Comics is a medium used to express ideas by images, often combined with text or other visual information. Comics frequently takes the form of juxtaposed sequences of panels of images. Often textual devices such as speech balloons, captions, and onomatopoeia indicate dialogue, narration, sound effects, or other information. Size and arrangement of panels contribute to narrative pacing. Cartooning and similar forms of illustration are the most common image-making means in comics; fumetti is a form which uses photographic images. Common forms of comics include comic strips, editorial and gag cartoons, and comic books. Since the late 20th century, bound volumes such as graphic novels, comic albums, and tankōbon have become increasingly common, while online webcomics have proliferated in the 21st century.

The history of comics has followed different paths in different cultures. Scholars have posited a pre-history as far back as the Lascaux cave paintings. By the mid-20th century, comics flourished particularly in the United States, western Europe (especially in France and Belgium), and Japan. The history of European comics is often traced to Rodolphe Töpffer's cartoon strips of the 1830s, and became popular following the success in the 1930s of strips and books such as The Adventures of Tintin. American comics emerged as a mass medium in the early 20th century with the advent of newspaper comic strips; magazine-style comic books followed in the 1930s, in which the superhero genre became prominent after Superman appeared in 1938. Histories of Japanese comics and cartooning (manga) propose origins as early as the 12th century. Modern comic strips emerged in Japan in the early 20th century, and the output of comics magazines and books rapidly expanded in the post-World War II era with the popularity of cartoonists such as Osamu Tezuka. Comics has had a lowbrow reputation for much of its history, but towards the end of the 20th century began to find greater acceptance with the public and in academia.

The English term comics is used as a singular noun when it refers to the medium and a plural when referring to particular instances, such as individual strips or comic books. Though the term derives from the humorous (or comic) work that predominated in early American newspaper comic strips, it has become standard also for non-humorous works. It is common in English to refer to the comics of different cultures by the terms used in their original languages, such as manga for Japanese comics, or bandes dessinées for French-language comics. There is no consensus amongst theorists and historians on a definition of comics; some emphasize the combination of images and text, some sequentiality or other image relations, and others historical aspects such as mass reproduction or the use of recurring characters. The increasing cross-pollination of concepts from different comics cultures and eras has further made definition difficult.

Origins and traditions

The European, American, and Japanese comics traditions have followed different paths.[1] Europeans have seen their tradition as beginning with the Swiss Rodolphe Töpffer from as early as 1827 and Americans have seen the origin of theirs in Richard F. Outcault's 1890s newspaper strip The Yellow Kid, though many Americans have come to recognize Töpffer's precedence.[2] Japan had a long prehistory of satirical cartoons and comics leading up to the World War II era. The ukiyo-e artist Hokusai popularized the Japanese term for comics and cartooning, manga, in the early 19th century.[3] In 1930s, Mr. Chester, an early founder of “the Golden Age of Comics,” which make the comics flourished after World War II .[4] In the post-war era modern Japanese comics began to flourish when Osamu Tezuka produced a prolific body of work.[5]Towards the close of the 20th century, these three traditions converged in a trend towards book-length comics: the comic album in Europe, the tankōbon[a] in Japan, and the graphic novel in the English-speaking countries.[1]

Outside of these genealogies, comics theorists and historians have seen precedents for comics in the Lascaux cave paintings[6] in France (some of which appear to be chronological sequences of images), Egyptian hieroglyphs, Trajan's Column in Rome,[7] the 11th-century Norman Bayeux Tapestry,[8] the 1370 bois Protat woodcut, the 15th-century Ars moriendi and block books, Michelangelo's The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel,[7] and William Hogarth's 18th-century sequential engravings,[9] amongst others.[7][b]

An extremely long embroidered cloth depicting events leading to the Norman conquest of England.
Theorists debate whether the Bayeux Tapestry is a precursor to comics.

English-language comics

Illustrated humour periodicals were popular in 19th-century Britain, the earliest of which was the short-lived The Glasgow Looking Glass in 1825. The most popular was Punch,[11] which popularized the term cartoon for its humorous caricatures.[12] On occasion the cartoons in these magazines appeared in sequences;[11] the character Ally Sloper featured in the earliest serialized comic strip when the character began to feature in its own weekly magazine in 1884.[13]

American comics developed out of such magazines as Puck, Judge, and Life. The success of illustrated humour supplements in the New York World and later the New York American, particularly Outcault's The Yellow Kid, led to the development of newspaper comic strips. Early Sunday strips were full-page[14] and often in colour. Between 1896 and 1901 cartoonists experimented with sequentiality, movement, and speech balloons.[15]

Five-panel comic strip.
Bud Fisher's Mutt and Jeff (1907–1982) was the first successful daily comic strip (1907).

Shorter, black-and-white daily strips began to appear early in the 20th century, and became established in newspapers after the success in 1907 of Bud Fisher's Mutt and Jeff.[16] In Britain, the Amalgamated Press established a popular style of a sequence of images with text beneath them, including Illustrated Chips and Comic Cuts.[17] Humour strips predominated at first, and in the 1920s and 1930s strips with continuing stories in genres such as adventure and drama also became popular.[16]

Thin periodicals called comic books appeared in the 1930s, at first reprinting newspaper comic strips; by the end of the decade, original content began to dominate.[18] The success in 1938 of Action Comics and its lead hero Superman marked the beginning of the Golden Age of Comic Books, in which the superhero genre was prominent.[19] In the UK and the Commonwealth, the DC Thomson-created Dandy (1937) and Beano (1938) became successful humor-based titles, with a combined circulation of over 2 million copies by the 1950s. Their characters, including "Dennis the Menace", "Desperate Dan" and "The Bash Street Kids" have been read by generations of British schoolboys.[20] The comics originally experimented with superheroes and action stories before settling on humorous strips featuring a mix of the Amalgamated Press and US comic book styles.[21]

Superheroes have been a staple of American comic books (Wonderworld Comics #3, 1939; cover: The Flame by Will Eisner).

The popularity of superhero comic books declined following World War II,[22] while comic book sales continued to increase as other genres proliferated, such as romance, westerns, crime, horror, and humour.[23] Following a sales peak in the early 1950s, the content of comic books (particularly crime and horror) was subjected to scrutiny from parent groups and government agencies, which culminated in Senate hearings that led to the establishment of the Comics Code Authority self-censoring body.[24] The Code has been blamed for stunting the growth of American comics and maintaining its low status in American society for much of the remainder of the century.[25] Superheroes re-established themselves as the most prominent comic book genre by the early 1960s.[26] Underground comix challenged the Code and readers with adult, countercultural content in the late 1960s and early 1970s.[27] The underground gave birth to the alternative comics movement in the 1980s and its mature, often experimental content in non-superhero genres.[28]

Comics in the US has had a lowbrow reputation stemming from its roots in mass culture; cultural elites sometimes saw popular culture as threatening culture and society. In the latter half of the 20th century, popular culture won greater acceptance, and the lines between high and low culture began to blur. Comics nevertheless continued to be stigmatized, as the medium was seen as entertainment for children and illiterates.[29]

The graphic novel—book-length comics—began to gain attention after Will Eisner popularized the term with his book A Contract with God (1978).[30] The term became widely known with the public after the commercial success of Maus, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns in the mid-1980s.[31] In the 21st century graphic novels became established in mainstream bookstores[32] and libraries[33] and webcomics became common.[34]

Franco-Belgian and European comics

The francophone Swiss Rodolphe Töpffer produced comic strips beginning in 1827,[7] and published theories behind the form.[35] Cartoons appeared widely in newspapers and magazines from the 19th century.[36] The success of Zig et Puce in 1925 popularized the use of speech balloons in European comics, after which Franco-Belgian comics began to dominate.[37] The Adventures of Tintin, with its signature clear line style,[38] was first serialized in newspaper comics supplements beginning in 1929,[39] and became an icon of Franco-Belgian comics.[40]

Following the success of Le Journal de Mickey (1934–44),[41] dedicated comics magazines[42] and full-colour comic albums became the primary outlet for comics in the mid-20th century.[43] As in the US, at the time comics were seen as infantile and a threat to culture and literacy; commentators stated that "none bear up to the slightest serious analysis",[c] and that comics were "the sabotage of all art and all literature".[45][d]

In the 1960s, the term bandes dessinées ("drawn strips") came into wide use in French to denote the medium.[46] Cartoonists began creating comics for mature audiences,[47] and the term "Ninth Art"[e] was coined, as comics began to attract public and academic attention as an artform.[48] A group including René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo founded the magazine Pilote in 1959 to give artists greater freedom over their work. Goscinny and Uderzo's The Adventures of Asterix appeared in it[49] and went on to become the best-selling French-language comics series.[50] From 1960, the satirical and taboo-breaking Hara-Kiri defied censorship laws in the countercultural spirit that led to the May 1968 events.[51]

Frustration with censorship and editorial interference led to a group of Pilote cartoonists to found the adults-only L'Écho des savanes in 1972. Adult-oriented and experimental comics flourished in the 1970s, such as in the experimental science fiction of Mœbius and others in Métal hurlant, even mainstream publishers took to publishing prestige-format adult comics.[52]

From the 1980s, mainstream sensibilities were reasserted and serialization became less common as the number of comics magazines decreased and many comics began to be published directly as albums.[53] Smaller publishers such as L'Association[54] that published longer works[55] in non-traditional formats[56] by auteur-istic creators also became common. Since the 1990s, mergers resulted in fewer large publishers, while smaller publishers proliferated. Sales overall continued to grow despite the trend towards a shrinking print market.[57]

Japanese comics

Rakuten Kitazawa created the first modern Japanese comic strip. (Tagosaku to Mokube no Tōkyō Kenbutsu,[f] 1902)

Japanese comics and cartooning (manga),[g] have a history that has been seen as far back as the anthropomorphic characters in the 12th-to-13th-century Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, 17th-century toba-e and kibyōshi picture books,[61] and woodblock prints such as ukiyo-e which were popular between the 17th and 20th centuries. The kibyōshi contained examples of sequential images, movement lines,[62] and sound effects.[63]

Illustrated magazines for Western expatriates introduced Western-style satirical cartoons to Japan in the late 19th century. New publications in both the Western and Japanese styles became popular, and at the end of the 1890s, American-style newspaper comics supplements began to appear in Japan,[64] as well as some American comic strips.[61] 1900 saw the debut of the Jiji Manga in the Jiji Shinpō newspaper—the first use of the word "manga" in its modern sense,[60] and where, in 1902, Rakuten Kitazawa began the first modern Japanese comic strip.[65] By the 1930s, comic strips were serialized in large-circulation monthly girls' and boys' magazine and collected into hardback volumes.[66]

The modern era of comics in Japan began after World War II, propelled by the success of the serialized comics of the prolific Osamu Tezuka[67] and the comic strip Sazae-san.[68] Genres and audiences diversified over the following decades. Stories are usually first serialized in magazines which are often hundreds of pages thick and may contain over a dozen stories;[69] they are later compiled in tankōbon-format books.[70] At the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, nearly a quarter of all printed material in Japan was comics.[71] Translations became extremely popular in foreign markets—in some cases equaling or surpassing the sales of domestic comics.[72]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Strokiesverhaal
Alemannisch: Comic
العربية: قصص مصورة
aragonés: Cómic
অসমীয়া: কমিক্‌ছ
asturianu: Cómic
azərbaycanca: Komiks
বাংলা: কমিক্স
Bân-lâm-gú: Ang-á-ōe
башҡортса: Комикс
беларуская: Комікс
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Комікс
български: Комикс
bosanski: Strip
brezhoneg: Bannoù-treset
català: Còmic
čeština: Komiks
Cymraeg: Comic
dansk: Tegneserie
Deutsch: Comic
eesti: Koomiks
Ελληνικά: Κόμικς
español: Historieta
Esperanto: Bildliteraturo
euskara: Komiki
فارسی: کمیک
Fiji Hindi: Comics
føroyskt: Teknirøð
français: Bande dessinée
furlan: Fumut
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Màn-va̍k
한국어: 만화
հայերեն: Կոմիքս
हिन्दी: कॉमिक्स
hrvatski: Strip
Ilokano: Komiks
Bahasa Indonesia: Komik
interlingua: Comic
íslenska: Teiknimyndasaga
italiano: Fumetto
עברית: קומיקס
Basa Jawa: Komik
ქართული: კომიქსი
қазақша: Комикс
Kiswahili: Kibonzo
Кыргызча: Комикс
latviešu: Komikss
Lëtzebuergesch: Comics
lietuvių: Komiksas
Limburgs: Stripverhaol
Livvinkarjala: Sarjukoomiksu
magyar: Képregény
македонски: Стрип
മലയാളം: ചിത്രകഥ
مصرى: كوميكس
Bahasa Melayu: Komik
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Mâng-uâ
монгол: Комикс
Nederlands: Stripverhaal
नेपाली: कमिक्स
नेपाल भाषा: कमिक
日本語: 漫画
Nordfriisk: Biletääle
norsk: Tegneserie
norsk nynorsk: Teikneserie
олык марий: Комикс
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Komiks
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਕੌਮਿਕਸ
پنجابی: کومکس
Patois: Kamik
Plattdüütsch: Comic
polski: Komiks
português: Banda desenhada
русский: Комикс
sardu: Fumetu
Scots: Comics
Seeltersk: Bieldetälster
shqip: Stripi
sicilianu: Fumettu
Simple English: Comics
سنڌي: ھاسيہ رس
slovenčina: Komiks
slovenščina: Strip
کوردی: کۆمیک
српски / srpski: Стрип
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Strip
Basa Sunda: Komik
suomi: Sarjakuva
svenska: Tecknad serie
Tagalog: Komiks
தமிழ்: வரைகதை
తెలుగు: కామిక్స్
тоҷикӣ: Комикс
ᨅᨔ ᨕᨘᨁᨗ: ᨀᨚᨆᨗᨀᨛ
українська: Комікс
اردو: کامکس
vepsän kel’: Komiks
Tiếng Việt: Truyện tranh
West-Vlams: Strip
Winaray: Komix
吴语: 漫画
ייִדיש: קאמיקס
粵語: 漫畫
žemaitėška: Kuomėksā
中文: 漫画