top of page

Today’s Spotlight: History of Comic Books

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Welcome to the new edition of the OTC Blog.

Did you know that the earliest forms of comic images can be found as far back as 110AD? Examples of early sequential art can be found in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Greek friezes, Rome's Trajan's Column, Maya script, medieval tapestries such as the Bayeux Tapestry and illustrated Christian manuscripts. It took the invention of modern printing techniques to bring the form to a wide audience and become a mass medium.

Early printed material focused mainly on religion. They used images to bring the word of Christianity to those who were illiterate. Through the 17th and 18th centuries, prints began to tackle aspects of political and social life, and also started to satirize and caricature.

As printing techniques developed, due to the technological advances of the industrial revolution, magazines and newspapers were established.

The Glasgow Looking Glass, published in 1826, was arguably the first comic magazine. A satirical publication, later known as The Northern Looking Glass, it lampooned the fashions and politics of the times. It had most of the elements that make up the modern comic, including pictures with captions that display a continuous narrative told often in installments, and the use of speech bubbles, satire and caricature.

In 1845, the satirical drawings, which regularly appeared in newspapers and magazines, gained a name: cartoons. (In art, a cartoon is a pencil or charcoal sketch to be overpainted.) The British magazine Punch, launched in 1841, referred to its 'humorous pencilings' as cartoons in a satirical reference to the Parliament of the day, who were themselves organizing an exhibition of cartoons, or preparatory drawings, at the time. This usage became common parlance, lasting to the present day.

The first weekly comic to feature a regular character was Ally Sloper's Half Holiday, which debuted in the British humor magazine Judy in 1867 and was created by C. H. Ross and illustrated by his French wife Emilie de Tessier.

The 1920s and 1930s saw further booms within the industry. The market for comic anthologies in Britain turned to targeting children through juvenile humor, with The Dandy and The Beano. In Belgium, Hergé created The Adventures of Tintin newspaper strip for a comic supplement; this was successfully collected in a bound album and created a market for further such works. The same period in the United States had seen newspaper strips expand their subject matter beyond humor, with action, adventure and mystery strips launched. The collection of such material also began, with The Funnies, a reprint collection of newspaper strips, published in tabloid size in 1929.

A market for such comic books soon followed, and by 1938 publishers were printing original material in the format. It was at this point that Action Comics #1 launched, with Superman as the cover feature. The popularity of the character swiftly enshrined the superhero as the defining genre of American comic books. The genre lost popularity in the 1950s but re-established its domination of the form from the 1960s until the late 20th century.

In Japan, a country with a long tradition for illustration, comics were hugely popular. Referred to as manga, the Japanese form was established after World War II by Osamu Tezuka, who expanded the page count of a work to number in the hundreds, and who developed a filmic style, heavily influenced by the Disney animations of the time. The Japanese market expanded its range to cover works in many genres, from juvenile fantasy through romance to adult fantasies. Japanese manga is typically published in large anthologies, containing several hundred pages, and the stories told have long been used as sources for adaptation into animated film. In Japan, such films are referred to as anime, and many creators work in both forms simultaneously, leading to an intrinsic linking of the two forms.

During the latter half of the 20th century comics became a very popular item for collectors and from the 1970s American comics publishers have actively encouraged collecting and shifted a large portion of comics publishing and production to appeal directly to the collector's community. Writing in 1972, Sir Ernst Gombrich felt Töpffer had evolved a new pictorial language, that of an abbreviated art style, which allowed the audience to fill in gaps with their imagination.

The modern double use of the term comic, as an adjective describing a genre, and a noun designating an entire medium, has been criticized as confusing and misleading. In the 1960s and 1970s, underground cartoonists used the spelling comix to distinguish their work from mainstream newspaper strips and juvenile comic books. Their work was written for an adult audience but was usually comedic, so the "comic" label was still appropriate. The term graphic novel was popularized in the late 1970s, having been coined at least two decades previous, to distance the material from this confusion,

In the 1980s, comics scholarship started to blossom in the U.S.,[29] and a resurgence in the popularity of comics was seen, with Alan Moore and Frank Miller producing notable superhero works and Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes, and Gary Larson's The Far Side being syndicated.

Webcomics have grown in popularity since the mid 1990s. Since the inception of the World Wide Web, artists have been able to self-publish comics on the Internet for a low cost. Hosting providers specifically designed for webcomics, such as Keenspot and Modern Tales, allow for a type of syndication of webcomics. Scott McCloud described in 2000 how creators of online comics can revolutionize the medium by embracing the digital space and making use of techniques such as infinite canvas. Webcomics became more prolific in the early 2000s, as respected comics awards such as the Eagle and Eisner Awards started adding categories for digital comics.

Are you a comic reader? Marvel or DC? Or perhaps you're a fan of a DarkHorse or Valiant? Rachel and I hope you will enjoy our comic series- CENERGY! Coming out this fall.

On behalf of Rachel and myself, we thank you for joining our adventure. Until next time, fare thee well, friends.

*** Data for this blog is listed in Wikipedia

4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


The word count journal 

bottom of page