Comic is a highly popular medium that has been in use since a very long time for expression of various ideas via images, often in combination with text and/or other visual details. Normally, comics are presented in the form of juxtaposed and sequential panel of images. Often, the use of textual devices like onomatopoeia, captions and speech balloons help in presentation of sound effects, narration, dialogue and other information. The arrangement and sizes of the panels helps in appropriate pacing of the narrative. Cartooning and same kinds of illustrations are commonly used in creation of images for comics; of all such types, fumetti is a comic form that employs photographic images for telling different stories.
Some of the most common types of comics are gag cartoons, editorials, comic strips and comic books. Bound volumes like tankobons, graphic novels and comic albums have increasingly become a commonplace since the 80s and 90s era. More recently, online the comics have started garnering a lot of attention and are rapidly replacing the traditional forms.
History of Comics
If you look at the history of comics, it has followed many paths across various cultures throughout the world. Scholars have traced comics’ history back to the prehistoric era, evident from the Lascaux cave paintings. Comics were in brisk business, especially in Japan, the United States and Western European countries like Belgium and France by the middle of the 20th century.
When it comes to the history of European comics, people often refer to the Rodolphe Topffer’s works involving cartoon strips back in the 1830s era. European comics gained tremendous popularity after the stupendous success of comic books and comic strips in the 1930s, for instance the likes of The Adventures of Tintin.
In a different part of the world, in the US, American comics came into emergence as a popular mass medium during the early 20th century, with the immense popularity of magazine style comic books and newspaper comic strips during the 1930s. It was in such newspaper comic strips and comic books only that the superhero genre came into prominence, especially after the appearance of Superman in 1938.
In the far eastern countries like Japan, cartooning (manga) and comics had started gaining popularity in the common public as early as 12 century. It was not until the early 20th century that the modern comic strips started surfacing in Japan too. In addition, the publishing of comic books and comic magazines expanded rapidly during the post-World War II era, when cartoonists like Osamu Tezuka became a household name. Although comics had always been marred by a lowbrow reputation, they started finding more and more acceptance with their introduction in the academics and popular public platforms towards the later parts of the 20th century.
About the term ‘comic’
When we talk about the English term ‘comics’, it is used in the plural form when referring to individual comic books or comic strips, and singular noun form when referring to the particular medium. Although the term is a derivative of ‘comic’ or humorous work that was pretty common during the early American newspaper comic strips era, with time it has also become a standard to refer to non-humorous works. Furthermore, it’s common in the English language to refer to comics of different countries and cultures by using their respective languages, for example the term ‘manga’ is regularly used in English to refer to Japanese comics. In the same way French language comics are referred to as ‘bandes dessinees’.
Historians and theorists never came to a consensus as far as a universal definition of comics is concerned. While some emphasize on the usage of both text and images, others lay a lot of stress on the image relations or sequentiality. Then there are those experts who give a lot of importance to other historical aspects like the use of recurring characters or the mass reproduction aspect of them.
The ever increasing conceptual influences from different comic eras and cultures has made it even difficult to come up with one universal definition of comics!
About different formats and forms of comics
Let’s talk about the comic strips first. Comic strips are multi panel and short comics that first started appearing in the newspapers back in the day. These strips appearing in the United States newspapers always used to occupy a single tier during the weekdays, and multiple tiers in the Sunday editions. Going back to the comic strips of the early 20th century era, the daily strips used to be in black and white, while the Sunday ones would be in color, normally occupying an entire page of the newspaper.
Different cultures have always had their own special formats of comics’ periodicals. Comic books that are published in the American format are normally thin periodicals in colored form. On the other hand Japanese and European comics are regularly serialized in weekly or monthly magazines. In Europe, they have mostly been in weekly or monthly magazines, while in Japan they have usually been in weekly and black and white form. The Japanese magazines’ comics in particular can run into hundreds of pages.
The book length comics come in various forms in various cultures. The comic albums produced in Europe are usually printed on A4 size paper and are in colored format. The English-speaking nations refer to the bound volumes of comics as graphic novels, making them available in different formats. Although they actively incorporate the term novel for referring to comics (a term which is normally associated with fiction works), the term ‘graphic novel’ is regularly used for referring to the collection of short works and non-fiction works. Japanese comics on the other hand are produced in the form of volumes known as tankobons. They follow the magazine type of serialization.
Editorial and gag cartoons normally feature a single panel, with incorporation of speech balloons or captions. The widely known definitions of comics emphasize greatly on the sequential aspect, excluding the editorial, gag and other kinds of single panel cartoons. These kinds are normally included in the comic definitions which emphasize on the usage of both images and words. Gag cartoons initially started proliferating in the form of broadsheets that used to be published in European countries back in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was in the year 1843 that the term cartoon was used for the first time to describe comics in the UK humor magazine Punch.
Then came the era of web comics with the advent of Internet in the 1990s. Web comics are simply the comic works that can be accessed on the Internet. What sets them apart from the print version is that they are easily accessible and can reach large audiences. Furthermore, new readers of web comics can also access the archived instalments easily. Why publishers consider them better than their print counterpart is because they can use the infinite canvas offered by web comics in any way they want. They don’t get constrained by the dimensions or the size of the pages.
Many enthusiasts even consider the wordless novels and storyboards as comics. Animation film studios regularly make use of image sequences as guides for sequences of the film. Such storyboards are not meant to serve as an end product for the general populace and are in fact rarely seen by them. Wordless novels on the other hand are books that employ sequences of caption-less images for the delivery of narratives.