Comics, narratives told by means of a series of drawings arranged in horizontal lines (comic strips) and read from left to right. These images are commonly separated from each other by being contained within the borders of rectangular boxes (panels), although these are not always used. When words are associated with the images, they appear within the panel, often in explanatory boxes or "captions", or within "balloons" issuing from the speaker's mouth to represent conversation or, from the head, in clouds, to represent thought. Alternatively, text may appear quite separately beneath the image, or there may be no text at all. Words may be hand-lettered or mechanically typeset. Artists have developed a vocabulary of visually conveyed sound effects, symbols, and other graphic devices to express a wide variety of narrative elements.
Comics appear in printed form, in periodicals, also known as comics or comic books, in magazines, in newspapers, often in special sections, and in books. The sequences of a comic vary from the single row, usually horizontal, of a daily newspaper "strip" to the more complex compositions of panels over many pages in "graphic novels". The term comics derives from its comical origins, but humour is not a defining element, as the medium accommodates as diverse a range of subject matter as literature or film.
II. The Origins of Comics
Some critics maintain that stained-glass windows, the Bayeux Tapestry, and even man's earliest cave paintings, are among the ancestors of comics, but the medium's history is more correctly linked to the history of printing and of cartoon art and caricature. Early examples of comics include late 15th-century German woodcuts on religious, moral, and political themes. The illustrations on popular broadsheets and prints became increasingly sophisticated, as techniques of engraving and letterpress printing developed throughout Europe. In England around 1682, Francis Barlow made consistent use of speech balloons resembling banners or scrolls in his propaganda sheets The Horrid Hellish Popish Plot. Then, in 1732, the social follies and vices of the age were satirized in A Harlot's Progress by William Hogarth, the first of his several "modern moral subjects", stern sermons told in sets of elaborate engravings intended to be read and studied in sequence as a story. Their success was proof of the English public's appetite for satirical narratives.
Hogarth's moral purpose and detailed draughtsmanship, however, were soon eclipsed by the craze in England for political and social caricatures, whose exaggerated features, simplified line, and topical and knockabout humour became integral to the modern comic. Other significant developments from this period were the further refinement of the speech balloon, notably in the cartoons of James Gillray, and the creation in 1809 by Thomas Rowlandson of the serialized adventure of a recurring cartoon character, "Dr Syntax", whose appeal spawned Syntax hats, wigs, and coats, early evidence of merchandising.
III. The Invention of Comics in Europe
In 1827, inspired in part by Rowlandson's Dr Syntax, which was translated into French, and by Hogarth's prints, Rodolphe Töpffer, a teacher in Geneva, began to write and draw his own novels in pictures, at first in private for his pupils and friends, but from 1833, encouraged by praise from Goethe, publishing them himself. Drawn and lettered with a loose, uninhibited line, his comedies were some of the first explorations of the absurdist possibilities of comics. Töpffer was also the first comics theorist, analysing this new medium in his Essay on Physiognomics (1845). Töpffer's albums were widely translated, pirated, and plagiarized, although only a few European artists developed his innovations. Another pioneer was the young Gustave Doré, but he abandoned his remarkable comics in 1854 for illustration.
The most significant heir to Töpffer was the German Wilhelm Busch. In common with many European comics artists working in the new humorous magazines of this time, Busch made no use of panel borders or speech balloons and his texts, often in verse, were typeset beneath his drawings. His bold, animated style and visual metaphors for movement and psychological states were widely imitated. His most celebrated creations, the mischievous duo "Max und Moritz", which originated in 1865, became the models for several British and American comics.
Busch was also an influence on the British comic character "Ally Sloper", conceived in 1867 for Judy, a cheap rival to Punch, by Charles Ross, and illustrated under the pseudonym Marie Duval by his French wife Emilie de Tessier, then the only truly comic woman artist in Europe. "Ally Sloper" was a lazy, gangly schemer who would "slope down the alley" to avoid his creditors. He became so popular that in 1884 he starred in his own penny weekly magazine, Ally Sloper's Half Holiday. This was one of many British illustrated papers, usually of eight tabloid pages in black and white, such as James Henderson's Scraps and Funny Folks and Alfred Harmsworth's 1890 halfpenny competitors Comic Cuts and Illustrated Chips. Tom Browne's tramps "Weary Willie and Tired Tim" in Chips set the new standard of lively, economic linework in British comics that would replace cumbersome Victorian rendering. Other strips were often copied illegally from European and American sources, including elegant, wordless, or "pantomime" strips by Willette, Steinlen and Caran d'Ache in France and A. B. Frost and others in the United States.
IV. Newspaper Strips
American Sunday "Funnies"
By the 1890s, America's weekly humour-and-cartoon magazines such as Puck, Judge, and Life were facing fresh competition from metropolitan newspapers. Top cartoonists from these magazines were snapped up for the papers' new colour cartoon Sunday supplements. Notoriously, in New York, Joseph Pulitzer's World and William Randolph Hearst's Journal engaged in a fierce circulation war in which their new "Funnies" sections proved important and profitable weapons.
On May 5, 1895, Richard Felton Outcault slipped a bald, flap-eared urchin into the wings of his crowded World drawing of tenement life. By early 1896, dressed in a yellow nightshirt, "The Yellow Kid" was taking centre stage and addressing readers in Irish slang scrawled on his gown. Outcault's cartoons were not comic strips, but the public's enthusiasm for his creation proved that colour comic sections could sell newspapers and encouraged more publishers to add their own. For his Journal section, Hearst kidnapped "The Yellow Kid" by improving Outcault's salary. Pulitzer raised the stakes but Hearst went still higher. Pulitzer sued but won only the right to continue the feature with another artist, while Outcault could draw his character for Hearst. As their rivalry grew, the press barons' outrageous tactics came to be known after "The Kid" as "yellow journalism".
Next, Hearst commissioned German-born Rudolph Dirks to create a version of Busch's "Max und Moritz" called "The Katzenjammer Kids", German slang for "hangover", in 1897. There followed a period of unprecedented experimentation with panel layouts and the use of speech balloons to convey the story in such Sunday comic strips as Frederick Burr Opper's "Happy Hooligan", Outcault's "Buster Brown", and Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo in Slumberland", reaching sublime heights in George Herriman's "Krazy Kat".
America around the turn of the century provided the right milieu for comics to develop into a commercial and artistic phenomenon. The growing population, swelled by many European immigrants, embraced the "Funnies" as cheap entertainment, as a mirror of their lives, as new shared folktales, even as an English language primer for adults as well as children. Newspapers were proliferating and their publishers were prepared to invest in creative talent and printing technology to enlarge their readerships. Comic strips brought in extra revenue by their being sold to other papers through syndication departments, by being merchandised as toys, through animated cartoons and radio shows, and by being licensed to sell products. Finally, talented cartoonists were given the freedom, the full-page colour format, and often the financial rewards to devote themselves to advancing the medium.
American Daily Strips
The explosion of horizontal daily comic strips was sparked by the success of Bud Fisher's gambler on the horses "Mr A. Mutt", later "Mutt and Jeff", which began on November 15, 1907 on the sports page of the San Francisco Chronicle. Topical, humorous, and adult in theme, daily strips aimed at the papers' readers soon became the perfect vehicle for the day-to-day suspense and soap opera of Roy Crane's "Wash Tubbs", Harold Gray's "Little Orphan Annie", E. C. Segar's "Thimble Theatre" where Popeye first appeared, and many others. From these developed non-humorous protagonists like the detective "Dick Tracy" by Chester Gould and the spaceman "Buck Rogers". For greater realism in adventure strips, the caricatural style gave way in the 1930s to the more illustrative glamour of Alex Raymond's "Flash Gordon" and Milton Caniff's chiaroscuro "Terry and the Pirates". International syndication of America's dynamic newspaper strips all over the world opened the markets for local versions.
During the 1950s, serialized adventure strips were abbreviated or dropped altogether, comedy strips reverted to single jokes each day, and a sharper satirical wit evolved, particularly in Walt Kelly's animal fable "Pogo", Charles Schulz's philosophical "Peanuts", Jules Feiffer's vignettes, and Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury". Despite reductions in size, number, and quality, current newspaper strips like Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes" can still capture a wide following.
British Newspaper Strips
Strips arrived late in British newspapers and were first aimed at children, with charming animal characters like "Teddy Tail" (1915), "Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred" (1919), and "Rupert" (1920), all of them with typeset narrative beneath. W. K. Haselden evolved the British political daily strip from 1904, but it was John Millar Watt's "Pop" in 1921 that pioneered the American approach of telling the story via speech inside the panels, followed in Belgium by Hergé in his weekly newspaper strip "Tintin" from 1929. From 1932, the titillating "Jane" by Norman Pett regularly lost her clothes and boosted the troops' morale in World War II. By the 1950s, humour, soap opera, and adventure strips were represented by the loafer "Andy Capp" by Reg Smythe, domestic comedies "The Larks" by Jack Dunkley and "The Gambols" by Barry Appleby, Sydney Jordan's astronaut "Jeff Hawke" and Tony Weare's gunslinger "Matt Marriott". More recent successes range from Steve Bell's savage political satire "If..." to Peattie and Taylor's City slicker "Alex".
V. American Comic Books
Newspaper strips had been reprinted in a bizarre assortment of formats in large square paperbacks, in oblong collections with one strip per page, even one panel at a time in tiny hardbacks. The familiar comic book began in 1933 as a novelty premium given away with certain products, devised by the print salesman Max Gaines. By folding an 8-page