Each age prior has influenced and inspired the future generations to become involved in writing fiction, non-fiction, on understanding that there isn’t a “one-way” or “right-way” to tell a story or pass on information. The world is constantly adapting and it only makes sense that the way we receive, process information, and convey it adapts with it too. There are few better examples than the rapid development and change of use of the internet and online content!.

Comic books are an informative art form

To be able to tell a complete story, convey every emotion as you would see in a film or imagine in your mind when you read a book, is truly inspiring. The work, dedication and practice in storytelling is a discipline on it’s own and one that will inspire generations to come. Some may say that comic books limit creativity and imagination, as the imagery, characters and settings are given to you along side the dialogue. For me, reading through the history of comic books from the 1930s to the present day, and recognising the scale and impact the medium has had on the world, this argument can easily be dismantled.

Head to your local comic book store today. You may discover something truly brilliant that you will never want to put down.

Published by Munro Designs