Also commonly referred to as comic magazine, or just comic, comic books are publications consisting of comic art presented in a sequential form of juxtaposed panels representing individual scenarios. These panels are usually accompanied with short descriptive prose as well as a written narrative. The dialogs are mostly contained inside word balloons, which are in integral part of comic art.
If we look at the history of comic books, their origins lie in 18th-century Japan, and then in Europe of the 1830s era. They started gaining wide popularity only during the 1930s in the United States. Famous Funnies was the first modern day comic book, which got released in the year 1933 in the United States. It was simply a reprint of the earlier comic strips that had appeared in the newspaper’s humor section. The way comic strips had been integrated and presented in the newspapers, they were able to establish several of the storytelling devices that are commonly used in the comics of today. When we talk about the term comic book, it was derived from the American comic books which were once a compilation of various comic strips having a humorous tone. However, slowly with time, the practice got replaced by featuring of stories belonging to all genres, and not necessarily being humorous in their tone.
Since we are discussing comic books, it’s critical to differentiate between the terminologies employed in the comics’ world. Comic books are frequently confused with graphic novels. It must be noted that unlike comic books, the latter aren’t periodical in nature. Graphic novels are usually long forms of fictional works. In the similar manner, the reprinted collection of previously published stories in the form of comic books, is referred to as a trade paperback. When it comes to individual comic strips, they may not constitute a part of a larger story arc. They are simply regarded and liked for their humor. Last but not the least, a comics anthology is a collection of various short publication works, released under one title.
The structure of comic books
Comic books depend heavily on the way they appear and the manner in which they are organized. Authors focus heavily on the panels’ positions, orientation, size and page frame. All these characteristics of the comic books play a critical role in conveying the messages and content of the comic book creator. Some of the key elements that make comic books are text lines, characters, speech bubbles / balloons and panels. The speech balloons are normally convex spatial containers that consist of information related to a particular character, or convey their dialogs with the use of a tail element. The tail has its own tip, path, origin, and has a pointed direction.
Various technological formulae are used nowadays for creation of comic books, including metrics, data, axes and directions. What follows all these important formatting processes is the coloring, drawing and writing aspect of the comic books.
About American comic books
The print medium of comics came into being in the United States in the year 1842 with the printing of the hardcover version of ‘The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck’. This was the first of its kind comic book prototype to have been produced in America. The prototype comics’ periodicals started appearing around the early part of the 20th century. The historians believe that the 36 page ‘Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics’ from Dell Publishing was the first true comic book to come out of America. The comic books evolved into a major industry after the introduction of ‘Superman’ in the year 1938. It was the Superman only which ushered in the golden age of comic books in the US.
American comic book industry’s evolution over the decades is divided into various eras. Their golden age started with the Superman in the 1938, taking their sales to a phenomenally high level. The Silver age began after the successful revival of super heroes after the Flash comics’ debut in October, 1956. The Silver age continued throughout the 1960s and during early 70s with Marvel comics further revolutionizing the medium using natural super heroes like Fantastic Four and Spiderman. Then came the Bronze era of comic books starting from the early 70s and through the mid-80s. The era from the mid-80s period till now is referred to as the modern age of comic books.
About underground comic books
Underground comics came into being during the early 70s when everyone in the comic book circles was experiencing great surge of creativity. These comic books used to be published and distributed on an independent basis, free from the holds of the comics industry. Majority of comics produced at the underground level reflected the drug culture and counterculture of the youth of that time. Many people were practicing an often irreverent and uninhibited style during those years. The way they used to frankly depict politics, profanity, sex and nudity, there was no parallel to the work they were producing. One could never find underground comics at the news stands. They could only be bought in record stores and head shops, as all these were primarily youth oriented outlets. You could even order them via mail order. The first underground comic was published under the name Foolbert Sturgeon and was called ‘The Adventures of Jesus’.
About alternative comics
The great number of comic book specialty stores that sprang up during the late 70s in the US led to the creation of a loyal market for comics that came to be known as alternative or independent comics. The first few alternative comics included the likes of ‘Star Reach’ (the anthology series) that was published from the year 1974 to 1979, and American Splendor, that kept getting published well into the 21st century.
American Splendor was adapted into a Hollywood movie in the year 2003. One of the reasons why independent comics came into being was to continue the trend started by the underground comics. However, how they differed from the latter was that their content was less explicit and was more similar to the works of the mainstream publishers. Alternative comics used to be published by smaller companies (owned by multiple artists) or single artist. Some of them even made experimental attempts, taking the stature of comic books very close to fine art.
The 70s era also saw the growth and diversification of the small press culture. Many independent publishers like Fantagraphics, Comico, First, Pacific and Eclipse had begun releasing various formats and styles of comic books, ranging from science fiction, detective and colored superhero to black and white stories and magazine format, during the 1980s.
Many more publishers altered the distribution and format of their comic books during the 1990s and made them quite similar to the non-comics publishing. A very informal version of the self-publishing culture, referred to as ‘minicomics’, came into being during the 1980s and gained plenty of popularity among the artists during the 90s. Their audience was even more limited than that of small press.