Origins and traditions
The European, American, and Japanese comics traditions have followed different paths. 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.
 Japan had a long prehistory of satirical cartoons and comics leading up to the World War II era. The
Hokusai popularized the Japanese term for comics and cartooning,
manga, in the early 19th century. In the post-war era modern Japanese comics began to flourish when
Osamu Tezuka produced a prolific body of work. Towards the close of the 20th century, these three traditions converged in a trend towards book-length comics: the
comic album in Europe, the
[a] in Japan, and the
graphic novel in the English-speaking countries.
Outside of these genealogies, comics theorists and historians have seen precedents for comics in the
Lascaux cave paintings in France (some of which appear to be chronological sequences of images),
Trajan's Column in Rome, the 11th-century Norman
Bayeux Tapestry, the 1370
bois Protat woodcut, the 15th-century
Ars moriendi and
block books, Michelangelo's
The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, and
William Hogarth's 18th-century sequential engravings, amongst others.
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, which popularized the term cartoon for its humorous caricatures. On occasion the cartoons in these magazines appeared in sequences; the character
Ally Sloper featured in the earliest serialized comic strip when the character began to feature in its own weekly magazine in 1884.
American comics developed out of such magazines as
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 and often in colour. Between 1896 and 1901 cartoonists experimented with sequentiality, movement, and speech balloons.
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
Mutt and Jeff. In Britain, the
Amalgamated Press established a popular style of a sequence of images with text beneath them, including
Illustrated Chips and
Comic Cuts. 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.
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. 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. In the UK and the
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. 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.
The popularity of superhero comic books declined following World War II, while comic book sales continued to increase as other genres proliferated, such as
horror, and humour. 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. 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. Superheroes re-established themselves as the most prominent comic book genre by the early 1960s.
Underground comix challenged the Code and readers with adult, countercultural content in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The underground gave birth to the
alternative comics movement in the 1980s and its mature, often experimental content in non-superhero genres.
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.
graphic novel—book-length comics—began to gain attention after
Will Eisner popularized the term with his book
A Contract with God (1978). The term became widely known with the public after the commercial success of
The Dark Knight Returns in the mid-1980s. In the 21st century graphic novels became established in mainstream bookstores and libraries and webcomics became common.
Franco-Belgian and European comics
The francophone Swiss
Rodolphe Töpffer produced comic strips beginning in 1827, and published theories behind the form. Cartoons appeared widely in newspapers and magazines from the 19th century. 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.
The Adventures of Tintin, with its signature
clear line style, was first serialized in newspaper comics supplements beginning in 1929, and became an icon of Franco-Belgian comics.
Following the success of
Le Journal de Mickey (1934–44), dedicated comics magazines and full-colour comic albums became the primary outlet for comics in the mid-20th century. 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".
In the 1960s, the term bandes dessinées ("drawn strips") came into wide use in French to denote the medium. Cartoonists began creating comics for mature audiences, and the term "Ninth Art"
[e] was coined, as comics began to attract public and academic attention as an artform. 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 and went on to become the best-selling French-language comics series. From 1960, the satirical and taboo-breaking
Hara-Kiri defied censorship laws in the countercultural spirit that led to the
May 1968 events.
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.
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. Smaller publishers such as
L'Association that published longer works in non-traditional formats 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.
created the first modern Japanese comic strip. (Tagosaku to Mokube no Tōkyō Kenbutsu
Japanese comics and cartooning (
[g] have a history that has been seen as far back as the anthropomorphic characters in the 12th-to-13th-century
kibyōshi picture books, 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, and sound effects.
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, as well as some American comic strips. 1900 saw the debut of the Jiji Manga in the Jiji Shinpō newspaper—the first use of the word "manga" in its modern sense, and where, in 1902,
Rakuten Kitazawa began the first modern Japanese comic strip. By the 1930s, comic strips were serialized in large-circulation monthly girls' and boys' magazine and collected into hardback volumes.
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 and the comic strip
Sazae-san. 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; they are later compiled in
tankōbon-format books. At the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, nearly a quarter of all printed material in Japan was comics. Translations became extremely popular in foreign markets—in some cases equaling or surpassing the sales of domestic comics.