Comics 101: a brief history

yellowkidPreviously: The rise of comics and graphic novels

The first comics as we’d know them were published in newspapers in the late nineteenth century. They were normally single panel cartoons about politics and A-Listers of the day. ‘The Yellow Kid’, published in New York World in 1895, has been credited as establishing the forms and conventions of the comic strip as we’d recognise it today. It showed the adventures of a gang of kids growing up in the slums of New York City.

The popularity of comics boomed in the 1920s and 30s, with the market targeting the youth audience and anthologising collections such as The Dandy (UK), Beano (UK), The Adventures of Tintin (Belgium) and of course Superman (US) and other superhero narratives.

Comics were also hugely popular in Japan, where Osamu Tezuka rose to fame as ‘the God of Manga’. Tezuka is, among other things, responsible for the creation of popular characters Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. These popular characters are examples of the intrinsic relationship between manga comics and anime films, with many Japanese artists working simultaneously in both forms. Manga itself demonstrates Japan’s long tradition of illustrative texts, with links to earlier forms such as Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga (a four panel style from the mid-Twelfth Century) and Kamishibai (translated to ‘paper drama’). Kamishibai was popular during the 1920s and looks very similar to comic strips, but stories were put onto cards and shown in sequence on a small wooden stage. The audience came to see and ‘read along’.

Comics have a long history in Australia as well, with beloved children’s author Norman Lindsay (The Magic Pudding) originally employed by The Bulletin as an artist and political cartoonist. Australian newspapers also published comic strips such as the wartime adventures of Bluey and Curley and the popular antics of Ginger Meggs.

There has been a resurgence in the Australian comics and graphic novel scene over the last decade or so, with author illustrators such as Mandy Ord, Nikki Greenberg, Bruce Mutard, Pat Grant and Shaun Tan producing stories that are commercially and critically popular. There is also a thriving underground comics and zine industry driven by online popular culture, and independent artists.

Next: Comics 101: reading comic narratives

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