A comic book or comicbook is a magazine or book containing sequential art in the form of a narrative. Comic books are often called comics for short. Although the term implies otherwise, the subject matter in comic books is not necessarily humorous, and in fact its dramatic seriousness varies widely. The term "comics" in this context does not refer to comic strips (such as Peanuts or Dilbert). In the last quarter of the 20th century, greater acceptance of the comics form among the general reading populace coincided with a greater usage of the term graphic novel, often meant to differentiate a book of comics with a spine from its stapled, pamphlet form, but the difference between the terms seems fuzzy at best as comics become more widespread in libraries, mainstream bookstores, and other places.
Some of the earliest comic books were simply collections of comic strips that had originally been printed in newspapers, and it was the commercial success of these collections led to work being created specifically for the comic-book form, which fostered specific conventions such as splash pages. Long-form comic books, generally with hardcover or trade-paper binding came to be known as graphic novels, but as noted above, the term's definition is especially fluid. Like jazz and a handful of other cultural artifacts, comic books are a rare indigenous American art form,   though prototypical examples of the form exist.
American comic books have become closely associated with the superhero sub-genre. In the UK, the term comic book is used to refer to American comic books by their readers and collectors, while the general populace would mainly consider a comic book a hardcover book collecting comics stories. The analogous term in the United Kingdom is a comic, short for comic paper or comic magazine.
- 1 The comics of Europe
- 2 The comic book in Japan
- 3 The comic book in the United States of America
- 4 Rarest comic books
- 5 The graphic novel
The comics of Europe
Belgium and France are two countries that have a long tradition in comics and comic books, where they are called BDs (from Bande Dessinée) in French. Belgian comic books originally written in Dutch are influenced by the francophone "Franco-Belgian" comics, but have a different feel.
La bande dessinée is derived from the original description of the artform as "drawn strips". 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. Indeed, the distinction of comics as the "ninth art" is prevalent in Francophone scholarship on the form (le neuvième art), as is the concept of comics criticism and scholarship itself. Relative to the respective size of their countries, the innumerable authors in the region publish huge numbers of comic books. In North America, the more serious Franco-Belgian comics are often seen as equivalent to graphic novels, for various reasons, 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, most comics are published at the behest of the author, who will work within his self-appointed time frame, so a wait from six months to two years between installments is common. Most books are first published as a hard cover oversized book, usually 48 or 64 pages.
The British comic
Originally the same size as the comic book in the United States, although lacking the glossy cover, the British comic has adopted a magazine size, with The Beano and The Dandy the last to adopt this size in the 1980s. Although generally referred to as a comic, it can also be referred to as a comic magazine, and has also been known historically as a comic paper. Some comics, such as Judge Dredd and other 2000 AD titles, have been published in a tabloid form known as a "programme", or "prog" for short.
Although Ally Sloper's Half Holiday (1884), the first comic published in Britain, was marketed at adults, publishers quickly targeted a younger market, which has led to most publications being for children and created an association in the public's mind of comics being somewhat juvenile.
Popular titles within the United Kingdom have included The Beano, The Dandy, The Eagle, 2000 AD and Viz. Underground comics and "small press" titles have also been published within the United Kingdom, notably Oz and Escape Magazine.
The content of Action, another title aimed at children and launched in the mid 1970s, became the subject of discussion in the House of Commons. Although this was on a smaller scale to such similar investigations in the United States, it also led to a moderation of content published within comics. Such moderation was never formalised to the extent of a creation of any code, and nor was it particularly lasting.
The United Kingdom has also established a healthy market in the reprinting and repackaging of material, notably material originated within the United States. The lack of reliable supplies of American comic books led to a variety of black and white reprints, including Marvel's 1950s monster comics, Fawcett's Captain Marvel, and some other characters such as Sheena, Mandrake the Magician and the Phantom. Several reprint companies were involved in repackaging American material for the British market, notably the importer and distributor Thorpe & Porter.
Marvel eventually established a UK office. DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics also opened offices for periods in the 1990s. The repackaging of European material has been less frequent, although the Tintin and Asterix serials have been successfully translated and repackaged in soft cover books.
The comic annual
At Christmas time, publishers will repackage and commission material for comic annuals, hardback A4 books. DC Thomson also repackage The Broons and Oor Wullie strips in softcover A4 books for the festive season.
In Italy, comics (known as fumetti) made their debut as humouristic strips at the end of the 19th century, and later evolved in adventure stories inspired by those coming from the U.S. 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 about 100-132 pages of story. Collections of classic material for the most famous characters, usually with over 200 pages, are also common. Author comics are published in the French BD format, with an example being Pratt's Corto Maltese.
Italian cartoonists have and receive great influences from other countries including Belgium, France, Spain and Argentina. Italy is also famous for being one of the foremost producers of Walt Disney comic stories, particularly. Donald Duck's superhero alter ego, Paperinik, known in English as Superduck, was created in Italy.
Other European comics
Although Switzerland contributes less to the body of work, it is significant that many scholars point to a Francophone Swiss, Rodolphe Töpffer, as the true father of comics. This choice is still controversial, with critics feeling that Töppfer's work is perhaps somewhat unconnected to the genesis of the artform as it is now known in the region.
The comic book in Japan
Comic books in Japan developed from a mixture of ukiyo-e and Western styles of drawing, taking their current form shortly after World War II. They are generally published in black and white, except for the covers and, on occasion, the first few pages. The term manga means "random (or whimsical) pictures", and first came into common usage in the late 18th century with the publication of such works as Santo Kyoden's picturebook "Shiji no yukikai" (1798) and Aikawa Minwa’s "Comic Sketches of a Hundred Women" (1798).
Development of this form occurred as a result of Japan's attempts to modernise itself, a desire awakened by trade with the United States. Western artists were brought over to teach their students such concepts as line, form and color, things which had not been conceptually important in ukiyo-e, as the idea behind the picture was of primary artistic importance. Manga at this period was referred to as Ponchi-e (Punch-picture) and, like its British counterpart Punch magazine, mainly depicted humour and political satire in short 1 or 4 picture format.
This form was further developed by Dr. Osamu Tezuka, widely acknowledged to be the father of story-based manga. Tezuka was inspired by a war propaganda animation film, Momotarou Uminokaihei to become a comic artist. Tezuka introduced film-like story telling and character in comic format in which each short-film like episode is part of larger story arc. The only text in Tezuka's comics was the characters' dialogue and this lent the comics a cinematic quality. Tezuka also adopted Disney-like facial features where a character's eyes, mouth, eyebrows and nose are drawn in a very exaggerated manner to add more distinct characterisation with fewer lines which made his prolific output possible, somewhat reviving the old ukiyo-e like tradition where the picture is a projection of an idea rather than actual physical reality.
Sales and format
Though roughly equivalent to the American comic book, manga has historically held a more important place in Japanese culture. In economic terms, the weekly sales of comics in Japan amount to a greater sum than that of the entire annual output of the American comic industry. Manga is both well respected as an art form, and also as a form of popular literature, although it has not yet reached acceptance as a "higher" art genre like film or music. Like its American counterpart, some manga has been criticized for being violent and sexual, although in the absence of official or industry restrictions on content artists have been free to create manga for every age group and for every topic.
Manga magazines usually have many series running concurrently with approximately 20–40 pages allocated to each series per issue. These manga magazines, or "anthology magazines", as they are also known (colloquially "phone books"), are usually printed on low-quality newsprint and can be anywhere from 200 to more than 850 pages long. Manga magazines also contain one-shot comics and various four-panel yonkoma (equivalent to comic strips). Manga series can run for many years if they are successful, with the stories typically collected together and printed in dedicated book-sized volumes called tankōbon, the equivalent of American comic's trade paperbacks. These volumes use higher-quality paper, and are useful to those who want to "catch up" with a series so they can follow it in the magazines or if they find the cost of the weeklies or monthlies to be prohibitive. Recently, "deluxe" versions have also been printed as readers have gotten older and the need for something special grew. Old manga have also been reprinted using somewhat lesser quality paper and sold for 100 yen (approximately one US Dollar) each to compete with the used book market.
Manga are primarily classified by the age and gender of the target audience. In particular, books and magazines sold to boys (shōnen) and girls (shōjo) have distinctive cover art and are placed on different shelves in most bookstores.
The comic book in the United States of America
Since the formulation of the comic book format in the 1930s, the United States has been the leading producer, with only the British comic (during the inter-war period through the 1970s) and Japanese manga as close competitors in terms of quantity of titles (although, Japan outweighs America currently in overall sales by a vast margin). The majority of all comic books in the U.S. are marketed at younger teenagers, though the market also produces work for general as well as more mature audiences.
The history of the comic book in the United States is split into several ages or historical eras: The Platinum Age, The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Bronze Age, and The Modern Age. The exact boundaries of these eras, the terms for which originated in fandom press, is a debatable point among comic book historians. The Golden Age is generally thought as lasting from 1938's introduction of Superman until the early 1950s, during which comic books enjoyed a surge of popularity, the archetype of the superhero was invented and defined, and many of comic books' most popular superheroes debuted. The Platinum Age refers to any material produced prior to this. While comics as an artform could arguably extend as far back as sequential cave paintings from thousands of years ago, comic books are dependent on printing, and the starting point for them in book form is generally considered to be the tabloid-sized The Funnies begun in 1929, or the more traditional sized Funnies on Parade from 1933. Both of these were simply reprints of newspaper strips.
The Silver Age of Comic Books is generally considered to date from the first successful revival of the dormant superhero form — the debut of the Barry Allen Flash in Showcase #4 (Sept.-Oct. 1956) — and last through the early 1970s, during which time Marvel Comics revolutionized the medium with such naturalistic superheroes as the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. The beginnings of the Bronze and Modern ages are far more disputable. Indeed, some suggest that we are still in the Bronze Age. Starting points that have been suggested for the Bronze Age of comics are Conan #1 (Oct. 1970), Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76 (Apr. 1970) or Amazing Spider-Man #96 (May 1971) (the non-Comics Code issue). The start of the Modern Age (occasionally referred to as the Copper Age) has even more potential starting points, but is most likely the publication of Alan Moore's Watchmen in 1986.
Comics published after World War II in 1945 are sometimes referred to being from the Atomic Age (referring to the dropping of the atomic bomb), and books published after Nov. 1961 are sometimes referred to as being from the Marvel Age (referring to the advent of Marvel Comics). However, these eras are referred to far less frequently than the traditional metallic eras.
Notable events in the history of the American comic book include the psychiatrist Frederic Wertham's criticisms of the medium in his book Seduction of the Innocent, which saw the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency investigate comic books. In response to this attention from government and the media, the U.S. comic book industry created the Comics Code Authority in 1954 and drafted the Comics Code.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a surge of underground comics occurred. These comics were published and distributed independently of the established mainstream, and most reflected the youth counterculture and drug culture of the time. Many were notable for their uninhibited, irreverent style; their frankness in graphic sex, nudity, language and overt politics hadn't been seen in comics outside of their precursors, the pornographic and even more underground "Tijuana bibles". Underground comics were virtually never sold on newsstands but in such youth-oriented outlets as head shops and record stores, and by mail order.
The underground-comics movement is often considered to have started with Zap Comix #1 (1968) by cartoonist Robert Crumb, a former Cleveland greeting-card artist living in San Francisco. Crumb later created the popular characters Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, and published Gilbert Shelton's The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.
Independent and alternative comics
Template:Main The rise of comic-book specialty stores in the late 1970s created a dedicated market for "independent" or "alternative comics"; two of the first were the anthology series Star Reach, published by comic-book writer Mike Friedrich from 1974-1979, and Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, published from the 1970s through the present day. Some independent comics continued in the tradition of underground comics, though were generally less overtly graphic, and others resembled the output of mainstream publishers in format and genre but were published by smaller artist-owned ventures or by a single artists. A few (notably RAW) were experimental attempts to bring comics closer to the world of fine art.
The "small press" scene continued to grow and diversify. By the 1980s, several such independent publishers as Eclipse Comics, First Comics, and Fantagraphics were releasing a wide range of styles and formats from color superhero, detective and science fiction comic books to black-and-white magazine-format stories of Latin American magical realism.
A number of small publishers in the 1990s changed the format and distribution of their comics to more closely resemble non-comics publishing. The "minicomics" form, an extremely informal version of self-publishing, arose in the 1980s and became increasingly popular among artists in the 1990s, despite reaching an even more limited audience than the small press.
Decline of serial comic-book format
In the early 2000s, sales of standard monthly comic books declined while graphic novels made increasing headway at retail bookstores. Along with the shift toward graphic novels among comics publishers, traditional book publishers such as Pantheon have released several dozen graphic novels, including works originally released by comics publishers with much less publicity.
Rarest comic books
The rarest comic books in existence include copies of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 from 1939. After eight copies (plus one coverless) were discovered in the estate of the deceased publisher in 1974, the known total of existing copies is now nine.
In June, 1978, DC Comics cancelled several of their titles. For copyright purposes, the unpublished original art for these titles was Xeroxed, bound in Cancelled Comics Cavalcade numbers 1 and 2, published, and then distributed. Only 35 copies of each book were made.
More recently, misprints, promotional comic-dealer incentive printings, and similar issues with extremely low distribution are usually the most scarce. The rarest modern comic books are copies of the original press run of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #5, which was later pulled due to an offending advertisement.
The graphic novel
The term graphic novel was first coined by Richard Kyle in 1964, mainly as an attempt to distinguish the newly translated works from Europe which were then being published from what Kyle saw as the more juvenile publications common in the United States.
The term was popularized when Will Eisner used it on the cover of the paperback edition of his work A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories (1978). This was a more mature work than many had come to expect from the comics medium, and the critical and commercial success of A Contract with God helped to establish the term "graphic novel" in common usage.
Warren Ellis, in his Come in Alone columns at ComicbookResources.com, suggested that the term "graphic novel" should include collected editions of serialized storylines. To differentiate these from original comicbook publications, he proposed the term "original graphic novel." Currently, these terms are still used as first suggested, although "original graphic novel" is not a popular term, particularly because so few are currently produced.