A comic book consists of a book containing stories told with sequential images, usually combined with text. The first comics appeared in newspapers, where "The Yellow Kid" became the first popular character. Newspaper comics flourished in the early 1900s. Little Nemo by Winsor McCay represents this pre-comic book era's supreme instance of craftsmanship. According to comics 'pioneer' Stan Lee a "'Comic book' is a misnomer for an illustrated story."

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers.

Max Gaines published the first comic book, Funnies on Parade in 1933. He printed an 8-page comic section that folded down from the large broadsheet to a smaller 9-inch by 12-inch format containing reprints of comic strips. The new format proved popular.

Table of contents
1 The Golden Age
2 Post-war
3 Moral panic
4 The Silver Age
5 Underground and alternative comics
6 Direct distribution
7 The Grim and Gritty Era
8 Current trends
9 Related Topics
10 External links

The Golden Age

In February 1935 National Periodical Publications published New Fun Comics, devoid of reprints and containing original characters and stories. The company next published "Detective Comics".

The new medium saw constant experimentations with genres. In 1938 Max Gaines published Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Superman proved an immediate hit, inspiring many imitations.

More superheroes appeared: Batman - who first appeared in Detective Comics # 27, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Wonder Woman and many others. Simultaneously, new genres like teen humor, (epitomized by Archie Comics), gained popularity. This period became known as the "Golden Age of Comic Books".


As World War II ended the popularity of superheroes waned in favor of other genres. Funny animal comics, such as those published featuring Walt Disney's characters, science-fiction, Old West, romance, and humor comics all found a comfortable niche. The horror comic and true crime comic genres flourished, due in no small part to stylized artwork and literate sensibilities developing. EC Comics gained fame as a publisher of crime and horror comics, producing a number of high-quality suspense stories (many containing violence and gore).

Moral panic

In the 1950s politicians blamed comic books as a cause of crime, juvenile delinquency, moral degradation, drug use, and poor grades. The psychiatrist Frederic Wertham's influential bestseller Seduction of the Innocent, obsessed with sadistic and homosexual undertones in superhero comics, raised anxieties about comics. This moral panic led to the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency taking an interest in comics. As a result of these concerns, schools and parent groups held public comic-book burnings, and some cities banned comics. Comics circulation went into a tailspin from which it has yet to recover.

In 1954 most of the major publishers helped found the Comics Code Authority, and drafted the Comics Code; intended, in their own words, as "...the most stringent code in existence for any communications media."

The Silver Age

With the number of genres restricted, publishers experimented with the superhero once more. The 1956 publication of Showcase #4 featuring The Flash began a second wave of superhero popularity, known as the "Silver Age of comic books".

In 1961 writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four for Marvel Comics, gaining popular success. Marvel offered superhero characters, but with human failings, fears, and inner demons. Dynamic artwork by Kirby and Steve Ditko complemented Lee's colorful, catchy prose. Their new style found an audience among children, who loved the superheroes, and among college students, who were entertained by the deeper themes.

Underground and alternative comics

During the 1960s and early 1970s a surge underground comics occurred. These comics were published independently of the established comic book publishers and most reflected the youth counter-culture and drug culture of the time. Many were notable for their uninhibited, irreverent style which hadn't been seen in comics before.

A second wave of independent-produced comics began in the mid-1980's and continues to this day. These have been refered to as 'independent', 'alternative comics', 'small press', or 'mini-' comics. This wave continues somewhat in the tradition of the underground comics, and also attempts to further refine comics as an art form.

Direct distribution

The development of a non-returnable "direct" distribution system in the 1970s coincided with comic speciality stores sprouting up across North America. These speciality stores were a haven for more distinct voices and stories, but they also marginalized comics in the public eye. Serialized comic stories became labyrinthine, requiring readers to buy more issues to finish a story. Though a speculator booms in the mid-1980s early 1990s temporarily increased specialty store sales -- collectors 'invested' in multiple copies of a single comic to sell at a profit later -- these booms ended in a collectibles glut, and comic sales have declined ever since. Today fewer comics sell in North America than at any time in their publishing history.

The Grim and Gritty Era

In 1985, two comic book series published by DC Comics (The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen) had a profound impact upon the comic book industry. The phenomenal popularity of these series led both of the major publishers (DC and Marvel) to make drastic changes to their existing comic books, and generally added a more realistic, "darker" tone to superhero comic book stories. In addition, many smaller publishers entered the field of mainstream comic books, scoring hits of their own and capturing a noticeable share of the market. Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics also produced a large number of books that capitalized on the "darker, more realistic" aspect of storytelling in comic books. Dubbed "grim and gritty" comics by collectors and critics, these comic books often went out of their way to emphasize violence and sex in order to outsell their competitors. Such vigilante "anti-heroes" as The Punisher, Wolverine (comics), and Spawn captured the attention (and buying dollars) of the comic buying public, and for a period of several years the pages of mainstream comics were filled with obsessed mutants and "dark avengers." This tendency towards darkness and nihilism even resulted in DC producing heavily promoted comic book stories such as "A Death In The Family" in the Batman series, where Robin the Boy Wonder was brutally tortured and murdered by The Joker; while at Marvel, the continuing popularity of the various X-Men books led to storylines such as Mutant Massacre and Acts of Vengeance.

Current trends

Recently popular interest in superheroes has increased with the success of feature films such as Spider-Man (2002) and X-Men (2000). To captilize on this interest comics publishers have launched concerted promotional efforts such as "Free Comic Book Day" (first held on May 5, 2002). In addition, the filmed adaptation of non superhero comic books like Ghost World, Road to Perdition and American Splendor have the medium's fans hopes that its image can be changed for the better.

Comic books remain very popular in Asia and Europe. Translated Japanese comic books imported into North America comprise another genre, called manga. In France, comic books are considered another art form (with the associated popularity), and are called "BD" (pronounced "bay-day")

Some comic books have gained recognition and garnered their creators awards outside the genre, such as Art Spiegelman's Maus, which won the Pulitzer Prize and Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, an issue of which won the World Fantasy Award for "Best Short Story".

In the early 2000s, the continuing decline of the monthly comic book format (22-to-30 page issues), along with a steady increase in sales of graphic novels at retail bookstores, led comic book industry insiders to consider the possibility that the era of monthly comic books may be coming to an end, with the industry being subsumed and dominated by the publication of graphic novels. As it is, most publishers arrange nowadays to have their stories geared to run around the equivalent page length for binding into a graphic novel.

Some examples of famous comics include:

Related Topics

External links