Comic Books: Origin, Evolution and ItsReachSManojAssistant Professor of English Agurchand Manmull Jain College (ShiftII),Affiliated to the University ofMadras Meenambakkam, Chennai 600114.This research article traces the origin ofcomics and its growth as an art form. It categorizes the different phases ofcomics and explains the salient features of comics to differentiate it from theother mediums.

Also touches on the comic books and its variants around theglobe. Keywords: Comics, Origin, Evolution, Popularity, Graphic Novels, Manga series,  Origin The earliest known comic book is The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck whichwas originally published in several languages in Europe in 1837. It was done bySwitzerland’s Rodolphe Töpffer, who has been considered in Europe as thecreator of the picture story. TheAdventures of Obadiah Oldbuck is 40 pages long and measured 8 ½” x11″.

Picture– 1: The first ever comic book, The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck.The book was side stitched, and inside therewere 6-12 panels per page. It didn’t use the words inside balloons for thenarrative part, but it had text under the panels to describe the story.

A copyof it was recently discovered in 1998 in Oakland, California. It was abreakthrough of sorts as it was earlier believed that The Yellow Kid (TheYellow Kid was the name of a lead comic strip character that ran from 1895 to 1898 in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, and later William RandolphHearst’s New York Journal. Created and drawn by Richard F. Outcault in the comic strip Hogan’s Alley) was the first comic book reprintcollection of comic strips.Evolution of Comics            Comics have evolved alot from its origin, and the major changes that it went through can be dividedinto four different ages starting with the Victorian or the Platinum Age, theGolden Age, the Silver Age, and the Bronze Age. These four ages helps one todistinguish the characteristic features of that age and the types of comicsthat were prominent during those times.

The Platinum Age             The age starts with the famous comic book The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flatscoming out in 1897. It was a Black and White comic book which was 196 pageslong. The word “comic book” came into usage with this book as the word wasfirst used on its back cover. This comic book was the starting point which isnow called The Platinum Age. In 1901 the first ever color comic book The Blackberries came out. Then Buster Brown was published in 1902 byCupples & Leon. It was also a huge success as a product, many corporatebigwigs made huge profits by making the comic characters as an element to selltheir products. In 1922 the first monthly comic book came out.

It was titled Comics Monthly whichlasted for 12 issues. In 1929 the Dell publishing group came out with thetabloid-sized format comic book called TheFunnies. The 1930s saw the famous Walt Disney entering the comic bookindustry with their Mickey Mouse Bookby Bibo and Lang. It resembled a magazine in its structure which had a varietyof songs, games, and stories in it.

The first Mickey Mouse comic book The Adventures of Mickey Mouse came outin 1931. Not all comics sold in this era were for children as some adult comicswere sold through indirect means which were thought to be done by members oforganized crime. The idea of free comics picked up in the 1930swhich was the times of depression and running a printing press cost a whole lotof money, it was also a good way to popularize comic books. In1936, ChicagoTribune Syndicate teamed up with Max Gaines, his assistant Sheldon Mayer andGeorge Delacorte and created Popular Comics featuring a huge amount of well-knowncharacters. Dick Tracy, Terry & the Pirates, Skippy, Mutt and Jeff,Tailspin Tommy, were among them. In 1936 King Comics entered the arena withtheir famous comic characters being Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, LittleLulu, and The Phantom. The Comics Magazine series saw the arrival of the firstmasked superhero named The Clock.

1937 saw the Detective Comics #1 coming out which set the pace and style for acomic book superhero with the character of Superman.The Golden Age             The age saw the emergence of comic characters(superheroes) which seemed larger than life. There was Superman, who is thevery first comic character to have powers far beyond than a normal human beingand could fly in the air, leap over tall buildings, and escape from a bullet ina fraction of a second.

No guess that superman is on the top of 10 most famouscharacters of all time. In May 1939 the Detective Comics #27 came out which saw the first appearance ofBatman. While Superman was colorful, Batman was darkness filled. The characterwas created by Bob Kane. Batman didn’t have super powers; he is assisted by hismind and gadgets which places him on par with the other omnipotent superheroes.            Marvel Comics cameout with their set of superheroes with the FantasticFour which consisted of four comic characters, The Human Torch, Ka-Zar, TheAngel, and The Masked Raider. In 1941, PepComics #22 came out with the comic character of Archie Andrews which is arunaway success till date.

The story is about a teenage boy who is entangled ina love triangle. After the World War II the superhero comicsstarted to lose its sheen. To add insult to wounds the whole comic bookindustry was shaken with the book Seductionof the Innocent being published in 1954 by Dr.

Fredric Wertham, awell-known American psychologist. He came up with an argument that comicscorrupts the minds of its readers, especially it influences the kids in a wrongway. This in turn led to the formation of Comics Code Authority 1954 by the publishersthemselves.

The Silver Age            This era saw theresurgence of the superhero comics which were put on a standstill due to theoutcome of Dr. Wertham’s book. It started with Showcase #4, starring The Flash.

Bringing back the comic characterof The Flash brought superheroes back into play, and changed the comic industryto this day. This age certainly belongs to Marvel Comics as they kept onexperimenting by coming up with new superheroes. The most popular superherothat Marvel produced is the Spiderman, who is a youth to whom the children canrelate to. He was a geek at his school that accidentally gets bitten by aspider which turns him to a superhero who exhibits the power of a spider. StanLee and Jack Kirby were the writers who played a main role in Marvel’sunanimous success in this era.

X-men created by Marvel Comics, is the bestamong superhero teams. Marvel also was the first comics to introduce a firstblack superhero named the Black Panther in FantasticFour.The Bronze Age            Comics took a turn in this age as they moved on from theconventional superhero sphere.

The age was a gain for DC Comics as theyacquired the services of Jack Kirby, who previously played a huge role inMarvel’s success. In 1970, Marvel came out with a different type of hero calledConan the Barbarian. The comic character was made further famous with ArnoldSchwarzenegger’s portrayal of the titular character in the movie of the samename. Conan wasn’t a marvel created hero as the character was taken from theseries by Robert E Howard. The year 1970 saw the comic characters of GreenLantern and Green Arrow dealing and solving social issues. In 1971, MarvelComics broke the rule of Comics Code Authority with their issue of The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 dealingwith the issues relating to drug abuse.

The CCA relaxed the stringent rulesafter the success of the comic book series which helped spread social messages.            This era saw theinflux of comic characters which were more realistic. One of the prime examplesis that of the comic character of Daredevil by Frank Miller. In 1984, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 comeout. The book was in black and white, and hugely successful.

It was created byKevin Eastman and Peter Laird. It is the silliest superhero team one couldimagine.  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was so popular that a T.V. cartoonon them was produced. In 1986, Frank Miller came out with a realistic superheroof Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

In 1986, DC created a comic book limited series called The Watchmen, which was about a group of vigilantes who were forcedby the government to stop their actions. It was a creation of Alan Moore. In1989, the movie Batman came out andit was hugely successful and helped boost the popularity of comics. The ComicsCode Authority came up with a new set of rules in 1989 which is followed tothis date. In 1992, Superman #75 thetitular character was killed by a super villain called Doomsday. This eventcreated major media attention. In 1996, the DC and Marvel Comics got into anagreement to pit their comic characters against each other. The winners weredecided by popular vote, while others were decided by the two companies.

Thisis how comics have evolved from its origin, from a medium to a show business. Cartoons                                                                         The word “Cartoon” isderived from the Italian and Dutchwords “cartone” and “karton” respectively, meaning strong,heavy paper or pasteboard. It is a humorous drawing which appears innewspapers, magazines, etc.  It is oftena drawing which paints the scenario of the times, ridicules and acts as aparody. The aim of the cartoons is to point out a serious issue in a humorousway. It acts as a vehicle which tries to make the public aware of the presentscenario and to sharpen their view.

The cartoon is a momentary take on thepolitical and social trend, and it acts as a commentary.                     Picture – 2: A cartoon depicting theprofound silence of the government.              In picture no., 2 three characters arepresent. The person who is lying down is the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh,the one who is with an ash colored cap is Anna Hazare, and the one who holdsthe mike is Baba Ramdev.

Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev are calling for theamendment of Lokpal Bill to end corruption. Anna Hazare has lost his hope asthe Prime Minister has not responded to their calls. The warnings of BabaRamdev sounds like music to the ears of the Prime Minister which are denotedwith the symbols of musical notes. The Prime Minister maintains his silence andrests under the tree of corruption.

Caricatures             The word “caricature” is derived from the Italianword caricare (“to load,” “to surcharge” as with exaggerated detail) andseems to have been used first by Mosini in Diverse Figure (1646). It isa drawing in which someone is exaggerated in their appearance or they behave ina humorous or critical way. It stresses the individual, rather than trying toeducate the viewers.                                     Picture – 3: A caricature on Barack Obama’s second term as USpresident.

Caricature is used as a means to ridicule aparticular well known personality or their traits. It is attractive and grabsreaders’ attention as the persona shown in the caricature is exaggeratedphysically making it a thing of ridicule. Caricatures can be complimentary or ameans of ridicule. It is also a medium which is used to serve a politicalpurpose, but mostly it serves the sole purpose of entertaining.Graphic Novels            There is a slight misunderstanding between acomic book and a graphic novel. Comic books are targeted at kids, whereasgraphic novels don’t have a particular target as their themes may seeminappropriate to young readers.

A graphic novel takes the form of a comic stripbut is presented as any other book. It comes with an International StandardBook Number (ISBN) number like novels, whereas a comic book comes withInternational Standard Serial Number (ISSN) which denotes its short shelf life.It is usually about 60-120 pages long. Graphic novels are not governed by theComics Code Authority which allows them to come out with uncomfortable themesbased on sex, violence and bloodshed.

The first ever graphic novel that mosthistorians agree to be is Will Eisner’s A Contract With God and OtherTenement Stories published in 1978. Art Spiegelman’s Maus completedin 1991 was a huge success and became the first ever graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. It talked in detail about the holocaust experience. AlanMoore’s Watchmen (1986), Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark KnightReturns (1986), Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (1990), Gilbert and JaimeHernandez’s Love and Rockets (1994), and Avi’s City of Light, City ofDark: A Comic Book Novel (1993) are other famous graphic novels.Comic books around the World            Comics as a medium is not restricted to aparticular shore, it has spread like a wildfire throughout the planet. From itsorigin in Europe, the medium has travelled and spread its wings all over theworld. One of the major contributions for the popularity of comics is that thepresentation and their form, as the comic books were relatively simple and easyto grasp.

The form of pictorial narration in which the content was presentedwas the USP of comics. This was well understood by the marketing minds of theEuropean nations, who made comic books to transpierce into other countries tocapitalize on the popularity of comics.  United Kingdom             U.

K is home to comics suchas The Beano, The Dandy, Comic Cuts, War Library, TheDFC and many others. Among them the famous is the comic characters of The Beano and The Bandy. The Beano firstappeared on 30 July 1938, published by D. C. Thomson & Co. Its iconic characters such as Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, The Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger, Billy Whizz and Ball Boy, have become known to generations of British children.

The Beano is a comic book aimed atchildren which is known for its humor and jokes. British comics are the longestrunning comics although these days they are suppressed by the likes of Mangaand American comics.United States             The U.S is home to superheroes like Batman, Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man, Flash,Thor, and many others. They set out to save the country free of crimes withtheir strength. American comics originated in the year 1933 and gained muchpopularity when Action Comics waspublished in 1938. This superhero mania lasted till the end of the World War IIand after that slowly other genres of comics crept in. With the release ofFredric Wertham’s Seduction of theInnocent in 1954 the comics industry had a tough time, as the bookprofessed that the comic books had a bad effect in children’s behavior and itaffected them psychologically.

In 1960s there was a superhero revival of sortsand the genre continues to be a dominant force even today. The comic characterswhich the DC and Marvel Comics created have become part of the lives of itsreaders, who even go to the extent of mourning the death of comic character inthe comic books. IndiaIndia’s comic industry began in the mid-1960swhen the leading newspaper The Times of India launched Indrajal Comics. The main reason is that most of theoutsourced comics were not of affordable rates and there was a growing need forIndian publishers to come up with new ideas and also make it cost effective.

Indian comic industry has gone through many phases, where in 1950s there was aninflux of American made comic characters translated into Indian languages. Thesuccess of these comic books brought a refreshing change in the 1960s with theadvent of the Amar Chitra Katha (immortal picture stories), these comics were Indianmade. There was a huge craze for the superhero comics in the early 1980s andmany comic publishers tried to cash in on their popularity. With the advent oftelecommunication and the other medium in the 1990s the craze has died downgradually.

Now, the situation is that many of the comic book publishers merelytry to survive in the business. Some of the famous comic characters are Super Commando Dhruv, Hawaldar Bahadur, Chacha Chaudhary and Detective Moochwala.France and Belgium            Both countries are well known for their comicbooks, Tintin (Belgian) and Asterix (French) are the best knowncomic characters among these countries. Tintinis a fictional character in The Adventures of Tintin, the series of comic albums written and illustrated by Belgian artist Hergé. Tintin debuted in Le Petit Vingtièmeon 10 January 1929. A comic character largely based on an earlier charactercreated by Hergé, a chubby boy-scout named Totor. Tintin is the protagonist, a reporter and anadventurer who travels around the world with his dog Snowy.

Asterix or The Adventures of Asterixis a series of French comic books written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo. The comic book sketches the adventures ofthe titular character Asterix and his friend Obelix. The series first appeared in French in themagazine Pilote on 29 October 1959.

Japan             The word Manga in Japanese can be translated as “whimsical drawings”. It came intousage in the late 18th and the early 19th century withthe publication of books such as Sant? Ky?den’spicturebook Shiji no yukikai (1798), Aikawa Minwa’s Manga hyakujo(1814) and the celebrated Hokusai Manga books (1814–1834) containing assorted drawings. Rakuten Kitazawa (1876–1955) first used the word “manga” in the modernsense.             Manga Comics are popular with bothadults and the children. They deal with themes like school romance and literaryclassics, innocent stories and even pornography. The traditional comic stripformat of Manga Comics is an arrangement of four panels of equal size ordered from top to bottom. Thefirst panel sets the scene and forms the basis of the story which is developedfurther in the second panel, and in the third panel the story reaches itsclimax.

In the fourth panel the after effects of the third panel are to be seenwhere it reaches a conclusion.                                                                         Picture – 5: A Manga comic strip. REFERENCES   


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