Let me guess. All the movies have piqued your interest in this art form. Or you had been an avid reader who lost touch a few years ago and is now looking to get back into the hobby. Or you are a dedicated and regular reader looking to consolidate your knowledge. You are in the right place then.
Comics are a medium of telling stories. One of the oldest ones too in fact. Story-telling using sequential art dates back over 35000 years to the age of cave paintings which told stories of hunting and farming on the walls of prehistoric human dwellings. These are arguably the oldest stories that humans have told that have survived in their original form. All other means of telling stories, books, poems, songs, etc are more recent inventions.
Boiling down the comics to their essentials, they can be defined as a series of painting/drawings that tell a story with/without using text. Of course, there are a lot of nuances and some titles that fall out of the ambit of this definition but most of the comics that you can think of fit under this description. Comics have had a long history that has continued to this day. In this article, we will take a brief look at the evolution of comics based upon their time period. However, this article is not exhaustive in any way and we will look at the various movements that arose and influential titles that pushed the boundaries within the Comic Industry in some other articles.
Comics have been a mainstay in most civilizations in one way or another. The ancient Greeks painted scene from their epics on their pottery, murals on the walls of churches and chapels depicting scenes from the Bible and Egyptian Hieroglyphs can all be considered as comics.
However, in the modern sense, comics gained prominence in the early 1800s with the works of the Swiss artist and writer Rodolphe Töpffer. In addition to that, America saw it’s dawn of Comics with the works of Richard Outcault who made one of the first newspaper cartoons strips ever called “The Yellow Kid”.
Comic strips, with the increasing popularity of newspapers and availability of cheap printing presses capable of printing artwork with high fidelity, became a mainstay in newspapers, a tradition that has carried on till this day. Soon, many different magazines dedicated to humour and satire like Punch also came out which popularized the word Cartoon for humorous caricatures.
Soon, comics moved away from just being a feature in newspapers to getting their own publications. Along with Humour, artists and writers began experimenting with genres like Action and Adventure as well for their comics. These were the direct precursors of the modern day genre of superhero comics, which have almost become synonymous with the idea of comics themselves.
The 1930s saw a boom in publishers and characters with original content taking a dominance over the market. The 1930s saw the release of many iconic Superheroes. Superman got his debut in Action Comics #1, in 1938 and Batman soon followed in 1939 in Detective Comics #27. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Tintin was creating raves across the continent and its creator Herge, had become some sort of a celebrity.
This continued for almost 2 decades uninterrupted but things were about to change soon. In 1950s, the Comics Code Authority was created in the USA, as a response to complaints that the comics were too violent. As a result, a lot of more challenging and mature content was snipped in the bud and comics were viewed mainly as a pleasurable pastime for children, and not as a legitimate form of story telling, like cinema or novels. It was also during the 1960s that yet another legendary character was born, Asterix, the Gaul. The French comic strip relied heavily of word play and puns for humour and won nearly universal acclaim.
The 1970s saw the arrival of a Underground Comics, which went against the code to create more mature and adult-oriented stories. During the same time, Indrajaal Comics opened its doors in India, running translations of the successful American titles like Phantom and Mandrake. In addition to the syndicated content, there were also some attempts to create original characters that would appeal to Indian audience.
The late 70s and 80s saw a boom of comics in the country. Many publication houses opened up offering a plethora of indigenous content like Radha Comics, Diamond Comics, Manoj Comics, Raj Comics, Amar Chitra Katha amongst many others.
With the arrival of cable television and the subsequent introduction of Internet, the comic industry in the country took a hit. Many publication houses went out of business or closed down, with the readership declining steadily. By the time the mid 2000s rolled around, there were just a few comic publications operating in the country that published regular titles like Raj Comics, Diamond Comics and Amar Chitra Katha.
However, in the recent years, India has seen a resurgence in comic book related content. Many new and exciting publications like Holy Cow, Vimanika, Yali Dreams and Campfire Comics have shown up on the scene. In addition to that, there have been some extremely popular web-series as well like Garbage Bin and Aapki Poojita, which are daily or weekly comic strips published online.
The story of comics is far from over. With new writers and artists gravitating to the field everyday, the future has never looked more optimistic in terms of content that is being published. Where the journey takes us next still remains to be seen however.
Till then, sit back, relax, grab a copy and lose yourself between the panels.
Written By: Siddhant Shekhar