Comic books have been a staple of entertainment for children in America, as well as other countries, for many years now. In fact, according to Thomas Andrae, author of Carl Bark’s and the Disney Comic Book (2006), “Before television, rock music, and video games, comic books were the mainstay of entertainment in America” (p. 3). Indeed, comic books were “a universal experience for children who grew up from the Great Depression through the baby boom years” (Andrae, 2006, p. 3).
That statement, however, is not meant to imply that comic books have waned in popularity. If anything, they have become even more popular, and for reasons surpassing mere entertainment value. As Andrea relates, “Comic books, like other pop cultural ephemera, have become highly priced collector’s items” (2006, p. 3). For example, according to CNBC (2014), a copy of the first issue of Action Comics featuring Superman sold for $3.2 million on EBay in August of 2014. On the other hand, comic books today are prized for more than their sentimental and monetary value; they are also celebrated as important works of art (Andrea, 2006).
Then again, regardless of their continued popularity, there was a time when comic books did not exist, and the question that arises is, exactly when and where did this form of creative expression originate?
The Origin of Comic Books
According to Wikipedia (2015), comic books had their origins in the 1700’s in Japan and the 1800’s in Europe, and they were introduced into the United States in the 1930s. Moreover, “The first modern comic book, titled Famous Funnies, was “released in the United States in 1933,” though it was merely “a reprinting of earlier newspaper comic strips” (para. 3).
Alternatively, according to The Titi Tudorancea Bulletin (2013), Rudolphe Topffer, a Swiss artist, published the first book to combine cartoons and text in 1837; and after being translated and published in several European countries, the book came to the United States in 1842. The title of the American version was The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, and the book contained 6 to 12 panels per page in a 40-page side-stitched booklet, measuring 8 ½ by 11 inches.
It’s interesting to note, however, that the thematic elements of comic books, according to Random History (2015), can arguably be traced back to tales of the mythological gods and superheroes of ancient Greece, as well as figures in the Holy Bible. For example, the modern comic-book hero Flash explicitly draws on the iconography of the Greek god Hermes with his winged helmet and boots; and Samson’s weakness in the Old Testament, a haircut, echoes the vulnerabilities that afflict modern heroes, such as Superman, who is weakened by kryptonite.
On the other hand, it’s possible that the origin of comic books dates back even further. In fact, according to Random History (2015), “The format of the modern day comic book perhaps can be traced to ancient narrative sequences of cave paintings, but more likely to the medieval broadsheet, which was a narrative strip carved into woodcuttings (Hayman and Pratt 2005). As Random History explains, “Broadsheet authors would often create cartoonish narratives of public executions and caricatures of public figures. As the printing press allowed mass circulation of the broadsheets, they were often gathered into collections, or what could be considered a prototype of the modern magazine or newspaper and, by extension, the comic book.”
So, all of that said, perhaps one can conclude that comic books originated, at least in a fashion, with humankind’s earliest artistic renderings. Regardless of where and when they originated, however, comic books have endured and will continue to endure for generations to come.
Andrae, T. (2006) Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book: Unmasking the Myth of Modernity. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi
CNBC (2014) The Most Valuable Comic Books. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/id/101944524
Random History (2015) Archetypes, Commercialism, and Hollywood: A History of the Comic Book. Retrieved from http://www.randomhistory.com/1-50/033comic.html
The Titi Tudorancea Bulletin. (2015) Comic Book. Retrieved from
Wikipedia (2015) Origin of the Comic Book. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comic_book
Action Comics (2015) Google Images: www.technobuffalo.com
Famous Funnies (2015) Google Images: www.thecomicbooks.com
Flash Comic Book (2015) Google Images: wikipedia.org
Prehistoric Cave Painting (2015) Google Images: wurstwisdom.com