Comics is an artistic medium in which images incorporate text or other visual forms of information in order to express a narrative or idea. Comics frequently takes the form of juxtaposed sequences of panels of images. Textual devices such as speech balloons, captions, and sound effects (onomatopoeia) are often used to indicate dialogue and other information. Elements such as the size and placement of panels control the pacing of the narrative. Cartooning and similar forms of illustration are the most common means of image-making in comics, while fumetti is a form which uses photographs. Common forms of comics include comic books, comic strips, editorial and gag cartoons, graphic novels and webcomics.

The history of comics has followed divergent paths in different cultures. 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. By the mid-20th century, comics became popular in periodical and book form, especially in the US, western Europe (particularly France and Belgium), and Japan. Since the late 20th century, bound volumes such as graphic novels, comics albums, and tankōbon have become increasingly common. 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 within academia.

The English term comics derives from the humorous (or "comic") work which predominated in early American newspaper comic strips, though usage of the term has become standard for non-humorous works as well. It is common in English to refer to the comics of different cultures by the terms used in their original languages, such as Template:Lang for Japanese comics, or Template:Lang for French-language comics. There is no consensus among theorists and historians on a definition of comics, with some emphasizing the combination of images and text, some sequentiality, and others historical aspects such as mass reproduction or the existence of recurring characters.

Origins and traditionsEdit

Main article: History of comics

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The European, American and Japanese comics traditions have followed different paths.Template:Sfn Europeans have seen their tradition as beginning with the Swiss Rodolphe Töpffer's comic strips of 1830s,Template:Sfn while Americans have seen the origin of their tradition in Richard F. Outcault's 1890s newspaper strip The Yellow Kid, though many Americans have come to recognize Töpffer's precedence.Template:Sfnm Japanese comics had a long prehistory of satirical cartoons and comics leading up to the World War II era. Template:Lang, the Japanese term for comics and cartooning, was first popularized by the artist Hokusai in the early 19th century.[citation needed] It is in the post-war era that modern Japanese comics began to flourish, when Osamu Tezuka produced a prolific body of work.Template:Sfnm Towards the close of the 20th century, these three traditions have converged in a trend towards book-length comics: the comics album in Europe, the Template:TranslTemplate:Efn in Japan, and the graphic novel in the English-speaking countries.Template:Sfn

Outside of these direct 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), Egyptian hieroglyphs, Trajan's Column in Rome,Template:Sfn the 11th-century Norman Bayeux Tapestry,Template:Sfnm the 1370 Template:Lang woodcut, the 15th-century Template:Lang and block books, Michelangelo's The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel,Template:Sfn and William Hogarth's 17th-century sequential engravings,Template:Sfn among others.Template:SfnTemplate:Efn


American comicsEdit

Main article: History of American comics

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American comics first became a mass medium with the spread of newspaper comic strips following the success of Outcault's The Yellow Kid.Template:Sfn Typically the strips were full-page and in colour, and soon after the spread of their popularity cartoonists experimented with sequentiality, movement, and speech balloons.[citation needed] Shorter, black-and-white daily strips began to appear early in the 20th century, and became established in newspapers after the 1907 success of Bud Fisher's Mutt and Jeff. Initially humour strips predominated, but in the 1920s and 1930s strips with continuing stories in genres such as adventure and drama were also popular.Template:Sfn 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.Template:Sfn The 1938 success of Action Comics and its lead hero Superman marked the beginning of the Golden Age of comic books, in which the superhero genre was most prominent.Template:Sfn


The popularity of superhero comic books declined following World War II,Template:Sfn while comic book sales continued to increase as genres such as romance, westerns, crime, horror, and humour proliferated.Template:Sfn 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 which led to the establishment of the Comics Code Authority self-censorship 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 reestablished themselves as the primary comic book genre by the early 1960s.[citation needed] Underground comix challenged the Code and readers with adult, countercultural content in the late 1960s and early 1970s.Template:Sfn The underground gave birth to the alternative comics movement in the 1980s and its mature, often experimental content in non-superhero genres.Template:Sfnm

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, however, continued to be stigmatized, as the medium was seen as entertainment for children and illiterates.Template:Sfn

The graphic novel—book-length comics—began to gain attention when Will Eisner popularized the term with his book A Contract with God (1978).Template:Sfn The term became widely-known with the public after the commercial success of Maus, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns in the mid-1980s.Template:Sfnm The 21st century has seen comic strips and comic books decline in sales along with the print industry in general,[citation needed] while graphic novels have become established in mainstream bookstoresTemplate:Sfn and libraries,Template:Sfn and webcomics became common.[citation needed]

European comicsEdit

Main article: European comics
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The francophone Swiss Rodolphe Töpffer produced comic strips beginning in the 1830s,Template:Sfn as well as theories behind the form.Template:Sfn Cartoons appeared widely in newspapers and magazines from the 19th century.Template:Sfn Franco-Belgian comics began to dominate, first following the success of Zig et Puce in 1925, which popularized the use of speech balloons in European comics.Template:Sfnm The Adventures of Tintin, with its signature clear line style,Template:Sfnm began in 1929, and became an icon of Franco-Belgian comics,Template:Sfnm first serialized in newspaper comics supplements.Template:Sfn

Following the success of Template:Lang (1934–44),Template:Sfn dedicated comics magazinesTemplate:Sfnm and full-colour comics albums became the primary outlet for comics in the mid-20th century.Template:Sfn Similar to the US, at the time comics were seen as infantile and a threat to culture and literacy, with commentators saying that "none bear up to the slightest serious analysis",Template:Efn and that they were "the sabotage of all art and all literature".Template:SfnTemplate:Efn

In the 1960s, the term Template:Lang ("drawn strips") began to be widely used in French to describe the medium.Template:Sfn Cartoonists began creating comics for mature audiences,Template:Sfnm and the term "Ninth Art"Template:Efn was coined, as comics began to attract public and academic attention as an artform.Template:Sfn Creators such as René Goscinny and Jean Giraud (a.k.a. "Mœbius") published their work in magazines such as Pilote (1959–59) and Métal Hurlant (1974–87).[citation needed] Towards the end of the 20th century, magazine serialization became less common as comics magazines became fewer, and many comics began to be published directly as comics albums. Smaller publishers such as L'AssociationTemplate:Sfn publishing longer worksTemplate:Sfn in non-traditional formatsTemplate:Sfn 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.Template:Sfn

Japanese comicsEdit

Main article: History of manga
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Japanese comics and cartooning (Template:Lang),Template:Efn have a history that has been seen as far back as the anthropomorphic characters in the 13th-century Template:Lang, 17th-century Template:Lang and Template:Lang picture books,Template:Sfn and woodblock prints such as ukiyo-e which were popular between the 17th and 20th centuries. The Template:Lang contained examples of sequential images, movement lines,Template:Sfn and sound effects.Template:Sfn

Illustrated magazines for Western expatriots 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,Template:Sfn as well as some American comic strips.Template:Sfn 1900 saw the debut of the Template:Lang in the Template:Lang newspaper—the first use of the word "manga" in its modern sense,Template:Sfn and where, in 1902, Rakuten Kitazawa began the first modern Japanese comic strip.Template:Sfnm By the 1930s, comic strips were serialized in large-circulation monthly girls' and boys' magazine, and collected into hardback volumes.Template:Sfnm

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,Template:Sfn and the comic strip Sazae-san.Template:Sfnm Genres and audiences diversified over the following decades,Template:Sfn with comics aimed at Template:Lang ("boys") and Template:Lang ("girls") audiences making up the most significant markets.[citation needed] Comics are usually first serialized in magazines which are often hundreds of pages thick and may over a dozen stories;Template:Sfnm they are later compiled in tankōbon-format books.Template:Sfn At the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, nearly a quarter of all printed material in Japan was comics;Template:Sfnm digital forms, on cellular phones or dedicated devices, became a major form of consumption, in the early 21st century[citation needed] and translations became extremely popular in foreign markets—in some cases equalling or surpassing the sales of domestic comics.Template:Sfn

Forms and formatsEdit

Comic strips are generally short, multi-panel comics that traditionally most commonly appeared in newspapers. In American comic strips, daily strips have normally occupied a single tier, while Sunday strips have been given multiple tiers. In the early 20th century, daily strips were typically in black-and-white, while Sundays were usually in colour and often occupied a full page.[citation needed]

Specialized comics periodicals formats vary greatly in different cultures. Comic books, primarily an American format, are thin periodicalsTemplate:Sfn in which the contents are usually multi-page comics,[citation needed] usually in colour.Template:Sfn European and Japanese comics are frequently serialized in magazines—monthly or weekly in Europe,Template:Sfn and usually black-and-white and weekly in Japan.Template:Sfnm Japanese comics magazine typically run to hundreds of pages.Template:Sfn

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Book-length comics take different forms in different cultures. European comics albums are most commonly printed in A4-sizeTemplate:Sfn colour volumes.Template:Sfn In English-speaking countries, bound volumes of comics are called graphic novels, and are available in various formats. Despite incorporating the term "novel"—a term normally associated with fiction—"graphic novel" also refers to non-fiction and collections of short works.Template:Sfnm Japanese comics are collected in volumes called tankōbon following magazine serialization.Template:Sfn

Gag and editorial cartoons usually consist of a single panel, often incorporating a caption or speech balloon. Definitions of comics which emphasize sequence usually exclude gag, editorial, and other single-panel cartoons; they can be included in definitions that emphasize the combination of word and image.Template:Sfn Gag cartoons first began to proliferate in broadsheets published in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the term "cartoon"Template:Efn was first used to describe them in 1843 in the British humour magazine Punch.Template:Sfn

Webcomics are comics that are available on the internet. They are able to reach large audiences, and new readers usually can access archived installments.Template:Sfn Webcomics can make use of an infinite canvas—meaning they are not constrained by size or dimensions of a page.Template:Sfnm

Some consider storyboards and wordless novels to be comics.Template:Cn Film studios, especially in animation, often use sequences of images as guides for film sequences. These storyboards are not intended as an end product, and are rarely seen by the public.Template:Sfn Wordless novels are books which use sequences of captionless images to deliver a narrative, normally one image to a page.Template:Cn

Comics studiesEdit

Main article: Comics studies

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Similar to the problems of defining literature and film,Template:Sfn no consensus has been reached on a definition of the comics medium,Template:Sfn and attempted definitions and descriptions have fallen prey to numerous exceptions.Template:Sfn Theorists such as Töpffer,Template:Sfn R. C. Harvey, Will Eisner,Template:Sfn David Carrier,Template:Sfn Alain Rey,Template:Sfn and Lawrence Grove emphasize the combination of text and images,Template:Sfn though there are prominent examples of pantomime comics throughout its history.Template:Sfn Other critics, such as Thierry GroensteenTemplate:Sfn and Scott McCloud, have emphasized the primacy of sequences of images.Template:Sfn

European comics studies began with Töpffer's theories of his own work in the 1840s, which emphasized panel transitions and the visual–verbal combination. No further progress was made until the 1970s.Template:Sfn

The first historical overview of Japanese comics was Seiki Hosokibara's Template:LangTemplate:Efn in 1924.Template:Sfn Early post-war Japanese criticism was mostly of a left-wing political nature until the 1986 publication for Tomofusa Kure's Modern Manga: The Complete Picture,Template:Efn which de-emphasized politics in favour of formal aspects, such as structure and a "grammar" of comics. The field of Template:Lang studies increased rapidly, with numerous books on the subject appearing in the 1990s.Template:Sfn Formal theories of Template:Lang have focused on developing a "manga expression thoery",Template:Efn with emphasis on spatial relationships in the structure of images on the page, distinguishing the medium from film or literature, in which the flow of time is the basic organizing element.Template:Sfn

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Coulton Waugh attempted the first comprehensive history of American comics with The Comics (1947).Template:Sfn Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art (1985) and Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics (1993) were early attempts in English to formalize the study of comics. David Carrier's The Aesthetics of Comics (2000) was the first full-length treatment of comics from a philosophical perspective.Template:Sfn

Prominent attempted definitions of comics include Eisner's, McCloud's, and Harvey's. Eisner described what he called "sequential art" as "the arrangement of pictures or images and words to narrate a story or dramatize an idea";Template:Sfnm Scott McCloud defined comics "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer",Template:Sfnm a strictly formal definition which detached comics from its historical and cultural trappings.Template:Sfn R. C. Harvey defined comics as "pictorial narratives or expositions in which words (often lettered into the picture area within speech balloons) usually contribute to the meaning of the pictures and vice versa".Template:Sfnm

Each definition has had its detractors. R. C. Harvey and others[citation needed] saw McCloud's definition as excluding single-panel cartoons, and de-emphasizing the importance of verbal elements.Template:Sfn Aaron Meskin saw it as McCloud's artificial attempt to legitimize the place of comics in art history.Template:Sfn

Vocabulary and idiomsEdit

Main article: Glossary of comics terminology

Panels are individual images containing a segment of action,Template:Sfn often surrounded by a border.Template:Sfn Prime moments in a narrative are broken down into panels via a process called encapsulation.Template:Sfn The reader puts the pieces together by using background knowledge and an understanding of panel relations to combine panels mentally into events, in a process called "closure".Template:Sfn The size, shape, an placement of panels affect the timing and pacing of the narrative.Template:Sfn The contents of a panel may by asynchronous, with events depicted in the same image not necessarily occurring at the same time.Template:Sfnm


Text is frequently incorporated into comics via speech balloons, captions, and sound effects. The speech balloons indicate dialogue (or thought, in the case of thought balloons), and the tails of the balloons point at their respective speakers.Template:Sfnm Captions can give voice to a narrator, convey characters' dialogue or thoughts,Template:Sfnm or indicate place or time.Template:Sfnm Speech balloons themselves are strongly associated with comics, such that the addition of one to an image is sufficient to turn the image into comics.Template:Sfn Sound effects mimic non-vocal sounds textually using onomatopoeia sound-words.Template:Sfn

Cartooning is most frequently used in making comics, traditionally using ink (especially India ink) with dip pens or ink brushes;Template:Sfnm mixed media and digital technology have become common. Cartooning techniques such as caricature,[citation needed] motion lines,Template:Sfnm and abstract symbols are often employed.Template:Sfnm

Comics are often made by a single creator, but the labour of making them is also frequently divided between a number of specialists. There may be a separate writer and artist, or there may be separate artists for the characters and backgrounds (as is common in Japan). Particularly in American comic books,[citation needed] the art may be divided between a penciller, who lays out the artwork in pencil;Template:Sfn an inker, who finishes the artwork in ink;Template:Sfnm a colourist;Template:Sfn and a letterer, who adds the captions and speech balloons.Template:Sfn


The English term comics derives from the humorous (or "comic") work which predominated in early American newspaper comic strips; usage of the term has become standard for non-humorous works as well. The term "comic book" has a similarly confusing history: they are most often not humorous; nor are they books, but rather periodicals.Template:Sfn It is common in English to refer to the comics of different cultures by the terms used in their original languages, such as Template:Lang for Japanese comics, or Template:Lang for French-language Franco-Belgian comics.[citation needed]

Many cultures have taken their words for comics from English, including Russian (Template:Lang-ru, Template:Transl)Template:Sfn and German (Template:Lang-de).Template:Sfn Similarly, the Chinese term Template:LangTemplate:Sfn and the Korean Template:Lang[citation needed] derive from the Chinese characters 漫画 with which the Japanese term manga is written.[citation needed]

The French term for comics, Template:Lang ("drawn strip") emphasizes the juxtaposition of drawn images as defining factors, seeming to imply the exclusion of even photographic comics,Template:Sfn while the Japanese term manga is used to indicate all forms of comics and cartooning.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit

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